23 March 2009

Foucault's suicidal, death-drive?

Kathy Shaidle, in her review of Jamie Glazov's United in Hate:The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror, summarizes Glazov's description of everyone's favorite French intellectual.
In United in Hate, he writes about Michel Foucault, for decades, one of the academy’s most revered and influential intellectual theorists. In doing so, he – in the tradition of Paul Johnson -- describes Foucault’s ugly (and in many “respectable” liberal circles, unspeakable) demise. Glazov writes:

“For a person who had always been fascinated by death and its interconnections with sex, Foucault’s life came to an eerie ending when he died of AIDS in 1984,” having “embraced” the San Francisco bath house scene when its dangers were well known, and its inherent immorality –even before the AIDS era – should have been, in any case, self-evident.

“As we shall see later in this chapter,” Glazov continues, “many leftist homosexuals would follow this pattern of self-hate and a craving for death. This pathological behavior mirrors that of other leftist intellectuals supporting tyrannies that murder intellectuals” – Foucault, for instance, was a vocal admirer of Iran’s Khomeini.

01 February 2009

Questions & Answers

For the last few months, a poster on Foucault-L has posted countless queries like this:
Which of Foucault's applied archaeologies do people find the best? The most rich or stimulating? Applied as in excluding the methodological The Archaeology of Knowledge (which is a great book in its own right as a statement of what archaeology is).
And this:
So how would one rate The History of Sexuality volume 1, in relation to Foucault's other work?
And this:
Do you know of any way to refute the criticism of Spark Notes, with regards to the method of archaeology and the last chapter of the Archaeology of Knowledge?
What are your thoughts on archaeology as a method.
I ask, "Do questions like these belong on an academic list that discusses the work of Michel Foucault? How do these types of questions further the study of Foucault's methods, writings, and theories?"

07 December 2008

'imposing discipline is an act of love'

"Autonomy breeds innovation at struggling high school" Jamaica Plains Gazette

The students the Gazette spoke to all recognized Code Blue primarily as a disciplinary tool. Getting “coded” is now common parlance for getting in trouble, students told the Gazette.

“You do not want to get coded,” said senior Jason Semado.

Luis Reyes Jr., also a senior, said the system “makes it harder for kids to run around.”

“Teachers use that program for discipline. I try to stay away from it,” said Anis Abdulle, an 11th grader and editor of the school newspaper.

The system, it turns out, has its origin in high-level theoretical considerations of discipline and control in modern society. Rud told the Gazette Michel Foucault’s book, “Discipline and Punish,” provided some of the inspiration for the system.

In that book, Foucault outlines a theory that institutions, including schools and prisons are constantly striving to master a system of perfect surveillance. The French theorist uses a prison design known as the Panopticon—originally developed in the 1800s—as a metaphor for modern society. In that design a darkened tower is surrounded by a ring of backlit prison cells, so every movement in the cells is visible from the tower, but activity inside the tower is invisible from the cells. The ultimate goal of the system is for inmates, who can never know if they are being watched, to police themselves.

While Foucault’s treatise described what he called disciplinary society in unequivocally negative terms, Rud, in a unique reading, apparently took a positive lesson from it.

Having more information gives teachers perspective to confront problematic student behavior in different ways, he said. Traditionally, Isolated in the classroom setting, “teachers see symptoms. Behavioral problems, absences and altercations automatically become disciplinary issues,” he said.

But Code Blue offers teachers a fuller understanding of what is going on in their classrooms. Rud said in his experience, students respond positively when authority figures are able to assert coherent authority.

“Kids flock to teachers like me who are more on the setting boundaries side of things, he said. “Growing up, my parents and teachers didn’t let me fall through the cracks. Setting boundaries for kids and imposing discipline is an act of love.”

