Limits, Liminality and the Present:

Foucault's Ontology of Social Criticism


Iain MacKenzie*


It is a commonplace among commentators on Foucault's work that his thought is aimed at provoking a "limit-attitude" towards discursive categories and institutional formations. [1]   Foucault, it is claimed, traced the formation of systems of thought in a way that displayed the outer reaches, the edges or limits of these systems.  Transgressing those limits exposes our preconceptions revealing the structures that underpin different forms of the relationship between knowledge and power.  Madness and Civilisation, [2] for example, reveals the intimate relation between the incursion of rationality into the public sphere and the exclusion of certain categories of people as "mad", that is, not fit for rational thought.  Exposing these categories and means of exclusion helps to foster a critical understanding of the relationship between the promotion of rationality and the constitution of madness as irrationality.  The "renewed rites of purification and reason" [3] that would come to create the "great confinement" of the mad demonstrates the close and unambiguous links between the formation of an age of reason and the confinement, medicalisation and normalisation of large sections of society from that process.  This revelation invites us to transgress the limits of our thought and to gaze beyond the confines of our "normal" conceptual structures.  It asks us to consider the character of the relation between reason and madness as one that is not wholly reasonable.  In this way Foucault's project can be viewed as expressing a limit-attitude which takes thought beyond the threshold of common sense. [4]


This interpretation of the Foucauldian project, however, is more useful as a starting point than as an end point; it is a place to begin critical discussion of his work not a way of summing it up.  Rather than simply accepting that Foucault's thought encapsulates an "analytic of the limit" it is necessary to find an approach to his work that looks beyond this reading.  This is the case for two reasons.  Firstly, it is important that the critical discourse around Foucault does not become too complacent or too readily subsumed in its own terms of reference.  This is the only way of avoiding the reification of the author that Foucault so despised. [5]   Secondly, it is important for scholarship inspired by Foucault's work that the charges levelled against his thought by critical theorists are met.  Critics of Foucault have argued that as a theorist of the limit he offers no way of conceptualising a normative grounding for social criticism.  It is argued that his thought boils down to a brand of nihilism with "neo-conservative" political consequences.  These charges must be rebutted if the "empirical insights" of his work are not to be subsumed in the "weak" foundationalism of neo-Kantian perspectives.  This assumes, of course, that Foucault offers a novel perspective on the nature of social criticism that is occluded by the neo-Kantian approach.  To this end, it prposed to examine the idea of the limit-attitude from the perspective of the transition implicit in crossing limits, that is, from the perspective of the liminal. [6]   It is erroneous to assume that in crossing the boundaries of our thought Foucault's genealogies present a self-evident critique of social norms.  As hinted at above, this is highly problematic given that we are left with very little in the way of a grounding for social criticism.  Importantly, though, this does not entail that we endorse the weak normativism of neo-Kantianism.  If the concept of liminality is foregrounded then Foucault's critical attitude need no longer be envisaged as a transgression of the limits of our thought into some unspecified ‘outside’.  Rather, it is more fruitful to place the emphasis on the actuality of transition as a critical force, on moving through the limits into the zone of liminality where categories are disrupted and yet to be defined.  This is the difference between the "lightning transgression" of limits, which I take to be an uninformative idea of the act of surpassing conceptual boundaries, and liminality, which captures the paradoxes of transgression, the paradoxes inherent in critically examining social relations. [7]


In Foucault a theory of the liminal is "brash" in its silence.  Change, shifts and transgressions are everywhere in Foucault's work; from changing perceptions of madness, through paradigm shifts in academic disciplines, through different "regimes" of power, to the relationship between the confessional and the couch.  Yet the "criticism and awareness" inherent in these periods of change, the intricacies of the liminal experience as a theoretical construct, are the silences within this cacophony. [8]   The aim of this piece is to look to these silences not in order to "fulfil" Foucault or complete his thought but precisely the opposite, to see what new dimensions and connections are possible.  The point is not to comment on Foucault, but to use him.


The Teleological Limits of Foucault's Archaeology


For Foucault the archaeology of knowledge is not concerned with the "truth" or "falsehood" of the human sciences.  This must be the case given his assertion that truth and falsehood are constituted as a product of discursive practices; "practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak." [9]   So another way of approaching the terrain must be found, one that places the analytic of finitude - "man's attempt to fully affirm his finitude and at the same to completely deny it" [10] - under a critical gaze; an approach, that is, which does not rely on a re-establishment of finitude.  To achieve this, Foucault sought to chart each successive attempt at grounding the sciences of man on the analytic of finitude and analyse the ways in which it has led to "repetition" and "retreat" each time. [11]   However, Foucault at this time was still in the thrall of the idea that a method could be detailed that would "throw off the last anthropological constraints" of the human sciences by revealing, in a "generalised" way, the mechanisms of such constraints. [12]   With his archaeological method Foucault sought to "uncover" the limiting effect of the analytic of finitude in order to create a way of thinking that did not prioritise the subject.  However, Foucault failed in this attempt precisely because his analysis remained situated within the terms of the analytic of finitude.  While this is far from a novel interpretation of his archaeological work, Dreyfus and Rabinow providing the definitive account of this critique, [13] it is important to work through this argument in order that the critical position developed below can take a more definite shape.


Foucault's archaeological approach is founded on an appreciation of a previously "unthought" aspect of language.  Foucault delimits an area located between the idea of language as an invisible structural background - as an accepted unity upon which we draw - and the idea of language as simply a series of specific utterances - that language can only ever layer over our thought "a dust of facts." [14]   It is this area that Foucault calls "the domain of discourse"; a domain where "regularities" may emerge but stultifying unities be avoided; a domain where the specificity of language may be celebrated without becoming debilitating. [15]  


With his archaeology Foucault sought to uncover the discursive practices operating within autonomous domains; practices that constituted the self-regulating frameworks of the specific disciplines he examined; practices which the archaeologist could view from a distance, enabling insight into the hidden structures of thought that constitute these disciplines.  In this way, archaeology is prejudiced against the non-discursive; the mute environments of light and visibility that interest the genealogist (as we shall see later) play only a very restricted role in archaeological inquiry.  Archaeology emphasises the "field of use" [16] surrounding statements; "the relation between statements" [17] , that constitute autonomous linguistic domains and form the disciplinary boundaries of the human sciences. 


Foucault's aim in pursuing his archaeological approach is summed up in The Order of Things;


such an analysis does not belong to the history of ideas or of science; it is rather an inquiry whose aim is to rediscover on what basis knowledge and theory became possible; within what space of order knowledge was constituted; on the basis of what historical a priori...ideas could appear, sciences be established, experience be reflected in philosophies, rationalities be formed, only perhaps to dissolve and vanish soon afterwards. [18]


In order to carry out this inquiry Foucault introduced a new tool of analysis and coined it the episteme. [19]   In suggesting this concept Foucault wanted to show that what he was not seeking to analyse was "a slice of history common to all branches of knowledge, which imposes on each one the same norms and postulates", but rather to analyse the interconnections on the level of "discursive regularities". [20]   This shift of emphasis is important for Foucault in that allows a way of thinking about the human sciences which does not privilege the Weltanschauung in which a science came into being but focuses on the "process of a historical practice" immanent to the sciences he studies.  In sum:


By episteme we mean....the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences and possibly formalised systems....The episteme is not a form of knowledge or type of rationality which, crossing the boundaries of the most varied sciences, manifests the sovereign unity of a subject, a spirit or a period; it is the totality of relations that can be discovered, for a given period, between the sciences when one analyses them at the level of discursive regularities. [21]


At this point we can return to the idea of "discourse" and further elaborate upon its role in Foucault's analysis.  The primary unit of discourse is the "statement".  Yet, as is apparent from both the passages just cited, Foucault is not interested in the novelty of statements - the archaeological method does not aim to find the original moment of the discourses it studies.  Rather, the archaeologist is concerned to map the regularity of statements;


the originality/banality opposition is therefore not relevant; between an initial formulation and the sentence which, years or centuries later, repeats it...[the archaeological inquiry] establishes no hierarchy of value; it makes no radical difference.  It tries only to establish the regularity of statements....Archaeology is not in search of inventions. [22]


The production of statements becomes, for Foucault, detached from the subjective intentions and cognisance of the producer; statements take on the form of "discourse-objects" amenable to study by the distanced archaeologist who is able to discern structures of meaningfulness, structures that simultaneously enable the production of statements yet which also limit and shape the nature of new statements. [23]   Foucault as archaeologist sees his method as the beginning of the end of the need to ground the study of human beings on the analytic of finitude; archaeology is "an enterprise by which one tries to throw off the last anthropological constraints; an enterprise that wishes, in return, to reveal how these constraints could come about." [24]


The similarities with certain forms of structuralism [25] are obvious; the primacy of meaning defining systems over individual speech acts and the search for the formal laws that govern such systems.  In The Order of Things Foucault views the notion of "code", for example, in terms that could have come directly from any of the major structuralist texts;


The fundamental codes of a culture - those governing its language, its schemas of perception its exchanges, its techniques its values, the hierarchy of its practices - establish for every man, from the very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home. [26]


Yet Foucault, despite the admission that his approach is "not entirely foreign to what is called structural analysis" [27] , on the whole vigorously refuted claims that he was a structuralist.  There is some merit in distinguishing archaeology from structuralism.  In contrast to structuralism, which is characterised as the purveyor of "the great universal discourse that is common to all men at a particular period", Foucault says of his project; "I did not deny history, but held in suspense the general, empty category of change in order to reveal transformations at different levels; I reject a uniform model of temporalisation". [28]


Without going into the value of Foucault's self-distancing from structuralism, [29] it is important to examine more closely his rejection of "a uniform model of temporalisation."  One of Foucault's more famous (or infamous) positions is his suggestion that history ought to be viewed as a series of "ruptures".  In The Order of Things, for example, Foucault cites two major points of rupture as crucial to our understanding of the human sciences.  The first brought the Renaissance period to an end and witnessed the birth of Classicism (circa 1660) while the second brought the beginnings of Modernism (circa 1800).  The historical accuracy or details of these ruptures or discontinuities are not relevant at present.  Nonetheless, the role that the concept of rupture played in Foucault's archaeological thought is pertinent and is characterized well by Blanchot:


