The Will to Knowledge

To me, the philosopher is one possessing the will to knowledge. Nietzsche counciled the philosopher to turn his will to knowledge into his will to power. Is this what Foucault has done? Or, perhaps, Foucault turned such a will around, and unearthed a much more insidious will, a will to classify, to assert, to make others and ourselves into objects of knowledge. The subject as object: what a fascinating turn of phrase.

The concept of bio-power, and consequently, such notions as disciplinary power and governmentality weaves a thread throughout Foucault’s oeuvre. The notion of a historical ontology, a genealogy of the subject, how certain subjects are formed, how we are each made and make ourselves into subjects – all this is aptly demonstrated in the first volume of The History of Sexuality.

The emergence of the homosexual as a species, with the act of sodomy characterizing such a species, is an illuminating account of the functioning of bio-power in society. A distinction must be made between acts and behaviors. Acts are performed and remain independent of the one who performs them in sense that acts do not characterize and place the performer within a specific identity or subjectivity. On the other hand, behaviors are seen as derivative of an agent, that is, it is the natural and presupposed functioning of an agent in movement.

Thus, behaviors are always specified, that is, classified within a species. What the designation of homosexuals as a species is nothingless than forcing such individuals within the scientific realm of an ethology. Such an ethology is not a claried science per se. But, upon a closer reading of the text, reveals that such an ethology runs implicit within the multiple discourse intersecting to form the object “sexuality”.

The biological base for an ethological understanding of Foucault’s text opens onto a connection to the place of the Body within his work. Especially in the case of sexuality, the imposition of heterogenous relations as the norm has its fundamental basis in the male and female genitals. Thus, those who refuse to consider mulitiple sexualities has recourse to a “natural” conception of male/female and hence sexuality as a whole. This ethological discourse based on the body, while seemingly trapping those with other sexualities within their bodies, has in fact the opposite effect. Foucault says in Discipline and Punishment and elsewhere in the History of Madness that the Body was trapped within the Soul. I interpret this, on a somewhat overtly general scale, to mean that the Body is trapped by discourse within a certain set of functions designated as normal and abnormal.

It is of no wonder that Foucault was fascinated with Bataille’s ideas of transgression, and especially transgression in relation to the erotic. If, as Foucault came to realize in his later of works, such as the notion of technologies and practices of the care of the self, that certain bodily practices can profoundly change subjects as they are in becoming, then what is considered trangressive must remain AS transgressive. That is to say, the proliferation of discourses on sexuality during the classical age is precisely an effort on part of society to control and manage sexualities as they are ‘discovered’. This is shown in the History of Madness as the mad were gradually separated from the vagrants in society, and how criminals were given increasingly gentler but detailed regiments.

Thus, all this has its root in a general will to knowledge. More specifically, a will to knowledge as manifested as an ethology of control and classification. Within this context, Foucault’s conclusions reached in The Order of Things in regards to the transformations of the episteme become clear. Such an ethology manifests itself on the surface as a taxonomy, and in turn, classifies certain actions and those who practice such actions into species and categories. To me, the will to knowledge falls under a general effort to classify, and, through instances of disciplinary power, to implement, manage, and control. Indeed, the moment of implementation, as demonstrated by the model of the Panopticon, is the transmutation of the will to knowledge to a will to power. Using the knowledge produced by discourses of control, institutions began to weave the two together, so that while prisoners are being controled, knowledge can gathered about them.

Therefore, such an ethology as a study of behavior manifests in two levels. I.) in the classifying discourses running through a social episteme. II.) in the implementation of such discourses on social life by way of institutions. Within this framework an object of analysis arises, whether it be criminality, madness, or, in this case, sexuality.

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I speak. The very act of speaking, the moment in which utterance occurs, signals the silence at hand. I speak. Silence can only be conveyed. Silence can never be experienced. Silence is the absence of all, even the void. This is silence. This, the blank space between the signs, the page on which the text is inscribed, this is silence. To write a history of silence would be to write a history of history, and so on. Silence is eternal transcendence. Silence is

Let us imagine an encyclopedia. There, in the cyclic, ordered chaos of its knowledge, between the endless recurrence of its pages, lurks a core which can never be read. We panic. We reach for the core. We turn the pages frantically, methodically, devotedly. We read in vain. This too is silence. The illusory promise of a key, an origin which forever eludes us, this is silence. 

We look into an empty room. The room is devoid of furniture. The room is bare, naked. Purity. This is silence. 

We imagine a moment without silence. The dogs are dead. Everything is crushed into a point of absolute density, infinite presence, infinitely material. We need silence. 

There is no sky. The sky is an illusion. There is only space. This is silence.

“Touch the sky.”


“Hold out your hand.”

This is – .