22 November 2008

In a review of Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida, Elif Batuman elegantly writes,
The irony of Foucault is that reading his books can be such an exciting, liberating experience. Language breaking off its kinship with things, Cuvier smashing the glass jars in the museum of natural history, and immutable nature itself turning out to be a human construction: it all sounds like a marvellous adventure. In Foucault’s archaeologies, as in Freud’s dreams, seemingly arbitrary dates, names and images line up to produce a secret meaning and a message about the future. And yet, Foucault’s work is somehow also a mill for grinding out disciplined bodies subject to the normalising gaze. The stethoscope turns out to function exactly like the Panopticon, which does justice neither to the seriousness of incarceration, nor to the Foucauldian conception of heterogeneity.
Elif Batuman, "On Complaining," The London Review of Books

31 October 2008

announcement of interest

The Foucault Society is pleased to announce our new Seminar Series on Michel Foucault's The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-1979 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), to be held November 2008 through June 2009 in New York City.

The first two meetings will be facilitated by Eduardo Mendieta, Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University.

First meeting:
Chapter One: "10 January 1979" (pages 1-25)
Thursday, November 13, 2008, 7:00-9:00pm
CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, Room 5409

Second meeting:
Chapter Two: "17 January 1979" (pages 27-50)
Thursday, December 5, 7:00-9:00pm
William E. Macaulay Honors College, CUNY, 35 W. 67th St.

About the Seminar:
The Birth of Biopolitics, the latest in the series of Foucault's lectures from the mid-1970s to be translated into English, is remarkably relevant today. Our year-long public seminar will pursue Foucault's question: How do liberal governments produce governable subjects—-individuals who consent to be governed? We will situate the lectures in the context of Foucault's better known work (e.g. Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality), discuss what he means by biopolitics, consider how the lectures develop his theory of power-knowledge, and debate how this text can help us to refine our understanding of Foucault's intellectual and political project.

The seminar will meet monthly from November 2008 through June 2009. Offering both an accessible introduction to Foucault's work and close critical study of Foucault's lectures, this seminar is open to people with all levels of experience.

This program is supported by the New York Council for the Humanities.

About the faculty:
Eduardo Mendieta is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, where he is the director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. He is co-editor of Biopolitics and Racism: Foucauldian Genealogies (SUNY Press, forthcoming) and author of Global Fragments: Globalizations, Latinamericanisms, and Critical Theory (SUNY Press, 2007), among other books. His current book project is titled, Philosophy’s War: Logos, Polemos, Topos.

Faculty for upcoming meetings include:
--Samuel Binkley, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Emerson College.
--Jeffrey Bussolini, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, College of Staten Island, CUNY.
--Patricia Ticineto Clough, Professor of Sociology, Women's Studies, and Intercultural Studies, Queens College and the Graduate School, CUNY.
--Trent H. Hamann, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, St. John’s University.
--Ananya Mukherjea, Assistant Professor of Women's Studies and Sociology, College of Staten Island, CUNY.
--Alan Rosenberg, Professor of Philosophy, Queens College, CUNY.

To register:

Registration fee: $12/meeting (full series: $50). Student/senior discount: $8/meeting (full series: $35). No one will be turned away for lack of ability to pay.

Special offer — Book discount: Participants may buy the book at our special discounted rate: $21.00 (includes tax-deductible donation to the Foucault Society).

To sign up or for more information, please contact the Seminar Organizers: Michael Jolley (MJolley@gc.cuny.edu) or Shifra Diamond (sdiamond@gwu.edu).

The Foucault Society is an independent, non-profit educational organization offering a variety of forums dedicated to critical study of the ideas of Michel Foucault (1926-1984) within a contemporary context. The Foucault Society is a 501 (c) (3) recognized public charity. As such donations are tax deductible under section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code.


(Please note: Information on the seminar is not yet posted on our website, but will be there soon. Please contact the seminar organizers for information.)

