Askesis and Critique: Foucault and Benjamin

  • Ori Rotlevy Tel Aviv University
Keywords: Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Immanuel Kant, Pierre Hadot, Spiritual Exercise, Critical Theory

Abstract

While Foucault referred to Benjamin just once in his entire corpus, scholars have long noticed affinities between the two thinkers, mainly between their conceptions of history: their emphasis on discontinuity, their historiographical practices, and the role of archives in their work. This essay focuses, rather, on their practice of critique and, more specifically, on their conception of the relation of this practice to exercise or askesis. I examine the role of askesis as a self-transformative exercise in Foucault’s late work and how this concept reverberates throughout his idea of critique as the exercise of an ethos demanding arduous work. Against this background, the role of exercise (Übung) in Benjamin’s Origin of the German Traeurspiel, his interest in ascetic kinds of exercise or schooling, and its ties to critique are discerned. This comparison reveals significant similarities in Foucault’s and Benjamin’s conception of philosophy, as well as different emphases in their inheritance of the Kantian critical project: critique as an exercise of an attitude attentive to possibilities for transformation in the present vs. critique as involving an attitude-transforming exercise; critique as a modern ethos that needs to be reactivated vs. critique as propaedeutic, as a preparation for a modern tradition.

Author Biography

Ori Rotlevy, Tel Aviv University

Ori Rotlevy teaches at Tel Aviv University and at Reichman University. He is a scholar of Continental philosophy specializing in ethics, political philosophy and critical theory. He published extensively on Walter Benjamin in venues such as Continental Philosophy ReviewNew German Critique and Critical Horizons. His current research concerns the problem of freedom in political-collective contexts such as resistance and revolution on the one hand, and tradition (religious, cultural, and philosophical) on the other hand. The book he is currently writing is titled Tradition and Critique: Habermas, Mahmood and Benjamin.

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Published
2022-10-11
How to Cite
Rotlevy, O. (2022). Askesis and Critique: Foucault and Benjamin. Foucault Studies, (32), 28-53. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.vi32.6702
Section
Articles