Archive for the ‘Online commentary’ Category

Michel Foucault: The rights and duties of international citizenship (2015)

The front page of the Open Democracy Site, 14 November 2015

Also includes links to the following items:

Michel Foucault “The refugee problem is a presage of the great migrations of the twenty first century”, 1979. Translated by Colin Gordon.

Colin Gordon, The drowned and the saved: Foucault’s texts on migration and solidarity, 13 November 2015

Engin Isin, Michel Foucault as an activist intellectual, 13 November 2015

Jen Bagelman, Foucault and the ‘current’ refugee crisis, 13 November 2015

“Face aux gouvernements, les droits de l’homme”, Liberation no 967, 30 June /1 July 1984, p. 22. Dits et ecrits IV pp. 707-8 (355), Gallimard 1994.

This statement was read by Foucault at a press conference on June 19th 1981, organized in association with the organizations Médecins du monde and Terre des hommes, in the presence of Yves Montand, André Glucksmann and Bernard Kouchner. The press conference, according to the newspaper Libération when it published Foucault’s text for the first time just after his death in 1984, was to have marked the public announcement of the formation of an International Committee against Piracy. Another account states that this Committee was set up in Lausanne on April 30 that year. The Libération editor’s note states that Foucault wrote this statement “minutes” before he read it. The title of the piece as published by Libération, “Confronting governments, human rights” seems to have been provided by them, not by Foucault. Given the public profile of the event and those present, it is unclear why the text appears not to have been published at the time.

“We are here only as private individuals and with no other claim to speak, and to speak together, except a certain difficulty we share in enduring what is taking place.

I know very well, and one must defer to this evident truth: we can do little about the reasons which make men and women prefer to leave their country rather than remain and live in it.  It is not in our power to change these facts.

So who asked us to speak? No one, and that is exactly our entitlement. It seems to me that we need to keep in mind three principles which, I believe, guide this initiative, like several others that have preceded it: Ile-de-Lumière, Cap Anamour, A Plane for El Salvador, but also Terre des Hommes and Amnesty International.[1]

1) There exists an international citizenship which as such has its rights and duties, and which is obliged to stand up against all forms of abuse of power, no matter who commits them, no matter who are their victims. After all, we are all governed, and, by that fact, joined in solidarity.

2) Because of their claim to care for the wellbeing of societies, governments arrogate to themselves the right to treat in terms of profit and loss the human suffering which their decisions cause and their negligence allows. It is a duty of this international citizenship to always confront the eyes and ears of governments with the human suffering for which it cannot truthfully be denied that they bear responsibility. People’s suffering must never be allowed to remain the silent residue of politics. It grounds an absolute right to stand up and to challenge those who hold power.

3) We must refuse the division of labour which is so often proposed to us: individuals are allowed to be indignant and to talk, while it falls to governments to deliberate and to act. It is true that well-intentioned governments appreciate the sacred indignation of the governed, providing that it remains merely lyrical. But I think we must be aware that it is very often those who govern who talk, are only able to talk, or only want to talk. Experience shows that we can and must refuse the histrionic role of pure protest which governments would like to offer us.  Amnesty International, Terre des Hommes, Médecins du Monde are initiatives which have created this new right: the right of private individuals to intervene actively and materially in the order of international politics and strategy. The will of individuals must be present and expressed in the order of reality which governments have sought to monopolise. Step by step and day by day, their purported monopoly must be rolled back.

Translated by Colin Gordon, October 2015

[1] Ile-de-Lumière was a French hospital and rescue ship organized by Bernard Kouchner and others  which conducted a series of  missions in the South China Sea in 1979. Cap Anamour was another rescue ship organised by the German humanitarian activists Christel and Rupert Neudeck and others.

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Foucault 4/14 Daniele Lorenzini | A Dispatch from Paris: “A Little History of Truth in General”

I have followed with great interest, from Paris, the discussions which arose before, during, and after the first three meetings of the seminar “Foucault 13/13”, and I really look forward to “Foucault 4/14”, which is going to be exciting—Linda Zerilli and Anna Lvovsky’s posts on Psychiatric Power are brilliant and challenging. I would like to contribute to these rich discussions by drawing some attention to an aspect of Foucault’s lectures on Psychiatric Power that I have always considered crucial, both for the “discursive economy” of these lectures and in view of the methodological and conceptual “shifts” Foucault introduced a few years later in On the Government of the Living (1979-1980).

