We forgot to note Foucault’s birthday last week. He would have been 83 years old.
Update. More importantly, we missed Asterix and Obelix’s birthday! They were 50 years old, sort of.
One of Foucault’s biographers and friends, Didier Eribon, has a new book out, an autobiography. Sounds interesting as described here. Since I spent 3 weeks near Reims this summer it’s fascinating to see that that is where Eribon’s family apparently comes from (it’s in the champagne region of France):
Blessé, or wounded, is how Didier Eribon, Foucault’s biographer, appears in his latest book, a memoir: Retour à Reims (Fayard, 2009, 250p).
While his father is institutionalized with advanced Alzheimer disease, then dies, Eribon, who had broken with his parents many years earlier, reconnects with his mother and reflects on his growing up and his family history. It’s a heart-rending story. The story of a progressive estrangement from his blue-collar family, his refusal to assume his very humble origins, while becoming the first member of his family to continue his studies beyond the legal age, and to attend university… In a very class-conscious France and era, he ends up being perceived by his parents as a class enemy. And simply stops seeing them and his brothers and sisters. This candid and lucid account forms the core of the book, and is worth reading.
[Avec] l’idée, en apparence évidente, que ma rupture totale avec ma famille pouvait s’expliquer par mon homosexualité, par l’homophobie foncière de mon père et celle du milieu dans lequel j’avais vécu, ne m’étais-je pas donné, en même temps – et aussi profondément vrai que cela ait pu être -, de nobles et incontestables raisons pour éviter de penser qu’il s’agissait tout autant d’une rupture de classe avec mon milieu d’origine?
Tom Ridge’s recent confirmation that the Bush administration used terror alerts for political gain is currently getting attention in various political blogs (eg, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald). Ridge was Secretary of Homeland Security until his resignation in November 2004 shortly after the presidential election. In a new book, Ridge details meetings held within the administration in which the possibility of raising the terror alert was discussed just prior to the election. (Alertsd were also issued at other times which Ridge does not discuss.)
Although this is not directly about Foucault, it does parallel themes that he discussed in several places, namely the intersection of security, politics and governmentality. In that light it is interesting to see this discourse gradually seeping into the wider public sphere, and to see journalists who dismissed those who raised this issue as crazy be held accountable (Greenwald is shudderingly good on the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder).
This story will no doubt be watered down into exactly what Ridge or the Bush administration did or didn’t do, but we can put that aside for the historians and just consider for a moment how this affects what is considered acceptable political discourse. Greenwald cheekily emails one of the journalists who derided critics of the Bush administration as needing “psychological help” to ask if he thinks Ridge is similarly insane. Those who pointed out that the US is itself a terrorist state have long been marginalized, even within academia though mostly in the public mind (eg Noam Chomsky). (Foucault never said this of course.) I’m not sure if the pin has been moved on the political meter in the USA but I think this is a noteworthy story.
Standing in the well of a jail on New York’s Rikers Island as profanities rain down on you from the cells above, you realize the absurdity of academia’s most celebrated book on incarceration. Discipline and Punish, by the late French historian Michel Foucault, criticized jails and prisons for subjecting inmates to constant, spirit-crushing surveillance. The truth is that surveillance goes both ways in correctional facilities. Inmates watch their keepers as intensely as they are watched—and usually much more malignly.
So begins a piece in City Journal by Heather MacDonald. Apart from obvious non-Foucauldian flubs such as “spirit-crushing” one might welcome a critical reappraisal of D&P. Here are the charges against it:
1. It is implied that it is ” romantic” and academic, divorced from brutal reality
2. Criminal behavior is controlled in non-Foucauldian ways 9unspecified)
3. Prisoners surveill back. Conclusion: “Like surveillance, power in jails flows between officers and inmates in multiple directions.”
4. “Left to its own devices, inmate society is not carnivalesque spontaneity, as the Foucauldians might have us believe.”
Pretty weak tea if this really is a debunking as the New Statesman called it. Not too hard to see Foucault nodding in agreement about point 3 for example.
MacDonald admits right away that her descriptions are focused on American jails, rather than prisons. Foucault of course did the opposite and then (despite a couple of digressions into Philadelphia’s old prisons) mainly French examples in the 19th century without a view to developing a general theory of modern criminality. He did have more to say in other works of course, notably about the concept of the dangerous individual.
Apart from the way the piece is hung on Foucault without ever engaging directly with Foucault (a kind of name exploitation) the piece is quite eye-opening about conditions in American jails. It’s pretty clear that they have become the locus of last resort when there are no alternatives (state provided or otherwise) to deal with the homeless and mentally ill.
In fact what she describes is more like the Wire than an anti-Foucault and all the better for it. So read beyond the article’s hook if you want to get anything out of it.
