A Companion to Foucault
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A Companion to Foucault

Christopher Falzon, Timothy O'Leary, Jana Sawicki, Christopher Falzon, Timothy O'Leary, Jana Sawicki

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eBook - ePub

A Companion to Foucault

Christopher Falzon, Timothy O'Leary, Jana Sawicki, Christopher Falzon, Timothy O'Leary, Jana Sawicki

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About This Book

A Companion to Foucault comprises a collection of essays from established and emerging scholars that represent the most extensive treatment of French philosopher Michel Foucault's works currently available.

  • Comprises a comprehensive collection of authors and topics, with both established and emerging scholars represented
  • Includes chapters that survey Foucault's major works and others that approach his work from a range of thematic angles
  • Engages extensively with Foucault's recently published lecture courses from the Collège de France
  • Contains the first translation of the extensive 'Chronology' of Foucault's life and works written by Foucault's life-partner Daniel Defert
  • Includes a bibliography of Foucault's shorter works in English, cross-referenced to the standard French edition Dits et Ecrits

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Part I
translated by Timothy O’Leary*
“What is this ever so fragile moment from which we cannot detach our identity and which will carry that identity away with it?”
Michel Foucault, Essential Works, III, 443



The 15th, birth in Poitiers, at 10 rue de la Visitation, later rue Arthur Ranc, of Paul-Michel Foucault, to Paul-André Foucault, medical doctor, decorated with the Croix de Guerre, born at Fontainebleau July 25th 1893, and to Anne-Marie Malapert, born in Poitiers November 28th 1900. Surgeon at the Hotel-Dieu in Poitiers, Dr. Paul Foucault was a brilliant anatomist, according to the virologist Luc Montagnier, who followed his courses at the School of Medicine in Poitiers. He himself was the son of Dr. Paul Foucault, a doctor at Fontainebleau, son in his turn of Dr. Foucault, doctor to the poor at Nanterre, where a street commemorates his name and his work.
Anne Malapert, daughter of a surgeon – her father taught at the School of Medicine in Poitiers – always regretted the fact of being born too early for it to be possible for a woman to study medicine. Married in 1924, the couple had one daughter, Francine, born in 1925. While the paternal family was Catholic, and quite devout, the maternal family, more relaxed, tended towards a refined Voltairism. The father’s sister was a missionary in China, the mother’s brother was a pharmacist in Peru.


Enters the kindergarten class at the Lycée Henri-IV in Poitiers, with special permission because of his age, in order not to be separated from his older sister.
From 1932 to 1936 attends the primary school of the Lycée.



The 1st, birth of his brother, Denys, who will become a surgeon.



The 25th, assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss by Austrian Nazis: “I think it was my first strong fright about death” (EW1, 124).


Arrival in the family of an English nanny, to “speak with the children,” who stays with them until the end of the war. Paul-Michel begins sixth class [Middle School] at the Lycée Henri-IV in Poitiers, where he mixes with the first child refugees from Spain.


Paul-Michel surprises his father, who had predicted a career as a surgeon, by announcing that he will become a history professor. “A status not acceptable to the family,” commented Foucault, “unless it were at the Sorbonne like cousin Plattard” – a famous specialist on Rabelais.
The Minister of Health replaces “the charming name ‘asylum’,” given by Esquirol, with “psychiatric hospital.”



The Foucault children are sent to the family property in Vendeuvre-du-Poitou, home of their grandmother Raynaud-Malapert, while the German army invades France.


In its Poitiers house, the family puts up relatives from Paris who are joining the exodus. On the 16th, Pétain orders a cessation of combat and replaces the Republic with a collaborationist “new order.” The family house in Vendeuvre is partially requisitioned by German officers up until the opening of the Russian front.


The absence of teachers and the flight to Poitiers of schoolchildren from Paris disrupts school life; Paul-Michel is placed by his family in the Middle School of Saint-Stanislas, which is run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools [De la Salle Christian Brothers].



He passes the first part of the Classics baccalaureate, with special permission because of his age.


His philosophy teacher at Saint-Stanislas school is deported for Resistance activities. His mother arranges private philosophy lessons for Paul-Michel, given by Louis Girard, a philosophy student later known in Poitiers for his readings of the Communist Manifesto. Meanwhile, she arranges for the school to hire a Benedictine from the Abbaye de Ligugé, Dom Pierro, to teach philosophy.



Student in the “hypokhâgne” class at Lycée Henri-IV in Poitiers, preparing for the entrance exam to the École Normale Supérieure.



Allied bombardment of Poitiers, shortly before its liberation.



After failing in the entrance exam for the École Normale, enters the “khâgne” class at the Lycée Henri-IV in Paris.
Jean Hyppolite, translator of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, teaches philosophy there. The high grades Hyppolite gives to Foucault’s work are the beginning of his philosophical reputation.


