Re: [Foucault-L] REcent Question

On Thu, Sep 06, 2007 at 08:21:24PM +1000, b.nitins@xxxxxxxxx wrote:

> Foucault wrote each book in order to achieve an effect in his
> audience. The effect that we experience from DP is a sudden
> critical awareness of the systems of discipline, domination,
> repression and normalization that exist in modern western liberal
> socieites. Obviously then, the eruption of this consciousness is
> testament to the fact that we are not simply so many, 'docile bodies'.
> Perhaps, for some of us, this was an accurate description of our
> lives beforehand, but, if we have looked clearly and understood fully
> the portrayal he presents, then Foucaults historical and theoretical
> analysis serves to break down this docility.

A very interesting statement. Surely true, but then there are and have
always been also those whose awareness of the systems of discipline,
repression, exclusion, etc., is not from books at all. Need it be
pointed out that Foucault was gay (a psychiatric disorder, an excluded
sexuality)? That he sought to control the circumstances of his own
death, another psychiatric disorder (far more serious), and furthermore
the intent to commit a crime? And it is also said that he used drugs.
Foucault indeed wrote to achieve a particular effect--but not merely
on his audience. Here I have collected some quotes of what Foucault
said about the intent of his work and life. These first are from the
untitled interview in Essential Works: Power:

"To become a bourgeois intellectual, a professor, a journalist, a
writer, or anything of that sort seemed repugnant. The experience of
the war had shown us the urgent need of a society radically different
from the one in which we were living, this society that had permitted
Nazism, that had lain down in front of it, and that had gone over en
masse to de Gaulle. A large sector of French youth had a reaction of
total disgust toward all that. We wanted a world and a society that
were not only different but that would be an alternative version of
ourselves: we wanted to be completely other in a completely different

"I don't regard myself as a philosopher. What I do is neither
a way of doing philosophy nor a way of discouraging others from
doing philosophy. ... I make use of the most conventional methods:
demonstration, or, at any rate, proof in historical matters, textual
references, citation of authorities ... There is nothing original in
what I do. ... In spite of that, people who read me--particularly
those who value what I do--often tell me with a laugh, 'You know very
well that what you say is really just fiction.' I always reply, 'Of
course, there's no question of it being anything else but fiction.'

"If I had really wanted, for example, to do the history of psychiatric
institutions in Europe between the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, obviously I wouldn't have written a book like /Madness
and Civilization/. But my problem is not to satisfy professional
historians; my problem is to construct myself, and to invite others
to share an experience of what we are, not only our past but also our
present, an experience of our modernity in such a way that we might
come out of it transformed. ... [Discipline and Punish], for me--and
for those who read it and used it--constituted a transformation in the
historical, theoretical, and moral or ethical relationship we have
with madness, the mentally ill, the psychiatric institution, and the
very truth of psychiatric discourse. So it's a book that functions as
an experience, for its writer and reader alike, much more than as the
establishment of a historical truth. ... The essential thing is not
in the series of those true or historically verifiable findings but,
rather, in the experience that the book makes possible."

"I haven't written a single book that was not inspired, at least in
part, by a direct personal experience. I've had a complex personal
relationship with madness and with the psychiatric institution. ...
The same is true of prison and sexuality, for different reasons."

"I only began to write [Discipline and Punish] after having
participated for several years in working groups that were thinking
about and struggling against penal institutions. This was a
complicated, difficult work carried out in association with prisoners,
their families, prison staff, magistrates, and others.

"When the book came out, different readers--in particular,
correctional officers, social workers, and so on--delivered this
peculiar judgment: 'The book is paralyzing. It may contain some
correct observations, but it has clear limits, because it impedes
us; it prevents us from going on with our activity.' My reply is
that this very reaction proves that the work was successful, that it
functioned just as I intended."

"A phrase by Marx is pertinent here: man produces man. How should it
be understood? In my judgment, what ought to be produced is not man
as natured supposedly designed him, or as his essence ordains him to
be--we need to produce something that doesn't exist yet, without being
able to know what it will be."

"May '68 was extremely important, without any doubt. It's certain
that without May '68 I wouldn't have afterward done the work I did in
regard to prison, delinquency, and sexuality."

"People no longer accepted being governed in the broad sense of
government. I'm not talking about state government in the sense the
term has in public law but of those men who orient our daily lives
either through administrative acts or through direct or indirect
influences ... In writing /Madness and Civilization/ and /The Birth of
the Clinic/, I meant to do a genealogical history of knowledge. But
the real guiding thread was this problem of power."

>From a different interview:

"We wish to attack an institution at the point where it culminates and
reveals itself in a simple and basic ideology, in the notions of good
and evil, innocence and guilt. We wish to change this ideology which
is experienced through those dense institutional layers where it has
been invested, crystallized, and reproduced."

I feel silly for not mentioning, in my other post, "Useless to Revolt?":

"Revolts belong to history. But, in a certain way, they escape from
it. The impulse by which a single individual, a group, a minority, or
an entire people says, 'I will no longer obey,' and throws the risk
of their life in the face of an authority they consider unjust seems
to me to be something irreducible. Because no authority is capable
of making it utterly impossible: Warsaw will always have its ghetto
in revolt and its sewers crowded with rebels. And because the man
who rebels is finally inexplicable; it takes a wrenching-away that
interrupts the flow of history, and its long chains of reasons, for a
man to be able, 'really,' to prefer to the risk of death to the
certainty of having to obey."

"If societies persist and live, that is, if the powers that be are not
'utterly absolute,' it is because, behind all the submissions and
coercions, beyond the threats, the violence, and the intimidations,
there is the possibility of that moment when life can no longer be
bought, when the authorities can no longer do anything, and when,
facing the gallows and the machine guns, people revolt."

"People do revolt; that is a fact. And that is how subjectivity (not
that of great men, but that of anyone) is brought into history,
breathing life into it. A convict risks his life to protest unjust
punishments; a madman can no longer bear being confined and
humiliated; a people refuses the regime that oppresses it."

"If I were asked my conception of what I do, the strategest being the
man who says, 'What difference does a particular death, a particular
cry, a particular revolt make compared to the great general necessity,
and, on the other hand, what difference does a general principle make
in the particular situation where we are?', well, I would have to say
that it is immaterial to me whether the strategist is a politician, a
historian, a revolutionary, a follower of the sha or of the ayatollah;
my theoretical ethic is opposite to theirs. It is 'antistrategic':
to be respectful when a singularity revolts, intransigent as soon as
power violates the universal. A simple choice; a difficult job: for
one must at the same time look closely, a bit beneath history, at what
cleaves it and stirs it, and keep watch, a bit behind politics, over
what must unconditionally limit it. After all, that is my work; I am
not the first or the only one to do it. But that is what I chose."

Finally, Marx:

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways;
the point is to change it."

[Foucault-L] REcent Question, b . nitins
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