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MICHEL FOUCAULT QUOTES

French philosopher and social theorist (1926-1984)

Take the notion of tradition: it is intended to give a special temporal status to a group of phenomena that are both successive and identical (or at least similar); it makes it possible to rethink the dispersion of history in the form of the same; it allows a reduction of the difference proper to every beginning, in order to pursue without discontinuity the endless search for origin.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, The Archeology of Knowledge

Life itself was only futility, vain words, a squabble of cap and bells.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

I don't feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don't know what will be the end.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, interview, Oct. 25, 1982

Madness borrowed its face from the mask of the beast.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

Truth does not belong to the order of power, but shares an original affinity with freedom.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, History of Sexuality

The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Discipline and Punish

Torture is a certain method for the acquittal of robust villains and for the condemnation of innocent but feeble men.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, "Discipline and Punish", The Phenomenon of Torture: Readings and Commentary

The dream deceives; it leads to confusions; it is illusory. But it is not erroneous.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

There are more ideas on earth than intellectuals imagine. And these ideas are more active, stronger, more resistant, more passionate than "politicians" think. We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them. Ideas do not rule the world. But it is because the world has ideas (and because it constantly produces them) that it is not passively ruled by those who are its leaders or those who would like to teach it, once and for all, what it must think.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Corriere della sera, Nov. 1978

The necessity of reform mustn't be allowed to become a form of blackmail serving to limit, reduce, or halt the exercise of criticism. Under no circumstances should one pay attention to those who tell one: "Don't criticize, since you're not capable of carrying out a reform." That's ministerial cabinet talk. Critique doesn’t have to be the premise of a deduction that concludes, "this, then, is what needs to be done." It should be an instrument for those for who fight, those who resist and refuse what is.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, The Essential Foucault

Madness, in its wild, untamable words, proclaims its own meaning; in its chimeras, it utters its secret truth.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

Religious beliefs prepare a kind of landscape of images, an illusory milieu favorable to every hallucination and every delirium.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

There are moments in life where the question of knowing whether one might think otherwise than one thinks and perceive otherwise than one sees is indispensable if one is to continue to observe or reflect ... What is philosophy today ... if it does not consist in, instead of legitimizing what we already know, undertaking to know how and how far it might be possible to think otherwise?

MICHEL FOUCAULT, History of Sexuality

When man deploys the arbitrary nature of his madness, he confronts the dark necessity of the world; the animal that haunts his nightmares and his nights of privation is his own nature, which will lay bare hell's pitiless truth.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

Death left its old tragic heaven and became the lyrical core of man: his invisible truth, his visible secret.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, The Birth of the Clinic

Since the Fall, man had accepted labor as a penance and for its power to work redemption. It was not a law of nature which forced man to work, but the effect of a curse.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

Perhaps [transgression] is like a flash of lightning in the night which, from the beginning of time, gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies, which lights up the night from the inside, from top to bottom, yet owes to the dark the stark clarity of its manifestation, its harrowing and poised singularity.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice

Nature, keeping only useless secrets, had placed within reach and in sight of human beings the things it was necessary for them to know.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, History of Sexuality

Madness designates the equinox between the vanity of night's hallucinations and the non-being of light's judgments.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

We demand that sex speak the truth ... and we demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, The History of Sexuality

And more than once in the course of time, the same theme reappears: among the mystics of the fifteenth century, it has become the motif of the soul as a skiff, abandoned on the infinite sea of desires, in the sterile field of cares and ignorance, among the mirages of knowledge, amid the unreason of the world -- a craft at the mercy of the sea's great madness, unless it throws out a solid anchor, faith, or raises its spiritual sails so that the breath of God may bring it to port.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

You may have killed God beneath the weight of all that you have said; but don't imagine that, with all that you are saying, you will make a man that will live longer than he.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, The Archeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language

What desire can be contrary to nature, since it was given to man by nature itself?

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

Waiting is directed at nothing: any object that could gratify it would only efface it. Still, it is not confined to one place, it is not a resigned immobility; it has the endurance of a movement that will never end and would never promise itself the reward of rest; it does not wrap itself in interiority; all of it falls irremediably outside.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, "The Thought of the Outside", Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology

The law which ordains the use of torture is a law which says to men: "Resist pain; and if Nature has created in you an inextinguishable self-love, if she has given you an inalienable right of self-defense, I create in you a totally contrary affection, namely, an heroic self-hatred, and I command you to accuse yourselves, and to speak the truth between the laceration of your muscles and the dislocation of your bones."

MICHEL FOUCAULT, "Discipline and Punish", The Phenomenon of Torture: Readings and Commentary

Where there is power, there is resistance.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, The History of Sexuality

We must uncover our rituals for what they are: completely arbitrary things, tied to our bourgeois way of life; it is good -- and that is the real theater -- to transcend them in the manner of play, by means of games and irony; it is good to be dirty and bearded, to have long hair, to look like a girl when one is a boy (and vice versa); one must put "in play," show up, transform and reverse the systems which quietly order us about.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Partisan Review, Volume 38, 1971

Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, The History of Sexuality

Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Discipline & Punish

By power… I do not understand a general system of domination exercised by one element or one group over another, whose effects… traverse the entire body social… It seems to me that first what needs to be understood is the multiplicity of relations of force that are immanent to the domain wherein they are exercised, and that are constitutive of its organization; the game that through incessant struggle and confrontation transforms them, reinforces them, inverts them; the supports these relations of force find in each other, so as to form a chain or system, or, on the other hand, the gaps, the contradictions that isolate them from each other; in the end, the strategies in which they take effect, and whose general pattern or institutional crystallization is embodied in the mechanisms of the state, in the formulation of the law, in social hegemonies. The condition of possibility of power… should not be sought in the primary existence of a central point, in a unique space of sovereignty whence would radiate derivative and descendent forms; it is the moving base of relations of force that incessantly induce, by their inequality, states of power, but always local and unstable. Omnipresence of power: not at all because it regroups everything under its invincible unity, but because it is produced at every instant, at every point, or moreover in every relation between one point and another. Power is everywhere: not that it engulfs everything, but that it comes from everywhere.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, History of Sexuality


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