Friday, September 6, 2013

Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault


Discipline and Punish (1975), is a genealogy of power based on particulars of penal history, and is considered Foucault’s “out-of-the-ordinary,” “intellectually charismatic,” and “soundly subversive” work, in which he also reveals his passionate empathy for the disenfranchised and the dispossessed, and a desire to trace the overt and covert networks of power, which underlie modern societies. Highly interdisciplinary and thought-provoking in its content, the book is at once a work of history, sociology, philosophy, penology, legal analysis and cultural criticism, therby making it difficult to categorize in any given literature or tradition.
Foucault, who is hailed as a “theorist of paradox” by highly acclaimed critics, was influenced by some of the greatest European philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean Beaufret—Martin Heidegger’s major interpreter in France—and Louis Althusser. He earned his License de philosophie in 1948 and DiplĂ´me de psycho-pathologie in 1952, and taught in Sweden, Poland, and Germany before his appointment as the head of the philosophy department at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. The range of his creative (and massively subversive) thought knows no bounds but throughout his many studies, on subjects as varied as madness, medicine, modern discourse, sexuality, there is a definite tendency to reverse “taken-for-granted” understandings and to discover, not unlike Freud, the latent behind the manifest--especially when it come to the nature of power and its pervasive effects in the human condition.
Moreover, Foucault in his major works, has undertaken a sustained assault upon what he regards as the myths of "the Enlightenment," "Reason," "science," "freedom," "justice," and "democracy"--all these salient features of modern civilization, and has exposed their “hidden side.” Foucault has also argued that the hidden side usually stays hidden because the “production of discourse” in modern societies is controlled, selected, and organized according to certain behind-the-scenes procedures. He suggests that when an idea appears before us repeatedly through different modalities, we are unaware of the prodigious machinery behind, which is diligently doing discourse selection and dissemination.
To make sense of this incredibly crucial work for our times, please join us at Brooklyn Book Talk and share your views about matters of power and punishment, and their subtle manifestations, which ought to concern us all, if we are to leave this world a little better than the way we found it.