Now Foucault...does not reject history but distinguishes within it discontinuities, discrete - local rather than universal - divisions, which do not presuppose subsisting beneath them a vast silent narrative, a continuous, immense and unlimited murmur which would need to be suppressed (or repressed). [30]


With the notion of rupture Foucault attempts to steer our thought towards the limits of the self-regulatory discursive practices that are the raison d'Ítre of the archaeologist.  In the opening pages of The Birth of the Clinic these limits are brought vividly in front of the reader with the report of the practices of a certain Dr. Pomme whose treatment of hysteria patients can only leave us bewildered.  It is worth quoting in full:


Towards the end of the Eighteenth century, Pomme treated and cured a hysteric by making her take "baths, ten or twelve hours a day, for ten whole months".  At the end of this treatment for the dissection of the nervous system and the heat that sustained it, Pomme saw "membranous tissues like pieces of damp parchment...peel away with some slight discomfort, and these were passed daily with the urine; the right ureter also peeled away and came out whole in the same way".  The same thing occurred with the intestines, which at another stage "peeled off their internal tunics, which we saw emerge from the rectum.  The oesophagus, the arterial trachea and the tongue also peeled in due course; and the patient had rejected different pieces either by vomiting or by expectoration". [31]


The empirical truth of this account, whether it actually took place or not, is not important.  Furthermore, that current thinking on the treatment of hysteria patients has changed is beyond doubt.  Yet must we conceive of the shift in terms of a rupture?  Is it not possible that medical thinking on hysteria has simply "progressed" in a seamless fashion; that there has been an advancement of thought by way of trial and error?  For Foucault, such suggestions are implausible.  The point of such examples is that what once seemed to be a scientific approach to hysteria is utterly bewildering today.  Dr, Pomme's "treatment" of hysterics prefigures our own conception only in the sense that it reveals a "new disposition of the objects of knowledge". [32]   Foucault's aim is to use this realisation to inform a critique of our commonly held belief that medical knowledge is converging on an objective truth of the human body.  His technique is to point to the chasm that exists between the truth of statements like those of Dr. Pomme and the meaningful framework within which these statements were conceived.  Once we come to terms with the fact that the report of Dr. Pomme was constituted as true within an accepted structure, though the method of treatment is obviously in no way "objectively true", we are drawn to consider the essentially arbitrary nature of modern frameworks of medical knowledge.  Furthermore with this realisation Foucault invites us to view history as a series of discontinuous frameworks that cannot be encompassed by any form of grand narrative. The example of Dr. Pomme's report shows, among other things, the fallacy of a "unitary model of temporalisation". [33]  


In The Archaeology of Knowledge Foucault draws another conclusion from the "ruptured" outlook of the archaeologist;


Making historical analysis the discourse of the continuous and making human consciousness the original subject of all historical development and all action are the two sides of the same system of thought.  In this system, time is conceived in terms of totalisation and revolutions are never more than moments of consciousness. [34]


To avoid the glorification and reification of the autonomous subject in (and of) history, to avoid the limiting effect of the analytic of finitude, the archaeologist proposes that we conceive of time as ruptured and discontinuous.  The conception of the regularity of statements within epistemic formations "constituted as objects" [35] removes the individual from the analysis; the sequence, or narrative, of passing time is reconceived as a series of events that carry no hidden meaning and no subject.  Or as Machado has put it, archaeology aims "to produce a history of knowledge from which all trace of the history of the progress of reason has disappeared". [36]


Which is to say,  Foucault had tried to do to the human sciences what they had tried to do to the human subject.  While the experts of the human sciences attempted to clarify laws of human behaviour through various levels of disinterested observation and recording, Foucault conceived of the archaeological project as the distanced observation of the discursive practices of the disciplines involved; the observation of the observers.  Dreyfus and Rabinow refer to this move as "double phenomenological bracketing" [37] rightly suggesting that Foucault saw this act of doubling as "the road towards that stable, autonomous theory" [38] that would allow for the study of  the human sciences if not of human agents themselves.


Yet the archaeologist's only props are the dubious assumptions that discursive practices are visible in a pure form - as types of "science-objects" [39] - to the gaze of the archaeologist; that the study of discourse is readily available to the "phenomenologically detached" archaeologist; that the archaeologist can continue the inquiry without discursive constraints.  For the practice of archaeological analysis it is necessary that the study of discourse somehow escapes the problems generated by the study of "man".  Yet it is far from clear how this is achieved.  To what extent did Foucault's archaeology actually escape from the analytic of finitude that it sought to examine?


As Foucault argues that the human sciences are caught between the finite object of study and the subjectivity of the scientists, between the "enslaved sovereign" and the "observed spectator", so archaeology is caught between the archaeologist's capability to be an inquirer into history on a-historical grounds, while also claiming to chart the historicity of the human sciences.  The archaeologist must, firstly try to deny her own finitude and claim knowledge of events that is unlimited by the conditions of knowing, while secondly affirming her finitude in order that these conditions of knowing are available.  Foucault the archaeologist, in other words, becomes trapped within the limits of his own making; limits that define his attitude yet that must remain hidden from him.  This is the limit of the analytic of finitude; these limits were as Blanchot points out "the aspirations of a structuralism then in its death throes". [40]


Foucault's Genealogy


The need to overcome these limits led Foucault to a reconsideration of Nietzsche; from archaeology to genealogy; from the analysis of the being of language, the archaeological question, to an inquiry into the politics of language, the genealogical question.  But more than this, Foucault  began to look to the apparatuses of power - the social practices, organisations, and institutions - that envelop the realms of "autonomous" discourse the archaeologist was previously concerned with.  The limit of finitude arose within archaeology because of its inability to explicate a non-teleological method of interpretation.  With the analysis of "autonomous" discourse came the positioning of the knowing subject as "outside" of the phenomena in question - archaeology came to represent the idea of progress it sought to overcome.  As a result, the limits of knowledge became the necessary conditions for the possibility of knowing.  This constituted the limit of finitude of archaeology.


In an attempt to transgress this limit, Foucault began to formulate genealogical questions in order that he could situate the interpreter-as-genealogist firmly within the problem area.  That is, Foucault no longer accepted the possibility of "double phenomenological detachment" and sought instead to theorise the involvement of a responsive and reflexive observer fully aware of her embodiment within fields of discourse, practices and institutions.  The intricacies of this transgression are the subject of this section.


I wish to make two broad contrasts between archaeology and genealogy as a preliminary.  First, the genealogist - and I refer principally to the genealogies of disciplinary practices offered in Discipline and Punish and of sexuality in The History of Sexuality: An Introduction - views social relationships as complex environments not simply correlative to the regularity of serious statements.  Gilles Deleuze [41] draws the distinction between "a system of language" and "a system of light" in order to capture the importance that non-discursive formations play in the genealogy of social practices.  The need for this distinction is that it enables the genealogist to free the analyses from the limiting effect of the primacy of the statement which had tied the archaeological project to problematic conditions of knowledge.  Secondly, in looking for a new approach to history Foucault sought to reinvigorate the Nietzschean idea of "genealogy"; an approach to history that is "gray, meticulous and patiently documentary". [42]   The task of the genealogist he characterises as the thorough and painstaking search through history to uncover the "details" that other, unifying histories have obscured.  It is in these details that the genealogist finds grounds to criticise the "meta-historical deployment of ideal significations and indefinite teleologies", thus opposing itself "to the search for origins". [43]   Foucault takes genealogy as an account of specificity in history; it is a way of recovering the "jolts and surprises" in history.  This is not one possible way of giving history its due, "history is genealogy". [44]   To put it another way, genealogy can be described as an act of "making visible".  It is the "making visible" of the social practices designed to increase the visibility of the population.  In this sense it is the same as the archaeological approach of "double phenomenological detachment", with however an awareness of non-discursive features and the relations of power within society.  But it also involves the attempt to "make visible" the genealogist as a constitutive part of an investigation; it is the attempt to create a reflexive approach to interpretation.  Both of these key methodological transitions are evident in Foucault’s more general (and sometimes opaque) views on the nature of genealogy.


The genealogist does not aim to unearth the hidden narratives of history; genealogy tries to "record the singularity of events outside of any fixed finality". [45]   In the "relentless erudition" of the act of "making visible" the genealogist refutes the metaphysics of all embracing theories of history and replaces these with "the secret that...(things) have no essence or that their essence was fabricated in a piecemeal fashion from alien forms". [46]   However, genealogy is not the task of saying "'Voila , long live discontinuity, we are in the discontinuous and a good thing too' but to pose the question, 'How is it that at certain moments...there are...these transformations which fail to correspond to the calm, continuist image that is normally accredited?'". [47]


In refusing grand metanarratives genealogy emphasises the local.  It becomes a strategy for mapping out the topology of local situations; seeing the networks of power at the small scale and coping with them as such, rather than through the application of all encompassing frameworks. [48]   Moreover as there is no unifying theme to history, for the genealogist, there is no prospect of a unifying liberation.  There is no pre-ordained class, no transcendental spirit nor pure rationality which carries with it the universal hopes of "mankind".  The hope that there may be a residual humanism that binds human beings in some moral community is also a futile hope, the modern subject is a fabrication of the times and constituted through the operation of multiple applications of power;


The individual is not to be conceived as a sort of elementary nucleus, a primitive atom, a multiple and inert material on which power comes to fasten or against which it happens to strike, and in so doing subdues or crushes individuals.  In fact, it is already one of the prime effects of power that certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses, certain desires, come to be identified and constituted as individuals...the individual is an effect of power. [49]


