Michel Foucault quotes

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Michel Foucault

Birthdate: 15. October 1926
Date of death: 25. June 1984

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Paul-Michel Foucault , generally known as Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, and literary critic.

Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions. Though often cited as a post-structuralist and postmodernist, Foucault rejected these labels, preferring to present his thought as a critical history of modernity. His thought has influenced academics, especially those working in sociology, cultural studies, literary theory and critical theory. Activist groups have also found his theories compelling.

Born in Poitiers, France, into an upper-middle-class family, Foucault was educated at the Lycée Henri-IV, at the École Normale Supérieure, where he developed an interest in philosophy and came under the influence of his tutors Jean Hyppolite and Louis Althusser, and at the University of Paris , where he earned degrees in philosophy and psychology. After several years as a cultural diplomat abroad, he returned to France and published his first major book, The History of Madness . After obtaining work between 1960 and 1966 at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, he produced The Birth of the Clinic and The Order of Things , publications which displayed his increasing involvement with structuralism, from which he later distanced himself. These first three histories exemplified a historiographical technique Foucault was developing called "archaeology".

From 1966 to 1968, Foucault lectured at the University of Tunis before returning to France, where he became head of the philosophy department at the new experimental university of Paris VIII. Foucault subsequently published The Archaeology of Knowledge . In 1970, Foucault was admitted to the Collège de France, a membership he retained until his death. He also became active in a number of left-wing groups involved in anti-racist campaigns, anti-human rights abuses, and penal reform. Foucault later published Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality , in which he developed archaeological and genealogical methods which emphasized the role that power plays in society. Foucault died in Paris of neurological problems compounded by HIV/AIDS; he became the first public figure in France to die from the disease. His partner Daniel Defert founded the AIDES charity in his memory.

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Quotes Michel Foucault

„Where there is power, there is resistance.“

—  Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction

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„Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting.“

—  Michel Foucault, The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault's Thought

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„In short, penal reform was born at the point of junction between the struggle against the super-power of the sovereign and that against the infra-power of acquired and tolerated illegalities.“

—  Michel Foucault
Context: It proved necessary, therefore, to control these illicit practices and introduce new legislation to cover them. The offenses had to be properly defined and more surely punished; out of this mass of irregularities, sometimes tolerated and sometimes punished with a severity out of all proportion to the offense, one had to determine what was an intolerable offense, and the offenders had to be apprehended and punished. With the new forms of capital accumulation, new relations of production and the new legal status of property, all the popular practices that belonged, either in a silent, everyday, tolerated form, or in a violent form, to the illegality of rights were reduced by force to an illegality of property. In that movement which transformed a society of juridico-political levies into a society of the appropriation of the means and products of labour, theft tended to become the first of the great loopholes in legality. Or, to put it another way, the economy of illegalities was restructured with the development of capitalist society. The illegality of property was separated from the illegality of rights. This distinction represents a class opposition because, on the one hand, the illegality that was to be most accessible to the lower classes was that of property – the violent transfer of ownership – and because, on the other, the bourgeoisie was to reserve to itself the illegality of rights: the possibility of getting round its own regulations and its own laws, of ensuring for itself an immense sector of economic circulation by a skillful manipulation of gaps in the law – gaps that were foreseen by its silences, or opened up by de facto tolerance. And this great redistribution of illegalities was even to be expressed through a specialization of the legal circuits: for illegalities of property – for theft – there were the ordinary courts and punishments; for the illegalities of rights – fraud, tax evasion, irregular commercial operations – special legal institutions applied with transactions, accommodations, reduced fines, etc. The bourgeoisie reserved to itself the fruitful domain of the illegality of rights. And at the same time as this split was taking place, there emerged the need for a constant policing concerned essentially with this illegality of property. It became necessary to get rid of the old economy of the power to punish, based on the principles of the confused and inadequate multiplicity of authorities, the distribution and concentration of the power correlative with actual inertia and inevitable tolerance, punishments that were spectacular in their manifestations and haphazard in their application. It became necessary to define a strategy and techniques of punishment in which an economy of continuity and permanence would replace that of expenditure and excess. In short, penal reform was born at the point of junction between the struggle against the super-power of the sovereign and that against the infra-power of acquired and tolerated illegalities. Chapter Two, Generalized Punishment, pp.87

„We must first rid ourselves of the illusion that penality is above all (if not exclusively) a means of reducing crime and that, in this role, according to the social forms, the political systems or beliefs, it may be severe or lenient, tend towards expiation of obtaining redress, towards the pursuit of individuals or the attribution of collective responsibility.“

