Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, social anthropology of medicine, the human sciences and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. His writings on power, knowledge, and discourse have been widely influential in academic circles.
In the 1960s, he was associated with structuralism, a theoretical movement in social anthropology from which he later distanced himself. He also rejected the poststructuralist and postmodernist labels later attributed to him, preferring to classify his thought as a critical history of modernity rooted in Immanuel Kant. His project was particularly influenced by Nietzsche, his "genealogy of knowledge" being a direct allusion to Nietzsche's "genealogy of morality". In a late interview he definitively stated: "I am a Nietzschean."
He was involved in several movements, among others for prisoner's rights. Foucault's radical politics made him sustain broken bones from engaging in street battles with police, something he continued into his 50s.
Michel Foucault was a French philosopher. Daniel Defert met Michel Foucault while he was a philosophy student at the University of Clermont-Ferrand and their relationship lasted from 1963 until Foucault's death in 1984. They described their relationship as a "state of passion". It was Foucault's death from AIDS that led Defert to enter the field of AIDS activism. (Pic: Police dispersing protesters: Jacques-Alain Miller, Daniel Defert, Michel Foucault, Jean-Pierre Bamberger, Claude Liscia, 1972)
Foucault was listed as the most cited scholar in the humanities in 2007 by the ISI Web of Science.
Paul-Michel Foucault was born on 15 October 1926 in Poitiers, France, to a notable provincial family. His father, Paul Foucault, was an eminent surgeon and hoped his son would join him in the profession. His early education was a mix of success and mediocrity until he attended the Jesuit Collège Saint-Stanislas, where he excelled. During this period, Foucault learned philosophy with Louis Girard.
After World War II, Foucault was admitted to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure (rue d'Ulm), the traditional gateway to an academic career in the humanities in France.
Foucault's personal life during the École Normale was difficult — he suffered from acute depression due to distress over his homosexuality and made several suicide attempts. As a result, he was taken to see a psychiatrist. During this time, Foucault became fascinated with psychology. He earned a licence (degree equivalent to BA) in psychology, a very new qualification in France at the time, in addition to a degree in philosophy, in 1952. He was involved in clinical psychology, which exposed him to thinkers such as Ludwig Binswanger.
Foucault was a member of the French Communist Party from 1950 to 1953. He was inducted into the party by his mentor Louis Althusser, but soon became disillusioned with both the politics and the philosophy of the party. Historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie reported that Foucault never actively participated in his cell, unlike many of his fellow party members.
Foucault failed at the agrégation in 1950 but took it again and succeeded the following year. After a brief period lecturing at the École Normale, he took up a position at the Université Lille Nord de France, where from 1953 to 1954 he taught psychology. In 1954 Foucault published his first book, Maladie mentale et personnalité. At this point, Foucault was not interested in a teaching career, and undertook a lengthy exile from France. In 1954 he served France as a cultural delegate to the University of Uppsala in Sweden (a position arranged for him by Georges Dumézil, who was to become a friend and mentor). He submitted his doctoral thesis in Uppsala, but it was rejected there. In 1958 Foucault left Uppsala and briefly held positions at Warsaw University and at the University of Hamburg.
Foucault returned to France in 1960 to complete his doctorate and take up a post in philosophy at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. There he met philosopher Daniel Defert, who would become his partner of twenty years. In 1961 he earned his doctorate by submitting two theses (as is customary in France): a "major" thesis entitled Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique (Madness and Insanity: History of Madness in the Classical Age) and a "secondary" thesis that involved a translation of, and commentary on Kant's Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Folie et déraison (Madness and Insanity – published in an abridged edition in English as Madness and Civilization and finally published unabridged as "History of Madness" by Routledge in 2006) was extremely well received. Foucault continued a vigorous publishing schedule. In 1963 he published Naissance de la Clinique (Birth of the Clinic), Raymond Roussel, and a reissue of his 1954 volume (now entitled Maladie mentale et psychologie or, in English, "Mental Illness and Psychology").
After Defert was posted to Tunisia for his military service, Foucault moved to a position at the University of Tunis in 1965. He published Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things) during the height of interest in structuralism in 1966, and Foucault was quickly grouped with scholars such as Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Roland Barthes as the newest, latest wave of thinkers set to topple the existentialism popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre. Foucault made a number of skeptical comments about Marxism, which outraged a number of left wing critics, but later firmly rejected the "structuralist" label. He was still in Tunis during the May 1968 student riots, where he was profoundly affected by a local student revolt earlier in the same year. In the Autumn of 1968 he returned to France, where he published L'archéologie du savoir (The Archaeology of Knowledge) – a methodological treatise that included a response to his critics – in 1969.
