Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

Truly 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.

What I wanted to do was in the order of philosophy: can one reflect philosophically on the history of knowledge as historical material rather than reflecting on a theory or a philosophy of history. In a rather empirical and clumsy fashion, I envisaged a work as close as possible to that of historians, but in order to ask philosophical questions, concerning the history of knowledge. I hoped for the good will of historians.

You may have killed God beneath the weight of all that you have said; but don't imagine that, with all that you are saying, you will make a man that will live longer than he.

I don't write a book so that it will be the final word; I write a book so that other books are possible, not necessarily written by me.

In civilizations without ships, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure and the police take the place of corsairs.

Madness borrowed its face from the mask of the beast.

Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing, as something designed to ward off death. Writing has become linked to sacrifice, even to the sacrifice of life: it is now a voluntary effacement that does not need to be represented in books, since it is brought about in the writer's very existence.

The author's name manifests the appearance of a certain discursive set and indicates the status of this discourse within a society and a culture. It has no legal status, nor is it located in the fiction of the work; rather, it is located in the break that founds a certain discursive construct and its very particular mode of being.

The proper name and the author's name are situated between the two poles of description and designation: they must have a certain link with what they name, but one that is neither entirely in the mode of designation nor in that of description; it must be a specific link.

Truth does not belong to the order of power, but shares an original affinity with freedom.

What is constitutive is the action that divides madness, and not the science elaborated once this division is made.

You must not attribute to me the idea that "Muslim spirituality will advantageously replace dictatorship". Since there have been demonstrations and people have been killed in Iran in the name of "Islamic government", it is an elementary duty to ask what content has been given to this term and what animates it... The Islamic problem as a political force is an essential problem for our times and for the years to come. The first condition for approaching it with some measure of intelligence is not to start with hatred.

I have never said that madness does not exist, or that it is only a consequence of these institutions. That people are suffering, that people make trouble in society or in families; that is a reality.

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.

Madness designates the equinox between the vanity of night's hallucinations and the non-being of light's judgments.

Painting has at least this much in common with discourse: when it gives rise to a force which creates history, it is political.

The body: a surface on which events are inscribed (whereas language marks events and ideas dissolve them), place where the Me is dissociated (a Me to which it tries to lend the illusion of a substantial unity), it is a volume perpetually crumbling away. Genealogy, as an analysis of where things come from is thus situated at the point of articulation of the body and history. Its task is to show a body totally imprinted with history, and history destroying the body.

The Sirens are the elusive and forbidden form of the alluring voice. They are nothing but song. Only a silvery wake in the sea, the hollow of a wave, a cave in the rocks, the whiteness of the beach - what are they in their very being if not a pure appeal, if not the mirthful void of listening, if not attentiveness, if not an invitation to pause?'

Unreason is in the same relation to reason as dazzlement to the brightness of daylight itself.

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.

You see that's why I really work like a dog, and I worked like a dog all my life. I am not interested in the academic status of what I am doing because my problem is my own transformation... This transformation of one's self by one's knowledge, one's practice is, I think, something rather close the aesthetic experience. Why should a painter work if he is not transformed by his own painting?

I haven't sought to unite texts which would be more faithful to reality than others, which would merit selection for their representative value, but texts which played a role in this real of which they speak, and which in return find themselves, whatever their inexactitude, their turgidity or their hypocrisy may be, traversed by it: fragments of discourse trailing the fragments of a reality in which they take part. What shall be read here is not a collection of portraits:. they are snares, weapons, cries, gestures, attitudes, ruses, intrigues for which the words have been the instruments. Real lives have been "played out" in these few sentences; I don't mean by that expression that they have been represented there, but that, in fact, their liberty, their misfortune, often their death, in any case their destiny have been) at least partly, therein decided. These discourses have really affected lives; these existences have effectively been risked and lost in these words.

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.

Madness is the absolute break with the work of art; it forms the constitutive moment of abolition, which dissolves in time the truth of the work of art.

Perhaps the role of the philosopher, the role of philosopher at present, is not to be a theoretician of totality, but the diagnostician, if you will allow me to use this word, the diagnostician of today.

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas