Read Chez Foucault, the 1978 Fanzine That Introduced Students to the Radical French Philosopher

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The recent “adjunct walk out day” has remind­ed peo­ple out­side academia—at least those who paid any attention—of the decay­ing state of Amer­i­can high­er edu­ca­tion, a con­di­tion dri­ven in part by a sear­ing under­cur­rent of anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism in U.S. polit­i­cal cul­ture. It’s a trend his­to­ri­an Richard Hof­s­tadter iden­ti­fied last cen­tu­ry in his Pulitzer Prize-win­ning 1963 study Anti-Intel­lec­tu­al­ism in Amer­i­can Life. But not long after Hofstadter’s book appeared, anoth­er, more vital cur­rent took hold in the 60s and 70s, one brought on by the broad­en­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for those pre­vi­ous­ly denied access to elite uni­ver­si­ties, and by rec­i­p­ro­cal rela­tion­ships between rad­i­cals and schol­ars. Aca­d­e­mics like Tim­o­thy Leary became fig­ure­heads of the coun­ter­cul­ture, rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies like Huey New­ton earned Ph.D.s, and activist pro­fes­sors like Angela Davis held the line between the worlds of high­er ed and pop­u­lar dis­sent. The uni­ver­si­ties became not only sites of stu­dent protest, but also matri­ces of rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry.

Into this foment­ing intel­lec­tu­al cul­ture stepped French the­o­rist Michel Fou­cault, who first lec­tured in the U.S. in 1975 after the pub­li­ca­tion of his His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty. Fou­cault was a true prod­uct of the French uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem and an aca­d­e­m­ic super­star of sorts, as well as a gad­fly of rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments from Paris in ’68, to Iran in ’79, to Berke­ley in the 80s. His work as a philoso­pher and polit­i­cal dis­si­dent prompt­ed one biog­ra­ph­er to refer to him as a “mil­i­tant intel­lec­tu­al,” though his pol­i­tics could some­times be as obscure as his prose. By 1981, he had risen to such cul­tur­al promi­nence in the States that Time mag­a­zine pub­lished a pro­file of him and his “grow­ing cult.” One of Foucault’s Amer­i­can acolytes, Sime­on Wade, befriend­ed the philoso­pher in the mid-sev­en­ties and wrote an unpub­lished, 121-page account of Foucault’s alleged 1975 LSD trip in Death Val­ley (referred to in James Miller’s The Pas­sion of Michel Fou­cault). Wade, along with a num­ber of oth­er Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia stu­dents, also inter­viewed Fou­cault the fol­low­ing year.

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In 1978, Wade pub­lished the inter­view in what may be the most pop­ulist of mediums—the fanzine. Titled Chez Fou­cault, with a ded­i­ca­tion “for Michael Stone­man,” the mimeo­graphed doc­u­ment looks on its face like a typ­i­cal hand­made self-pub­li­ca­tion from the peri­od, with its murky let­ter­ing and gen­er­al­ly hap­haz­ard design. But inside, Chez Fou­cault is far denser than any chap­book or rock ‘zine. In his pref­ace, Wade describes Chez Fou­cault as “a work­book I tin­kered togeth­er for teach­ers and stu­dents in the human­i­ties, social sci­ences and nat­ur­al sci­ences.” Accord­ing­ly, in addi­tion to the inter­view, he includes a syn­op­sis of Foucault’s Dis­course on Lan­guage, a “tran­scrip­tion” of his Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, a sketch of “The Ear­ly Fou­cault,” and a bib­li­og­ra­phy, glos­sary, read­ing and film list, and ver­i­ta­ble course out­line. It’s a very rich text that pro­vides a thor­ough intro­duc­tion to many of Foucault’s major works. Of prin­ci­ple inter­est, how­ev­er, is the inter­view, seem­ing­ly unpub­lished any­where else. In it, Fou­cault elab­o­rates on sev­er­al of his key con­cepts, such as the rela­tion­ship between dis­course and pow­er:

I do not want to try to find behind the dis­course some­thing which would be the pow­er and which would be the source of the dis­course […]. We start from the dis­course as it is! […] The kind of analy­sis I make does not deal with the prob­lem of the speak­ing sub­ject, but looks at the ways in which the dis­course plays a role inside the strate­gi­cal sys­tem in which the pow­er is involved, for which pow­er is work­ing. So pow­er won’t be some­thing out­side the dis­course. Pow­er won’t be some­thing like a source or the ori­gin of dis­course. Pow­er will be some­thing which is work­ing through the dis­course.

This con­cise expla­na­tion offers a key to Foucault’s method. Dis­avow­ing the labels of both philoso­pher and his­to­ri­an (he calls him­self a “jour­nal­ist”), Fou­cault defines his pro­gram as “an analy­sis of dis­course, but not with the per­spec­tive of ‘point of view.’” (If the dis­tinc­tion is con­fus­ing, a read­ing of his essay “What is an Author?” may help clar­i­fy things.) Fou­cault dis­cuss­es the biopol­i­tics of pow­er, call­ing the human body “a pro­duc­tive force,” which “exists in and through a polit­i­cal sys­tem.” He also talks about the “polit­i­cal use” of a crit­i­cal the­o­ry such as his, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of rev­o­lu­tion­ary phi­los­o­phy:

I do not think there is such a thing as a con­ser­v­a­tive phi­los­o­phy or a rev­o­lu­tion­ary phi­los­o­phy. Rev­o­lu­tion is a polit­i­cal process; it is an eco­nom­ic process. Rev­o­lu­tion is not a philo­soph­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy. And that’s impor­tant. That’s the rea­son why some­thing like Hegelian phi­los­o­phy has been both a rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­o­gy, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary method, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary tool, but also a con­ser­v­a­tive one. Look at Niet­zsche. Niet­zsche brought forth won­der­ful ideas, or tools if you like. He was used by the Nazi Par­ty. Now a lot of Left­ist thinkers use him. So we can­not be sure if what we are say­ing is rev­o­lu­tion­ary or not.

There is much more worth read­ing in Foucault’s inter­view with Wade and his fel­low stu­dents, and stu­dents and teach­ers of Fou­cault will find all of Chez Fou­cault worth­while. You can read and down­load the entire Fou­cault ‘zine here. And lest you think it’s the only one of its kind, don’t miss Judy!, the 1993 fanzine devot­ed to philoso­pher Judith But­ler.

via Pro­gres­sive Geo­gra­phies and Mono­skop

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Hear Michel Foucault’s Lec­ture “The Cul­ture of the Self,” Pre­sent­ed in Eng­lish at UC Berke­ley (1983)

Michel Fou­cault – Beyond Good and Evil: 1993 Doc­u­men­tary Explores the Theorist’s Con­tro­ver­sial Life and Phi­los­o­phy

Watch a “Lost Inter­view” With Michel Fou­cault: Miss­ing for 30 Years But Now Recov­ered

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

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