Foucault at the Vanishing Point, or Testing the Limit of What a Body Can Do

Stephanie Polsky

Just as there is a history of events, so too is there a history of ideas. Michel Foucault's "first ascent to grace" happened one night while he was a student at the Ecole Normale, where he slashed his chest with a razor; in this moment of 'self-lacerating madness Foucault happened upon an sensation that would forever more shape the contour of his thought.'1 This was for him his first fruitful encounter with unthought, a moment when 'thinking is shattered: a threshold between 'malignancy' and beneficence is crossed, and through a limit experience death itself is reabsorbed into the self.2

Whilst the Ecole Normale's doctor would attribute the action to a shame triggered by Foucault's nascent homosexuality, for Foucault himself something of far greater significance was being addressed that night: his ability to make experience, to make an experiment of himself. His objective was to test what experiences could be endured past the threshold of a body, past the threshold of what we imagine to be the limit of life. That night courted the abyss, the vanishing point at which all thought must yield to the unthought, all feeling must yield to pure sensation, before violently redoubling back on it's self.

From then on the passion that gripped Foucault's life was an irresistible attraction to disturbance of the laws that seemingly bound us to what can be known. In 1953, the same year Foucault performed his first serious suicide attempt, he read Nietzsche for the first time, with 'a great passion'.3 According to John Coffey's account,

He found Nietzsche's doctrines profoundly liberating, 'a revelation'. It occurred to Foucault that the moral and social 'truths' invoked in order to label him 'deviant' were mere fictions. There was no need to feel guilt over madness, homosexuality or suicidal tendencies. For the rest of his life, he would devote himself to showing how grand slogans and scientific terms were simply tools for legitimising relationships of power and domination.4

Nietzsche helped Foucault to reauthor his youthful experience of himself as homosexual, suicidal and mentally disturbed in a way that would thereafter come to shape his particular intellectual pathway. Coffey asserts that 'The subject matter of many of his later books arose from his own experience - Madness and Civilisation (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), Discipline and Punish (1975), and The History of Sexuality (3 vols, 1976-84) all dwelt on topics of deep personal concern to their author.'5 Foucault was compelled to explore these topics because he himself had been labeled, marginalised, institutionalised and suppressed during the developmental stages of his own life, before gaining notoriety as philosopher in his own right. Despite having achieved some degree of societal power and influence, Foucault still very much identified with those who remained socially excluded, or whose behaviour placed them at the very margins of social recognition. He started to question what these sorts of social bodies could do, how they might disrupt the social fabric in such a way as to create new practices, new modalities to challenge the structure of contemporary institutions.

What initially fascinated the young Foucault was perhaps particular to a French understanding of experience. Timothy O'Leary argues that,

the idea that experience is an activity of the individual, rather than something that happens to the individual, is already contained within the structures of the French language – in a way which is not the case in English. In French, to have an experience is faire une expérience (literally, to make an experience)...what this means is that whenever we read in English of Foucault discussing having an experience, more often than not in French he is using the phrase faire une expérience. The significance of this difference is that this is a phrase that could, almost as easily, be translated into English as "doing an experiment." In Foucault's use of the term, therefore, the idea that experience is an active and experimental engagement is never far from the surface.6

Foucault's enthusiasm for experimentation meant that his work had to be fundamentally productive. His writing therefore seldom stopped at the point of mere observation, rather it fabricated itself onto the past, produced another truth to one we thought we knew, and brought into existence something that was not previously there. 'What this mean[t] for experience [was] that [his] critical project aim[ed] not simply to under the historical grounds of our experience, but to see to what extent it would be possible to change that experience – to transform it, through a critical work of thought upon itself.'7 'Foucault suggest[ed] that the task of the philosopher-historian [was] to carry out a diagnosis of the present by focusing on the "lines of fragility" which make possible "virtual fractures" in our contemporary reality. By following these lines [one] would be able to grasp those elements of our present which are open to change.'8 The role of the intellectual was to "say that which is, in making it appear as that which may not be, or may not be as it is."'9

In the 1961 preface to The History of Madness, Foucault's primary concern was to cultivate 'the power to annihilate' our contemporary cultural understanding of madness and to replace it with a previous conception wherein madness can be associated with a limit-experience encompassing both body and mind. At the same time 'Foucault proffer[ed] madness as a limit-experience and, as such, he invest[ed] it with a trenchant critical power.10 Foucault asserts that 'Madness begins where the relation of man to truth is disturbed and darkened.'11 This crisis in relation to truth helps an individual to experience at once the limits of culture and their disintegration within the space of his own perception. Foucault's subject is subsequently able to recover the ground of this disturbance. As a result darkness, instead of being a space of mere voidance, emerges as the space of potential. The destructive moment of madness as 'limit-experience clears the way for a practice of constitution.'12 Madness exhibits a force such that the foundation of existing institutions begins to crumble. The breach madness creates remains an opening at this juncture of Foucault's thought.