This same point is made more succinctly in "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" when Foucault remarks that "nothing in man - not even his body - is sufficiently stable to serve as the basis for self-recognition or for understanding other men". [50]   This is a critical self-reflexivity that links the genealogist to the genealogical inquiry itself, a link that can be found in the definition of genealogy as "the painstaking rediscovery of struggles together with the rude memory of their conflicts". [51]   In his elaboration on this Foucault cites genealogy as "the union of erudite knowledge and local memories which allows us to establish a historical knowledge of struggles and to make use of this knowledge tactically today". [52]   Yet the memory of the genealogist is not the memory that accompanies forgetting, it is not the wish for total recall.  Neither is it the act of tapping into a collective memory of past events, for no such thing exists.  It is the relation of the genealogist to her own contemporaneity; the realisation of the genealogist's position as a trace within her own analysis and the further realisation that this trace has an effect on the present, that is, on the local struggles of the genealogist's situation.  It is the "history of the present", which is not "the presentist fallacy" [53] of projecting current meanings and concepts on to historical events, but the specifically self-critical attitude to the past and its relation to the present in a way that does not remove the act of interpretation but places it firmly within the bounds of the analysis.  The memory of past struggles is the "absolute memory" that is "itself endlessly forgotten and reconstituted". [54]   The genealogist must continually assert her presence as thought thinking-back-on-itself.  As Dreyfus and Rabinow phrase it:


Genealogy accepts the fact that we are nothing but our history, and that therefore we will never get a total and detached picture either of who we are or of our history...we must inevitably read our history in terms of our current practices. [55]


The Transcendental Limits of Genealogy


Strategies of the limit are multi-dimensional; they shed light, not so much bright as diffuse, not so much penetrating as encompassing, and in this light time becomes problematic.  From the limit, the cardinal point is the moment of rupture, the instance of discontinuity, that razes the ideological castles of teleological theory to the ground. The apoplectic faltering of history, the fleeting movement from one point to the next - but what next? - is what first draws the limit-attitude to its own necessary "folding". [56]   With the episteme Foucault sought a closure of thought, an interpretation that sucked out his own presence in an attempt to overcome the limits of that presence; he tried to side-step the analytic of finitude.  Positing the regularity and completeness of the discursive practices of the human sciences he thought he could dispense with an account of his own situation.  Yet, in the event, this had to fold.


It had to fold as a movement of the outside coming to terms with the need for interiority; the need for a critical consciousness.  This is not the need to locate an inner sanctum from where thought may pass over its object in an undisturbed atmosphere, but rather it is the necessity to see the inside (the regular and the complete) as an operation through the outside and as a constant "doubling" which binds the inside as of the outside.  It is the experience of the madman as he is put adrift in his boat;


he is put in the interior of the exterior, and inversely...a prisoner in the midst of what is freest, the openest of routes; bound fast at the infinite cross-roads.  He is the passenger par excellence; that is, the prisoner of the passage. [57]


In the passing of his thought, the shifts and re-inventions, Foucault relocates his own writing as a catharsis; he exposes the limits of his thought in order that these limits may be diffused.  This is the reflexive moment, the moment where Foucault recognises his works as "fictions", the moment, the movement, of the fold of thought back on itself.  The limits of our finitude as knowing beings are not overcome but rather brought back within the domain of the analysis so that they are no longer constituted as "outside" of it.  This is the cathartic function of self-critical thought.


Yet in the attempt to diffuse ones "control" one must possess an analytic of the modes of diffusion; the pathways of "control" that "incite, induce and seduce" as well as exclude and prohibit.  One must come to terms with power. In this Nietzschean genealogical shift, the relations embedded within the cathartic fold are given an immediacy, a practice in the "concrete, changing soil", through the trace of the interpreter's memory as a mark on the analysis.  It is, as Foucault calls it, a "history of the present".


In trying to write this history Foucault looked to an analytic of "regimes of power/knowledge".  In this way a link is forged between the need to understand the modes of the diffusion of power across time and the operation of power in contemporary institutional relations.  The genealogist works on the "flash of lightning" across these spaces; for example, from the conception of punishment as an open spectacle inflicted by all, to the disciplinary structures of light and visibility where the inmate is individualised, to the analytic of power relations, to Foucault's involvement with the GIP group in seeking prison reform. [58]


Yet, movement and change and the act of transgression are unaccounted for in Foucault.  Or, more correctly, they are brash in their silence, proclaiming their existence to hide the evidence of their non-existence.  Recall how Foucault suggested a similar ploy was used to effect regarding sexuality. [59]   Foucault reaches the threshold of transgression, he reaches the limits of his thought and its relation with the limits of "others", yet he reveals an incapacity to deal with the actual traversing movement that must take place.  Or must it?  By foregrounding a liminal reading of Foucault it must be assumed that there exist "unbounded" times of change as one transgresses ones limits.  Whether they are the limits of analysis, of thought or of practice, these times can be usefully thought of as zones of liminality.


In short, Michel Foucault is a philosopher of the limit not the liminal.  The thought of the limit is fixed as a thought of the present; it is the constant striving for transgression, without an awareness of the field of that transgression; it becomes an impossible attempt to reach a ghostly and elusive immediacy.  The present becomes the limiting factor of Foucault's genealogical catharsis to the extent that it remains as a transcendental condition of genealogical knowledge.  Foucault talked of transgression yet could posit only a "lightning movement", one lacking in the (paradoxical) content of transgression.  As a consequence the genealogical project of recapturing a "history of the present" is unable to account for the experience of living in and through times of change, times of reappraisal - and all self-critical thought constitutes a reappraisal! The transcendental conditions of its thought ensure that the genealogical approach cannot cope with its own immediacy.  Genealogy incorporates its own analytic of finitude in its conception of the present because it lacks a liminology of the present.


It may be suggested that Foucault expressly dealt with the objection that his analyses are unable to theorise the content of transgression as early as The Archaeology of Knowledge. [60]   Does he not explicitly address the concern that his approach implies "the vacant moment of rupture"? [61]   Does he not suggest that in examining this problem "in more detail" reveals that this is not the case? [62]   Is not the precise aim of his archaeology to analyse the "system of transformations" that constitute the ruptures between and within discursive practices? [63]


Foucault is right in seeking to reject histories that examine the vast complexity of the past and try to "establish a system of differences" and overcome historical particularity in the name of a unifying theme. [64]   Yet, his attempt to follow this with "a system of transformations" [65] seems to give the lie to a radical break with the approach he criticises.  The idea of "transformation" assumes the simultaneous status of an object in archaeological analysis and the marker of its limits, its defining characteristic.  Archaeology creates the possibility of examining discursive transformations, yet this becomes its own downfall because it can only conceive of these in terms of the very "system" it was hoping to avoid.  This must be the case because the archaeologist is ultimately forced to stand "outside" of these transformations to study them.  The archaeologist succeeded in problematising the teleological assumptions of "History" and "the Historical subject" but did not succeed in overcoming the teleology within itself.


Furthermore, it might be objected that the introduction of a genealogical approach into his work has overcome this "methodological failure"; that genealogy situates the genealogist within the analysis as an active and self-critical part of it.  Does this not mean that I can simply think in terms of genealogical (rather than archaeological) transformations?  Is it possible that the "content of transgression" was elaborated by his later emphasis on power and its relationship to the discursive regularities of knowledge?  Was it not an express concern of Foucault's genealogy to give the idea of transgression a more definite content by introducing the method of a "history of the present"?


Such a criticism is based on a confusion between the history of the present as a solution to the problems inherent in Foucault's overly structuralist archaeology, and the history of the present as offering an adequate conception of a critical relation between past, present and future.  In pursuing a broadly Nietzschean concept of power and self-reflexivity Foucault did overcome the criticism that his approach is self-limiting (in the teleological sense) but on its own this is not enough for an adequate conception of critical thought.  Foucault's genealogy talks of transgressing the bounds of our thought, it talks incessantly of this, but it is incapable of theorising a way of passing the bounds of its own self-critical perspective.  A history of the present may be non-teleological but at the cost of a transcendental understanding of the present.  Is not the aim of critical thought to surpass the present, to find ways of conceptualising social relations that may transgress this boundary of our thought, the boundary of a transcendental present?  A history of the present is scuppered by its inability to reach an immanent understanding of the present.  Without this it will never gain a critical understanding of the future.  Foregrounding liminality achieves this critical understanding of the future; liminality serves to explore the possibility of an ontological conception of social criticism within Foucault's works that does not indulge the teleological and transcendental preoccupations of his archaeological and genealogical work.


Interlude on Liminality


It is worth spending some time explaining my reasons for using the idea of liminality in the context of Foucault’s work.  The history of the term "liminal" is drawn primarily from the discourses surrounding anthropology and sociology.  In 1908 van Gennep published his seminal work on rituals of passage, Rites de Passage, [66] in which he outlined the different stages involved in rites of transition; for example, the transition from childhood to adulthood, from woman to mother, from elder to ancestor and so on.  He defined the idea of rites of passage as "rites which accompany every change of place, state, social position and age".  Moreover, each period of transition contained three different phases; the first phase of separation in which the individual or group are removed from the existing social structure; the second phase of marginality (or limen) which is characterised by the paradoxical position of the individual or group in relation to the preceding and forthcoming social structure; and the third stage of aggregation during which the passage is retrieved and consummated in the new social setting.  Indeed, for van Gennep, and other early proponents of liminality, [67] this concept was not only useful as a tool for understanding the processes involved in life-changes (like those mentioned above), it was also pertinent when examining, "any change from one state to another." [68]


It was Victor Turner, however, who gave the idea of rites of passage its most thorough examination, and in particular he concentrated upon the liminal phase of the period of transition. [69]   For Turner, transition as a whole (exemplified by the liminal phase of that transition) was "a process, a becoming, and in the case of rites de passage even a transformation".  He goes on to suggest that we think of the process of transition as analogous to water becoming vapour or a grub becoming a moth - that is, as a qualitative change of state.  He has, therefore, a strong sense of the very real changes that occur at times of transition and how these changes involve major reconceptualisations of the initial categories by which a person or group describe their identity.  Furthermore, the "liminal persona" (the person or group going through the transition) is considered "structurally invisible" - "they are at once no longer classified and not yet classified". [70]   It is this paradoxical position that is diagrammatic of the liminal phase (and processes of transition as a whole).  Turner views the liminal as "a realm of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise"; an arena where "we are not dealing with structural contradictions...but with the essentially unstructured (which is at once destructured and prestructured)" and that it is a time often associated with "the unbounded, the infinite, the limitless." [71]


Turner was not content to develop this analysis in the field of (traditionally defined) anthropological research.  In his later work, he addressed the possibility that liminality functioned in many areas of social life and at many levels.  In his lecture "Liminality and Morality" [72] he considered the usefulness of a liminal approach to periods of historical transition; periods "when the past has lost its grip and the future has not yet taken definite shape." [73]   Such times are those which problematise the existing moral and social structures, not from the position of another moral code, but from the process of transition itself.  As in the liminal phase of rites of initiation, the liminal phase in general creates a time for playful imagination and creativity that can instil critical perspectives and attitudes.  It is, though, also a time of possible alienation and lack of self-definition.  Therefore, the insight that may accompany the "unbounded" and "unstructured" position may be gained at the cost of profoundly unsettling experiences.  As Myerhoff puts it, however, the central feature of periods of liminality is that "criticism and awareness are almost inevitable in liminal circumstances." [74]   It is this aspect of liminality that is deployed in a Foucauldian context.