In the aftermath of 1968, the French government created a new experimental university, Paris VIII, at Vincennes and appointed Foucault the first head of its philosophy department in December of that year. Foucault appointed mostly young leftist academics (such as Judith Miller) whose radicalism provoked the Ministry of Education, who objected to the fact that many of the course titles contained the phrase "Marxist-Leninist," and who decreed that students from Vincennes would not be eligible to become secondary school teachers. Foucault notoriously also joined students in occupying administration buildings and fighting with police.
Foucault's tenure at Vincennes was short-lived, as in 1970 he was elected to France's most prestigious academic body, the Collège de France, as Professor of the History of Systems of Thought. His political involvement increased, and his partner Defert joined the ultra-Maoist Gauche Proletarienne (GP). Foucault helped found the Prison Information Group (French: Groupe d'Information sur les Prisons or GIP) to provide a way for prisoners to voice their concerns. This coincided with Foucault's turn to the study of disciplinary institutions, with a book, Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish), which "narrates" the micro-power structures that developed in Western societies since the 18th century, with a special focus on prisons and schools.
In the late 1970s, political activism in France trailed off with the disillusionment of many left wing intellectuals. A number of young Maoists abandoned their beliefs to become the so-called New Philosophers, often citing Foucault as their major influence, a status Foucault had mixed feelings about. Foucault in this period embarked on a six-volume project The History of Sexuality, which he never completed. Its first volume was published in French as La Volonté de Savoir (1976), then in English as The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (1978). The second and third volumes did not appear for another eight years, and they surprised readers by their subject matter (classical Greek and Latin texts), approach and style, particularly Foucault's focus on the human subject, a concept that some mistakenly believed he had previously neglected.
Foucault began to spend more time in the United States, at the University at Buffalo (where he had lectured on his first ever visit to the United States in 1970) and especially at UC Berkeley. In 1975 he took LSD at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, later calling it the best experience of his life.
In 1979 Foucault made two tours of Iran, undertaking extensive interviews with political protagonists in support of the new interim government established soon after the Iranian Revolution. In the tradition of Nietzsche and Georges Bataille, Foucault had embraced the artist who pushed the limits of rationality, and he wrote with great passion in defense of irrationalities that broke boundaries. In 1978, Foucault found such transgressive powers in the revolutionary figures Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Shariati and the millions who risked death as they followed them in the course of the revolution. Both Foucault and the revolutionaries were highly critical of modernity and sought a new form of politics, they both also looked up to those who risked their lives for ideals; and both looked to the past for inspiration. Later on when Foucault went to Iran “to be there at the birth of a new form of ideas,” he wrote that the new “Muslim” style of politics could signal the beginning of a new form of “political spirituality,” not just for the Middle East, but also for Europe, which had adopted the practice of secular politics ever since the French Revolution. Foucault recognized the enormous power of the new discourse of militant Islam, not just for Iran, but for the world. He wrote:
As an Islamic movement, it can set the entire region afire, overturn the most unstable regimes, and disturb the most solid. Islam which is not simply a religion, but an entire way of life, an adherence to a history and a civilization, has a good chance to become a gigantic powder keg, at the level of hundreds of millions of men. . . Indeed, it is also important to recognize that the demand for the 'legitimate rights of the Palestinian people' hardly stirred the Arab peoples. What it be if this cause encompassed the dynamism of an Islamic movement, something much stronger than those with a Marxist, Leninist, or Maoist character? (“A Powder Keg Called Islam”)During his two trips to Iran, Foucault was commissioned as a special correspondent of a leading Italian newspaper and his articles appeared on the front page of that paper. His many essays on Iran, published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, only appeared in French in 1994 and then in English in 2005. These essays caused some controversy, with some commentators arguing that Foucault was insufficiently critical of the new regime. The more common attempts to bracket out Foucault's writings on Iran as "miscalculations," reminds some authors of what Foucault himself had criticized in his well known 1969 essay, "What is an Author?" Foucault believed that when we include certain works in an author's career and exclude others that were written in a "different style," or were "inferior" (Foucault 1969, 111), we create a stylistic unity and a theoretical coherence. This is done by privileging certain writings as authentic and excluding others that do not fit our view of what the author ought to be: "The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning" (Foucault 1969, 110). This controversy is frequently discussed in the Foucault literature.
