At the time of his death in 1984, at the age of fifty-eight, Michel Foucault was widely regarded as one of the most powerful minds of this century. Hailed by distinguished historians and lionized on his frequent visits to America, he continues to provoke lively debate. The nature and merits of his accomplishments remain tangled in controversy. Rejecting traditional liberal and Marxist "dreams of solidarity," Foucault became the very model of the modern intellectual, replacing Sartre as the figure of the eminent Parisian and cosmopolitan master thinker.
Foucault himself discouraged biographical questions, claiming that he was "not at all interesting." Didier Eribon's captivating account overthrows that assertion. As a journalist well acquainted with Foucault for years before his death, Eribon was particularly well placed to conduct the dozens of interviews which are the cornerstone of this book. He has drawn upon eyewitness accounts by Foucault's closest associates from all phases of his life--his mother, his schoolteachers, his classmates, his friends and enemies in academic life, and his celebrated companions in political activism, including Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. Eribon has methodically retraced the footsteps of his peripatetic subject, from France to Sweden to Poland to Germany to Tunisia to Brazil to Japan to the United States. The result is a concise, crisply readable, meticulously documented narrative that debunks the many myths and rumors surrounding the brilliant philosophe--and forces us to consider seriously the idea that all his books are indeed, just as Foucault said near the end of his life, "fragments of an autobiography."
Who was this man, Michel Foucault? In the late 1950s Foucault emerged as a budding young cultural attaché, friendly with Gaullist diplomats. By the mid-1960s he appeared as one of the avatars of structuralism, positioning himself as a new star in the fashionable world of French thought. A few months after the May 1968 student revolt, with Gaullism apparently shaken, he emerged as an ultra-leftist and a fellow traveler of Maoists. Yet during this same period, Eribon shows, he was quietly and adroitly campaigning for a chair in the College de France--the very pinnacle of the French academic system. This book does more than follow the career of one extraordinary intellectual. It reconstructs the cultural, political, and intellectual life of France from the postwar years to the present. It is the story of a man and his time.
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Michel Foucault (1926-84), whose agile linkage of contemporary literature and French philosophy with social history has provided us with seminal works on the histories of madness, prison, and even sex ... Read full review
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