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The Passion of Michel Foucault [Paperback]

Jim Miller
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 Dec 1994
The first detailed account of Foucault's lifelong obsession with death, suicide, drugs, and sadomasochistic eroticism, James Miller's impressively documented study is a provocative exploration of the life and work of one of the most influential, original, and controversial figures in 20th-century intellectual history.

Product details

  • Paperback: 491 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; 1st Anchor Books Ed edition (31 Dec 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385472404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385472401
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15.4 x 3.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 501,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls into the Trap of unifying 9 Feb 2010
By sanyata
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Foucaults thinking is a mess. Foucault would be the first to acknowledge this. This book however falls into the trap of unifying his thinking into a grand project when in fact Foucault was always shifting interests and changing the course of his thinking. The biographical reseach also gets thinner towards the end of this book. And the postscript that attempt to absolve Foucault from having knowingly infected numerous sex partners with AIDS is just ridiculous.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars French lives explained to americans. Possible? 6 Jan 1999
By A Customer
This book is perfect if you want to focus on the late Foucault, who is a surprise if you know nothing about the historical and biographical developement of his thougth. It will give you a big hint if you are disoriented within the bunch of colors in his estense work. That's at least what it did for me. However, the book may give somebody the idea that only the late Foucault deserves a reading, and that one is not loosing something skipping "The order of things", or "Discipline & Punishment", two real classics of our time. The audacious ideas arising in these two books deserve attention because of their actuality and originality, and because of the sour critic they implicate for existing philosophical schools. The rare anecdotes (i.e.: the conversations with Habermas) may discourage one to think seriously of the main themes of the early Foucault, and that's why I'd recommend a previous reading of Foucault's early works from the beggining until the first volume of his "History of sexuality". Miller's book will make things more clear without taking out all the "Passion" that someone like Foucault may arise.
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant exercise in critical biography 25 May 2000
By "lexo-2" - Published on Amazon.com
The one time that Noam Chomsky met Michel Foucault, on a Dutch TV discussion programme in 1971, the discussion took some turns that Chomsky found disturbing. Chomsky is a man who believes in freedom and justice, and was perturbed to find the baldy Frenchman defending the right of proletarians to engage in violent revolt against the ruling class. "One makes war to win, not because it's just," declared Foucault in his best Class Enemy manner, and the linguist Chomsky found himself at a loss for words. He told James Miller that while he personally liked Foucault, it was "as if he was from a different species, or something."
Now that the revolutionary fervour of the Seventies is becoming little more than hearsay, most people seriously concerned with injustice and freedom might well be inclined to side with Chomsky. As would I. James Miller's book is an astonishing act of sympathetic inquiry, in which he makes a persuasive case that many of Foucault's most provocative ideas are arguably more significant when seen as outgrowths of a highly singular spiritual project, rather than a rational process of argumentation.
Foucault didn't like the idea of biography, but since his death we've had three - Didier Eribon's pedestrian life story, James Macey's (which I haven't read) and Miller's. I'm willing to bet that, even with Macey's unseen, Miller's is the best book. His Foucault is the opposite of a detached intellectual; he's an almost shamanistic quasi-hero, a voyager beyond the bounds of the ordinary, who when he's not campaigning for better prison conditions is taking LSD in Death Valley and revelling in the leather bars of San Francisco. I personally find it hard to take many of Foucault's ideas seriously, especially as Miller demonstrates that there's occasionally an element of pose and display in Foucault's wackier remarks, but this book certainly increases my respect for him, even if I remain unconvinced.
Foucault has probably given rise to more dreary would-be subversive po-mo drivel than any other French intellectual, with the possible exception of Jacques Derrida, but he makes a great story. No doubt he made major contributions to certain fields of historiography and Queer Theory. "Discipline and Punish" is a brilliant, if infuriatingly elliptical book. Some essays, such as "What is an Author?", remain vital and suggestive. The rest of it...I dunno. But Miller's book is a strong contribution to hauling his legacy out of the academy and onto the street.
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate Truth? 17 Mar 2003
By Jon G. Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
This book, based on the "philosophical life" of the late French philosopher Michel Foucault, reveals the mind of a man who was, says Miller, "one of the most original---and daring---thinkers of the century." Far from being just another biography of Foucault's life, Miller's thoroughly researched project demonstrates time and again the intimate interconnection between the way a life is lived and the thinking and writing that can come from that life. But this is much more than just an intellectual history. One Can't help but share in the passion that speaks through Miller's writing, powerfully earning this book its title.
