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New Foucault Publications January 8, 2011

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The usual suspects have not posted it yet, so I’d best let everyone know that the next set of Foucault’s lectures is imminent, and it’ll look something like this:

It’ll be about the will to knowledge, which is obviously the title to the first volume of his History of Sexuality. But it was delivered in the first couple months of 1971, so you’d expect more Archeology of Knowledge  type insights. The course summary (which has been available for some time) does appear fairly theoretical, albeit with a concrete focus on Nietzsche and Aristotle. At the same time, the title is not so misleading: Foucault’s thought was focused on penal forms of knowledge from at least this period. As it is, if the course anything like the lectures he delivered in 1973 (and rumour has it they do resemble each other at important points), it’ll be some of the most insightful work on law we have yet seen.

In other news, Amazon is recommending I buy a book called Madness: the Invention of an Idea. However, this is just a re-issue of Mental Illness and Psychology, the revised version of his earliest work, Mental Illness and Personality, which has still never been translated. Foucault all but disowned it. The translated work, though, acts as a good run up to his great work (still to my mind one of the best three) Madness and Unreason, just as Portrait of an Artist is a good run up to Ulysses.

The Critique of Institutions September 18, 2010

Posted by Andy in Foucault, pedagogics, philosophy.
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The popular, textbook version of Kant’s ethical thought often goes as follows: morality is doing one’s duty, and doing one’s duty amounts to following good rules of behaviour. Good moral rules are not the same as good prudent rules in that they are not slave to some other function, they are good in themselves. Good rules are also good for everyone. So to solve a moral problem, you have to make up a good rule, see if it can be universalised and retain its logic, and then follow it. (more…)

My Thesis online November 10, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, theology.

I’ve recently discovered that the University of Nottingham have finally uploaded my PhD thesis “The Holy Fools: A Theological Enquiry” so that everyone can take a look. In the final phases of writing, I was tempted into discerning the various reasons I had for writing this stuff.

The boring biographical reason is that immediately before finishing my MA thesis on Augustine and Signs, I had ruled out the idea of taking a PhD because I didn’t have any big idea. The morning after making this decision, I woke up with an idea.

It turned out, however, that the idea was pretty crap. I had read Dostoevksy’s novels and Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation, and wondered how the Christian holy fool tradition would face up to the Foucauldian critique, which I still saw epistemologically, as basically interpreting nonsense (itself conceived in a Wittgensteinian framework).

It is probably impossible to deny, however, that I was attracted to all this because of my charismatic background (to which I said farewell theologically in a contribution to this book), and this was brought home to me when I heard someone play the DC talk song “Jesus Freaks”.

So if anyone is going to be bothered to read my thesis, I would suggest the following soundtrack:

  • DC Talk, Jesus Freak
  • REM, Saturn Rising
  • Joan Osbourne, Crazy Baby
  • U2, Staring at the sun
  • Tom McCrae, Human Remains
  • The Divine Comedy, Your Daddy’s Car
  • The Blue Nile, Family Life
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (among others), God is in the House
  • Mew, Comforting Sounds
  • Joni Mitchell, Blue
  • Bonnie Prince Billy, I see a darkness
  • Jeff Buckley, Lilac Wine

I’d like to point out that I’m not saying any of these are good songs – the first should convince us of that – but they may have guided my thought for good or ill in the course of writing.

We could go on and mention films (Fight Club, Wedding Crashers, etc.), but that could go on for ever. I think the novels that could accompany the thesis are more enlightening, and they would perhaps include:

  • Dostoevsky, Demons, Brothers Karamazov, the Idiot (obviously)
  • Flaubert, The Temptations of Saint Anthony
  • Iris Murdoch, Under the Net
  • Kafka, The Trial.

But I would be much more willing to stand by the quality of these! Curiously, I barely referred to them in the thesis, for which I was bizarrely criticised in my defence. Milbank wanted more Dostoevsky. But then, I think that’s because he was reading Rowan at the time…

Summer of Foucault September 2, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault.
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This summer has been a great summer for Foucault Studies. Personally, I started it off with an application to the Norwegian research council for a post-doc on Foucault and Theology: yup, I’m going for the strikingly obvious.

On the 25th June, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of his death, which is being marked by books, conferences, etc. There’s also a conference coming up in Lund on The politics of life which I’m really frustrated to miss.

