logo prison design michel-foucault.com

Quotes of the month (2001)

Foucault, Debray, Mauriac, Montand

December 2001

'But then, what is philosophy today - philosophical activity, I mean - if it is not the critical work of thought on itself? And if it does not consist in the endeavour of knowing how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, rather than legitimating what is already known? There is always something ludicrous in philosophical discourse when it tries, from the outside, to dictate to others, to tell them where their truth is and how to find it, or when it presumes to give them naively positivistic instruction. But it is its right to explore what might be changed, in its own thought, through the practice of a knowledge that is foreign to it. The "essay" - which should be understood as the test by means of which one modifies oneself through the play of truth and not as the simplistic appropriation of others for the purpose of communication - is the living body of philosophy, at least if we assume that philosophy is still what it was in times past, i.e., an "ascesis", an exercise of the self, in thought.' (trans. mod)

Michel Foucault. (1992) [1984]. The Use of Pleasure. The History of Sexuality Volume 2, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, pp. 8-9.

November 2001

'For some people, writing a book is always taking a risk, for example the risk of not finishing it. When you know in advance where you want to get to, a dimension of the experience is missing, which consists precisely in writing a book while running the risk of not getting to the end.' (trans. mod)

Michel Foucault. (1994) [1984]. 'Une esthetique de l'existence'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. IV. Paris: Gallimard, p. 730. (This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell).

October 2001

'The problem of Islam as a political force is an essential problem for our time and for the years to come. The first condition in approaching it with anything resembling intelligence is to not to start with hatred.'

Michel Foucault. (1994) [1978]. 'Reponse de Michel Foucault à une lectrice iranienne'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. 111. Paris: Gallimard, p. 708. (This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell).

'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'. (trans mod.)

Michel Foucault. (1999) [1978]. 'Is it useless to revolt?'. In Jeremy R. Carrette (ed.), Religion and Culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 134.

..'terrorism... has a totally opposite effect which is to make the bourgeois class even more closely attached to its ideology. ... Using terror for revolution is a totally contradictory idea ...'

Michel Foucault. (1994) [1976]. 'Le savoir comme crime'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. 111. Paris: Gallimard, p. 83. (This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell).

September 2001

Thought does exist, both beyond and underneath systems and edifices of discourse. It is something that is often hidden but always drives everyday behaviors. There is always a little thought occurring even in the most stupid institutions; there is always thought even in silent habits.
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 practise 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. (trans. mod)

Michel Foucault. (2000) [1981]. "So is it important to think?" In J. Faubion (ed.). Tr. Robert Hurley and others. Power The Essential Works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984. Volume Three. New York: New Press, p. 456.

August 2001

'I never think quite the same thing, because for me my books are esperiences, in a sense that I would like to be as full as possible. An experience is something that one comes out of transformed. If I had to write a book to communicate what I was already thinking, I would never have the courage to begin. I only write a book because I don't know exactly what to think about this thing that I so much want to think about, so that the book transforms me and transforms what I think. Each book transforms what I was thinking when I finished the previous book. I am an eperimenter, not a theorist.'. (trans. mod)

Michel Foucault. (2000) [1980]. "Interview with Michel Foucault". In J. Faubion (ed.). Tr. Robert Hurley and others. Power The Essential Works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984. Volume Three. New York: New Press, pp. 239-40.

July 2001

'A progressive politics is one which recognises the historical conditions and the specified rules of a practice, whereas other politics recognize only ideal necessities, univocal determinations, or the free play of individual initiatives.'

Michel Foucault. (1996) [1969]. "History, discourse and discontinuity". In Sylvère Lotringer (ed.) Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984). Tr. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston. 2nd edition. New York: Semiotext(e),, p. 48.

June 2001

'I don't like obscurity because I consider obscurity to be a form of despotism. One must expose oneself to pronouncing errors. One must expose oneself to possibly saying things which are probably going to be difficult to express, and which obviously are going to make one fumble for words.'

Michel Foucault. (1994) [1978]. 'Sexualité et pouvoir'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. 111. Paris: Gallimard, pp. 137-58. p. 570. (This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell).

May 2001


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?'

Michel Foucault. (1991) [1984]. 'On the genealogy of ethics: An overview of work in progress'. In Paul Rabinow, (ed.), The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, p. 350.

April 2001

'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.
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?'

Michel Foucault, (1998) 'The thought of the outside'. In J. Faubion (ed.). Tr. Robert Hurley and others. Aesthetics, method and epistemology. The Essential Works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984. Volume Two Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Allen Lane, Penguin, pp. 160-1.

March 2001

'I think it is us who make the future. The future is the way we react to what is happening, it is the way we transform a movement, a doubt into truth. If we want to be masters of our future, we must fundamentally pose the question of what today is'.

Michel Foucault. (1994). 'Le monde est un grand asile'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. 11. Paris: Gallimard, p. 434. (This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell).

February 2001

'A work is definitely not the form of expression of a particular individuality. The work always implies, as it were, the death of the author. One only writes in order to disappear at the same time. The work, in a way, exists on its own as the bare and anonymous flow of language... The work is composed of certain relations within language itself. It is a particular structure in the world of language, discourse and literature'.

Michel Foucault. (1994). 'Interview avec Michel Foucault'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. 111. Paris: Gallimard, p. 660. (This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell).

January 2001

'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.'

Michel Foucault cited in Le Nouvel Observateur, 7 April 1975, no. 543, p.54.