- On Scatter, the Trace Structure, and the Opening of Politics:An Interview with Geoffrey Bennington
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Geoffrey Bennington was invited to come to Texas A&M University for a discussion of his recently published book Scatter 1: The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger, and Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016) on March 24, 2017. (The commentaries produced by the group of Bennington's interlocutors that day are forthcoming in Política Común, with the exception of Matías Bascuñán's commentary, which is published in this issue of Diacritics.) The next day, when our other guests had left, I was privileged to spend some additional time with Bennington, which allowed me to record the following conversation.
Alberto Moreiras: Let me start with a question about a topic that you go into at some length in your book Scatter 1: The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger, and Derrida concerning which there are bound to be some misunderstandings given today's political climate. Would you care to expand on the critique of the "politics of truth"?
Geoffrey Bennington: The book does not advance a critique of the politics of truth as a general concept or a general issue. I take the phrase from Michel Foucault, who uses it to define philosophy at one point in his late courses, and then I try to show that, at any rate in the way Foucault formulates the issues, his version of a politics of truth, of philosophy as the politics of truth, is unsatisfactory in a number of ways. I do not think his focusing on the concept of parrhesia generates, let's say, a politically perspicuous way of thinking about politics today—and that "today" includes the today of thirty years and more after his late courses. I also think Foucault has always had throughout his work a great deal of trouble motivating—if I can put it like that—his own historical presuppositions. The quick way of saying that, as I write in the book, is that Foucault does not take account of what Derrida reading Heidegger calls "transcendental historicity."1 Foucault is doing a kind of history, but the conditions under which he is able to do that history are never made explicit, and, I think, if one tries to make them explicit, his very project becomes deeply problematic.
That is one set of problems with Foucault. Even assuming he did not have those problems, what is very striking in the (very interesting) analysis of parrhe-sia—there are several striking things—is that Foucault first of all uses parrhe-sia to develop a notion of truth as to do with the very gesture of speaking, so that the parrhesiast speaks the truth not in the sense that we can go somewhere else to test whether what he says is true: simply the enunciative or quasi-performative gesture is, intrinsically as it were, a gesture of truth-telling. However, Foucault is keenly aware in some of the texts he reads (and he has some, I think unsatisfactory, attempts here and there to historicize these problems away), that that gesture of parrhe-sia always might be misleading, it always might not be truth-telling, it always might be a "bad" form of parrhesia, as he himself says reading Plato,2 and this need that he has to distinguish parrhesia into a good form and a bad form obviously provokes the question, which I do not think he ever raises, still less answers, as to what parrhesia might be prior to that distinction between good and bad forms of it. [End Page 35]
It is not hard to see that with this distinction between what he sometimes calls "true parrhesia" and its "shadowy double"—what he sometimes calls good and bad par-rhe-sia—that with it he leaves the status of the concept "itself" unclear, and that shows up symptomatically and repeatedly in the late seminars, in the way Foucault defers dealing with the issue of the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric. Because after all parrhesia is the name of a rhetorical figure, in Quintilian for example—as Foucault mentions in passing but...