18 October 2008

quoting x to quote y to quote Foucault

In his review of Barbara Johnson's Persons and Things, Bob Lane quotes an interview with John Searle, in which Searle quotes a conversation with Foucault about Derrida. Searle, as quoted by Lane, said,
With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure. Every time you say, "He says so and so," he always says, "You misunderstood me." But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that's not so easy. I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking French. And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?" And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.' That's the terrorism part." And I like that. So I wrote an article about Derrida. I asked Michel if it was OK if I quoted that passage, and he said yes.
Fascinating. No? Yes.
  1. Bob Lane's review of Persons and Things
  2. Reason.com's Interrogation of John Searle
  3. Barbara Johnson's Persons and Things

04 October 2008

thank you, captain obvious

Bert Olivier elegantly, and conclusively, profoundly tells you something you already know,
Foucault has therefore contributed significantly to an understanding of what it is that intellectuals of the ‘specific’ variety do in and through their intellectual work, namely something that is commensurate with the complexity of contemporary society. It remains a constant challenge to academics in universities to step outside of the ‘ivory tower’ in this manner.
Bert Olivier, "Foucault on Intellectuals" in Thought Leader

18 September 2008

'Rebels without a clue'

That's the title of A.N. Wilson's most recent hit piece, a condensed excerpt from his forthcoming diatribe, Our Times: The Age of Elizabeth II. Wilson slams

The influential French philosopher Michel Foucault [who] taught a whole generation to distrust authority, even when it appeared to be attempting to protect the weak from attack, or protecting the vulnerable from themselves.

This belief that all authority is dangerous has become one of the central doctrines of our times - with deeply problematic consequences.

All in all, just another example of "Foucault Derangement Syndrome" (FDS).

"Rebels without a clue: A scathing verdict on the liberal icons of the sixties"

04 September 2008

Foucault and Derrida ...

... driving students out of art school?  Art school!?!?  So claims the venerable Nick Mount
Lowbrow artists are a very diverse bunch, and they have a wide range of influences. Everything from hot rods to comics to psychaedelic. But when they talk about painters who’ve influenced them, not one of them that I’ve read about, that I know about, has ever mentioned a painter after the beginning of the twentieth century. They all go back to at least the end of the nineteenth century, and most of them go back to the Renaissance, to the old masters. Because it’s the technique that turns them on. That’s why they left art school, these guys. They went to art school thinking I could learn how to paint like that. And they got to art school and they got Foucault and Derrida. At art school.

So many of them left. Same with street artists. They’ve got astonishingly consistent biographies. These people go to art school for a couple of years, they drop out, they go to Europe, they go around the museums, they see all this art, and they come home and start teaching themselves how to paint like that. They start learning techniques that artists—serious artists—haven’t used for a century. Like scumbling, like Dan Witz does. Chris Ware would be a classic example. Chris Ware dropped out of art school because nobody would teach him how to draw. [Hyperlinks added]
Also of interest: Nick Mount's elegant and insightful article, "The Renaissance of Cute", in the current issue of The Walrus

01 September 2008

quoting Foucault

Nicolas Rothwell, in a review of Peter Brown's classic, The Body and Society, recently published in The Australian, gives Foucault the last word:
"After all," mused Foucault in his work on the classics written during his last days, "what would be the value of the passion for knowledge if it resulted only in a certain knowingness, and not, in one way or another, in the knower's straying afield from himself? There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on thinking and reflecting at all." [Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, pg. 8]
Unlike Brown, who also quotes this passage (The Body and Society, pg. xviii), Rothwell eliminates the ellipses Brown dutifully retained.

The exact quotation from my copy of The Use of Pleasure, translated by Robert Hurley (NY: Vintage Books, 1990):
After all, what would be the value of the passion for knowledge if it resulted only in a certain amount of knowledgeableness and not, in one way or another and to the extent possible, in the knower's straying afield of himself? There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all.

18 August 2008

the kinky mind of Todd Grimson

Leave it to Todd Grimson and his vivid imagination to create a kinky scene including a "rotting corpse", "Michel Foucault", "electrodes", and S&M.
We should dig up Michel Foucault, hook his rotting corpse up to electrodes and interrogate him. He had a crush on Ayatollah Khomeini and “found himself” (the “map” of his body) in SM.
Oh, I'm already titillated!

In the comment section of the post "War and Democracy" at the blog, Faster, Please!

24 July 2008

now that's embarrassing ...

