Ghent, 2 Apr. On normativity in Goldstein, Canguilhem, Foucault

April 2nd, 2014

very pleased to be in Ghent for this seminar organised by Charles Wolfe at the Sarton Centre for History of Science…  



Abstract. Canguilhem’s milestone work The Normal and the Pathological (1943, 1966) was the main inspiration for Foucault’s conceptualization of biopolitics. The power that normalizes society — the power that according to Canguilhem started to distinguish between the normal and the abnormal in the post-Napoleonic French society by the introduction of new medical and social Norms against the old domain of the Law — was the theoretical intuition that inspired Foucault’s work on the normalization of sexuality.

Specifically it is in the course The Abnormal (started in January 1975 at the Collège de France) that Foucault initiated this research on normativity and specifically on “the techniques of normalization of sexuality”. Accidentally, it is in the same course that Foucault introduces for the first time the term dispositif in relation to such a power of normalization.

This seminar aims to retrace the genealogy of Foucault’s idea of biopower against some recent interpretations. It is interesting to see, for instance, how this genealogy is rendered by Agamben in his essay What Is an Apparatus? that inscribes Foucault under the influence of Hegel, Hyppolite and the whole Christian theology. Contra Agamben, it will be shown how Foucault’s notion of biopolitical normativity was in fact inspired by Canguilhem’s notion of socio-organic normativity. Canguilhem himself adopted this idea from the neurologist Kurt Goldstein and his work on the normative power of the brain (in a unique interpretation of the German Lebensphilosophie, in which by the way the term Biopolitik was first coined with a clear reactionary spin).

Eventually the neurological matrix and the brain’s very power of abstraction (Goldstein) will be disclosed as the forgotten core of the Foucauldian notion of biopower. The seminar will also try to illuminate and link to a more recent revival of the notion of normativity (via Sellars, Brassier, Negarestani) that appears to extend such an old genealogy and philosophical project to new developments.



Sarton Centre for History of Science
University of Ghent [website]

Date: Wednesday, 2 April 2014 - 2:15pm to 4:00pm
Series: Research Methods in HPS
Location: Faculty Library Meeting Room, Rozier 44 [map]

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