Foucault’s Brain

Posted: September 18, 2011 in Foucault
Tags: ,

A huge sculpture of Michel Foucault’s head has been incorporated into the construction of a Dutch Nursing Home:

‘The building of the De Burcht residential nursing home has the form of a panopticon. From the open well on the first floor there is an all-round view of the galleries on the upper floors where the entrance doors of the apartments are located. Inspired by the idea of a central point in the building from which everything can be seen in a single glance, and which can itself be seen from all angles, Harmut Wilkening proposed to make a large sculpture depicting the head of Michel Foucault, the theoretician of ‘panopticism’. The concrete portrait of the French philosopher sports a broad smile, his arm emerges from the floor and his hand is resting on his bald head.’

Photos of Foucault often focus on his ‘bald head’ and he is indeed often smiling his bright eyes blazing as if his ideas are right behind them waiting to pop out any moment. But this sculpture also seems like an ‘accurate’ depiction of my beloved Foucault, because it is the contents of that shiny bald head that have impacted so heavily on my and many other people’s lives. This physical, solid representation of ‘Foucault’s Brain’ reminds me of an essay by his friend Roland Barthes, about Einstein’s Brain.

Unlike Einstein Foucault has been remembered for other things apart from his original thinking. He is known as ‘that French gay’ to some, and as one of the first public figures to be recorded as having died from complications caused by the AIDS virus to others. And, with the reactionary ‘backlash’ against post-structuralism, even his ideas have been dismissed and debased.

So I am delighted to see this sculpture, of Foucault’s Brain, placed in an environment that reminds us of one of the  amazing concepts that came from that brain. It feels like at last, a fitting tribute, to the man I sometimes think of as ‘papa’.

h/t/ @bat020

  1. elissa says:

    Great statue of Michele and I swear I won’t poop on another of your Focault threads…but but –

    I’m by no means an expert on panopticism as was used by Focault, but is it not a bit odd that they would adopt this representation in a nursing home? Was not his theory based on the intrusive and disciplinary role of this sort of architecture/mentality?

    Would not this memoral make him roll over in his gay grave?

    • Sometimes elissa you remind me so much of me! Popping up with seemingly innocent questions that actually threaten to dismantle the whole argument of the person you are interrogating!

      You make an excellent point.

      But Foucault never did come up with a solution as to what to do with the elderly, the infirm, the ‘criminal’ or the ‘insane’ . I think he might have found the placing of this sculpture a tad ironic yes. But maybe he’d see the funny side?

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