THE LIVES OF MICHEL FOUCAULT by David Macey

THE LIVES OF MICHEL FOUCAULT

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Elusive and private, ``the lives'' of Michel Foucault (1926- 84) include the many public roles that he assumed--as philosopher, academic, historian, political activist, and homosexual--roles that both reflected and helped shape the character of postwar France. Here, working from a thin paper trail (Foucault destroyed many of his personal documents) but with the recollections of the philosopher's former lover and friends, Macey (the scholarly Lacan in Contexts, 1988--not reviewed) offers an intellectual life of the influential thinker. Foucault--the second of three children born to a provincial physician--studied at the êcole Normale SupÇrieure, where he met Louis Althusser (The Future Lasts Forever, p. 1427) and Jacques Derrida. Although Foucault preferred Paris, where he became a celebrity, he traveled to Sweden (whose generally sedate citizens he scandalized with his drinking and his Jaguar), Tunisia, Japan, Brazil, and California, where he explored the bathhouses and contracted AIDS. Foucault shared what he called a ``passion'' with Daniel Defert, his companion from 1963 on--and the source of much of the information here. While the philosopher believed that his true self was in his works, he effaced that self with an objective style, deflecting attention away from himself and universalizing his private preoccupations. His histories of madness, prisons, and sexuality all employ a system of study that dismisses authors and individuals in favor of ``ÇpistÇmä,'' cores of ideas that Foucault pursued in what he called an ``archaeology'' of culture. Foucault, Macey makes clear, related everything from the most abstract to the most trivial in a unique way that reflected his own preoccupations, as well as that of his contemporaries: Camus, Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Barthes, LÇvi-Strauss, et al. Macey does an excellent job of tracing the development of his subject's thought, but except for Foucault's public image--shaved head, leather clothes, boyish body- -his life remains a shadow. A cautious and respectful study--avoiding luridness and gossip while preserving its subject's dignity--that Foucault himself might have authorized.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-43074-1
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1993




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