A New Generation of Thinkers.
From: O'Farrell, C. (1989) Foucault: Historian or Philosopher? London: Macmillan. pp.1-19
In 1966, the year that Michel Foucault first became a star on the French philosophical scene, he remarked that he and the generation who were under 20 during the war: 'very suddenly and apparently without reason noticed that we were very very far from the preceding generation; Sartre's and Merleau-Ponty's generation.'
It is well known that structuralism and other related forms of thought popular during the 1960s and early 1970s were a reaction to the forms of 'nineteenth-century, where you are banished in order to be discredited', as Jean-François Revel wrote caustically in 1971. Much of Foucault's philosophical and historiographical reflection can in fact be seen as an effort to provide an alternative to this 'nineteenth-century' legacy. However, before examining Foucault's own works and period, it might be useful to cast a brief glance over the political, social and intellectual conjuncture from which he and others of his generation emerged and which they rebelled against. There have already been several excellent articles and books written about the social and political prehistory of structuralism in France, so it is not necessary to give more than a flavour of the period here. If there is a certain emphasis on the Marxist intellectual experience during the 1950s in the following discussion, it is because as François Furet remarks, structuralism developed in the same intellectual circles that had been Marxist after the war.
At the end of the Second World War, the Right emerged totally discredited by the Vichy experience. Few intellectuals of note were tempted to think within its confines any longer. As Furet suggests, 'ideological elaboration became a quasi-monopoly of the Left.' On the other hand, the French Communist Party, the 'Party of the Resistance', emerged with flying colours, even if these colours had been delicately retouched: it was conveniently forgotten, for example, that the PCF had in fact been pro-German in 1939 and 1940. However, this worried a few people at the time and a large number of intellectuals found the Communist Party the answer to their desire to become politically engaged, in a society which seemed to have lost its direction, and its sense of values. Even Jean-Paul Sartre, the dominating intellectual figure of the time, who had made his opposition to Marxism quite clear before the war in his existentialist work L'Etre et le Néant, changed his mind. He began to declare his wholehearted, but by no means always appreciated, support for the Communist Party. This sudden need amongst intellectuals for political 'engagement' after the war can also be explained by a certain sense of guilt about having been born into the bourgeoisie and not the working class. Political activity seemed a suitable act of penance to make up for this and Sartre, perhaps more than any other intellectual, was tortured by this sense of guilt to the point of obsession. His case is representative of the itinerary of many other intellectuals during this period. Simone de Beauvoir in the third volume of her Mémoires says that it was Sartre's experience in the Resistance and as a prisoner of war that helped him understand the meaning of history and action. As a result of this experience, he became interested in the Communist Party towards the end of the war. She explains that although it was true that until then he had always considered the proletariat as the 'universal class', he had thought it possible to reach the absolute through literary creation and had thus considered his relations with fellow human beings (his 'being for others') or politics as secondary. She continues:
With his historicity, he had discovered his dependence; no more eternity, no more absolute; the universality to which he aspired as an intellectual, could only be conferred by those men who were its incarnation on earth. He already thought what he was to express later: the real point of view is that of the most disinherited It was through the eyes of the exploited that Sartre would learn what he was: if they rejected him, he would find himself imprisoned in his petit-bourgeois individuality.
The Cold War was also another factor in contributing towards the increase of the Communist Party's influence. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie mentions that although immediately after the war, Communists were not much in evidence at the famous Ecole Normale Supérieure in the Rue d' Ulm, the new 'Post-Resistance' Cold War generation of 1948 to 1949 were much more open to Stalinist doctrine. During this period we find, for example, Foucault as a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, 'ghost-writing' in the Communist journal La Nouvelle Critique for authors such as the well-known Party prop Jean Kanapa. However, Foucault (never an excessively zealous Stalinist) left the Party in 1950, somewhat earlier than most, when a number of Jewish doctors were tried in Russia for alleged treason.
But Marxism and Communism were by no means the sole refuges of postwar intellectuals, although this school of thought (or dogmatism) was by far the most significant. If Sartre attempted an uneasy marriage between Marxism and existentialism, there were also the important currents of Catholic existentialism and personalism as well as Camus' non-Marxist and atheist version of existentialism. There was also a number of dedicated Gaullists such as the writer François Mauriac (who was to transfer his allegiance to the Left during the Algerian war). In addition, one must not forget the school of phenomenologists inspired by the ontological of German philosophers such as Jaspers, Heidegger and Husserl.
