Mirrors of Foucault, or A Little Bit of Bookworming

“The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history: with its themes of development and of suspension, of crisis and cycle, themes of the ever-accumulating past, with its great preponderance of dead men and the menacing glaciation of the world.” (”Of Other Spaces” by Michel Foucault,diacritics / spring 1986. Translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec)

“As is well known, the great and obsessive dread of the nineteenth century was history, with its themes of development and stagnation, crisis and cycle, the accumulation of the past, the surplus of the dead and the world threatened by cooling.” (“Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” by Michel Foucault. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. Edited by Neil Leach.* NYC: Routledge. 1997. pp.330-336)

“As we know, the great obsession of the nineteenth century was history: themes of development and arrest, themes of crisis and cycle, themes of accumulation of the past, a great overload of dead people, the threat of global cooling.” (“Different Spaces” by Michel Foucault in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology. 1998. The New Press New York. Edited by James D. Faubion. Translated by Robert Hurley.)

As Foucault in the first sentence of his lecture, delivered on the 14th of March, 1967, to the Architectural Studies Circle, which was later published under the title “Des Espaces Autres” in the issue 5 of the journal Architecture-Mouvement-Continuité (October, 1984; 46-49), later known broadly as the “Foucault’s Heterotopia Writing,” may or may not have said, the nineteenth century was occupied with:

– development and suspension
– crisis and cycle;
– ever-accumulating past (past) or the past’s ever-accumulation (accumulation);
– preponderance  of the dead,
– and the treat of the global cooling
[menacing glaciation}.

I wonder if surplus of the dead makes the Leach’s Foucault into a Marxist.

* the name of the translator of this piece in Leach’s volume is omitted. in the Acknowledgements section we read the editor’s gratitude for the permission to publish the piece expressed in the following expressions: “Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies: Theodor Adorno, ‘Functionalism Today’, trans. Jane Newman and John Smith; Ernst Bloch, ‘Formative Education, Engineering Form, Ornament’, trans. Jane Newman and John Smith; Michel Foucault, ‘Other Spaces: The Principles of Heterotopia’.” perhaps it is reasonable to suggest that Jane Newman and John Smith did the translation; the very title of the Foucault’s piece in the edited volume differs however from the title mentioned.

The Governing and the Governed

In his book “The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World” (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), Partha Chatterjee rejects Benedict Anderson’s notion of a homogeneous time-space of modernity which politics inhabit, suggesting instead that such time is “the utopian time of capital” (6), and that time is heterogeneous, unevenly dense, since modernity is, in which he follows Foucault, heterotopia.

Foucault’s notion of heterotopia is evoked of describing the spacio-temporal characteristics of ambiguity, in which the subject finds herself in several places or points at once, for instance, looking at the mirror. To say that the modernity is heterotopic, is a productive way of speaking about modernity, in my opinion. Modernity is characterized by this ambiguity of positioning, when futurity and remnants of the past commingle and coincide, but also contradict one another and clash with one another.

Homi Bhabha, according to Chatterjee, formulated heterotopic ambiguity around the axes of nation in which “the people were an object of national pedagogy because they were always in the making, in a process of historical progress, not yet fully developed to fulfill the nation’s destiny” (6), yet at the same time, “the unity of the people, their permanent identification with the nation, had to be continually signified, repeated, and performed” (6). Chatterjee announces it to be an inherent feature of modernity, or “modern politics itself” (6)–and one might agree, but there is no big contradiction here, it appears. Both these statements describe the nation in becoming, in flux, in progress. What does contradict each other though, is that the people in the making and in process are simultaneously already perceived or framed as nation today, already–the nation which has a glorious history and bright future; which is a key feature of nation building. Apart from having the future, the past, and the present, nation is as a rule relates somehow, sanctioned by divine providence and blessed by God. To evoke the specter of Vl. Solovyev: “The idea of nation is not something that the nation itself thinks about itself in time, but something that God thinks about it in eternity.” (Соловьев, 1911, 3)–a standard motif of governmentality engaging into what might be called “narrativization of the nation.” (“efforts to narrativize,” as Chatterjee puts it, 8).

The analysis of the untouchables in India, affords for understanding that “Citizens inhabit the domain of theory, populations the domain of policy.” (34).

Chatterjee shows that Lockian idea of two types of citizens–sound-minded citizens who get to govern and those who should be governed because they could not be subjects of consensual politics–is deeply ingrained into structures of democracy; this is indeed modernity’s constitutive, foundational idea, and not some glitch or malfunction happening occasionally.



Chatterjee, Partha. The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Соловьев Вл. Русская идея. М., 1911.