Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Refsum, C.
Event: Or, How Foucault Used Baudelaire to Enlighten Kant
In Bruce Barnhart, Marit Grøtta (eds) Temporal Experiments: Seven Ways of Configuring Time in Art and Literature, (2022) pp. 15-30.

DOI: 10.4324/9781003328599-3

This chapter explores the notion of the event through a discussion of Michel Foucault’s critical view of the enlightenment as an event and Charles Baudelaire’s literary engagement with events. In Foucault’s reading of Immanuel Kant’s classic essay “An Answer to the Question: ‘What Is Enlightenment’” (1784), “What Is Enlightenment” (1984), Foucault argues forseeing enlightenment as a manifestation of a philosophical ethos: “heroizing the present.” This chapter explains how Foucault draws on Charles Baudelaire to explore what such a “heroizing” implies; it argues that Foucault’s view is not fully comprehensible unless we consult other Baudelaire texts besides the one specifically cited in “What Is Enlightenment.” In reading Baudelaire’s prose poem “The Bad Glazier” (1862) it shows that the idea of “heroizing the present” can only be understood as a highly risky experiment where the fragile boundaries between reason and madness, infancy and maturity, good and evilare exposed. Contrary to Steven Pinker, this chapter argues that Foucault is not against enlightenment, but rather in favor of seeing enlightenment as a series of historically situated events. The chapter concludes by examining the ways in which the discourse on “enlightenment” and the “heroized present” is both actualized and challenged in today’s world of predictive technologies and other attempts to suppress the event and the open present.

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