Nonetheless, it was almost impossible to be an intellectual worthy of respect without a political commitment. Maurice Merleau-Ponty writing in 1961 comments: 'One thing is certain, that there was a political mania amongst philosophers which produced neither good politics, nor good philosophy.' It was from politics that the solutions were supposed to come. 'Every political anger became a holy anger, and reading the newspaper every morning the philosophical morning prayer.' Althusser makes some similar observations about the 'philosophers without works that we were turning every work into politics, and slicing the world, arts, literature, philosophy and sciences, with a single blade - the pitiless division of classes'. This reverence for the political could extend to the most banal and everyday level. Le Roy Ladurie recounts that a militant organising a meeting with some young people dealt with a complaint about the lack of chairs by replying 'Comrades, if you want these chairs politically, I am certain that you will succeed in finding them.' One of the early opponents of this dogmatism, Claude Lefort, although still a Marxist, describes the 'ideological terror' which the Communist Party exercised over the Left and the massive adhesion of progressive writers to Stalinism. Le Roy Ladurie also mentions that 'intellectual terrorism' was not only exercised against anyone who dared criticise Stalinism, but also within the Party itself.
Fortunately, in 1956, this state of affairs began to change, and indeed the years 1956-60 were to mark the end of one way of thinking and the beginning of another. With the close links of philosophy, the humanities and even scientific thought with politics, it was in fact a number of political events which precipitated this transformation of ideas, producing a move away from politics and existentialism and humanist philosophies.
In January 1956, a Centre-left government was voted into power. In March, this government decided to step up 'pacification' measures in the colony of Algeria which had been coming more and more restless since 1954 under French administration. These measures meant not only increasing the length of military service, but sending 400 000 French soldiers into Algeria at the end of April. Amongst the 455 deputies who voted in favour of this policy were the Communists, and the fact that the Communist Party could pronounce in favour of the suppression of a colony caused enormous moral problems for some Communists intellectuals. Sartre, in an indignant article, attacked Guy Mollet's government, accusing it of betraying its allies, its electors and in general all French people.
In June, Le Monde published a translation of the Khrushchev report which had been delivered in February. This report, which condemned Stalin's, produced two distinct reactions; disbelief and shattering disillusion. L' Humanité, the official organ of the French Communist Party, referred to the report as 'attributed' to Khrushchev, and quite a number of Communists simply did not believe the reports of atrocities, although for many others it came as a brutal disillusion. However, this was by no means the first news that had filtered through of the excesses of Stalin's regime. Arthur Koestler had already written on the subject, as had Claude Lefort, Cornelius Castoriadis and other Trotskyists in their journal Socialisme ou barbarie. But, on the whole, French Communists simply remained deaf to anything remotely resembling a criticism of Stalin's regime. Le Roy Ladurie reports, for example, that Jacques Le Goff, then a pupil at the Ens in the Rue d'Ulm, after a visit to Prague in 1948 and 1949 returned with stories of police repression in the universities, but 'the Communist students received his word, and remained deaf to his arguments. "They have ears and they do not hear"'. Even if the reports of concentration camps and purges were believed, they were explained away as being necessary for the progress of socialism: reactionary of ignorant elements had to be re-educated for their own good. In any case, all in all, the USSR was definitely in the forefront of the struggle against exploitation. In 1977, Cornelius Castoriadis reports Sartre's rather surprising persistence in his 'error', saying that Sartre 'wrote recently that Socialisme ou barbarie was right at the time but wrong to say so (thus, Sartre was right to be wrong). The walls haven't collapsed, and paper will bear anything'.
If the Khrushchev report was not sufficient to disillusion a number of Communists, the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in November 1956 produced a further exodus from the Party in France, especially as the leadership of the PCF insisted that this revolution was nothing more than a fascist uprising and not the legitimate struggle of workers against Russian tyranny, as many Communists in France had believed it to be. Probably many felt as did Le Roy Ladurie an hearing the news of the entry of Soviet tanks into Budapest: 'I had read and believed the newspapers of the Perty with too much faith when they said "white" to swallow their new lie whole, when without warning, they suddenly decided to say "black".
Out of the fiasco came a new anti-dogmatic PCF, but still Marxist journal, Arguments, founded by François Chítelet, Henri Lefebvre, Kostos Axelos, and Pierre Fougeyrolles. Although the dream of the USSR as the embodiment of socialism was destroyed, it still did not occur to the intellectuals involved in the journals Socialism ou barbarie and Arguments, so critical of the way Marxism was put into practice, to criticise the theory of Marxism; to ask, for example, was Stalinist tyranny made possible by something in Marxism itself? The socialist dream was gradually transferred to the Third World: Cuba (where Fidel Castro arrived to organise the guerilla network in December 1956), China and Africa.