Marriage of his sister, with whom he has remained very close.



The 5th, at Westminster College, Fulton (Missouri), Winston Churchill announces: “An Iron Curtain has descended across the continent.”


Paul-Michel Foucault is admitted to the École Normale Supérieure.


Annoyed at having mispronounced a quote at the oral exam for the École Normale, he starts to seriously study German.
Georges Bataille founds the journal Critique.
“To be 20 years old shortly after World War II … the urgent need of a society radically different from the one in which we were living, this society that had permitted Nazism” (EW3, 247).
At the École Normale, Foucault establishes long-lasting friendships and alliances with some of his peers: Maurice Pinguet, Robert Mauzi, Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-Claude Passeron, Jean-Pierre Serre, Paul Veyne, etc. His years at the École Normale are an unhappy period for Foucault, ill at ease with his physique and his sexual inclination.


Maurice Merleau-Ponty, professor at Lyon, becomes a psychology tutor at the École Normale, responsible for preparing students for the agrégation [qualifying exam for university teachers]. His course on the union of the soul and the body in Malebranche, Maine de Biran, and Bergson shapes Foucault’s first thesis project on the birth of psychology in the post-Cartesians.
Failure of the Moscow talks on Germany; beginning of the Cold War.


Foucault obtains his BA in philosophy at the Sorbonne.


Louis Althusser, who returned to the École Normale in 1945 after five years in a camp in Germany, becomes a philosophy tutor and joins the Communist Party. In his autobiography (L’Avenir dure longtemps, Paris: Stock, 1992), he recounts that “the philosophical life at the École was not particularly intense; it was fashionable to distrust Sartre.”


The Lysenko affair erupts. As a result, philosophers and scientists begin to take a strong interest in the relation between things said and their external conditions of determination. Bourgeois and proletarian science confront each other in the heart of the École Normale, notably in the teaching of Jean-Toussaint Desanti and Tran Duc Thao, philosopher and Vietnamese patriot, “the two hopes of our generation,” according to Althusser.
Attempted suicide by Foucault (recounted by Maurice Pinguet in Le Débat, no. 41, Sept.–Nov. 1986).


Maurice Merleau-Ponty, appointed as Professor of Psychology at the Sorbonne, gives his famous course on “The Sciences of Man and Phenomenology.” At the same time, he introduces the students at the École Normale to Ferdinand de Saussure, which gives Foucault the taste for what he will call formal thought as opposed to structuralism. “He exercised a fascination for us” (Foucault’s words, reported by Claude Mauriac in Le Temps immobile, Paris: Grasset, 1976, vol. 3, p. 492).


Thanks to his familiarity with optical tests, he is able to have his bad eyesight corrected.
Foucault passes the degree in psychology, created in 1947. During this period he alternates between work and violent anxiety; tempted by alcohol, he begins psychotherapy. “Reading Freud perhaps suggests to him that it is a good and healthy morality not to give up on the truth of desire” (Maurice Pinguet in Le Débat, no. 41). He writes his Diploma of Higher Studies in Philosophy on Hegel under the supervision of Jean Hyppolite.


Foucault joins the French Communist Party (PCF). He later confided that the Indochina War had determined his decision. Nevertheless, he never made any reference to these circumstances in interviews when he discussed this period of his life. In February–March 1950, the communist students at the École Normale were indeed highly mobilized against the Indochina War. Foucault took it very badly that the PCF at that time was exerting pressure on Althusser because of his private life, in order to make him break with his future wife, Hélène Legotien.


The 17th, another suicide attempt. In his biography of Althusser (Paris, Grasset, 1992), Yann Moulier-Boutang reports eleven episodes of suicide among the students of the École Normale in eighteen months, between 1952 and 1955. Even though he was reluctant to resort to psychoanalysis, Foucault saw a certain Dr. Gallot for a while. On the 23rd, he wrote to a friend who was worried about him, “Let me be silent … let me get used to facing things again, let me dispel the darkness that I had got used to surrounding myself in at midday.” On the 24th, a position as assistant which had been promised to him at the Sorbonne is suddenly withdrawn, because of his political activities, he believes.
The musician Gilbert Humbert, a student of Messiaen, the closest witness in the years 1950–52, recalls an anxious young man, reciting Vigny, Musset, Éluard, Nerval by heart, and devouring Saint-John Perse, Husserl, Jaspers, and Bergson. He also reports the temptation of “limit experiences” in Bataille’s sense. Recalling the same period, Maurice Pinguet writes: “My first image of Michel Foucault was of a cheerful young man with animated gestures, a clear and vigilant gaze behind rimless glasses; I heard in passing that it was all about Dasein, being towards death; I heard one of my fellow students declare with an air of expertise: ‘Foucault is intelligent like all homosexuals.’ Proof that he didn’t know much about it” (Le Débat, no. 41).


