Richard Marshall interviews Johanna Oksala in 3:AM Magazine:
3:AM: You’ve written about Foucault on freedom. Many people argue that Foucault’s position on subjectivity leads to a metaphysical determinism and that is often construed as eliminating human freedom. You disagree with this reading don’t you?
JO: My first book, Foucault on Freedom, engages with the question of how we should understand freedom today. You are right that the charges against Foucault’s philosophy in contemporary debates often focus on the question of the freedom of the subject. According to many of Foucault’s critics, the denial of an autonomous subject leads to the denial of any meaningful concept of freedom, which again leads to the impossibility of emancipatory politics. I argue that, rather than dismissing Foucault’s thought as politically dangerous and holding on to an autonomous and authentic subject for political reasons, it is more fruitful to take seriously the major impact Foucault’s thought has had on our ways of thinking about the subject, and also try to rethink freedom. I trace the different meanings of freedom in the different phases of Foucault’s thought and show how freedom emerges as a key theme in his thought. I emphasize Foucault’s idea that freedom lies in the ontological contingency of the present, in the unpredictability of our ways of thinking, acting and relating to other people.
3:AM: Your new book looks at Foucault and political violence. You disagree with Zizek andMouffe who say that violence is intrinsic to politics forever. Why is Mouffe’s position contradictory? How does your agonistic conception of politics help you dispute their claims?
JO: Yes, my book, Foucault, Politics, and Violence, questions the idea that violence is an ineliminable part of politics. I draw on Foucault to argue that theoretically we should approach violence as historically contingent practices and not as an expression of some primordial hostility. It is important for me to show this because such a philosophical approach opens up a way to political critiques of violence. For a critique of violence to make robust sense rather than merely to amount to wishful thinking, it must establish as a preliminary move that political violence is not necessary. Conversely, the acceptance of an ineliminable link between violence and politics would mark the end of all radical critiques of violence.