Cormac Gallagher – On First Looking into Foucaults History

THE LETTER 20 (Autumn 2000) pages 183-209


In 1998, a note promoting the forthcoming Colloquium on L’Opacite Sexuelle in the Ecole Lacanienne de Paris announced, almost as if it were now a received truth, that Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality had ‘cut the ground from under the feet of psychoanalysts’. Up to this I had held the rather complacent view that while Foucault was of course one of the more important contemporary thinkers he was not of central relevance to psychoanalysis. Even a yearlong staff seminar on The Birth of the Clinic had done little to modify this view.

But this startling and indeed sobering remark coming from such a prestigious source is certainly worthy of investigation and assessment! I am not aware that anybody has in fact taken it up either in the Colloquium or elsewhere and this article by a non-specialist is far from being the complete response that it deserves. I have simply tried to look carefully at the three-volume work in question, to see whether in fact it undermines my own position as a Lacanian psychoanalyst. I have also tried to provide enough introductory material to encourage colleagues to read this remarkable work, which so far seems to have been relatively neglected by English-speaking analysts.

Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan

Michel Foucault’s detailed knowledge of psychoanalysis, especially in its Lacanian incarnation, is beyond question. From his twenties he was reportedly ‘haunted’ by the question of whether he should go into analysis…

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