In 1958, the process of destalinisation was given an additional push, as De Gaulle's accession to power contributed further to depoliticising intellectuals. The Communist cell of philosophy students at the Sorbonne was also dissolved as the chiefs of the PCF considered it far too critical of the Party line. As a result, there was a general exodus from politics towards research. Many young intellectuals turned away from literature and the humanities, which had been until then the preferred mediums of philosophical and social reflection with the ascendancy of Sartre and Camus. More 'exotic' or 'scientific' subjects, apparently free from ideological overtones, such as epistemology, ethnology, psychoanalysis, linguistics and the human sciences in general, began to find flavour. 'The end of dogmatism produced real liberty of research', remarks Althusser. Disenchanted and bored with the endless and increasingly sterile humanist and political litany, intellectuals at the end of the 1950s became interested in 'things' and 'systems' rather than 'Man' and the problem of the 'subject'. They also abandoned the grand continuities and progress of History for 'anti-historical' studies such as ethnology. François Furet, writing in 1967, suggests that this historical disillusionment may have been partly occasioned by the intellectuals' feeling that France had lost its historical mission: 'This France, expelled from history, found it all the more acceptable to expel history', he says. However it was probably more a case of reculer pour mieux sauter.
Another factor contributing to this transfer of interest was the tremendous advances being made in the human sciences and in technology. In October 1957, the first Sputnik was sent into space and television began to appear in some households. The first primitive computers had appeared and there seemed to be little that science could not promise, or could not explain. The economy was expanding, as was bureaucracy, and the consumer age was just coming into its own. The era of 'the end of ideologies', of 'structuralism' was ushered in. The new generation of thinkers vigorously defended their ideas against the combined forces of existentialism, Marxism and humanism and in an interview which one critic described as ringing 'like the manifesto of a new school', one of the most famous of these new thinkers, Michel Foucault, met the challenge head-on. Humanism, he announced, 'pretends to resolve problems it cannot pose!', problems such as happiness, artistic creation, reality and the relation of man to his world, and 'all those obsessions which are absolutely unworthy of being theoretical problems'. 'Our system' he proclaimed enthusiastically, would have nothing to do with these unworthy obsessions: 'it is the "human heart" which is abstract, and it is our research which wants to link man to his science, to his discoveries, to his world, which is concrete'.
Michel Foucault began his career in the mid-1950s and his first book, Maladie mentale et personnalité, was published in 1954 and appeared in a revised and retitled edition in 1959 as Maladie mentale et psychologie. But it was his second book, Folie et dé raison: Histoire de la folie l'áge classique, that distinguished him, quietly at first, as one of the new generation of thinkers. This book (and Maladie mentale et psychologie, which is similar in content) constitutes a philosophical and historical treatment of madness and the problem of the 'Other' in Western civilisation. There are two versions of Histoire de las folie, the original of almost 600 finely printed pages, and an extensively abridged pocket version of 300 pages. Unfortunately the translation available in English is that of the shorter version with a few additions from the unabridged work. In the second edition of 1972, the original preface is also suppressed and replaced by another shorter and less illuminating preface, consisting mainly of rather abstruse remarks on commentary (indirect references to the reception of the first edition) and ending on a rather flippant note about the shortness of the new preface. Later, in 1981, Foucault declared himself willing to reinstate the first preface, saying that he had in fact returned to some of his earliest preoccupations.
Although Histoire de la folie is now to be found in the bibliographies of most works on the subject of the history of madness or psychology, when it was first published it did not attract much widespread attention. In later years Foucault complained about and even exaggerated this lack of interest. Nonetheless, Georges Canguilhem, the noted historian of science, helped in its presentation for a doctorat d'etat and Philippe Ariés, whose own brand of history was considered marginal at the time , managed against considerable opposition to get Foucault's text published in the collection which he was directing at Plon. Michel Serres, Roland Barthes and the novelist Maurice Blanchot gave it enthusiastic reviews and Fernand Braudel praised it in Annales: économies, societés, civilisations. Across the Channel, a sympathetic review by Richard Howard, the future translator of the book, appeared in The Times Literary Supplement. But it was not until after the enormous success of Les Mots et la choses in 1966 that it began to sell well. Indeed, such was the subsequent increase in sales after five years of initial obscurity that the editor of Payot editions, Jean-Luc Pidoux, uses the example of the career of this book to condemn current trends in France which obstruct the publication of young unknown authors.
