June 2009 Reflection

The main interest in life and in work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.

Michel Foucault

This has been a Foucauldian type of year for me.

I came across the writing of Michel Foucault back in September when I first arrived at UCD. Upon my arrival, I decided to catch up on 20th century French philosophy and one of the many benefits of the Mitchell year has been the chance to read Foucault’s canon. These include such classics as The History of Madness, The Birth of the Clinic or Discipline and Punish ,just to name a few. One book, however, is often overlooked by the most erudite Foucauldians and it’s one I too only came across recently while digging through the used books basement of Hodges and Figgis on Dawson Street. The book is called Raymond Roussel and it’s the key to unlocking the meaning of Foucault’s life-long work and my Mitchell year.

Similar to me, Foucault discovered the writings of Raymond Roussel while digging through some used books at a Left Bank bookstore in Paris. Roussel was a rather eccentric French writer whose odd style of prose was a little too much even for avant garde Paris in the early 20th century. His prose is one of strong objectivity; his poems, plays and novels are ones of dense description of objects, events and people and little narrative of characters’ thoughts, feelings and emotions. It seems to me that what drew Foucault to Roussel is the possibility to escape the fetters of human emotion and to see oneself and society from a detached, neutral position.

Foucault was a man who tried to live out Roussel’s prose. His central aim in all his writings is to detach himself from the currents of mainstream society and to offer a critique of established institutions (modern psychology, medicine and governmentality). On a more personal level, Foucault himself believed in detaching himself from his own dispositions to evaluate and re-create himself by pushing himself to new and higher levels of creativity, risk and self-renewal (what he called ‘limit experiences’).

Like Foucault, my Mitchell year was about taking a new detached look at myself, attack preconceived notions of my limits and to push beyond. My Mitchell year has been about doing the unthinkable, taking that risky step and never looking back. At Georgetown I loathed the three hour bus ride to New York City. This year I took a two-week roadtrip from Dublin to Rome cramped up in a 1983 Mercedes. At Georgetown I would never run more than a few miles a day and got tired out pretty quickly. Never would I have thought to find myself running a marathon in Prague and even more so wearing shorts and a sleeveless plaid shirt at the top of a 15 meter-high ropes course in snowy weather during the Tough Guy Competition in Wolverhampton, England last January. Nor would I have even imagined sitting in a library all day reading works of French continental philosophers like Michel Foucualt. But I pushed myself to do it.

For me, the Mitchell year was the chance to do the unthinkable, the un-doable. And it is for this reason why this year has been most rewarding and self-invigorating.

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