This week focused on a work by the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984). Foucault is most associated with the structuralist and post-structuralist movements in philosophy. His career was largely spent analyzing various forms of power. This essay, “The Subject and Power”, was one of his last publications and is an overview of his life’s work. Since the essay covers topics over the span of his decades of work, I’ll outline the major points and those relevant to my project.
The essay is organized by subtopics concerning the larger idea of power. Foucault begins by outlining the three mechanisms by which people are made subjects. First, what he calls “modes of inquiry” where studies are overly empiricized by imposing largely arbitrary rules we are then forced to obey. He gives the example of the objectification of the worker in the study of economics. Second are the “dividing practices”. These are common modes by which either an individual or society seeks to separate. For instance, the binaries of “sick” versus “healthy” or “good” versus “bad”. The third form is self-subjugation, the ways that people make themselves into a subject.
All of these are fascinating for my research. Although I did not call it this, I was peripherally aware of the first form while crafting my question. I’m investigating the aesthetics of classical reinterpretation. If anything, I’m looking at how these authors break the rules. Dividing practices are also very interesting because I anticipate this to be one of the major themes of my three novels. The source myths for these novels, The Odyssey and Iliad, are replete with binaries, most obviously the “good” versus “evil” and the “civil” versus “savage”. In reading the first few pages of Silence of the Girls, I’ve already noticed an effort to complicate these reductive binaries. I’ll discuss this more next week.