Foucault and Benjamin', Theory, Culture & Society, 30(1), 57-78.
In The Use of Pleasure, Michel Foucault suggests that it is possible to read Walter Benjamin’s writings on Baudelaire as a contribution to a genealogy of ethics. This article experiments with reading Benjamin in this way. It shows that a distinctive analysis of each of the four elements of Foucauldian ethics (ethical substance, mode of subjectivation, ethical practice and telos) can be found in Benjamin’s work on Baudelaire and the Paris arcades. Specifically, the article makes the case for reading Benjamin in terms of his valuable contribution to understandings of the role played by art in modern forms of ‘parrhesia’, or courageous truth-telling. However, whereas Foucault’s notion of ‘arts of living’ focuses on challenging actual relations of power, Benjamin’s focuses on activating potential forms of power. In this way, Benjamin’s ethical framework tests the limits of Foucault’s conceptualization of the government of self and others.