Failure in the agrégation, which worries his fellow students, among whom there circulates the fantasy of a communist witch hunt. This brings Foucault closer to Althusser. Spends the summer studying Plotinus. With Gilbert Humbert, he discusses the theses developed at the time in the USSR by Andrei Zhdanov, extensively presented in La Nouvelle Critique and, in a more nuanced way, in Aragon’s journal Les Lettres françaises; theses according to which every technique practiced in the West in music, philosophy, literature, and art in general, arises from a bourgeois formalism. He likes Mozart and Duke Ellington.


Study trip to Göttingen.


La Nouvelle Critique attacks Hyppolite and denounces the return to Hegel as the latest form of academic revisionism.
Brief treatment for detoxification: “I’m coming back from quite a distance,” he writes. He discusses with his father the possibility of being hospitalized at Sainte-Anne Psychiatric Hospital. Is dissuaded by Althusser, who had been there for the first time in 1947. Forcing himself to be “a good communist,” he writes in the communist student paper and sells L’Humanité.


Thinks about leaving France once his studies are finished. Considers Denmark. Reading Kafka and Kierkegaard, taught at the Sorbonne by Jean Wahl, who also introduces German philosophy, Heidegger, Husserl, and Nietzsche. Also thinks about leaving the PCF.


The 1st, visits Georges Duhamel to submit his candidacy to the Thiers Foundation, his only possibility of getting a research position without doing two years of teaching. The 14th, meets Pierre Boulez during a visit to the Abbaye de Royaumont, where Boulez tells him that every composer has been influenced by a writer, and that for him it was Joyce.


Passes the agrégation in philosophy. The topic he drew for the Lecture component was “sexuality,” which had been proposed by Georges Canguilhem. He confides to Gilbert Humbert that he hasn’t been a communist for three months.


Becomes a tutor in psychology at the École Normale, where his classes on Monday evenings quickly become well attended. Attending the classes over the years were Paul Veyne, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Claude Passeron, Gérard Genette, and Maurice Pinguet.
Works as a psychologist in the electroencephalography [EEG] laboratory of Dr. Verdeaux and his wife, Jacqueline, whom he had known in Poitiers during the war, in Professor Jean Delay’s unit at Sainte-Anne Psychiatric Hospital.
As a Fellow at the Thiers Foundation, he begins his thesis on the post-Cartesians and the birth of psychology. Captivated by Malebranche and Maine de Biran. Spends time with Ignace Meyerson, director of the Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique.
Dr. Morichau-Beauchant, the first French member of the International Psychoanalytical Association (letter to Freud, December 3, 1910), author of the first article on psychoanalysis published in France (“The Affective Relation in the Cure of Psycho-neuroses,” Gazette des hôpitaux, November 14, 1911), friend of the Foucault family in Poitiers, gives Foucault his entire collection of early psychoanalysis journals.
Reading Heidegger. From now on, in the margins of pamphlets from the Communist Party cell in the École Normale, he begins to write notes, organized as plans for papers, on Heidegger and Husserl.


Practices as a psychologist in Professor Delay’s unit, where Henri Laborit is testing the first neuroleptic drug, marking the dawn of a psychiatric revolution.


Beginning of an intense relationship with the composer Jean Barraqué (1928–73). “Strange personality of this musician whom we didn’t hesitate to call the most important figure in contemporary music since Debussy … the most ecstatic freedom under the most severe control of the pen,” wrote André Hodeir (“La Musique occidentale post-webernienne,” Esprit, special issue, January 1960). “Adorable, ugly as sin, terribly spiritual, his knowledge of bad boys touched on the encyclopedic. I was completely disconcerted at feeling called by him to explore a world of which I yet knew nothing, a...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy
  3. Title page
  4. Copyright page
  5. Notes on the Editors and Contributors
  6. Abbreviations
  7. Introduction
  8. Part I: Landmarks
  9. Part II: Knowledge and Critique
  10. Part III: Power and Governmentality
  11. Part IV: Sexuality, Gender, and Race
  12. Part V: Ethics and Modernity
  13. Appendix
  14. Index
Citation styles for A Companion to Foucault

APA 6 Citation

[author missing]. (2013). A Companion to Foucault (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1002303/a-companion-to-foucault-pdf (Original work published 2013)

Chicago Citation

[author missing]. (2013) 2013. A Companion to Foucault. 1st ed. Wiley. https://www.perlego.com/book/1002303/a-companion-to-foucault-pdf.

Harvard Citation

[author missing] (2013) A Companion to Foucault. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1002303/a-companion-to-foucault-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

[author missing]. A Companion to Foucault. 1st ed. Wiley, 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.