Foucault on the ‘Expression of Individuality’

“We are used to thinking that the expression of individuality, for example, or the exaltation of individuality is one of the forms of man’s liberation… But I wonder if the opposite is true. I have tried to show that humanism was a kind of form, was this sort of fabrication of the human being according to a certain model, and that humanism does not work at all as a liberation of man, but on the contrary works as an imprisonment of man inside certain types of moulds that are all controlled by the sovereignty of the subject.” – Michel Foucault

The above quote of Foucault’s is taken from an interview the entirety of which can be found here:

The picture is taken from the AXE commercial “Find Your Magic”.

PS. I know I’m exceeding the 30-50 word limit here, but I’m really very curious to see if anyone would care to comment the final section of the interview in which Foucault states the following:

“I don’t believe in the virtue of using language for “self-expression”. The language that interests me is the one that can actually destroy all the circular, enclosed, narcissistic forms of the subject and of oneself. And what I mean by ‘the end of man’ is, deep down, the end of all these forms of individuality, of subjectivity, of consciousness, of the ego, on which we have built and from which we have tried to build and to constitute knowledge. …The West has tried to build the figure of man in this way, and this image is in the process of disappearing. And so I don’t say the things I say because they are what I think, but rather I say them with the end in mind of self-destruction, precisely to make sure they are no longer what I think. To be really certain that from now on, outside of me, they are going to live a life or die in such a way that I will not have to recognize myself in them.”

A passage I find, frankly, quite remarkable. In which of his works might one find an elaboration of these ideas? I know there is a full transscription of the interview in book form (the youtube video covers only a part of some hour’s worth of material), but I’m thinking the foundation for these thoughts must have been laid elsewhere. Specifically, the part from “And so I don’t say these things…” onwards have me amazed and perplexed to an equal degree. Anyhow, just thought I’d share it with you.

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4 Comments on "Foucault on the ‘Expression of Individuality’"

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Lara Eva Sochor

Thank you for sharing Foucault’s words in this context. I personally always enjoy reading about Foucault’s criticism towards humanism, especially as I still cannot shake the feeling that he is often misunderstood in this context.
Concerning your question: I won’t be able to help you too much, as I am far from having read all of his works, but I have the notion that “The order of things” would be a good starting point, because it is mainly concerned with language and the passing on of knowledge.

Honey Beckerlee
Great you bring up Foucault. It seems impossible to talk about normativity without mentioning Foucault, yet he didn’t come up during the lesson. Those are quite amazing quotes you have found. I didn’t know he had done so much work on the critique of humanism. With regard to your request for more, it seems he is referencing previous work, when he says “What I mean by the end of man”. When I tried to look up “Foucault – The end of man” This came up:'Death%20of%20Man'%20-%20Foucault%20and%20Humanism.pdf I don’t know if that is useful to you. I am very inspired to… Read more »
Leon Human

Hi Sebastian. Lovely find. It’s somewhere between a quasi-buddhistic non-self quest and the epistemological suicide of Narcissus. Or, in Zizek’s phrase the self as the ‘self-appearing of nothing’. There might, obviously, be some performativity paradoxes in saying the things you say so that you won’t think to say them ever again…etc.

Anna Rowntree
thanks or this. really inspiring. made me think about how a lot of posthumanist (im thinking about Braidotti in perticular and of course Deleuz and Guattari) attempt to use language in such a way that is is at least partially freed from the conventions and expectations embedded in it. making up jargon words, being openly obscure or saying the same thing in multiple ways, letting language resonate rather than dictate, these feel like efforts to disorganise or shake up subjective identity or concept. so much of our identity is told in language after all. and humanist focus on language ability… Read more »