22 December 2007

Generally, Foucault

Generally, my whacko emails!! Nerd!
Well, here you go! Who is Foucault?That is all I asked my Dad, and the whole story of knowledge, concept of historicizing, and human sciences landed on the platter. I thought I might as well share a bit I know about Michel Foucault with you as just an aspect of curiousity.
If you have read Wittgenstein and Kant then Foucault falls in place immediately. I'll try to keep away from giving too much of his history (the past is a strange obsession for history students).Paul-Michel Foucault was born on June 15 1926, next to Paris. He roots himself in a well-to-do bourgeois family. He had parents strong and determined in their own ways, and abiding by and defying systems in their own ways. He was a very thin boy with bad eyesight, and he was repeatedly teased in school. At home he led one of those normal clich├ęd lives. As a kid, he dreamed of being a goldfish. His favorite subject, till he passed away, was history. =)
Later on after all the academic ups and downs, the complications of identifying a gender, and a sexual preference played a role in his life. He struggled to come in terms with his own homosexuality. The concept was illegal and unacceptable in the society he brewed his early years in. He went through a stage of self-violence, suicidal instincts, alcoholism, depression, and drug abuse. He almost fell to psychosomatic illness.
His interest in history and thought processes nevertheless remained in the picture. He started reading Hegel. Hegel focused much on the coherence, order, purpose and meaning of history. History and philosophy starts to merge in thought. He says history has its hidden structure that delves into what was and what is. Philosophy does not limit thought to a time or event, past or future, and not simply with what was, but what is now and eternally, bringing reason into the picture. And that is the process of history. The series of events is a long-process ultimately delving into a reality of reason and self-consciousness. Foucault pondered on Heidegger's thoughts on the human predicament. He says it is based on deeper elements, than just mere reason.
If one historicizes philosophy itself we come to understand that the question of existence, life, and being transcends from 'What?' to 'How?' From, 'What is the earth made up of?' to, 'How do we know we exist?' This is the world of an open-minded philosopher, because the moment on asks, 'What?' they already have a pre-determined directions and answers to go towards. How? Ask this and the direction, the passer-by thoughts, and the further questions, all become discoveries.
This interestingly lead to a fabulous night-time weekend conversation with Dad, and I think since I have already rambled a page, I might as well take a deviation to what it brought us to. We all know the struggles of the generation-gap. Especially, those of the sixties to eighties are from a period of wonderful history. So, for instance when the world of 'tripping' or drugs is discovered by us of the 20th century now, many of that age of history look down at us as kids. Yes, they have transcended the hippie culture. Yes, they may know more about the routes, but an open-minded philosopher would allow each individual to handle their own discoveries. Well, back to Foucault…Sartre says the essential humanity or subjectivity is created by the manners with which our societies have existed. It doesn't exist by itself; it is created as a result of the lives we lead. Foucault constantly draws from Hegel, Heidegger, and Sartre. He understood his homosexuality, and reached a remarkable level of maturity. Foucault widened his academic interest and understood history as a process of thought, philosophy as an object of reason, and further jumped into psychology –"knowledge of self". He specialized in philosophy and psychology and tripped upon various landmark questions – "How could one study 'experience' scientifically?"
Ah, now I think I am running around a tree, and I will try to get to the essence of Foucault, as I understand it. Yes, it does have to do with the concepts of post-modernism and post-structuralism. He is well known for his critical studies of various social institutions, the institution of gender and human sexuality, the human sciences (philogy, linguistics, etc), the prison system, power and knowledge. "How is something an object of knowledge?" The little I have read of him bring me to some of his quotes that starts a various streams of thoughts in my head.
In Archaeology of Knowledge, an Introduction he says: "In short, the history of thought, of knowledge, of philosophy, of literature seems to be seeking, and discovering, more and more discontinuities, whereas history itself appears to be abandoning the irruption of events in favour of stable structures."
Michel Foucault. Discipline & Punish (1975), I. Torture: Among so many changes, I shall consider one: the disappearance of torture as a public spectacle. Today we are rather inclined to ignore it; perhaps, in its time, it gave rise to too much inflated rhetoric; perhaps it has been attributed too readily and too emphatically to a process of "humanization", thus dispensing with the need for further analysis. And, in any case, how important is such a change, when compared with the great institutional transformations, the formulation of explicit, general codes and unified rules of procedure; with the almost universal adoption of the jury system, the definition of the essentially corrective character of the penalty and the tendency, which has become increasingly marked since the nineteenth century, to adapt punishment to the individual offender?
Our discussion ended with a question I posed, "What about philosophy as an object of knowledge?" My understanding stands at this door way, and I'll let you know as it travels. This is what I have heard and read about Foucault, and I think I'll offer a better stance or explanation, once I strive to get his own words into sense. Maybe even understand, Foucault as an object of knowledge… =)
p.s. If this email has somewhat posed what he was about, I am glad. If it has created confusions, I am happy. Well, as a matter of courtesy, sorry if I don't explain very well.. =)

No comments: