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4 - A genealogy of the subject

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 October 2009

Johanna Oksala
Affiliation:
University of Helsinki
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Summary

So far, all that has given color to existence still lacks a history. Where could you find a history of love, of avarice, of envy, of conscience, of pious respect for tradition, or of cruelty? Even a comparative history of law or at least of punishment is so far lacking completely. Has anyone made a study of different ways of dividing up the day or of the consequences of a regular schedule of work, festivals and rest?

(Nietzsche 1887/1974, 81–2)

In an interview conducted in 1983, Foucault situates his thought, as well as the trends of thought influenced by structuralism, linguistic theory and psychoanalysis in the 1960s as explicit efforts to rethink the phenomenological subject. The phenomenological theory of the subject was his point of departure, and his thought has been an effort to make distance from it (SPS, 442).

I would say that everything that took place in the sixties arose from a dissatisfaction with the phenomenological theory of the subject, and involved different escapades, subterfuges, breakthroughs, according to whether we use a negative or positive term, in the direction of linguistics, psychoanalysis or Nietzsche.

(SPS, 438)

The linguistic turn of structuralism and post-structuralism in French thought was thus, according to Foucault, a reaction to phenomenology. The importance of the structuralist method and also of Nietzsche's thought to Foucault lay in the fact that they provided ways of rethinking the phenomenological subject and the historicity of reason as forms of rationality.

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Chapter
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Foucault on Freedom , pp. 93 - 109
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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