We continue with Michel Foucault's "The Ethics of the Concern of the Self as a Practice of Freedom" (1984) and add Susan Sontag's "On Style" (1965). After the departure of our guest about halfway through this part, we wrap up with thoughts on all the readings, including Jacques Derrida's "The Animal That Therefore I Am" (1999) p. 1–16, and our guest Shahidha's book Dressed: A Philosophy of Clothes (2020) p. 1–22, 205–217.
For Foucault, we try to clarify the relation between freedom and liberation and bring in the new Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance.
Sontag's "On Style" is, like Foucault's account, not directly about clothing. She's talking about literature, and the misleading style vs. content distinction that she sees rampant in the way critics and the reading public analyze writing. It's not the case, Sontag says, that we can get rid of style and see right to content. The style is in fact part of the content, and is, on Sontag's account, a mnemonic device for getting us to internalize the work, e.g., it makes you groove along with the song, remember the rhyme, connect with the colors, or whatever. She's concerned with us having vital immediate relations with artworks, not trying to strip off their style through analysis, effectively translating them into messages or other content. You should be able to see the parallels.
We conclude with some post-Shahidha further reflection on Derrida: As a few of you commented since we posted part one, while this image of "naked before the cat" was suggestive, it's not clear that the phenomenology is unequivocal—one can use the experience to feel like the cat, or unlike the cat, or nothing at all—or that we've really received any actual argument or otherwise learned anything from Derrida's image. Should we actually have a full Derrida episode? We will if you demand it!
…Or maybe our impatience with Derrida (and with the descriptions in Shahidha's book) is a matter of our paradigmatically "masculine" impatience with style, i.e., exactly what Sontag and Shahidha are arguing against.
Sontag's essay (which we'll be discussing in full in our next episode) is in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (or read it online). We'll be covering both this essay and "Against Interpretation" at length in our next episode.
End song: "Clothe Me in Ashes" by K.C. Clifford, interviewed for Nakedly Examined Music #121.