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Michel Foucault was a French twentieth century philosopher and historian
who spent his career forensically criticizing the power
of the modern bourgeois capitalist state including its
police, law courts, prisons, doctors and psychiatrists.
his goal was to work at nothing less
than how power worked and then to change it in the direction
a marxist anarchist utopia. Though he spent most of his life and libraries in
seminar rooms
he was a committedly revolutionary figure. He met with enormous popularity
in elite Parisien intellectual circles. Jean Paul Sartre admire him deeply,
and he still maintains a wide following among young people studying at university
in a prosperous corners of the world. His background
which he was extremely reluctant ever to talk about and trying to prevent
journalists from investigating at all costs
was very privileged. Both his parents inordinately rich
coming from a long line of successful surgeons in Poitier in west central France.
His father, Dr. Paul Foucault, came to represent
all that Michel would hate about bourgeois France.
Michel had a standard upper class education.
He went to a lead Jasuit institutions. He was an altar boy
and his parents hoped he would become a doctor. But Michelle wasn't quite like other boys
he started self-harming and thinking constantly of suicide.
At University, he decorated his bedroom with images of torture by Goya
When he was 22, he tried to commit suicide and was forced by his father
against his will
to see France's most famous psychiatrist Jean Delay at the Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris.
The doctor wisely diagnose that a lot of Michelle's the stress
came from having to keep his homosexuality and in particular
his interest in extreme sado masochism away from censorious society.
Gradually, Foucault entered the underground gay scene in France
fell in love with a drug dealer and then took up a transvestite
For long periods in his twenties he went to live abroad in Sweden, Poland and Germany,
where he felt his sexuality would be less constrained.
All the while Foucault was progressing up French academic ladder. The seismic event to his intellectual life
came in the summer of 1953 when Foucault was 27
and on holiday with the lover in Italy. There he came across Nietzsche' s book
"Untimely Meditations" which contains an essay called
"On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life."
In the essay Nietzsche argued that academics have poisoned our sense of how history
should be read and talked.
They made it seem as if one should read history in some sort of a disinterested way
in order to learn how it all was in the past.
But nietzsche rejected this with
sarcastic fury
There was no point learning about the past for its own sake.
the only reason to read and study history is to dig out from the past
ideas, concepts and examples which can help us to lead
a better life in our own times. This essay liberated Foucault intellectually
as nothing had till then. Immediately he changed the direction of his work
and decided to become a particular kind of philosophical historian
someone who could look back into the past to help to sort out the
urgent issues of his own time. Eight years later
he was ready to publish what's recognized as his first masterpiece
Madness and Civilization
The standard view is that we now treat people with mental illness in so much more humane way
than we ever did in the past. After all, we put them in hospitals, give them drugs,
and get them looked after by people with PHD's
But this was exactly the attitude that Foucault wishing to demolish in Madness and Civilization.
In the book he argued that things way back in the Renaissance
were actually far better for the mad than they subsequently became.
In the Renaissance, the mad were felt to be different
rather than crazy. They were thought to possess a kind of wisdom
because they demonstrated the limits of reason.
They were revered in many circles
and were allowed to wander freely.
Then as Foucault's historical researches showed him,
in the mid 17th century, a new attitude was born that relentlessly medicalize and
institutionalized mentally ill people. No longer were them allowed to live alongside
the so-called sane.
They were taken away from their families and locked up in asylums and seen as people
one should try to cure
rather than tolerate for just being different.
You can recognize a very similar, underlying philosophy
in Foucault' s next great book: The Birth of The Clinic.
His target here was madicine more broadly.
He systematically attacked the view that medicine had become more humane with time.
He conceded that of course we have better drugs and treatments now
but he believed that in the 18th century the professional doctor was born
and that he was a sinister figure who would look at the patient always with
-what Foucault called- the medical gaze,
denoting a dehumanizing attitude
that looked the patient just as a set of organs, not a person.
One was under the medical gaze merely a malfunctioning
kidney or liver, not a person to be considered as a whole entity.
Next in Foucault's oeuvre came: "Discipline and Punish"
here Foucault did his standard thing on state punishment.
Again, the normal view is that the prison and punishing systems of the modern world
are so much more humane than they were in the days when people just used to be
hung in public squares. Not so argued Foucault.
The problem, he said, is the power now looks kind
but isn't; whereas in the past, it clearly wasn't kind
and therefore could encourage open rebellion in protest.
Foucault noted that in the past an execution, a convict's body,
could become the focus of sympathy and admiration. And the executioner,
rather than the convict, could become the locus of shame.
Also, public executions often led to riots in support of the prisoner.
But with the invention of the modern prison system everything happened in
private behind locked gates.
One could no longer see and therefore resist state power.
That's what made the modern system of punishment so barbaric
and properly primitive in Foucault's eyes.
Foucault' s last work was the multi-volume,
History of Sexuality.
The maneuvers he performed in relation to sex
are again very familiar. Foucault rebelled against the view
that we're all now deeply libarated and at ease with sex.
He argued that since the 18th century we have relentlessly
medicalized sex, handing it over to professional sex researchers and scientists.
We live in an age what Foucault called "Scientia Sexualis,"
Science of Sexuality. But Foucault looked back with considerable nostalgia
to the cultures of Rome, China and Japan,
where he detected the rule what he called an "Ars Erotica"
Erotic Art
with the whole focus was on how to increase the pleasure of sex
rather than merely understand and label it.
Once again, modernity was blamed for pretending the "in progress" when there was in fact
just the loss of spontaneity and imagination.
Foucault wrote the last volume of this work while dying of
AIDS that he had contracted in the San Francisco gay bar.
He died in 1984, age 58.
Foucault's lasting contributions is the
way we look at history.
There are lots of things in the modern world that we constantly being told
are fantastic and were apparently very bad in the past. For example,
education, or the media, or our communication systems.
Foucault encourages us to breakaway from optimistic smugness
about now and to go back and see in history many ways of doing things
which would have superior. Foucault wasn't trying to get us to be
nostalgic. He wanted us to pick up some lessons way back
in order to improve how we live now. Academic historians
have tended to hate Foucault's work.
They think it inaccurate and keep pointing out things
they havn't quite understood in some document or other.
But Foucault didn't care for total historical accuracy.
History for him was just a storehouse of good ideas,
and he wanted to raid it rather than keep it pristine and untouched.
We should use Foucault as an inspiration to look at the dominant ideas and
institutions of our times
and to question them by looking at their histories and evolutions.
Foucault did something remarkable. He made history life-enhancing
and philosophically rich again. He can be an inspiring figure
for our own projects.


【The School of Life】哲學家:米歇爾·傅柯 (PHILOSOPHY - Michel Foucault)

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VoiceTube 發佈於 2016 年 6 月 28 日    Chuchun Lai 翻譯    Mandy Lin 審核
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