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MIebeI FoueauIr

The Authentic rebeI against Authenticity


By: Khan Yasir
The same energy of character
which renders a man a daring villain
would have rendered him useful in society,
had that society been well organised.
(Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)

he phenomenon called Foucault can be explained in three simple sentences. 1) Its
fashion to !uote Foucault. ") Its #isdom to $rasp Foucault. %) Its absurd to adore
Foucault. &o the first $lance' the third statement seems to contradict the earlier t#o'
ho#e(er it only fulfils them. &his statement hi$hli$hts the disparity bet#een acceptance of
Foucault)as)a)philosopher and abhorrence of Foucault)as)a)person. &he stran$e fact
nonetheless is that' his philosophy is nothin$ but a (dis)or$anised bunch of his personality.
Michel Foucault (1*"+)1*,-) is one of the most cited philosophers of the t#entieth century. .e
is one of those personalities #hom you can lo(e or hate but cannot i$nore alto$ether. .is
po#erful ar$uments re$ardin$ po#er' /no#led$e' history' truth' and social control etc. ha(e
not influenced but chan$ed the academic discourses completely. .is doubts about morality0
rebellion a$ainst tradition0 and scorn for truth)claims ha(e particularly influenced the youths. It
is ar$ued that Foucaults thou$hts ha(e shaped the contours of #hat today is /no#n as
postmodernism.
Born in a conser(ati(e middle class family' Foucaults formal education be$an in 1*%1 #hen he
#as only four years old. .e #as an excellent student in social sciences and lan$ua$es (i.e.
French' 2erman and 3atin) but #as (ery poor in mathematics. Foucault hated his childhood
despite excellin$ academically in school and colle$e. Foucault' as a child' #as in his o#n #ords a
45u(enile delin!uent. .e recalls #ith disdain ho# his 4bully father used to inflict atrocious
punishments upon him for his alle$ed misbeha(iours. .e had no friends and $enerally remained
lonely in school premises. &hus' Foucaults childhood' in his o#n parlance' #as an 6ordeal7.
&
In 1*-% he completed his $raduation and in 1*-8 after refusin$ to become a sur$eon' as #as his
fathers #ish' he #ent to 9aris for hi$her studies in philosophy and history. .is loneliness
continued in 9aris as #ell. :ompletely de5ected #ith his life and loneliness he $re# melancholic.
&o fi$ht #ith his loneliness and unpopularity amon$ fello# students' Foucault resorted to t#o
thin$s. Firstly' he fell (oraciously upon boo/s and read extensi(ely on the sub5ect of philosophy
and history. Secondly' he resorted to homosexuality. ;(en a #atchful study of his life does not
clarify #hether to indul$e in homosexuality #as his o#n per(erted choice or he relented to
homosexual ad(ances of others for the fact that he #anted 4friends at any cost. Whats clear
ho#e(er from his life is the fact that he #as ne(er satisfied #ith his social and homosexual
relations and perhaps his !uest for a 4true friend terminated only #ith his life. .e #as so
de5ected #ith his loneliness' friendlessness and then #ith the $uilt of homosexuality that he
soon resorted to (iolence. <ar/ ima$es of (iolence' torture' and sufferin$ shrouded his mind
since then' and he could not 5ettison these ne$ati(e thou$hts till end. .is room #as full of
dar/ness and ima$es of #ar' bloodshed and torture. It is also reported that once he had chased
one of his classmates #ith da$$er in hand. Besides inflictin$ (iolence' Foucault' surrounded by
his ne$ati(e thou$hts and depression' #as much more prone to self)harm. In 1*-, he' for the
first time' attempted suicide (an exercise #hich he repeated a number of times at different
sta$es of his life). ;(en as a philosopher' Foucault praised the valour in the act of /illin$ oneself.
=fter first attempt at suicide Foucault #as sent to consult a psychiatrist by his father. &he
psychiatrist su$$ested that Foucaults condition and mental distress is because of his
homosexual acti(ities and subse!uent $uilt. &he doctors ho#e(er failed to cure him #ho #ent
on indul$in$ in (arious homosexual relationships #ith $an$sters' drun/ards' dru$$ists and other
antisocial elements. 2radually Foucault also started ta/in$ hea(y dosa$es of dru$s. It #as at this
sta$e that he nurtured and consummated the hatred for society and #hat he called its
pretensions. .e lo(ed to defy customs' brea/ rules' and o(erhaul traditions. Society had $i(en
him much pain' and for him' it #as time to paybac/ this debt of pains throu$h defiance and
rebellion.
