Rick Roderick on Foucault - The Disappearance of the Human
Lecture notes: I. Foucault is a strong anti-humanist who believes that "man" is a relatively recent construction of a particular historical paradigm. Such paradigms structure discourse and action, as well as institutions and belief systems. They are, at the same time, systems of knowledge that are always interconnected with systems of power. Anywhere you find knowledge,
there too you find a regime of power. II. Knowledge is comprised of discourses that function through rules of exclusion. These determine who may speak, about what, for how long, and in what setting or contexts. III. Foucault's "Discipline and Punish" shows how the paradigm of punishment and the law shift from one period to another. In the feudal period, we have "the body of the condemned" as a singular figure and "the spectacle of the scaffold" which expresses the criminal as a transgressor and our interest in him. IV. In the modern period, we move to a paradigm of generalized punishment; from the body of the condemned to the entire social body (public works, school and prison reform). The reformers in many areas institute a micro-physics of power over the "docile bodies: of the "trained" and "socialized".
V. Foucault's method of writing his "histories" rests on the postulate that there are no bare "facts", just interpretations and these are themselves only made possible by the currently existing regime of power/knowledge. Particular to his method are the following: a. reversal, that the perspective of the standard history and reverse it; b. marginality, takes the focus off what has traditionally been thought to be central and look at the excluded; c. discontinuity, drop the idea of necessary progress and look for breaks and catastrophes; d. materially, look at practices more than at ideologies; and e. specificity, take single instances to illuminate larger points. VI. Foucault wants to reclaim a kind of radical critique in the interest of people rendered inhuman by what he sees as the very discourse of the "human".
VII. Foucault can be read as a novelist, a historian, a radical critic of society, and many other things. Most importantly, he has changed our discourse from Marx and the "factory" to Foucault and the "prison". He has carried forward at least a part of the task of freeing a new kind of self from the barbarism of what is still called the past.