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Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth (Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, Vol. 1) Paperback – May 15, 1998
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From Library Journal
These essays?the first of three volumes of Foucault's short works, interviews, and fragments?open with 11 previously unpublished outlines for lectures at the College de France from 1970 until near Foucault's death. They begin with the distinction Foucault made between the "will to knowledge" (a passion for authoritative organization) and the "will to truth" (a concern for the integrity of subjective expression). The outlines often probe subjectivity, but Foucault's thought becomes increasingly moral and political, focusing on technology and the social order. Though not his major writings, these works may be "essential" because they express the kernel of his thought. They suffer from problems of vocabulary?"knowing" and "willing" have uncertain meanings in the original French and in the English translations?and his arguments do not get much formal analysis. Even so, he writes entertainingly and makes us think. For any sizable library.?Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The first of a multivolume series translated into English, this is an engaging and accessible introduction to Foucault, who was an enormously influential but notoriously difficult contemporary French philosopher. Rather than detailed studies, it offers mostly overviews--sketches of problems to be addressed--in the form of proposals for the courses Foucault taught at the College de France, as well as interviews and essays (including some reworked prefaces) from the late 1970s to his death in 1984. Among the latter, Foucault explores, from antiquity to the present, issues relating to ethics and the problem of a free relation to the self and sets the terms for a project called "the care of the self." Foucault opposes the popular notion of a hidden but authentic self (or desire), which could be liberated; for Foucault, there is no such authentic self. But there can be ethical relationships to the self, and he envisions "new modes of relating to the self," which can then also be seen in a larger project of undoing "the impoverishment of the relational fabric" of society as a whole. Jim O'Laughlin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The “Series Preface” explains, “Though he intended his books to be the core of his intellectual production, he is also well known for having made strategic use of a number of genres---the book and the article to be sure, but also the lecture and the interview… In this light, our aim in this series is to assemble a compelling and representative collection of Foucault’s written and spoken words outside those included in his books.”
The Introduction states, “He refused to join in this vogue of condemning ‘intellectuals,’ which was sweeping Paris as a part of rejection of the media and its supposed destructive influence on French political and intellectual culture: ‘I’ve never met any intellectuals. I have met people who write novels, and others who treat the sick; people who work in economics and others who compose electronic music. I’ve met people who teach, people who paint and people of whom I have never really understood what they do. But intellectuals? Never.” (Pg. xx)
He said of penal institutions, “The working hypothesis is this: power relations… do not simply play a facilitating or obstructing role with respect to knowledge; they do not merely encourage or stimulate it, distort or restrict it; power and knowledge are not bound to each other solely through the action of interests and ideologies; so the problem is not just to determine how power subordinates knowledge and makes it serve its ends or how it superimposes itself on it, imposing ideological contents and limitations. No knowledge is formed without a system of communication, registration, accumulation, and displacement that is in itself a form of power, linked in its existence and its functioning to other forms of power. No power, on the other hand, is exercised without the extraction, appropriation, distribution, or restraint of a knowledge. At this level there is not knowledge on one side and society on the other, or science and the state, but the basic forms of ‘power-knowledge.’’” (Pg. 17)
He observes, “One sees how far one is from a history of sexuality organized around the good old repressive hypothesis and its customary questions (how and why is desire repressed?). It is a matter of acts and pleasures, not of desire. It is a matter of the formation of the self through techniques of living, not of repression through prohibition and law. We shall try to show not only how sex was kept in check but how that long history began which, in our societies, binds together sex and the subject.” (Pg. 89)
He says in an interview, “I like discussions, and when I am asked questions, I try to answer them. It’s true that I don’t like to get involved in polemics. If I open a book and see that the author is accusing an adversary of ‘infantile leftism,’ I shut it again right away. That’s not my way of doing things; I don’t belong to the world of people who do things that way. I insist on this difference as something essential: a whole morality is at stake, the morality that concerns the search for the truth and the relation to the other.” (Pg. 111)
In another interview, he says, “We have to reverse things a bit. Rather than saying what we said at one time, ‘Let’s try to re-introduce homosexuality into the general norm of social relations,’ let’s say the reverse---‘No! Let’s escape as much as possible from the type of relations that society proposes for us and try to create in the empty space where we are new relational possibilities.’ By proposing a new relational RIGHT, we will see that nonhomosexual people can enrich their lives by changing their own schema of relations.” (Pg. 160)
He notes, “There are several reasons why ‘Know yourself’ has obscured ‘Take care of yourself.’ First, there has been a profound transformation in the moral principles of Western society. We find it difficult to base rigorous morality and austere principles on the precept that we should give more care to ourselves than to anything else in the world. We are more inclined to see taking care of ourselves as an immorality, as a means of escape from all possible rules. We inherit the tradition of Christian morality which makes self-renunciation the condition for salvation. To know oneself was, paradoxically, a means of self-renunciation.” (Pg. 228)
A 1983 interview states, “Q: ‘The first volume of “The History of Sexuality” was published in 1976, and none has appeared since. So you still think that understanding sexuality is central for understanding who we are?’ M.F.: I must confess that I am much more interested in problems about techniques of the self and things like that than sex… sex is boring.” (Pg. 253)
He says about HOS and his other books, “Three domains of genealogy are possible. First, a historical ontology of ourselves in relation to truth through which we constitute ourselves as subjects of knowledge; second, a historical ontology of ourselves in relation to a field of power through which we constitute ourselves as subjects acting on others; third, a historical ontology in relation to ethics through which we constitute ourselves as moral agents. So, three axes are possible for genealogy. All three were present, albeit in a somewhat confused fashion, in ‘Madness in Civilization.’ The truth axis was studied in ‘The Birth of the Clinic’ and ‘The Order of Things.’ The power axis was studied in ‘Discipline and Punish,’ and the ethical axis in ‘’The History of Sexuality.’” (Pg. 262-263)
This volume collects writings and interviews, and will be “must reading” for anyone studying Foucault’s thought and its development.
This volume is divided into two sections: the first is the complete collection of Foucault's resumes from the courses he conducted at the College de France; and the second part consists of numerous interviews and essays that have been gathered around the theme of ethics. The resumes are the official submissions by Foucault to the College, meaning that they weren't meant for publication but rather for administrative reasons. As summaries of a year's worth of teachings, covering 1970 to 1984, they only provide crude chunks of what may have proceeded in these courses and public lectures. Thus, they are rather innocuous, and useless for most scholars. The second part is equally erratic as the theme of ethics just doesn't hold up: for example, what does the piece "The Masked Philosopher" have to do with Foucault's study of Greek and Christian ethics?
The 2nd volume of this series, on aesthetics, methhod and epistemology, is a far superior collection of Foucault goodies.
The best selections from this volume is a good summary of Foucault's last two projects: on Greek and Roman sexual practices. Even the introduction by Paul Rabinow is a minor disappointment.
And I gotta say this: the cover layout is atrocious. And why couldn't they just find another photo of Foucault for the back cover, instead of merely reversing the image? Which makes me wonder: which is the original?