In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Toward an Imageless Political Education
  • Claire Fontaine (bio)
    Translated by António de Ridder-Vignone and Cory Browning

In a facsimile edition of Documenti della rivolta universitaria, republished by Laterza in 2008, one can read a text signed by the organizing committee of the faculty of letters, law, and magisterium of Turin, dated January 1968, titled “Didactics and Repression” [Didattica e repressione]. In this text, where one cannot help recognizing a certain sensibility proper to the times, several things are stated: the university is a hierarchical machine deafly reproducing society’s class relations; its teachers teach nothing, and their speeches and publications only exist in order to accumulate salaries and honorific titles; the real work of teaching is done by assistants and other temporary workers; and students, as an anonymous mass to be disciplined, serve as a solemn audience to the ritual of this abuse of power.

The university is described as a holy place where one must observe a code of submissive behavior prescribed by an implicit liturgy, as illustrated by the following anecdote: “At the beginning of each year, an anatomy professor requires a round of applause for himself, then he responds just about like this: ‘Thank you for the applause, which I deserve, by the way, for in honoring me, you are honoring Science” [Movimento studentesco 263].1


If a legacy of ’68 exists, one could describe it as an exhortation to the systematic suspicion of the legitimacy of any sort of power. Before this period, for example, the position of the professor, founded as it was on the possession of disinterested knowledge, could seem wholly legitimate, while in reality it was the source of a disquieting metonymy. If the body of the professor incarnates Science, then, according to the Institution, in criticizing this specific incarnation, we are trampling the heritage of Humanity.

Here is the root of the violence that the students experience: it is impossible to criticize power without disqualifying the knowledge of the man who exercises it, because that knowledge and power are united in the single body of the oppressive teacher.

In his final course at the Collège de France, Michel Foucault, who never ceased analyzing the relations between subjects, government, and truth, called upon the public to practice anarchaeology, that is, to shake up the familiarities, the habits acquired in conditions of power disparity that end up stabilizing and constituting an acceptable day-to-day routine.2 In this same course Foucault also spoke of testimony through life, or “bearing [End Page 7] witness by one’s life” [Courage of Truth 185], and he cited it as being one of the fundamental aspects of nineteenth-century militancy.

Testimony through life intervenes where there is knowledge without power, or to be more precise, knowledge against a power. This is a way of asserting an ethical element, of making the truth emerge through scandal, using the objective impossibility of a dialogue, not by being subjected to it, but by turning it around, in its non-articulable consistency, against the enemy. In this course, Foucault is working on a specific modality of free speech, parrhēsia, in which the weakest person always uses the truth as a weapon against the strongest, at his own peril. Parrhēsia would thus be the moment when the pronouncement of a discourse in particular circumstances could give rise to a transformation of power relations by translating into words the ethos of an individual or a collectivity. For Foucault, the “mode of veridiction” of the teacher is the tekhnē, while that of the parrhesiast [parrhēsiastēs] is the ethos. Between what the parrhesiast does and what he says there must be an accord, which is not true of the teacher.

Between the instituted subjectivity of the professor and the constituent subjectivity of the students, the conflict is both ethical and political. Coming to the university in order to change themselves, students find that for five years they have to pay the price of being just what they are, that is, beings engaged in a process of transformation, who are seeking not to coincide with what they already are, and who are trying to understand what learning means...