In the body of his recent essay 'Must we ourselves not become gods?' The Visual Theories of Foucault, Debord and Baudrillard in Explaining Contemporary Power Structures," published in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Jesse Owen Hearns-Branaman refers to Michel Foucault as Michele Foucault. At least Hearns-Branaman spelled Foucault's first name correctly in the footnotes.

UPDATE 18 August 2008: The editors have corrected the spelling error.

22 July 2008

now that's how it's supposed to work

Amazon.com finally has The Birth of Biopolitics back in stock. I hope they keep it in stock until I return from my Eastern-Euro Road Trip.

19 June 2008

Foucault in the "Top 10 philosophers' deaths"

Simon Critchley gives us what we need at this particular historical moment in time, another top 10 list: "Top 10 philosophers' deaths".

Critchley places Michel Foucault at number 10:
10. Michel Foucault (1926-1984)
Foucault was first hospitalized in June 1984 with the symptoms of a nasty and persistent flu, fatigue, terrible coughing and migraine. "It's like being in a fog," he said. But he carried on working until the end on the second and third volumes of The History of Sexuality, which appeared shortly before his death. Although he was a very early victim of the virus, it seems that Foucault knew that he had Aids. Foucault was fond of reading Seneca towards the end and died on 25 June like a classical philosopher.

31 May 2008

Foucault in the news

Anthony Giddens writes,
The philosopher Michel Foucault observed that 'We have become a singularly confessing society. The confession spreads its wings far and wide ... one confesses one's sins, one's thoughts and desires, one's illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling, with the greatest precision, what is most difficult to tell'. Foucault traces the tendency to bare all back to the Middle Ages, where it had its origins in the Catholic confessional. It has become a form of truth, he argued, progressively displacing the myths of bravery, courage and marvellous deeds that dominated previous eras and other cultures.

Foucault died in 1984, before the internet took off and before the age of celebrity had really got going. That age introduces a massive generalisation of the confessional principle, now completely secularised. Everything the celebrity does has to be visible, as part and parcel of what celebrity is. This is the reason why those who become celebrities talk endlessly of the intrusions of the media, of their inability any longer to be a private citizen, yet at the same time are hopelessly addicted to the very processes about which they complain.
Spit and Tell, The Guardian

22 December 2007

Foucault in Socialist Worker

Colin Wilson of Socialist Worker wrote a retrospective review of Foucault's major texts. Murphy concludes with an astute observation:
There are serious political weaknesses in Foucault’s work. But many people are inspired by the radical side of his writing. He may not be easy to read – but what he does have to say is almost always thought provoking.
Yawn; more pseudo-Socialist drivel from a faux-revolutionary zine.

Colin Wilson's "Foucault and History" at Socialist Worker Online.

08 December 2007

weekend must read

Amit S. Rai's Of monsters: Biopower, terrorism and excess in genealogies of monstrosity

Monsters gave birth to modernity: those unnamable figures of horror and fascination shadow civilization as its constitutive and abjected discontent. In Europe, from the late eighteenth century on, the term monstrosity mobilized a set of discursive practices that tied racial and sexual deviancy to an overall apparatus of discipline, and, later in the nineteenth century, to the emergence of biopolitics. This article draws a history of monstrosity through overlapping discourses, tying the contemporary figure of the monster-terrorist to the sexual and racial deviancy of what Michel Foucault termed the 'Abnormals.' Beginning with an engagement with Deleuze's and Foucault's notion of 'biopolitics,' this article follows the emergence of the monster-terrorist in that subfield of policy studies known as 'terrorism studies.' This article argues that specific and implicit conceptions of the civilized psyche, linked to norms of the heterosexual family, ground the figure of the Islamic terrorist in an older colonial discourse of the despotic and licentious Oriental male.

