chapter  9
10 Pages

‘What am I doing when I speak of this present?’: Voice, power, and desire in truth-telling

ByALECIA YOUNGBLOOD JACKSON

The title of this chapter comes from a question asked by Michel Foucault (1990) in his 1984 lecture entitled, ‘The Art of Telling the Truth,’ in which he interprets Kant’s text, ‘What is Enlightenment?’What is important for Foucault is how Kant’s text offers a different way of questioning the present. Kant’s questioning considers (in metaphysical fashion) the meanings, origins, and truth of the present, but in doing so leads this line of thought somewhere else. The first part of Kant’s questioning has to do with what the present ‘is’; the second, which Foucault finds exemplary, has to do with how subjectivity is fashioned from the process of telling the truth. Foucault (1990, p. 89) suggests that a new question of modernity is, ‘What am I doing when I speak of this present?’ This new question is one that ‘problematizes its own discursive contemporaneity’; it becomes an interrogation of the thinking subject as both ‘element and actor’ in belonging in a certain and particular way to the present, of speaking a certain and particular truth about the present (p. 88).