Reading through some of Foucault’s work on parrhesia or frank speaking prompts the question of whether there are any parrhesiasts in politics today.
This subject appears as part of Foucault’s work on the concern for the self, or the care of the self. As you may recall, the parrhesiast is one who uses frank speaking to tell the truth or to say the truth that they believe. It is not flattery or rhetoric and it comes at a certain cost or risk.
Barack Obama’s speech last week is a possible candidate in that it came at a cost for Obama to not renounce his relationship with pastor Wright, but to point to the fact that Wright is a complex and even inconsistent person (like all of us, Obama implies). As such, this was not really a speech on race as it has often been billed, but a speech on truth.
Another example could be blogging, which I’ve pointed to before as a technology of the self called by the Greeks hupomnemata or self-writing (see Political Mapping of Cyberspace, 2003, p. 104) because it can be an act of resistance.
Blogging or self-writing can be parrhesiastic, though it is not necessarily so. It is not the cost in terms of time and effort, but the risk surrounding an ethics of the self. In this context I’m also reading Ed McGushin’s new book Foucault’s Askesis.
It is interesting that McGushin himself blogs, through his department’s philosophy site.
This ethics might be deemed risky because it involves a creative practice of the self, transformation and or change. It is also, for Foucault, an act of resistance to power, which is a risky thing. It does underline again Foucault’s view of the productive side of power for subjectification. In his important and revealing interview “Ethics of the concern for the self as a practice of freedom” the distinction is made between “liberation” and “freedom” with the former being understood by Foucault as a mistaken goal if by liberation one means being free from relations of power-knowledge.
Parrhesia is a practice of freedom. Drawing from Foucault’s last two lecture courses McGushin points to two areas where parrhesia as a practice (askesis) can operate: the political and the self. (NB. I’ve only read the first chapter of this book so far.)
So if blogging is parrhesia as an ethics of the self, who is a parrhesiast on the national political stage?
Filed under: Parrhesia