Michel Foucault's Aesthetics of Existence and its Contemporary Significance
Foucault called the morality of the Greeks as ‘the aesthetics of existence’ and described it as an attitude for creating their life as an aesthetic work of art. A person does not follow established rules, but he gives style and form to his life and in that way he becomes ethic and aesthetic subject. The Greeks had the technology of ‘a care of the self’ as ‘the technē of existence’. If ‘a knowledge of the self’ is the principle of heteronomous subject in modern age, ‘a care of the self’ is the principle of autonomous subject. And the truth can be reached not through ‘a knowledge of the self’, but through ‘a care of the self’ that can transform oneself.
Parrhêsia which means ‘speaking the truth’, ‘frank speech’ emerges as an important concept in the later philosophy of Foucault, and it comes from his interest in the formation process of the autonomous subject. Parrhêsiast’s speech, behavior, and silence require courage, because he has to endure the negative reactions of others. In particular, parrhêsia of Cynicism shows the style of ‘another life’. Cynicist's life is used as an instrument of telling the truth at any risk, and reduced all pointless conventions and all superfluous opinions. His bare life also has a role of test to reveal what would be the most elementary in the life of human life.
The Cynical art which is derived from the connection of life and truth, is related to the interest in the ‘artist’s life’ in the nineteenth century. The artist's true life must in some way be a manifestation of art itself in its truth. And the ‘laying bare existence’ in the modern art is linked to the minimal style of Cynicism. Modern art is anti-Platonic in that it is a reduction of bare existence, anti-Aristotelian in that it rejects every form of established art, and anti-cultural because it refuses to consensus of culture. This is the parrhêsia of modern art, the courage to speak the truth.
We inherited both the tradition of religious moral virtues that emphasize the abstinence and sacrifice, and the secular tradition of seeking morality from external law. As these traditions are encountered, the self-practice has changed into immorality, selfishness, or means of avoiding responsibility. However, Foucault’s care of the self is directed toward others by making a relationship with truth. Care of the self is éthopoétique, which has an intention to transform oneself, but at the same time, it cares about others and entire humanity, and can change the configuration of the world.