Over the course of the 1960s, this breach will close over as Foucault's approach gradually begins to shift from a concern with discursive practices and techniques of domination to a concern for how the subject constitutes itself through various acts and practices of power/knowledge. Rather than abandoning his older methodology, it is more accurate to say that Foucault changed his strategy from a desire to negate power to a desire to transform or create it through unconventional means. The later Foucault will challenge us to see that power is not only negative; it is also productive. The discursive turn from institutional domination to self-transformation, occurs at the same time Foucault begins to challenge the limits of discursivity outward from the text to encompass the whole of reality, revealing an underlying 'transdiscursity' in the wider world of power relations. Such a venture privileges fiction as a radical agent of historical transformation.

In "What is Author?" Foucault identifies two primary functions for writing in terms of authorship, the first is to 'create and opening where the writing subject disappears and the second is to kill its author by 'canceling out signs of his particular individuality.'13 The genre of fiction is particularly adept at transforming an author into a victim of his writing long after he has ceased to live and become an historical figure. Foucault points to 'Flaubert, Proust and Kafka' as victims of such a scenario.14 Along similarly ambivalent lines Foucault identifies fiction as the volatile substance behind all notions of history: '"One 'fictions' history starting from a political reality which makes it true, one 'fictions' a politics which does not yet exist starting from a historical truth."'15 'The distinctive feature of Foucault's histories, the feature which gives them their transformative power, is the fact that they are not only descriptions of the past, but attempts to modify the present through a transformation, or a 'fictioning' of experience. And all experience is, at a certain level, related to the fictive.'16 When Foucault originally arrives in Tunisia, his admiration for it is based on a quasi-fictional understanding of it as the mythic locale of ancient Carthage situated with the scheme of the Greco-Roman empire. The contour of this imagined geography is radically altered when it comes into contact with the political realities on the ground in modern Tunis.

Foucault believed the key to gaining access to the fictive realm that laid somewhere in between Carthage and Tunisia was to quote Rene Char, "Développez votre étrangeté légitime" (develop your legitimate strangeness/foreignness)."'17 In 1966 Foucault had the opportunity to both cultivate his legitimate foreignness and to explore the limits of another culture, when he became a visiting professor of Philosophy in Tunisia. Foucault was brought there initially by two separate concerns; first a desire to observe another political ideology through encounters with the leftist student movement there, and second the desire to observe another sexual politics in Tunisia, a society with an ostensibly more permissive attitude toward homosexuality than his native France. Both of the notions were at least superficially steeped in Orientalism. There has been criticism of Foucault's writing as Orientalist based on the fact that he 'principally worked in a white Western cultural context and how he lacked "analytical concern for wider colonial and racial issues in his discussion of religion."'18 This criticism tends to discount the empirical commitment Foucault made in exploring the Tunisian resistance movement in the arenas of politics and sexuality. Foucault engaged in clashes with police side by side with his university students and the University of Tunisia. During those events Foucault was particularly impressed by the Tunisian students existential commitment to self-sacrifice when faced with the risk of death or harsh punishment as compared with their student counterparts in France. 'He also had relationships ' with a number of Arab male lovers' to explore that subculture from an embodied perspective.19 Those two aspects of his experience in Tunisia fed his 'admiration for the Mediterranean/Muslim world.'20 Critics charge that this allowed him 'to avoid addressing the sexism and homophobia of these cultures.'21 It is true that Foucault remained largely ignorant of the sexism and homophobia that permeated much of Tunisian society. What he became well acquainted with instead was the racist anti-Semitism that permeated the Tunisian student movement to which he strongly objected.

