Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hearn, Mark. "Review of Foucault's SOCIETY MUST BE DEFENDED." LABOUR HISTORY 86 (2004).

Foucault, Michel. 'Society Must Be Defended': Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Trans. David Macey. London: Verso, 2003. Given his tendency to opaque deliberation, and alleged scorn, at least in the eyes of his critics, for the serious study of the past, Michel Foucault would surely have felt ambiguous about the preservation of his January–March 1976 Collège de France lecture series, Society Must Be Defended, as an historical artefact. Or perhaps not? Society Must Be Defended indicates that Foucault approached his lectures thoughtfully, and with attention to detail; he fretted over their reception. Addressed, like all lectures from the professors of the prestigious Collège, to an audience of anyone who wandered off the Paris streets and cared to hear them, Foucault's lectures presented findings from research conducted in the previous year. As reprinted in this Penguin edition (the first in a series of his annual lecture programs to be published in coming years), Foucault sought to clarify his aims in a carefully argued course summary written some months after the conclusion of the program; this displays a comforting concern to be understood from an intellectual so identified with a disturbingly radical break with traditional knowledge and methodology. . . . Foucault had in common with Isaiah Berlin an ability to draw from history obscure actors and thinkers whose experience or thought illuminates past and present in new or neglected ways (hands up all those familiar with Boulainvilliers, Sieyes, Montlosier, Buat-Nancay). With Berlin he shared a horror of totalising power and an instinctive scepticism for 'totalizing explanations'. Berlin would surely have applauded Foucault's observation that 'whether one wants it to be or not, [ideology] is always in virtual opposition to something like the truth'. Foucault, however, lacked Berlin's clarity and consistency. Foucault often seems torn between his ambitions: to provide a discrete, probing analysis of the breakdown of the totalising explanations — Marxism, psychoanalysis, the whole notion of western enlightenment — which, as he tells his audience, have been 'crumbling beneath our feet' since the 1960s; to give voice, through 'discursive critique' to the 'abnormals', the 'buried and disqualified', whose stories have been denied by those who have controlled the prevailing discourse of power and the instruments of government. Yet in the lectures and books that poured from him from the 1960s until his death in 1984 Foucault seemed determined to try to explain everything: sexuality, governmentality, the very 'order of things', the nature of knowledge and how it may be reconfigured. Society Must Be Defended records this intensely creative and frustrated process. . . . Read the rest here:

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