At the beginning of his 23 January 1974 lecture of Psychiatric Power, Foucault opens what he himself calls “a parenthesis”—but readers of Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France have already learnt that what he presents as a parenthesis is very often something quite decisive. Foucault, speaking about the complex and many-sided “mechanism of discipline” that functioned within the asylum in the nineteenth century, argues that its effects introduced a question of truth: “medical knowledge, which again was only a token of power, found itself required to speak, no longer just in terms of power, but in terms of truth” (PP, p. 235). Indeed, as Anna Lvovsky correctly suggests, in Psychiatric Power Foucault delivers an analysis of madness as a battle over truth-production, and in many senses also the hysterics’ “counter-conduct” that will be taken into account by Linda Zerilli can be described in terms of a challenge on the level of truth. This is why, by retracing “a little history of truth in general” (PP, p. 235), Foucault is actually doing something crucial with respect both to the stakes of these lectures and to future developments of his thought.

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Editor: See Colin Gordon’s response from the comments section of this blog post below.

Michel Foucault’s Iranian Folly
Jeremy Stangroom on Michel Foucault’s political naiveté, TPM Online (The Philosopher’s magazine)

Everywhere outside Iran, Islam serves as a cover for a feudal or pseudo revolutionary oppression… The Left should not let itself be seduced by a cure that is perhaps worse than the disease.”

Foucault, unfortunately, was precisely seduced by the popular uprising in Iran, which he claimed might signify a new “political spirituality”, with the potential to transform the political landscape of Europe, as well as the Middle East.

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Guest – Colin Gordon, Oxford, UK
[Editor:Foucault’s birthday was 15 October 1926]

Your site’s taste in posthumous birthday offerings is duly noted.

Mr Stangroom is a promising parrot – good at recycling other people’s smears; but short on forensic and reading skills – checking allegations against evidence. Or perhaps one should say he is a talented manipulator of evidence, like the American authors he relies on. The second text he quotes – including the words on the rights of women – is not Foucault’s manifesto for Iranian government, it is a summary of comments by a senior Shi’ite cleric, forming part of Foucault’s newspaper reports on ideas current in Iran at the time of an uprising which mobilized overwhelming popular support – a fact which at the time impressed many international observers besides Foucault. Foucault stated more than once before the fall of the Shah’s regime that there were disquieting aspects to the agenda for Islamic government and that he did not find its assurances about human and minority rights entirely reassuring. He did not endorse a Khomeini regime, either before or after the fact. He did not recommend ‘political spirituality’ as an elixir for the West. He did, on the other hand, refuse to treat all contemporary manifestations of Islam with uncomprehending or a priori contempt – a position which continues to earn comments such as these from some philosophers and other trolls.

By the way, the first text Stangroom has managed happens to open with a mistranslation. Foucault did not write that the Iranian situation could be understood as a great joust – he wrote that it seemed at that point in time to be tied to (‘semble être suspendue à’) the highly visible public confrontation between two personal figures, Shah and Khomeini. Anyone who bothers to read Foucault’s reports will find that they contained a broad and nuanced picture of the sociopolitical, economic and cultural background and components of the uprising, a shrewd analysis of the unfolding conflict, and an accurate assessment of the survival prospects of the regime – at a time when the New Left’s renowned middle eastern expert, the late Fred Halliday, was predicting it could stay in power for decades.

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Editor: Reblogged from Stuart Elden’s site Progressive Geographies

Foucault was interviewed in 1975 for a Brazilian paper:

Q: In your work, the State seems to occupy a privileged place. And the State represents a privileged instance for understanding historical-cultural formations. Could you specify the conditions of possibility which underpin the State?

A: It is true that the State interests me, but it only interests me differentially [différentiellement]. I do not believe that the entirety [ensemble] of the powers which are exercised within a society – and which assure the hegemony of a class, an elite, or a caste in that society – are entirely contained in the State system. The State, with its grand judicial, military and other apparatuses [appareils], only represents a guarantee, the reinforcement of a network of powers which come through different channels, different from these main routes. My problem is to attempt a differential analysis of the different levels of power in society. As a consequence, the State occupies an important place in this, but not a preeminent one (DE no 163, II 812).