Foucault said, "...there is not a book I have written that does not grow, at least in part, out of a direct, personal experience." Each chapter of Miller's book gradually unfolds the truth of this statement, beginning with Foucault's earliest writings on madness and mental illness, through his works on knowledge and criminality, to his final opus on the nature of human sexuality. Foucault's unorthodox approach to history is made clear, revealing a revolutionary philosophy based not on structured logic and reason, but growing instead from the realm of experience, in keeping with the "great Nietzschean quest [to] become what one is."
I personally found this book quite disturbing, still accepting as I do many principles of existential humanism, especially those of free will and personal responsibility. But humanism as a whole is a philosphy Foucault and his contemporaries emphatically reject as "a diminution of man," made up of "everything in Western civilization that restricts the desire for power" and "every attitude that considers the aim of politics to be the production of happiness." In reality, says Foucault, happiness does not exist---and the happiness of man exists still less."
"The individual," he is reported to have said, "is contingent, formed by the weight of moral tradition, not really autonomous." And we "can and must make of man a negative experience, lived in the form of hate and aggression."
Somewhat stunned, I've nevertheless gained from Miller's book a new understanding of the world I live in, and of myself as part of that world. "Under the impact of civilization," he summarizes, "the will to power (Freud's 'death instinct') has been driven inward and turned against itself---creating within the human being a new inclination: to destroy himself." So, if Foucault is right, the basic truth that society tries to make humans homogenously "tame" is itself the very root of the violence and decadence of our times. If we are to point to the cause of these problems, we can only point at ourselves and at our structured ways of thinking. The problem is not what we have allowed to be, but rather what we have tried to deny and eliminate. "I am referring," says Foucault, "to all those experiences that have been rejected by our civilization, or which it accepts only within literature." This view throws the current move toward increased artistic censorship into new and unexpected relief.
For Foucault, then, the issue is the same, whatever the subject at hand: the concept of madness, our systems of language and knowledge, law and the punishment of crime, or the idea and expression of our individual sexuality. Regardless of our lifestyle, history has told us the limits of what we can be, and as individuals and as a culture we are paying a great price for believeing it. According to Foucault, the solution can only be to "free ourselves from...cultural conservatism, as well as from political conservatism. We must see our rituals for what they are: completely arbitrary things." We must find the "limits" of our thinking and learn to transcend them. Says Foucault, "...the unity of society [is] precisely that which should...be destroyed."
Miller's book is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but Interesting 22 April 2008
By Steiner - Published on Amazon.com
Despite the late philosopher's explicit request to not compose a biography of his life, James Miller has compiled a highly competent study of Foucault's life and thought. While not purporting to be a traditional biography, Miller frequently falls into the trap of imposing a cogent narrative onto the work of this great mind in a way that is not always convincing. We are provided with very fine material on Foucault's complex youth, as well as his various political engagements as an activist/academic, but I never got the sense that Miller had really penetrated the essence of Foucault's profoundly Nietzschean project. Perhaps it is because of his background in political science that Miller tends to fall back onto Foucault's politics and let the philosophy awkwardly sit there. We are given more description of Foucault's acid trip in Death Valley than the meaning of 'The Birth of the Clinic,' for instance. Still, this is a fairly reasonable approximation of Foucault's career and why it will remain a formidable presence in the humanities for ages to come.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars illuminating, entertaining biography 12 April 2011
By 2 cents - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Look go elsewhere, perhaps to Michel Foucault's own writings and more recently released lectures, for a superior examination of his thought. Hubert Dreyfus' "Beyond Structuralism.." is good and Dreyfus understood, apparently before even most of Foucault's French readers, the significance of Heidegger to Foucault's philosophical journey. Now as for this much maligned biography, this "trash": I don't care to argue with students of Foucault about all the flaws, much less disciples or fans. What I simply want to say is I've not seen another bio on Michel Foucault that was more entertaining, better written and gave a sense of the excitement that Foucault's life and work has generated over the past few decades.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Expose 10 May 2006
By Nathaniel K. - Published on Amazon.com
I read this work as part of a postmodern philosophy of the self class, and, among the esteemed company of Nietzsche and Heidegger, this book truly stands out as a great illumination of Foucault's life. The truth of the matter is, no matter whether or not you believe learning about an author adds to your understanding and enjoyment of his works, people will always want to know more. I found Miller's writing to be extremely precise and erudite without being unnecessarily technical or prosaic as biographies can sometimes be. Miller ties in Foucault's thought and philosophies to the story of his life in a way that allows one to really understand more about what Foucault was writing and why, and provides context to said works in a way that allows the reader to grasp it. Of course, reading "The Passion of Michel Foucault" isn't the same as reading the works of Foucault--nor is it a substitute--but I found it to be a fitting start--or end--to a study of the great philosopher he was.
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