Michel Foucault lived his philosophy. His motivation in life was to become something else; to go beyond self. Foucault achieved this through continual intellectual development, limit experiences, and even drug use. Everything he was tested the boundaries of known societal rules and order.
Foucault and Language
Foucault strived to make his life a work of art, bending language to his will and playfully informing it—and the reader—of its incompetence in grasping the whole of experience and existence. The best language could offer a secondary account of a primary unknown. But Foucault longed to be one with the anonymous source, the absolute.
The Spirituality of Michel Foucault
In The Passion of Michel Foucault, James Miller explores what could be called “spirituality” or “mysticism” in Foucault’s philosophy. His obsession with dissociation, death, and singularity revealed a Foucault that—contrary to popular belief—wasn’t an amoral atheist. Instead, he was a man who desired boundlessness more than he desired life. Fifty-seven years in a body was certainly less awe-inspiring than one glimpse into the awful eye of the source. And if death were the medium through which truth could be reached, then so be it. Said Foucault: “Visibility is a trap.”
Foucault’s first experience with hard drugs brought tears to his eyes: he understood. Such was the seriousness of his quest for the absolute. But critics interpreted this experience as a sign of Foucault’s moral bankruptcy: a respected scholar; he shouldn’t have indulged in drug use. But drugs were a means to an end, and Foucault was altered by the experience.
Foucault and Sexuality
Sadomasochistic homosexual experiences were a part of Foucault’s life, but he didn’t want to be identified as a homosexual. Some critics thought Foucault was ashamed of his sexuality, while others assumed he just didn’t want the “homosexual” label to hinder his career. But Foucault discussed sexuality at length to be rid of it for good. He was not obsessed with sex itself, but with its power to wrongly define. Why should one’s sexuality be the crux of one’s identity?
In fact, sadomasochism, to Foucault, wasn’t about sex at all. Instead, it was an exploration in games of truth, where power relations were ever-changing and contradictory: the sadist and masochist could change roles at will, acting out new forms of power and subservience.
The Process of Creating Art
The life of Michel Foucault was a process. And like a face drawn in sand—the way in which Foucault depicted the modernly defined “man”—he was building his new self even as it was being destroyed by the new knowledge and limit-experiences that he incorporated in his philosophy.
In the end, it was the ocean and not the sand that enticed Foucault the most. But he has left us such distinctive markings in the sand that even the absolute ocean cannot help but be changed by the indentations.
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
Miller, James. The Passion of Michel Foucault. New York: Doubleday, 1994.