Nonetheless, liminality has tended to refer to the period of marginality after separation and before aggregation (despite Turner’s broadening of this definition).  It is a time of transition between social fields.  If the idea of liminality is to move Foucault’s thought beyond the problematic transcendental conception of the present that haunts his genealogical inquiries then we need to consider the relationship between liminality and the present.  To get straight to the point, the liminality of the present is an immanent feature of the present.  In other words, the potential of marginality is presupposed in the idea of the present.  But if this is the case what is the link between the idea of liminality as traditionally conceived and the liminal present?  It is no more or no less than the connection Foucault sought between a history of the limits of regimes and a history of the present.  To put it another way, a critical position that expresses itself as situated in the present, such as genealogy, must also presuppose liminality as an immanent feature of the present if it is to avoid a transcendental conception of the present.


Foucault the archaeologist/genealogist sought a point of critique in a "history of the present", a history that brought knowledge and "local memories" together in an attempt to "make use of this knowledge tacitly today".  Yet this attempt to situate critique in "the present" floundered in an awareness that this condition of genealogical thought could not cope with its own immediacy.  Genealogy could not become anything ‘other’; anything other than a transcendental thought of the present defined by the diffuse operations of power and knowledge.  One can think of this another way.  Foucault's genealogy presents the future as a void, a nothingness that occupies a space outside of our thought.  The future is not simply unknowable, but in a real sense does not exist.  This genealogical gesture was an important self-critique of the teleological gesture implicit in Foucault’s earlier archaeological investigations but Foucault’s attempt to escape teleology resulted in a conception of the present that robbed the future of any content whatsoever.  The liminal, as a means of conceptualising the in-betweenness of the present can be used to flood the void of the future without recourse to teleology.  By excavating the liminality immanent to the present the future is not barred by the immediate (genealogical) present but opened up by processes of becoming; that is, it becomes possible to identify the field of possibilities implicit in the present.


Moving now to present elements of Foucault's later writings I shall argue that the ethical axis he sought to develop contains within it an appreciation of liminality that serves to ground his thought.  In excavating this aspect of his work I shall maintain that it opens up new lines of inquiry into Foucault's approach to social criticism.  It is to shift the emphasis away from the view that Foucault was introducing "the subject" into his analyses as an end in itself towards the idea that this new axis represents an attempt to locate the ontological grounds of social criticism


The Later Foucault


I think that any child who has been educated in a Catholic milieu just before or during the second world war had the experience that there were many different ways of speaking as well as many forms of silence. [75]


Deleuze; "What happened during the fairly long silence following The History of Sexuality?". [76]   He is right to talk of a silence, yet we must be aware of its specificity, as one of the "many forms" of silence.  It was certainly not a traditional silence.  Foucault did not appear gagged - though in one interview he appeared masked. [77]   He did not stop talking to interviewers, nor giving lectures or writing essays.  Yet we can still talk of Foucault's silence.  It was not the brash silence that Foucault himself talked about in his first look into the problematisation of sexuality.  It was not the kind of silence that proclaims itself from the rooftops; the silence that talked sexuality "out of" the discursive domain.  Rather it was a quite different silence.  It was the silence that one experiences lying half-asleep in a sleeping house.  The silence that is constituted by the little noises, creaks and rumblings that randomly punctuate the air.  This was the silence of Foucault's last years, shaped by his numerous interviews, the newspaper articles, the lecture courses, and so on. 


Yet, "there is always thought even in silent habits". [78]   As the silence drifted on towards his death (Foucault's last two major books, The Use of Pleasure and Care of the Self, were published, in French, just days before his death), one could begin to hear the formulation of a new tone, a new sound to Foucault's words that was not exactly unknown to his previous work but, nevertheless, was being constituted afresh out of the disparate silence.  Foucault began to talk of "a new axis" to his thought.  Where power and knowledge had been Foucault's concerns before, he now added a new dimension, subjectivity: "I now had to undertake a third shift in order to analyse what is termed the subject.  It seemed appropriate to look for the forms and modalities of the relation to self by which the individual constitutes himself qua subject." [79]


So, "what happened during the fairly long silence following The History of Sexuality?".  Deleuze provides his own answer.  He claims that from 1975/6 onwards Foucault "went through a crisis of all orders, political, vital, philosophical." [80]   This crisis instigated the new approach that would dominate his later work.  Yet, the crisis not only enabled Foucault to "stray afield of himself" it was also accompanied by an appreciation of the role of crises in the formulation of an ethical commitment.  More specifically, the later work is premised upon an understanding of the character of liminality that is absent from his earlier theoretical justifications of his work.  While the analysis of subjectivity is of great importance, the later writings begin to delineate a "fourth axis" to Foucault's thought, an axis captured by the idea of liminality.  I am not suggesting that the analysis of subjectivity and ethics offered by Foucault in the later works is not worthy of study in itself.  For many feminists, to take one example, it is precisely this aspect of his work that is crucial to their interpretation of Foucault. [81]   For my purposes, however, the debates around subjectivity are secondary to the question of transgression and liminality in Foucault.  As such I shall focus on the later work as containing a new conceptualisation of transgression - one that overcomes the paralysing conception of "lightning transgression" he had employed in earlier work.  In what follows the focus will be on this novel axis to his thought via a discussion of his investigation of subjectivity.


Foucault's interest in the processes of subjectivisation can be used to shed light on his view of social criticism as the experimentation into new forms life.  In order to establish the connections between these areas it is necessary to examine, following Foucault's own genealogy, the different ways in which subjectivity has constituted itself in thought; "How did we directly constitute our identity through some ethical techniques of the self which developed through antiquity down to now?". [82]   The specific aspect of our identity that Foucault investigates is our relations to ourselves as subjects of desire.  By focusing on the character of "the desiring subject" Foucault is not proposing this aspect of our identity as definitive of our relations to ourselves.  Rather, it is to be viewed as only one avenue through which to examine the notion of "techniques of the self".


Anticipating confusion, Foucault suggests that a "genealogy" of the desiring subject:


does not mean that I proposed to write a history of the successive conceptions of desire, of concupiscence or of libido, but rather to analyse the practices by which individuals were led to focus their attention on themselves, to decipher, recognise and acknowledge themselves as subjects of desire, bringing into play between themselves a certain relationship that allows them to discover, in desire, the truth of their being be it natural or fallen. [83]


As with his studies of madness, medicalisation or imprisonment Foucault is not concerned with the truth of desire but with the discourses and regimes that require people to search for the truth of desire.  The question is not, "what is desire?" but "how is the idea of desire operationalised in discourse?".  Foucault's aim is to debunk theoretical approaches to the self that focus on the universality of desire (and its structures).  He seeks to reveal the specificity of each invention of desire.  Foucault refers to the practices of desire as "games of truth".  These games are the means through which people constitute themselves as objects of thought.  They are the means "through which being is historically constituted as experience, that is, as something that can and must be thought". [84]   In antiquity these "games" were inextricably linked to a free man's relation to the household economy, to the civic life and to relations with young boys. [85]   The relation of games of truth to the actuality of living out a life in accordance with these other practices, Foucault calls "the arts of existence":


What I mean by the phrase are those intentional and voluntary actions by which men not only set themselves rules of conduct, but also seek to transform themselves in their singular being, and to make their life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria. [86]


Thus, arts of existence were thought of in two different ways in antiquity, as "rules of conduct" and as a style of living.  This is an important distinction for Foucault and he generally refers to it in terms of the distinction between morality and ethics (though we do not have to go into this issue at present).


Yet, there is still room for confusion regarding Foucault's object of study.  In pursuing his research into the desiring subject Foucault is not concerned with the re-establishment of a humanist discourse of the self; this much is clear from the emphasis he puts on the relationship between the macro and micro level operations of power constitutive of the techniques of the self.  It is not the case, though, that Foucault's later writings, are only concerned with the processes of subjectivisation that constitute the self.  It is in the later writings, through his analysis of subjectivisation, that Foucault begins to elaborate a concept of transition that incorporates the 'limit-attitude' present in his earlier writings while not becoming trapped by the 'finitude' of a transcendental present.  In other words, the later writings forsake the present as an absolute limit and point towards a concept of the present that is sensitive to the process of transgression - a liminal present.  Foucault, in his later writings, is searching for the inside of the outside of (his) thought - the interior of transgression that eluded the earlier (genealogical) works.


We can begin to see this if we consider the weight Foucault attaches to the character of the transition between pagan and Christian ethico-moral practices.  Broadly speaking, there are two positions that seem intuitively plausible when one thinks of how sexual morality was transformed between antiquity and Christianity.  The first is to say that the two eras were characterised by such different moral systems that they form wholly incommensurable paradigms.  Pagan antiquity could be looked upon as a society that was lax on moral issues; that Greek and Roman law allowed for a vast array of licence and permissiveness.  It could be argued that Christian morality, being dictated by codified and universal rules, was qualitatively different from the "arts of existence" that formed the informal pagan ethic.  A second view might suggest that there are in fact amazing similarities between the moral and ethical practices of pagan antiquity and the Christian era.  Foucault himself points to four areas where strong continuities can be found.  There was, for example, a common fear of the sexual act, should it go out of control.  Secondly, both epochs held in common the view that the ideal sexual relationship was one that was monogamous.  Thirdly, the image of effeminate men as problematic was common to antiquity and Christianity - regardless of the fact that relations with young boys were positively encouraged in early antiquity.  Lastly, the Christian model of abstention from the sexual act had its precursors in the Greek "athletes of self restraint" who would renounce pleasure from sexual activity. [87]   In general, therefore, it may be thought that these features prove the continuity of pagan and Christian attitudes to the desiring subject.  Is it not the case that the Christian doctrines were just the same ideas but dressed up in a different garb?


For Foucault, both these positions miss the point; it is neither one nor the other but both.  In looking at the transition from pagan to Christian morality "it is possible to see clear-cut continuities and discontinuities". [88]   Or, paraphrasing P. Brown: "the parting of the waters is hard to pin down". [89]   On the face of it this may appear trivial and obvious.  Indeed, Foucault's investigations have always sought to reveal the lines of similarity and divergence between discourses.  Madness and Civilization, for example, gives a detailed account of the transitions between Renaissance and Classical conceptions of madness.  It includes thorough investigations into the precise elements that comprised each discourse, revealing just the kind of "continuities and discontinuities" that occupy his study of pagan and Christian discourses of desire.  Furthermore, in the interview "On The Genealogy of Ethics", Foucault argued that, although there are some "very striking" continuities between pagan and Christian Morality, "behind, below this continuity there were some changes that I have tried to acknowledge". [90]   This suggests that Foucault's notion of transition is no different from that presented in, for example, The Archaeology of Knowledge.  Perhaps Foucault is more willing to talk of continuities but revealing the ruptures of thought by way of genealogy remains his primary critical intent?  If this is the case, then my claim that Foucault's later works contain (to some, yet to be defined, extent) a more refined concept of transition that surpasses the finitude of his previous work, would stumble at the first hurdle.


In order to clarify my position it is necessary to restate the dual operation of transition that operates in Foucault's writings.  First, there is the idea of transition as the movement from one regime or discourse to the next.  To the extent that the argument refers to, what could be labelled, "historical transition" Foucault's concept of continuity and discontinuity between regimes is no different from his earlier work.  From the very beginning he has sought to display the lines of continuity and discontinuity between discursive structures.  However, if this is our understanding of Foucault's genealogy it is no different from the attitude of a conventional historian.  It would be to forget Foucault's attempt to rework the relationship between history and philosophy - to forget, in other words, that genealogy is distinct from conventional history.  To reclaim the distinctiveness of genealogy is to remember that it is a process of unmasking that operates in the present; with an active awareness of the role of the present in the analysis.  In this context genealogy is involved with the critical transition into the future.  It is this second feature of transition that we must consider in order to comprehend the change inaugurated by the later works regarding Foucault's rethinking of the limit-attitude.  The point is this; Foucault has always been concerned with excavating the intricacies of transition between discourses and regimes but it is only with the advent of his later work that the theoretical framework for a conceptual understanding of transition can fully emerge.  This theoretical framework is intimately bound up with, but not reducible to, his ethical investigations.  To see why this is the case we must consider the genealogical implications of his foray into antiquity; that is, the way in which his investigations bear upon the present.


The Transition to the Present


The evolution that occurred - quite slowly at that - between paganism and Christianity did not consist in a gradual interiorisation of rules, acts and transgressions; rather it carried out a restructuration of the forms of self-relationship and a transformation of the practices and techniques on which this relationship was based. [91]


In the previous sections it has been argued that although Foucault's later works revolve around the interplay of desire and subjectivity these themes do not exhaust the topics for analysis that we can glean from his work.  Indeed the later writings can be considered as developing the analytic of transition, the analytic of the limit-attitude, that was present in the earlier writings.  It is further claimed that this development may overcome the problems, highlighted already, regarding the transcendental finitude of the genealogical present.  To support this claim two questions must be addressed in respect of Foucault’s later work: firstly, "what is the intellectual's relation to the present?" and secondly, "what is the nature of a critique of the present?".  To be clear on these issues, however, we must first be clear on the nature of the transition from a pagan ethics to a Christian one.


We can begin this process by considering Foucault's claim that the transition from paganism to Christianity is not "a gradual interiorisation of rules, acts and transgressions".  Foucault has two reasons for criticising this position.  First, to think of the transition in this way is to suggest that the code, the moral law and the dictates enshrined in a revered text, are all that is worthy of study.  Foucault, in contrast, argues that "rules, acts and transgressions" do not in themselves constitute the experience of a moral and ethical subject.  The internalisation of moral codes through ethical practice, discussed in the previous section, can not be accounted for by reference to the codes alone.  Despite the continuity of the moral codes of paganism and Christianity, "we should not let this apparent continuity obscure the fact that the ethical subject was no longer constituted in the same manner". [92]   Secondly, and as a corollary of the first argument, Foucault views the notion of a "gradual interiorisation" as suggesting an already ethically constituted subject that absorbs the moral code.  It is Foucault’s aim, by way of contrast, to look at the constitution of the ethical subject and the mechanisms of its transformations.  The difference can be expressed in terms of Foucault’s relation to Sartre.  Foucault accepts Sartre's notion of the self to the extent that Sartre refuses the idea that the self is a natural given.  However, Foucault disagrees with Sartre's insistence that "we have to be ourselves", that the key to understanding the self lies in the notion of authenticity.  Rather than focusing on an authentic self - a self based on being true to oneself - Foucault suggests that the self should be considered in relation to the concept of creativity: "we should not have to refer the creative activity of somebody to the kind of relation he has to himself; but should relate the kind of relation one has to oneself to a creative activity". [93]   In other words, the self is not discovered to be authentic or inauthentic but emerges in the act of self-creation - a more dynamic understanding of the self that does not dictate the parameters of the true self.  In relation to the discussion of the transition between paganism and Christianity the point is this; in examining the transition Foucault avoids the reification of the moral code or the ethical subject.  In place of this he focuses on the ethical practices that constitute the relationship between the code and the subject.  It is in this ethical arena that the techniques of the self operate.


Thus, for Foucault, the transition between pagan and Christian ethico-moral practices is qualitatively different to the notion of a moral code bearing down upon an existential subject.  To understand the transition one must address how techniques of the self were reworked and transformed:


Instead of asking what were the code elements that Christianity may have borrowed from ancient thought, and what were those that it added in its own right, in order to define what was permitted and what forbidden within a sexuality assumed to be constant, it seemed more pertinent to ask how given the continuity, transfer or modifications of codes, the forms of self-relationship (and the practices of the self associated with them) were defined, modified, recast and diversified.


The importance of this examination into the transition period between paganism and Christianity is that it necessitates a look at a new domain of inquiry, the domain of the forms of self-relationship.  Foucault's aim is to show how the Greek art of "governing oneself" is a domain that marks itself outside of the relations of knowledge and of power.  Why, while examining the transition between pagan and Christian ethics, did Foucault come to delineate this new arena of thought?  Why could his inquiry into techniques of the self not be contained by the analysis of power-knowledge he had used to such effect in his earlier work?


Knowledge, as characterised by Foucault, is most usefully understood as a series of relations that have become "stratified" into discursive formations.  It operates through the definition of specific codes - establishing relations between words and things - which enable the production of statements.  These codes and formations may overlap and change but nonetheless they function through the formalisation of contingent properties into sedentary structures.  Power is a relation between different forces.  The operation of power is defined by the ways in which one force may affect, or be affected by, another force.  Power, furthermore, functions diagrammatically; that is, the workings of power may be similar across different stratified relations of knowledge.  This is the lesson of Panopticism which operates on school-children, madmen and hospital patients (to name a few) as well as on prisoners.  Yet, in attempting to understand the transition from pagan to Christian ethics, Foucault required a third, new, domain.  How does Foucault characterise this new arena?


The relations characteristic of subjectivity, of the "arts" of self-relationship, are those whereby force affects itself.  Where diagrams of power invoke relations of differing forces - the relation between warder and prisoner, for example - the relation one has with oneself is an act of force on itself.  The realm of self-governance lies in the creation of an "internal" regulatory principle that does not depend upon the stratification of a moral code.  Yet, this relation of force to itself does not constitute an escape from the domains of power and knowledge, nor an arena that can be subsumed by (or subsumes) these other axes.  Subjectivity is in relation to power and knowledge.  But what is the nature of this relation?  It is possible to glean one response to this by looking at Foucault's use of the classical Greek concept of "enkrateia": "the dynamics of a domination of oneself by oneself and the effort that this demands". [94]


According to Foucault, the dynamics of this "domination of oneself by oneself" - in the domain of desire/aphrodisia - consists of five different aspects.  First, it implies an "agonistic" relation with the pleasures one feels.  Ethical behaviour required that one battle against one's own pleasures; it was "contingent on a battle for power".  Secondly, this battle was an agonism of the self.  In later, Christian, times the battle represented a microcosm of the battle between heaven and hell, and as such the pleasures that one sought to eradicate were essentially contained in an "other".  In antiquity this battle was fought on the combat zone of the self; "one had to cross swords with oneself". [95]   Thirdly, and as a result of the previous notion, victory in this battle was not conceived as the expulsion of desire but of its control.  Fourthly, this agonism was integrally linked to the battle for control of one's domestic life and one's life as a member of a civic group; "ideal virtue had to be structured like a city". [96]   Lastly, all of this required askesis, or training.  This askesis was originally part of the general training in civic life - if one wanted to dominate others one must be able to dominate oneself - but later on it became a more autonomous part of one's life.


The lesson Foucault draws from the Greek notion of enkrateia is that the relation of forces constitutive of self-governance can embody the possibility of freedom and self-control but only at the price of integrating self-control in regimes of power/knowledge.  To control others one must control oneself and vice versa.  In this sense, subjectivity is not "outside" of power and knowledge, it does not constitute a realm devoid of these relations, though subjectivity is a novel configuration of these relations.  It is this novelty which marks it out as the third axis of Foucault's work.  Power, knowledge and subjectivity - all related to each other but all differentiated by their internal configurations of force and form/strata. 


But this domain of subjectivity and sexuality is antiquated.  What relation does it have to contemporary discussions?  What are the genealogical implications of Foucault's investigation?  Is Foucault arguing that we should recover an "art of existence" in today's world to mimic pagan ethics?  In response to this question Foucault distinguishes between the relevance of pagan society to our present culture and the importance of studying an historical epoch and its transitions into an other culture.  On the relevance of pagan society to contemporary culture Foucault is extremely dismissive:


Q;  "The Greeks, do you find them admirable?"

