French philosophy often seems to operate by constantly moving forward and away from the current generation of its writers. This paper argues that, at least in one instance, this way of proceeding would be a mistake. Michel Foucault’s analysis of power, since it applies to the body, is well complemented by Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s corporeal analysis. In particular, the view of corporeality Merleau-Ponty offers us allows us to see both how power can operate on it and how it can nevertheless retain agency. Moreover, the distinction between constitution and institution that Merleau-Ponty invokes in his 1954–55 lectures converges with Foucault’s genealogical approach in order to yield a view of body, power, and agency that deepens our understanding of the operation of mechanisms of power and how to conceive resistance to them.
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Todd May is the Class of 1941 Memorial Professor in The Department of Philosophy at Clemson University. He is the author of a number of books, including A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe (Chicago, 2015), Death (Acumen, 2009), The Political Thought of Jacques Rancier: Creating Equality (Edinburgh, 2008), Philosophy of Foucault (McGill-Queen’s, 2006), and The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism (Pennsylvania, 1994). Among his many essays are “Moral Individualism, Moral Relationalism, and Objections to Non-human Animals,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 31:2 (2014), “Desire and Ideology in Fascism,” in Deleuze and Fascism: Security, War, Aesthetics (Routledge, 2013), and “A New Neo-Pragmatism: From James and Dewey to Foucault, Foucault Studies 11 (2011).
Todd May, “Living the Biopolitical: Body and Resistance in Foucault and Merleau-Ponty,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 36:1 (2015), pp. 159–73.