Mean#hile Foucault made steady pro$ress as a philosopher. Intellectually Freud' Marx' and
>iet?sche #ere primary influence o(er him. .e also read @ant' .usserl' Sartre' .eide$$er and
other existentialist philosophers extensi(ely. .is teacher 3ouis =lthusser too #as a $reat
influence upon his thou$hts and reflections. Ander this =lthusserian influence Foucault e(en
5oined French :ommunist 9arty in 1*81. But idealism of Marx and communist rhetoric #as
beyond comprehension for Foucault. &he nonsensical utopia of Marx and nai(e assumptions
li/e class stru$$le etc. #ere too puerile to be s#allo#ed by him. Bn one hand these intellectual
simplifications of communism #ere ruthlessly criticised by Foucault' on the other hand
Foucaults homosexuality (#hich despite bein$ le$al #as a social taboo) #as criticised rather
ridiculed by fello# communists. Both these factors led Foucault to lea(e the party in 1*8%.
;(en before completin$ his 9h<' Foucault started lecturin$ on psycholo$y in (arious colle$es
and uni(ersities. In 1*88 he obtained a position of cultural diplomat at Appsala Ani(ersity of
S#eden. Besides teachin$ and #or/in$ on his thesis' Foucault established his sexual relations
#ith scores of men. .ere he pursued his homosexual instinct more #ildly and more ea$erly
than e(er before. Moreo(er he also became #ell)/no#n for dru$ use' hea(y alcohol
consumption' rec/less dri(in$ and other such acts that he thou$ht are defiance and rebellion.
Foucault also submitted his thesis at Appsala but that #as summarily re5ected as full of
speculati(e $eneralisations. = disenchanted Foucault left S#eden for 9oland. .is homosexual
relations #ith a $o(ernment official there raised a bi$ contro(ersy and e(entually he had to
depart to West 2ermany and from there he returned to France.
Finally Foucaults thesis #as accepted in Ani(ersity of 9aris and he #as a#arded a doctorate.
&his thesis #as published as his first boo/ Madness and insanity: history of madness in the
classical age. 3ater the brief (ersion of the boo/ #as published as Madness and civilisation. In
this #or/ Foucault traced the ori$ins and de(elopment of the concept of madness0 #hat is
re$arded as madness' #hat is the response to madness etc. For Foucault madness is much
more than mere mental illness' in many #ays it is a social construct. In this interestin$ #or/
Foucault describes ho# in the classical a$e madness #as considered as some /ind of #isdom
and ho# in art and literature mad people #ere depicted as succinct satire o(er the corruptions
of the normal society. It #as a lon$ 5ourney from there to the consideration of madness as
disease or a medical problem. =s soon as madness #as percei(ed as a medical problem' mad
people #ere separated from society. Foucault ar$ues that in modern a$e' #ith the
de(elopment of mental hospitals' this separation continues under the pretext of pro(idin$ $ood
care to the madmen. Foucault also noted and criticised the (arious institutions and practices in
different a$es to controlCcare the madmen. .e also ar$ues that under the false label of 4mad
the social)undesirables includin$ rebels' dissenters' unbelie(ers' and sexual per(erts too #ere
loc/ed a#ay from the society.
Beside Madness and civilisation (1*+1)' Foucaults ma5or #or/s are The birth of the clinic (1*+%)'
Death and the labyrinth (1*+%)' The order of things (1*++)' The archaeology of knowledge
(1*+*)' Discipline and punish (1*D8)' and History of sexuality (1*,-). .e had also penned
(arious #orld)famous essays. =r$uably his most popular essays are' n !overnmentality (1*D,)
and "hat is an author# (1*D*). 2o(ernmentality is a term that he coined to denote: 4art of
$o(ernment. &he term implies the $o(ernment)rationality throu$h #hich sub5ects are
$o(erned and techni!ues throu$h #hich $o(ernment gently forces its citi?ens to toe the line of
$o(ernment policies. In the latter essay Foucault problematises the concept of author'
authorship and authority and ar$ues that an author is the 6...ideolo$ical fi$ure by #hich one
mar/s the manner in #hich #e fear the proliferation of meanin$7.
