Thomas Lemke, Critique and Experience in Foucault, Theory, Culture & Society, July 2011 vol. 28 no. 4 26-48
It is widely known that by the end of the 1970s, Foucault had begun to refer to ‘experience’ to account for his intellectual trajectory and to redirect the work on The History of Sexuality. However, the interest in experience also decisively shaped Foucault’s analysis of the ‘critical attitude’ that he explicitly started to address at about the same time. The article argues that Foucault’s notion of critique is informed by a specific reading and understanding of ‘experience’. Experience is conceived of as dominant structure and transformative force, as existing background of practices and transcending event, as the object of theoretical inquiry and the objective of moving beyond historical limits. Foucault defines experience as a dynamic interplay between games of truth, forms of power and relations to the self. Accordingly, the Foucauldian account of critique is characterized by three aspects: the activity of problematization, the art of voluntary insubordination, and the audacity to expose one’s own status as a subject. While the first section of the article briefly reconstructs the trajectory of ‘experience’ in Foucault’s work from the 1960s to the 1980s, the main part discusses the dimensions and implications of this ‘experimental’ critique.