Foucault News

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

Ultimately, every insignificant event that took place in the heart of the countryside is still in some way inscribed in the bodies of twentieth-century urban inhabitants. There is a tiny element of the peasantry, an obscure drama from the fields and the forest, the barn, that is still inscribed somewhere, has marked our bodies in a certain way, and still marks them in an infinitesimal way.
[…]

That’s what the unconscious of history is, not some kind of grand force or life-and- death instinct. Our historical unconscious is made up of these millions, billions of small events, which little by little, like drops of rain, erode our bodies, our way of thinking.
[…]

Film allows you to have a relation to history, to establish a mode of historical presence, a sense of history that is very different from what you can achieve through writing. Let’s take Moatti’s series Le pain noir. Its success and importance depended on the fact that, far more so than a novel, it was related to a history that everybody had some memory of, namely, our grandmothers’ lives. Our grandmothers lived that history. It’s not at the level of what we know but at the level of our bodies, the way we act, the way we do things, think, and dream.
[…]

Michel Foucault (2018). The return of Pierre Rivière. In Foucault, M. Patrice Maniglier, Dork Zabunyan. Foucault at the Movies. Translated and edited by Clare O’Farrell, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 162, 163, 167

4 thoughts on “Foucault quote: the embodied unconscious of history

  1. dmf says:

    “That’s what the unconscious of history is, not some kind of grand force or life-and- death instinct. Our historical unconscious is made up of these millions, billions of small events, which little by little, like drops of rain, erode our bodies, our way of thinking”
    seems reasonable but if true enough then beyond the reach of academic research…

    1. Clare O'Farrell says:

      As Foucault suggested elsewhere there are multiple ways of accessing the truth. Academic research is only one of them. I personally find that this statement has a really useful explanatory value. It grounds particular experiences in the material and in the body rather than in vague transcendental and universalising notions.

      1. dmf says:

        hi Clare, all for the particular/actual over vague and universalizing but if the particular is an accretion of so much/many then really no way to account for it in total let alone make generalizations across bodies/subjects, MF’s waxing Romantic about film aside.

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