Gordon Hull on Foucault and Heidegger (again)

Here. He quotes this from a 1974 interview (I follow with some notes on Foucault from 1970):

“I would say there has, for several years, been a Heideggerian habit: all philosophy which takes up a history of thought or of a branch of knowledge ought at least to start from ancient Greece and really never go beyond it …  This type of history in the form of a metaphysical crystalization establishes a basis for everything in Plato, [and] taken up here, in France, by Derrida, is distressing to me …. There are at least one or two [more recent – Gordon Hull] centuries that seem to produce a number of phenomena which are tied to our social structures, our economy, our way of thinking with a force at least comparable to that which is produced in the first Greek cities.  It is true that I avoid speaking of Greece because I do not want to fall into the trap of Hellenic archaism, in which we have for a long time enclosed the historians of thought.”

Interestingly those who have read the 1970-1 lectures, as Hull I’m sure has, will note that Foucault too followed the path of Heidegger, Arendt, and perhaps Derrida before him in thinking there was a Greek decision that followed to this day. Where does Foucault fit in with all of this? First, it’s clear in those lectures that he, too, thinks there is an originary moment in the West towards a specific definition of knowledge that afflicts our history no matter its various changes up to the present period. Despite his many differences from Derrida and others, he follows a certain Heideggerian thesis about a closure of the West that circles around a given view of knowledge from which one can’t extricate oneself by simply moving beyond this Western paradigm. For Derrida, this will mean a certain “play” found within the given structures of the West; for Foucault this means thinking history not as codified knowledge, but as a “carnival” (NGH, 161), as a “counter-history” that seeks to disrobe the power formations while not making any claims to objectivity or neutrality for one’s own genealogies of the history of truth.

This brings me to the beginning lectures of Lectures on the Will to Know from 70-1 (for a good summary, see here). Rereading the first lines of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Foucault aims to show that far from “innocent,” Aristotle’s opening dictum that each man by nature desires to know envelops all desire ultimately in a form of knowledge. He writes:

As a result, body and desire are elided; the movement leading to the great serene and incorporeal knowledge of causes [in Aristotle] is in itself already, at the level of sensation, the obscure will to this wisdom, it is already philosophy. Thus philosophy, performing the role of supreme knowledge—knowledge of first principles and causes—also has the role of enveloping all desire to know from the start. Its function is to ensure what is really knowledge coming from sensation, from the body, belonging already, by nature and according to the final cause that directs it, to the realm of contemplation and theory (LWN, 12-3).

We can compare this to Hull:

To them he is saying, more or less: ok, let us read the ancient Greeks – not for whatever they might tell us about sex (where he showed that the fact the Greeks approached sex so differently suggests that our own ways aren’t inevitable), but as philosophers concerned with the polis – and if we don’t presuppose a particular history of philosophy as our leitmotif, we will discover that the Greeks cared much less about logos and much more about ergon than you suppose.  That is, Foucault has a plausible claim that the Heideggerian return to the Greeks repeats unquestioningly one of the main things that it ought to problematize: the coronation of Plato and Aristotle as the archetype philosophers of antiquity, and the path dependence of subsequent philosophy on those thinkers. [One can see that this was something Foucault precisely did, especially as related to Aristotle and desire. Perhaps this is the ultimate philosophical temptation, even for Foucault?]  And in so doing, it completely occludes the question of the philosophical life and of practice more generally.