—  Michel Foucault
Context: We must first rid ourselves of the illusion that penality is above all (if not exclusively) a means of reducing crime and that, in this role, according to the social forms, the political systems or beliefs, it may be severe or lenient, tend towards expiation of obtaining redress, towards the pursuit of individuals or the attribution of collective responsibility. We must analyse rather the ‘concrete systems of punishment’, study them as social phenomena that cannot be accounted for by the juridical structure of society alone, nor by its fundamental ethical choices; we must situate them in their field of operation, in which the punishment of crime is not the sole element; we must show that punitive measures are not simply ‘negative’ mechanisms that make it possible to repress, to prevent, to exclude, to eliminate; but that they are linked to a whole series of positive and useful effects which it is their task to support (and, in this sense, although legal punishment is carried out in order to punish offences, one might say that the definition of offences and their prosecution are carried out in turn in order to maintain the punitive mechanisms and their functions). Chapter One, The body of the condemned, pp. 24

„Unreason is to reason as dazzlement is to daylight.“

—  Michel Foucault
Context: To say that madness is dazzlement is to say that the madman sees the day, the same day that rational men see, as both live in the same light, but that when looking at that very light, nothing else and nothing in it, he sees it as nothing but emptiness, night and nothingness. Darkness for him is another way of seeing the day. Which means that in looking at the night and the nothingness of the night, he does not see at all. And that in the belief that he sees, he allows the fantasies of his imagination and the people of his nights to come to him as realities. For that reason, delirium and dazzlement exist in a relation that is the essence of madness, just as truth and clarity, in their fundamental relation, are constitutive of classical reason. In that sense, the Cartesian progression of doubt is clearly the great exorcism of madness. Descartes closes his eyes and ears the better to see the true light of the essential day, thereby ensuring that he will not suffer the dazzlement of the mad, who open their eyes and only see night, and not seeing at all, believe that they see things when they imagine them. In the uniform clarity of his closed senses, Descartes has broken with all possible fascination, and if he sees, he knows he really sees what he is seeing. Whereas in the madman’s gaze, drunk on the light that is night, images rise up and multiply, beyond any possible self-criticism, since the madman sees them, but irremediably separated from being, since the madman sees nothing. Unreason is to reason as dazzlement is to daylight. Part Two: 2. The Transcendence of Delirium

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„One thing is certain: the link between water and madness is deeply rooted in the dream of the Western man.“

—  Michel Foucault
Context: Water and navigation had that role to play. Locked in the ship from which he could not escape, the madman was handed over to the thousand-armed river, to the sea where all paths cross, and the great uncertainty that surrounds all things. A prisoner in the midst of the ultimate freedom, on the most open road of all, chained solidly to the infinite crossroads. He is the Passenger par excellence, the prisoner of the passage. It is not known where he will land, and when he lands, he knows not whence he came. His truth and his home are the barren wasteland between two lands that can never be his own. […] One thing is certain: the link between water and madness is deeply rooted in the dream of the Western man. Part One: 1. Stultifera Navis

„The soul is the prison of the body“

—  Michel Foucault
Context: The soul is the prison of the body. Discipline and Punish (1977) as translated by Alan Sheridan, p. 30

„Meaning was no longer read in an immediate perception, and accordingly objects ceased to speak directly: between the knowledge that animated the figures of objects and the forms they were transformed into, a divide began to appear, opening the way for a symbolism more often associated with the world of dreams.“

—  Michel Foucault
Context: Meaning created links so numerous, so rich and involved that only esoteric knowledge could possibly have the necessary key. Objects became so weighed down with attributes, connections and associations that they lost their own original face. Meaning was no longer read in an immediate perception, and accordingly objects ceased to speak directly: between the knowledge that animated the figures of objects and the forms they were transformed into, a divide began to appear, opening the way for a symbolism more often associated with the world of dreams. Part One: 1. Stultifera Navis

„Beneath the humanization of the penalties, what one finds are all those rules that authorize, or rather demand, 'leniency', as a calculated economy of the powder to punish. But they also provoke a shift in the point of application of this power: it is no longer the body, with the ritual play of excessive pains, spectacular branding in the ritual of the public execution; it is the mind or rather a play of representations and sings circulating discreetly but necessarily and evidently in the minds of all. It is no longer the body, the the soul, said Mably. And we see very clearly what he meant by this term: the correlative of a technique of power.“

—  Michel Foucault
Context: Beneath the humanization of the penalties, what one finds are all those rules that authorize, or rather demand, 'leniency', as a calculated economy of the powder to punish. But they also provoke a shift in the point of application of this power: it is no longer the body, with the ritual play of excessive pains, spectacular branding in the ritual of the public execution; it is the mind or rather a play of representations and sings circulating discreetly but necessarily and evidently in the minds of all. It is no longer the body, the the soul, said Mably. And we see very clearly what he meant by this term: the correlative of a technique of power. Old 'anatomies' of punishment are abandoned, But have we really entered the age of non-corporal punishment? Chapter Two, Generalized Punishment, pp. 101

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