According to account given by Didier Eribon, shortly after Foucault's arrival in Tunisia agitation began to rise at the University of Tunis:

In December of 1966 a student was beaten up by the police for failure to buy a bus ticket. In response to this incident, rebellion spread through the university. By June of 1967 the problems were far worse. Following Israel's rout of the Arab armies during the Six Day War, violence flared and spread into the Tunisian capital. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations degenerated into anti-Semitic riots. Foucault was appalled by these events.22

He described the events as a "Pogrom," and remarked that he was deeply saddened by them.23 There were other victims of these events beyond the Jewish minority. During this period of time 'the police came to the university, beat up students, wounded several of them seriously and started making arrests. There were trials, during which some students were given eight, ten, as many as fourteen years of prison.'24 The police manhandled Foucault. Eventually by the end of July of 1967, his contract would be terminated and he would be sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.25 These experiences marked Foucault's entrance into the world of realpolitik.

During that time he came to the material aid of a number of students, helping them to escape prison roundup, and sheltering them in his home.26 In a somewhat ironic move, Foucault went as far as to hide the radical student group's duplicating machine and several dissident tracts were printed in his garden.27 Shortly after Foucault returned home to Paris, the city was enflamed by the passions of May 1968. He could show little enthusiasm for the French student movement's brandishing of Marxist theory. After all, 'there was no comparison between the barricades of the Latin Quarter and the risk of doing fifteen years in prison as was the case in Tunisia.'28 Foucault, had cause to remark during that same interview with Duccio Trombadori in 1978, that his time in Tunisia, 'represented in some ways the chance to reinsert [himself] in the political debate. It wasn't May of 68 in France that changed [him]; it was March of 68, in a Third-World country.'29

One can easily conclude that Foucault had a very na•ve view of the Muslim world based on his position there as a part of the Western elite and as a kind of sex tourist. However is it likely from his material engagement in the clashes with Tunisian police that something far more radical was at stake in his comportment. From his later writings on Iran there is evidence to suggest that Foucault was gathering together the fictive strands he needed to eventually create an image of virtual transformation immanent within Muslim society that could in some way be relayed back to his native France. During his stay in Tunisia Foucault was surely made aware that the expansion of sexual tourism, the arrival of Western media, and the influx of Marxist ideology into Third World politics, had played a key role as elements coming from outside that eventually led to a call for political revolution in places like Tunisia and indeed through the Muslim world.30 Tunisia was a practical instance where thought coming from the outside is able to erode cultural practices at points where its boundaries are already weakened. In this way revolutionary ideas function mimetically, writing over conventional wisdom, and going beyond it, 'testing the limits of regularity, transgressing and reversing an order that it accepts and manipulates.'31

Foucault's decision to privilege the Third-World as a vantage point from which to observe such cultural erosion, he may have been based on its greater susceptibility to a corruption of the codes through their endless transcription across language, space and time from its place of cultural origin. The colonies by definition had already been mimetically dubbed once from the idealised codes of the mainland, becoming by Klossowski's definition a simulacra: a copy of an original cultural code that never actually existed, and whose efficacy was based on little more than a function of alliteration. 'In 1964 Foucault admired Klossowski's attempt to overcome the Same and Other through the play of the 'simulacrum.''32 It is the concept that allowed him to cross thresholds between worlds and thus effect a discursive transformation of the West through dissolving the conventional boundary between East and West, and demonstrating that they existed within the same network of power relations that aimed to regulate life, death, truth, obedience, individuals, and self-identity albeit through different styles of knowing.

By choosing to focus on the fusion of spirit with politics within the space of a body in the East, Foucault was trying to upset the binary logic of spirituality and materiality that held spirit hierarchically above the concerns of the material self in the West. Foucault's goal was to incorporate the body, and the political technology of the self into religious discourse in such a way as to discursively unsettle the ground on which religious transcendence is based and replace it with a plane of immanence. Before embarking on his Iranian adventure he had returned to Japan in April 1978 and followed up a personal interest in the 'practice' of Zen, which in a short interview, he had attempted to compare to Christian mysticism. These short excursions signal a new set of frontiers for Foucault's thought where his work begins to demonstrate a distinctly Orientalist sub-text.33 The thematic of his writing after 1978, challenges the duality of the spiritual and the material and has direct consequence for our understanding of the colonial relationship if we understand sexuality as making up a part of a greater spiritual entity. This understanding of sexuality on Foucault's part was to form part of 'a "counter-memory" of religion' that privileges the embodiment of belief.34 This counter-memory can then be intimately linked to the counter-memory of colonisation insofar as it too has a corporeal-spiritual component that cannot be easily effaced.

Edward Said wrote the colonies offered more than the raw materials to the colonial metropolis:

Just as the various colonial possessions –quite apart from their economic benefits to metropolitan Europe - were useful as places to send wayward sons, superfluous populations of delinquents, poor people, and other undesirables, so the Orient was the place where one could look for sexual experiences unavailable in Europe.35

Foucault would have been drawn into the space of the former colonies because of its potential to produce alternative bodies and pleasures, apart from those available in Europe. Foucault picked up on Tunisia's potential 'to constitute affections and relationships that exceed the framework of possibility drawn up by contemporary institutions' in France.36 In the Middle East more generally, homosexuality and pederasty are significant cultural practices, despite the fact that members of these communities would not dare declare themselves gay. There are homosexual men in high positions - ministers, deputies, Islamist leaders – who remain married, have families, and maintain same sex relations outside the home.37 The community ostracises those who stop camouflaging their homosexuality, but those who maintain covert homosexuality, nonetheless benefit and are even protected by sex-segregated institutions and public spaces.38

In attempting to read this code of practice, however, one must resist the temptation to see this attitude toward homosexuality as a progressive development, which would leave behind each earlier phase in which such practice was universally condemned. Rather, there is nothing to stop Muslim societies from incorporating both levels of understanding homosexuality- overt and covert – simultaneously. This is an example of what Foucault described as a limit-experience. 'Foucault suggests that one could do a series of histories of these limit-experiences, which might include the construction of the Orient as other to the West, the fundamental division between reason and dream, and the institution of sexual prohibitions.'39

In his critical discussion of Orientalism, Edward Said introduced the idea of imaginative geographies. These are constructions that fold distance into difference through a series of spatialisations:

They work Said argued, by multiplying partitions and enclosures that serve to demarcate "the same" from "the other," at once constructing and calibrating a gap between the two by designating in one's mind a familiar space which is "ours" and unfamiliar space which is "theirs." Their space is often seen as the inverse, of "our" space, a sort of negative, in the photographic sense that "they" might "develop" into something like "us," but also a site of absence because they are seen to somehow lack the positive tonalities that supposedly distinguish us.40

Numerous imperial structures emerged out of these imaginative geographies that at once promised transparency whilst at the same time imposing a necessary obscuration or obstruction of the space of becoming for colonised peoples. Concomitant to these imaginative geographies were the development of new social hierarchies amidst the greater whole of the population both at home and abroad. What is revealed by these imagined geographies is that a 'different relation with truth is entirely at stake in the way in which truth is used inside an experience, not fastened to it, and which within certain limits destroys it.'41 Foucault is speaking fictively when he describes the imams in Iran as 'men of religion, who are like so many photographic plates on which the anger and the aspirations of the community are marked'42 With allusions such as this one it becomes 'possible to combine Foucault's conceptualisation of the foreign, or the outside, of thought with his notion of experience and its possible transformation, and to use this framework as a way of understanding one of the effects of which [history] is capable.'43 Foucault is attempting to introduce a Western audience to the productive tonalities of Islamic society that have remained heretofore below their visual register.

Another 'allusionary' field Foucault sought to mine at this time was that of homosexuality in the Muslim world. On one hand one could say that European men and women perceived that there was a more open attitude toward homosexuality in the Middle East ' based on the assumption of an underlying homoeroticism' in Islamic culture. This homoeroticism was commonly misapprehended by Western tourists who took gender segregated custom in Muslim societies and a difference sense of cultural taboos, as in the case of men commonly holding hands or kissing as a sign of a greater acceptance of homosexuality than there was in the Modern West.'44 Afrary and Anderson classify this reading as a 'Romantic Orientalism,' one that 'conveniently failed to bridge the gap between their cultural perceptions and Muslim religious doctrine.'45 'At the same time, this assumption makes itself evident even in the most Islamicist cultural institutions such as the Taliban, wherein the brutal regime publicly vilifies homosexual activity to the extreme of burying homosexuals alive under a mud wall, in private institutions such as the madrasas or training camps homosexuality is commonly and covertly practiced amongst the teachers and students, as well as within the ranks of Taliban warriors.46 In a counter-political formation to these ones, 'there is a long tradition in nationalist movements of consolidating power through narratives that affirm patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality attributing sexual abnormality and immorality to a corruption of the ruling elite that has to be overthrown and/or is complicit with a foreign regime.'47 Interestingly it is this discursive strain that will ultimately bring down the collective movement of the Iranian people during the revolution, comprised of a multitude drawn from workers, the leftist socialist, and religious leaders in Iran at that time. When the Shah is deposed, these movements will be considered foreign to the ideals of the successor regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. At virtually the same time Khomeini comes to power, in 1979, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher emerge as his reactionary counterparts in the West. Their goal is nothing less than to undermine the very notion of society. Almost immediately,

