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Quotes of the month (2003)

Foucault,GIP Press Conference

December 2003

'Curiosity is a vice that has been stigmatized in turn by Christianity, by philosophy and even by a certain conception of science. Curiosity, futility. I like the the word however. To me it suggests something altogether different: it evokes "concern"; it evokes the care one takes for what exists and could exist; an acute sense of the real which, however, never becomes fixed; a readiness to find our surroundings strange and singular; a certain relentlessness in ridding ourselves of our familiarities and looking at things otherwise; a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is passing away; a lack of respect for traditional hierarchies of the important and the essential.' (trans. mod.)

Michel Foucault. (1996) [1980]. 'The Masked Philosopher'. In Sylvère Lotringer (ed.) Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984). Tr. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston. 2nd edition. New York: Semiotext(e), p.305.

November 2003

In the introduction to a collection of documents entitled 'The Life of Infamous Men' Foucault makes the following remark about his selection of documents for this particular work:

'I haven't sought to unite texts which would be more faithful to reality than others, which would merit selection for their representative value, but texts which played a role in this real of which they speak, and which in return find themselves, whatever their inexactitude, their turgidity or their hypocrisy may be, traversed by it: fragments of discourse trailing the fragments of a reality in which they take part. What shall be read here is not a collection of portraits:. they are snares, weapons, cries, gestures, attitudes, ruses, intrigues for which the words have been the instruments. Real lives have been "played out" in these few sentences; I don't mean by that expression that they have been represented there, but that, in fact, their liberty, their misfortune, often their death, in any case their destiny have been) at least partly, therein decided. These discourses have really affected lives; these existences have effectively been risked and lost in these words'.

Michel Foucault. (1979). 'The life of infamous men'. In M. Morris and P. Patton (eds.). Tr. Paul Foss, Meaghan Morris. Michel Foucault: Power, Truth, Strategy. Sydney: Feral Publications, pp.78-79.

October 2003

'After all, the fact that the character of the work I have presented to you has been at the same time fragmentary, repetitive and discontinuous could well be a reflection of something one might describe as a febrile indolence - a typical affliction of those enamoured of libraries, documents, reference works, dusty tomes, texts that are never read, books that are no sooner printed than they are consigned to the shelves of libraries where they thereafter lie dormant to be taken up only some centuries later. It would accord all too well with the busy inertia of those who profess an idle knowledge, a species of luxuriant sagacity, the rich hoard of the parvenus whose only outward signs are displayed in footnotes at the bottom of the page. It would accord with all those who feel themselves to be associates of one of the more ancient or more typical secret societies of the West, those oddly indestructible societies unknown it would seem to Antiquity, which came into being with Christianity, most likely at the time of the first monasteries, at the periphery of the invasions, the fires and the forests: I mean to speak of the great warm and tender Freemasonry of useless erudition.'

Michel Foucault. (1980). 'Two lectures (first lecture: January 7, 1976)'. In C. Gordon (ed.). Tr. Kate Soper. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon, p. 79.

September 2003

'Let us take the question of power, political power, replacing it within the more general question of governmentality, that is governmentality understood as a strategic field of relations of power in the broadest sense of the term, not simply the political sense. Thus, if one understands by governmentality, a strategic field of power relations which are mobile, transformable and reversible, I think that the reflection on the notion of governmentality cannot help but but pass both theoretically and practically through the element of a subject that is defined by the relation of self to self. While the theory of political power as an institution ordinarily refers to a juridical conception of the subject of law, it seems to me that the analysis of governmentality - that is, the analysis of power as a group of reversible relations - must refer to an ethics of the subject defined by the relation of self to self. Which means quite simply that in the type of analysis that I have been proposing for a while, you will see that relations of power/governmentality/government of self and others/the relation of the self to the self, all of this constitutes a chain, a thread and that it is there, around these notions that one can, I think, articulate the question of politics and the question of ethics.'

Michel Foucault. (2001). L'hermeneutique du sujet. Cours au Collège de France 1981-1982. Paris: Gallimard Seuil, pp. 241-2.

August 2003

'I have never said that madness does not exist, or that it is only a consequence of these institutions. That people are suffering, that people make trouble in society or in families, that is a reality. [...]

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.'

Michel Foucault (1996) [1994], 'Problematics'. In Sylvère Lotringer (ed.) Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984). Tr. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston. 2nd edition. New York: Semiotext(e), p. 408.

July 2003

'In any case, what I would like to point out to you is that all the same when one sees the meaning, or rather the total absence of meaning, that is given to very familiar expressions which crop up everywhere in our discourse, such as rediscovering oneself, freeing oneself, being oneself, being authentic etc; when one sees the absence of meaning and of thought contained in each of these expressions used today, I don't think there there is much to be proud of in the efforts that we are making at present to reconstitute an ethics of the self.'

Michel Foucault. (2001). L'hermeneutique du sujet. Cours au Collège de France 1981-1982. Paris: Gallimard Seuil, p. 241.

June 2003

'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.'

Michel Foucault, (1985) 'Life: experience and science'. 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, p. 475.

May 2003

'Law is not born of nature, near the springs frequented by the first shepherds; law is born from real battles, victories, massacres, conquests which have their dates and their heroes of horror. The law is born in torched villages, ravaged lands; it is born with the notorious innocents suffering in the throes of death as the sun rises.
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.'

Michel Foucault. (1997). 'Il faut défendre la société. Cours au Collège de France. 1976. Paris: Gallimard Seuil, pp. 43-44.

April 2003

'The body: a surface on which events are inscribed (whereas language marks events and ideas dissolve them), place where the Me is dissociated (a Me to which it tries to lend the illusion of a substantial unity), it is a volume perpetually crumbling away. Genealogy, as an analysis of where things come from is thus situated at the point of articulation of the body and history. Its task is to show a body totally imprinted with history, and history destroying the body.' (trans. mod.)

Michel Foucault. (1991) [1971]. 'Nietzsche, Genealogy, History'. . In Paul Rabinow, (ed.), The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, p. 83.

March 2003

'[In Galen's discussion of parrhesia (frank speech)] 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.'

Michel Foucault. (2001). L'hermeneutique du sujet. Cours au Collège de France 1981-1982. Paris: Gallimard Seuil, p. 387.

February 2003

'[In Ancient Greek thought] what one hoped to gain from reading was not an understanding of what the author meant, but to build up for oneself a toolkit of true propositions which were effectively one's own ... It was not a matter of constructing a patchwork of propositions from different places, but of constructing a solid foundation of propositions which could be used as prescriptions, true discourses which were at the same time principles of behaviour'.

Michel Foucault. (2001). L'hermeneutique du sujet. Cours au Collège de France 1981-1982. Paris: Gallimard Seuil, p. 341.

January 2003

'I think that the modern age of the history of truth began at the moment when empirical knowledge itself, and on its own, allowed access to the truth. That is, from the moment when, without asking anything else of the subject, without the being of the subject having to undergo any modification or alteration whatsoever, the philosopher (or scientist or anyone looking for the truth) was capable of recognising in him or herself the truth and had access to the truth by the mere act of empirical knowledge.'

Michel Foucault. (2001). L'hermeneutique du sujet. Cours au Collège de France 1981-1982. Paris: Gallimard Seuil, p. 19.