Volume 37, Issue 1, Spring 2007
Foucault’s Alleged Irrationalism
The Legacy of German Romanticism in the Thought of Michel Foucault
Commentators often construe Foucault as an anti-Enlightenment thinker; much of this criticism assumes that Foucault inherits early German Romanticism in some sense. This essay examines these claims by assessing the role the German Romantics play in Foucault’s work, both early and late. After a brief consideration of the meaning of the term “Romanticism,” the essay examines the role that language and literature plays in Foucault early texts before examining the place of self-formation or Bildung in his later work. I conclude that examining the relationship between Foucault and the German Romantics can help us better understand Foucault’s texts and thereby avoid what Foucault terms the “blackmail of the Enlightenment,” the idea that one must be either for or against Enlightenment ideals rather than critically interrogating them.