they began to speak a type of unyielding language not heard in over a generation toward the very idea of international cooperation, toward labour, toward the welfare state, and especially toward new social movements of the 1960s, whether those for feminism, gay and lesbian, and ethnic minority rights. The Reaganites and the Iranian Islamists fed off each other. At the international level, each claimed to defend a sacred way of life against hostile enemies. At home, each propagated what it called traditional values, especially concerning gender and sexuality.48

Foucault viewed this period of social upheaval from a much different standpoint to his conservative rivals. His reading of the activities that took place during the Iranian revolution amongst the common people were of a far more transgressive nature with implications for both East and West. What he observed was on the order of 'a subjectivity introduc[ing] itself into history and giv[ing] it its a life...a delinquent puts his life on the line against abusive punishment, a madman cannot anymore bear being closed in and pushed down and a people rejects a regime that oppresses it.'49 This method is 'anti-strategic,' it does not guarantee results, rather it opens the opportunity for different voices to be heard, alliances to be forged and a challenge to the given structure is witnessed to emerge for a time that offers over something different to the existing order: '[a]ffection, tenderness, friendship, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship, [all] things that our rather sanitized society can't allow a place for without fearing the formation of new alliances and the tying together of unforeseen lines of force.'50 Sexuality and in particular homosexuality played a pivotal role in creating a disturbance within the existing order because, according to Foucault, 'the homosexual mode of life,' represents 'much more than the sexual act itself. To imagine a sexual act that does not conform to law or nature is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another – there's the problem. The institution is caught in a contradiction; affective intensities transverse it which at one and the same time keep it going and shake it up [...] . These relations short-circuit it and introduces love where there's supposed to be only law, rule, or habit (Essential Works 1: 136-137).'51

Foucault characterised homosexuality as a uniquely loving practice; one that exceeded the rubric of mere sexuality. It is for this reason that he included an element of homosociality within its set of practices. Homosexuality to his way of thinking was 'an historic occasion to reopen affective and relational virtualities, not so much through the intrinsic qualities of the homosexual but because of the "slantwise" position of the latter, as it were, the diagonal lines of change he can lay out in the social fabric allow these virtualities to come to light.'52 In this sense homosexuality and homosociality intersect in such a way as to create a new pathway of "thinking with the body."53 Through the use of pleasure such a body can expand the horizon of what it can do, therein creating the possibility of its own transformation and creating a new nature of selfhood 'that doesn't exist yet,' wherein we proceed in becoming without being able to know what it will be.54 In that same spirit of promoting chance over determinism, Foucault was careful to guard against incorporating homosexuality as part of the existing law. Rather,

[he] concern[ed] [himself] with determining problems, unleashing them, revealing them within the framework of such complexity as to shut the mouths of prophets and legislators: all those who speak for others and above others. It is at that moment that the complexity of the problem will be able to appear in its connection with people's lives; and consequently, the legitimacy of a common enterprise will be able to appear through concrete questions, difficult cases, revolutionary movements, reflections, and evidence.'55

At the critical moment when the existing law is suspended, the space of homosociality, that Foucault anticipated above, is able to emerge from the container of the self, and expand into the larger grouping of a collective will. It is here that the homosocial atmosphere of the Islamic state is able to expand to encompass an emergent social collective in Iran whose love for one another is multifarious and therein in some sense queered in its own right when put to the test against the neocolonial rule of the Shah.

In terms of political will, what Foucault encountered in Iran was paradoxical: on one hand a 'perfectly unified collective will' that rejects the Shah's regime, and on the other, the absence of any person, party, or ideology who was capable of taking the leadership of this popular will.56 In analysing this paradoxical will amongst the Iranian people Foucault discovered that 'it was not so much that a people had made a revolution, but an autonomous and revolutionary force had expressed itself through them.'57 This empirical observation corresponds with Foucault's theoretical assertion that the individual is 'a relay for power' and that power passes through the individuals it has constituted.'58 Thus for Foucault, the collective power of the Iranian Revolution, may be expressed as 'a phenomenon', he argued, 'has traversed the entire people....'59 What Foucault observed politically in Iran were 'the effects of the unleashed vital forces of the people.'60 This vital energy came from within the people of Iran themselves, and emerged as the irreducible element critical to fueling the ongoing Revolutionary movement in Iran.

The people who participated in the Iranian Revolution, through their physical refusal to relinquish control over their bodies to the absolute authority of the Shah, were able for a time to neutralise and forestall the emergence of his or any other potential sovereign authority's power over their lives. For a time they assumed a sovereignty from within through the absolute and voluntary negation of their own bodily needs and desires to greater political will of the collective good. 'The potential to exert the force housed within a body, and any body in particular, is the irreducible element ... profoundly threatening for every despotism.'61 Foucault argued it was, the 'most interior and intensely experienced element.'62

It is that element which is 'a little beneath history, that breaks with it, that agitates it'.63 The Iranian Revolution teaches, Foucault argued, that 'it is necessary to look, a little behind politics, for that which ought to limit it, unconditionally.'64 That element which ought to limit it is the vital force of human life itself, an energy that is constantly encroached upon by the forces of logic and history, which seek to constrain the potential of what a body can do. This was certainly the case under the Shah's regime, people's existences were bound by the chains of reason and history. But the Revolution presented the Iranian people with the opportunity to alter their existences, to choose a new way of living. Yet, as Foucault's rhetoric makes plain, it is not simply a matter of individuals as thinking beings choosing new ways of life. Again and again he hearkens back to the idea that 'it is life itself, the existence of living beings, that is asserting itself in the Revolution.'65

The actions of the Iranian people posed a challenge to 'modern power as whole,' as 'what was at stake in this revolution was living beings' and indeed the political control of life itself.66 'Foucault's interest in the Iranian Revolution is based on what he saw as a mode of resistance to the system of power, whose end point was no simply 'to extend ... participation in the present system,' but rather to extend the possibility of what government can offer.67 Foucault saw in the Iranian Revolution the potential emergence of 'a new political creature.'68 One whose advent on this earth could be brought upon by 'the insurrection of bare handed men who want to lift the formidable weight that hangs heavy on each of us, but more particularly on them, these oil workers, these peasants on the frontiers of empires: the weight of the entire world order.'69 The Iranians' insurrection is one 'aimed at planetary systems,' a liberation 'in regard to everything that marks, in their country and their daily lives, the presence of planetary hegemonies.'70

In opposing the regime of the Shah, Foucault hoped to seize upon the opportunity to explicitly critique the key elements of so-called social progress: large-scale centralisation, and the incarcerations and liquidations of undesirables. He also hoped to reject their tripartite logic of 'Colony, Order and Work' whose imperatives, functioning in tandem, had produced time and again over the course of the twentieth century 'concentrationary universes,' of which German Fascism and Stalinism are but two of the most infamous examples.71 The Iranian revolution 'was a collective uprising from within the walls of a concentration camp - and Foucault was determined to stand with it.'72

For a time in Iran Foucault was able to witness 'the assemblage of affective intensities and the formation of joyful relationships' amongst those members of society who chose to participate in it.73 Acting as a 'multitude' the Iranian people were able to 'simultaneously increase their power to act and disrupt the institutional mechanisms of command' by raising the spectre of what its society could be, and 'thereby through its living labour, create the conditions of possibility to suture them into reality,' for at least a time.74 This exercise demonstrated the principle that 'the multitude can begin cultivating and expanding its power, unseparated from what it can do.'75 Foucault observed within this multitude a particular stance toward death that allowed it to move forward to bring about the collective authentic existence of the Iranian community, an aspiration that allowed them to adopt an attitude of "freedom-toward-death," that 'recognised and submitted to the finitude and limitation of their own insignificant human existence' in an affirmation of something of far greater necessity.76 Even at its vanishing point Foucault could still witness its singularity and make the same simple choice he had made on the stairs of the Ecole Normale, the choice to sacrifice oneself in the name of a 'creative militancy that enacts resistance as a counter-power and rebellion as a praxis of joy.'77 In this sense he had reached the limit and gone beyond it in connecting desire to reality, and for a time possessed the revolutionary force of subjectivity within his own singular form.


