Today I’m going to start this post with the thought process of an over-tired graduate student during her initial study of Foucault’s “This is not a Pipe.” (However, I promise this is not a blog about “This is not a pipe.)
- As she looks at the picture for the first time: “What do you mean it’s not a pipe? It is a pipe! It is! I have eyes and it’s a pipe!” Sigh
- As she looks at the picture the second time: “But why does the caption say it’s not? I’ve had a little French and I can read that it is says it is not a pipe, and if course it tells me in the title, duh.”
- As she continues to look at the picture: “Huh? The p’s look like pipes.”
- Silence. Silence. Silence.
- “Oh, I get it. It’s not a pipe; it’s a picture.” Heavy sigh.
Thus was my introduction to Foucault. A reaction not unlike many others, which Foucault explains in his piece, although I’m not sure explain is the right word. (Did anyone find a definition for isotopism? I finally decided that it must be related to isotopes. Good thing I know a little science?????)
But as I said in the title, this is not a blog about Foucault’s “This is not a Pipe.” This is a blog about Foucault and history. So, let’s move on.
Foucault, and at least many historians, did not always see eye to eye. Foucault’s approach to history, his methodology, went from, according to Patricia O’Brien in “Michel Foucault’s History of Culture,” “‘nonreception’ through ‘confrontation’ to a limited and tenuous ‘assimilation.’ (28)
So, why did historians receive his work with such reservations? I am going to let him talk for himself, something he sometimes did as well in his work, limiting his commentary to an opening page.
He believed that, “The study of modes of problemization (that is, of what is neither an anthropological constant nor a chronological variation) is thus the way to analyze questions of general import in their historically unique form. (What is Englightment?)”
Foucault believed in a historical method based on finding “problems” in history. He looked for places where there were reversals, differences, “recognizing and juxtaposing differences in search of the manifestations of power that permeate all social relationships. (O’Brien, 38) An example might be the difference between crime and the law. Also central to his investigation was discourse. He said, “My general theme is not society, it is true/false discourse” (O’Brien, 36).
His methods were a great departure from the social history predominate at his time.
Now, I must say, that while I found his essay “Discipline and Punish, Panopticism” and his ideas of surveillance and the power that is pervasive in society interesting, I’m not a fan. I’m not a fan of Foucault. There I said it. All the Foucault lovers of the world, you don’t need to try to convert me.
Now this was a blog that was essentially not a blog about “This is not a pipe.” It was a blog about Foucault and history. Or was it…..
Well to me, it’s just a blog about a graduate student who was tricked by a picture of a pipe.