Michel Foucault PHILOSOPHICAL DISCOURSE (6): (un)tying the knots of the present

Live-blogging reading PHILOSOPHICAL DISCOURSE, the new book by Michel Foucault.

In the preceding post I began to discuss the different modes French has of referring to the « now » as they are deployed in Foucault’s text. To do this I employ the terms of the sort of enunciative grammar, based on his knowledge of Jakobson and Benveniste, that Foucault uses in Chapter 2 to sketch the grammar of the different discourses (scientific, literary, philosophical, ordinary) that he analyses, in terms of their differing relation to the « now » (and also to the « I » and the « here »).

In the first sentence Foucault uses another mode of reference to the now: « hitherto » (« jusqu’ici », literally « up to here »). The full sentence reads:

« For some time now – is it since Nietzsche? or even more recently? – philosophy has been allotted a task with which it was hitherto [NB: one could also translate this as « up to now »] totally unfamiliar: to diagnose ». 

It is interesting to point out these markers of the « now », as this first chapter ends on a reference to the present. To give a definition of the present

« the philosopher must say quite simply 𝑤ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑖𝑠. Not being, nor the things themselves…But what there is, with neither recoil nor distance, in the very instant that he is speaking ».

It is to be noted that the expression « in the very instant » refers, once again but differently, to the « now » or the moment of enunciation.

Diagnosis, for Foucault, is an ontological speech act. To diagnose is to say what there is (not what is, or what exists) in the instant of enunciation.

This tying together, in the first sentence, of philosophy, diagnosis and the now in an enuciative knot will become the key to an ontology of the present at the conclusion of the first chapter. 

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