It was not only the success of Les Mots et la choses that contributed to the interest in Foucault's earlier work, but the growth of the anti-psychiatric movement, which particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, fastened on to (and distorted) some of Foucault's theses to provide support for its cause. The English translation, Madness and Civilization, was published in Britain in a collection edited by the noted anti-psychiatrist R.D. Laing, with a controversial and somewhat inaccurate preface by David Cooper that annexed Foucault's book to the anti-psychiatry movement. In actual fact, Foucault's critique of the science of psychiatry was undertaken from an angle that diverged widely from that of the anti-psychiatrists, even if he did identify himself with their activities during his 'political' phase in the 1970s. Later, in 1984, Foucault also remarked that he had shared 'no community' with Laing, Cooper and Basaglia when he wrote Histoire de la folie, even if all their work was to later form the basis of a 'community of action'. In France his work also attracted a tremendous amount of attention from the psychiatrists. In 1969, much to Foucault's dismay, a group of eminent psychiatrists met to discuss and criticise his work. Another psychiatrist seems to have taken Foucault's remarks on the nineteenth-century reformer Pinel as a personal insult and after a disagreement with Foucault on the radio on the occasion of Pinel's centenary, launched a series of attacks on Foucault as the 'incompetent' 'father of anti-psychiatry in France'.
But there was yet another reason for the sudden increase in popularity of Histoire de la folie, and that was the growth of a tremendous and widespread interest in all kinds of social 'margins' after 1968. The subject of Foucault's book, its historical analysis of the origins of the division between the normal and the pathological, made it of eminent topicality. So much so, that Foucault was to complaining in 1977 that he was embarrassed and even distressed by the fact that after all those years of difficult and lonely work carried out by himself and a few others, interest in notions concerning madness, delinquency, children and sex was nothing more for some people than 'a sign of belonging', being on 'the good side', the side of madness and so on - a cheap way of buying a social conscience. Quite apart from all this, Histoire de la folie is a quite fascinating blend of history, philosophy, social comment and indignation at the plight of madmen, written in a beautiful, often difficult and idiosyncratic poetic style. It reads like a subtle and gripping Gothic drama, mazed with intricate subplots and arcane details. Small wonder its readers have been alternatively fascinated, bewildered, frustrated and even enraged by it.
Foucault's next book, Naissance de la clinique, published in 1963, was a historical and epistemological study of the foundations of French clinical medicine at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1972, at about the same time that Foucault deleted the first preface of Histoire de la folie, he revised Naissance de la clinique, a revision which consisted of the elimination of some of its 'structuralist' terminology. The word 'discourse' was substituted for 'language' in some places, and phrases such as the 'structured analysis of the signified' were rewritten as 'the analysis of a type of discourse'. In spite of this, 'language' and 'structure' remain frequently-used words in the text, leading many critics to describe it as Foucault's most 'structuralist' book. Although the history of medicine has not acquired the public appeal that questions relating to madness have acquired in the past twenty years, Naissance de la clinique has become something of a classic in its own right. In a collection on the history of medicine published in 1982, for example, most articles include references to Foucault.
In 1963, Foucault also published a rather obscure book on the even more obscure French surrealist writer Raymond Roussel. An anonymous reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement remarked that the book 'seems addressed to an audience of cognoscenti, which must be exceedingly small in France and can hardly number more than two or three here.' However, the book did not go unnoticed by the new novelists in France, and Alain Robbe-Grillet saw Foucault's 'fascinating essay' as one of the signs of a growing interest in Roussel, but it remained an interest that was not widely spread beyond certain circles. In the period between 1960 to 1965, Foucault also published a number of articles of literary criticism, essays on language and prefaces to an assortment of books, and translated texts from German. Much of this work, like Raymond Roussel, is poetic and obscure and not always easy to understand on first reading.
In 1966, Foucault published the book that was to become an instant bestseller: Les Mots et les choses. This was a 'history' of the origins of the human sciences: economics, linguistics and biology, and became notorious for its declarations concerning the death of Man and the end of humanism. With this book, Foucault was dubbed one of the 'gang of four' of the new 'structuralist' movement and a famous cartoon drawn by Maurice Henry depicted Foucault, Lacan, Lévi-Strauss and Barthes sitting in a jungle dressed in grass skirts. A tremendous amount has already been written about structuralism, both for and against, and the issue of whether Foucault is or was a structuralist, and what relationship his work bears to this disparate movement is still being discussed. Unfortunately for the English-language critics, the preface to the English translation of Les Mots et la choses put them in somewhat of a quandary, since in this preface Foucault insisted on depriving them of this useful label to fit his work. As a result, there was a division into two schools of opinion: one which argued that Foucault's views on the matter were irrelevant, and that some, if not all, of his work was manifestly structuralist, and one which accepted Foucault's rejection of the label with an almost religious faith. 'With customary perversity', argues one critic, 'Foucault insists that he is not a structuralist, but the label persists, justifiably, in sticking.' Later English-speaking critics eagerly defended Foucault from any charge of structuralism, and for many of them, as Colin Gordon points out about two particular writers, 'the very activity of "structuralist" thinking constitute[d] a moral error.' On the other hand, French commentators in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before structuralism went out of fashion in Paris, were more concerned with describing first and foremost their own views on what structuralism was, than with seeing how far Foucault's work could be accommodated under this label.
