If you’re not already familiar with his writings, Foucault can seem like a rather dark horse, and hard-nosed at that. His research and analyses focused upon social subjugation by way of societal regulation, forces, structures, and systems. Though he points to, he does not usually propose, solutions. His life’s work contributes to discourse and dialogues taking place among a wide variety of disciplines.
For myself, when first picking at his texts, I had the impression he intimately understood the less representational but more visceral dynamics of power. As experienced from beneath it’s boot. I imagined that this furnished him with a passion to trace it’s every footfall. This first impression only resonates moreso as I revisit his writings now. An added depth of wordly timbre, too, with some added years under my own belt. It’s only more recently that I learned of the illness that claimed his life. Certainly this also adds a personal dimension of meaning to the content of his work.
His is not a corpus on the success of reforms, resistances, or uprisals. And I suspect this is what gets some readers’ goats: Foucault tends to notice the attributes of sociopolitical struggle that have been opportunistically appropriated, or transformed, for preservation of power conduits and entities.
His historical view of the issues, as they pertain to our own epoch, will undoubtedly benefit generations yet to come. An Homeric homage of the contemporary sort. Seems to me that’s what he did. Or perhaps it simply helps to understand his work this way. A genealogy of the culture wars waged upon the polis of his day.
Some inter-relating threads; the subject as object, abuses of psychology, divisible selves.
I would like to say, first of all, what has been the goal of my work during the last twenty years. It has not been to analyze the phenomena of power, nor to elaborate the foundations of such an analysis.
My objective, instead, has been to create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects. My work has dealt with three modes of objectification which transform human beings into subjects. The first is the modes of inquiry which try to give themselves the status of sciences; for example, the objectivizing of the speaking subject in grammaire générale, philology, and linguistics. Or again, in this first mode, the objectivizing of the productive subject, the subject who labors, in the analysis of wealth and of economics. Or, a third example, the objectivizing of the sheer fact of being alive in natural history or biology.
In the second part of my work, I have studied the objectivizing of the subject in what I shall call “dividing practices.” The subject is either divided inside himself or divided from others. This process objectivizes him.
From: The Subject and Power . Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Michel Foucault, Dreyfus H. and Rabinow P. (Eds). The University of Chicago Press (2nd edition, 1983); pp. 208-226.
As a context, we must understand that there are four major types of these “technologies,” each a matrix of practical reason: (I) technologies of production, which permit us to produce, transform, or manipulate things; (2) technologies of sign systems, which permit us to use signs, meanings, symbols, or signification; (3) technologies of power, which determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to certain ends or domination, an objectivizing of the subject; (4) technologies of the self, which permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.
These four types of technologies hardly ever function separately, although each one of them is associated with a certain I type of domination. Each implies certain modes of training and modification of individuals, not only in the obvious sense of acquiring certain skills but also in the sense of acquiring certain attitudes. I wanted to show both their specific nature and their constant interaction.
Technologies of the Self, Lectures at Vermont University in October 1982, Michel Foucault, Martin, L.H. et al (Eds). Univ. of Massachusets Press (1988); pp.16-49.
All of us are living and thinking subjects. What I react against is the fact that there is a breach between social history and the history of ideas. Social historians are supposed to describe how people act without thinking, and historians of ideas are supposed to describe how people think without acting. Everybody both acts and thinks. The way people acts or react is linked to a way of thinking, and of course thinking is related to tradition…
Through these different practices — psychological, medical, penitential, educational — a certain idea or model of humanity was developed, and now this idea of man has become normative, self-evident, and is supposed to be universal… I think that there are more secrets, more possible freedoms, and more inventions in our future than we can imagine in humanism as it is dogmatically represented on every side of the political rainbow: the Left, the Center, the Right…
What I have studied are the three traditional problems: (1) What are the relations we have to truth through scientific knowledge, to those “truth games” which are so important in civilization and in which we are both subject and objects? (2) What are the relationships we have to others through those strange strategies and power relationships? And (3) what are the relationships between truth, power, and self?
From : Truth, Power, Self. An Interview with Michel Foucault – Oct. 1982.
It is clear that one is still very far from that book of spiritual combat to which Athanasius refers a few centuries later, in the Life of Saint Antony. But one can also measure (the) extent to which this procedure of self-narration in the daily run of life, with scrupulous attention to what occurs in the body and in the soul, is different from both Ciceronian correspondence and the practice of hupomnemata, a collection of things read and heard, and a support for exercises of thought. In this case— that of the hupomnemata— it was a matter of constituting oneself as a subject of rational action through the appropriation, the unification, and the subjectivation of a fragmentary and selected already-said; in the case of the monastic notation of spiritual experiences, it will be a matter of dislodging the most hidden impulses from the inner recesses of the soul, thus enabling oneself to break free of them. In the case of the epistolary account of oneself, it is a matter of bringing into congruence the gaze of the other and that gaze which one aims at oneself when one measures one’s everyday actions according to the rules of a technique of living.
From : Self Writing – hupomnemata (1983) Source: “L’écriture de soi”, Dits et écrits, Vol. 4, pp. 415-430. On hypomnemata.
Foucault references the last text quoted above in this audio of a lecture and follow up talks at Berkeley. Some parts are a bit garbled and/or hard on impatient ears. If you can make it to the end, however, some great tid-bits await ya’s there. [Or listen to it on YouTube]