Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

When, with Rousseau and Pestallozzi, the eighteenth century concerned itself with constituting for the child, with educational rules that followed his development, a world that would be adapted to him, it made it possible to form around children an unreal, abstract, archaic environment that had no relation to the adult world. The whole development of contemporary education, with its irreproachable aim of preserving the child from adult conflicts, accentuates the distance that separates, for a man, his life as a child and his life as an adult. That is to say, by sparing the child conflicts, it exposes him to a major conflict, to the contradiction between his childhood and his real life. If one adds that, in its educational institutions, a culture does not project its reality directly, with all its conflicts and contradictions, but that it reflects it indirectly through the myths that excuse it, justify it, and idealize it in a chimerical coherence; if one adds that in its education a society dreams of its golden age [...] one understands that fixations and pathological regressions are possible only in a given culture, that they multiply to the extent that social forms do not permit the assimilation of the past into the present content of experience.

I am probably not the only one who writes in order to remain faceless. Don't ask me who I am, or tell me to stay the same: that is the bureaucratic morality, which keeps our papers in order. It ought to let us be when it comes to writing.

In Ancient Greek thought what one hoped to gain from reading was not an understanding of what the author meant, but to build up for oneself a toolkit of true propositions which were effectively one's own... It was not a matter of constructing a patchwork of propositions from different places, but of constructing a solid foundation of propositions which could be used as prescriptions, true discourses which were at the same time principles of behavior'.

Let us take the question of power, political power, replacing it within the more general question of governmentality, that is governmentality understood as a strategic field of relations of power in the broadest sense of the term, not simply the political sense. Thus, if one understands by governmentality, a strategic field of power relations which are mobile, transformable and reversible, I think that the reflection on the notion of governmentality cannot help but but pass both theoretically and practically through the element of a subject that is defined by the relation of self to self. While the theory of political power as an institution ordinarily refers to a juridical conception of the subject of law, it seems to me that the analysis of governmentality - that is, the analysis of power as a group of reversible relations - must refer to an ethics of the subject defined by the relation of self to self. Which means quite simply that in the type of analysis that I have been proposing for a while, you will see that relations of power/governmentality/government of self and others/the relation of the self to the self, all of this constitutes a chain, a thread and that it is there, around these notions that one can, I think, articulate the question of politics and the question of ethics.

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.

Tamed, madness preserves all the appearances of its reign. It now takes part in the measures of reason and in the labor of truth. It plays on the surface of things and in the glitter of daylight, over all the workings of appearances, over the ambiguity of reality and illusion, over all that indeterminate web, ever rewoven and broken, which both unites and separates truth and appearance.

The notion of writing, as currently employed, is concerned with neither the act of writing nor the indication ? be it symptom or sign ? of a meaning that someone might have wanted to express. We try, with great effort, to imagine the general condition of each text, the condition of both the space in which it is dispersed and the time in which it unfolds. In current usage, however

To admit that writing is, because of the very history that it made possible, subject to the test of oblivion and repression, seems to represent, in transcendental terms, the religious principle of the hidden meaning (which requires interpretation) and the critical principle of implicit signification, silent determinations, and obscured contents (which give rise to commentary).

What defines a relationship of power is that it is a mode of action that does not act directly and immediately on others. Instead, it acts upon their actions: an action upon an action, on possible or actual future or present actions. A relationship of violence acts upon a body or upon things; it forces, it bends, it breaks, it destroys, or it closes off all possibilities.

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?

I don't like obscurity because I consider obscurity to be a form of despotism. One must expose oneself to pronouncing errors. One must expose oneself to possibly saying things which are probably going to be difficult to express, and which obviously are going to make one fumble for words.

In any case, it was in the nineteenth century that each person began to have the right to his own little box for his own personal decomposition.

Life itself was only futility, vain words, a squabble of cap and bells.

One has to distinguish between different things in the analysis of an institution. First, there is what can be called its rationality, or its aim, that is, the ends it has in view and the means it possesses for attaining those ends... Second, there is the question of results. Obviously, the results very rarely coincide with the aim; thus the objective of the correctional prison, of imprisonment as a means of improving the individual, has not been achieved.

Terrorism... has a totally opposite effect which is to make the bourgeois class even more closely attached to its ideology. ... Using terror for revolution is a totally contradictory idea.

The power that one man exerts over another is always perilous. I am not saying that power, by nature is evil; I am saying that power, with its mechanisms is infinite (which does not mean that it is omnipotent, quite the contrary). The rules that exist to limit it can never be stringent enough; the universal principles for dispossessing it of all the occasions it seizes are never sufficiently rigorous. Against power one must always set inviolable laws and unrestricted rights.

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 world.

What desire can be contrary to nature, since it was given to man by nature itself?

Writing unfolds like a game [jeu] that invariably goes beyond its own rules and transgresses its limits. In writing, the point is not to manifest or exalt the act of writing, nor is it to pin a subject within language; it is, rather, a question of creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears.

I don't think there is actually a sovereign founding subject, a universal form of subject that one might find everywhere. I am very skeptical and very hostile towards this conception of the subject. I think on the contrary, that the subject is constituted through practices of subjection, or, in a more autonomous way, through practices of liberation, of freedom, as in Antiquity, starting of course, from a number of rules, styles and conventions that can be found in the cultural setting.

In any case, what I would like to point out to you is that all the same when one sees the meaning, or rather the total absence of meaning, that is given to very familiar expressions which crop up everywhere in our discourse, such as rediscovering oneself, freeing oneself, being oneself, being authentic etc; when one sees the absence of meaning and of thought contained in each of these expressions used today, I don't think there is much to be proud of in the efforts that we are making at present to reconstitute an ethics of the self.

Like civilization, the hospital is an artificial locus in which the transplanted disease runs the risk of losing its essential identity.

One must remember that power is not an ensemble of mechanisms of negation, refusal, exclusion. But it produces effectively. It is likely that it produces right down to individuals themselves.

The "Islamic" movement could set fire to the whole region, overthrow the most unstable regimes and disturb the most solid. Islam which is not simply a religion, but a way of life, a belonging to a history and a civilization, runs the risk of becoming a giant powder keg, on the scale of hundreds of millions of people.

The problem of the truth of what I say is a very difficult one for me; in fact, it's the central problem. That's the question I still haven't answered. And yet I make use of the most conventional methods: demonstration, or, at any rate, proof in historical matters, textual references, citation of authorities, drawing connections between texts and facts, suggesting schemes of intelligibility, offering different types of explanation. There is nothing original in what I do. From this standpoint, what I say in my books can be verified or invalidated in the same way as any other book of history.

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas