‘Parrhesia’, as Foucault explains it, is a word which comes into prominent use in the democratic moment of the classical age. It is used first extensively by Euripedes in the second half of the fifth century, before it comes to occupy a more central place – and to become a hotly contested issue or possibility – in the political texts of the period (‘Fearless Speech’, pp. 78-83), and the philosophies of Plato (pp. 83-86, 91-107), Aristotle (pp..86-7), and the later Hellenistic period. (107ff.)
The topic of parrhesia which occupies Foucault’s last works on parrhesia, we would argue, has an incredible ‘timeliness’ for us today, in a world where our leaders talk about spreading democracy abroad while, to all appearances, it is increasingly questioned an curtailed at home, hemmed in by both legal changes and the emergence of new forms of populism and what Isocrates would have called kolakes (‘flatterers’). (p. 82, see pp.13-4) The issues surrounding the cassus bellum in Iraq, the unprecedented secrecy of today’s US administration or its increasingly public advocacy of torture, and (in Australia) the litany of causes celebres from the children overboard to the AWB, have raised the issue of the relation between truth-telling and politics with all the freshness with which it evidently presented itself to Isocrates, Plato, or the pseudo-Xenephon.
We see here a parallel with the work of Walter Benjamin. Like Foucault, Benjamin’s body of thought was devoted to the necessity of thinking the past through the crisis of the present. Benjamin was however concerned with the ways in which history consistently obliterated those moments and movements who thought of the possibility of utopian futures. As he stated in one of his earliest published works “The elements of the ultimate condition do not manifest themselves as formless progressive tendencies but are deeply rooted in every present in the form of the most endangered, excoriated and ridiculed ideas and products of the creative mind.” For Benjamin true critical thought wasn’t the product of the institution, a sanctioned reflection on the present. Excoriated it is thought that is constantly threatened and challenged as its seeks to uncover new truths, emerging out of a specific context, but searching for the possibility of shattering the petrified continuum of the present.
In essence, this journal takes as its aim the elaboration of the many problems that rest upon this self-context relation in the sense that Foucault analyses it. We are not here concerned with ‘telling the truth’ in the mode of the classical thinker, that is, as the members of our culture whose fortune or birthright it is to claim objectivity in judgement. In fact, as Foucault himself indicated so thoroughly, this position of objectivity is itself a matter for examination – Jacques Rancière’s article in this first edition engages with the same concern. We are concerned to examine the forms and problems of the various modalities of relationship. One consequence of this is that aesthetics can no longer be considered a well-demarcated discourse concerned with art narrowly conceived.
Subjectivity, not given but a part of the movement of socio-political contexts, is itself to be composed. In a similar vein, ethics loses its sense as the discourse of inalienable rights, or of moral codes, but must instead express the various modes interaction with oneself and one’s context. Again, politics must be understood no longer as the analytic of society, but must be broadened to include the various modes of individuation, subjectivation and counter-subjectivation.
The broadest goals of Parrhesia are to pursue the various knots which occur between these discourses, the knotting of concerns relating to doctrines of the subject an aesthetics, between aesthetics and politics, politics and ethics, and so on. While this is clearly a very large set of concerns considered together, we are convinced that it is at these points of knotting that active and critical thought is best disposed in our contemporary context.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
On this vain blog, it is a series; in the world that is the case, it is another sign of hope. From the editors' intruduction to the inaugural issue (via via):
Posted by Matt Christie at 11:57 AM