June 24, 2004

Forget Foucault

If you're interested in this type of thing, here's a vigorous denunciation of Michel Foucault, the evil he hath wrought, and on the wimmyn and myn who love hym. On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his death. When I was in college, he seemed to be everyone's hero. No idea if that's still the case, but if it is, the author of this article would like to put a stop to it right now. A lot of it seems about right to me, though I doubt it's true that all the inadequacy of our treatment of people with mental disorders and in mental institutions is his fault. He appears to have been one and to have belonged in one himself, however.

Posted by Dr. Frank at June 24, 2004 03:31 PM | TrackBack

I really wanted to read that article but it appears to be subscription only :-(

Posted by: Lynn at June 24, 2004 05:17 PM

Lynn, is that just a clever way of trying to accuse me of having a subscription to the New Statesman? ;-)

Seriously, though, I certainly don't have a subscription to the NS. I found the article through a google news alert, and I loaded the article by clicking on the url in the alert email. It's the same url as the one I posted, but I guess, by error or not (?), the subscriber filter doesn't screen you out if you get there through a GNA? Somehow? What do you say, Dave?

Posted by: Dr. Frank at June 24, 2004 05:37 PM

It didn't ask me for a log in, however there is a website that gives you existing logins to various subscription sites, like the NY Times, for example. It's called Bug Me Not.


Posted by: jodi at June 24, 2004 05:47 PM

Frank, just testing you is all! I still can't access the article, no matter.

Posted by: Lynn at June 24, 2004 06:15 PM

it worked for me,i only skimmed it admittedly.
nonetheless it sounds like a lot of rhetoric
i've heard from one person or another of the years. I can't say I like treatment of mental
illness in this country in any way,shape or from though. He probably has some points...and if I
read more books that deal with reality I would
probably know what they are too.

Posted by: just me at June 24, 2004 06:29 PM

I'm honored that you'd ask for aid, but I have to say it works for me, too. Google does have deals with some subscription- (or at least registration-) only sites that allows them to prefix a URL with their name to let clickers get through, but it doesn't look like this one's doing that.

Lynn, can you get through if you click the link from a Google News result?

Alternately, if you get asked, bugmenot suggests as both username and password:

Posted by: dave bug at June 25, 2004 12:23 AM

Ok, I'm stumped, as it now appears I'm being asked to subscribe before I can read the article. Does it somehow limit the number of times you can visit? I cleared out my cookies and still...this deserves further investigation, when I'm back at work, getting paid to do such things.

Posted by: Dave Bug at June 25, 2004 12:34 AM

Thanks Dave, your link worked for me. Now I'm trying to stop imagining how much worse my job would be if people had actually bought into Foucault's rhetoric!

Posted by: Lynn at June 25, 2004 12:47 AM

The Weakerthans have a song entitled "Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)". Can anyone [who's heard the song] tell me why he's mentioned in that context?

Posted by: Tyler at June 25, 2004 08:24 AM

I'm a historian studying the history of mental illness, and I have to tell you that Foucault was the best thing to ever happen to historians like myself. Dozens of scholars and hundreds of thousands of dollars are at work every year to just prove that Foucault was just as crazy as those he wrote about. Were it not for Foucault's (bizarre) theories on madness, I'd be jobless...

Posted by: Mat in Canada at June 25, 2004 12:40 PM


I live in Winnipeg (home to the Weakerthans) and could explain it to you but maybe you should listen to the song first.

Posted by: Lynn at June 25, 2004 11:51 PM

[Reader for quite some time; first-time commenter. Hi!]

Had to confirm the status of Foucault-as-hero in college today. [Or at least within the UC system.] I just took a Literature Theory class last term, and he dominated a good quarter of the reader. One of the assignments was to read a selection from "Discipline and Punishment" and then find a way to relate the Panopticon to modern creative writing.

Then our professor attempted to compare Foucault to Wittgenstein and I nearly had a heart attack.

Posted by: sasha at June 26, 2004 04:47 AM

man. if had a penny for every time some arrogant undergrad name dropped foucault in a class discussion in a painfully hollow fashion, i could buy and overpriced subway sandwich in germany (including the exchange rate)! frank, you once warned me about the "foucault trap" that so many precocious undergrads fall into. i never realised it was so true until i started taking more german classes. at least saussure predicted old hittite.

Posted by: kendra at June 26, 2004 08:43 AM


The song itself doesn't answer the question I was asking. However, don't bother answering the question; I don't have time for highfalutin rhetoric from complete strangers, as with your played-out example: "I could explain it to you but maybe you should [help yourself]". The fact that you answered a question I was asking (that dealt specifically with the issue of the subject's context in the song) with the implication that I hadn't even heard it, myself, was tellingly ignorant of you.

The fact that you live in Winnipeg and have probably occasioned an encounter or two with John K. Samson himself(!) has nothing to do with Antarctica, a figure of controversy in the field of mental health, or why he would be having dinner in Paris with a dogsledder (of whom is made a dubious comparison to Ernest Shackleton). Nice to know, but largely irrelevant (i.e. I live in Austin (home to... bands)).

So, like I said, don't bother; frankly, I probably wouldn't respect your answer, at this point. So, I'll continue to enjoy the song's beautiful instrumentation and lyrics, and perhaps I'll look further into it should the topic ever become THAT important to me. So much for a friendly response to an honest question.

p.s. Sorry if I've offended any of the other readers. I usually try and avoid creating drama (especially in other people's forums, moreover with regulars who appear to be associated with a particular forum's "in-crowd" - apologies to the Good Doctor, whom I do not know personally), but I cannot be bothered with condescension.

Posted by: Tyler at June 27, 2004 08:10 AM

I don't disagree with the conclusion that Foucault is vastly overrated, but the New Statesman article is terrible. It shows no understanding whatsoever of what Foucault was trying to do.

All the article does is present tendentious oversimplifications of Foucault's ideas and then insinuate that they are obviously false.

I don't much care for Foucault either. But this is not the way to criticize him.

Posted by: philosophy prof at June 28, 2004 02:26 PM

Hey,I'm just saying you have to draw a line

Posted by: JUST ME at July 1, 2004 12:32 AM

Nothing like a bit of Foucault bashing eh... Seems to me Foucault was responding to shortfalls in Marxism, making suggestions about how else we might think about language, knowledge, truth etc. Of course it's easy to criticize Foucault, as it is to be critical of anyone or anything, the Foucault industry extends to journalists like peter west. Incidentally, if that piece of 'journalism' (note the scare marks) was submitted to any degree course, it should be failed for being childish and rhetorical.

Posted by: lover at July 15, 2004 06:42 PM

i'm a bit late to the discussion i guess, but the following paragraph is quite possibly the stupidest thing i've read since stanley fish's Is There A Text In This Class? i'd hardly consider myself a "foucault dependant," but i would never dismiss the man's work so uncritically as the (neoconservative, i imagine) author of the article does. anyway, the passage:

"Michel Foucault was not just wrong; he erased any possibility for proving himself to be right. He asserted that "the author" did not exist, that he or she is condemned to produce a work defined by customs of literature, and created through a language imposed on the mind from without. How can we believe an author who tells us the author does not exist, who writes in an objective prose that objectivity does not exist, this historian who tells us that we cannot write history? His canon is self-invalidating."

Posted by: r.mutt at July 21, 2004 12:44 AM