Adam Pendleton, Black Lives Matter (wall work) #2 (detail), 2015, wallpaper, dimensions variable.

IN HIS 1984 ESSAY on the question of enlightenment, Michel Foucault urged, with his typical verve, an attitude and ethos of “permanent critique of our historical era.” For all its resounding tone of defiance, the stance is an odd one to take: Who other than the fundamentalist—the dogmatist, the fanatic, the zealot, the disciple—would oppose critique and modest experimentation? With just a soupçon of rhetorical radicality, Foucault’s idea of enlightenment passes over historical actuality and instead asserts an aesthetics of self-creation and a wholly formal ethics of critique. I suspect he does this in case the Enlightenment should turn out to be just another historical error, a regression, another dogmatism—it’s as if, I am tempted to say, Foucault’s greatest fear were historical embarrassment.

Of course, he knew better than this. In Discipline and Punish (1975),

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