F;  "No"

Q;  "Neither exemplary nor admirable?"

F;  "No"

Q;  "What did you think of them?"

F;  "Not very much". [97]


The reason for this attitude is clear.  The operation of self-governance in antiquity applied only to free men.  It was a society based on slavery and the subordination of women, one that in general "rested on a harsh system of inequalities and constraints". [98]   Thus the nature of ethical life in antiquity is not one that ought to be recreated for the present: "I am not looking for an alternative; you can't find the solution of a problem in the solution of another problem raised at an other moment by other people". [99]   What the Greeks offer is something wholly different,


From antiquity to Christianity we pass from a morality that was essentially the search for a personal ethics to a morality as obedience to a system of rules.  And if I was interested in antiquity it was because, for a whole series of reasons, the idea of morality as obedience to a code of rules, is now disappearing, has already disappeared.  And to this absence of morality corresponds, must correspond, the search for an aesthetics of existence. [100]


Foucault is not concerned with returning to a pagan ethic.  Rather, he is interested in analysing the idea of subjectivity in relation to moments of transition; the present being one such moment.  While his analysis of the operations of power and knowledge play a part in the analysis of liminal periods, in order to get "inside" the moment of transition Foucault turned to the new axis of subjectivity.  Foucault's self-proclaimed task of articulating a "politics of ourselves" relies upon a recognition of the importance of understanding moments of transition.  The ethico-political attitude that derives from the later work has subjectivity as its focus but contains the elements to unearth a fourth axis in Foucault's thought, the axis of transition, transgression and liminality.  This is only possible, however, by rethinking the character of the present to allow for an open liminal present.  In the following section the idea of the present in Foucault's later work will be examined through a discussion of the essay, "What is Enlightenment?".


Foucault, Enlightenment and the Present


In 1784 Kant responded to the challenge of a Berlin newspaper to discuss the question "What is Enlightenment?", by writing an essay of that title.  Foucault sees the resulting essay as an attempt to answer the question: "what is it in the present that produces meaning now for philosophical reflection?". [101]   In other words, Kant is offering a critical reflection on the contemporaneity of his own Enlightenment project.  "What is Enlightenment?" becomes, therefore, an analysis of the relation thought has with its own present.  This form of critical self reflection Foucault calls "modern". [102]  


Modernity is an attitude characterised by the notion of difference: "what difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday?".  It is a way of relating to contemporary reality that problematises our relation to the present in terms of the difference that being in the present makes to established ways of thinking.  As formulated by Kant, modernity is not a rigid "faithfulness to doctrinal elements", but rather it is the critique of the present in terms of the present.  It is, suggests Foucault, similar to the Greek notion, discussed briefly above, of an ethos.  Moreover, the ethos of Enlightenment inaugurated by Kant can be characterised in negative and positive terms.


Negatively, this Enlightenment ethos implies that we do not fall prey to the "blackmail" of the Enlightenment.  Foucault is suggesting that it does not make sense to be either "for" or "against" the Enlightenment.  To do so is to go against the very ethos that Foucault sees in Kant; the ethos of a permanent critique of the present.  Indeed the only projects that Foucault argues one can be for or against are projects that present themselves as such: that is, projects that claim to have located the essence of the Enlightenment or those that decry it as "dead".  Both these options Foucault finds paradoxical given his reading of Kant who, at the very beginning of the Enlightenment, stressed the need for a continuously critical position in terms of our relation with the present.  Both these options reify the Enlightenment in some strange wish to either "preserve it" or declare its bankruptcy.  Those who seek to put the Enlightenment on trial and prove it's innocence or guilt simply miss the point for Foucault: "Let us leave in their piety those who want to keep the Aufklarung living and intact.  Such piety is of course the most touching of treasons". [103]   This piety is also the piety of those who think that the Enlightenment can be easily dismissed. They do not realise the beginnings of the Enlightenment are rooted in a tradition of permanent critique, an attitude whose only "judge" can be on-going engagement with the present.


Positively, this ethos of Enlightenment is characterised by Foucault as containing two major elements.  First, there is Enlightenment as a "limit-attitude".  Eschewing the blackmail of the Enlightenment it is no longer sufficient to be an intellectual on the "outside" or "inside" of modernity, "we have to be at the frontiers". [104]   For Foucault this involves the redefinition of the epistemological problem posed by Kant: "If the Kantian question was that of knowing what limits knowledge has to renounce point, in brief, is to transform the critique conducted in the form of necessary limitation into a practical critique that takes the form of a possible transgression". [105]   Kantian epistemology is turned into a critical ontology of the present.


Secondly, the analytic Kant outlined in relation to his present must now be rethought in relation to our present, a position that is firmly within the Enlightenment ethos of permanent critique offered by Kant.  Foucault, therefore, addresses the relation of the contemporary intellectual to the present.  What is the role of the intellectual in current society?  Foucault defines it as follows: it is to rethink the limits of knowledge that Kant defined and seek "a new impetus, as far and as wide as possible, to the undefined work of freedom". [106]   Where the Kantian search for rational foundations of knowledge had helped liberate people from the prejudices of feudal society, the current task is to pursue this liberatory role to its utmost extent.  This includes, though, a thorough investigation of the dominatory tendencies of rationalism itself. 


However, realising that this talk of freedom may be no more than an "empty dream", Foucault substantiates his view in reference to the experimental attitude of the Enlightenment:


I mean that this work done at the limits of ourselves must, on the one hand, open up a realm of historical inquiry, and on the other, put itself to the test of reality, of contemporary reality, both to grasp the points where change is possible and desirable, and to determine the precise form this change should take.  This means that the historical ontology of ourselves must turn away from all projects that claim to be global or radical.  In fact we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality...has led to the return of the most dangerous traditions. [107]


In place of projects of global transformation, for example Marxism, Foucault stresses the importance of specific struggles with clearly defined local sites of resistance.  Experience informs us, though, that even local struggles are never finalised and must constantly engage with the present: "we are always in the position of beginning again".  Examples of local struggles would be elements of the gay movement, feminism, the travellers, the black movement and so on; elements that don't seek to universalise their struggle on to all aspects of our diverse experience; elements that seek to form new, but never finalised, ways of living in the present.  In this way one can seek to reclaim the present in the tradition of the Enlightenment as formulated by its first, and possibly greatest exponent, Kant.  In this way Foucault situates his work in the long tradition that has sought to keep this critique of the present alive and vital; "it is this form of philosophy that from Hegel, through Nietzsche and Max Weber, to the Frankfurt School has founded a form of reflection in which I have tried to work". [108]   To think of the Enlightenment as an ethos that characterises itself as a relation to the present is to see the importance of all these thinkers in carrying on that tradition:


The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating: it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them. [109]


Foucault's version of Enlightenment social criticism, therefore, is based on the need to cross the limits of the present.  It emphasises constant refusal of the present by way of a perpetual crossing of the limits of established ways of thinking.  But how is this different from the genealogical "limit-attitude" that was criticised above?  Do the later works really reflect a new Foucauldian attitude to the present, one that will open it up to the features of liminality discussed in previous chapters?  How has Foucault's foray into the transition between pagan and Christian ethics affected his conception of "going beyond" the present?  The point is this: while examining the effects of regimes of power/knowledge Foucault was unable to get inside the moment of transition between discursive practices which meant that the approach he took to the present (itself an immanent site of transition) was limited by his own thought.  In undertaking a genealogy of the desiring subject Foucault examined the character of transition and transgression through the new axis of subjectivity.  Moreover, it was an analysis driven by a recognition that the present is characterised by an "absence of morality" (see above).  At such a moment the possibility for reconceiving subjectivity, for enacting the arts of existence, comes into play as the practice of ethics assumes precedence over the formal requirements of the moral code.  The "freedom" implicit in ethical practices of self-creation (understood with the provisos mentioned above) can then be realised.  If we couple this with Foucault's reinvigoration of Kant's Enlightenment project, with the ideal of permanent critique, then it is possible to discern in Foucault a new concept of the present that eschews the limits of his archaeological/genealogical account.  The present, on this new account, becomes a potential site for transition and transgression rather than a barrier to thought.  An "open" present, a present conceived as being permanently in transition, allows for the possibility of creative and active subjectivisations in sustaining a constant critique of that present; that is, of fulfilling the Enlightenment ideal as described by Foucault's reading of Kant's concept of Aufklarung.


By way of conclusion, the ontological assumptions that ground this conception can be revealed by considering the link between liminality, virtuality and politics.


Conclusion: Liminality, Virtuality and Politics


One of the most harmful habits in contemporary the analysis of the present as being precisely, in history, a present of rupture, or of high point, or of completion or of a returning dawn etc.  The solemnity with which everyone who engages in philosophical discourse reflects on his own times strikes me as a flaw.  I can say so all the more firmly since it is something I have done myself. [110]


This admission is telling.  It tells of a thinker who failed to find a history of the present, an analytic of "ourselves in the present", as a series of relations conditioned by power and knowledge.  The product of this futile present was a concept of the future as an absolute void.  By rethinking the character of transition between regimes and discourses as periods of liminality, however, the present itself becomes liminal.  In other words, by analysing the inside of transition (through his investigation of subjectivity) Foucault can also get inside the present, into the past-present-future of the present.  This reveals the importance of Bergson to Foucault (no doubt mediated through Deleuze’s work on Bergson).  Bergson analysed the present in its essential temporality; as a moment of duration that contains traces of that which has been and that which is becoming.  The liminal present may also be called the "virtual" present:


I would like to say something about the function of any diagnosis concerning the nature of the present.  It does not consist in a simple characterisation of what we are, but instead - by following lines of fragility in the present - in managing to grasp why and how that-which-is might no longer be that-which-is.  In this sense, any description must always be made in accordance with these kinds of virtual fracture which open up the space of freedom understood as a space of concrete freedom, i.e. of possible transformation. [111]


These "virtual fractures" are consistent with the Bergsonian "virtual".  The present is thought of as a continuous moment in which past, present and future can not be separated from each other.  This is a view of the present which is no longer thought of as a limit to genealogical analysis.  Importantly, though, this does not mean the theme of discontinuity disappears from Foucault's work.  Rather, it is precisely by emphasising the virtuality of the present that one can maintain the possibility of discontinuity - the present-as-limit condemns the analysis to a repetition of the same, whereas the present-as-virtual allows for the transformations that make discontinuity possible.  The future is no longer closed off; no longer the site of rupture; no longer the limit to theoretical knowledge; no longer trapped by the present.  Rather, the future is brought into focus by the duration of our existence, our experience of constantly becoming.  Becoming, that is, in the sense described in chapter three; becoming as the inescapable immanent temporality of our lives, becoming as always coming to presence.  The "fractures" in the present of power and knowledge, the liminal points of crisis and change, create the possibility of radical subjectivisation.  Radical, critical, theory must always recognise that transition, transience, transformation, transgression and liminality are the immanent ontological conditions of "concrete freedom".  Moreover, the work of  intellectuals is to describe that-which-is by making it appear as something that might not be, or that might not be as it is.  Which is why this designation or description of the real never has a prescriptive value of the kind, "'because this is, that will be'". [112]   Virtual becoming does not prescribe an actual form of being - except, of course, that which is defined as "agonistic".  The practical task of theory is to refuse theoretical constructions that create a repetitive present.  The theoretical task of practice is to engender the immanence of continuous transition.


