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  • Regimes of truth, disciplined bodies, secured populationsAn overview of Michel Foucault
  • Catherine Chaput (bio)

I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.

The Archaeology of Knowledge

Knowledge … is the process through which the subject finds himself modified by what he knows, or rather by the labor performed in order to know.

Remarks on Marx

In his essay, 'What is an Author' (1970; trans 1977), Michel Foucault posed what he rightly suggested was a 'slightly odd question' (113), especially for a theorist who, at the end of a life cut short by his AIDS-related death in June of 1984, had himself authored well over 700 titles (see Clark). Among his many reflections in this important essay, Foucault argues that the nineteenth century produced authors of a different order from previous writers and thinkers. He calls these new authors 'initiators of discourse practices', citing Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx as exemplars because they not only penned great books, but also, and more significantly, 'both established the endless possibility of discourse' (131). Discourse initiators distinguish themselves from novelists and other creative authors who start new genres (e.g. the initiation of the Gothic novel by Anne Radcliffe, Horace Walpole and others). Genre originators call analogous texts into being while authors such as Freud and Marx initiate both similar and different texts, creating 'a space for the introduction of elements other than their own, which, nevertheless, remain within the field of discourse they initiated' (132). Regardless of one's affiliation with psychoanalytic or Marxist criticism, it is nearly impossible to produce a theoretically engaged argument that bears no allegiance to the fields opened up by these two thinkers. I do not think it hyperbolic to suggest that Michel Foucault also be counted among the discourse initiators of the twentieth century. His oeuvre of literally hundreds of texts constructs a rich constellation of theoretical insights that have framed responses, uses and negations that owe their debt to this unique thinker. [End Page 91]

While Foucault, who studied and taught psychiatry and philosophy, might obviously be indebted to Freud, his debts to Marx and Marxism represent under-developed but important themes in his work, especially for sf scholars interested in the economic and material reconstructions of emerging and imagined worlds. As a student of Louis Althusser and a short-term member of the Communist party, Foucault's student activism, his efforts in prison advocacy and his participation in various decolonising movements, particularly the Algerian efforts to oust French occupation, should not be surprising. However, like many of his contemporaries – including his classmate Jean-Paul Sartre – Foucault became disillusioned with the communist party in particular and organised politics more generally. As part of this burgeoning poststructuralist moment, Foucault refused the notion of a self-identical subjectivity. That is to say, he believed that no one person maintained a coherent aspect of him- or herself throughout the varied activities of his or her life. As he says, 'you do not have toward yourself the same kind of relationships when you constitute yourself as a political subject who goes and votes or speaks up in a meeting, and when you try to fulfill your desires in a sexual relationship' (The Final Foucault 10). Long before we become cyborgs enmeshed in a technoscience that complicates, multiplies and rescripts our identities, we become humanised through varied discursive mechanisms, made into subjects who must wrestle with many of the same questions that sf studies explore: the role of science within social relations; the politics, economics and ethics of community formations; and, ultimately, the notion and production of being.

We can divide Foucoult's work according to his varied theoretical productions, which shift from an early period predominantly interested in what he calls the archaeology of discourse (tracking knowledge production through institutional formations) to a later period that privileges the genealogy of power/ knowledge relations (tracking power through the regulation of the body). The early work focuses on knowledge production and the ways that discourse formations discipline a way of thinking, and thus a way of engaging others...


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