Michel Foucault (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984), French philosopher and historian, Professor of the History of Systems of Thought at the Collège de France from 1970 until his death in 1984, revolutionized the academic study of the history of medicine, sexuality, penality, the liberal state and classical ethics, and contributed to the philosophy of language and aesthetics.
- [T]ruly to escape Hegel involves an exact appreciation of the price we have to pay to detach ourselves from him. It assumes that we are aware of the extent to which Hegel, insidiously perhaps, is close to us; it implies a knowledge, in that which permits us to think against Hegel, of that which remains Hegelian. We have to determine the extent to which our anti-Hegelianism is possibly one of his tricks directed against us, at the end of which he stands, motionless, waiting for us.
- Discourse on Language, Inaugural Lecture at the College de France, 1970-1971. tr. A. M. Sheridan Smith
- Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.
- 'The Archaeology of Knoweldge (1972), tr. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon)
- Quand j’étudie les mécanismes de pouvoir, j’essaie d’étudier leur spécificité… Je n’admets ni la notion de maîtrise ni l’universalité de la loi. Au contraire, je m’attache à saisir des mécanismes d’exercise effectif de pouvoir ; et je le fais parce que ceux qui sont insérés dans ces relations de pouvoir, qui y sont impliqués peuvent, dans leurs actions, dans leur résistance et leur rébellion, leur échapper, les transformer, bref, ne plus être soumis. Et si je ne dis pas ce qu’il faut faire, ce n’est pas parce que je crois qu’il n’y a rien à faire. Bien au contraire, je pense qu’il y a mille choses à faire, à inventer, à forger par ceux qui, reconnaissant les relations de pouvoir dans lesquelles ils sont impliqués, ont décidé de leur résister ou de leur échapper. De ce point de vue, toute ma recherche repose sur un postulat d’optimisme absolu. Je n’effectue pas mes analyses pour dire : voilà comment sont les choses, vous êtes piégés. Je ne dis ces choses que dans la mesure où je considère que cela permet de les transformer. Tout ce que je fais, je le fais pour que cela serve.
- I try to carry out the most precise and discriminative analyses I can in order to show in what ways things change, are transformed, are displaced. When I study the mechanisms of power, I try to study their specificity... I admit neither the notion of a master nor the universality of his law. On the contrary, I set out to grasp the mechanisms of the effective exercise of power; and I do this because those who are inserted in these relations of power, who are implicated therein, may, through their actions, their resistance, and their rebellion, escape them, transform them—in short, no longer submit to them. And if I do not say what ought to be done, it is not because I believe there is nothing to be done. Quite on the contrary, I think there are a thousand things to be done, to be invented, to be forged, by those who, recognizing the relations of power in which they are implicated, have decided to resist or escape them. From this point of view, my entire research rests upon the postulate of an absolute optimism. I do not undertake my analyses to say: look how things are, you are all trapped. I do not say such things except insofar as I consider this to permit some transformation of things. Everything I do, I do in order that it may be of use.
- Dits et Écrits 1954–1988 (1976) Vol. II, 1976–1988 edited by Daniel Defert and François Ewald, p. 911-912
- The soul is the prison of the body.
- Discipline & Punish (1977) as translated by Alan Sheridan, p. 30
- Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?
- Discipline & Punish (1977) as translated by Alan Sheridan, p. 228
- I don't feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don't know what will be the end. My field is the history of thought. Man is a thinking being.
- Truth, Power, Self : An Interview with Michel Foucault (25 October 1982)
- I'm very proud that some people think that I'm a danger for the intellectual health of students. When people start thinking of health in intellectual activities, I think there is something wrong. In their opinion I am a dangerous man, since I am a crypto-Marxist, an irrationalist, a nihilist.
- Truth, Power, Self : An Interview with Michel Foucault (25 October 1982)
- When I was a student in the 1950s, I read Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty. When you feel an overwhelming influence, you try to open a window. Paradoxically enough, Heidegger is not very difficult for a Frenchman to understand. When every word is an enigma, you are in a not-too-bad position to understand Heidegger. Being and Time is difficult, but the more recent works are clearer. Nietzsche was a revelation to me. I felt that there was someone quite different from what I had been taught. I read him with a great passion and broke with my life, left my job in the asylum, left France: I had the feeling I had been trapped. Through Nietzsche, I had become a stranger to all that.
- Truth, Power, Self : An Interview with Michel Foucault (25 October 1982)
- Qui définit le moment où j'écris?
- How to define the moment that I write?
- "Un cours inedit" in Magazine littéraire (May 1984), page 34.
- One can say that the author is an ideological product, since we represent him as the opposite of his historically real function. (When a historically given function is represented in a figure that inverts it, one has an ideological production.) The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.
- "What is an author?" (1984)
- There are more ideas on earth than intellectuals imagine. And these ideas are more active, stronger, more resistant, more passionate than "politicians" think. We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them. Ideas do not rule the world. But it is because the world has ideas (and because it constantly produces them) that it is not passively ruled by those who are its leaders or those who would like to teach it, once and for all, what it must think.
- As quoted in Michel Foucault (1991) by Didier Eribon, as translated by Betsy Wind, Harvard University Press, p. 282
- There is object proof that homosexuality is more interesting than heterosexuality. It's that one knows a considerable number of heterosexuals who would wish to become homosexuals, whereas one knows very few homosexuals who would really like to become heterosexuals.
- As quoted in Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (2001) by Robert Aldrich and Gary Wotherspoon ISBN 041522974X
- What all these people are doing is not aggressive; they are inventing new possibilities of pleasure with strange parts of their body — through the eroticization of the body. I think it's ... a creative enterprise, which has as one of its main features what I call the desexualization of pleasure.
- In reference to Sadism and Masochism, as quoted in Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (2001) by Robert Aldrich and Gary Wotherspoon
- There has been an inversion in the hierarchy of the two principles of antiquity, “Take care of yourself” and “Know yourself.” In Greco-Roman culture, knowledge of oneself appeared as the consequence of the care of the self. In the modern world, knowledge of oneself constitutes the fundamental principle.
- “Technologies of the Self,” 'Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth, p. 228
- A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices that we accept rest.
- “Practicing criticism, or, is it really important to think?”, interview by Didier Eribon, May 30-31, 1981, in Politics, Philosophy, Culture, ed. L. Kriztman (1988), p. 155
Madness and Civilization (1964)
- What is constitutive is the action that divides madness, and not the science elaborated once this division is made.
- The constitution of madness as a mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, affords the evidence of a broken dialogue, posits the separation as already effected, and thrusts into oblivion all those stammered, imperfect words without fixed syntax in which the exchange between madness and reason was made. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue of reason about madness, has been established only on the basis of such a silence.
- Where can an interrogation lead us which does not follow reason in its horizontal course, but seeks to retrace in time that constant vertically which confronts European culture with what it is not?
- Between these two unique and symmetrical events, something happens whose ambiguity has left the historians of medicine at a loss: blind repression in an absolutist regime, according to some; but according to others, the gradual discovery by science and philanthropy of madness in its positive truth. As a matter of fact, beneath these reversible meanings, a structure is forming which does not resolve the ambiguity but determines it. It is this structure which accounts for the transition from the medieval and humanist experience of madness to our own experience, which confines insanity within mental illness. In the Middle Ages and until the Renaissance, man's dispute with madness was a dramatic debate in which he confronted the secret powers of the world; the experience of madness was clouded by images of the Fall and the Will of God, of the Beast and the Metamorphosis, and of all the marvelous secrets of Knowledge. In our era, the experience of madness remains silent in the composure of a knowledge which, knowing too much about madness, forgets it. But from one of these experiences to the other, the shift has been made by a world without images, without positive character, in a kind of silent transparency which reveals— as mute institution, act without commentary, immediate knowledge—a great motionless structure; this structure is one of neither drama nor knowledge; it is the point where history is immobilized in the tragic category which both establishes and impugns it.
