“Lost Interview” With Michel Foucault: Missing for 30 Years But Now Recovered
Foucault discusses madness and his interest in psychology and psychopathology, repeating in brief the argument he made in Madness and Civilization, his 1961 work in which—through impressive feats of archival research and leaps of the imagination—Foucault attempted, as he wrote in his preface, “to return, in history, to that zero point in the course of madness at which madness is an undifferentiated experience, a not yet divided experience of division itself.”
Foucault explains this thesis more clearly above, pointing out that until the 17th century, so-called “mad” people lived and moved freely in European society. During the age of Enlightenment, however, they began to be shut up in asylums and hidden away. And not only the dangerously insane. “All socially worthless people, the troublemakers,” says Foucault, “were imprisoned.” In the 19th century, this phenomenon gave rise to the scientific discourse of psychiatry, and a rise in hospitals, sanitariums, workhouses, and virtual prisons for those understood to be mentally ill. “My thesis is this, “says Foucault: “the universality of our knowledge, has been acquired at the cost of exclusions, bans, denials, rejections, at the price of a kind of cruelty with regard to reality.”
E-books: book extract of “Freedom and Knowledge” where the whole interview can be read is available here: Freedom_and_Knowledge
This until now rarely seen 15-minute footage is of an interview that was conducted by the Dutch philosopher Fons Elders in preparation for the debate between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, which was broadcasted on Dutch television on Sunday, Nov. 28, 1971. The whole interview was essentially lost for decades and was published in the winter of 2012 for the first time. It is now available as a book under the title of “Freedom and Knowledge.” An excerpt is available for free online on Elder’s own website where people can also purchase the actual book (only available there):
The interview in its book form as “Freedom and Knowledge” includes a few more topics and has both an excellent introduction by author of “Mad for Foucault,” Lynne Huffer, as well as an answer to her, a preface, and a retrospective appendix, each by Fons Elders.
At the time of the interview Foucault held a chair self-titled “History of Systems of Thought” at the prestigious Collège de France. The exchange between Elders and Foucault, however, took place in Foucault’s apartment in Paris on Rue de Vaugirard on Monday, Sept. 13, 1971. The video was subsequently kept in the archives of a Dutch TV building which unfortunately burned. As a result, the fifteen minutes shown here is all that is left of the full interview footage. As you can see, this “Foucault Profile” which was to be shown on Dutch television right before the debate had been pieced together in such a way that Elder’s questions are not part of the video and only Foucault can be seen answering Elders’ questions. By contrast, “Freedom and Knowledge” includes Elder’s questions as part of what he tells me was an interview that was over one hour long. Thankfully, before burning, the whole interview had been professionally hand transcribed from the original French, and the rights had kindly been given over to Elders by Foucault himself at the time of the interview. After being lost from public view for decades—some thirty-one years after the original interview—I would find this very footage, quite by chance, while doing undergraduate research for my two senior theses at Hampshire College. Doing so would eventually lead me to help rescue from oblivion the whole interview years later, allowing me now to have the right to share this video with all of you out there.
When Elders first sent me to work with the interview, he told me: “Translating Foucault is a very difficult task because his style of thinking serves two opposite aims: to express and to hide simultaneously.” I thought this was a useful characterization of Foucault’s critical thought and kept it in mind as I worked on the exciting interview. I first typed the whole verbatim handwritten document in French, which needed some corrections. Once I had properly edited the entirety of the manuscript, I then proceeded to translate the whole content into English. It is good that the interview finally got published, but arguably for contingent reasons it has not gotten thus far the kind of distribution it deserves. That is part of the reason we feel compelled to share the only video part of it left here. In my opinion, this interview not only makes for an instructive introduction to Foucault’s work, but it also goes with uncommon ease deeply into some of the breadth of Foucault’s far-reaching project. It is situated it seems at a kind of mid point in his career: after “The Order of Things” and “The Archaeology of Knowledge,” but before “Discipline and Punish” and “The History of Sexuality.”
The English translation was here modified slightly to fit the video format, and in a couple of places it was even perhaps somewhat improved. I am putting this video live for all to see with Fons Elder’s permission and encouragement. I am grateful for his support with this project over the years and for that of others, including Judith Butler, Lynne Huffer, Donna Riley, Katie Wallick, Mark Achbar, Herbert J. Bernstein, Noam Chomsky, Christoph Cox, Didier Eribon, Ralph Hexter, Toon Zweers, as well as others whom out of respect must remain nameless here.
As might be noticeable to viewers, the Foucault “profile” presented here is a montage that puts together several parts of the whole interview. As such, it does not fully follow the original interview chronologically, putting together parts that work but which are not faithful to the natural flow of the live interview. To show wherever I believe such interruptions to have taken place I have included ellipses (“…”) in the subtitles. For an unaltered flow of the interview, we encourage you to go on Elder’s website and check out “Freedom and Knowledge.”
Elders and I are currently working on getting my typed French transcript (based on the handwritten version that I worked from since late 2009) published in France in its original French.
We hope this interview will provide you with much food for critical thought.
Published mars 20, 2014
Free downloadable book extract of “Freedom and Knowledge” where the whole interview can be read is available here: https://egs.academia.edu/LionelClaris