Philosopher and historian Michel Foucault is best known for his profoundly influential scholarship on the history of knowledge, sexuality, madness, power, and the body. Less noted, though present in nearly all of his work, is the philosopher’s fascination with death. In this Olio we will explore Foucault’s ideas about death, and how these ideas shaped his larger works on sexuality and the modern self. What is the relationship, for example, between the policing of sexual deviance and death?
We will grapple with Foucault’s controversial ideas about suicide, the state’s power to compel us to live, and most importantly, we will explore Foucault’s claim that death is a primary site for becoming what one is. “It is in death,” Foucault claimed, “that the individual becomes at one with himself, escaping from the monotonous lives and their leveling effect; in the slow, half-subterranean, but already visible approach of death, the dull, common life, at last becomes an individuality…and gives it the style of its truth.”