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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Michel Foucault and the history of punishment

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French philosopher best known for his research on the history of punishment, madness, sexuality and power. Philosopher Francois Ewald said,


"Foucault always subscribed to a number of social projects. And in his texts he was talking to readers in an ongoing transformative process.... it became clear to me that his thinking revolved around the idea of change, of transformation, of individuals and collectives." (What Do You Want Me to Regret? Interview with Francois Ewald, 2017)


The rest of this post is some quotes from Foucault.


Power and history


"I try to carry out the most precise and discriminative analyses I can in order to show in what ways things change, are transformed, are displaced. When I study the mechanisms of power, I try to study their specificity... I admit neither the notion of a master nor the universality of his law." (Dits de Ecrits, 1976)


"Sometimes, because my position has not been made clear enough, people think I'm a sort of radical anarchist who has an absolute hatred of power. No! What I am trying to do is to approach this extremely important and tangled phenomenon in our society, the exercise of power, with the most reflective , and I would say prudent attitude." (Interview in the History of the Present, 1988)




"The disappearance of public executions marks therefore the decline of the spectacle; but it also marks a slackening of the hold on the body." (Discipline and Punish, 1977)


"Not only must people know, they must see with their own eyes. Because they must be made to be afraid..." (Discipline and Punish, 1977)




"Madness had become a thing to be observed, no longer the monster within, but an animal moved by strange mechanisms, more beast than man, where all humanity had long since disappeared." (History of Madness, 1961)


"If our intention now is to reveal classical unreason on its own terms, outside of its ties with dreams and error, it must be understood not as a form of reason that is somehow diseased lost or mad, but quite simply as reason dazzled." (History of Madness, 1961)




"The painter is turning his eyes towards us only in so far as we happen to occupy the same position as his subject. We, the spectators, are an additional factor." (The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, 1970)


"We are observing ourselves being observed by the painter, and made visible to his eyes by the same light that enables us to see him. And just as we are about to apprehend ourselves, transcribed by his hand as though in a mirror, we find that we can in fact apprehend nothing of that mirror but its lusterless back. The other side of a psyche." (The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, 1970)