Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

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.

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 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?'

But this does not mean that the law and the State are a kind of armistice in these wars, or the definitive sanction of victories. The law is not pacification, because under the law, war continues to rage within all the mechanisms of power even the most lawful. It is war that is the motor of institutions and of order: peace, right down to the smallest of its cogs, obscurely engages in war. In other words, we must decypher war in peace: war is the very cypher of peace. Thus we are at war with each other; a battle front runs through our entire society, continuously and permanently, and it is this battle front which places each of us in one camp or another. There is no neutral subject. We are of necessity someone's adversary.'

Homosexuality appears as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphroditism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.

Classificatory thought gives itself an essential space, which it proceeds to efface at each moment. Disease exists only in that space, since that space constitutes it as nature; and yet it always appears rather out of phase in relation to that space, because it is manifested in a real patient, beneath the observing eye of a forearmed doctor

How to define the moment that I write?

Confined in the ship, from which it is impossible to escape, the madman is confined to the thousand branches of the river, the thousand paths of the sea, to this great uncertainty external to everything. He is a prisoner in the midst of the most free, the most open of roads: chained solidly to an infinite crossroads.

I always try to deal with a subject which can be useful to a maximum number of people. I provide them with instruments which they can then use as they please in their own fields whether these people be psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, educators or I don't know what.

A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices that we accept rest.

Confinement, that massive phenomenon, the signs of which are found all across eighteenth-century Europe, is a "police" matter. Police, in the precise sense that the classical epoch gave to it?that is, the totality of measures which make work possible and necessary for all those who could not live without it.

A law which excludes all dialectic and all reconciliation; which establishes, consequently, both the flawless unity of knowledge and the uncompromising division of tragic existence; it rules over a world without twilight, which knows no effusion, nor the attenuated cares of lyricism; everything must be either waking or dream, truth or darkness, the light of being or the nothingness of shadow.

Criticism consists in uncovering that thought and trying to change it: showing that things are not as obvious as people believe, making it so that what is taken for granted is no longer taken for granted. To practice criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy... [A]s soon as people begin to no longer be able to think things the way they have been thinking them, transformation becomes at the same time very urgent, very difficult and entirely possible.

A number of phenomena that seem to me to be quite significant, namely, the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power, or, in other words, how, starting from the eighteenth century, modern western societies took on board the fundamental biological fact that human beings are a species. This is roughly what I have called bio-power.

Death left its old tragic heaven and became the lyrical core of man: his invisible truth, his visible secret.

A passion which has found with madness the perfection of its fulfillment.

Delirium and dazzlement are in a relation which constitutes the essence of madness, exactly as truth and light, in their fundamental relation, constitute classical reason.

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas