The Body Problematic

The Body Problematic: Political Imagination in Kant and Foucault

Laura Hengehold
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v2q2
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  • Book Info
    The Body Problematic
    Book Description:

    Late in life, Foucault identified with “the critical tradition of Kant,” encouraging us to read both thinkers in new ways. Kant’s “Copernican” strategy of grounding knowledge in the limits of human reason proved to stabilize political, social-scientific, and medical expertise as well as philosophical discourse. These inevitable limits were made concrete in historical structures such as the asylum, the prison, and the sexual or racial human body. Such institutions built upon and shaped the aesthetic judgment of those considered “normal.” Following Kant through all of Foucault’s major works, this book shows how bodies functioned as “problematic objects” in which the limits of post-Enlightenment European power and discourse were imaginatively figured and unified. It suggests ways that readers in a neoliberal political order can detach from the imaginative schemes vested in their bodies and experiment normatively with their own security needs.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05475-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: IMAGINATION AND PROBLEMATIZATION
    (pp. 1-26)

    Eleanor Bumpurs, a “270-pound, arthritic sixty-seven-year-old woman,” was shot and killed by New York City police in 1984 for resisting eviction from city housing with a knife (Williams 1991, 136). Her case was one of several that crystallized African-American anger against the New York City police department and a coroner’s office that was reputed to overlook police violence against poor suspects. It occurred during a period when the city of New York was struggling with a financial crisis that the banks only resolved on condition that public services be drastically cut and real estate prices be released from any controls,...

  5. PART 1 THE POLITICAL TOPOLOGY OF KANTIAN REASON
    (pp. 27-116)

    In 1961, Foucault submitted a translation and commentary on the genesis and structure of Kant’sAnthropology from a Pragmatic Point of Viewas a “thèse complementaire” for hisdoctorat d’étatat the University of Paris (Foucault 1961). The reading of Kant I offer here is tailored to addressing the kinds of issues Foucault raises in hisIntroduction à l’anthropologie de Kantand which perplexed him throughout his career. While Foucault’s essay on theAnthropologydoes not figure disproportionately in my account of Kant’s work, the strategy of examining “genesis and structure” is very important. Kant’s claim to give a philosophical...

  6. PART 2 MAN AND HIS DOUBLES: TWO WAYS TO PROBLEMATIZE
    (pp. 117-210)

    In the last few decades, scholars and activists have turned to the human body, as seat of experience and as target of power, for ideas about political resistance to a multiplicity of oppressions—sexual, racial, and economic—as well as possible strategies for reconfiguration. The body’s interests seem to be “real” in a world of deception and emotional as well as economic exploitation (Harvey 2000, 14, 100–101; Lowe 1995, 14–15). At the same time, imaginative associations with the body have allowed vast numbers of people to be seduced by consumerism, intimidated by modern medicine, and subordinated to hierarchical...

  7. PART 3 LOCKED IN THE MARKET
    (pp. 211-298)

    I have argued that many modern institutions and discourses that tried to cover the social field from partial points of view managed to establish a division between true and false, identify objects and domains, and connect to other discourses by confining and studying people with socially problematic traits. Kant did not necessarily influence these institutions and discourses, but they share Kant’s strategy for turninglimitson knowledge and government into stable bases for generating positive knowledge and order. Thus the bodily forms of healthy, sane, law-abiding, desiring and desirable humanity are inextricably tied to forms of the “inhuman” who are...

  8. AFTERWORD: NOT SIMILAR TO SOMETHING, JUST SIMILAR
    (pp. 299-302)

    One of the most conflicted legacies of the New Left has been the perception that radical politics requires advocates to maintain a perpetual state of outrage and sadness. In the foregoing section, I have given some reasons why I think melancholy came to dominate social movements that originally had a diverse affective composition. It does seem true that political imagination involves (or springs from) perpetual dissatisfaction with the present, a constant need to be dividing the present and producing events that affect the form of individuality and collectivity. On the other hand, this dissatisfaction need not be the result of...

  9. REFERENCES
    (pp. 303-316)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 317-328)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-329)