Foucault’s Outside: Contingency, May-Being, and Revolt
Keywords:Michel Foucault, Quentin Meillassoux, Las Meninas, speculative materialism, the Outside, politics
In this paper, I argue for an alternative reading of Michel Foucault as an anti-correlationist thinker. Specifically, I position him as aligned with what philosopher Quentin Meillassoux calls speculative materialism (an offshoot of speculative realism). Given the resurgent and exciting prioritization of speculative ontology over concrete politics among these thinkers, coupled with the need for a revolutionary anti-capitalist political movement, my approach aims to take speculative materialists’ claims regarding access to the in-itself seriously while also devoting attention to their (underdeveloped) political dimension. It is in this latter realm Foucault proves particularly helpful to think alongside. Though Foucault has often and convincingly been portrayed as an anti-universalist, postmodern, and epistemologically-oriented figure, I present him as concerned with the subject’s access to the Outside (the great outdoors, things-in-themselves) as well as the politics of such access. I do so through a study of a wide selection of his works (books, essays, interviews, articles), a comparison between his philosophical position and that of Meillassoux’s, and an expansion upon Foucault’s analysis of Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” in The Order of Things, positing the artwork as a speculative object. I suggest, in short, that Foucault’s concepts of thought, force, and the subject have surprisingly striking similarities to Meillassoux’s absolute contingency and his political subject (the ‘vectoral militant’). We can, then, begin to see a revolutionary politics arising out of what I understand as Foucault’s speculative stance—hopefully providing an opportunity to both (re)consider Foucault and highlight the politics incipient in contemporary explorations into the Outside.
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