From: steven meinking <steven.meinking@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 1995 02:52:33 -0600 (MDT)
_Remarks On Marx_ (ROM), pgs. 32-36:
"Duccio Trombadori (DC): Work as a continually unfolding experience, the
extreme relativity of method, a de-subjectifying tension: these are three
essential aspects of your attitude toward thought, as I understand it.
Starting with these aspects taken together, one wonders what certainty
there could be in the results of such research: what would be the
definitive "criterion of truth" which follows from certain premises of
your way of thinking?
Michel Foucault (MF): The problem of the truth of what I say is very
difficult for me, and it's also the central problem. It's essentially
the question which up to now I have never answered.
In the course of my works, I utilize methods that are part of the classic
repertory: demonstration, proof by means of historical documentation,
quoting other texts, referral to authoritative comments, the relationship
between ideas and facts, the proposal of explanatory patterns, etc.
There's nothing original in that. From this point of view, whatever I
assert in my writing can be verified or refuted as in any other history book.
Despite that, people who read me, even those who appreciate what I do,
often say to me, laughing: "but in the end you realize that the things
you say are nothing but fictions!" I always reply: who ever thought he
was writing anything but fiction?
If, for example, I had wanted to write the history of psychiatric
institutions in Europe between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries,
I'd certainly never have written a book like _The History Of Madness_.
But the problem isn't that of humoring the professional historians.
Rather, I aim at having an experience myself - by passing through a
determinate historical content - an experience of what we are today, of
what is not only our past but also our present. And I invite others to
share the experience. That is, an experience of our modernity that might
permit us to emerge from it transformed. Which means that at the
conclusion of the book we can establish new relationships with what was
at issue; for instance, madness, its constitution, its history in the
We have attempted several times on this list to pinpoint Foucault's
position on "truth" to no real avail. Now we know why. According
to the above confession, Foucault never had "truth" clearly
problematized!; or did he? When thinking on Foucault and truth I am
always reminded of the following passage from "Truth And Power" (p. 131
in _Power/Knowledge_ or p. 72-3 in _The Foucault Reader_):
"The important thing here, I believe, is that truth isn't outside
power, or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and
functions would repay further study, truth isn't the reward of free
spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of
those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a
thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple
forms of constraint."
Now I am not certain as to when this portion of "Truth and Power" was
written. As I understand it, the essay portion of "Truth and Power" was
written after the initial interview, accompanying the interview as an
addendum of sorts. But the language, in which objects and relations are
expressed in terms of "power," are definitive of the late Foucault, and
it sounds like the humble beginnings of a, may I say, "general" theory of
truth on the part of Foucault.
In relation to ROM then, the difficulty rests in the chronologies of the
two different works and the disparate positions that seem to evolve.
"DT: The efficacy of your discourse comes into play completely in the
balance between the force of the demonstration and the capacity to refer
to an experience that might lead to a transformation of the cultural
horizons within which we judge and experience our present. I still don't
understand how, in your opinion, this process is related to what we
called before the "criterion of truth." That is to say, to what extent
are the transformations which you are talking about in a relationship to
truth; or how do they produce "truth-effects"?
MF: There is a peculiar relation between things I've written and the
effects they have produced. I'm not saying this out of vanity. Look at
the fate of _The History Of Madness_: as soon as it was published, it was
very well received in some literary circles (Blanchot, Roland Barthes);
considered with curiosity at first by psychiatrists; totally ignored by
historians who didn't consider it interesting, etc. Then, after a few
months, the level of hostility was raised to the point that the book was
judged a direct attack against modern psychiatry and a manifesto of
anti-psychiatry. This was absolutely not my intention for at least two
reasons: first, when I wrote the book in Poland in 1958, anti-psychiatry
didn't exist (Laing himself was little known); second, it wasn't a matter
in any case of a direct attack on contemporary psychiatry, because it
stopped at analyzing facts and events which took place no later than the
beginning of the nineteenth century. And so why did people insist on
seeing in that work a direct attack on contemporary psychiatry? I'm
convinced that the reason is this: the book constituted for me - and for
those who read or used it - a tranformation of the relation (marked
historically, theoretically, and also from the ethical point of view)
which we ourselves have with madness, the institution of psychiatry, and
the "truth" of that discourse.
So here is a book that functions as an experience, much more than as the
demonstration of a historical truth. Thus I return to the discourse on
"truth": it is evident that in order to have such an experience through a
book like _The History Of Madness_, it is necessary that what it asserts
is somehow "true," in terms of historically verifiable truth. But what
is essential is not found in a series of historically verifiable proofs;
it lies rather in the experience which the book permits us to have. And
an experience is neither true nor false: it is always a fiction,
something constructed, which exists only after it has been made, not
before; it isn't something that is "true," but it has been a reality.
To summarize, then: the difficult relation with truth is entirely at
stake in the way in which truth is found used inside an experience, not
fastened to it, and which, within certain limits, destroys it."