In the philosopher's later years, interpreters of Foucault's work attempted to engage with the problems presented by the fact that the late Foucault seemed in tension with the philosopher's earlier work. When this issue was raised in a 1982 interview, Foucault remarked "When people say, 'Well, you thought this a few years ago and now you say something else,' my answer is… [laughs] 'Well, do you think I have worked hard all those years to say the same thing and not to be changed?'" He refused to identify himself as a philosopher, historian, structuralist, or Marxist, maintaining that "The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning." In a similar vein, he preferred not to state that he was presenting a coherent and timeless block of knowledge; he rather desired his books "to be a kind of tool-box others can rummage through to find a tool they can use however they wish in their own area… I don't write for an audience, I write for users, not readers."
In 1992 James Miller published a biography of Foucault that was greeted with controversy in part due to his view that Foucault's experiences in the gay sadomasochism community during the time he taught at Berkeley directly influenced his political and philosophical works. Miller's book has been rebuked by certain Foucault scholars as being either simply misdirected, a sordid reading of his life and works, or as a politically motivated, intentional misreading.
Foucault died of an AIDS-related illness in Paris on 25 June 1984. He was the first high-profile French personality who was reported to have AIDS. Little was known about the disease at the time and his philosophical rivals have at times attacked his sexual activities as an expression of his views. In the front-page article of Le Monde announcing his death, there was no mention of AIDS, although it was implied that he died from a massive infection. Prior to his death, Foucault had destroyed most of his manuscripts, and in his will had prohibited the publication of what he might have overlooked. His death is described by his close friend, Hervé Guibert, in A l'ami qui ne m'a pas sauvé la vie, under the name of Muzil.
Burial: Cimetiere du Vendeuvre, Vienne, Rhone-Alpes Region, France
While the study’s ethnography of sexual subcultures confirms several of Michel Foucault’s most speculative and brilliant insights, it modifies the periodization based on those insights by giving equal weight to working-class culture. Most significantly, it shows that the “modern homosexual,” whose preeminence is usually thought to have been established in the nineteenth century, did not dominate Western urban industrial culture until well into the twentieth century, at least in one of the world capitals of that culture. The homosexual displaced the “fairy” in middle-class culture several generations earlier than in working-class culture; but in each class culture each category persisted, standing in uneasy, contested, and disruptive relation to the other.
“Normal” middle-class men’s growing resistance to any physical or affective ties redolent of homosexuality, and the insistence of middle-class “queer” men that it was their sexual desire, not gender inversion, that distinguished them from other men, mark the emergence of the “heterosexual” and the “homosexual” in middle-class culture. The emergence of each signals the consolidation of sexuality itself as a central component of identity in middle-class culture and tends to confirm Michel Foucault’s insight that the construction of sexuality as a distinct field of personhood, linking affective desires and physiological responses in a matrix that was central to the definition of one’s personhood, was initially a distinctly bourgeois production. --Chauncey, George (1995-05-18). Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. BASIC. Kindle Edition.
In an interview published in 1982, the French theorist Michel Foucault explained the prevalence of promiscuity among gay men this way: "In Western Christian culture homosexuality was banished and therefore had to concentrate all its energy on the act of sex itself. Homosexuals were not allowed to elaborate a system of courtship because the cultural expression necessary for such an elaboration was denied them. The wink on the street, the split-second decision to get it on, the speed with which homosexual relations are consummated: all these are products of an interdiction." --Charles Kaiser. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America (Kindle Locations 4187-4190). Kindle Edition.Daniel Defert (born September 10, 1937) is a prominent French AIDS activist and the founding president (1984-1991) of the first AIDS awareness organization in France, AIDES. He started the organization after the death of his partner, the French philosopher Michel Foucault. He is an alumnus of the École normale supérieure de Saint-Cloud.
A professor of sociology, Daniel Defert has been Assistant (1969-1970), Maître-assistant (1971-1985), then Maître de Conférence (from 1985) at the Centre Universitaire of Vincennes, which became in 1972, Université de Paris VIII Vincennes. He has been a member of the scientific committee for human sciences of the International Conference on AIDS (1986-94); member of the World Commission for AIDS (World Health Organization) (1988-93); member of the National Committee for AIDS (1989-98), of the Global AIDS Policy Coalition of Harvard University (1994-1997), and of the French "Haut Comité de la Santé Publique" (from 1998).
Daniel Defert is author of numerous articles in the domain of ethno-iconography and public health. He has been awarded the decoration of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur and received in 1998 the Prix Alexander Onassis for the creation of Aides.
