Foucault For Beginners

Lydia Alix Fillingham: Foucault For Beginners

Oh, I’ve read Foucault. Not a lot, but I have. I used his idea of “reserve discourse” for a paper. Less directly, my mother used him as a lens for her thesis a few years ago (a critical analysis of “Sex And The City”), so long before I read him I was hearing about him.

But he is, I think we can all admit, difficult. I got this book as a way to introduce me to his theories-at-large, so I can go on to read his actual texts with some prior understanding, instead of having to run to this post-structuralist Ph.D I know that I’m constantly bothering with this sort of thing (e.g., “Help! What the hell does Derrida mean by this?”)

I know the arguments of simplicity and substitution. But as a primer—not a substitute—it’s fantastic. Accessible but not insulting to the intelligence. I’m not sure how helpful it’d be to someone with no foundation in philosophy/theory or the social sciences or post-structuralism/postmodernism in particular, but everything at every level needs to be worked up to anyway.

I particularly appreciate the unabashedly feminist lens it was written with (sly comments here and there, nothing detracting). My favorite part was not even about Foucault directly; it was an imaginary conversation between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre:

Beauvoir: Aren’t people constrained by the ideas presented to them? Aren’t you making things a little bit easier than they really are?
Sartre: Simone, how could you say that? You know I revere as we all do the great philosopher of social conditions, Karl Marx. But I can’t help thinking that however oppressed circumstances or other people may render us, we will still have some choices of action or inaction, and we must take full responsibility for those decisions.
Beauvoir: I’m not so sure. Take women. As “The Second Sex” (1949) we are brought up in a world defined by men, and we ourselves are defined by men. How free are we to break away from the definition of ourselves as secondary if we never encounter any other definition?
Sartre: Yes, dear.

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One response to “Foucault For Beginners

  1. I think the main idea with alot of Foucaults writing is about subjugated knowledge. Power or absolute authority doesn’t care about feminist rights, the insane , or gender identity. Although it is my understanding that Foucault is very interested in the things that main stream society usually sweep under the rug.

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