Tag Archive | Philosophy

The Courage of Truth

It’s important to take part in aspects of University life that aren’t directly related to your subject area. This is something I’m becoming ever more convinced of as I read and write about academic subject and discourse communities, inter-disciplinary work, shifting contexts of idea formation and reception, and the dialogues (or conversations) between tradition, innovation, and diverse schools of thought. All this to say that I’ve been going along to the Philosophy Department’s Friday morning Michel Foucault reading group! Actually, I have been using some of Foucault’s ideas in my work – the historical a priori, the political structures of truth, technologies of self and so on…but mainly, attending this group is a chance for me to hear what’s going on outside the wonderful world of Info Comms. It’s excellent to be challenged by a way of thinking and studying that’s not second-nature – and to realise that actually, it has plenty to reveal that’s relevant to my discipline. Hearing a new vocabulary and learning about a whole new bag of concepts is really rewarding. In my view, inter-disciplinary mash-ups are possibly one of MMU’s real strengths. 🙂

Public truth-telling can be complicated

The text we’ve been reading from is The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II; a lovely volume comprising transcripts of his last ever set of lectures (1984) at the Collège de France. It’s fascinating to try and follow Foucault’s logic as he leaps from idea, to example, to observation, to sweeping and bold statement, usually referring to a variety of well known and obscure (for me anyway) sources and willing the reader/listener to keep pace. Apparently he used to get a little lonely and frustrated that after so much effort, the audience would often not engage with his ideas; not offer a challenge or analysis. What a shame. I can’t help but wonder what he would have had to say about blogs or websites and the ways in which they encourage participation. If Michel blogged, the servers would doubtless crash!

There is one place in the book which really amused me. It’s a wonderful example of the truly “disruptive” effects of new technology. I have reproduced the footnote that appears on Page 14 of the Palgrave Macmillan edition. This is Foucault’s 1 February 1984 lecture: First hour. Warming up to his argument about different modes of truth-telling, he informs his audience about the professional techniques of the Ancient rhetoricians. So popular were his lectures that the theatre would be packed to the rafters; people could hardly breathe, so keen were they to hear him speak. Students would record bootlegs on their little portable cassette machines, eager to be able to replay and share with friends after the fact. And so the following…

Michel Foucault is interrupted at this point by pop music from one of the cassette recorders. We hear a member of the audience rush to their machine. M.F.: “I think you are mistaken. It is at least Michael Jackson? Too bad”.

Let Them Eat Cake…

It’s great fun – but also quite challenging – figuring out how to combine being a bookworm with getting to know Manchester and enjoying a surprisingly active social life. The weekend was divided between reading up on German and French philosophers, trying to understand their politics and the implications of their theories in terms of democracy, critique, and subjectivity – and meeting new friends.

I haven’t explored outside the city centre much so far but got a chance to see a little more of the place on my way to meet Clare (who is doing her M.A. at MMU on Spanish cinema, feminism, and in particular depictions on-screen of Juana la Loca) and her husband John (an EFL teacher) in order to celebrate the Christening of their beautiful daughter Thea. This meant taking the bus out to a town in Greater Manchester called Urmston. I had to pay my bus fare for a change, but enjoyed looking out through the grey rain as the city gave way to the suburbs, lines of trees, and a sense of seclusion. Clare and John (plus extended family) were the perfect hosts and I left not only well fed but also clutching a box of delicious handmade cupcakes.1

Well, I’m sure that even the greatest minds took some time out to enjoy cake now and then. As Nietzsche wrote:

I have seen this with my own eyes: gifted natures with a generous and free disposition, “read to ruin” in their thirties – merely matches that one has to strike to make them emit sparks – “thoughts”. Early in the morning, when day breaks, when all is fresh, in the dawn of one’s strength – to read a book at such a time is simply depraved! – Ecce Homo, 1881/1908

A cupcake at the moment before eating.


up1 Please note that I did take some gifts for Clare and Thea as well as eating half the buffet.