Daniel Defert met Foucault while he was a philosophy student at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France and their relationship lasted from 1963 until Foucault's death in 1984. They described their relationship as a "state of passion". It was Foucault's death from AIDS, a disease about which little was known at the time, that led Defert to enter the field of AIDS activism. He also co-edited with François Ewald volume 4 of Dits et Ecrits of Michel Foucault (1994), a posthumous collection of Foucault's thought.
Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography by David M. Halperin
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 6, 1997)
Amazon: Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography
"My work has had nothing to do with gay liberation," Michel Foucault reportedly told an admirer in 1975. And indeed there is scarcely more than a passing mention of homosexuality in Foucault's scholarly writings. So why has Foucault, who died of AIDS in 1984, become a powerful source of both personal and political inspiration to an entire generation of gay activists? And why have his political philosophy and his personal life recently come under such withering, normalizing scrutiny by commentators as diverse as Camille Paglia, Richard Mohr, Bruce Bawer, Roger Kimball, and biographer James Miller?
David M. Halperin's Saint Foucault is an uncompromising and impassioned defense of the late French philosopher and historian as a galvanizing thinker whose career as a theorist and activist will continue to serve as a model for other gay intellectuals, activists, and scholars. A close reading of both Foucault and the increasing attacks on his life and work, it explains why straight liberals so often find in Foucault only counsels of despair on the subject of politics, whereas gay activists look to him not only for intellectual inspiration but also for a compelling example of political resistance. Halperin rescues Foucault from the endless nature-versus-nurture debate over the origins of homosexuality ("On this question I have absolutely nothing to say," Foucault himself once remarked) and argues that Foucault's decision to treat sexuality not as a biological or psychological drive but as an effect of discourse, as the product of modern systems of knowledge and power represents a crucial political breakthrough for lesbians and gay men. Halperin explains how Foucault's radical vision of homosexuality as a strategic opportunity for self-transformation anticipated the new anti-assimilationist, anti-essentialist brand of sexual identity politics practiced by contemporary direct-action groups such as ACT UP. Halperin also offers the first synthetic account of Foucault's thinking about gay sex and the future of the lesbian and gay movement, as well as an up-to-the-minute summary of the most recent work in queer theory.
"Where there is power, there is resistance," Michel Foucault wrote in The History of Sexuality, Volume I. Erudite, biting, and surprisingly moving, Saint Foucault represents Halperin's own resistance to what he views as the blatant and systematic misrepresentation of a crucial intellectual figure, a misrepresentation he sees as dramatic evidence of the continuing personal, professional, and scholarly vulnerability of all gay activists and intellectuals in the age of AIDS.
Insult and the Making of the Gay Self (Series Q) by Didier Eribon
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Duke University Press Books (July 7, 2004)
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A bestseller in France following its publication in 1999, Insult and the Making of the Gay Self is an extraordinary set of reflections on “the gay question” by Didier Eribon, one of France’s foremost public intellectuals. Known internationally as the author of a pathbreaking biography of Michel Foucault, Eribon is a leading voice in French gay studies. In explorations of gay subjectivity as it is lived now and as it has been expressed in literary history and in the life and work of Foucault, Eribon argues that gay male politics, social life, and culture are transformative responses to an oppressive social order. Bringing together the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, and Erving Goffman, he contends that gay culture and political movements flow from the need to overcome a world of insult in the process of creating gay selves.
Eribon describes the emergence of homosexual literature in Britain and France at the turn of the last century and traces this new gay discourse from Oscar Wilde and the literary circles of late-Victorian Oxford to André Gide and Marcel Proust. He asserts that Foucault should be placed in a long line of authors—including Wilde, Gide, and Proust—who from the nineteenth century onward have tried to create spaces in which to resist subjection and reformulate oneself. Drawing on his unrivaled knowledge of Foucault’s oeuvre, Eribon presents a masterful new interpretation of Foucault. He calls attention to a particular passage from Madness and Civilization that has never been translated into English. Written some fifteen years before The History of Sexuality, this passage seems to contradict Foucault’s famous idea that homosexuality was a late-nineteenth-century construction. Including an argument for the use of Hannah Arendt’s thought in gay rights advocacy, Insult and the Making of the Gay Self is an impassioned call for critical, active engagement with the question of how gay life is shaped both from without and within.
The Passion of Michel Foucault by James Miller
Paperback: 492 pages
Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 7, 2000)
Amazon: The Passion of Michel Foucault
Based on extensive new research and a bold interpretation of the man and his texts, The Passion of Michel Foucault is a startling look at one of this century's most influential philosophers. It chronicles every stage of Foucault's personal and professional odyssey, from his early interest in dreams to his final preoccupation with sexuality and the nature of personal identity.
More Real Life Romances at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance
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