Taking Foucault to Sunday School


In the previous post, I provided my lesson on Feuerbach and Nietzsche, taken from my Sunday school series on modernism and postmodernism. Here is the lesson on Michel Foucault, the widely influential French critical theorist:

Class 11: Foucault

Even though philosophy departments have moved in other directions (even back to both classical and modern metaphysics), Foucault is still alive and well within the various “studies” departments: cultural studies, women’s studies, religious studies, queer studies, pick-your-identity studies, and so on. Most importantly, echoes of Foucault can be heard across wide swaths of our culture today, with the millennials proving to be a highly receptive audience.

I did not record any audio for the lessons, so you do not have my running commentary. But, I think the slides are sufficient and hopefully of interest. This was one of the shorter lessons (in terms of the number of slides), because I spent extra time carefully explaining the technical terms in use and offering my criticisms at the end.


Image: Michel Foucault (source)



  1. I read the summary on the image link. Looks interesting. What book would be a good place to start, as an introduction to Foucault?

    • He is not a terribly complex writer, so I would just start with Discipline & Punish. But it would be helpful to read existentialists first, if you have not already. Foucault’s rejection of human nature (as a value-laden category that can transcend power) is just a radicalization of Sartre, even as he rejects Sartre’s concept of freedom as too idealistic. For Foucault, we are never truly free — only relatively shifting around the norms that structure our identities. Foucault is deeply pessimistic.

      Far more than Nietzsche or Sartre, Foucault was a true nihilist. Many of Foucault’s disciples do not actually agree with his rejection of human nature, for the obvious reason that it undermines all social activism. See the quote from Todd May in the slide presentation.

      • You are not a great reader of Foucault. I mean, come on, Foucault as a nihilist? This is *the* classical misreading. (Someone has been reading too much Milbank.) And the “studies.” What sweeping dismissals!

      • Oh, geeze, “the” classic misreading, huh. I’ll just sulk now in my ignorance — woe is me.

        My interpretation as “nihilist” is on the basis of my prior interpretation that, “For Foucault, we are never truly free — only relatively shifting around the norms that structure our identities.” Of course, fans of Foucault see this as liberating and very much not nihilistic. I’m perfectly aware of that.

  2. Have you ever seen the random postmodern essay generator? It’s pretty amusing.

    The main theme of Sargeant’s[1] critique of Batailleist `powerful communication’ is the difference between sexuality and society. Thus, Marxist socialism holds that the establishment is capable of truth, given that Lyotard’s essay on Foucaultist power relations is valid.

    If one examines Batailleist `powerful communication’, one is faced with a choice: either reject Foucaultist power relations or conclude that reality must come from communication. An abundance of narratives concerning the paradigm of precultural sexual identity exist. But the subject is interpolated into a textual sublimation that includes narrativity as a reality.

    • Ha, no, I have not seen that. I would have sworn that it was real if you had not indicated otherwise.

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