- Enfermé dans le navire, d’où on n’échappe pas, le fou est confié à la rivière aux mille bras, à la mer aux mille chemins, à cette grande incertitude extérieure à tout. Il est prisonnier au milieu de la plus libre, de la plus ouverte des routes : solidement enchaîné à l’infini carrefour.
- Confined in the ship, from which it is impossible to escape, the madman is confined to the thousand branches of the river, the thousand paths of the sea, to this great uncertainty external to everything. He is a prisoner in the midst of the most free, the most open of roads: chained solidly to an infinite crossroads.
- Chapter 1
- In its most general form, confinement is explained, or at least justified, by the desire to avoid scandal. It even signifies thereby an important change in the consciousness of evil. The Renaissance had freely allowed the forms of unreason to come out into the light of day. ... Until the seventeenth century, evil in all its most violent and most inhuman forms could not be dealt with and punished unless it was brought into the open. The light in which confession was made and punishment executed could alone balance the darkness from which evil issued. In order to pass through all the stages of its fulfillment, evil must necessarily incur public avowal and manifestation before reaching the conclusion which suppresses it. Confinement, on the contrary, betrays a form of conscience to which the inhuman can suggest only shame.
- Chapter 3
- In the Renaissance, madness was present everywhere and mingled with every experience by its images or its dangers. During the classical period, madness was shown, but on the other side of bars; if present, it was at a distance, under the eyes of a reason that no longer felt any relation to it and that would not compromise itself by too close a resemblance. Madness had become a thing to look at: no longer a monster inside oneself, but an animal with strange mechanisms, a bestiality from which man had long since been suppressed.
- Chapter 3
- We must not understand it [madness] as reason diseased, or as reason lost or alienated, but quite simply as reason dazzled.
- Delirium and dazzlement are in a relation which constitutes the essence of madness, exactly as truth and light, in their fundamental relation, constitute classical reason.
- The Cartesian formula of doubt is certainly the great exorcism of madness. Descartes closes his eyes and plugs up his ears the better to see the true brightness of essential daylight; thus he is secured against the dazzlement of the madman who, opening his eyes, sees only night, and not seeing at all, believes he sees when he imagines. In the uniform lucidity of his closed senses, Descartes has broken with all possible fascination, and if he sees, he is certain of seeing that which he sees. Descartes has broken with all possible fascination, and if he sees, he is certain of seeing that which he sees. While before the eyes of the madman, drunk on a light which is darkness, rise and multiply images incapable of criticizing themselves (since the madman sees them), but irreparably separated from being.
- Unreason is in the same relation to reason as dazzlement to the brightness of daylight itself.
- A law which excludes all dialectic and all reconciliation; which establishes, consequently, both the flawless unity of knowledge and the uncompromising division of tragic existence; it rules over a world without twilight, which knows no effusion, nor the attenuated cares of lyricism; everything must be either waking or dream, truth or darkness, the light of being or the nothingness of shadow.
- We understand that the tragic hero—in contrast to the baroque character of the preceding period—can never be mad; and that conversely madness cannot bear within itself those values of tragedy which we have known since Nietzsche and Artaud.
- The images of madness are only dream and error, and if the sufferer who is blinded by them appeals to them, it is only to disappear with them in the annihilation to which they are fated.
- ... a passion which has found with madness the perfection of its fulfillment.
- From the discovery of that necessity which inevitably reduces man to nothing, we have shifted to the scornful contemplation of that nothing which is existence itself. Fear in the face of the absolute limit of death turns inward in a continuous irony; man disarms it in advance, making it an object of derision by giving it an everyday, tamed form, by constantly renewing it in the spectacle of life, by scattering it throughout the vices, the difficulties, and the absurdities of all men. Death's annihilation is no longer anything because it was already everything, because life itself was only futility, vain words, a squabble of cap and bells. The head that will become a skull is already empty.
History of Sexuality (1976 - 1984)
- Histoire de la sexualité
- Homosexuality appears as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphroditism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.
- Vol I: La volonté de savoir
- An Introduction. NY: Pantheon. Translated from French by Robert Hurley. Page 43
- The most defenseless tenderness and the bloodiest of powers have a similar need of confession. Western man has become a confessing animal.
