Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

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.

If someone were to ask me how I conceive of what I do, I would reply if the strategist is the man who says 'What does this death, this cry, this uprising matter in the grand scale of things and what does a general principle matter to me in the situation in which we find ourselves?' well I don't care whether the strategist is a politician, a historian, a revolutionary, a supporter of the Shah or of the Ayatolla, my theoretical morality is the opposite. It is 'antistrategic': to be respectful when a singularity rises up and intransigent when power infringes on the universal.

It is not a critical history which has as its aim to demonstrate that behind this so-called knowledge there is only mythology, or perhaps nothing at all. My analysis is about the problematization of something which is dependent on our knowledge, ideas, theories, techniques, social relations and economical processes.

Nature, keeping only useless secrets, had placed within reach and in sight of human beings the things it was necessary for them to know.

Since the Fall, man had accepted labor as a penance and for its power to work redemption. It was not a law of nature which forced man to work, but the effect of a curse.

The law averts its face and returns to the shadows the instant one looks at it; when one tries to hear its words, what one catches is a song that is no more than the fatal promise of a future song.

These differences may result from the fact that an author's name is not simply an element in a discourse (capable of being either subject or object, of being replaced by a pronoun, and the like); it performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory function.

What appears to me to be indispensable is respect for the reader... I dream of books which would be clear enough about the way they go about things for others to use them freely, but without trying either to blur or hide the original sources. Freedom of use and technical transparency are linked.

When man deploys the arbitrary nature of his madness, he confronts the dark necessity of the world; the animal that haunts his nightmares and his nights of privation is his own nature, which will lay bare hell's pitiless truth; the vain images of blind idiocy?such are the world's Magna Scientia; and already, in this disorder, in this mad universe, is prefigured what will be the cruelty of the finale.

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas