Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

Foucault has this to say about “self-expression”:

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.

This passage transcribed from the subtitled The Lost Interview video by Sebastian Edin is rendered in Michel Foucault, Freedom and Knowledge, Interview by Fons Elders. Translated by Lionel Claris, Elders Special Productions BV, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2012, p,33 as follows:

I don’t believe there is virtue in using language that is intended only to express various forms of subjectivity to others. That is a language that does not interest me. 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 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.

It is not about trying to find, then expressing an “authentic self” to the world. Rather, we could see our personal existence as an ongoing experiment with non static practices of the self, of manifesting a self to others through various kinds of external and internal practices. These practices are borrowed and modified from the practices invented by others and plugged into a general social and cultural network. It is not a question of finding, then externalising with anguished difficulty some authentic individual and unique interior.

A definitional discussion on “self-expression” on the Positive site notes the following:

self-expression is, at its core, the action of expressing yourself, and it can take a wide variety of forms. You can use your words, your facial expressions, your body, your movements, clothing, actions, and possessions to express your authentic inner self.

and refers to a definition drawn from Kim, H. S., & Ko, D. (2007). Culture and self-expression. In C. Sedikides & S. J. Spencer (Eds.), Frontiers of social psychology. The self (pp. 325-342). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.

that self-expression is one of the most highly-regarded and venerated values in Western civilization due to the near-deification of “the individual” in our society. Not only is self-expression a vital practice of Western culture, it is also baked into the very roots of psychology. After all, psychology is all about the study of the mind, including the self, others, and groups of people.

Of course, the idea of an “authentic inner self” is something that Foucault famously challenges, also noting that the “free and unique individual” that people think they are expressing is far more constrained and illusory than they think.


Foucault News

After the terrible news of the fire and because the banner of Foucault News is an image of Le Stryge, one of the chimera on top of Notre Dame, I am reposting the message and photo below from the Alliance Française de Brisbane. The fate of the chimera is as yet unclear. This article on the BBC news site lists what has survived and what hasn’t.

Claude Mauriac in his memoir Le Temps Immobile describes watching Maurice Clavel, the journalist, playwright and author lecturing on Foucault at Notre-Dame, praising his anti-humanist Kantian stance in The Order of Things. (David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault, Penguin Random House, p.192)

The Motto of the City of Paris “fluctuat nec mergitur” (she is tossed by the waves but does not sink) This will prove to be true once Notre Dame is rebuilt again.

Donations are already flooding in…

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This sounds like an interesting read. The adulation of ‘busyness’ is definitely something I’ve noticed in the last couple of decades at least.

Bellezza, Silvia, Neeru Paharia, and Anat Keinan. “Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol.” Journal of Consumer Research 44, no. 1 (June 2017): 118-138.

While research on conspicuous consumption has typically analyzed how people spend money on products that signal status, we investigate conspicuous consumption in relation to time. We argue that a busy and overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol. A series of studies shows that the positive inferences of status in response to busyness and lack of leisure are driven by the perceptions that a busy person possesses desired human capital characteristics (competence, ambition) and is scarce and in demand on the job market. This research uncovers an alternative kind of conspicuous consumption that operates by shifting the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals. Furthermore, we examine cultural values (perceived social mobility) and differences among cultures (North America vs. Europe) to demonstrate moderators and boundary conditions of the positive associations derived from signals of busyness.

Peaks and pirates … A detail from a version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s map by Monro Orr in 1934. Photograph: 14597/The British Library Board

I am fascinated by various kinds of literary and artistic maps. This article in The Guardian talks about some notable literary maps:

Robert Macfarlane, Frances Hardinge and Miraphora Mina, Wizards, Moomins and pirates: the magic and mystery of literary maps, The Guardian, 22 Sep 2018

From Moominland to the Marauder’s Map, writers Robert Macfarlane, Frances Hardinge and Harry Potter cartographer Miraphora Mina unfold their favourite maps

Broadly speaking, we might say there are two types of map: the grid map and the story map. A grid map places an abstract geometric meshwork upon a space, a meshwork within which any item or individual can be coordinated. The power of such maps is that they make it possible for any individual or object to be located within an abstract totality of space. Their danger is that they so reduce the world to data that they record space independent of being.

Story maps, by contrast, represent a place as it is perceived by an individual or by a culture moving through it. They are records of specific journeys, rather than describing a space within which journeys might take place. They are organised around the passage of the traveller, and their perimeters are the perimeters of the sight or experience of that traveller.

Tyler Cowen, Americans own less stuff because of the internet, and that’s a worry, Financial Review Aug 13 2018

Lately I’ve been worrying about a problem of the latter kind: the erosion of personal ownership and what that will mean for our loyalties to traditional American concepts of capitalism and private property.


The nation was based on the notion that property ownership gives individuals a stake in the system. It set Americans apart from feudal peasants, taught us how property rights and incentives operate, and was a kind of training for future entrepreneurship.

This article in the Financial Review runs all the wrong arguments about the share economy. It’s not the lack of private ownership per se that is the problem and that is going to solve our current difficulties. Who needs more hoarding, more waste to clog up the environment, more greedy profiteers exploiting their fellow human beings – even at primary school level – where the latest educational trend is to encourage children to be ‘entrepreneurs’?

A more even social and economic distribution is what’s needed. The real problem is not the decline of ownership per se (which I think is a good thing – unless it’s due – as is often the case – to exponentially increasing economic disparities) but how goods are being shared and made available for use and who is making them available via subscription systems. What we should be more worried about in relation to some of the mechanisms the author describes (print, video and audio streaming services, google etc) are the ways our freedoms and access to knowledge are being controlled and manipulated by large corporations – all in the interests of profit. Also, some forms of the so-called share economy are just new and unregulated forms of exploitation. Uber and Air bnb, for example, are perhaps a little less ideal on that score than they would like to appear.

A useful article in The Guardian on the long standing prejudices against fan fiction and its emergence from the dungeons of dubious subculture particularly since the advent of the internet.

From Star Trek to Fifty Shades: how fanfiction went mainstream
Mikaella Clements
Wed 8 Aug 2018

The divide between a fanfiction writer and an original fiction writer can look very arbitrary when looking at authors such as Michael Chabon, who once described his own novel Moonglow as “a Gravity’s Rainbow fanfic”. Or Madeline Miller, whose Orange-prize winning The Song of Achilles detailed the romantic relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, and whose latest novel Circe picks up on the witch who seduces Odysseus in the Odyssey. Miller said she was initially worried when one ex-boyfriend described her work as “Homeric fanfiction” but has since embraced her love of adapting and playing with Greek mythology. The tag could also be applied to classics such as Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, reworkings of Shakespeare by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Edward St Aubyn in the Hogarth series, and a spate of parodies: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Android Karenina.

No apologies for cross-posting this notice of the new book from Foucault News!

Foucault at the Movies
Michel Foucault, Patrice Maniglier, Dork Zabunyan. Translated and edited by Clare O’Farrell, Columbia University Press, 2018

Michel Foucault’s work on film, although not extensive, compellingly illustrates the power of bringing his unique vision to bear on the subject and offers valuable insights into other aspects of his thought. Foucault at the Movies brings together all of Foucault’s commentary on film, some of it available for the first time in English, along with important contemporary analysis and further extensions of this work.

Patrice Maniglier and Dork Zabunyan situate Foucault’s writings on film in the context of the rest of his work as well as within a broad historical and philosophical framework. They detail how Foucault’s work directly or indirectly inspired both film critics and directors in surprising ways and discuss his ideas in relation to significant movements within film theory and practice. The book includes film reviews and discussions by Foucault as well as his interviews with the prestigious film magazine Cahiers du cinéma and other journals. Also included are his dialogues with the noted French feminist writer Hélène Cixous and film directors Werner Schroeter and René Féret. Throughout, Foucault and those he is in conversation with reflect on the relationship of film to history, the body, power and politics, knowledge, sexuality, aesthetics, and institutions of internment. Foucault at the Movies makes all of Foucault’s writings on film available to an English-speaking audience in one volume and offers detailed, up-to-date commentary, inviting us to go to the movies with Foucault.


Translator’s Preface, by Clare O’Farrell
Introduction: Michel Foucault’s Cut, by Patrice Maniglier and Dork Zabunyan

Part 1. Foucault and Film: A Historical and Philosophical Encounter

1. What Film Is Able to Do: Foucault and Cinematic Knowledge, by Dork Zabunyan
2. Versions of the Present: Foucault’s Metaphysics of the Event Illuminated by Cinema, by Patrice Maniglier

Part 2. Michel Foucault on Film

3. Film, History, and Popular Memory
4. Marguerite Duras: Memory Without Remembering
5. Paul’s Story: The Story of Jonah
6. The Nondisciplinary Camera Versus Sade
7. The Asylum and the Carnival
8. Crime and Discourse
9. The Return of Pierre Rivière
10. The Dull Regime of Tolerance
11. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
12. Werner Schroeter and Michel Foucault in Conversation

Appendix: Foucault at the Movies—a Program of Films


Michel Foucault, a French historian, philosopher, and social theorist, was one of the most important figures in twentieth-century thought. His work has had enormous influence throughout the humanities and social sciences.

Patrice Maniglier is senior lecturer in the department of philosophy at the University of Paris–Nanterre.

Dork Zabunyan is professor of film studies at the University of Paris–8.

Clare O’Farrell is senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology. Her books include Foucault: Historian or Philosopher? (1989) and Michel Foucault (2005).


Like all of his great interviews, Foucault at the Movies presents Foucault speaking in his own voice. We find Foucault saying that “the art of living” means that psychology must be killed; that the body must be dismantled; that memory must function without remembering; and that passion is more interesting than love. Foucault at the Moviesis an invaluable addition to our understanding of Foucault’s thought.
Leonard Lawlor, Penn State University

Michel Foucault’s writings have led many of us to think differently. Do his observations on film introduce us to fresh ways of seeing? If philosophers have primarily studied discourses of truth, perhaps they need to give equal consideration to the overpowering fabrication of regimes of fiction, especially those of our cinematic culture. Is Fascism comprehensible apart from the images of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the WillFoucault at the Movies is a stimulating engagement with a frequently overlooked contribution from the French thinker.
James Bernauer, Boston College

A new study conducted by Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban with yet more confirmation of the problems with open plan office space is currently attracting wide attention in the media and on the web. Of course, the study does no more than confirm what has already been argued at length elsewhere and what workers know from experience and common sense, but the study is novel in that it has used high tech tracking methods. The authors also deploy extensive referencing and scientific method to support their findings. As we know, organisations will only listen to information that runs contrary to their commercial interests if studies ramp up the scientific overkill. Well done to the authors for their contribution on this front.

Libby Sander has also reported on the study in The Conversation and The Sydney Morning Herald with the optimistic title (perhaps added by the editors rather than the author) A new study should be the final nail for open-plan offices. Of course, if a building has already been purpose built according to what can only be described as the ideology of open plan, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to retrofit it.

Cal Newport who has commented at some length on his blog in the past on open plan refers to the article as well.

The Financial Review has also reported on the study

For quick reference, the abstract to Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban’s article, “The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration” which is available via open access on The Royal Society website can be found below.

Organizations’ pursuit of increased workplace collaboration has led managers to transform traditional office spaces into ‘open’, transparency-enhancing architectures with fewer walls, doors and other spatial boundaries, yet there is scant direct empirical research on how human interaction patterns change as a result of these architectural changes. In two intervention-based field studies of corporate headquarters transitioning to more open office spaces, we empirically examined—using digital data from advanced wearable devices and from electronic communication servers—the effect of open office architectures on employees’ face-to-face, email and instant messaging (IM) interaction patterns. Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction. In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM. This is the first study to empirically measure both face-to-face and electronic interaction before and after the adoption of open office architecture. The results inform our understanding of the impact on human behaviour of workspaces that trend towards fewer spatial boundaries.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Interdisciplinary approaches for uncovering the impacts of architecture on collective behaviour’.

