the political life of michel foucault

In his political work, by contrast, Foucault tried a different tactic. As one of his biographers sums it up, “The goal of Foucault’s political activity was the empowering of others by giving, for instance, prisoners the voice they were denied. His own voice tended therefore to fade, or to be merged into a collective discourse.” Rather than intervene immediately in a situation affecting others, and propose reforms in institutions, or improvements in material conditions, on their behalf, Foucault typically used his intellectual skills and his prestigious social location to create specific opportunities for the voices of the disempowered to be heard, recorded, published, and circulated. Except in the case of political struggles affecting the university system, in which he was both a knowledgeable and an interested participant,88 Foucault tended to see his political role as [pg 53] a facilitator rather than a leader: he consistently refused to speak for others, working instead to create conditions in which others could speak for themselves, and his driving ethical ambition expressed itself in his resistance to any attempt to subordinate the political efforts of particular groups to universalizing or generalizable standards of ethical value. He was wary of formulating specific proposals or programs, because he believed such programs nearly always amount to a power grab; they lead to “abuse or political domination from a bloc” (he claimed instead that political experimentation “without a program can be very useful and very original and creative, if it does not mean without proper reflection about what is going on, or without very careful attention to what’s possible”).89 Foucault strongly resisted any attempt to construct abstract ideals against which political change would have to be measured or to prescribe ethical criteria for governing the political actions of others. “[I]f I don’t ever say what must be done, it isn’t because I don’t believe that there’s nothing to be done” Foucault insisted; “on the contrary, it is because I think that there are a thousand things to do, to invent, to forge, on the part of those who, recognizing the relations of power in which they’re implicated, have decided to resist or escape them.”90 Foucault saw political collaboration itself as a matter for evolving negotiation among the political collaborators, whose collective identity and commonality of interests had to be constructed rather than presumed.91

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┬áThe document will open with the statement that, “Escape is the oldest story of freedom. It is also the simplest.” But, rather than immediately explaining the statement, it will pair freedom with revolution. The general argument is that escape as a political concept is inextricably tied to the two general ideas of freedom and revolution. What follows is a conception of escape that does not ‘get away from it all,’ but dynamically constitutes a ‘tactical distance’ for the radical transformation of society. Continue reading “escape”