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on October 18, 2003
Don't get me wrong - Foucault is an absolutely brilliant thinker and modern philosopher. His methods of utilizing classical thought and analysis in the study of modern problems (at least up to the mid-20th century) are fascinating and hugely insightful. He knows the causes and effects of power in all its manifestations, and he applies this knowledge to all manner of intriguing contemporary issues such as struggles against the state, the prison system, health care, sexuality, and geopolitics. (I would be especially interested in Foucault's take on the modern American prison-industrial-political complex.)
The problem with this book is in the presentation. I don't agree with other reviewers who state that this is a good summary or compendium of Foucault's works, because of its very fragmentary nature. Each of the chapters here can be considered distillations of Foucault's thoughts on key subjects. Most of the chapters are structured as interviews or dialogues but with no surrounding context. We have no explanation of who the interviewers are or from which angle they have approached Foucault's works. The chapters begin abruptly, often with the feel of an interview in progress, with no introductory explanations of the context for that portion of Foucault's efforts. Similarly, the chapters end abruptly with no wrapping up or conclusive explanations of the matter at hand. One chapter consists of two "lectures" given at different times, with zero explanation of the purpose of Foucault's visit to wherever the lecture was delivered, who the audience was, or the environment in which Foucault's presence was utilized.
Therefore this book is not a good summary because it only leaves you with fragmentary details of far more vast philosophical masterpieces, with no surrounding context or supplementary information. You can get a passable introduction to Foucault's general ideas here, but for true knowledge you will have to tackle his proper dissertations. The best examples with relevance for contemporary thought are "Madness and Civilisation," "Archeology of Knowledge," and others. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on July 5, 2002
The collection of interviews contained in this volume is a great guide to anyone interested in examining the work of Michel Foucault, whose work broke new ground through his sustained examination of the interplay between the forces of pwer and the production of knowledges. For those who have previously read works such as The History of Sexuality or Discipline and Punish, this volume is sure to have many jewels that both clarifies and compliments the ideas presented in those works.
Spanning an important period in Foucault's development the interviews included here deal with essential themes for anyone interested in the trajectory of Foucault's work and social concern, French philosophy or literary theory in general. Themes expanded upon includes discussions of the discrusive role of discourse(s) in shaping the parameters of power and the concommitant boundries of knowledge that such a relationship implies; the symbolic, metaphoric and noumenal implications of the body as both flesh and as a site for the inscription of various repessive regimes; or the nature and evolution of the influence of panoptical surveillance in all of its varied formulations.
Part and parcel to Foucault's thinking in this area is the necessary representation of the body as both a dynamic physicality and at the same time a living palimpest onto which the ideologies of culture and society are written--sometimes forcibly, but more often through self-reproduction and latent self-repession. For those who want to know these ideologies are promulgated in panaoptical society, this book will provide many provocative answers as well as an indispensible aide to untangling the complex web of ideas that Foucault used to explicate the structure of modern society.
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on December 17, 2001
The relationship between knowledge, truth and power are critical elements in cross-cultural sociological study. Foucault details the relationship between these elements. The relationship between these elements relates directly to global media. If media is predominately produced in one geographic region and exported to another, power in terms of the right to representation, is automatically usurped by the production of truth, by the production of culture, production nationalistic images, by the production of media. Foucault's writings on the Archaeology of Knowledge and it's relationship to geography have a direct relation to geo-political structures and their interdependency with media forms and media audiences. Institutions, such as universities, which reinforce their own forms of knowledge, are likewise either undermined or reinforced by media forms. The relationship between these social components is never neutral, according to Foucault.
"Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organization. And not only do individuals circulate between its threads; they are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising power." Power is much more abstract, by Foucault's definitions than any previous theorists described it. It is not necessarily a conscious, intentional application of force. Power can be the relationships between components of a society or the relationship between societies. This very subtly makes the analysis of power, more complex and yet more engaging.
Media continues the construction of knowledge. Universities and other such institutions begin the process and sanction it -- provide it "an expert system" by which it is validated. However, the media reinforces this validation by replicating it in mass quantity. The media can, likewise, have the opposite effect, depending on its representation. If a given BBC program highlights the academic excellence of Harvard University, but bemoans the loss of academic excellence in al Azhar, for example. Then the media is undermining the construction of knowledge and the institution of al Azhar while simultaneously reinforcing the disequilibrium of political and economic structures surrounding al Azhar. Foucault's Power/Knowledge provides the platform from which to analyze these transformations.
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on April 7, 2000
Some serious food for thought here. Not only is the power to define madness, criminality, and sexuality addressed, but also the active use of criminals, and sex, to suppress and subjugate the populace. Somewhat more difficult to wade through but similar to Norman Cousins, it helped provoke my thinking on how top-down unilateral command based on secrets is inevitably going to give way to bottom-up multicultural decision-making by the people based on open sources evenly shared across networks. This is really very heavy stuff, and it helps call into question the "rationality" of both the Washington-based national security policymaking process, and the "rationality" of spending $30 billion a year on secrets in contrast to what that $30 billion a year might buy in terms of openly-available insights and overt information peacekeeping.
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on April 14, 2004
I don't know how to rate most of Foucault's work because quite frankly I don't understand most of it. I read some of his primary material and didn't get it. I read some secondary material and I still didn't completely get it. A friend then introduced me to some philosophy comic books. He had the whole series including Hegel, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard to name a few. I now understand the objective and nature of his works yet still can't grasp the nuance of it. Perhaps I'm grasping for greater meaning that doesn't exist, but chances are that I'm just too dumb.
His work is incredibly hard to understand, more tedious to read then Dickens and Dostoevsky combined, and very incoherent. None the less, I'm afraid to give it poor marks out of fear that the intellectuals will brand me a mental midget. On the same line, I'm afraid to engage anyone in conversation about Foucault out of fear that my shallow-comic-book-level understanding of his text will be exposed.
Ultimately, I think this really takes away from his work. He has a lot of insightful things to write. But if you can't communicate them what is the purpose? Read the text and get the comic books. Study your signs and make sure you obey traffic laws.
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