Foucault is perhaps at his li(eliest #hile discussin$ sex. >early all his #ritin$s touch (if not
re(ol(e around) this sub5ect. .e is a$ainst any bonds as far as sexual acti(ity is concerned. In
History of sexuality, #ritten in three hefty (olumes' Foucault eulo$ises 2ree/ and Eoman
societies for their fe#er' lenient' and nominal la#s a$ainst sexual misconduct. .e appreciates
2ree/ indifference to#ards one omnipotent and re$ulatin$ $od0 to#ards after)life0 and to#ards
ethics and moral conducts. .e admires that sex in 2ree/ society #as not separate from other
pleasures0 it #as public and a /ind of social pleasure. Same #as true for Eomans. Foucault
ar$ues that in those societies sexual relations #ere immediately translated into social relations
and (ice (ersa. Bath and brothel #ere most important social institutions. :ommon bathin$ #as
common in those societies (a Foucaultian may #ell re$ret $ender separation on s#immin$
pools today as a result of modern 4corruptions). Foucault is all praise for sociality of brothels'
and referred to brothels as 6architecture of pleasure7. .e rather ecstatically describes the
emotional and social bonds resultin$ from these brothels. In his o#n #ords' 6&he men of the
city met at the brothel0 they #ere tied to one another by the fact that the same #omen passed
throu$h their hands' that the same diseases and infections #ere communicated to them7.
Bn the same pedestal Foucault is (ery much fond of infantile sexuality and a$ainst any
repression on the same. .e ar$ues (ery (ehemently that children are sexually acti(e and one
should tal/ #ith them of sexual or$ans and sex as one tal/ #ith them of hands and #ritin$. .e
laments that modern society especially after 1*
th
century has attempted to reduce sexuality to
the le$al and heterosexual couples' #hat is at sta/e here is the concept of sex)as)pleasure and
not only as reproduction. &he aim of sex accordin$ to him is pleasure and that can be attained
throu$h se(eral means li/e masturbation' pre) or extra)marital sex and homosexuality to name
a fe#. =lthou$h he criticises 2ree/ and Eoman societies for not bein$ as tolerant to#ards
homosexuality as Foucault thin/s they should ha(e been.
Foucault #as con(inced of no absolute truth' no absolute (alues' and hence no moral
standards. It #as this relati(ity (or sub5ecti(ityF) of morality that forced Foucault to beha(e (ery
i$nobly at times. In 1*+" #hen Foucault became head of the philosophy department in
uni(ersity of :lermont)Ferrand0 he' due to ideolo$ical differences' made life hell for a professor
Eo$er 2araudy #ho #as e(entually forced to lea(e the uni(ersity. .e also secured 5ob for his
sexual partner <aniel <efert at the uni(ersity bypassin$ many able and deser(in$ candidates for
the post.
In his #or/s Foucault has tried to deal #ith #hat he refers to as the axis of /no#led$e' the axis
of po#er' and the axis of ethics. =nother main theme in Foucaults #ritin$s is truth. Foucault
despise rather defies e(ery truth)claim. For him truth and taboo are relati(e and differ from a$e
to a$e. .e also re5ects the existence of any uni!ue human nature common to humanity except
animal instincts. .is denial of truth and human nature is not sayin$ 4>o to them but a(oidin$
the !uestions alto$ether. Instead of refutin$ them0 his consistent response is to historicise
$rand abstractions. .e artistically shifts e(ery 4#hy !uestion into a 4ho# !uestion. 9aul
Eabino# ar$ues that Foucaults aim #as not to un(eil the truths or di(ul$e the falsities of
different disciplines. Eather it #as the effecti(e operation of these disciplines ho# and around
#hat concepts they formed' ho# they #ere used' #here they de(eloped. Foucault himself
could be !uoted re$ardin$ his ob5ecti(es' he says: 6&he $oal of my #or/ durin$ the last t#enty
years has not been to analyse the phenomena of po#er' nor to elaborate the foundations of
such an analysis. My ob5ecti(e' instead' has been to create a history of the different modes by
#hich' in our culture' human bein$s are made sub5ects7.