And then, just to make us really happy, Berkeley library have published as mp3 files most of the Collège de France lectures that are also available in book form! All that scouring the net is now over: they’re here. And they’re mostly of great quality too. Even if your spoken French is as rusty as mine, it only takes a couple lectures of getting used to the voice and style and you can really start taking the lectures in. This includes the theologically relevant governmentality lectures on Security, Territory and Population, and the unique economic analyses, Birth of Biopolitics. There are also the lectures I summarised earlier this year, The Courage of Truth.

There are also some lectures there in English (including those previously published as Fearless Speech), so lack of French doesn’t hinder your enjoyment.

Update: I forgot to mention that French mag Le Point published in Jule one of the unpublished interviews with Foucault with the bold title “Foucault was not revolutionary”. Not really unpublished this time (they did this in 2004 too): it was Roger-Pol Droit that did some interviews in 1975 and has now published them as a book in French called “Interviews“. My thanks to Morthen Sørlie for keeping me on my toes in this respect!


Foucault’s 1984 course summary June 18, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, Le Courage de la Vérité.
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I’ve now made a pdf version of my summaries of Foucault’s 1984 lectures, Le Courage de la Vérité, and included my response. Hope this comes in useful if anyone’s working on this stuff. You could also just click on the right category, and then you’ll get to see the comments too.

Answering to Foucault June 18, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, Le Courage de la Vérité.
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When I started reading the 1984 lectures, I was hoping that I’d be able to provide a different interpretation to that offered by the likes of McGushin and Bernauer, because their take seemed so unFoucauldian. As my notes have perhaps indicated, I believe these lectures are atypical Foucault in a range of ways that I’m not going into. The point is that some (but not all) of the arguments that made me uncomfortable did originate with Foucault and not his interpreters. So I feel obliged to give an answer to them, because I have taken these issues seriously. So in what follows, I will give my answer to Foucault. (more…)

Christian Philosophy of Education April 8, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, pedagogics.
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Whilst writing about Negative Theology and Foucault’s take on asceticism, I’m currently doing a teacher training course, and whilst reading up on this, I’ve come across a curiosity and a problem. (more…)

Final Lecture: the fear of obedience March 30, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, Le Courage de la Vérité.
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Foucault’s final lecture (whose 25th anniversary was on Saturday: I celebrated by getting a cold) makes the move from Cynic sovereignty to Christian obedience. He marks out the clear differences between Christian and Cynic parrhesia, and then goes through the uses of the word in the Old Testament (LXX), the New Testament, and the church fathers and mothers. His conclusion is that it is basically in cenobitic, or at least with institutional monasticism that pastoral power has its main roots, but that mystical Christian experience – which he associates with intimacy and freedom before God – will always have the potential to resist the more sinister ascetic pole of Christianity. (more…)

Lecture 8: spiritual combat March 27, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, Le Courage de la Vérité.
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The penultimate lecture of the 21st March sets out to conclude Foucault’s study of Cynic philosophy so that he may move on to early Christianity in the final lecture. Once again, he is ill at the point, and warns that he may not be able to complete. There is no sign that this lecture was any shorter than the others though. It is certainly packed full of insight: he founds the philosophical life and later asceticism on the notion of the sovereign self militantly exercising its athletic reason to change the world. He argues that the ascesis of enduring insults, celibacy and separation from the world are all logical outcomes of the ethical thought of the classical world. Cynics are at the centre of occidental ethics by their installation of love in the relation between insulter and victim. Their disgrace is part of their pedagogical task of teaching the world the difference between happiness and unhappiness. That is their political program. (more…)

Lecture 7: the Other life March 25, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, Le Courage de la Vérité.
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The seventh lecture, of the 14th March (I hope to catch up with myself and pretentiously post the final lecture on its 25th anniversary) takes us from the Cynic transformation of the philosophical understandings of the true life up to a mode of being that is beginning to resemble early Christian asceticism on a great number of points. That is where my interest in Foucault started, and so the points are more obvious (and perhaps contrived) to me, but he outlines these resemblances and transformations in the final lecture so everyone’s clear about it. So we start the lecture with a philosophical account of Cynicism and end it with an examination of Cynic humiliation/humility. (more…)