Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Foucault 4/14 Daniele Lorenzini | A Dispatch from Paris: “A Little History of Truth in General”

I have followed with great interest, from Paris, the discussions which arose before, during, and after the first three meetings of the seminar “Foucault 13/13”, and I really look forward to “Foucault 4/14”, which is going to be exciting—Linda Zerilli and Anna Lvovsky’s posts on Psychiatric Power are brilliant and challenging. I would like to contribute to these rich discussions by drawing some attention to an aspect of Foucault’s lectures on Psychiatric Power that I have always considered crucial, both for the “discursive economy” of these lectures and in view of the methodological and conceptual “shifts” Foucault introduced a few years later in On the Government of the Living (1979-1980).

At the beginning of his 23 January 1974 lecture of Psychiatric Power, Foucault opens what he himself calls “a parenthesis”—but readers of Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France have already learnt that what he presents as a parenthesis is very often something quite decisive. Foucault, speaking about the complex and many-sided “mechanism of discipline” that functioned within the asylum in the nineteenth century, argues that its effects introduced a question of truth: “medical knowledge, which again was only a token of power, found itself required to speak, no longer just in terms of power, but in terms of truth” (PP, p. 235). Indeed, as Anna Lvovsky correctly suggests, in Psychiatric Power Foucault delivers an analysis of madness as a battle over truth-production, and in many senses also the hysterics’ “counter-conduct” that will be taken into account by Linda Zerilli can be described in terms of a challenge on the level of truth. This is why, by retracing “a little history of truth in general” (PP, p. 235), Foucault is actually doing something crucial with respect both to the stakes of these lectures and to future developments of his thought.

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