Foucault pp 20-43 | Cite as

The Same, the Other and the Limit

  • Clare O’Farrell


Even a brief survey of the literature produced on Foucault’s work reveals an overwhelming interest in the question of how his work is to be classified. What ‘discipline’ can it be annexed to? What use can be made of it? What sections of the library can we find his books in? Alan Sheridan spells out quite well the kind of puzzlement a great many readers feel when they open Foucault’s books. He also spells out the reply of a certain kind of commentary:

‘Is he some kind of philosopher?’ ‘Well, yes in a way’, one answers. ‘Then why does he write not about Plato, Descartes and Kant, but about the history of madness and medicine, prisons and sexuality?’ ‘Well, he is more of a historian than a philosopher, though his approach to his material is very different from that of a historian.’ ‘Ah, a historian of ideas!’ ‘Well, no …. In fact it was to distinguish what he was doing from the history of ideas that he coined the term ‘archaeology of knowledge’.1


Human Science Traditional Philosophy Historical Writing Literary Style Annales School 
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  1. 8.
    For a brief historical account of the reasons for this French philosophical journalism see Foucault, ‘Le Piège de Vincennes’, 1970, pp.33–5.Google Scholar
  2. 23.
    Ariès, ‘L’Histoire des mentalités’ 1978, pp.411, 412; 1980, p.144; ‘La Singulière Histoire’, 1978, p.88. See also Veyne, 1978, pp.203–4, 231, 242; Bellour 1977, p.21. Veyne declares that after reading Foucault he changed his practice of history. Foucault in his turn acknowledges his debt to Paul Veyne and the latter’s influence on his last two books. UP:14.Google Scholar
  3. 24.
    Braudel, ‘Preface’ to Stoianovich 1976, pp.16–17; for other comments in a similar vein see Revel 1975, pp.11–12; Solé 1972, p.473; Le Goff 1978, p.15; Quétel 1981, p.17; Misrahi 1959, pp.99, 105–6.Google Scholar
  4. 29.
    Ariès, L’Histoire des mentalités’, 1978, p.412. Ariès’ own work on death, childhood and population has contributed to this trend. See also Veyne, 1984, p.11.Google Scholar
  5. 35.
    On the Same and the Other and the ‘horizon of finitude’ or the ‘finitude of the horizon’ (limits) and history, see also Derrida, ‘Violence et métaphysique’, 1967, esp. pp.165–74.Google Scholar
  6. 38.
    Foucault, ‘Theatrum philosophicum’, 1970, p.899.Google Scholar
  7. 39.
    MC:351–4; cf. Foucault, ‘Préface à la transgression’, 1963, p.758.Google Scholar
  8. 41.
    Foucault, ‘La Pensée du dehors’, 1966, p.528. For an excellent analysis of Foucault’s ‘archaeology’ as a ‘theory of frontiers, a marginalism’, see Michel Serres, 1968, p.195. Bourdieu (1984, p.10) also remarks ‘Foucault’s work is a long exploration of transgression, of the crossing of the social limit.’Google Scholar
  9. 42.
    Foucault, ‘What is Enlightenment?’, in Rabinow 1984, p.45.Google Scholar
  10. 43.
    Foucault, ‘Préface à la transgression’, 1963, pp.755, 757; cf. ‘What is Enlightenment?’, in Rabinow 1984, p.47.Google Scholar
  11. 44.
    Foucault, ‘What is Enlightenment?’, in Rabinow 1984, p.46.Google Scholar
  12. 45.
    Foucault, ‘Hommage à Jean Hyppolite’, 1969, p.132.Google Scholar
  13. 46.
    Foucault, ‘Débat sur la poésie’, 1964, p.76.Google Scholar
  14. 48.
    See Foucault, ‘Un cours inédit’, 1984, p.35.Google Scholar
  15. 49.
    For a similar point concerning Foucault’s methodology, Colin Gordon recalls that the historicisation of the Kantian problem is a pre-eminently Nietzschean theme.’ ‘Afterword’, in PK.236. Cf also Rajchman, The Freedom of Philosophy, 1985, pp.103–4.Google Scholar
  16. 50.