  1. James Miller (1993). The Passion of Michel Foucault. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993, p. 54.

  2. Ibid., p. 54.

  3. John Coffey (1996). "Life after the death of God? Michel Foucault and postmodern atheism," Cambringe Paper, Towards a Biblical Mind. Accessed from on 22 June 2008.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Timothy O'Leary (2008). "Foucault, Experience, Literature." Foucault Studies, No. 5 pp. 18-19.

  7. Ibid., p. 16

  8. Ibid., p. 18.

  9. Ibid., p. 18.

  10. Brady Thomas Heiner (2003). "The Passions of Michel Foucault." differences, Vol. 14, No. 1, p. 27.

  11. Ibid., p. 27.

  12. Ibid., p. 33.

  13. Michel Foucault (1977). Language, counter-memory, practice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, p. 117.

  14. Ibid., p. 117.

  15. O'Leary, "Foucault, Experience, Literature," p. 18.

  16. Ibid., pp. 18-19

  17. Ibid., p. 7.

  18. Jeremy R. Carrette, (1999). Foucault and the religion: spiritual corporality and political spirituality. London: Routledge, p. 141.

  19. Janet Afray and Kevin B. Anderson (2005). Foucault and the Iranian revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 141.

  20. Ibid., p. 141.

  21. Ibid., p. 141.

  22. Didier Eribon (1991). Michel Foucault. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 192.

  23. Ibid., p. 192.

  24. Ibid., p. 194.

  25. Ibid., p. 194.

  26. Ibid., p. 193.

  27. Ibid., p. 193.

  28. Michel Foucault (1991). Remarks on Marx, Interview with Duccio Trombadori. New York: Semiotext(e), p. 136.

  29. Ibid., 116.

  30. Afray and Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian revolution, p. 161.

  31. Michel Foucault, Language, counter-memory, practice, p. 116.

  32. Carrette, Foucault and the religion, p. 139.

  33. Ibid., p. 141.

  34. Ibid., p. 146.

  35. Edward Said (1979). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, p. 190.

  36. Heiner, "The Passions of Michel Foucault," p. 43.

  37. Afray and Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian revolution, p. 161.

  38. Ibid., p. 162.

  39. O'Leary, "Foucault, Experience, Literature," p.8

  40. Derek Gregory (2004). The Colonial Present, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, p. 17.

  41. Foucault, Remarks on Marx, p. 36.

  42. Afray and Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian revolution, p. 83.

  43. O'Leary, "Foucault, Experience, Literature, p. 17.

  44. Afray and Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, p. 162.

  45. Ibid., p. 162.

  46. Ibid., p. 158.

  47. Ibid., p. 161.

  48. Ibid., p. 163.

  49. Foucault quoted in Ibid., p. 267.

  50. Heiner, "The Passions of Michel Foucault, p. 45.

  51. Ibid., p. 45.

  52. Ibid., p. 43.

  53. Ibid., p. 41.

  54. Ibid.,p. 42.

  55. Foucault, Remarks on Marx, p. 159.

  56. Craig Keating (1997). "Reflections on the revolution in Iran: Foucault on Resistance." Journal of European Studies, Vol. 27, p. 186. Accessed on 25 May 2007 at

  57. Ibid., p. 186.

  58. Michel Foucault (2003). Society must be defended. New York: Picador, p. 30.

  59. Keating, "Reflections on the Revolution in Iran," p. 186.

  60. Ibid., p. 189.

  61. Ibid., p. 194.

  62. Ibid., p. 194.

  63. Afray and Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, p. 267.

  64. Ibid., p. 267.

  65. Keating, "Reflections on the Revolution in Iran," p. 187.

  66. Ibid., p. 187.

  67. Ibid., p. 195.

  68. Eric Paras (2006). Foucault 2.0, New York, Other Press, p. 76.

  69. Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson (2005). Michel Foucault, "The Mythical Leader of the Iranian Revolt" [First published in Corriere della sera, November 26, 1978.] Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, p. 222.

  70. Ibid., p. 222.

  71. Eric Paras (2006). Foucault 2.0, New York, Other Press, p. 81.

  72. Ibid., p. 97.

  73. Heiner, "The Passions of Michel Foucault," p. 44.

  74. Ibid., p. 44

  75. Ibid., p. 44.

  76. Afray and Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, p. 36.

  77. Heiner, "The Passions of Michel Foucault," p. 45.