Skip to main content

Topics in 20th Century French Philosophy I (PH9A6-20/30)

“The Government of Desire: Foucault, Genealogy, History”

The task of philosophy, Foucault famously claimed, is not to think what is eternally and necessarily, but to understand who we are today. It is, he says elsewhere, to arrive at an “ontology of our own present.” In the course of a discussion at The University of Berkeley in 1983, he also claimed, somewhat enigmatically, that the western civilisation is the civilisation of desire. This claim is perhaps less surprising, if we bear in mind that, since his 1975 lecture course Abnormal and the publication of the first volume of History of Sexuality in 1976, Foucault was busy understanding how and why desire had become such a crucial problem and concern in western culture, and laying the foundations for a “genealogy of the western subject” as “the subject of desire.” This project is one that he never completed, but for which he left a number of important clues, which this module will follow. The hypothesis that will drive the module as a whole is that our own desiring subjectivity is framed by three different theoretical and practical spaces: that of political economy, which constructs desire as interest and utility; that of sexuality, which constructs desire as instinct and drive; and that of the symbolic, which constructs desire in relation to Recognition. They are the three main channels through which subjects recognise and govern themselves, as well as others, as subjects of desire. By focusing on Foucault’s writings and lecture courses at the Collège de France between 1975 and 1979, this module will offer a critical assessment of the nature of contemporary subjectivity.

Module Director

Miguel Beistegui

Timing and CATS

This module runs in the Autumn Term of the 2016/17 academic year, and is worth 20 or 30 CATS depending on your programme of study.