Foucault and Baudelaire: On the Double Construction of the Self or Resistance is Not Futile
In his essay, “What is Enlightenment?”, Foucault notes that Baudelaire heralds artist Constantin Guys as an example of modernity. As Foucault explains, “what makes him [Guys] the modern painter par excellence in Baudelaire’s eyes is that, just when the whole world is falling asleep, he begins to work, and he transfigures that world. His transfiguration does not entail an annulling of reality, but a difficult interplay between the truth of what is real and the exercise of freedom; ‘natural’ things become ‘more than natural,’ ‘beautiful’ things become ‘more than beautiful,’ and individual objects appear ‘endowed with an impulsive life like the soul of [their] creator.’ For the attitude of modernity, the high value of the present is indissociable from a desperate eagerness to imagine it, to imagine it otherwise than it is, and to transform it not by destroying it but by grasping it in what it is. Bauderlairean modernity is an exercise in which extreme attention to what is real is confronted with the practice of a liberty that simultaneously respects this reality and violates it” (41, emphases added).
Does this not sound like Foucault’s own project? That is, as Foucault’s analyses of delinquents, the insane, and the sick evidence, we must turn our attention to the real, concrete instances of “life on the ground.” For instance, we must look to the various oppressions of the marginalized and exploited, as well as other subjectivities created through the complex interplay of social apparatuses, institutions, discourses etc. In so doing, we see how subjects are in fact not autonomous, exposing what Joerg Rieger calls, “the myth of individualism,” but rather are shaped by the particular practices, institutions, language, and myriad other beyond-our-control convergences and socio-political relations into which we are born into and live out our existence. Even so, as Foucault explicitly affirms, particularly in his later essays and interviews, we are nonetheless agents who can in fact resist other-imposed narratives; social construction for Foucault does not go “all the way down.” Rather, as human free agents, we can transgress self and other imposed limits, narratives etc. All this highlights Foucault’s attempt to balance and give full weight to both social and self construction, an issue which he believes is thematized in modernity. On the one hand, we must pay “extreme attention to what is real” (i.e. study and analyze the ways in which disciplinary practices are inscribed upon the bodies of prisoners creating very specific subjectivities). On the other hand, as free agents, we engage these realities—albeit social and not natural realities— “with the practice of a liberty that simultaneously respects and violates [them]” (41). Resistance, for Foucault, is decidedly, not futile.
 Beyond the Spirit of Empire: Theology and Politics in a New Key, 48.
 See, for example, Foucault’s essay, “The Subject and Power.”