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Saturday, August 24, 2013

PARRHESIA: Reading Snowden Through Foucault's Fearless Speech Part 4

Edward Snowden - Parrhesiastes
A parrhesiastes is a person who practices parrhesia - truth-telling. A parrhesiastes differs from a whistle-blower -  which is a nice sounding sort of euphemism for tattle-tale. A conscientious objector resonates with Thoreau and civil disobedience, a practice most often associated with the Quakers's method of opposing violence. In these previous essays I have argued that Snowden is a parrhesiastes, not a whistle-blower and not a conscientious objector, but a person who practices parrhesia. I think distinctions in words are important, else why have different words.

Here are the previous essays and here, on the historical precedents and evolution of parrhesia and some of its genealogy connected with Snowden, all indebted to Foucault's book Fearless Speech, from which I quote profusely.

Plato: The Laws. Trans. Thomas L. Pangle, Book VIII,835c

....what is required, in all probability, is some daring human being, who by giving honor to outspokeness (parrhesia) will say what in his opinion is best for the city and the citizens. Speaking before an audience of corrupt souls, he will order what is fitting and becoming to the whole political regime; opposing the greatest desires, and having no human ally, all alone will he follow reason alone.

Chapter Four: Parrhesia in the Care of the Self begins with Socratic parrhesia and to demonstrate Foucault selects Plato's dialogue Laches.

First, this parrhesia is philosophical:
  1. the philosopher had to discover and to teach certain truths about the world, nature, etc.
  2. taking a stand towards the city, the laws, political institutions, etc required a political role
  3. parrhesiastic activity also endeavored to elaborate the nature of the relationships between truth and one's style of life, or truth and an ethics and aesthetics of the self.
Parrhesia in this domain of Greco-Roman culture is not a concept or theme, but a practice, which tries to shape the specific relations individuals have to themselves....the decisive criterion which identifies the parrhesiastes is not to be found in his birth, nor in his citizenship, nor in his intellectual competence, but in the harmony which exists between his logos and his bios.

Reading Snowden through this paragraph of Foucault's, does Snowden meet these requirements? 

Secondly (back to Foucault again) the target of this new parrhesia is not to persuade the assembly, but to convince someone that he must take care of himself and of others; and this means that he must change his life. This theme of changing one's life, of conversion, becomes very important from the Fourth Century B. C. to the beginnings of Christianity. (And here we see Foucault's approach at about this time to Habermas and the Frankfurt School.)

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,


gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.



Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:


would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life
Rainer Maria Rilke
...it is no longer just a matter of altering one's belief or opinion, but of changing one's style of life, one's relation to others, and one's relation to oneself. (FS p.106)

Thirdly these new parrhesiastic practices imply a complex set of connections between the self and truth. For not only are these practices supposed to endow the individual with self-knowledge, this self-knowledge in turn is supposed to grant access to truth and further knowledge.
And a final point...about this philosophical parrhesia is that it has recourse to numerous techniques quite different from the techniques of persuasive discourse previously utilized; and it is no longer specifically linked to the agora, or to the king's court, but can now be utilized in numerous diverse places. (FS p.107)

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