Foucault Panopticon Essay

Three other factors were of much more positive significance for the young Foucault.

First, there was the French tradition of history and philosophy of science, particularly as represented by Georges Canguilhem, a powerful figure in the French University establishment, whose work in the history and philosophy of biology provided a model for much of Foucault’s work in the history of the human sciences.

In a quite different vein, Foucault was enthralled by French avant-garde literature, especially the writings of Georges Bataille and Maurice Blanchot, where he found the experiential concreteness of existential phenomenology without what he came to see as dubious philosophical assumptions about subjectivity.

Of particular interest was this literature’s evocation of “limit-experiences”, which push us to extremes where conventional categories of intelligibility begin to break down.

This philosophical milieu provided materials for the critique of subjectivity and the corresponding “archaeological” and “genealogical” methods of writing history that inform Foucault’s projects of historical critique, to which we now turn.

Since its beginnings with Socrates, philosophy has typically involved the project of questioning the accepted knowledge of the day.It is not surprising that Foucault’s earliest works (his long “Introduction” to Jacqueline Verdeaux’ French translation of , a short book on mental illness) were written in the grip of, respectively, existentialism and Marxism. Jean-Paul Sartre, working outside the University system, had no personal influence on Foucault.But, as the French master-thinker of the previous generation, he is always in the background.Personally and politically, he rejected Sartre’s role as what Foucault called a “universal intellectual”, judging society by appeals to universal moral principles, such as the inviolability of individual freedom.There is, however, more than a hint of protesting too much in Foucault’s rejection of Sartre, and the question of the relation of their work remains a fertile one.One of the revolutionary ideas put forward by Foucault is the various measures of surveillance, to ensure discipline in a society.Such a consented voyeurism always has a panopticon structure.Like Sartre, Foucault began from a relentless hatred of bourgeois society and culture and with a spontaneous sympathy for marginal groups such as the mad, homosexuals, and prisoners.They both also had strong interests in literature and psychology as well as philosophy, and both, after an early relative lack of political interest, became committed activists.He was a founder of the and often protested on behalf of marginalized groups.He frequently lectured outside France, particularly in the United States, and in 1983 had agreed to teach annually at the University of California at Berkeley.

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