In the final analysis, perhaps, 'structuralism' is simply a convenient label which describes a diverse series of researches often performed quite independently, bur having a certain number of traits in common. For the sake of simplicity, let us characterise the so-called 'structuralists' as representing the antithesis of the postwar philosophies. First of all, they espoused a rigorous anti-humanism and anti-'subjectivism'. In ethnology, Claude Lévi-Strauss, often seen as the 'father' of the structuralist movement, argued that 'in a certain way myths think amongst themselves' without being consciously formulated by individual subjects. The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan decentred the subject the subject in the unconscious ('la parle'). Louis Althusser renovated Marxist epistemology, declaring that history was 'a process without a subject a process which has no real subject or goal(s)' and that Marx was definitely a antihumanist. Roland Barthes declared the death of the author in literary criticism: 'it is language that speaks not he author'. At the same time the new novelists such as Nathalie Sarrate, Phillipe Sollers and Alain Robbe-Grillet dissolved the subject and the narrative form in literature.
It was also a style of thought which emphasised every form of 'break' and discontinuity. Structural linguistics provided the methodological model, and epistemology, the history of the sciences and the human sciences were the preferred areas of enquiry; and of course the words 'structure' and 'system' appeared everywhere with monotonous regularity. It was a mode of thought which, to use the linguistic terminology of the time, favoured synchrony over diachrony. Anti-historicism was the order of the day, which many mistakenly saw as an attempt to 'kill history'.
This was the intellectual climate in which Foucault's book appeared. As the synthesis of many of these themes and with its provocative and stylish statements on humanism, Marx, the human sciences and epistemes, it created a stir. In the first week after its publication 3000 copies were sold and more than 50 000 were sold in the months that followed. A copy of Les Mots et les choses on the coffee table, as Michel de Certeau commented in 1967, had a certain snob value, even if, like Jean-Luc Godard - who poured scorn on the fashion for this book in his film La Chinoise - the owner had only to read the first chapter. The amount of discussion around this book was tremendous as can be seen by glancing at Michael Clark's annotated bibliography of Foucault. It was both extravagantly praised and extravagantly damned. Jean-Paul Sartre in particular, attacked Foucault's views on history, saying that he had replaced 'cinema by the magic lantern, movement by a succession of immobilities', adding that this attack on history was, 'of course', an attack on Marxism. In fact, what Foucault was really trying to do, according to Sartre, was to constitute 'a new ideology, the last rampart that the bourgeoisie can still erect against Marx.' Of course, Sartre's pronouncements caused considerable comment, since Foucault was generally seen to be the most likely candidate to succeed him as the star philosopher in France. The irony was, as Foucault himself pointed out, that it was not so long ago that Sartre had himself been defined by the Communists as the 'last rampart of bourgeois imperialism'. This did not prevent a host of critics (especially Marxist critics) from rushing forward to repeat Sartre's remarks in order to give the weight of authority to their own arguments. Finally, in a masterful summing up of Foucault's crimes one critic indignantly remarked that not only did Foucault 'totally reject Marxism' but also 'proclaim[ed] the death of man and the end of history.
In fact, three distinct groups of French writing on Foucault began to emerge in the late 1960s after the success of Les Mots et les choses. The first group consisted of the writings of 'star' intellectuals such as Sartre, Raymond Aron, and Roland Barthes, or other leading intellectuals such as Michel Serres, Georges Canguilhem, or François Chítelet and leading journalists. The second group of writings consisted of violently polemical reactions to Foucault's work: this group included the writings of many Marxists, an important voice in French intellectual life, the existentialists (both atheist and Christian), and establishment psychiatrists. The third group was made up of the writings of those 'secondary' intellectuals, including journalists, who enthusiastically seize upon and follow whatever the latest Parisian fashion happens to be. This last group included what could only be described as intellectual 'gossip columnists' who keep the reader up to date with all the latest fads and scandals amongst the Parisian intelligentsia.
