by David Macey
(Reaktion Books) $16.95
So far, there are two ways of writing the life of French philosopher Michel Foucault (1927–1984): One is modeled by Didier Eribon's Michel Foucault, and the other by James Miller's The Passion of Michel Foucault. If the titles of these biographies fail to spell out their differences, then the images on their covers say it all. Eribon's biography has an image of Foucault with his hands on his bald head and his eyes focused on something not far to the left of him—evidently, the philosopher is processing a vital piece of information. Miller's biography has a dark image of Foucault in an Arabic bathrobe, waiting for his lover to enter what appears to be a bedless bedroom. Eribon's biography focuses on the mind of Foucault, his intellectual apprenticeship, and the matter of his books. Miller's biography focuses on the "passion" of Foucault, his sexuality (he was gay), and his tireless search for "limit experiences" in seedy bars and bathhouses. Eribon's biography is serious; Miller's is scandalous.
David Macey's first biography of Foucualt, The Lives of Michel Foucault, was neither here nor there, and all-around forgettable. And his new short biography of Foucault, Michel Foucault, is of the scandalous tradition. Macey's ruling obsessions are Foucault's class position (he came from a wealthy family), "his demons," and his dirty little secrets. The little book is entertaining because it is not about an intellectual but a celebrity, which Foucault certainly was, despite the difficulty of his books, particularly The Order of Things—Foucault's second most challenging work and yet the one that made him famous.
"More notoriety came Foucault's way when he acquired a Jaguar sports car," writes Macey of Foucault's period in Sweden. "...The car, which was beige with black leather upholstery was second-hand but still expensive... Yet Foucault was immensely proud of it, and even went through a phase of choosing his clothes to match its colour scheme." You will not find the mind of Foucault in Macey's biography but the body of the man in the bathrobe. ■