Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Foucault's meteoric rise to infamy and academic success was astonishing for a gay man and one who most deliberately kept beyond the confines expected of a scholar. A lively sense of style - he was famous for his kimono, leather jacket, corduroy suit, turtle necks, green cape. He caused scandal when he appointed his lover, Daniel Defert as his assistant in the University setting. He conceived of a new way of perceiving theory through action: an 'ontology of the present'. Foucault moved between institutions and turned down job offers in equal numbers according to Eribon (1991). He spent time in Tunisia, Iran, Poland and in the GIP, which he ended up running from his apartment, but when the prisoners' developed their own representative organisation, it disbanded - just as, I suspect, was Foucault's intention - for the convicts to find their own voice. The research (surveys, etc.) Foucault instituted to ascertain the true nature of prison life was foundational in initiating Foucault's belief in the 'strategic importance of information' (Foucault's New Domains, Mike Gane & Terry Johnson), which in turn led to him supporting the Libération newspaper. In learning about Iranian political life, Foucault decreed that modernity and secular ways were considered corrupt and archaic by the people. He stated that wearing the veil had become a strong political gesture. Later with the Iranian Revolution, his activist friend, Ahmed Salamatian, had to flee the country and it is not recorded whether Foucault was reconsidering his position on the Iranian government.
His trip to Poland to support the popular cause in September 1982 was 'an attempt to establish information centres, and liaisons between intellectuals and unions.' (Foucault's New Domains, Mike Gane & Terry Johnson). This period stimulated his thinking over the 'art of government' and whether he ought to write something about 'governing in a different way' (Eribon 1991: 306). Practical concerns (whether France was being governed smartly) were linked to his intellectual project on governmentality: 'On governmentality' (1978, 1979).
Moving forward, his concerns of governing shifted from institutional perspectives inwardly to the more personal - the governing of oneself. These concepts of defining and confining a life, a lived experience, through one's own actions would play out through his drug taking and sexual exploits. He carved for himself a life and a death from his own folly (some would say), with his demise being attributed to an AIDS-related complication.