Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

I never think quite the same thing, because for me my books are experiences, in a sense that I would like to be as full as possible. An experience is something that one comes out of transformed. If I had to write a book to communicate what I was already thinking, I would never have the courage to begin. I only write a book because I don't know exactly what to think about this thing that I so much want to think about, so that the book transforms me and transforms what I think. Each book transforms what I was thinking when I finished the previous book. I am an experimenter, not a theorist.

Interviewer: Structuralism was not born recently. It was around at the beginning of the century. Yet it is only today that people have started talking about it. For the general public you are the priest of 'structuralism'. Why? Foucault: At the very most I am the altar boy of structuralism. Let's say I have rung the bell, the faithful have genuflected and the unbelievers have uttered cries of protest. But the service began a long time ago. The real mystery was not celebrated by me... One can talk of a kind of structuralist philosophy which could be defined as the activity which allows one to diagnose what today is.

Madness, in its wild, untamable words, proclaims its own meaning; in its chimeras, it utters its secret truth.

Personally I've never met any intellectuals. I've met people who write novels, others who treat the sick; people who work in economics and others who compose electronic music. I've met people who teach, people who paint, and people of whom I have never really understood what they do. But intellectuals? Never.

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.

The State does not have an essence. The State is not universal, the State is not in itself an autonomous source of power. The State is nothing other than the effect, the outline, the moving cross section of a perpetual process of State formation, or perpetual processes of State formation ... The State is nothing other than the changing effect of a multiple regime of governmentalities... It is a matter of... undertaking the investigation of the problem of the State starting from practices of governmentality.'

We are doomed historically to history, to the patient construction of discourses about discourses, and to the task of hearing what has already been said.

What is philosophy if not a way of reflecting, not so much on what is true and what is false, as on our relationship to truth? ... The movement by which, not without effort and uncertainty, dreams and illusions, one detaches oneself from what is accepted as true and seeks other rules - that is philosophy.

I think that the modern age of the history of truth began at the moment when empirical knowledge itself, and on its own, allowed access to the truth. That is, from the moment when, without asking anything else of the subject, without the being of the subject having to undergo any modification or alteration whatsoever, the philosopher (or scientist or anyone looking for the truth) was capable of recognizing in him or herself the truth and had access to the truth by the mere act of empirical knowledge.'

Is it not perhaps the case that these fragments of genealogies are no sooner brought to light, that the particular elements of the knowledge that one seeks to disinter are no sooner accredited and put into circulation, than they run the risk of re-codification, re-colonization? In fact, those unitary discourses, which first disqualified and then ignored them when they made their appearance, are, it seems, quite ready now to annex them, to take them back within the fold of their own discourse and to invest them with everything this implies in terms of their effects of knowledge and power. And if we want to protect these only lately liberated fragments are we not in danger of ourselves constructing, with our own hands, that unitary discourse to which we are invited, perhaps to lure us into a trap, by those who say to us: "All this is fine, but where are you heading? What kind of unity are you after?"'

Man is irrevocably a stranger to dawn. It needed our colonial way of thinking to believe that man could have remained faithful to his beginnings and that there was any place in the world where he could encounter the essence of the 'primitive?.

Power is not founded on itself or generated by itself. Or we could say, more simply, that there are not first of all relations of production and then, in addition, alongside or on top of these relations, mechanisms of power that modify or disturb them, or make them more consistent, coherent, or stable.

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.

The term 'folklore' is nothing but a hypocrisy of the 'civilized' who won't take part in the game, and who want to hide their refusal to make contact under the mantle of respect for the picturesque.

We can say that today's writing has freed itself from the theme of expression. Referring only to itself; but without being restricted to the confines of its interiority, writing is identified with its own unfolded exteriority.

What is serious, is that, as you continue to write you are no longer read at all and readers going from one distortion to another, reading books on the shoulders of others end up with an absolutely grotesque image of your book.

I think that the word 'rationalization' is dangerous. What we have to do is analyze specific rationalities rather than always invoking the progress of rationalization in general.

Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?

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.

Prison continues, on those who are entrusted to it, a work begun elsewhere, which the whole of society pursues on each individual through innumerable mechanisms of discipline.

The dawn of madness on the horizon of the Renaissance is first perceptible in the decay of Gothic symbolism; as if that world, whose network of spiritual meanings was so close-knit, had begun to unravel, showing faces whose meaning was no longer clear except in the forms of madness.

The very definition of an intellectual comprises a person who necessarily is entangled with the politics and major decisions of his society. Thus, the point is not whether or not an intellectual has a presence in political life. Rather, the point is what should the role of an intellectual be in the present state of the world, in order that he or she would reach the most decisive, authentic, accurate results.

We demand that sex speak the truth ... and we demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.

What is to be understood by the disciplining of societies in Europe since the eighteenth century is not, of course, that the individuals who are part of them become more and more obedient, nor that all societies become like barracks, schools or prisons; rather, it is that an increasingly controlled, more rational and economic process of adjustment has been sought between productive activities, communications networks, and the play of power relations.

I was telling you earlier about the three elements in my morals. They are (1) the refusal to accept as self-evident the things that are proposed to us; (2) the need to analyze and to know, since we can accomplish nothing without reflection and understanding thus, the principle of curiosity; and (3) the principle of innovation: to seek out in our reflection those things that have never been thought or imagined. Thus: refusal, curiosity, innovation.

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas