Foucault, Oedipus, Négritude
in Foucault’s theatres
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In Foucault’s reading of Oedipus the King, delivered in the first four weeks of his course ‘On the Government of the Living’ at the Collège de France in 1979-1980, Foucault articulates a theory of the relationship between power and knowledge hinging on what he calls the ritual manifestation of truth – alēthourgia. This performative sort of truth-showing takes place through ‘rituals, ceremonies, and various operations of magic, divination, and the consultation of oracles, of gods’. Aligning such alēthourgia with the African-born Roman emperor Septimus Severus’ performative display of his destiny to rule in a sky chart he exhibited in his palace, Foucault describes dramatic procedures by which events are shown as truth, theatrically. Trajectories and roles, masks, and garb reveal facets of truth peripatetically and paratactically – and, as he suggests of his own method, anarchaeologically, by contingency. Just as African masks, Souleymane Bachir Diagne reminds us, after Négritude poet and statesman Léopold Sédhar Senghor perform their own rhythmic (mis)alignment and adjacency in edges and hollows, constituting a philosophical way of being as movement and articulation (rather than exhibiting any underlying ‘truth’), alēthourgia – the chapter argues – describes a play of light and shadow, visible and invisible, hidden and manifest, a rhythmic dramaturgy of power.

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