Vincent Descombes

Vincent Descombes author of Modern French Philosophy (1980), is a professor of French at Johns Hopkins University. His Objects of All Sorts: A Philosophical Grammar will be reviewed here by Hilary Putnam.

Je m’en Foucault

Vincent Descombes, 5 March 1987

In 1980, Le Monde published a series of interviews with French philosophers, one of whom only agreed to participate on condition that he remain anonymous. His interview appeared under the title ‘The Masked Philosopher’. At the time, only expert readers were able to guess that the masked philosopher in question was Michel Foucault. Foucault had no objection to the practice of giving interviews: he gave several under his own name, and they often yielded some remarkably fine texts, which rightfully belong to the corpus of his work. It is significant that he insisted that he not be named on this one occasion – for an interview about philosophy. In many respects Foucault was indeed a masked philosopher. In his writings, his philosophical position usually remains implicit or presupposed. Only in The Archaeology of Knowledge did he attempt to offer a systematic presentation of the principles underlying his method of analysing historical material. Yet most commentators agree that this book fails to define a coherent position. It is only today that we are beginning to consider, not just what Foucault had to say as a leading intellectual, but also the position he embraced as a fully-fledged philosopher.’

Letter

Mistitle

5 March 1987

SIR: I was very shocked to discover that my piece on Foucault had been printed under the title ‘Je m’en Foucault’ (LRB, 5 March). Such a title may sound funny in English (I am not qualified to say). In French, it is extremely offensive, not to say, distasteful, for obvious reasons. I had entitled my review ‘Foucault, the Masked Philosopher’. I was glad to accept the title...

Strangers

Alasdair MacIntyre, 16 April 1981

It is no secret that philosophy as it is taught and studied at UCLA or Princeton or Oxford is very different from philosophy as it is understood at Paris or Dijon or Nice. An intellectual milieu...

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