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Michel Foucault “Fearless Speech”

Foucault, Michel 2001. Fearless Speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

1. The Word Parrhesia

The one who uses parrhesia, the parrhesiastes, is someone who says everything he has in mind: he does not hide anything, but opens his heart and mind completely to other people through his discourse. […] And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. (12)

There are two types of parrhesia which we must distinguish. First, there is a pejorative sense of the word not very far from „chattering”, and which consists in saying any- or everything one has in mind without qualification. This pejorative sense occurs in Plato, for example, as a characterization of the bad democratic constitution where everyone has the right ti address his fellow citizens and to tell them everything – even the most stupid and dangerous things for the city. (13)

To my mind, the parrhesiastes says what is true because he knows that it is true because it really is true. The parrhesiastes is not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth. (14)

For the Greeks, however, the coincidence between belief and truth does not take place in a (mental) experience, but in a verbal activity, namely, parrhesia. It appears that parrhesia, in this Greek sense, can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework. (14)

If there is a kind of „proof” of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. (15)

So you see, the parrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk. Of course, this risk is not always a risk of life. […] Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger: it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the „game” of life or death. It is because the parrhesiastes must take a risk in speaking the truth that the king or tyrant generally cannot use parrhesia; for he risks nothing. (16)

But the parrhesiastes primarily chooses a specific relationship to himself: he prefers himself as a truth-treller rather than as a living being who is false to himself. (17)

For in parrhesia the danger always comes from the fact that the said truth is capable of hurting or angering the interlocutor. (17)

So you see, the function of parrhesia is not to demonstrate the truth of someone else, but has the function of criticism: criticism of the interlocutor or of the speaker himself. (17)

Parrhesia is a form of criticism, either towards another or towards oneself, but always in a situation where the speaker or confessor is in a position of inferiority with respect to the interlocutor. […] The parrhesia comes from „below”, as it were, and is directed towards „above”. (18)

This is not to imply, however, that anyone can use parrhesia. For although there is a text in Euripides where a servant uses parrhesia, most of the time the use of parrhesia requires that the parrhesiastes know his own genealogy, his own status; i.e., usually one must first be a male citizen to speak the truth as a parrhesiastes. (18)

[…] in parrhesia, telling the truth is regarded as duty. The orator who speaks the truth to those who cannot accept his truth, for instance, and who may be axiled, or punished in some way, is free to keep silent. No one forces him to speak, but he feels that it is his duty to do so. […] Parrhesia is thus related to freedom and to duty. (19)

More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal acitivity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). (19)

The continuous long speech is a rhetorical or sophistical device, whereas the dialogue through questions and answers is typical for parrhesia, i.e., dialogue is a major technique for playing the parrhesiastic game. (20)

Athenian democracy was defined very explicitly as a constitution (politeia) in which people enjoyed demokratia, isegoria (the equal right of speech), isonomia (the equal participation of all citizens in the exercise of power), and parrhesia. Parrhesia, which is a requisite for public speech, takes place between citizens as individuals, and also between citizens construed as an assembly. Moreover, the agora is the place where parrhesia appears. (22)

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