=n important contribution of Foucault is his thou$hts on genealogy of history. =ccordin$ to him
history does not unfolds in any intentional or ordered #ay' the order #e see in history is not
the product of history but of history)#ritin$. = historian is not a neutral reproducer of e(ents
but a biased narrator #ho loo/s at history from /ios/ of his ideolo$ical beliefs and interprets
the past in the li$ht of present. .istory' for him' is the history of an error #e call truth. &hrou$h
his $enealo$ical analysis Foucault has explained ho# 4re$imes of practices define the rules that
determine different sets of ideas and beliefs as true or false in different eras.
Foucault is #ell)/no#n for his theorisation of po#er: #hat po#er isF .o# it functionsF .o# it
controls /no#led$eF =nd ho# /no#led$e controls and defines po#erF In his #or/s Foucault
has made critical inroads into different institutions of social control li/e prisons' clinics' schools'
and mental asylums.
= distin$uished property of Foucaultian thou$ht ho#e(er' is its dis5uncture. Foucault ne(er
stuc/ to his (ie#s for lon$ and chan$ed opinions drastically from time to time. .is detractors
despise him for pessimistic ideas and (olatility in (ie#s. .abermas accuses Foucault of applyin$
the same enli$htenment principles in his #or/s that he aims to dispose of.
Foucault #as at ?enith of fame and $lory in 1*D1s and ,1s. =t that time' in the realm of
philosophy he indeed #as a celebrity' deli(erin$ tal/s in different presti$ious institutions of the
#orld. Get in the pri(ate life his homosexual acti(ities continued till end and the ine(itable
happened. .e contracted .IH =ids. .e died of neurolo$ical problems compounded by =ids.
Foucault as a person #as ne(er satisfied and perhaps ne(er happy. .e is e(en described by his
close associates as a complex character #earin$ se(eral mas/s at the same time. Foucault fell
into scores of intimate relationship #ith (arious men and suffered almost as many brea/)ups'
most tormentin$ of them perhaps in 1*8+ #ith composer Iean Barra$ue. >onetheless' Foucault
today is an inspiration for homosexuals and rebels a$ainst the society J e(erythin$ authentic.
Is there somethin$ positi(e that #e could learn from Foucaults lifeF Ges #e can. We can learn
from him #hat not to do #ith our life. But thats not all. Foucault has much to teach us in his
intrepidity and boldness. It #as this disre$ard for anythin$ 4authentic that in 1*D* #hen
Foucault toured Iran after the Islamic re(olution' he appreciated the re(olutionary cause there.
.e also admired the personalities of =yatollah @homeini and =li Shariati. .e appreciated the
discourse of militant Islam and found it parallel to his criti!ue of modernity. .e belie(ed that
Iranian re(olution could initiate a #hole ne# era not only in Middle ;ast but also in the #hole
#orld. <espite his abhorrence for absolute truths and (alues' he appreciated Islam not as a
reli$ion but as a #ay of life' and in the #a/e of Iranian re(olution ar$ued: that Islam has a $ood
chance to become a $i$antic 6po#der /e$7 in the re$ion.
Foucault al#ays tried to learn ne# thin$s' #hen he #as !uestioned about inconsistency in his
(ie#s he lau$hin$ly told: 6Well do you thin/ I ha(e #or/ed hard all those years to say the same
thin$ and not to be chan$ed7. =s a scholar his beliefs are catastrophic but he appears to be
sincere in his con(ictions. .e didnt eye fame and popularity but #anted to con(ey his messa$e
to the people. .e told: 6I dont #rite for an audience' I #rite for users and not readers7.
.eroes or (illains' e(ery life is full of lessonsK &he $reatest lessons that I ha(e learnt from the
life of Foucault are:
1. :hildhoods are precious. :hildren can be duffer or a nuisance but should not be treated
#ith contempt leadin$ them to re$ard their parents' teachers or elders as enemies. =
discontented child can #rec/ ha(oc on the society both #ith his doin$ and his thin/in$.
". Bne should ne(er consider any sin as small0 the day #e 5ustify our smallest of mista/es
#e lay foundations for 5ustifyin$ $reatest of the crimes. =s a teena$er Foucaults $uilt
for homosexuality #as so immense that he #as sent to psychiatrist but #hen he treaded
the path of 5ustification (instead of repentance) he dedicated a ma5or portion of his
thou$hts on 5ustifyin$ this filth and ended up becomin$ a role)model for the per(erts
not to mention the abominable disease #hich caused his death.
Foucaults life #ould ha(e been different if only he #ould ha(e heeded his o#n #ords i.e. 6We
ha(e to create oursel(es as a #or/ of art7K