How Parrhesia Works through Art The Elusive Role of the Imagination in Truth-Telling

Marrigje Paijmans


In his late lectures at the Collège de France, Foucault underpins the pre-eminence of art as the modern site of parrhesia. He omits, however, the aesthetic question: how does parrhesia work through art? A compelling question, firstly, because “truth-telling” seems to be at odds with art as an imaginative process. Secondly, because parrhesia implies a transformation in the listener, while Foucault’s limited notion of discourse precludes transformation beyond discourse. This essay hypothesizes that parrhesiastic art effects a transformation in the imagination, without dismissing this transformation as unreal. As Foucault’s utterances about the imagination are restricted to his earliest publications, this essay features a combined reading of Foucault’s early and late discussions of art. To further analyze the elusive role of the imagination in the late discussions, the essay employs the Deleuzian notion of “dramatization”, an epistemological method that draws on the imagination to escape representational thought. The essay thus aims to demonstrate that parrhesia mirrors the artwork in its intuitive and dynamic relation to truth. Subsequently, it argues that Foucault and Deleuze, respectively proceeding from a limited and an unlimited mode of thinking, come infinitely close in their thinking of art.


Parrhesia, art, truth, imagination, dramatization, Gilles Deleuze, Oedipus, Manet.

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