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The same lack of reconciliation is also to be found in Baudelaire's and Foucault's notions of modern art. While in the late 18th century writings of Kant the aesthetic subject might still experience reconciliation and wholeness by referring to the organic character of an artwork, the application of reason and the universal validity of aesthetic judgement, the low modern subjectivity of Baudelaire and Foucault remains without reconciliation despite the modern subject's constant attempts to find "a way out" of or "an exit" from the limitations imposed on one's existence.
Foucault, Michel | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
There are four main points in my analysis of the advantages of Foucault's late aesthetics for feminist theorizations. First, I maintain that his idea of the subject's active self-creation, based on the problematization of straightforward causal connections between individual practices and either social or natural determinants, brings his insights closer to the non-reductive analysis of women's status and identities proposed in recent feminist theory. This emphasis is important and also practically useful for feminist ends, I suggest, because it implies that, although there are structures of domination, notably constructions of gender, that ensure the overall subordinate position of women in society, in their daily lives many women do not find themselves simply oppressed, but rather experience that they exercise an amount of power and influence over other individuals and themselves. This viewpoint has an effect not only on feminist political strategies, but also on how women's possibilities for empowerment and active agency are understood.
This essay delves into both of these renowned sociologists, in an attempt to explore both Michel Foucault’s finding on the treatment of the insane and Erving Goffman’s work on asylums.
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Altogether, for both Kant and Baudelaire modernity represents an individually chosen attitude and that arises out of and is at the same time an attempt to respond critically to one's own historical situation. What has changed on the road from German idealism to Baudelaire's mid-nineteenth-century aesthetics is the spirit of rational optimism inherent in Kant's thought. Whereas Kant's essay on the Enlightenment still promotes reliance on rational reasoning and universally valid statements, Baudelaire's modern aesthetics of the self has turned passionate, tragic, historically embedded and sad. Neither do his modern heroes manifest the same belief in progress and as Kant's modern heroes, scholars and academically trained men of genius do. Rather, he concentrates on searching for fleeting experiences of modernity. In Baudelaire's texts, such experiences are more often found on the dirty faces of rag-and-bone men, beggar-girls and prostitutes than on the scrubbled faces of well-educated upper class scholars, the Kantian spokespersons of the Enlightenment. In this respect, I suggest that Baudelaire's position, like Foucault's, is far more low, popular and avant-garde than the high aesthetics of Kant and his followers.
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Unlike Kant, Foucault and Baudelaire thus doubt the success of the process of enlightenment. As Foucault remarks, "I do not know whether we will ever reach mature adulthood." This belief is also echoed in his argument that, despite the possibility to create a critical aesthetics of the self and to effect changes in social conditions, we can never become totally free because freedom is not a fixed state of being. For Foucault, freedom is far more a name that can be ascribed to our possibilities to create ourselves and transgress the limits imposed on us by society and others, not in the sense of overcoming these limits, but as illuminating and critically testing them.
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The third difference between Baudelaire's and Kant's critical modernities is in their different viewpoints on historical progress. What connects Kant's essay on the Enlightenment with Baudelaire's dandyism is, in Foucault's view, the fact that the (promise of reconciliation or happiness) of both thinkers is embedded in the promise of critique. Yet, I contend that, at the same time, there are some significant differences between the two, which are worth taking up here so that we may better understand the specific character of Foucault's own interpretation of the terms 'modernity' and 'Enlightenment'. What I particularly have in mind here is that, unlike in Kant, the promise of reconciliation in Baudelaire's modern aesthetics is not rooted in the individual's public usage of reason. Instead, the possibility of redemption or reconciliation is actualised in the aesthetic constitution of what he simply calls 'modernity' or 'modern subjectivity.'