Truth beyond Consensus. Parrhesia, Dissent, and Subjectivation

Sergej Seitz


This paper investigates the relationship between dissensual free speech and the institutional frameworks towards which it is directed. On the one hand, the articulation of dissent needs institutional support, but at the same time dissent forms the basis of possible criticisms of institutions. In providing a reading of Michel Foucault’s late lectures on the Greek concept of parrhesia (the perilous, risky act of telling the truth), the present paper contributes to a more differentiated understanding of this double structure of dissent. Parrhesia, as a form of telling consensually unacknowledged truths, points to a constitutive incongruence between free speech and the normative frameworks in which it occurs. I show in what way this incongruence or gap between legality and discourse can be understood as a primary scene of ethical and political subjectivation. My central claim is that it is possible, departing from Foucault, to sketch an intrinsically dissensual conception of truth-telling apart from consensus-theoretic approaches. Furthermore, I show how Foucault gives hints towards an essentially performative understanding of truth-telling that is always and constitutively in danger of no longer being answered by reason or language, but by mere violence. This leads to pointing out the necessity of reinterpreting our concepts of freedom, subjectivity, and institution involved in our contemporary political practices.

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ISSN: 2281-3209                DOI Prefix: 10.7408

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