Introduction The Part of the Subject

  • Rudi Visker
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 155)


At the origin of these essays, an increasing weariness produced by all those attempts to oppose what came to be known as Foucault’s ‘poststructuralism’ to phenomenology — as if the two were incompatible and as if one could only proceed with thought after having chosen sides. And an equal reluctance to join those who pretended they could carryon as they had before since, quite obviously, there were no sides to choose, ‘Foucault’ being but the latest example of a relativism that one could easily ignore since it had, like all relativism, already refuted itself by daring to speak. And, finally, behind that weariness and that reluctance, a suspicion that what these two reactions to ‘Foucault’ had in common was a refusal to go ‘toward the things themselves’ and thus a refusal to approach the texts that we refer to by that proper name as we would approach other phenomena: not as the body-object of a thought that we would have to locate as coming either ‘before’ or ‘after’ phenomenology, but as a series of statements that appear to us in a certain way and whose appearing reveals to us something about our own, finite being. I am thinking, for example, of those passages in The Order of Things in which Foucault tried to show how what we thought to be discontinuous, opposing positions, really belonged to a same ‘archaeological’ soil and how what we considered to be in continuity (like Natural History and biology) was in fact marked by the harsh caesura that separated two such ‘epistemes’.


Conceptual Scheme Validity Claim Mere Effect Opposing Position Anonymous Subject 
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  1. 1.
    E.g. H. SIEGEL, Relativism Refuted. A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism, Dordrecht, D. Reidel, 1987; H. PUTNAM, Reason, Truth and History, Cambridge U.P., 1981, esp. pp. 150-73 on Foucault’s (self-defeating) relativism. I have found David scCupARR’s Welt, Weltbild, Lebenswelt. Husserl und die Vertreter des Begriffsrelativismus’ a great help in trying to approach the return of relativism in contemporary thought somewhat differently (in E. STRÖKER (ed.), Lebenswelt und Wissenschaft in der Philosophie Edmund Husserls, Frankfurt a.M., Vittorio Klostermann, 1979, pp. 32–44).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    My reason for ‘bracketing’ Foucault’s name here, is that, as I said before, one should strive to distinguish between the way his texts appear to us and the way they appeared to him. Indeed, the historical Foucault was perhaps more on the side of a discursive objectivism (the’ subject’ is dead, everything of man lies outward) than I am suggesting here (for details cf. my Michel Foucault. Genealogy as Critique, London/New York, Verso, 1995). The point to remember here is that such ‘anti-humanist’ enthusiasm for The Order of Things by Foucault and others, was but the flip-side of humanist’ subject-centred’ rejections of it. These historical reactions divide between camps the mixture of fascination and irritation with which we today still ‘respond’ to that book’s ‘message’.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Cf. S. Ijsseling, ‘Das Ungedachte im Denken und das Ungedachte im Sagen’, in H. Kimmerle (ed.), Das Andere und das Denken der Verschiedenheit, Amsterdam, B.R. Grüner, 1987, pp. 151–7.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    My debts to Hacking are immense: see especially his ‘The Accumulation of Styles of Scientific Reasoning’, in D. scHupENRICH (ed.), itKant oder Hegel? Über Formen der Begründung in der Philosophie, Stuttgart, Klett-Cotta, 1983, pp. 453-65 and his ‘Language, truth and reason’, in S. LUKES and M. HOLLIS (eds.), Rationality and Relativism, Oxford, Blackwell, 1982, pp. 48-66. But I would probably have missed the importance of his work, had I not already been influenced by a number of essays by Bernard Waldenfels (quoted below) which seem to point in the same direction.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    D. Davidson, ‘On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme’, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 1974 (47), pp. 5–20.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Here in particular (but also more generally), my debt to Lyotard’s later work is undeniable: see his ‘Le nom et l’exception’, in H. Nagl-Docekal and H.Vetter (eds.), Tod des Subjekts?, Wien / München, R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1987, pp. 43–53.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Although I think that there is indeed such an unpolished core at the heart of Levinas’s impressively subtle metaphysics, I should like to add, as Heidegger once did with regard to Nietzsche, “but Levinas can pull it off!” (cf. Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Welt-Endlichkeit-Einsamkeit (Freiburg Lectures, winter semester 1929/30), GA 29/30, p. 111: “Aber Nietzsche kann sich das leisten. Und doch ist das kein Freibrief”.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    The expression is from Descartes. On his “masked do I proceed”, Jean-Luc Nancy’s excellent ‘Larvatus Pro Deo’ (sic), in ID., Ego Sum, Paris, Aubier-Flammarion, 1979, pp. 61–94.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    See Robert Bernasconi’s thoughtful’ skepticism in the Face of Philosophy’, in R. Bernasconi and S. Critchley (eds.), Re-reading Levinas, Bloomington / Indianapolis, Indiana U.P., 1991, pp. 149–61.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Rudi Visker

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