Introduction: Foucault and the United States
Godet, Aurélie; Edwards-Grossi, Élodie (2022), Introduction: Foucault and the United States, Transatlantica, 2, p. 1-14. 10.4000/transatlantica.20417
TypeArticle accepté pour publication ou publié
External document linkhttps://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/20417
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Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Sciences Sociales [IRISSO]
Abstract (EN)In 1975, Michel Foucault made his first trip to the University of California, Berkeley campus, where he met members of the French and philosophy departments. Although only fragments of these public interventions have survived, it seems that Foucault’s visit aroused great interest, not only among professors who had organized this first series of lectures, but also among students. This caused great displeasure to Foucault himself, who was unaccustomed to such demonstrations of overflowing enthusiasm on the benches of his lecture halls. The following anecdote, recounted by biographer James Miller, exemplifies the way academic audiences responded to his presence. Invited to lecture at Berkeley yet another time on October 20, 1980, Foucault faced a horde of students who rushed to either Zellerbach Hall, one of the largest halls on campus, or Wheeler Auditorium, where the lecture was broadcast live. When he started, some of them had been waiting for an hour already. Police forces were called in to bring back order and an overwhelmed Foucault asked Hubert Dreyfus, the professor in charge of introducing him, to make an announcement to dissuade students from staying. Dreyfus then stood up and warned the audience of the technicality of Foucault’s approach: “Michel Foucault says this is a very technical lecture, and difficult, and, I think, he wants to imply, boring; and he suggests that it would be better for everyone to leave now” (Miller 327). Dreyfus’s words hardly had the desired effect: on the contrary, the promise of esoteric and obscure remarks from the French thinker only strengthened his appeal at Berkeley, where he ended up lecturing on numerous occasions between 1981 and 1983.Such fervor begs the question of whether there has been a singular affinity between Foucault’s work and the United States. American historian Michel Behrent recently argued that enthusiasm for Foucault may have been higher across the Atlantic due to a different understanding of his thought: while there was “a French Foucault, fond of surrealism, obsessed with death, madness, and transgression, fascinated by Sade, Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot,” there came to be a “mostly American” Foucault, “who offers us a toolbox to free ourselves from disciplinary and normalizing powers.” For Behrent, “this second Foucault seems, in the long run, to have prevailed over the first” as there is a trend toward “becoming American” in his work, or “at least its reception.” Behrent goes on to hypothesize that “Americans may be the ones who have not only appreciated his thought the most, but have understood it the best,” thus claiming a very particular, quasi-exceptional adherence to Foucauldian concepts among US academics (81).
Subjects / KeywordsFoucault; United States; circulation; dissemination; knowledge; philosophy
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