Also reported on on The Mandarin website and on the Science Alert website amongst many others. The keen interest in this study demonstrates what a pervasive problem this is in work environments at present across a large range of sectors.

It is often argued that Foucault adopts a relativist view of history. This couldn’t be further from the truth (no pun intended). It is much more complex than that. Most often it means in coded form ‘Foucault’s view and interpretation of history and events is at odds with my own view’.

If we have different views on the past, it is because we are enlarging and looking at quite specific concrete events and finding new angles, new layers and new understandings of those events,new ways of relating these events to a wider network including the events which happened subsequently to those things which happened. There is no way of exhausting our understanding of historical events and their significance for our present as more events accumulate. The past is still connected in this way to our present. Events are not fixed in the past, they are part of a network.

Foucault notes in “The Order of Discourse” that history, far from

“[turning away] from events: on the contrary […] is constantly enlarging their field, discovering new layers of them, shallower or deeper. It is constantly isolating new sets of them, in which they are sometimes numerous, dense and interchangeable, sometimes rare and decisive.”
Michel Foucault. “The Order of Discourse.” In Untying the Text: A Poststructuralist Reader, ed. R. Young, trans. Ian McLeod. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981, p.68

One might argue that this is a quantum view of history, ‘facts’ can operate either as waves or particles. The web that facts and events are woven into is so complex that we can emphasise one set of relations and then another or another and never reach the end of it. This is not relativism or anything goes – it requires a rigorous understanding of the details of those networks and a talent and relentless erudition in making these connections intelligible.

If we understand history and science as a network, not a discrete linearity of hermetic sealed items that follow in a narrow file one after another we have a quantum view of history: simultaneously a particle and a wave of energy. Perhaps this is one reason for the current popularity of Foucault’s work – his understanding melds perfectly with our situation in the so-called ‘networked society’.

Svend Brinkmann, Stand Firm. Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze, Trans. Tam McTurk, Cambridge: Polity, 2017

Another book I will be reading through on this blog. This short and entertaining anti self-help book is an absolute gem. I will admit I am a bit of a self-help junkie, but prefer works that offer practical (and not too hyped) techniques rather than ones that put the emphasis on self-discovery. Brinkmann is Professor of Psychology at Aalborg University in Denmark and this book was a best seller in its orginal language and made the author a celebrity. Brinkmann’s departmental affiliation is misleading perhaps as this book is located squarely within the philosophical arena rather than the psychological one, with the author advocating an updated form of Stoicism for today. In this he would no doubt concur with Foucault’s remark in relation to Ancient Greek philosophy:

Among the cultural inventions of mankind there is a treasury of devices, techniques, ideas, procedures, and so on, that cannot exactly be reactivated, but at least constitute, or help to constitute, a certain point of view which can be very useful as a tool for analyzing what’s going on now-and to change it.
Michel Foucault, On the Genealogy of Ethics : An Overview of Work in Progress, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 349-50

In many ways Brinkmann’s project is quite foucauldian, and he does in fact refer to Foucault’s work, noting:

It may appear as if Foucault’s technologies of the self are equivalent to the the concept of self-development. And in one sense this is true. However, the significant difference is that while the self-developers of today typically posit the existence of an inner self to be discovered and realised, Foucault thought of the self as an illusion, something that is created, like an artist painting a portrait. It does not exist prior to its creation, and it does not come about by itself. Another difference is that the concept of self-technology is closely associated with an understanding of ethics. The concept of ethics plays an important role in Foucault’s later work, as it represents the ongoing relation to the self to itself. (p. 94)

Brinkmann in a gentle lampooning of Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and the industry it spawned, proposes a seven-step series of techniques for resisting the cult of the self. He provides a nice short paragraph summary of each of these techniques in this article in Psychology Today. His proposed techniques are summarised in the entertaining chapter titles:

  1. Cut out the navel-gazing
  2. Focus on the negative in your life
  3. Put on the No hat
  4. Suppress your feelings
  5. Sack your coach
  6. Read a novel – not a self-help book or biography
  7. Dwell on the past
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