12 October 2007

essay: "Biopolitics of Security in the 21st Century"

Michael Dillon and Luis Lobo-Guerrero, "Biopolitics of Security in the 21st Century" (pdf)

This essay addresses two questions. It first asks what happens to security practices when they take species life as their referent object. It then asks what happens to security practices which take species life as their referent object when the very understanding of species life undergoes transformation and change. In the process of addressing these two questions the essay provides and exegesis of Michel Foucault's analytic of biopolitics as a dispositif de sécurité and contrasts this account of security with that given by traditional geopolitical security discourses. Biopolitics of security secure by instantiating a general economy of the contingent throughout all the processes of circulation which impinge upon the promotion of the re-productive powers and potentials of 'life' as species being. The essay also theorises beyond Foucault when it interrogates the impact in the 20th century of the compression of morbidity on populations and the molecular revolution on what we now understand life to be. It concludes that 'population' which was the empirical referent of early biopolitics is being superseded by 'heterogenesis'. This serves as the empirical referent for the recombinant biopolitics of security of the molecular age.

11 October 2007

book review: Security, Territory, Population.

Nick Butler's "The Management of Populations," published in the most recent issue of Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, reviews Security, Territory, Population.

07 October 2007

Security, Territory, Population, Lecture One, Notes

Greetings readers,

I ran into a lot of work this past week and shall run into more work next week that will, needless to say, effect the time I have to devote to reading Foucault. However, I have organized some of the notes I jotted while reading Lecture One of Security, Territory, Population. This post shall contain these notes. I may revisit them during the week and write a post that teases out a few of their themes or, perhaps, poses a few questions.

First, some definitions

  1. Bio-power: a "set of mechanisms" of power that focus upon the "biological feature of the human species". Bio-power is concerned with species, with a mass, opposed to disciplinary power which is concerned with humans as individuals (1). The term is probably familiar, especially after our previous reading of "Society Must Be Defended", lecture eleven.
  2. Power: "a set of procedures" (2) and processes that "are not 'self-generating' or 'self subsistent'". Power is a product and part of relationships (a cause and effect?). Power within one discourse or relation shares similar structures and characteristics to power within other discourses or relations (2).
  3. "politics of truth": Foucault uses this intriguing phrase to define philosophy. In short, "the politics of truth" is Foucault's enterprise, the term for his interrogation and "analysis of mechanisms of power". Foucault suggests, "I see its role as that of showing the knowledge effects produced by the struggles, confrontations, and battles that take place within our society, and by the tactics of power that are the elements of this struggle" (3). Are the "politics of truth" an example of an epistemological analysis?
  4. "apparatuses of security": multipart definition, (a) "spaces of security"; (b) "treatment of the uncertain"; (c) "form of normalization specific to security" [regulatory]; and (d) the intersections of security with population, which is both an "object and subject" of security mechanisms (11).
  5. Security: relies on "material" givens, both "natural" and "artificial"; works upon "series" of "probabilities" (19) ; organizes "elements" that have multiple uses; works toward the future to account for future possibilities (20).
  6. "the milieu": space of security; where security mechanisms work; composed of "natural" and "artificial" givens; "an element in which a circular link is provided between effects and causes"; and a "field of intervention" in which to work upon a "multiplicity of individuals" (21).

Second, schematic points

  1. Mechanisms of security and technologies of biopower are embedded within the previous epistemes of power: "sovereignty" and "disciplinary". Hence, "there is not a series of successive elements, the appearance of the new causing the earlier ones to disappear" (8). Instead of deploying "periodizations" or even, paradigms, Foucault suggests to engage in a "history of technologies" that interrogates how, why, and when the focuses and aims of technologies of power alter (8-9).
  2. Mechanisms of security work to make "old armatures of law and discipline function in addition to the specific mechanism of security" (10). So when the technologies of security become "imperative" they work to deploy technologies of sovereignty and discipline in new ways, for new goals?
  3. "So, since there has to be an imperative, I would like the one underpinning the theoretical analysis we are attempting to be quite simply a conditional imperative of the kind: If you want to struggle, here are some key points, here are some lines of force, here are some constrictions and blockages. In other words, I would like these imperatives to be no more than tactical pointers" (3).
  4. Other schematic points are included in my regurgitation of definitions.

Third, two fascinating examples

  1. Nantes and circulation (18-20).
  2. Quotes from Moheau's Recherches sur la population(22-23).

Anything I missed that you wish to include?