Rajchman's interpretation of the concepts "community" and "freedom" in Foucault provides a useful way of examining the political consequences of thinking through an immanent liminal present.  On the issue of community Foucault's thought is quite clear.  He made no claims to be a communitarian and his thought is, in many respects, antithetical to such an approach.  While Foucault agreed that one can not conceive of an individual outside of the context in which the individual is created he also maintained that to replace individualism with communitarianism amounts to replicating the problem of individualism: it essentialises one form of human existence to the detriment of alternatives.  The attempt to prioritise certain values by reference to their embeddedness in a community neglects the multiplicity of forms of existence.  Communitarianism, like individualism, is concerned with locating the core elements of human nature; Foucault is concerned with unmasking the concept of "human nature" itself.  He is neither a liberal individualist nor a communitarian. 


However to the extent that we experience living in communities, be they nations, linguistic communities, small groups or whatever, Rajchman argues that, for Foucault, each community could be viewed as consisting of three parts.  First, there is the "given community".  This consists of the system of relations that are available to each member of the community in terms of the self-defining code that it employs.  Put simply it is the explicit recognition of each member as part of the larger community as encapsulated, for example, in the phrase "I am an X".  Secondly, there is the "tacit community" which is the "materially rooted system of thought that makes X a possible object of identification". [113]   In other words, whereas the given community is constituted by the discursive practices invested in structures and institutions, the tacit community is the enactment and reinforcement of these discourses through everyday practices.  I may say, "I am a Scot" and identify myself as such with reference to the distinct legal, religious and educational institutions of Scotland.  Yet, this identification relies upon my tacit acceptance of the legitimacy of these institutions by way of my participation in them.  Thirdly there is the "critical community".  This aspect of community arises when the links between the given community and the tacit one are fractured.  It comes from the problematisation of the self-evidentness of any community.  It is this element of community that is most interesting for the present discussion.


It is Rajchman's contention that the importance of the critical community for Foucault is that at moments of fracture between the discourse of community (the given community) and the practices that sustain the discourse (the tacit community) we find the conditions for freedom.  This is not freedom in the sense that once we dispel the bonds of community freedom ensues - that would amount to a broadly liberal position whereby the individual is prioritised over the community.  Rather, "it is the community that problematises identity and thus makes our subjectivity an open and endless question, at once individual and collective". [114]   Neither liberal conceptions of autonomous individuals (as in Rawls) nor presupposed communitarian values (as in Taylor) are structural features of this critical position.  In this respect, it superficially resembles the dialogical character of Habermas's ideal speech situation.  However, Habermas's attempt to ground critical discussion on a presupposed consensus embedded in communication is markedly different from the presupposition of "agonism" that lies at the heart of the Foucauldian account.  For Foucault, consensus may well be the result of the operationalisation of a critical community but it is not presupposed in the argumentative process.  The reasons for this are apparent from the discussion in chapter four.  Of course, in reality the fracture between the given and the tacit community is never likely to be total.  It is more plausible to imagine different elements of a community experiencing fracture at different times.  This does not, though, substantially alter the claim being made.  Putting it simply, the poststructuralist invites the suspension of both substantive values and procedural presuppositions.


The critical community, furthermore, implies a condition of "concrete freedom": "the passion of the critical bond is a passion of being free". [115]   Rajchman continues:


The existence of freedom (that we are not under the sign of a unique necessity) resides in the fact that no historical determination of our being is absolute, that any such determination is exposed to events that interrupt it, transform it, and reinterpret what it is.  The experience of freedom is an experience of such an event that frees our relation to the practices and the thinking that have historically limited our experience.  And the practices of freedom are what people try to make of themselves when they experience the existence of freedom in the history that has formed them. [116]


I would add that the condition of the existence of freedom is the temporal discontinuity implied by a liminal present - the continuity, that is, of past-present-future which gives rise to the possibility of discontinuity and fracture.  The liminal present, the immanently paradoxical present between the past and future, entails the on-going potential of freedom.  Freedom is not the end point of struggle but the condition of the very existence of struggle: it is "a permanent provocation". [117]   The condition of freedom is the liminality of the present; that is, the eternal potential for the openness of the present.  The liminality of the present resides in the ontological condition of our lives as temporal beings:


Freedom is the ontological condition of ethics; but ethics is the deliberative form assumed by freedom.  If the existence of freedom in history conditions the elaboration of an ethics, that ethics is the attempt to endow this existence with a specific practical form. [118]


An ethical life, therefore, is one that strives towards freedom as a practice of living at the limits of the present.  This may take the form of "individual" or "collective" action but neither approach is given priority.  In Foucault's view, we are not free individuals coming together to form a community, nor communal beings whose freedom lies in their social relations; rather the potential for both is implicit in the present. In other words, we are that-which-is with the potential for that-which-is-not-yet.  We are in a position of virtuality, of becoming liminal, that offers no solutions but never stops asking questions about our condition.  This is a critical position, it must always invoke criticism, not in the name of some absolute, nor some logically implied consensus of reason, nor in the postmodern "free play" of sheer negativity; but in the "future-past" of the crisis situation, the liminal forever beginning, that can not but arise in the present.  Time in its virtuality, recalling Wood (chapter three), is permanently gathering it's forces to undermine the many stasis of time that order our lives - the working day, day and night, the calendar of seasons, the shrinking time of communications, shopping time, family time and much more.  In this undermining of the "spatialisation" of time (chapter two) Foucault locates freedom.  Social criticism, in this sense, must be ongoing; it creates "a plurality of questions posed to politics rather than a reinscription of the act of questioning within the framework of a political doctrine". [119]



[1] Although there are numerous examples of this interpretation, of particular interest are: Clare O'Farrell, Foucault: Historian or Philosopher?, Macmillan, London, 1989, and Charles C. Lemert and Garth Gillan, Michel Foucault: Social Theory and Transgression.  The emphasis is on the early reception of Foucault because that is where most of the attempts to account for Foucault’s work as whole are located in the secondary literature.  Since then the emphasis has been on specific debates or how one uses his work.


[2] Foucault, Madness and Civilization, Routledge, London, 1992.  The texts used throughout this discussion are as follows: Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard, Rouledge, London, 1992; The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, trans. A. Sheridan, Routledge, London, 1991; Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel, trans. Charles Raus, Athlone Press, London, 1987; The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Tavistock Publications, London, 1977; The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. Sheridan Smith,             Routledge London, 1991; (ed), I, Pierre Riviere, having slaughtered my mother, my sister, and my brother...., Penguin, London, 1978; Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan, Penguin, London, 1986; The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Penguin, London, 1978; Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, D.F. Bouchard (ed), Cornell University Press, New York, 1977; Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, Colin Gordon (ed), trans. C. Gordon et al, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1980; The Foucault Reader, Paul Rabinow (ed), Penguin, London, 1984; The Use of Pleasure, trans. Robert Hurley, Penguin, London, 1985; The Care of the Self, Penguin, London, 1986; Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, Lawrence Kritzman (ed), Routledge, London, 1988; Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, L. Martin, H. Gutman and P. Hutton (eds), Tavistock Publications, London, 1988; Foucault Live (Interviews, 1966-84), trans. J. Johnston and S. Lotringer, Semiotext(e), New York, 1989; Remarks on Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombardi, trans. R.J. Goldstein and J. Cascaito, Semiotext(e), New York, 1991.


[3] Foucault, Madness and Civilization, p3.


[4] It is at this point that the difference with the Frankfurt School becomes most obvious.  Foucault, on this account, proposes a method that tries to subvert Enlightenment reason whereas the Frankfurt theorists are typically involved in trying to "reconstruct" reason; "to salvage the wreck of the Enlightenment" (I am grateful to Shane O'Niell for this evocative way of putting it).


[5]   See, for example, the interview "The Masked Philosopher", Michel Foucault: Politics, Philosophy, Culture, Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, L. Kritzman (ed), trans. A. Sheridan and others, Routledge, London, 1990, pp323-330.  The irony of refusing to foreclose interpretations of the author's work on the author's wishes is noted.


[6] At this point it is worth mentioning that the idea of the liminal is not wholly foreign to Foucault's work.  As early as Madness and Civilization, p11, the idea of liminality is mentioned in relation to his discussion of the "ship of fools".  However, this is quite a different matter from a reconceptualisation of his project via the concept of the liminal.


[7] My reasons for stressing the concept of liminality will hopefully become clear.  Briefly, I favour this term as the one that most adequately expresses the paradoxical character of transition and the different levels on which transition/transgression operates.  It is also a term that is not loaded with too many philosophical preconceptions and, therefore, it enables the following reading of Foucault to maintain a certain critical distance from the vast secondary literature surrounding his thought.  Further elaboration of the idea of liminality is given throughout.


[8] Donnelly, "On Foucault's Uses of the Notion of Bio-Power", Michel Foucault: Philosopher, pp199-203, offers an "appreciative but critical" account of the way that Foucault often "elided" his genealogies, that is his descriptions of "specific mechanisms and strategies" with his "epochal" descriptions regarding the "diagrammatic" features of particular periods.  He goes on to conclude that there is an "unabridged gap" between these two strains in Foucault's thought (on bio-power).  I agree with Donnelly in many respects, indeed part of my hope with introducing the idea of the liminal into his work is to show how we can reconceptualise the relation between the historical work and the philosophical foundations of that work.  I would disagree with Donnelly when he suggests the way to resolve the difficulty he sees in Foucault is to keep these categories of the genealogical and the epochal separate.  It is more fruitful to analyse the way in which these categories can be linked, or shown to overlap - to create a liminal zone of creativity and ambiguity within Foucault, rather than to try and resolve it via exclusionary techniques.


[9] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p49.


[10] Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, p31.


[11] Foucault, The Order of Things, pp315-317.


[12] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p15.


[13] Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, pp90-100.  For an alternative account of Foucault's archaeology, one that is critical but ultimately sympathetic to his project, see, Gary Gutting, Michel Foucault's Archaeology of Scientific Reason, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989.


[14] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p28.  An interesting analysis of Foucault's use of the term discourse, it's problems and insights, is given by M. Frank, "On Foucault's Concept of Discourse", Michel Foucault: Philosopher, pp99-116.


[15] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p29.


[16] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p104.


[17] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p31. 


[18] Foucault, The Order of Things, pxxi-xxii.


[19] A thorough account of Foucault's use of the term "episteme" can be found in, G. Canguilhem, "The death of man, or exhaustion of the cogito?", trans. Catherine Porter, The Cambridge Companion to Foucault, Gary Gutting (ed), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994, pp71-91.


[20] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge,  p191.  In saying this I am aware of the ambiguity that the term has in Foucault's writings; see O'Farrell, Foucault: Historian or Philosopher?, pp54-55, for a discussion of this ambiguity.


[21] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge,  p191.


[22] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge,  p144.


[23] It is interesting that in this first major justification of his approach Foucault rejects the notion of "limit-experience" implicit in, for example, the conclusion of Madness and Civilization.  The possibility of "interrogating the being of madness itself, its secret content, its silent, self-enclosed truth" is abandoned for an analysis of "all that was said in all the statements that named it", The Archaeology of Knowledge, p32.  This is interesting to the extent that it is a recognition of the impossibility of wholly occupying the "Other" as a way beyond the strategies that operate through discourse.  However, as I shall argue below, Foucault's first reaction to this, his archaeological method, was in fact an over-reaction that itself became trapped in the Same (to use O'Farrell's terminology).


[24] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p15.


[25] Once again we come up against the difficulty of taking a term like this as containing a definite meaning.  As Descombes demonstrates, Modern French Philosophy, pp75-109, the history and use of this term is complex and problematic.  With specific regard to Foucault, Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, pp52-58, make the distinction between atomistic and holistic structuralism, suggesting that Foucault is quite definitely not a proponent of the former but does, at this stage in his work, resemble certain features of the latter.  For my part, I shall make no specific comment on these complexities, taking my lead from Foucault's belief that all that held together the structuralist movement was its opposition to a theory of the subject: "it's not simply a matter of structuralism or the structuralist method - it all served as a basis for and a confirmation of something much more radical: the calling into question of the theory of the subject", Remarks on Marx, p58.


[26] Foucault, The Order of Things, pxx.  Compare this to the idea of the code found in Levi-Strauss's Structural Anthropology, vol. 1, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf, London, 1968.


[27] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p15.


[28] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p200.


[29] Another way of phrasing the distinction Foucault invokes is to conceive of structuralism as the search for universal pre-conditions of knowledge formation, whereas archaeology always begins with the "suspension" of judgement on what any particular pre-conditions might be.  It is important to note, however, that the charge against structuralists - that they ignore history - is not beyond dispute; see, for example, "Claude Levi-Strauss" by J. Boon, in The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences, Quentin Skinner (ed), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990, pp159-176.


[30] Blanchot, Foucault/Blanchot, p73.


[31] Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic, pix.


[32] Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic, p68.


[33] This is, of course, a technique repeated often by Foucault (the technique of shocking us into the realisation of the arbitrariness of our systems of thought) and is most famously used in the later work, Discipline and Punish, where the opening pages describe in vivid detail the execution of Damien and the very different, but now recognisable, regime of Leon Faucher, see pp3-7.


[34] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p12.


[35] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p205.


[36] R. Machado, "Archaeology and Epistemology", Michel Foucault: Philosopher, pp3-19.


[37] Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, pp49-51.


[38] Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, p90.


[39] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p207. 


[40] Blanchot, Foucault/Blanchot, p70.


[41] Deleuze, Foucault, p32.


[42] Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History", The Foucault Reader, p76.


[43] Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History", p77.


[44] Noujain, E.G., "History as Genealogy: An Exploration of Foucault's Approach to History", Contemporary French Philosophy, A. Phillips Griffiths (ed), Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp157-174.


[45] Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History", p76.


[46] Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History", p78.


[47] Foucault, Power/Knowledge, p112.


[48] We can view Foucault's publication of the memoirs of the criminal Pierre Riviere in this way; I, Pierre Riviere ... trans. by F. Jellinek, Michel Foucault (ed), Peregrine, Harmondsworth, 1978.  In Foucault Live, p132, Foucault remarks that Riviere's document "so escapes from every possible handle, that there is nothing to be said about this central point, this crime or act, that is not a step back in relation to it".  The specificity of the document is made to stand on its own without recourse to a historical narrative that subsumes it.


[49] Foucault, Power/Knowledge, p98.


[50] Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History", p87-88.


[51] Foucault, Power/Knowledge, p83 (my italics).


[52] Foucault, Power/Knowledge, p83 (my italics).


[53] For a useful discussion of this see Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, p118.


[54] Deleuze, Foucault, p107.


[55] Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, pp122-123.


[56] The introduction of the terminology of "the fold" is taken from Deleuze's reading of Foucault; Foucault, especially the chapter titled "Foldings or The Inside of Thought (Subjectivation)".  The term can have many uses, in this case it simply denotes the internal collapse of the archaeological-genealogical method by its own critical standards.  I am introducing this terminology because I believe that Deleuze's reading offers a fruitful critical understanding of Foucault; an understanding that opens, rather than forecloses, new perspectives on his work.


[57] Foucault, Madness and Civilization, p11.


[58] On the last of these see the useful account in Michel Foucault, Didier Eribon, trans. Betsy Wing, Harvard University Press, Massachusetts, 1991, pp224-234.


[59] Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, p80. 


[60] See especially chapter five, "Change and Transformations".


[61] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p166.


[62] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p167.


[63] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p170 and 175.  See also, The Order of Things, "Foreword to the English Edition", pxii.


[64] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p171.


[65] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p173.


[66] Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, trans. M.B. Vizedom and G.L. Caffee, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1960, originally published in 1908.


[67] For example, Henri Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe Volumes 1 and 2, David Nutt, London, 1912; particularly p74.


[68] V. Turner, "Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage", The Forest of Symbols, Cornell University Press, New York, 1967, p95.


[69] See V. Turner, On the edge of the Bush: Anthropology as Experience, E. Turner (ed), University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1985, p7, where Turner attributes his interest in van Gennep to reading Rites de Passage while engaged on his own transition with his wife Edith as they set sail from England to America.


[70] Turner, "Betwixt and Between", p96.


[71] Turner, "Betwixt and Between", pp97-98.


[72] Turner, "Liminality and Morality", Firestone Lecture, delivered at the University of Southern California, quoted in Barbara Myerhoff, "Rites of Passage: Process and Paradox", Celebration, Victor Turner (ed), Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., 1982, pp109-135.


[73] Quoted in Myerhoff, "Rites of Passage: Process and Paradox", p117.


[74] Myerhoff, "Rites of Passage: Process and Paradox", p117.


[75] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p3.


[76] Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, p94.


[77] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, pp323-330.


[78] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p155.


[79] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p6.


[80] Quoted in Rajchman, Truth and Eros: Foucault, Lacan and the Question of Ethics, Routledge, London, 1991, p5.


[81] See, for example, Lois McNay, Foucault and Feminism.


[82] Foucault, Technologies of the Self, p146.


[83] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p5.


[84] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p7.


[85] It is noticeable that Foucault's investigations into antiquity don't explicitly address the role of women during this time.  Some commentators have taken this as a sign that Foucault is not sensitive to feminist issues and interpretations.  For the debates surrounding Foucault's work and its relation to feminism see; McNay, Foucault and Feminism; J. Sawicki, Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power and the Body, Routledge, London, 1991; Diamond and Quinby (eds), Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, Northeastern University Press, Boston, Mass., 1988.


[86] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p10.


[87] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, pp14-20.


[88] Foucault, Technologies of the Self, p39.


[89] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, pp240-241.


[90] Foucault, The Foucault Reader, p341.


[91] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p63.


[92] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p92.


[93] Foucault, The Foucault Reader, p351.


[94] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p65.


[95] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p68.


[96] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p72.


[97] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p253.


[98] Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p25.


[99] Foucault, The Foucault Reader, p343.


[100] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p49.


[101] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p87.


[102] For Foucault's brief discussion of pre-modern conceptions of the present see, The Foucault Reader,



[103] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p94.


[104] Foucault, "What is Enlightenment", The Foucault Reader, pp32-50, p45.


[105] Foucault, The Foucault Reader, p45.


[106] Foucault, The Foucault Reader, p46.


[107] Foucault, The Foucault Reader, p46.


[108] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p95.


[109] Foucault, The Foucault Reader, p50.


[110] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p35.


[111] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p36.


[112] Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, pp36-37.


[113] Rajchman, Truth and Eros, p102.


[114] Rajchman, Truth and Eros, p102.


[115] Rajchman, Truth and Eros, p109.


[116] Rajchman, Truth and Eros, p110.


[117] Foucault, "The Subject and Power", H. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, pp208-226, p222.


[118] Foucault, "The Ethic of the Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom", Philosophy and Social Criticism, vol. 12, 1987, pp112-131.


[119] Foucault, The Foucault Reader, p386.

* Dr Iain MacKenzie is a Lecturer in Politics at The Queen's University of Belfast (e-mail:

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