Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

4.05 (166 ratings by Goodreads)
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At the time of his death in 1984, at the age of 58, Michel Foucault was widely regarded as one of the most powerful minds of the 20th century. Hailed by distinguished historians and lionized on his frequent visits to America, he continues to provoke lively debate. The nature and merits of his accomplishments remain tangled in controversy. Rejecting traditional liberal and Marxist "dreams of solidarity", Foucault became the very model of the modern intellectual, replacing Sartre as the figure of the eminent Parisian and cosmopolitan master thinker. Foucault himself discouraged biographical questions, claiming that he was "not at all interesting". Didier Eribon's account contests that assertion. Well acquainted with Foucault before his death, Eribon has drawn from the eyewitness accounts of Foucault's closest friends and associates from all phases of his life - his mother, his schoolteachers, his classmates, his friends and enemies in academic life, and his celebrated companions in political activism, including Jean Genet, Simone Signoret, and Yves Montand. Eribon has methodically retraced the footsteps of his peripatetic subject, from France to Sweden to Poland to Germany to Tunisia to Brazil to Japan to the United States. Who was this man, Michel Foucault? In the late 1950s Foucault emerged as a budding young cultural attache, friendly with Gaullist diplomats. By the mid-1960s he appeared as one of the avatars of structuralism, positioning himself as a new star in the fashionable world of French thought. A few months after the May 1968 student revolt, with Gaullism apparently shaken, he emerged as an ultra-leftist and a fellow traveller of Maoists. Yet during this same period, Eribon shows, he was quietly and adroitly campaigning for a chair in the College de France - the very pinnacle of the conservative French academic system. This book follows the career of one extraordinary intellectual and reconstructs the cultural, political and intellectual life of France from the post-war years to the present. It is the story of a man and his time.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 400 pages
  • 135 x 216mm
  • London, United Kingdom
  • French
  • 16pp b&w illustrations
  • 0571144748
  • 9780571144747

Review Text

A meticulous and authoritative biography of the influential French philosopher and historian, by an editor at Le Nouvel Observateur who was closely acquainted with Foucault during his later years. Foucault (1926-84) is known in this country mainly as one of the prime exemplars of structuralisn, the radical school of thought developed in the late 60's and 70's to question the foundations of many social and philosophical systems. In reality, as Eribon makes clear, Foucault was more of an intellectual historian than a philosopher, and achieved his greatest successes when attempting to set forth the "archaeology" of a concept or idea. This is what he did in Madness and Civilization, which traced the development of Western notions of sanity and reason aa reflected in social attitudes towards madness. His monumental History of Sexuality, left unfinished at his death, was to provide a similar blueprint for the modern understanding of eroticism. Eribon's exposition is readable and clear, and makes good use of the many interviews he held with Foucault during his lifetime, as well as his meetings with Foucault's colleagues and friends. The picture that emerges is of someone at once distant and complex: Foucault hated easy characterizations and refused to "take sides" when it came to polities or philosophy. His early dalliance with Marxism quickly gave way in the late 50's, and his later conservatism evaporated as soon aa he won his post at the College de France (where, during the 70's and 80's, he became known as one of the most active leftists in the country). Solitary and rather reclusive despite his wide circle of friends, Foucault's public life was largely restricted to his professional writings, and it is to Eribon's credit that he concentrates mainly on these, since they provide the truest picture of Foucault available. Superbly written and carefully documented: Eribon has managed to provide a scholarly exegesis of Foucault that will also serve as a good introduction for the lay reader. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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166 ratings
4.05 out of 5 stars
5 33% (55)
4 44% (73)
3 19% (32)
2 2% (4)
1 1% (2)
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