Foucault, politics and the autonomy of the aesthetic

Abstract How should we read Foucault's claims, in his late work, for the relevance of ?aesthetic criteria? to politics? What is Foucault's implicit understanding of the nature of aesthetics and the autonomy of the aesthetic sphere? Would an ethics which gave a place to the aesthetic legitimize a politics of manipulation, brutality and aggression ? in short, a ?fascist? politics ? as some of Foucault's critics argue? In this paper, I examine key accounts of the fascist ?aestheticization of politics? ? from Walter Benjamin's classic essay, ?The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction? (1936), to Philippe Lacoue?Labarthe's work on the relation between Heidegger's philosophy and the fascist theme of politics as the plastic art of the state. Through a discussion of Foucault's late work, the paper demonstrates the connection between Foucault's turn to ancient Greek ethical practices and his call for a contemporary renewal of the idea of ethics as an art of living. The aim of the paper is to show in what ways the ethico?political position which is presented in Foucault's late work, far from contributing to a fascist politics, in fact provides ways of thinking about the relationship between the aesthetic and the political which avoid both mindless radicalism and totalitarian narcissism. In doing so, the key question is, ?What's aesthetic about Foucault's ?aesthetics of existence"??
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DOI 10.1080/09672559608570835
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