Reading Foucault through Horton Hears a Who?

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horton-hears-a-who-1396.jpgCheck out my blog entry about Foucault's "The Masked Philosopher," Horton Hears a Who, troublemaking and curiosity-as-care. Read the whole entry here. But first, check out a blurb:

In "The Masked Philsopher," Michel Foucault describes curiosity and the care it suggests:
[Curiosity] evokes 'care'; it evokes the care one takes of what exists and what might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilized before it; a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd; a certain determination to throw off familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way; a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is disappearing; a lack of respect for the traditional hierarchies of what is important and fundamental.
From the beginning of the story (in the book and both versions--1970 and 2008--of the movie) Horton exhibits the qualities of curiosity-as-care. Here, let me break it down in terms of the 2008 version. First, let me offer a scene from early on in the movie. Horton is trying to explain to the Sour Kangaroo why he is talking to a speck of dust on a flower:

Kangaroo: That's absurd. There aren't people that small!
Horton: Well, maybe they aren't small. Maybe we're big.
Kangaroo: Horton!
Horton: No, really. Think about it. What if there was someone way out there looking down on our world right now? And to them, we're the specks.
Kangaroo: Horton! There is nothing on that speck!
Horton: But I heard.
Kangaroo: Did you, really? Ohhoho my. Then how come I don't hear anything?
Horton: Well...hmmm...
Kangaroo: If you can't see, hear, or feel something it doesn't exist. And believing in tiny, imaginary people is just not something we do or tolerate here in the jungle of Nool.
Foucault: it evokes the care one takes of what exists and what might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilized before it
Horton: Horton is interested in and attentive to the world around him and open to imagining new possibilities. His sharpened (and heightened) sense of reality enables him to hear the tiny cry coming from a small speck floating by as he is bathing in the stream. Instead of not hearing (or more common, hearing but refusing to listen), Horton listens and responds to the voice that signals the possibility of another world beyond his, a world that seems unimaginable within his world (with its empirical, physical and "natural" laws). He is not threatened or even incredulous at the possibility of a tiny world on a speck; it does not immobilize him. Instead it sparks his curiosity and his imagination about what lies beyond his own observations.

Foucault: a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd
Horton: Horton is ready and willing to be open to how our surroundings, such as flowers, trees, specks of dust, may not be what they appear to be. They may be strange and strangers to us (we don't really know them or what they are).

Foucault: a certain determination to throw off familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way
Horton: Once he hears the voice and believes there that there is a small person on the speck, he is committed to never look at flowers and dust (or the world, for that matter) the same way again. He is committed to staying open to the possibility of other worlds (ones that are smaller and bigger than us).

Foucault: a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is disappearing
Horton: [a stretch perhaps?] Horton is unwilling to let the moment pass and the speck of dust and its inhabitants to perish. When he hears the small voice crying for help, he acts immediately.

Foucault: a lack of respect for the traditional hierarchies of what is important and fundamental.
Horton: Horton refuses to honor the jungle of Nool rule (at least as created and enforced by the Sour Kangaroo): If it you can't see, hear, or feel it then it doesn't exist. He steadfastly stands behind his (empirically unproven) claim that there are people on the speck of dust.

Now, this kind of care--the care for remaining open and interested/attentive to the world in its different permutations--is not often recognized as such. Maybe that is because care-as-curiosity is hardly ever about being careful. It is exhausting, dangerous and quite frequently gets us into trouble (and demands that we stay in trouble by being resistant to rigid rules and ready for new possibilities). But, what if we imagined the type of troublemaking and troublestaying that Horton is doing as an ethics of care? Then, could we begin to value (and honor and promote) troublemaking?


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