In all three groups, writers used Foucault as a starting point for their own discussion and reflections, in such a way that it is difficult to know where Foucault ends and the commentary begins. This practice of using other writers' work as a forum for one's own opinions is a common one in French writing, as opposed to the usual Anglo-Saxon practice of a 'neutral' exposition followed by the author's comments. There are numerous and complex reasons for this state of affairs. Some of them relate to the smallness of the Parisian intellectual 'village' and the role of the media in diffusing their works. The Parisian intellectual is expected to have read the most recent works of his colleagues in his own field as well as in other fields. And since everybody knows everybody else in the Parisian intellectual milieu, this is good public relations if nothing else. The newspapers, journals, radio and television provide a forum for discussion of these works as well as diffusing information about the latest publications and fashions (which they also help to create). The tendency is to carve out one's own domain in reference to all this. Hence the wealth of what appears to the English-speaking reader to be obscure allusions and excessive polemicising in French intellectual work. Not only does the writer assume his readers are aware of what he is talking about, but he may not wish to offend an opponent he will be seeing on the Parisian circuit by naming him too directly. In addition, he wants to make sure his own individual position is quite clearly distinguished (even if infinitely) from the rest of the field. This system has its drawbacks, mainly the creation of intellectual 'tyrannies'. 'One does not reflect on an interpretation, one rallies to an argument' remarks Jean François Revel. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu also comments at length on the terrorism of fashion in Paris which reduces people who do not conform in the eyes of their judges to the right way of being and doing things, 'to ridicule, indignity, shame and silence'. The dogmatic hold of Stalinism in the 1950s is perhaps an extreme example of this kind of intellectual tyranny. Similarly, older systems are condemned to oblivion by the philosophy of the moment: 'structuralism wrenches the limelight away from existentialism, Lévi-Strauss banishes Sartre to the museum; because the bad habit has caught on, one does not discuss, one occupies the whole stage. "To think is to terrorise".' Or, as Revel remarks,
To entirely renew the basic themes of thought, to be the author of an intellectual revolution these are fundamental philosophical necessities, at least in the presentation. No philosopher could present himself as a candidate for historical existence simply as a continuer.
Another consequence of the close involvement of the media with the intelligentsia, as well as of the celebrity status of intellectuals (much envied by their Anglo-Saxon counterparts) is the frequency with which intellectuals are interviewed in the written, spoken and visual media. In particular, the written interview is a form far more commonly found in France than in English-speaking countries. These interviews serve a useful purpose in encouraging intellectuals such as Foucault, whose works are often quite difficult, to clarify their ideas and make them more accessible to readers of widely circulated journals such as Le Nouvel Observateur and La Quinzaine Litéraire. These interviews also provide a forum for public discussion between the author and his readers. In the months that followed the publication of Les Mots et les choses, Foucault was interviewed in several magazines and journals. As in subsequent interviews, he explained quite clearly what could only be read between the lines in his books. Foucault also used interviews to state his current position: 'my problem is', 'the task of philosophy today' are two phrases that constantly recur in these interviews.
In 1969, in response to numerous enquiries about his method, Foucault published L'Archéologie du savoir. This book set out a historiographical methodology which claimed to do away with some of the disadvantages of the traditional discipline of the history of ideas. It did not entirely explain what had been done in previous books, although it had much to say on what Foucault was not doing and what he thought he ought to have done. So much so, in fact, that Jean-François Revel suggested that L'Archéologie could be described as the negative of Kierkegaard's book Either or and would have been more suitably titled Neither nor. Other critics found it excessively arid and difficult to read. However, for those who appreciate intricate formal geometric structures in thought and method, it is a compelling book. It offers many useful methodological hints to the historian who wants to avoid historicism, and has in fact been extensively used to this end. Nonetheless the rarefied abstraction of this work did not lend itself to a place on the bestseller lists.
Foucault's next book was L'Ordre du discours, the text of his inauguration speech delivered at the Collàge de France in 1970. It introduced the concepts of 'truth' and 'power' which he was to develop and discuss at length in his work until 1982. At the same time his analysis of theses notions during this period created an exponential growth industry in the secondary literature, particularly in America. The beginnings of this industry can be seen in the early 1970s, when a small but growing number of English-speaking critics and intellectuals began to become aware of Foucault's work. Les Mots et les choses was published in translation in 1970 and L'Archéologie du savoir and Naissance du la clinique in 1972 and 1973 at about the same time that some of the more radical francophiles began to abandon 'existentialism' for 'structuralism'. English-language writing on Foucault at this time (and in the 1960s) was fairly evenly divided between a popular journalism, aimed at explaining a 'French phenomenon', and serious essays in specialised reviews. These critics could be divided into camps for and against. Those against were usually advocating sound Anglo-Saxon empiricism against airy French nonsense, whereas those in favour often as not completely misunderstood the content and context of Foucault's ideas and praised them for quite the wrong reasons, although there were, of course, exceptions to this general rule. But for most, whether for and against, Foucault's works taken out of context and judged by the standards of a different intellectual tradition were mysterious and bizarre objects indeed.
