J.G. Ballard dies

I learned this morning that the great English writer J.G. Ballard has died. He was 78.

Ballard has no discernible Foucauldian connections that I can think of, instead I mark his passing in this space because I imagine that many readers here would know or appreciate Ballard’s work.

Ballard always seemed to me an English writer rather than a British one. He had colonial experience (brought up as a boy in Shanghai he was imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, which he fictionalised in Empire of the Sun, later made into a movie by Steven Spielberg). His early work on Ambit magazine, his life in the London suburb of Shepperton, home to the British movie industry, the Atrocity Exhibition, all these seemed very English. His work in the 1960s for example was a kind of “fantastic” translation of the Angry Young Men.

I knew Ballard was ill and elderly, but for a while it seemed like he would live on. His death is not so much a shock as an opportunity for reflection.

The geographer David Wood offers a fine tribute to him here. Wood suggests that Ballard prefigured many later writers of alienation, especially those that worked within the urban or better, suburban landscape, and I would agree. There is also something for those of us who identify with the American space mission as not something shiny and successful, or not only that, but also resulting in abandoned spacedromes and rusting rockets.

For those unfamiliar with JGB you should try the Re/Search re-issued book The Atrocity Exhibition (1990), shown above. Illustrated by medical artist Phoebe Gloekner (Ballard himself could have had a medical career) the book is a collection of short, disturbing pieces interspersed with photos of abandoned airports (no drained swimming pools however!).

The first American edition of this book was pulped by Doubleday in 1970 when they learned of the piece here “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan.” Ironically, at the the 1980 Republican Conference, a version of the piece (minus its title and running sideheads) and, Ballard says “furnished with the seal of the Republican Party,” was distributed to delegates. “I’m told that it was accepted for what it resembled, a psychological position paper on the candidate’s subliminal appeal, commissioned from some maverick think-tank.”

Thus the Ballardian world.

Other tributes: The Washington Post, AtrocityExhibition.


Foucault does not exist

“Marx does not exist” — Foucault

When Foucault made this comment (in Remarks on Marx “Questions on Geography”*) what he had in mind was that our image and expectations of Marx served to obscure whatever it was that Marx may have originally said. We viewed him always through a lens of our own preferences and created our own little marx’s: a revolutionary, a philosopher, a scary radical etc.

We should not understand this as a clever-clever “what is an author” claim, much less a satisfied pronouncement on the desirably difficult state of affairs of approaching Marx, but rather the recognition of the struggle over appropriation of an author.

Now with the development of “the cheap omniscience of everyday opinion” as Heidegger once said, “which likes to claim that it is the standard for all thinking and reflection” we can see the same thing happening with Foucault.

I already posted and have sometimes linked back to a list of claims about Foucault that taken as whole are deeply contradictory (he is both a total has-been and massively influential, go two common claims), he is a structuralist, a post-structuralist, a postmodernist and definitely not a postmodernist, a “Francophoney.” He’s a philosopher, a historian, a sociologist, even a “cartographer” and “archivist” (Deleuze).

When we’re faced with this list we can dismiss it easily enough in its particularity, by choosing our favorite description or adding our own (mine is “historian”), but taken as a list in and of itself, we get the same effect: Foucault does not exist. Neither a single Foucault, nor a possible composite Foucault, or even many Foucaults, for they are not equal or identical even if they are the same.

What is the effect of this creative destruction? Foucault’s comments were offered in response to critics who thought that he should be either acknowledging Marx more often than he did, or using him more often. In either case, Marx should play a bigger role in your work, they said. Foucault’s response therefore, is to say, which Marx? Perhaps he is in fact paramount in my work, but you do not recognise him.

Foucault liked the fact that he was not pinned down or given one easy place on the intellectual map. To not be pinned down is in one sense to be free, and to not be categorized is either to invent a fresh category or to get beyond categories in some original way.

I personally don’t understand what it gets you to call Foucault a postmodernist or whatever, but I too rather like the fact that Foucault does not exist.

* “As far as I’m concerned, Marx doesn’t exist. I mean, the sort of entity constructed around a proper name, signifying at once a certain individual, the totality of his writings, and an immense historical process deriving from him.” Questions on Geography reproduced in our book, p. 181.

Problematics of Cyberspace

“Problematics of Cyberspace” was the original suggested title for my book (I suggested it, but the editor rightly said it was clumsy and unattractive). We dumped it.

So it’s weird that this bookseller now offers my book with this title. Where did this come from? How do they know? Why don’t they use the right title (after all it’s in the picture of the book they provide)…


The Pope takes on Foucault

The Pope’s new book, written under his ecclesiastical title and his personal name of Joseph Ratzinger is called Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. It has been reviewed in Commonweal and on this St. Benedicts’s Day (Ratzinger’s papal name) it might be worth pointing out the significance of this book.

Some excerpts from the review below.

Continue reading

Full text of What is an Author?

Someone has scanned in the full text of the essay What is an Author? and made it available. Previously only excerpts were available (at the Foucault.info site).

The legal status of these texts is unclear. Additionally, since this is an image scan, it seems to me nothing is gained over having the original book (a text-based scan is at least searchable).

Prestige and Foucault

This post brings together two authors not normally placed in conjunction with each other: Christopher Priest and Michel Foucault.

Continue reading


Pseudoepigraphy is the instance of misattributed authorship, or false authorship.

Steven at Hypotyposeis asks how this might affect Foucault’s posthumous publications such as the lecture series:

Continue reading