Foucault the Resentful

In an long interview, two of my favorite authors/speakers discuss the problems of academia, particularly the adoption of Lacan, Foucalt, and Derrida as heroes:

 

Peterson’s interpretation of why intellectual elites (Paglia calls them midgets), influenced as they are by Foucault act as they do is beautiful (6:42). He essentially says that the motive force in academia is resentment virtually anything that implies merit or competence!  

Coincidentally, I just read a chapter in Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life where he rather politely abuses Foucault’s misreading of the stoics. Foucault claims that the stoic notion of cultivating the self is a form of pleasure in one’s own self. But the very letter of Seneca from which he derives this view eschews self-admiration for precisely a form of contemplating ‘the best version of the self,’ or rather meditating on a transcendently transformed vision of the self in order to more fully pursue that vision. It appears to be precisely what Peterson claimed, resentment of any notion of merit or competence. 

Here’s what Seneca actually said about contemplation of the self in order to find joy:

“Real joy, believe me, is a stern matter…But it is hard to keep within bounds in that which you believe to be good. The real good may be coveted with safety. Do you ask me what this real good is, and whence it derives? I will tell you: it comes from a good conscience, from honourable purposes, from right actions, from contempt of the gifts of chance, from an even and calm way of living which treads but one path. For men who leap from one purpose to another, or do not even leap but are carried over by a sort of hazard, – how can such wavering and unstable persons possess any good that is fixed and lasting? There are only a few who control themselves and their affairs by a guiding purpose; the rest do not proceed; they are merely swept along, like objects afloat in a river. And of these objects, some are held back by sluggish waters and are transported gently; others are torn along by a more violent current; some, which are nearest the bank, are left there as the current slackens; and others are carried out to sea by the onrush of the stream. Therefore, we should decide what we wish, and abide by the decision.”

I sympathize greatly with the stoic vision of joy, though I think that it too thoroughly eschews the pleasures of sense and their role in flourishing, but for Foucault to intentionally misrepresent that as finding pleasure in the self instead of having an aesthetic view of the world. 

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