Foucault the Hoon

One day he and Oberg went to Stockholm to buy a car. They returned with a magnificent beige Jaguar, which dumbfounded polite society in Uppsala. People were accustomed to more austerity and were especially taken aback to see an instructor — the bottom rung in a very strict university hierarchy — make such a display of wealth. But in fact Foucault had plenty of money (his family continued to support him), and he was by no means the ascetic monk people often portrayed him as later. […] He was known to disguise himself as a chauffeur and take Dani to run errands in town. His Jaguar became legendary among all the Uppsalans who knew him. Everyone describes him as driving like a madman. Dumezil remembered finding themselves in the ditch once. // They all remembered numerous incidents of this sort, accidents that luckily were never really serious, despite all that snow and ice.
pages 77-78, Didier Eribon, Michel Foucault

I have been reading and enjoying Eribon’s biography of Michel Foucault for work and leisure, and I was delighted to come across this section about Foucault’s purchase of a Jaguar while he worked and lived in the Swedish university town of Uppsala. If I had been aware of the Foucault connection to Uppsala I would’ve gone up there for a visit when I went on exchange to Norkopping in 2004 to do a tourist-type thing. (When the only tourist thing I did off my own bat was to go to the oldest Ikea in Sweden… I could say something cool, like, I wanted to find out if it was different from every other Ikea, as an act of post-“Fight Club” celebration. But I won’t. Mainly because it was the same as every other Ikea.)

To get more of an idea of ‘polite society in Uppsala’ in relation to car culture and the scandal of Foucault’s Jag, it is worth having a look at Tom O’Dell’s work published in the Daniel Miller edited collection, Car Culture (see my comments in the review), on the Swedish subculture of ‘raggare’. The ‘raggare’ seemed to be a cross between the stylistic content/expression of bikers and the practices of what we would call in Australia ‘hoons’. The era of the Raggare was a bit later than Foucault’s time in Sweden, and Foucault’s Jag is not a ‘raggarbil’, but the general logic of offending dour Swedish socio-aesthetics of the time is similar.

More on Foucault’s Jaguar after a google:

“More notoriety came Foucault’s way when he acquired a Jaguar sports car,” writes Macey of Foucault’s period in Sweden. “…The car, which was beige with black leather upholstery was second-hand but still expensive… Yet Foucault was immensely proud of it, and even went through a phase of choosing his clothes to match its colour scheme.”

Oh, the car, clothes and identity! Apparently Foucault was about 30 at the time. And, lastly, from this translated German review of a collection of Foucault’s writings, there is some allusion to Proust’s literary mediations of speed. If I remember correctly, Proust’s most famous ‘speed’ piece was published in a newspaper. The central thing I remember about the piece is a discussion about the steeples of a church rising over the horizon in an accelerated manner (which I once attempted to connect with Virilio’s comments on the accelerated evental frame of contemporary media and was thoroughly chastised by the reviewer. lol! see this essay)

I am thoroughly taken by the idea that Foucault was a ‘madman behind the wheel’. I am still smiling. In terms of actually owning a car, a Jaguar certainly isn’t to my tastes (far too bourgie), although I admire the early Jaguars for their graceful, yet purposeful regal styling. However, what amuses me more than I can possibly express here is the notion that Foucault used to drive like a nut with such esteemed passengers in the car as the famous French mythographic historian Dumezil. Ending up in a ditch is no small matter! I know how to drive like a madman, and I know how various people react when in the car when one drives like a madman… To think that, as an accident of history, such a dynamic between Foucault and others existed!?!?!?

EDIT: June 11. Page 174 of Eribon’s biography:

2 replies on “Foucault the Hoon”

  1. I also love the idea that Foucault was a hoon, not because of the hoon thing especially, but because it makes complex thinkers much more approachable to me if I know that they take pleasure in other things. I love the idea of Foucault matching his clothes to his car.

    I wanted to write an essay about this a while ago – about the daunting intellectual presence of the academic, and how this can be magnified or diffused by his or her corporeal presence.

    But that was just another one of my essay pipe-dreams. Maybe I should post about it on my imaginary blog, Pub Theory.

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