Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

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 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 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.

It is a matter of showing what I am experiencing rather than simply speaking. I have to show that I who am speaking, I am the one who judges that these thoughts are effectively true. The text says it quite explicitly, one must make it understood that effectively I experience as true the things that I say. And the text adds further, and not only do I experience them and consider them to be true, but further I love them and I am attached to them and my whole life is governed by them.

My first book was called Madness and Civilization, but in fact my problem was rationality, that is, how does reason operate in a society such as ours? Well, to understand this issue, instead of beginning with the subject moving from awareness to reason, it is better if we see how, in the Western world, those who are not the subjects of reason, those who are not considered reasonable, that is those who are mad, are removed from the life process. Starting with this practice, with constellations of real practices, and finally, a process of negation, we reach the place where we can see the place of reason. Or we find that reason is not just the movements and actions of rational structures, but the movements of the structures and the mechanisms of power.

Psychoanalysis can unravel some of the forms of madness; it remains a stranger to the sovereign enterprise of unreason. It can neither limit nor transcribe, nor most certainly explain, what is essential in this enterprise.

The dream deceives; it leads to confusions; it is illusory. But it is not erroneous.

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.

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 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 now got in the habit of perceiving in madness a fall into a determinism where all forms of liberty are gradually suppressed; madness shows us nothing more than the natural constants of a determinism, with the sequences of its causes, and the discursive movement of its forms; for madness threatens modern man only with that return to the bleak world of beasts and things, to their fettered freedom.

What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn't everyone's life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?'

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.

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas