Imagine if Foucault had had a son (or a daughter)…
In this 1980 Interview with Michael Bess, a very lucky and I expect rather nervous graduate student from San Francisco, the great cutter of knowledge himself gave us a little insight into what kind of parent he might have been…
Question: Let me give a different example. If a child wanted to scribble on the walls of a house, would it be repressive to prevent him or her from doing so? At what point does one say, “That’s enough
strong>Foucault: […] If I accepted the picture of power that is frequently adopted— namely, that it’s something horrible and repressive for the individual—it’s clear that preventing a child from scribbling on the walls would be an unbearable
tyranny. But that’s not it: I say that power is a relation. A relation in which one guides the behavior of others. And there’s no reason why this manner of guiding the behavior of others should not ultimately have results which are positive, valuable, interesting, and so on. If I had a kid, I assure you he would not write on the walls—or if he did, it would be against my will. The very idea!
Picture the scene: Foucault’s austere appartment in Paris. The only type of clutter that is allowed is of the literary kind. His daughter, let’s give him a daughter just to disrupt our preconceived ideas further, of about five years old, is sat on the floor, crayoning, while her father studies. Oh but she is bored. Studying is all her father ever does. Studying and talking. About things she doesn’t understand. Her world is full of foreign countries like ‘Hegemony’ and ‘Discourse’. She looks despondently out of the window onto the square below, where children are playing. She sighs
So it is hardly surprising that this neglected child, picks up one of her crayons, a thick red one, and proceeds to draw all over the white walls of her father’s study. She is drawing a picture of hegemony. She wants her father to see her. For a long while he doesn’t see her at all, his shiny bald head is lodged firmly in his books. But in the end he looks up, irritated by the scratching sound.
‘Mais Quest’ce que tu fais?’ he demands. ‘Arrete!’
And he grabs the red crayon from the girl’s hand, who proceeds to cry. Loudly. Michel’s plans for his afternoon of interrogating dominant ideologies are dashed. ‘Power is a relation’, between father and daughter. He drops his book and scoops his daughter up in his arms, gently stroking her hair to placate her. When her cries have subsided, he offers to take her down to the square to play. The girl’s face lights up for the first time that day. ‘A relation in which one guides the behaviour of others..’
‘Hegemony’ remains. In deep red scribbled marks, all over the great philosopher’s study walls.