Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

I would like my books to be a kind of tool-box which others can rummage through to find a tool which they can use however they wish in their own area... I would like the little volume that I want to write on disciplinary systems to be useful to an educator, a warden, a magistrate, a conscientious objector. I don't write for an audience, I write for users, not readers.

It is a very familiar thesis that the task of criticism is not to bring out the work's relationships with the author, nor to reconstruct through the text a thought or experience, but rather to analyze the work through its structure, its architecture, its intrinsic form, and the play of its internal relationships.

My position is that it is not up to us [intellectuals] to propose. As soon as one "proposes" - one proposes a vocabulary, an ideology, which can only have effects of domination. What we have to present are instruments and tools that people might find useful. By forming groups specifically to make these analyses, to wage these struggles, by using these insturments or others: this is how, in the end, possibilities open up.

Raymond Roussel said that after his first book he expected that the next morning there would be a kind of aura around his person and that everyone in the street would be able to see that he had written a book. This is the obscure desire harbored by everyone who writes. It is true that the first text one writes is neither written for others, nor because one is what one is: one writes to become other than what one is. One tries to modify one's way of being through the act of writing.'

The exact superposition of the ?body? of the disease and the body of the sick man is no more than a historical, temporary datum. Their encounter is self-evident only for us, or, rather, we are only just beginning to detach ourselves from it.

There is a very tenuous "analytic" link between a philosophical conception and the concrete political attitude of someone who is appealing to it; the "best" theories do not constitute a very effective protection against disastrous political choices: certain great themes such as "humanism" can be used to any end whatever - for example, to show with what gratitude Pohlenz would have greeted Hitler.

We have to rid ourselves of the prejudice that a history without causality is no longer history.

When I say that I am studying the "problematization" of madness, crime, or sexuality, it is not a way of denying the reality of such phenomena. On the contrary, I have tried to show that it was precisely some real existent in the world which was the target of social regulation at a given moment.

I would now like to start looking at that dimension which I have called by that rather nasty word "governmentality". Let us suppose that "governing" is not the same thing as "reigning", that it is not the same thing as "commanding" or "making the law", let us suppose that governing is not the same thing as being a sovereign, a suzerain, being lord, being judge, being a general, owner, master, professor. Let us suppose that there is a specificity to what it is to govern and we must now find out a little what type of power is covered by this notion.

It is hard for me to classify a form of research like my own within philosophy or within the human sciences. I could define it as an analysis of the cultural facts characterizing our culture... I do in fact seek to place myself outside the culture to which we belong, to analyze its formal conditions in order to make a critique of it, not in the sense of reducing its values, but in order to see how it was actually constituted.

My role - and that is too emphatic a word - is to show people that they are much freer than they feel, that people accept as truth, as evidence, some themes which have been built up at a certain moment during history, and that this so-called evidence can be criticized and destroyed.

Religious beliefs prepare a kind of landscape of images, an illusory milieu favorable to every hallucination and every delirium.

The fact that man lives in a conceptually structured environment does not prove that he has turned away from life, or that a historical drama has separated him from it - just that he lives in a certain way, that he has a relationship with his environment such that he has no set point of view toward it, that he is mobile on an undefined or a rather broadly defined territory, that he has to move around to gather information, that he had to move things relative to one another in order to make them useful. Forming concepts is a way of living not a way of killing life.

There is an optimism that consists in saying, "In any case, it couldn't be any better." My optimism would consist in saying, "So many things can be changed, being as fragile as they are, tied more to contingencies than to necessities, more to what is arbitrary than to what is rationally established, more to complex but transitory historical contingencies than to inevitable anthropological constants."

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.

When I speak of a 'disciplinary' society, I don't mean a 'disciplined society'. When I speak of the spread of methods of discipline, this is not a claim that 'the French are obedient'! In the analysis of normalising procedures, it is not a question of a 'thesis of a massive normalisation'. As if these developments weren't precisely the measure of a perpetual failure.

If identity becomes the problem of sexual existence, and if people think they have to 'uncover' their 'own identity' and that their own identity has to become the law, the principle, the code of their existence; if the perennial question they ask is 'Does this thing conform to my identity?' then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility. If we are asked to relate to the question of identity, it has to be an identity to our unique selves. But the relationships we have to have with ourselves are not ones of identity, rather they must be relationships of differentiation, of creation, of innovation. To be the same is really boring.

It is hard to see what kind of objectivity is achieved by the statistical analysis of a questionnaire examining the lies of school age children and their playmates. At the end of the day, the results are reassuring, we learn that children lie mostly to avoid punishment, then to boast of their exploits etc. We can be sure by virtue of these very findings, that the method was quite objective. So what? There are those obsessive peeping toms who, in order to look through a plate glass door, peer through the keyhole'.

My role is to raise question in an effective, genuine way, and to raise them with the greatest possible rigor, with the maximum complexity and difficulty so that a solution doesn't spring from the head of some reformist intellectual or suddenly appear in the head of a party's political bureau.

Scarcity is a state of food shortage that has the property of engendering a process that renews it and, in the absence of another mechanism halting it, tends to extend it and make it more acute. It is a state of scarcity, in fact, that raises prices.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I am an experimenter and not a theorist. I call a theorist someone who constructs a general system either deductive or analytical, and applies it to different fields in a uniform way. This isn't my case. I am an experimenter in the sense that I write in order to change myself and in order not to think the same thing as before.

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas