Foucault in the Panopticon
How Michel Foucault’s encounters in Poland’s heavily policed gay community informed his ideas
GEOFF SHULLENBERGER | Reason, FROM THE DECEMBER 2021 ISSUE
In 1958, the 32-year-old philosopher Michel Foucault arrived in Poland to assume the directorship of the Centre Français in Warsaw. Less than a year later, he abruptly left the country. According to a rumor that circulated for years, this rapid exit was precipitated by a sexual liaison with a young man who turned out to be on the payroll of the communist state’s secret police. Amid the minor scandal that ensued, the French embassy requested Foucault’s resignation and departure from Poland. His biographers have treated this Polish sojourn and the incident that brought it to an end as a footnote to his early career, covering it in a few pages.
In Foucault in Warsaw, first published in Polish in 2017 and now available in an English translation by Sean Gasper Bye, the philosopher Remigiusz Ryziński reconstructs this brief phase of Foucault’s life on the basis of interviews, research in the copious files of the communist-era secret police, and speculation.