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Michel Foucault Quotes

  • The appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and “psychic hermaphroditism” made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of “perversity”; but it also made possible the formation of a “reverse” discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or “naturality” be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified. — The History of Sexuality: An Introduction
  • I don’t write a book so that it will be the final word; I write a book so that other books are possible, not necessarily written by me.
  • The work of an intellectual is not to mould the political will of others; it is, through the analyses that he does in his own field, to re-examine evidence and assumptions, to shake up habitual ways of working and thinking, to dissipate conventional familiarities, to re-evaluate rules and institutions and to participate in the formation of a political will (where he has his role as citizen to play).
  • You may have killed God beneath the weight of all that you have said; but don’t imagine that, with all that you are saying, you will make a man that will live longer than he. — The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language
  • Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable.
  • The ‘Enlightenment’, which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines. — Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
  • We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them.
  • The intellectual was rejected and persecuted at the precise moment when the facts became incontrovertible, when it was forbidden to say that the emperor had no clothes.
  • …it’s my hypothesis that the individual is not a pre-given entity which is seized on by the exercise of power. The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.
  • Calling sex by its name thereafter [the 17th c.] became more difficult and more costly. As if in order to gain mastery of it in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words that rendered it too visibly present.
  • A critique does not consist in saying that things aren’t good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based… To do critcism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.
  • There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations — Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
  • The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them. — The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature
  • The imaginary is not formed in opposition to reality as its denial or compensation; it grows among signs, from book to book, in the interstice of repetitions and commentaries; it is born and takes shape in the interval between books. It is the phenomena of the library.
  • Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same. More than one person, doubtless like me, writes in order to have no face.
  • I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.
  • People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does. —Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason
  • Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting. — The Foucault Reader
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