“El filósofo responde’, Jornal da Tarde, 1 Nov 1975, pp. 12-13; translated by Plinio-Walder Prado Jr as “Michel Foucault: Les réponses du philosophie”, Dits et écrits text no 163, Vol II, p. 812 (1994 Four Volume edition).

This passage does not appear in the recent reprint of the Portuguese translation of the interview. I guess it must be in the original Portuguese version (which I have been unable to locate) because if not, what is the source for the translation in Dits et écrits? [Update 26 May 2015: the question does appear in the 1975 original – thanks to Andrea Teti for tracking down a copy.]

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David Banks, The Conservative Hacker – Cyborgology, August 26, 2015

“Lone Hacker in Warehouse” by Brian Klug

“Lone Hacker in Warehouse” by Brian Klug

The hacker label is, as Foucault might say, a “dubious unity.” The single phrase can barely contain its constituent multitude. Even if every single person that self-identified as a hacker had a stable definition, the media would warp, expand, and misunderstand the definition to include all sorts of other identities, tactics, and personas. We cannot know what is in the hearts and minds of every person that feels an allegiance to the hacker brand but this past week’s Ashley Madison hack, where deeply private information was leaked supposedly in the name of consumer protection, forces a conversation about the politics of hacking. Are hackers fundamentally conservative if not in intention, then in deed?

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The Afterlife of the Mind
August 12, 2015
By Scott McLemee

Source: Essay on Michel Foucault’s posthumous publications | InsideHigherEd

Franz Kafka left explicit directions concerning the journals, letters and manuscripts that would be found following his death: they were to be burned — all of them — unread. Whether he expected Max Brod, the executor of his estate, to follow through with his instructions is a matter of some debate. In any case, Brod refused, and the first volume of Kafka’s posthumous works came out shortly after the author’s death in 1925.

The disregard for his wishes can be explained, if not justified, on a couple of grounds. For one thing, Kafka was a lawyer, and he must have known that expressing his intentions in a couple of notes wouldn’t be binding — it takes a will to set forth a mandate in ironclad terms. And, too, Brod was both Kafka’s closest friend and the one person who recognized him as a writer of importance, even of genius. Expecting Brod not to preserve the manuscripts — much less to leave them unread! — hardly seems realistic.

On the other hand, Kafka himself destroyed most of his own manuscripts and did so in the same way he told Brod to do it, by setting them on fire. It is reasonable to suppose he meant what he said. If so, world literature has been enriched by an act of blatant disloyalty.

“Don’t pull the Max Brod trick on me,” Michel Foucault is said to have admonished friends. The philosopher and historian did Kafka one better by including a blunt, categorical line in his will: “No posthumous publications.” Be that as it may, in late spring the University of Minnesota Press issued Language, Madness, and Desire: On Literature, a volume of short texts by Foucault originally published in France two years ago and translated by Robert Bonnono. The same press and translator also turned the surviving pages of an autobiographical interview from 1968 into a little book with big margins called Speech Begins After Death. The title is kind of meta, since Foucault, like Kafka, seems to be having an unusually wordy afterlife.

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Patrick West Foucault: from libertine to neoliberal , Spiked, 3 July 2015

Was the French philosopher really a Reaganite in poststructural clothing?

Was Foucault a neoliberal?’ So asked an accusatory headline the other day in Le Nouvel Observateur, France’s centre-left news weekly. It’s a grave allegation. ‘Saint Foucault’, as the article sarcastically calls him, was a heavyweight figure in the humanities, and his theories about truth and power have filtered down into society’s mainstream. He remains a legend of postwar philosophy in France, and queer theory in general. To accuse him of Anglo-Saxon right-wingery is tantamount to lèse majesté.

Michel Foucault popularised the idea that power and truth are intimately intertwined, and that who is making a statement is as important as what is being said. As he wrote in his iconic 1975 text, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la Prison): ‘It is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge.’ Truth is perspectival: it is the mere creation of the strong. Might makes right. Power is knowledge.

Several generations of teachers, social-policy strategists, professors and politicians would have been taught Foucault at university at the height of his academic celebrity in the 1980s and 1990s. His thoughts have been widely disseminated as a consequence.

Foucault said that power was omnipresent. Hospitals and schools are no better or worse than factories or prisons: all are based on the same desire to inspect, classify, control, monitor. A security camera is a manifestation of power in action, but so, too, is a restaurant menu or a double-yellow line on a road.

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