MacDonald argues that “order through discipline” and surveillance are necessary because they reduce inmate violence and officer corruption. She also argues that surveillance is inadequate.
This is her conclusion:
But the order that the lobbyists, academic critics, and neo-Foucauldians see as oppressive is inmates’ only hope for safety and even, perhaps, rehabilitation. The recent insights of urban policing—that order matters, that small violations lead to greater crimes, and that information must be gathered and analyzed—are all equally pertinent to jails, where chaos and corruption always threaten.
Again, all very Foucauldian (did she think Foucault said discipline was applied for no reason?).
Paul Rabinow has just announced that a number of Foucault lectures are now available online. I’m pretty sure these are newly available in this audio format.
Howison lectures October 1980, parts 1-4
Parrhesia 1983 parts 1-6
Rabinow seminar and recordings, including a phone call to Foucault (in French) May 1983 (link is apparently incorrect for this one. Update: by jiggery pokery, I’ve figured out the phone call file is here.)
Il faut défendre la société, 1976
Sécurité, territoire, population, 1978
Naissance de la biopolitique, 1979
Gouvernement de soi et des autres, 1983 (and 1984, see Update below).
While these are not new texts (apart maybe from the discussion in Rabinow’s office, which sounds like Hubert Dreyfus was there as well) they may still be useful for those who want to hear the actual lectures as delivered. (It certainly makes you appreciate the task of the editors who had to transcribe and edit the lectures!).
Update II: If you look carefully you can also find the recordings of the 1984 lectures which were published earlier this year in French. They are not listed on the site explicitly. Here is the first one.
The Foucault Archives have released materials (sound file and manuscript facsimiles) from Foucault’s work with Arlette Farge, Michelle Perrot, and André Béjin on the so-called “lettres de cachet.”
This work is perhaps one of the most important remaining texts that has not seen an English translation.
Foucault’s manuscript page corrected typescript.
New book published by Rodopi which I think is a Dutch publisher:
WEST-PAVLOV, Russell, Space in Theory. Kristeva, Foucault, Deleuze, Amsterdam / New York, Rodopi (Spatial Practices: An Interdisciplinary Series in Cultural History, Geography and Literature), 2009, 275 p.
Space in Theory: Kristeva, Foucault, Deleuze seeks to give a detailed but succinct overview of the role of spatial reflection in three of the most influential French critical thinkers of recent decades. It proposes a step-by-step analysis of the changing place of space in their theories, focussing on the common problematic all three critics address, but highlighting the significant differences between them. It aims to rectify an unaccountable absence of detailed analysis to the significance of space in their work up until now.
Space in Theory argues that Kristeva, Foucault and Deleuze address the question: How are meaning and knowledge produced in contemporary society? What makes it possible to speak and think in ways we take for granted? The answer which all three thinkers provide is: space. This space takes various forms: psychic, subjective space in Kristeva, power-knowledge-space in Foucault, and the spaces of life as multiple flows of becoming in Deleuze.
This book alternates between analyses of these thinkers� theoretical texts, and brief digressions into literary texts by Barrico, de Beauvoir, Beckett, Bodro�ic or Bonnefoy, via Borges, Forster, Gide, Gilbert, Glissant, Hall, to Kafka, Ondaatje, Perec, Proust, Sartre, Warner and Woolf. These detours through literature aim to render more concrete and accessible the highly complex conceptulization of contemporary spatial theory.
This volume is aimed at students, postgraduates and researchers interested in the areas of French poststructuralist theory, spatial reflection, or more generally contemporary cultural theory and cultural studies.
Introduction: Entering Space
Foucault�s Spatial Discourse
Foucault�s Discursive Spaces
In Place of a Conclusion �
Seems Amazon has a new policy of de-ranking books they deem to have “adult” (erotic or sexual) content, including many non-fiction books (a list here, also see a community-created listing of books on Amazon itself).
The importance of this is that de-ranked books will no longer appear in search lists, or rankings (eg the top 100 list, or bestseller lists) no matter their popularity. I confirmed that Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol 1 no longer has a ranking. Meanwhile “Discipline and Punish,” which features descriptions of physical violence and torture still has a ranking (#4,799 bestselling book).
Apart from the fact that excluding books is a bad idea in the first place, the result has been to seemingly bias exclusions of gay-themed books even if they contain no erotica. “Censored” books incluide:
Annie Proulx Brokeback Mountain
Randy Shilts The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (now an Oscar-winning movie)
Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Hedgwick
Queer Theory: An Introduction by Annamarie Jagose
The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life by Michael Warner
The Transgender Studies Reader: transgender theory:
Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America by Larry Gross
As well as numerous books of fiction.
For more info, including a petition, see here.