Foucault: A Randomized Collection of Quotes

Foucault, Discipline and Punish

Important quotes. (It is the task approximating impossibility, to extract important quotes from Foucault, since everything he ever wrote is a breakthrough, if applied properly, and thus is of paramount importance; albeit not deprived of admirable machismo, if I may be permitted to remark.)

“In France, the guillotine, that machine for the production of rapid and discreet death, represented a new ethic of legal death. But the Revolution had immediately endowed it with a great theatrical ritual. For years it provided a spectacle.” (15)


Mr. Guillotin,
an advocate for humanity
and a foreseer of the future,
proposed to statesmen
a vehicle for punishment,
a sleek guillotine,
concise like a grand piano,
fast like the best automobile,
and painless, like an injection of morphine,
a door and a portal to the better world,
a lift to heaven and hell.
In his private life,
he was modest and shy.
He had an emerald tortoise,
who kept him company during
morning coffee and evening tea,
but this is not
what he is universally acclaimed for,
nor respected the most.

“Regard punishment as a political tactic.” (23)

“But the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.” (25) [and sighs?]

“We should admit rather that power produces knowledge [Marx — V.O.] (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” (27)

“The body interrogated in torture constituted the point of application of the punishment and the locus of extortion of the truth.” (42)

“Besides its immediate victim, the crime attacks the sovereign: it attacks him personally, since the law represents the will of the sovereign; it attacks him physically, since the force of the law is the force of the prince.” (47)

“The liturgy of torture and execution” (49)

“In the ceremonies of the public execution, the main character was the people, whose real and immediate presence was required for the performance.” (57) [The society of spectacle and more]

“Under the protection of imminent death, the criminal could say everything and the crowd cheered.” (60)

“…attempts were made to seize the condemned man, either to save him or to kill him more surely” (63)

“ambiguous rituals” (65)

“The offences had to be properly defined and more surely punished; out of this mass of irregularities, sometimes tolerated and sometimes punished with a severity out of all proportion to the offence, one had to determine what was an intolerable offence, and the offenders had to be apprehended and punished.” (86)

“The right to punish had been shifted from the vengeance of the sovereign to the defence of society.” (90, “Society Should Be Defended”)

“The last crime cannot but remain unpunished.” (93)

“the double taxonomy of punishments and crimes” (100)

“The art of punishing, then, must rest on a whole technology of representation.” (104)

“Mere day-dreaming? Perhaps.” (105)

“This, then, is how one must imagine the punitive city. At the crossroads, in the gardens, at the side of roads being repaired of bridges built, in workshops open to all, in the depths of mines that may be visited, will be hundreds of tiny theaters of punishment.” (113)

“The apparatus of corrective penalty acts in a quite different way. The point of application of the penalty is not the representation, but the body, time, everyday gestures and activities; the soul, too, but in so far as it is the seat of habits. The body and the soul, as principles of behavior, form the element that is now proposed for punitive intervention.” (128)

“How did the coercive, corporal, solitary, secret model of the power to punish replace the representative, scenic, signifying, public, collective model?” (131)

“Let us to take the ideal figure of the soldier as it was still seen in the early seventeenth century. To begin with, the soldier was someone who could be recognized from afar; he bore certain signs: the natural signs of his strength and courage, the marks, too, of his pride; his body was the blazon of his strength and valour; and although it is true that he had to learn the profession of arms little by little — generally in actual fighting — movements like marching and attitudes like the bearing of the head belonged for the most part to a bodily rhetoric of honour…” (135)

“Discipline sometimes requires enclosure, the specification of a place heterogeneous to all others and closed in upon itself.” (141)

“The organization of a serial space was one of the great technical mutations of elementary education.” (147)

“The mutual improvement school was to exploit still further this control of behaviour by the system of signals to which one had to react immediately.” (167)

“These ”observatories” had an almost ideal model: the military camp — the short-lived, artificial city, built and reshaped almost at will; the seat of a power that must be all the stronger, but also all the more discreet, all the more effective and on the alert in that it is exercised over armed men.” (171)

“The order that the disciplinary punishment must enforce is of a mixed nature: it is an ‘artifical’ order, explicitly laid down by a law, a programme, a set of regulations.” (179)

“One of the essential conditions for the epistemological ‘thaw’ of medicine at the end of the eighteenth century was the organization of the hospital as an ‘examining’ apparatus. The ritual of the visit was its most obvious form.” (185)

“As opposed to the ruined prisons, littered with mechanisms of torture, to be seen in Piranese’s engravings, the Panopticon presents a cruel, ingenious cage.” (205)

“We are much less Greeks than we believe.” (217)

“This production of delinquency and its investment by the penal apparatus must be taken for what they are: not result acquired once and for all, but tactics that shift according to how closely they reach their target.” (285)

“I am not saying that the human sciences emerged from the prison.” (305) [Oh but you do.]



Voluntary Incarceration




Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Translated by Alan Sheridan. Vintage Books New York 1995.

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