    Foucault, ‘On the Genealogy of Ethics’, in Rabinow 1984, p.351.Google Scholar
  17. 51.
    On history as an anti-metaphysical solution see Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, la généalogie, l’histoire’, 1971, pp.150, 159; cf. ‘space. Knowledge, Power’, in Rabinow 1984, p.250. It must be emphasised that this does not mean that a ‘history of the limits’ is not devoid of its own kind of metaphysics.Google Scholar
  18. 52.
    Foucault ‘Le Retour de la morale’, 1984, p.40. It may be noted, however, that when asked at different stages of his career about ‘influences’, Foucault gave a variety of different answers.Google Scholar
  19. 60.
    AS:32; cf. Foucault, ‘Deuxième entretien’, 1971, p.193; ‘Linguistique et sciences sociales’, 1969, p.254.Google Scholar
  20. 61.
    Foucault, ‘Foucault répond a Sartre’, 1968, pp.21–2.Google Scholar
  21. 62.
    AS:31, cf. p.44; cf. Foucault, ‘Réponse à une question’, 1968, p.854.Google Scholar
  22. 63.
    Foucault, ‘Foucault répond à Sartre’, 1968, p.21.Google Scholar
  23. 65.
    See AS:31–43, chapter titled ‘Les Unités du discours’ for a detailed analysis and rejection of these categories. See also Foucault, ‘Réponse à une question’, 1968, pp.851–2; and ‘La Situation de Cuvier’, 1970, p.88.Google Scholar
  24. 67.
    Foucault, ‘Deuxième entretien’, 1971, p.205.Google Scholar
  25. 68.
    Foucault, ‘A conversation with M. Foucault’, 1971, p.192; cf. ‘Deuxième entretien’, 1971, pp.189–91; the introduction to AS and pp.225–7, 265; ‘Réponse a une question’, 1968, pp.857, 860; Foucault répond à Sartre’, 1968, pp.21–2.Google Scholar
  26. 72.
    Foucault, ‘What is Enlightenment?’, in Rabinow 1984, p.47.Google Scholar
  27. 74.
    See Foucault, ‘La Poussière et le nuage’, 1980, p.44; ‘Structuralism and Post-Structuralism’, 1983, p.206. Or as Foucault puts it in ‘Theatrum philosophicum’, 1970, p.906: ‘In its fracture, in its repetition, the present is a throw of the dice’, cf. p.895. In 1970, Foucault seems to have developed quite an enthusiasm for describing history as the result of ‘a throw of the dice’: cf. ‘Croître et multiplier’, 1970, p.13 and ‘Préface à Brisset’, 1970, p.x.Google Scholar
  28. 76.
    Foucault, ‘Le Retour de la morale’, 1984, p.38. In reference to these rhetorical methods, Fons Elders (1974, p.288) adding his own rhetorical exaggeration, considers that Foucault’s ‘style conjures up images of a general of the Ming dynasty or a Count Dracula. He likes to reject any expression of emotion.’Google Scholar
  29. 77.
    Foucault, ‘La Folie l’absence de l’oeuvre’, in HF 1972, p.578.Google Scholar
  30. 79.
    Foucault, ‘On the Genealogy of Ethics’, in Rabinow 1984, p.351.Google Scholar
  31. 82.
    Foucault, ‘Vérité et pouvoir’, 1977, p. 19, trans. as ‘Truth and Power’, in Morris and Patton 1979, p.34.Google Scholar
  32. 84.
    Foucault, ‘Interview with Lucette Finas’, in Morris and Patton 1979, p.67.Google Scholar
  33. 85.
    Foucault, ‘Power and Norm’, in Morris and Patton 1979, pp.88–9.Google Scholar
  34. 86.
    Foucault, ‘Des supplices aux cellules’, 1975, p.16. Jean Baudrillard comments: ‘The very perfection of this analytical chronical of power is worrying’ and describes Foucault’s writing as ‘too beautiful to be true’, 1977, p.12.Google Scholar
  35. 87.
    Foucault, ‘What is Enlightenment?’, in Rabinow 1984, p.47.Google Scholar

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© Clare O’Farrell 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clare O’Farrell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Education StudiesBrisbane College of Advanced EducationAustralia

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