Best wishes,


28 September 2007

readings greetings

For the next week, or so, we shall read lecture one of Security, Territory, Population. Feel free to use the blog to push and probe Foucault, to publish your reactions, agreements, and complaints, or to write whatever you wish.

20 September 2007

Pre-colonial Biopower

Ortho wrote:

Biopower, on the other hand, focused on individuals as a people, as a species; as a mass to regulate, characterize, mobilize, and forecast. Where disciplinary power focused on particular individuals, biopower focused upon a generalized and generalizable individual who could be serialized (placed in a repeatable and interchangeable sequence).

This description seems to apply to the Zulu kingdom during Shaka's reign from 1818 to 1828. As Shaka's kingdom expanded, men and women were given precisely-defined roles based on their age. From the age of 20 to 40, men were required to fight in regiments; they were forbidden to marry or engage in sexual relations. Women from the age of 20 to 40 were required to work as agricultural producers in order to feed the fighting regiments. Anyone who disobeyed these demands was liable to be killed; their generalization made their replacement quite easy. After the age of 40, men and women were allowed to marry and live together.

Some scholars suggest that Shaka felt his kingdom was already overpopulated and so he divided men and women up in this way in order to prevent the creation of more subjects. Others suggest that Shaka believed sexual activity sapped the strength of his fighters. As Mickey says in Rocky, "Women weaken legs." No one knows for sure. But regardless of the motivation, Shaka introduced precise technologies for controlling the population in these ways, particularly through the use of physical space--the construction and placement of barracks and homesteads, for instance. Also the creation of a bureaucracy charged with upholding and enforcing the regulations.

I think what we see in the case of the Zulu kingdom is the development of new technologies and classificatory systems in order to subordinate the interests of individuals to the needs of the state and to control the population. That sounds like bio-power to me. Did it lead to new methods of knowledge production? How could it not have?

16 September 2007

Biopower and Western Medicine

Since I am learning blog protocol, I wanted to respond to Ortho's post on this page. However, it is posted under "comments." Thus, if you wish to read my thoughts on the issue, especially within the context of biopower and Western medicine in Africa, read my comment.

biopower as metaphor for knowledge production

In the first few pages of lecture eleven, Foucault differentiates biopower from disciplinary power (242-243, 245-247). He suggests that biopower emerged in the mid-eighteenth century. It didn't replace disciplinary power, but grafted onto disciplinary power, or incorporated portions of disciplinary power. Disciplinary power focused on people as individuals; as individuals to train, punish, use, and surveil. Biopower, on the other hand, focused on individuals as a people, as a species; as a mass to regulate, characterize, mobilize, and forecast. Where disciplinary power focused on particular individuals, biopower focused upon a generalized and generalizable individual who could be serialized (placed in a repeatable and interchangeable sequence). I wonder if we can read the changes in the technologies of power analogously, as changes in the processes of knowing, or, in other words, in the processes of knowledge production.

An example of biopower epistemology may be the various mechanisms of governmentality deployed by imperialists during nineteenth- and twentieth-century colonial encounters in Africa. For example, the creation of censuses to know the colonial population; health programs to regulate the population as a mass; prenatal programs to influence birth rates; maps to know the land; the creation of museums and archives to know and preserve the "African" past (For examples in colonial Asia, see Anderson's Imagined Communities, chapter 10). Not only are these mechanisms concerned with the colonial population as a mass, the mechanisms reflect a way of producing knowledge that erases individuality and buries particularities within generalizable categories and classifications. Of course, in all of these colonial mechanisms, we can identify disciplinary technologies as well.

Another example of a biopower epistemology may be this post's argument, which erases particulars in favor of deploying a universalized, and generalizable colonial encounter across the continent of Africa. Obviously, many current historiographical trends attempt to distance themselves from the production of knowledge based upon a biopower epistemology.

Any thoughts?

13 September 2007


For the next week, or so, we shall read lecture eleven of "Society Must Be Defended". Please use this virtual space to probe and push Foucault, to post comments, quotes, and concerns, to say whatever you want.