The contemporary pertinence of the later Foucault. Have his strategies of resistance stood the test of time?

06 Feb 2009

What happened during the fairly long silence following The History of Sexuality? … had he [Foucault] not trapped himself within the concept of power relations?’ asks Deleuze. According to him, Foucault would have answered ‘that power does not take life as its objective without revealing or giving rise to a life that resists power’ (Deleuze 1988: 94). The object of this essay is to assess what happens ‘if the transversal relations of resistance continue to become restratified’. When the long silence was finally broken, Foucault proposed a more affirmative – aesthetic – mode of countering power, but what exactly is the contemporary pertinence of the late Foucault’s insistence that an aesthetics of existence provides us with the means to resist an over-determination by power. This essay follows the trajectory of Foucault’s turn to aesthetics: from care of the self as a reaction against constraining governmental regulations and institutionalised normalisations; to self-(trans)formation as a more affirmative strategy; to the present day in which cultural capitalism has usurped all aesthetic strategies of resistance. The essay therefore questions the potentially subversive status of self-creation in the light of the fact that contemporary governmental rationalities encourage self-stylising individuality, alternative life-style choices and original ways of being different. It concludes by arguing in favour of its continued relevance.