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Deleuze's Foucault

Lecturer: Jon Roffe

Originally Taught: Summer School 2021

Gilles Deleuze’s book Foucault, published two years after death of Michel Foucault, is described by its author as a portrait of ‘the greatest of modern philosophies’

At first glance, the book appears to be a fairly routine summary, framed in terms of an initial engagement with knowledge, a turn to the problematic of power, and then an examination of the nature of subjectivity. Deleuze also works through some of the most prominent points of contention about Foucault’s work: the particular modality of the functioning of power and its relationship to normativity, for instance, or the evergreen idea that, in his final work, Foucault ‘returns to the subject’.

Upon closer attention, however, what appears is a highly idiosyncratic effort to unify all of Foucault’s various works into one complete, carefully delineated structure – and one that draws just as heavily on the Kant of the first Critique as it does on the Nietzsche of the Genealogy, and more heavily on differential calculus than it does on the rich tradition of French history into which Foucault intervenes. More than this, it is based upon a comprehensive reading of Foucault’s body of work, giving pride of place for texts that are often overlooked (The Birth of the Clinic, Raymond Roussel)

The aim of this course is not to test the veracity of Deleuze’s reading, but to work through this remarkable reconstruction on its own terms.

Our major text will be the English translation of Deleuze’s book, which appeared in 1988. Given certain decisive infelicities in this translation, some alternative renderings of certain passages will be circulated in advance of class.

1. Introducing Foucault

Beyond providing an introduction to the course, this goal of this first seminar will be to present a relatively standard overview of Foucault’s work, broken down into the now traditional tripartite distribution mentioned above: the archeology of knowledge, the genealogy of modern power, and the ethics of the self. But throughout, I will characterise Foucault as a thinker of the possible. This seminar will lay the ground work for the more sophisticated reading that Deleuze will provide of Foucault’s work.

  • Readings: Deleuze, ‘Life as a Work of Art’, François Dosse, ‘A Philosophical Friendship’, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

2. The double archive

The second seminar will turn directly to Deleuze’s book, and to the topic of knowledge.

Deleuze’s novelty in this regard is to separate out the visible and the sayable as the two heterogenous components of knowledge, and allows him to take into account texts (like Discipline and Punish) that are not traditionally foregrounded in considerations of Foucault’s analysis of knowledge. The division of knowledge into these two registers necessitates a form of mediation that co-adapts the one to the other. It is to this topic that we will turn in the next seminar.

  • Readings: Foucault chapters 1 and 3

Additional reading: Foucault, ‘Conclusion’,The Birth of the Clinic. Foucault, ‘Conclusion’, The Archeology of Knowledge

3. Diagrams and forces

It is the analysis of power relations that will provide Deleuze with the schematism able to bring together the visible and the sayable. Foucault’s analysis of power is famous, but remains misunderstood – for this reason, we will dwell in the first hour on the second chapter of the book to clarify what he means by the term. In the second hour, we will turn to the ingenious definition of the diagram Deleuze elaborates, in attempting to show the relationship between forms and forces. We will conclude by discussing two questions: what is thought? What is life?

  • Readings: Foucault chapters 2 and 4

Additional reading: ‘Panopticism’, Foucault, Discipline and Punish. ‘”We Other Victorians”’, Foucault, History of Sexuality 1

4. Folds of the soul

In this fourth seminar, we will consider Deleuze’s response to the idea that Foucault’s final works stage a ‘return to the subject’, which is negative, and see how he justifies his claim that Foucault had been concerned with subjectivity from the very beginning of his work. This will involve a continued deployment of all of the earlier categories in his study.

  • Reading: Foucault chapter 5

Additional Readings: Foucault, ‘Modifications’ and ‘Morality and Practice of the Self’, History of Sexuality 2

5. What is human being? Conclusion

Deleuze’s book finishes with an appendix. What is perhaps strangest about this text is that it does not aim to give a further unity to the survey already completed, but to return to a specific problem – the status of human being – and to a specific text – the final chapter of The Order of Things, with its infamous closing wager that the form of man itself may ‘be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.’ Our final seminar will aim to situate this meditation on the form of human being, and its overcoming, in the context of the previous discussions.

  • Reading: Foucault, ‘Appendix: On the Death of Man and Superman’

Additional reading: Foucault, ‘The Human Sciences’, The Order of Things

Level: Intermediate. While no particular information will be presupposed – though a general familiarity with Kant’s critical philosophy will be a help – the course will cover some difficult material.