- Vol. I, p. 59
- Confession frees, but power reduces one to silence; truth does not belong to the order of power, but shares an origincal affinity with freedom: traditional themes in philosophy, which a political history of truth would have to overturn by showing that truth is not by nature free--nor error servile--but that its production is thoroughly imbued with relations of power. The confession is an example of this.
- Vol. I, p. 60
- L’important, c’est que le sexe n’ait pas été seulement affaire de sensation et de plaisir, de loi ou d’interdiction, mais aussi de vrai et de faux.
- What is important is that sex was not only a question of sensation and pleasure, of law and interdiction, but also of the true and the false.
- Vol. I, p. 76
- The appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and "psychic hermaphroditism" made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of "perversity"; but it also made possible the formation of a "reverse" discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or "naturality" be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified.
- Vol. I, p. 101
- Les discours sont des éléments ou des blocs tactiques dans le champ des rapports de force; il peut y en avoir de différents et même de contradictoires à l'intérieur d'une même stratégie; ils peuvent au contraire circuler sans changer de forme entre des stratégies opposées.
- Discourses are tactical elements or blocks operating in the field of force relations; there can exist different and even contradictory discourses within the same strategy; they can, on the contrary, circulate without changing their form from one strategy to another, opposing strategy.
- Vol I, pp. 101-102
- Par pouvoir… je n’entends pas un système général de domination exercée par un élément ou un groupe sur un autre, et dont les effets, par dérivations successives, traversaient le corps social tout entier… il me semble qu’il faut comprendre d’abord la multiplicité de rapports de force qui sont immanents au domaine où ils s’exercent, et sont constitutifs de leur organisation ; le jeu qui par voie de luttes et d’affrontements incessants les transforme, les renforce, les inverse ; les appuis que ces rapports de force trouvent les uns dans les autres, de manière à former chaîne ou système, ou, au contraire, les décalages, les contradictions qui les isolent les uns des autres ; les stratégies enfin dans lesquelles ils prennent effet, et dont le dessin général ou la cristallisation institutionnelle prennent corps dans les appareils étatiques, dans la formulation de la loi, dans les hégémonies sociales. La condition de possibilité du pouvoir… il ne fait pas la chercher dans l’existence première d’un point central, dans un foyer unique de souveraineté d’où rayonneraient des formes dérivées et descendantes ; induisent sans cesse, par leur inégalité, des états de pouvoir, mais toujours locaux et instables. Omniprésence du pouvoir : non point parce qu’il aurait le privilège de tout regrouper sous son invincible unité, mais parce qu’il se produit à chaque instant, en tout point, ou plutôt dans toute relation d’un point à un autre. Le pouvoir est partout ; ce n’est pas qu’il englobe tout, c’est qu’il vient de partout.
- By power… I do not understand a general system of domination exercised by one element or one group over another, whose effects… traverse the entire body social… It seems to me that first what needs to be understood is the multiplicity of relations of force that are immanent to the domain wherein they are exercised, and that are constitutive of its organization; the game that through incessant struggle and confrontation transforms them, reinforces them, inverts them; the supports these relations of force find in each other, so as to form a chain or system, or, on the other hand, the gaps, the contradictions that isolate them from each other; in the end, the strategies in which they take effect, and whose general pattern or institutional crystallization is embodied in the mechanisms of the state, in the formulation of the law, in social hegemonies. The condition of possibility of power… should not be sought in the primary existence of a central point, in a unique space of sovereignty whence would radiate derivative and descendent forms; it is the moving base of relations of force that incessantly induce, by their inequality, states of power, but always local and unstable. Omnipresence of power: not at all because it regroups everything under its invincible unity, but because it is produced at every instant, at every point, or moreover in every relation between one point and another. Power is everywhere: not that it engulfs everything, but that it comes from everywhere.
- Vol. I, p. 121-122.
