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Quotes of the month (2011)


Foucault,GIP Press Conference

Quote for December 2011

[In] the general form of the Greek conception of language... words and phrases in their very reality have an original relationship with truth ... Language which is without embellishment, apparatus, construction or reconstruction, language in the naked state, is the language closest to truth and the language in which truth is expressed. And I think this is one of the most fundamental features of philosophical language ... as opposed to rhetorical [discourse]. Rhetorical language, is a language chosen, fashioned, and constructed in such a way as to produce its effect on the other person. The mode of being of philosophical language is to be etumos, that is to say, so bare and simple, so in keeping with the very movement of thought that, just as it is without embellishment, it will be appropriate to what it refers to.

Michel Foucault, (2010) [2008]. The Government of Self and Others. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1982- 1983. Tr. Graham Burchell. Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 374-5

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Quote for October 2011

Let us call the totality of the learning and skills that enable one to make the sign speak and to discover their meaning, hermeneutics; let us call the totality of the learning and skills that enable one to distinguish the location of the sign, to define what constitutes them as signs and to know how and by what laws they are linked, semiology: the sixteenth century superimposed hermeneutics and semiology in the form of similitude... 'Nature' is trapped in the thin layer that holds semiology and hermeneutics one above the other, it is neither mysterious nor veiled, it offers itself to our cognition, which it sometimes leads astray, only in so far as this superimposition necessarily includes a slight degree of non-coincidence between the resemblances...

The truth of all these marks, whether they are woven into nature itself or whether they exist in lines on parchments or in libraries, is everywhere the same: coeval with institution of God.

Michel Foucault, (1970) [1966]. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Tr. A. M. S. Smith. London: Tavistock, pp. 33, 38.

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Quote for September 2011

Power is not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away; power is exercised from innumerable points, in the interplay of nonegalitarian and mobile relations.

Michel Foucault, (1978) [1976], The History of Sexuality. Volume 1. An Introduction Harmondsworth: Penguin, p. 94.


Quote for August 2011

I see nothing wrong in the practice of a person who, knowing more than others in a specific game of truth, tells those others what to do, teaches them and transmits knowledge and techniques to others. The problem in such practices where power ­ which is not in itself a bad thing ­ must inevitably come into play is knowing how to avoid the kind of domination effects where a kid is subjected to the arbitrary and unnecessary authority of a teacher, or a student is put under the thumb of a professor who abuses his authority. I believe this problem must be framed in terms of law, rational techniques of government and ethos, practices of the self and freedom.

Michel Foucault, (1997), The ethics of the concern for the self as a practice of freedom. In P. Rabinow (Ed.) Ethics: subjectivity and truth. New York: New Press, pp. 298-9.

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Quote for July 2011

You know, I'm not sure whether philosophy really exists. What exists, are 'philosophers', that is a certain category of people whose activities and discourses have varied a lot from age to age. What distinguishes them, like their neighbours, poets and madmen, is the division which isolates them, and not the unity of a genre or the constancy of an illness ... In France, the philosophy teacher has been associated ... (in a direct fashion in schools, indirect in universities) with state education, with social conscience in the measured form of 'freedom of thought', let's say, to be clear: with the gradual establishment of universal suffrage.

Michel Foucault, (1994) [1970] 'Le piège de Vincennes'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. II. Paris: Gallimard, pp. 70-1. [This passage translated by Clare O'Farrell]


Quote for June 2011

The dual Poland-Tunisia experience balanced my political experience, and also referred me on to things which basically I hadn't sufficiently suspected in my pure speculations: the importance of the exercise of power, the lines of contact between the body, life, discourse and political power. In the silences and everyday gestures of a Pole who knew he was being watched, who waited to be out in the street before telling you something, because he knew quite well that there were microphones everywhere in a foreigner's apartment. In the way voices were lowered when you were at a restaurant, in the way letters were burnt, finally in all these tiny suffocating gestures as well as in the savage and raw violence of the Tunisian police beating down on a university, I went through a kind of physical experience of power, of the relations between the body and power.

Michel Foucault. (2004). 'Je suis un artificier'. In Roger-Pol Droit (ed.), Michel Foucault, entretiens. Paris: Odile Jacob, pp. 120-1. [Interview conducted in 1975. This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell].

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Quote for May 2011

Reason of state is not an art of government according to divine, natural, or human laws. It doesn't have to respect the general order of the world. It's government in accordance with the state's strength. It's government whose aim is to increase this strength within an extensive and competitive framework...

Political rationality has grown and imposed itself throughout the history of Western societies. It first took its stand on the idea of pastoral power, then on that of reason of state. Its inevitable effects are both individualization and totalization. Liberation can come only from attacking not just one of these two effects but political rationality's very roots.'

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. 317, 325.

'Together with war [the death penalty] was for a long time the other form of the right of the sword; it constituted the reply of the sovereign to those who attacked his will, his law, or his person... As soon as power gave itself the function of administering life, its reason for being and the logic of its exercise - and not the awakening of humanitarian feelings - made it more difficult to apply the death penalty. How could power exercise its highest prerogatives by putting people to death, when its main role was to ensure, sustain and multiply life, to put this life in order? For such a power, execution was at the same time a limit, a scandal, and a contradiction. Hence capital punishment could not be maintained except by invoking less the enormity of the crime itself than the monstrosity of the criminal, his incorrigibility, and the safeguard of society. One had the right to kill those who represented a kind of biological danger to others.'

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, Harmondsworth: 1990, pp. 137-8.


Quote for February 2011

Research has become the scientific and practical raison d'être of psychology, the social and historical raison d'être of the psychologist. From the moment you becomes a psychologist, you research. What? What other researchers allow you to research, because you don't (re)search in order to find, but to research, in order to have researched, to be a researcher. Go ahead and conduct research, research in general, research on the man in the street, on the neuroses of rats, on the statistical frequency of vowels in the English version of the Bible, on the sexual practices of the provincial woman (exclusively in the lower middle class), on the cutaneous resistance, blood pressure and respiratory rates of those listening to the Symphony of Psalms.

Michel Foucault, (1994) [1957] 'La recherche scientifique et la psychologie'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. I. Paris: Gallimard, p. 156. [This passage translated by Clare O'Farrell]


Quote for January 2011

In the Western imagination, reason has long belonged to terra firma. Island or continent, it repels water with a solid stubbornness: it only concedes its sand. As for unreason, it has been aquatic from the depths of time and until fairly recently. And more precisely oceanic: infinite space, uncertain ... Madness is the flowing liquid exterior of rocky reason.

Michel Foucault, (1994) [1963] 'L'eau et la folie'. In Dits et Ecrits vol. I. Paris: Gallimard, p. 268. [This passage translated by Clare O'Farrell]

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