‘Knowledge is not for knowing; knowledge is for cutting’ Michel Foucault The Foucault Reader
It is a hot night in Paris. The city is never totally quiet. She lies in bed with just a sheet draped over her, listening to the sounds of cars in the distance, and the occasional group of late-night revellers. What do adults do at night? But she might come to regret such idle questions. She is not ready for the answers. The girl is only six.
This is her father’s appartment. She knows it well but it doesn’t feel like home. At her mother’s house she could sleepwalk her way to the kitchen or the bathroom and back to bed. Home is part of her. Here she has to stop and think. Remember where light switches are. Tiptoe over loose floorboards. Try not to wake her papa. Not that he ever does. Her maman’s nerve endings are attached somehow to her daughter, even six years after she gave birth. If her child wakes in the night her mother stirs and worries. Sometimes the woman will find herself alert, in the middle of the night, thinking she heard her cry or move, and then remembers her daughter is with her father. But she still worries. She worries even more when she is with him.
The girl is thirsty but she doesn’t want to get out of bed and disturb the equilibrium. She lies awake a little longer, thinking about nothing. In the end she turns and switches on the bedside light. She reaches out and tugs at the curtain to look at the street below. It is empty except for two men, walking along, talking animatedly, arguing maybe. She can’t make out the words, just the timbre of their voices. They don’t sound angry, just, she doesn’t know the word. It’s the middle of the night and her throat is dry.
So the girl gets out of bed and tiptoes out onto the corridor. She walks gingerly towards the kitchen. She feels like a burglar. As she passes her father’s room she hears sounds. She hopes she hasn’t woken him up. He is always grumpy when he doesnt sleep enough.
The sounds she can hear are strange, as if there is an animal in there with her papa. Grunting, and then a kind of yelp, as if the animal is in pain. She stands still as a stone in the darkness and listens with all her ears and mind.
But it can’t be an animal because then she hears voices, men’s voices. One of them is her father. They are speaking quietly, almost whispering, and as if they are out of breath, like they have been running or something. The door is closed firmly. She cannot see anything. Why would her father go running in the middle of the night with another man? Did he leave her here on her own? That thought makes her feel anxious, upset. She remembers why she got out of bed in the first place and goes to the kitchen for the drink of water. Gulping it down, standing by the sink in her night dress, she gets that familiar feeling in her stomach. That the world is turning too quickly, and she is being left behind again.
Suddenly a loud cry emenates from one of the men in her father’s room. It startles her so much she drops the glass, still half-filled with water, onto the stone kitchen floor. It dutifully smashes into pieces. And one of the pieces lodges itself in her bare foot, causing her too, to cry out, immitating the noise she has just heard. After some scrambling, whispering, fumbling, stomping, her father appears, red-faced, half-dressed, in the doorway of the kitchen.
He sees his daughter, the glass, the water, the blood trickling from her toe.
‘Merde’ says the great philosopher, profound as ever.
Then they hear the front door slam. The ‘animal’ has gone, leaving father and daughter alone to clear up the mess. To dress her wound. Knowledge is for cutting, and it makes us bleed. Is this what learning will always be like? Accompanied by pain?
‘C’etait qui, papa? L’homme dans ta chambre?’ Who was it Dad? The man in your room? She asks, her voice beginning to shake a little. She is not ready for the answer but she cannot help but ask the question. She does not know it yet, but she will never be able to keep herself from asking the question, from picking the scab. Her ‘curiosite’, just like her father’s, will lead her through her life, sometimes into terrible trouble, and there will be nothing she can do to stop it.
Michel Foucault sighs. He knows they are cut from the same cloth, his curious daughter and him. He knows where this can lead. He adjusts his spectacles which are falling down his nose. He wishes he was anywhere but here. He goes to the placard to find a plaster for his daughter’s cut.
This is going to be a long night.