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What does it mean to be an intellectual today?

The philosophies of history and politics that are those of Michel Foucault interfere without stopping with his style of existence and his way of thinking and living his time, his loves, his friendships, his commitments, his teachings and his writings.


For him, the role of the philosopher, a specific intellectual, is no longer to be the author or the decipherer of the meaning of history (is there only one truer than the others?) and of movement supposed logic of the Spirit in historical time (…). Rather, like the Kantian transcendental journalist or the critical historian of the archive or of the episteme, the specific philosopher or intellectual must be a critic or an ontologist of the present, an attentive decipherer and curious about the current, about the topicality of what is present in the present and which testifies to singular events irreducible (…) to the imagination of the analyst duped by his falsely objective categories (…). Understanding the present obliges the philosopher to take a step back in his present by what acts in him (what is current in the news) in order to grasp its singularity and the non-reduplicable reality of the fact that history is a permanent invention of oneself. by oneself (…) in a situation where the world never makes sense given (…). This obliges the intellectual to reflect on his present as doubled by what makes it be actual instituted and what institutes it as given (instituting). Everything given is carried by an ontological logic of its provenance and its device, to use the Foucauldian terms developed in this programmatic article on Nietzsche's philosophy of history (1).

It is less a question of turning away from the present than of deepening it in order to understand its meaning: it is a philosophical ascetic work which aims to go towards the truth of oneself and one's relationship to the world and not to flee the self. and the world to reach the reality of the world, fleeing from oneself to go, as in Christian asceticism, towards true life always elsewhere than in the world. Foucault clearly distinguishes the asceticism of the philosopher, who tends to the truth and engages a relationship of oneself to the world, from that of the religious, seeking a link to reality and an escape from oneself, a distinction very well analyzed and detailed in the Conferences delivered in 1982 at Victoria University in Toronto and published under the title: Telling the truth about yourself (2).


It is essential to think about Michel Foucault's philosophy of history, even if he rejected the concept of historical subjectivity, for singular strategic reasons linked to a specific ideological context: to avoid endorsing totalitarian regimes whether they were liberal or socialists. Indeed, the notion of meaning and self-closing of historicity does not allow us to understand the singularity of the present and the actuality which, as Kant reminded us in 1794, obliges us to have the audacity to know what and who we are, here and now (3).

Foucault thus had privileged links to literary art, to infamous lives, and to atypical, singular experiences, in order to better understand the silence of the present which makes them invisible and in order to make speak what this noisy and rustling present of discourse leaves in its margins or forced to live in transgression, the illicit, the obscure, and the silence of its being in the world considered cursed (4). The search for styles of existence and lives that are not bio-politically standardized or not reproducible within the framework of the systems of laws in force, allows the philosopher to understand the thresholds and limits of acceptability of the truths of an era. Nietzsche allows him to get out of Hegelian rationality, as well as the literature of the breathlessness of the subject (Bataille, Blanchot, among others), and the existential analytic of Heidegger, allow him to leave the phenomenology of transcendental subjectivity of the Husserlian type. The history of medicine, in the archaeological sense, will quickly show him the impasses of Freudo-Lacanian psychoanalysis, which is still too caught up in its liberal confrontation between object and subject (psy-function) and too little sensitive to etiological materialism. psychological facts and social facts. (…)


From a reflection on power, and its intimate and singular structuring (5), the philosopher learns the tenuous links between saying and doing, between seeing and knowing, between stating and naming, between the order of discourse, the system of knowledge and of the powers that this order institutes and imposes on our practices of existence and on our systems of truths. The role of archeology today is not only to provide the motive for theses and publications of speculative research on the successful or failed ontology of the anarchaeologist Foucault, or to know whether the specific intellectual, the philosopher , is an outmoded figure from the past, or an intellectual suspended between an uncertain present and a no less predictable future. Foucault does not say: “Think of your time like this, or like that! » ; what he calls ethopoietic does not stem from an ethics and the philosophy of an art of existence. He writes precisely to live what it is possible to live, in his time, in the present of his time, in the field of his singular knowledge, and in the spaces devoted to possible speech in the institutional, academic field, which challenges any experience not named in its own order defining the police of discourses, or any speech that is not adequate to its principles, or to its devices for controlling and mastering discourses and populations within a biopolitical economy of truths.

The critical force of the philosopher's archaeological thought resides in the constant and continuous reminder that subjectivity is a process of producing truths situated themselves in a system of struggles, conflicts, combats, and that being or becoming free consists to set in motion in this agonistic, dynamic, strategic, dynastic device, in order to become an actor engaged in these incessant, permanent battlefields, which concern the world, the other, as well as myself, in my being constituted and determined historically and politically. This applied, relentless, studious, erudite struggle, attentive to the references and the subtle and violent shifts of the front lines, the crests, the fractions, the ruptures which run between the general, the particular, the conventional and the eccentric, the normalized and the abnormal


To be free, for Michel Foucault, and for the intellectual who tries to define a philosophical life in the sense in which we have defined it in our study, consists in putting into practice a series of practical acts in the singular activity of thought. philosophical, always located in a device that he does not choose, that he finds given or constituted, and that he has to understand, hear, analyze, in order to become his time, (Hegelian and Nietzschean motif) and in order to to be the present of his being-there, his world, to better work it and know it in order to get rid of it if necessary.


(1) Michel Foucault,Nietzsche, genealogy, history, inTributes to Jean Hyppolite, ed. PUF, coll. “Epimetheus”, Paris, 1971.

(2) Michel Foucault,tell the truth about yourself, ed. Vrin, coll. “Philosophy of the present”, Paris, 2017. We read with attention pp. 106-110 where these distinctions are subtly developed and explained by the philosopher. Foucault brings here a very relevant mise en abyme of psychoanalysis.

(3) As we know, Kant's text "Was ist Aufklärung?(1794) will be commented on by Foucault and will then become an emblematic text in order to understand the activity of the philosopher in his time, in his actuality, and thus produce an analysis of himself in the present. One will profitably read the analyzes of the philosopher in, in particular: Michel Foucault,What is criticism?followed byThe culture of self, ed. Vrin, Paris, 2015.

(4) Essay by Georges Bataille,The cursed part, ed. Minuit, Paris, 1949, will be crucial for Foucault to be able to think about these silences and these limits of official or normative knowledge in the history of systems of thought. Bataille is often invoked in the work of the philosopher.

(5) Michel Foucault,Penal Theories and Institutions. Classes at the College de France. 1971-1972, ed. Gallimard-Seuil, coll. “Higher studies”, Paris, 2015.

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