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The Will to Know (Lectures at the Collfge De…

The Will to Know (Lectures at the Collfge De France)

by Michel Foucault

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a difficult work, far less accessible than some of Foucault's other lectures. I picked this up having been enamored of his 1975-76 lectures "Society Must Be Defended" and struggled through the attempt to translate his division of knowledge. This is not a bad book by any means, but not for the casual reader.
  chaz166 | May 23, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As other reviewers have said, this is definitely not for those who aren't already familiar with Foucault and his ideas. I've only read one of his works before (Discipline & Punish) so found this to be a heavy difficult at times but definitely intriguing. ( )
  jcelrod | Dec 8, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A translated edition of Foucault's lectures, rewarding careful attention and re-reading. I suspect these would make as sound an introduction as any: not in being easy or summary in approach (they are neither), but by virtue of a focus on recurring concerns to Foucauldian analysis, and as exemplar of his habitual use of very specific historic examples when mounting theoretic arguments.

This edition is outfitted with an impressive editorial armature: Foucault's own Course Summary is supplemented with a Foreward (Ewald & Fontana); an essay on the Course Context (Defert); a translator's note and helpful amplifications in footnotes throughout, as well as commentary on the original French footnotes (Burchell); and ample endnotes and indices to both names and "notions". (The contributions of English Series editor Arnold I. Davidson are not made explicit.) Quantity of material aside, it's unobtrusive and helpful.

Concepts generally relevant to Foucauldian analysis of discursive practice:

● Shift from Archaeology to Geneology
Though not saying so quite so succinctly, Foucault expresses his intent to shift attention from the specific limitations of a discourse taken at a given moment, within a specific discursive context; to a concern for how discursive practice is made possible in general. So for example, a shift from the medical discourse of Birth of the Clinic, or from insanity in Madness and Civilization, and so on; to his conception of "regulated discursive practice". His is not a concern with language so much as the milieaux within which language unfolds. A pivotal moment, in that Foucault's early archaeological "excavations" come to be seen as instances of his broader critique of power and truth, cast in geneological terms with reference to Nietzschean epistemology.

● Distinction between Connaissance and Savoir
Each term is translated into English as "knowledge", but Foucault begins here to work out a careful distinction between the two. An example of the editors being exceedingly helpful, as the distinction is never a focal point of any lecture, but the editors are persuasive in stating the distinction was critical to Foucault as he builds his argument through the 1970-71 lectures. The French terms align, perhaps, with the German Erkenntnis and Wissen, though again this is suggested in Foucault's quotation of Nietzsche (262), and never stated outright. Despite the ambiguity, the distinction revolves around (as per translator Burchell's note) the "domain of practices and discourses" (savoir) which effectively constitute "a rule-governed relation between subject and object of knowledge" (connaissance). Neither are completely explicit nor intentional / deliberate in social life, but arise from social behaviour and convention. They also appear to align with Foucault's archaeology and geneology, in effect the respective subject matter of each (though again, this is left implicit in these lectures).

● Nietzschean Philosophy and a "Will to Know"
Foucault's concern is to posit a Nietzschean "Will to Know" which simultaneously (a) counters Aristotelian knowledge, and (b) "displaces" two prevalent interpretations of Nietzschean thought, namely that Nietzsche's was "dangerous knowledge, in opposition to life" (the traditional interpretation), or that Nietzsche was reducible to a Will to Power (the Heideggerian interpretation). Foucault's geneology aligns with neither of these traditions, finding instead in Nietzsche a Will to Knowledge, itself rooted in a moral division between true and false. The moral analysis is where Nietzsche's geneology comes in, in characterising Western metaphysics as neither necessary nor inevitable, but a more-or-less deliberate choice. Foucault's archaeological analysis in these lectures points to that historical moment when the Sophist approach to argument was branded illegitimate, that is: as "not true". The myth holds that Western metaphysics pursued knowledge dispassionately, and rejected Sophistic pedantry as objectively false; Foucault borrows Nietzschean geneology to see instead a social choice, driven by the discursive practice prevalent at the time, and not (necessarily) by the demands of objective truth. Foucault then outlines the Western tradition in terms of Aristotelian metaphysics (notably, not Socratic), and in doing so rescues Nietzsche from Heidegger's conception of a Will to Power. (There is discernible here a suggestive link between the Sophist project and a Will to Power as Heidegger conceived it, but Foucault seems careful to situate the decisive point as being the choice itself, and not the motivation for the choice to exclude the Sophists. But this careful distinction also is left unaddressed in these lectures.)

Foucault intriguingly recasts Western philosophy as Aristotelian versus Nietzschean, not discussing Socrates or Plato in any detail. Defert hints that for Foucault, Socrates / Plato do not propose so much as canonise the exclusion of the Sophists, with Aristotle expounding upon this choice, thereby rendering unnecessary any discussion of Socratic or Platonic philosophy. (Perhaps. I find Foucault's silence here exceedingly interesting, and speculate it will be useful to examine other of Foucault's works in light of it.) Defert summarises Foucault's lectures as situating the Greek choice in "a complex pre-history between [the time of] Hesiod and Plato" (265). The choice is later promoted by Plato, and develops in Western civilisation to the point of unconsciousness, no longer recognised as a choice but reified as "simply what is" = truth is an ineffable reality, and knowledge is our accurate understanding of it.

The lectures outline these 3 points, and explore historic details of each, especially via archaeological analysis of Classical Greek juridical practice (justice), purity & ritual (religion), and money & measure (economics). Overall, an impressive survey of both Western philosophy and interpretation of Classical Greek tradition, and an exemplar of Foucauldian analysis.


Meta: Foucault's "Course Summary", Defert's "Course Context", Foreward, Translator's Note, two indices
Discursive Practice: K1, K2, K13, "Oedipal Knowledge"
Sophists: K3, K4
Juridical Practice: K5, K6, K7, K8
Money, Measure: K9, K10 (nomoi)
Purity, Religion: K11
Sigma Sum: K12


Foucault Curriculum
Inaugural Lecture upon Foucault's appointment to Chair on "History of Systems of Thought", prev published as "The Order of Discourse" (1970 / 81)
These lectures (1970-71)
"Nietzsche, Geneology, History (1971 / 98)

"Foucault-Deleuze Symposium" (a la Defert)
In addition to the last two items above:
Foucault's two articles on Deleuze's Difference and Repetition (editors here suggest Deleuze in part responds to Heidegger's Being and Time)
Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (1968 / 84)

Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (1986 / 88)
Bernard Knox, Oedipus at Thebes ( )
2 vote elenchus | Nov 24, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What is most commendable about this new edition of Foucault's early lectures at Collège de France is the rich and detailed endnotes. The translator Graham Burchell does a laudable job of capturing the emotion and humor that hides within Foucault's notoriously impenetrable prose. This volume marks a transitional period in Foucault's thought, so I'm not sure if the casual reader is going to get very much from this work, in terms of being able to get a hold of what ideas are important to his philosophical project going forward. I would recommend at the very least finding a copy of the Discourse of Language, which he gave on 2 December, before reading this. It sets up his rationale for the lecture series, and lends contexts to the transitions we'll see in this volume. There is enough here to recommend it to the Foucault scholar, and it makes a nice addition to one's library of continental thought. ( )
1 vote frellingtralk | Nov 13, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Certainly not the first place to send a new reader of Foucault, these lectures will nevertheless offer much to those deeply enmeshed in his work. This series of lectures offers a snapshot of Foucault's intellectual working method at a transitional moment in his career, and as such it is an important artifact of European university life and academic culture in the second half of the twentieth century.
  jwmccormack | Oct 28, 2013 |
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