During the early 1970s, Foucault went into the temporary alliance with the Maoists, adopting a rather extreme form of 'revolutionary' rhetoric in some interviews and articles. At the same time he actively participated in committees with other intellectuals against racism (le Comite Djellaly), and for the rights of patients and new forms of institutional relations in the area of health (le Groupe Information Santé). The best known of the committees in which Foucault participated as a founding member was the famous Groupe d'Information sur les prisons, whose aim was to provide the forum for prisoners to speak and act at a time of great unrest in the prisons. According to some, Foucault and the GIP played a major role in engineering the prison riots at Toul in 1972.
Also in 1972, a discussion between Foucault and Deleuze on intellectuals and power, which has since attracted much comment, was published. Foucault also produced two small books on the artists Magritte (1973) and Fromanger (1975). The former is a most amusing text, although it is difficult to judge whether this is intentional or not. In 1973, Foucault, in collaboration with Blandine Barret-Kriegel and others, published the confessions of a nineteenth-century parricide, Pierre Riviére, a text which attracted the attention of many historians and sociologists. A film was made of this book in which Foucault played a small part as a judge. At the same time, Foucault continued to deliver his courses at the Colláge de France from January to March every year. Attendance at these lectures which dealt with power and prisons, was de rigueur amongst a certain 'intellectual-mondain' set, and they became quite an event. A journalist offers a colourful, but fairly accurate description of the atmosphere at these courses:
As for a Gala performance, there was a crush outside the doors some two hours in advance. Inside emissaries reserved places and it was a fight to the death to find a perch on the edge of a quarter of a folding seat. Women from the most exclusive neighbourhoods of Paris came decked out in their best designer clothes. And on stage, right in the middle of an interminable waxed desk, his uneven skull shining under the subdued lighting, surrounded by a thousand microphones, antennae attached to as many tape recorders, and with a flock of ecstatic young men wrapped around his feet, Foucault spoke.
In 1975, Foucault published Surveiller et punir, a history of the prison and punishment and the growth of the 'disciplinary society' covering the period from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. In this book, the notions of 'power' and 'discipline came to occupy a central position in Foucault's thought. It was a book that immediately created great interest amongst criminologists, an interest that quickly spread to sociologists and historians. La Volonté de savoir, the first volume in a Histoire de la sexualité, appeared the following year in 1976. In this methodological introduction to a proposed six-volume study, Foucault argued that far from repressing sexuality, Western culture has done nothing but produce endless discourses on sexuality since the nineteenth century. The critical reception of this book was less enthusiastic than for Surveiller et punir, as not only was it slight in volume and in empirical content, but lacked on the whole those brilliant and unusual insights that distinguished his earlier books.
In 1977, France and the world suddenly became aware of the 'new philosophers'. Time magazine gave them front-page coverage with the slogan 'Marx is dead', and in Russia the literary journal Litteraturnaia Gazieta condemned this 'lost generation of 1968'. Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Jacques Lacan were the 'maitres penser' or the 'gurus' of this new movement. Maurice Clavel, dubbed the 'uncle of the new philosophers', in prophetic tones heralded Foucault as the 'new Kant', and based his somewhat apocalyptic Christian philosophy on Foucault's formulation on the 'death of man'. Clavel's books (especially Ce que je crois) were immensely popular and introduced Foucault to an audience who might not otherwise have become familiar with his ideas. In these books Clavel displayed a seemingly endless capacity for repetition and self-quotation as well as 'prophetic' exaggeration. When he died in 1979, Foucault, a friend with whom he had engaged in many militant activities since the 1960s, wrote an obituary in Le Nouvel Observateur. The younger 'new philosophers', the ex-Maoists Andre Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Levy, adapted Foucault's theories on power to fit their pessimistic conceptions of a modern all-powerful repressive Gulag-State. Although initially Foucault supported the efforts of André Glucksmann, he did not pursue this line as it became increasingly apparent that the intellectual quality and the political implications of the works of the so-called 'new philosophers' left much to be desired. Their work stirred up a tremendous amount of controversy and was almost universally condemned by the intellectual establishment, who claimed that it did not even satisfy the minimum standards of intellectual scholarship and led to a right-wing if not 'fascist' politics.
