Foucault Interview

Foucault: […] If I had a kid, I assure you he would not write on the walls—or if he did, it would be against my will. The very idea!

Funny stuff. Clare O’Farrell posted a link on the Foucault list to an interesting and simple interview by a grad student at Berkley, Michael Bess, with Foucault in 1980. I like the final questions because they are the sorts of questions anyone with half a brain would ask of Foucault’s work after they begin to understand it. Foucault’s responses are therefore rather important:

Question: I have to admit, I find myself a bit lost, without points of orientation, in your world—because there’s too much openness.

Foucault: Listen, listen. . . How difficult it is! I’m not a prophet; I’m not an organizer; I don’t want to tell people what they should do. I’m not going to tell them, “This is good for you, this is bad for you!”
I try to analyze a real situation in its various complexities, with the goal of allowing refusal, and curiosity, and innovation.

Question: And as regards your own personal life, that’s something different. . .

Foucault: But that’s nobody’s business!
I think that at the heart of all this, there’s a misunderstanding about the function of philosophy, of the intellectual, of knowledge in general: and that is, that it’s up to them to tell us what is good.
Well, no! No, no, no! That’s not their role. They already have far too much of a tendency to play that role, as it is. For two thousand years they’ve been telling us what is good, with the catastrophic consequences that this has implied.
There’s a terrible game here, a game which conceals a trap, in which the intellectuals tend to say what is good, and people ask nothing better than to be told what is good—and it would be better if they started yelling, “How bad it is!
Good, well, let’s change the game. Let’s say that the intellectuals will no longer have the role of saying what is good. Then it will be up to people themselves, basing their judgment on the various analyses of reality that are offered to them, to work or to behave spontaneously, so that they can define for themselves what is good for them.
What is good, is something that comes through innovation. The good does not exist, like that, in an atemporal sky, with people who would be like the Astrologers of the Good, whose job is to determine what is the favorable nature of the stars. The good is defined by us, it is practiced, it is invented. And this is a collective work.
Is it clearer, now?

One reply on “Foucault Interview”

  1. Sweet, I know just where I can use that idea of the ‘principle of invention.’

    Foucault sounds just like Alisdair Macintyre when he’s talking about the good, doesn’t he? Which confirms my suspicions that Macintyre is a jerk-ass jerk for not paying more attention to Nietzsche, since they obviously have everything in common. (OK, end of obscure rant now.)

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