Foucault's Gotham Simon Critchley
In Book 8 of the Confessions, Augustine describes himself as "still tightly bound by the love of women", which he describes as his "old will", his carnal desire. This will conflicts with his "new will", namely his spiritual desire to turn to God. Alluding to and extending St Paul's line of thought in Romans, Augustine describes himself as having "two wills", the law of sin in the flesh and the law of spirit turned towards God. Paralysed by this conflict and unable to commit himself completely to God, these two wills lay waste Augustine's soul. He waits, hesitates, and hates himself. Seeing himself from outside himself, from the standpoint of God, Augustine is brought face-to-face with his self and sees how foul he is, "how covered with stains and sores". He continues, "I looked, and I was filled with horror, but there was no place for me to flee away from myself".
Such is the fatal circuit of what Michel Foucault calls the Christian hermeneutics of desire opposed to the pagan aesthetics of existence. In a seminar at
in 1980, Foucault is reported to have said that the difference between late antiquity and early Christianity might be reduced to the following questions: the patrician pagan asks, "Given that I am who I am, whom can I fuck?" The Christian asks, "Given that I can fuck no one, who am I?" Foucault's insight is profound, but let me state categorically and without a trace of irony that, as a committed atheist, I side with the deep hermeneutics of Christian subjectivity against the superficial pagan aesthetics of existence. The question of the being of being human - who am I? - that begins with Paul and is profoundly deepened by Augustine arises in the sight of God. The problem is how that question survives God's death. This is Rousseau's question in Confessions, it is Nietzsche's question in Ecce Homo, and Heidegger's question in Being and Time. In my less humble moments, I think of it as my question as well. Whether or not he exists, we are slaves to God. New York University
About us News Home Issue 1 Contributors April Fish and Other Hoaxes Simon Critchley is Professor of Philosophy at the
for Social Research in New School . His last book was Things Merely Are (Routledge 2005). Infinitely Demanding is forthcoming from Verso. New York