At about the same time , the Anglo-Saxon intellectual world began to take more notice of the work of Foucault. Up until 1977, Foucault had remained the property of a fairly exclusive coterie, but with the translation of Surveiller et punir in 1977 and La Volonté de savoir in 1978, the steady trickle of writings turned into a flood. These books appeared at a time when a number of problems had become apparent in American prisons and when an interest in margins and relations of power within bureaucratic societies obsessed many people. Two more groups of writings on Foucault came into evidence in English-speaking criticism. The first was ardently francophile: either structuralist - or when this ceased to be respectable - interested in power or a 'non-totalising' approach to theory. For this school, Foucault could do no wrong, and every word that flowed from his pen was treated as though from an oracle. Early on in 1968, a French critic had already foreseen the danger that would be posed by '"foucauldians" if ever there are any' and a little later in 1974, George Huppert noted the risk of some of Foucault's theses 'more or less vaguely understood becoming articles of faith among intellectuals'. Indeed, in their enthusiasm, the new school of 'foucauldians' erected what they saw as Foucault's lack of theory into a full-blown theory. Writers in this group vied with each other to be more imposingly obscure than the next, and direct transliterations from the French and enormous sentences following the French stylistic practice, were a feature of their style. In addition, nothing was ever explained, and only those 'in the know' and with a good knowledge of French language and culture could hope to decipher these daunting texts. The second group of new writings, although these were already beginning to come into evidence in the 1960s, particularly in relation to the anti-psychiatry movement, were scholarly articles of academic research which had either used Foucault's methodology, one or two of his ideas and concepts, or alternatively used his work as a historical source. Of course, these earlier camps continued their activity, but their self-confidence was seriously undermined and some critics previously outraged by Foucault became quite favourably disposed towards his writing. The amount of clear, useful and accurate writings on Foucault began to increase as well. Translated collections of Foucault's shorter writings began to appear in the late 1970s to cater for this growing audience.
Greatly affected by the poor reception of La Volonté de savoir, Foucault took a year of sabbatical leave from the Colláge de France to travel to America. He then lapsed into a prolonged 'silence', although interviews, articles, comments on political events and edited collections of obscure documents continued to appear. The quality of this work is variable. It includes endless divagations on the themes of truth and power and much highly rhetorical writing on intellectual and political events, many of which have long since faded from public memory. As a new book still did not appear, references to Foucault's 'silence' and apparent unwillingness to commit himself to new ideas began to appear in literature. Pariscope remarked dryly in 1983: 'Each year now for the past seven years, it has been announced that he is going to break his historic silence. Does he have anything to say?'
But in 1981and 1982 a noticeable change began to take place in Foucault's thought. His course at the Colláge de France in early 1982 was titled L'Herméneutique du sujet and abandoned his favourite Classical Age for the Ancient Greek and the early Christian period. The word 'power' all but disappeared and it became a question of Socrates' 'concern for the self' and 'philosophies of spirituality', then 'subjectivity'. At last in June 1984, just before the final silence of death overtook Michel Foucault, two new volumes of his Histoire de la sexualité appeared: Volume 2, L'Usage des plaisirs, and Volume 3, Le Souci de soi. In the introduction to L'Usage des plaisirs, Foucault explains both his long silence and why he had abandoned the original project outlined in La Volonté de savoir, saying he had been forced to change his whole way of thinking. These two new volumes, which constitute a radical change in style, content and form of Foucault's thought, examine the history of sexuality in Antiquity and during the early Christian period. Foucault, after reassessing his past work, asks why sexual behaviour has become the moral preoccupation in history, and at the same time examines the various historical techniques of self-constitution.
It is a testimony to the remarkable extent of Foucault's influence that his death was reported in newspapers around the world. In France itself, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Culture expressed their regret at his passing. His death was front-page news in Le Monde and Le Figaro, which also devoted several short articles to him by well-known intellectuals. The now prestigious left-wing newspaper Liberation, which counted Foucault as one of its founding members in 1972, devoted ten pages to him. Since his death, his influence has not ceased to grow, as was more than amply demonstrated by a three-day international conference on his work held in Paris in 1988. On this occasion, a star-studded collection of intellectuals from all over the globe and from a wide range of disciplines packed into a theatre on the Champs-Elysses, to discuss his work in an atmosphere of suitably dramatic controversy. The liveliness and the variety of discussion were quite sufficient to indicate that Foucault's work will continue to make an impact for some time to come.
© Clare O'Farrell