Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry


    • Michel Foucault
    • Thank you very much for inviting me. I am here, as you know, as a supplicant. What I mean is that, until four or five years ago, my field, at any rate the domain of my work, had scarcely anything to do with ancient philosophy; and then, following a number of zigzags, detours, or steps back in time, I began to say to myself that, after all, it was very interesting.  So I come to ancient philosophy as part of the work I am doing.  One day, when I was asking him some questions, telling him about my problems, Henri Joly was kind enough to say that you might agree to discuss my work with me, in its present imperfect state.  It is some material, some references to texts, some indications; what I am going to sketch out to you is therefore incomplete, and, if you were willing, it would be very good of you, first, to call out if you can’t hear me, stop me if you do not understand or if it’s not clear, and then anyway, at the end, tell me what you think.

      So, to start with, this is how I came to be asking myself this set of questions.  What I had been studying for really quite a long time was the question of the obligation to tell the truth:  what is this ethical structure internal to truth-telling, this bond that, beyond necessities having to do with the structure or reference of discourse, means that at a given moment someone is obliged to tell the truth?  And I tried to pose this question, or rather I encountered this question of the obligation to tell the truth, of, if you like, the ethical foundation of truth-telling, with regard to truth-telling about oneself.  In actual fact it seems to me that I encountered it several times.  First of all in medical and psychiatric practice since, from a given moment, which is moreover quite precise and can be pinpointed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, we see the obligation to tell the truth about oneself becoming part of the great ritual of psychiatry.  Obviously we come across this problem of truth-telling about oneself in judicial practice and more especially in penal practice.  And, finally, I came across it for the third time with regard to, let’s say, problems of sexuality and more precisely of concupiscence and the flesh in Christianity. 

    • Kristin Ross
    • Based on the premise that a political event’s thought is only generated with or immediately after the theoretical energies unleashed by the movement, this article examines the centrifugal effects of the Paris Commune of 1871 on some of its contemporary supporters—effects that contribute less to the event’s memory or legacy than to its prolongation, as vital to the event’s logic as the initial acts of insurrection in the streets. I show how for Karl Marx, Peter Kropotkin and William Morris, the Communards’ utterly modern and extraordinary realization of non-alienated labor in a major European capital was perceived as though filtered through a fascination the three shared with the ancient, rural communal forms of the North: Siberia, Iceland, Finland and elsewhere. I take William Morris’s vision in the summer of 1871 of ruined Parisian barricades standing in an Icelandic lava field as a presiding figure for the way this international constellation of thinkers attempts to think together the Parisian insurrection with the vestiges of agrarian communal practices. The article forms part of a larger project designed to ascertain the distinct political imaginary of the Paris Commune until recently rendered invisible by the two dominant historiographies that have circumscribed the way it could be perceived: official state-Communist history on the one hand, and the French Republican national fiction on the other.
    • Emmanuel Alloa
    • In recent years, the claim of the unrepresentability of the Shoah has stirred vivid debates, especially following the strong positions taken by the French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann and author of Shoah (1986). This claim of unrepresentability, it can be shown, draws part of its attraction from the fact that it oscillates undecidedly between a claim of logical impossibility (“the Shoah can’t be represented”) and a normative demand (“the Shoah shouldn’t be represented”). This essay analyzes the argumentative structure of the advocates of the unrepresentability and shows why the often made connection to Kant is flawed. Although his Critique of the Power of Judgment affirms indeed that the prohibiton of representation is the “perhaps most sublime passage in the Jewish Law”, turning the prohibition of representation into a supposedly Kantian claim does not hold grounds. The essay reconstructs the political framework of the debate, situates the Kantian passage in its precise philosophical context and then successively assesses the main arguments put forward by Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière and Georges Didi-Huberman in their critique of Lanzmann’s categorical imperative. While showing why the rhetorics of the “unrepresentable” bear troubling structural analogies to what they want to fight (i.e. the politics of erasure, which always also include the erasure of the traces of erasure), a certain notion of the “unrepresentable” is rescued nevertheless at the end of the essay. Representation, so it is argued by returning to a Kantian distinction, is not a matter of Kanon, but a matter of Organon, which then puts the debate about the Sublime (which took place between Lyotard and Rancière in the 90’s) into a new perspective.