Askesis, Critique and Tradition: Foucault and Benjamin

A central concept in Foucault’s later work is Askesis: an exercise of oneself, related to self-mastery and self-transformation. The concept of “ascetic schooling” in the foreword to Benjamin’s Origin of German Trauerspiel has a similarly significant role, much neglected by scholarship. Both Foucault’s askesis  and Benjamin’s “ascetic schooling” relate to the transformation of the subject through arduous work as fundamental for philosophy.   At the same time, their considerations of askesis/asceticism illuminates the different models of critique in each case – the reactivation of an attitude alien to tradition and doctrine (Foucault), versus a change of attitude as propaedeutic for the presentation of doctrine or tradition (Benjamin). 

Ori Rotlevy is a postdoctoral fellow at the Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is also the co-director of a research group on “Tradition: Transmission, Canon and Critique” in the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University.