American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island
29 March – 1 April 2012
Foucault’s Ethical Turn: From khrēsis to catachresis

This paper explores Foucault’s turn to ethics in the last years of his career. In his re/turn to ancient thought, Foucault seeks to overturn modern ethics and politics founded in what he calls the “Cartesian moment.” I believe that Foucault’s ethics offers a rejoinder to the modern ethos and, in particular, to the biopolitical and neoliberal forms of governance that characterize our present. For Foucault, ethics is a turn, the turning of the self upon itself in the care of the self. In my reading, this is a rhetorical turn that reconfigures the subject rhetorically. From Plato’s Alcibiades, the self’s relation to itself is a relation of khrēsis; however, Foucault takes great pains to demonstrate that this is not an instrumental relation, as it is for the neoliberal subject. While khrēsis can be translated simply as “use,” it enjoys a more extended sense: it is an attitude, behavior, or, in the language of phenomenology, a comportment or intensional and directed engagement, perhaps even a being-in-the-world. This sense of khrēsis shares a great deal with the rhetorical figure of catachresis, commonly defined as the misuse or abuse of a word or expression. But the khrēsis, in some sense, relies on the catachresis, for it is in this trope that an abuse gets played precisely so as to expose the context or the scene in which normative use is maintained. This inaugurates a shift in ethical subjectivity towards the responsibility for those conditions (of possibility) within which an “ethical” ethics is upheld.

International Conference McLuhan Galaxy
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
23 – 25 May 2011
Making Live and Letting Die”: Media, Technoculture, and the Global Biopolitics of Death

I draw my title from Foucault’s (2008) characterisation of biopolitics, where the ‘life’ of the population is the means by which individuals are governed–as collectivities whose very lives and vital wellbeing are increasingly subject to governmental control, surveillance, regulation, and segregation, through forecasts, risk-management, statistical measures, and other mediatised forms of bio-moral orthopaedics. The biopolitical power to ‘make live and let die’ has gradually displaced classical sovereign power to ‘take life or let live’. Modern politics has seized the power to bestow ‘life’; and consequently, others must be ‘allowed to die’–a whole class of people whose lives do not count as life, including prisoners, refugees, those lost as ‘collateral damage’ in modern warfare, victims of biopharmaceutical testing and profits, ‘negative externalities’ in the global march of neoliberalism, and so on. Death, Foucault writes, has replaced sex as the great taboo. Death has been ‘outsourced’, and those of us who are ‘made to live’ better and longer lives frequently do so at the cost of those others who are ‘allowed to die’.