Bernard E. Harcourt | Epilogue to Foucault 13/13 & Welcome to Nietzsche 13/13

By Bernard E. Harcourt 

The Cynic militant life: this is a model of struggle, of conflict, of battle that is very similar to the one Foucault had endorsed in the early 1970s when he embraced the model of civil war. The same emphasis on battle and struggle returns in the final year of lectures on The Courage of Truth in his discussion of the Cynics:

“Well, we can also say that they reverse and invert the theme of the sovereign life (tranquil and beneficial: tranquil for oneself, enjoyment of self, and beneficial for others) by dramatizing it in the form of what could be called the militant life, the life of battle and struggle against and for self, against and for others.” (CT, p. 283)

And this gives way to a radical kind of militancy. One that is a mode of life. It is a “philosophical militancy” that Foucault describes in the following terms and that he embraced throughout his life:

“the idea of a militancy in the open, as it were, that is to say, a militancy addressed to absolutely everyone, which precisely does not require an education (a paideia), but which resorts to harsh and drastic means, not so much in order to train people and teach them, as to shake them up and convert them, abruptly. It is a militancy in the open in the sense that it claims to attack not just this or that vice or fault or opinion that this or that individual may have, but also the conventions, laws, and institutions which rest on the vices, faults, weaknesses, and opinions shared by humankind in general. It is therefore a militancy which aspires to change the world, much more than a militancy which would seek merely to provide its followers with the means for achieving a happy life. If we are to talk of Cynic militancy, it is important not to forget the system to which it belongs, that it exists alongside many other forms of philosophical proselytism in Antiquity. But we should also recognize a particular form in this militancy: an overt, universal, aggressive militancy; militancy in the world and against the world. This, I think, is the singularity of Cynic sovereignty.” (CT, p. 284-285)


The lectures at the Collège de France were abruptly interrupted by Foucault’s sudden death in June 1984. And so we too have decided to interrupt our seminars here, abruptly—without a final retrospective session.

In several passages in thes final lectures of 1984, Foucault mentioned where he planned to go the following year. There is mention of that, in his last lecture in The Courage of Truth on page 316.

Maybe I will try to explore these themes a little next year—but I cannot guarantee it, I confess that I still don’t know and have not yet decided. Maybe I will try to pursue this history of the arts of living, of philosophy as form of life, of asceticism in its relation to the truth, precisely, after ancient philosophy, in Christianity. (CT, p. 316).

Foucault also discussed this earlier in those lectures, in fact, on page 2, when he indicated where he intended to return next. Foucault indicated there that he hoped “to return, after this several years long Greco-Roman “trip,” to some contemporary problems” (CT, p. 2). He was referring there specifically to “the analysis of certain practices and institutions in modern society” Ibid.

This gesture toward more contemporary problems highlights, for me, one of the central contributions of the 1984 lectures, namely the clarity with which Foucault would articulate the necessary connection between the three dimensions of his critical approach. It is here, in 1984—and in the first section of Volume 2 of History of Sexuality, titled “Modifications”—that Foucault makes plain that the work on subjectivity and the desiring subject must be folded back onto the earlier work on knowledge-power. As Foucault stated on 1 February 1984:

to the extent that this [research project] involves the analysis of relations between modes of veridiction, techniques of governmentality, and forms of practice of self, you can see that to depict this kind of research as an attempt to reduce savoir to power, to make it the mask of power in structures, where there is no place for a subject, is purely and simply a caricature. What is involved, rather, is the analysis of complex relations between three distinct elements none of which can be reduced to or absorbed by the others, but whose relations are constitutive of each other. (CT, p. 8-9)

Due to his premature death on 25 June 1984, Foucault would never return to this critical task. But there is no doubt what that critical task looks like for us: to “study the relations between truth, power, and subject without ever reducing each of them to the others.” (CT, p. 9)


As you know, there were no lectures the following year. Foucault died on June 25, 1984.

But our seminar will continue.

And what we will try to explore a little next year—although again, you all know how fraught it is to announce this so early, but anyway… —where we are headed next year is to explore, in 13 seminars, 13 critical takes on Nietzsche. The project will be to explore the rich tradition of contemporary critical thought that has emerged in the wake of Nietzsche. In other words, to explore Nietzschean contemporary critical thought in contrast, say, to the Marxian or Freudian traditions.

We came across one this year, especially with Foucault’s first lectures at the Collège de France and his Lesson on Nietsche and other writings from 1971, as well as his conferences in Rio in 1973 on “Truth and Juridical Form,” which began with Nietzsche. But there are, of course, many other Nietzsches that have fed and nourished contemporary critical thought. There is Deleuze’s Nietzsche, and Arendt’s Nietzsche at the end of her life, in the Life of the Mind: Volume 2, Willing. And there is, of course, Bataille’s Nietzsche, Heidegger’s Nietzsche, Sarah Kofman’s Nietzsche and Luce Irigaray’s, and Aimé Césaire’s, and Pierre Klossowski’s, and Maurice Blanchot’s. Yes, there are at least 13 Nietzsche’s, and so, next year, we will return, Jesús Velasco and I, perhaps to the Casa Hispanica, or to the Maison Française, or the Heyman Center, or perhaps the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, or the Columbia Global Center in Paris to explore Critique After Nietzsche 13/13.

And so, with deep gratitude to all our participants in the seminar this year, and to everyone who made this possible, and to my indispensible and brilliant friend and colleague Jesús R. Velasco, without whom this whole apparatus would not exist, I want to say farewell to Foucault 13/13 … and welcome to Nietzsche 13/13.