- Il y a des moments dans la vie où la question de savoir si on peut penser autrement qu’on ne pense et percevoir autrement qu’on ne voit est indispensable pour continuer à regarder ou à réfléchir… Qu’est-ce donc que la philosophie aujourd’hui… si elle ne consiste pas, au lieu de légitimer ce qu’on sait déjà, à entreprendre de savoir comment et jusqu’où il serait possible de penser autrement ?… L’ « essai »—qu’il faut entendre comme épreuve modificatrice de soi-même dans le jeu de la vérité et non comme appropriation simplificatrice d’autrui à des fins de communication—est le corps vivant de la philosophie, si du moins celle-ci est encore maintenant ce qu’elle était autrefois, c’est-à-dire une « ascèse », un exercice de soi, dans la pensée.
- There are moments in life where the question of knowing whether one might think otherwise than one thinks and perceive otherwise than one sees is indispensable if one is to continue to observe or reflect… What is philosophy today… if it does not consist in, instead of legitimizing what we already know, undertaking to know how and how far it might be possible to think otherwise?… The ‘essay’ —which must be understood as a transforming test of oneself in the play of truth and not as a simplifying appropriation of someone else for the purpose of communication—is the living body of philosophy, if, at least, philosophy is today still what it was once, that is to say, an askesis, an exercise of the self, in thought.
- Vol. II : L’usage des plaisirs p. 15-16.
What is Enlightenment? (1978)
- The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.
Security, Population, Territory (2004)
- Security, Population, Territory: Lectures at the Collège de France (2004) edited by Michel Senellart, translated by Graham Burchell (2007)
- The pastorate was formed against a sort of intoxication of religious behavior, examples of which are found throughout the Middle East in the second, third, and fourth centuries, and to which certain Gnostic sects in particular bear striking and indisputable testimony. In at least some of these Gnostic sects, in fact, the identification of matter with evil, and as absolute evil, obviously entailed certain consequences. This might be, for example, a kind of vertigo or enchantment provoked by a sort of unlimited asceticism that could lead to suicide: freeing oneself from matter as quickly as possible. There is also the idea, the theme, of destroying matter through the exhaustion of the evils it contains, of committing every possible sin, going to the very end of the domain of evil opened up by matter, and thus destroying matter. Let us sin, then, and sin to infinity. There is also the theme of the nullification of the world of the law, to destroy which one must first destroy the law, that is to say, break every law. One must respond to every law established by the world, or by the powers of the world, by violating it, systematically breaking the law and in effect, overthrowing the reign of the one who created the world.
- Lecture 8 (1 March 1978), p. 195
Quotes about Foucault
- Alphabetized by author
- And now his own history has been written. What does one learn from these books? Chiefly that Foucault's relativistic outlook can be applied to Foucault himself. He used to say that the 19th century was to Marxism what water is to a fish. Increasingly his own work makes sense only when seen as a product of the Sixties. Not that Foucault would have denied this. He never suggested that he wasn't an interested being too. But one should ask of a body of philosophical work that it has a longer shelf life than a couple of decades. Nine years after his death his achievements, such as they are, are so much historical jetsam, their final worth little more than sweet Foucault.
- Christopher Bray in The Spectator (19 June 1993)
- I continue to be very strongly influenced by Foucault's History of Sexuality, in which he warns us against imagining a complete liberation from power. There can never be a total liberation from power, especially in relation to the politics of sexuality.
- Foucault is an interesting case because I'm sure he honestly wants to undermine power but I think with his writings he reinforced it.
- The truth is that Foucault knew very little about anything before the seventeenth century and, in the modern world, outside France. His familiarity with the literature and art of any period was negligible. His hostility to psychology made him incompetent to deal with sexuality, his own or anybody else’s. The elevation of Foucault to guru status by American and British academics is a tale that belongs to the history of cults.
- A proper encounter with Foucault's work permanently changes one's understanding of how people are governed in modern society.
- Brent Pickett, On The Use And Abuse Of Foucault For Politics (2005), p. 9.
- Foucault revealed the universal truths hidden in societal extremes.
- David Rosen, in The Brooklyn Rail, June 2012.