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