Jul 12, 2009

Timothy Goering: Heidegger and Foucault. A Critical Encounter

Essay by Timothy Goering:

This is a paper I wrote for Karsten Harries' course "Heidegger's Being and Time" in the Spring Semester 2009, at Yale University. It is an examination of Being and Time from a Foucaultian vantage point. There are six parts to the essay. Each part will be posted as a single post successively.

Ever since Michel Foucault boldly claimed in his last interview that Heidegger had “always been the essential philosopher”(1) for his philosophy, various aspects of the relationship between Heidegger and Foucault have been discussed. These discussions have concentrated on the possible Heideggerian influence in Foucault's works; on the similarities between the works of both philosophers; or on Foucault's covert critique of Heidegger. Overall the scholarly opinion is that Foucault's earlier work has only minor traces of Heidegger's thought and that Foucault, contrary to his own late claims, was no closet-Heideggerian. In a sense, Foucault's last interview has been treated much like Franz Rosenzweig's last essay “Vertauschte Fronten,” in which he also aligned himself to Heidegger shortly before his death (2). Until recently Rosenzweig's comments have been viewed by critics as highly questionable (3). Similarly, most scholars have also treated Foucault's comments as questionable. Thus, Martin Saar representatively summarizes the general assessment of the Foucault-Heidegger relationship when he writes: “Foucault ist kein heimlicher, den Einfluss verbergender Heideggerianer. [...] Wo immer Foucault auch begonnen hat, er spricht in den entscheidenden Phasen seines Werks mit seiner eigenen Stimme, zwar mit oftmals geborgten Worten, aber in einem unüberhörbar eigenen Tonfall” (4).

Despite the lack of many obvious similarities between Foucault's and Heidegger's works, I would nonetheless like to suggest in this paper a possible path which could bring both philosophers into critical dialogue. Alan Milchman and Alan Rosenberg have suggested to approach the Foucault-Heidegger relationship in terms of a “critical encounter” – instead of narrowly investigating Heidegger's influence on Foucault (5). In this paper I will follow Milchman's and Rosenberg's lead and imagine a possible encounter between Foucault's earlier work and Heidegger's Being and Time. One way of imagining such a fruitful encounter, I suggest, is to view Foucault's discourse theory as taking its depature from Heidegger's interpretation of “Man.” Foucault's work (particularly Madness and Civilization, Order of Things, Archeology of Knowledge and Discourse on Language) advances and radicalizes what Heidegger has to say about “das Man.” I will focus on aspects that are most helpful to engage in a discussion of Being and Time, instead of concentrating primarily on Foucault's work. Thus, Being and Time will be at the heart of this paper.

The overarching argument I will present is that Foucault's radicalization of “das Man” exposes and magnifies a key tension in Being and Time. In a word, the tension in Being and Time lies in Heidegger's analytical treatment of Dasein. A tension is created between an apparently ahistoric Dasein on the one hand and a Dasein that is historically constituted by “das Man” on the other. Heidegger (in the name of “Man”) would follow Foucault's assessment that discourses structure and order Dasein's everyday encounter with its world. However, Heidegger's constant search for the primordial and originary of Dasein's being would inevitably force him to reject Foucault's historical analysis. This tension between an ahistorical Dasein and a historicizing “Man” will be illumined in our discussion by looking at Foucault's work and especially his analysis offered in Order of Things.
Text in 6 chapters

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