Michel Foucault and Alain Badiou Discuss “Philosophy and Psychology” on French TV (1965)

If sub­ti­tles don’t play auto­mat­i­cal­ly, please click the “CC” but­ton at the bot­tom of each video.

When Sig­mund Freud died in 1939, the year Hitler invad­ed Poland, W.H. Auden wrote a eulo­gy in verse and remarked “We are all Freudi­ans now.” One might have said some­thing sim­i­lar of Michel Fou­cault after his death in 1984. Fou­cault became a fierce­ly polit­i­cal philoso­pher after the May 1968 Paris stu­dent upris­ing and in a year that saw the Tet Offen­sive in Viet­nam and the assas­si­na­tions of Mar­tin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. In the fol­low­ing year—after the Man­son mur­ders and the grim events at Altamont—the six­ties effec­tive­ly came to an end as its utopi­an projects flared up and fiz­zled.

In the next repres­sive decade, Fou­cault pub­lished Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish (1974) and his His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty (1976). Even as he used Freudi­an con­cepts, he declared Freudi­an psy­cho­analy­sis com­plic­it in what he called “dis­ci­pli­nary soci­ety,” anoth­er method, like pris­ons, schools, and hos­pi­tals, of keep­ing mass­es of peo­ple under con­stant sur­veil­lance and in states of sub­mis­sion. It is this post-‘68 Fou­cault many of us came to know—an anti-philoso­pher whose deep dis­trust of all insti­tu­tion­al forms of pow­er seemed the per­fect ally for post-ado­les­cent col­lege stu­dents in com­fort­able rebel­lion. This is why it is a lit­tle sur­pris­ing to see the Fou­cault above, in a 1965 con­ver­sa­tion with philoso­pher Alain Badiou, ensconced in the bour­geois world of a French philo­soph­i­cal cul­ture, with its lin­eages and ordi­nary cit­i­zens brows­ing paper­back copies of Marx and Hegel, instead of stag­ing Sit­u­a­tion­ist actions to dis­rupt the social order.

But of course, it’s only log­i­cal to infer that the one cul­ture led direct­ly to the oth­er. For all his rhetor­i­cal the­atrics, Fou­cault nev­er gave up on the human­ist insti­tu­tion of the uni­ver­si­ty, but always made his home in class­rooms, lec­ture halls, and yes, even TV inter­views. His top­ic in con­ver­sa­tion with Badiou is “Phi­los­o­phy and Psy­chol­o­gy” and they came togeth­er on the edu­ca­tion­al tele­vi­sion pro­gram L’enseignement de la philoso­phie—anoth­er tes­ta­ment, like the well-stocked book­stores and cul­tur­al land­marks, to a six­ties French cul­ture steeped in philo­soph­i­cal atti­tudes. Unfor­tu­nate­ly we have only the first two parts of the inter­view, above, with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles (the third and final part is still wait­ing to be trans­lat­ed). You can, how­ev­er, see the full inter­view in French below.

The inter­view opens with the ques­tion “What is psy­chol­o­gy?” Foucault’s answer, which he would revise many times in the com­ing decades, along with his ter­mi­nol­o­gy, begins by ask­ing that we “inter­ro­gate” the dis­ci­pline of Psy­chol­o­gy “like any oth­er type of cul­ture.” Prod­ded by Badiou, he elab­o­rates: Psy­chol­o­gy is yet anoth­er insti­tu­tion­al­ized “form of know­ing” that makes up a dis­ci­pli­nary soci­ety, the core con­cept of his phi­los­o­phy. Foucault’s inter­view­er Badiou is now an elder states­man of French phi­los­o­phy, its “great­est liv­ing expo­nent,” writes his pub­lish­er. His most recent book doc­u­ments forty years of what he calls the “’French moment’ in con­tem­po­rary thought”—one great­ly inspired by Michel Fou­cault.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Michel Fou­cault Deliv­er His Lec­ture on “Truth and Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty” at UC Berke­ley, In Eng­lish (1980)

Clash of the Titans: Noam Chom­sky & Michel Fou­cault Debate Human Nature & Pow­er on Dutch TV, 1971

Michel Foucault’s Con­tro­ver­sial Life and Phi­los­o­phy Explored in a Reveal­ing 1993 Doc­u­men­tary

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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