Foucault's prophecy : the intellectual as exile


Paper presented at a meeting of the International Association for Philosophy and Literature, Stony Brook, New York, USA, May 2000. Foucault rejects the idea of intellectuals acting as "prophets": telling others what must be done and what sorts of social and political goals they should pursue. I argue that in outright rejecting such prophecy, Foucault may not be pursuing the most effective means of eventually breaking it down. I locate in Foucauldian genealogical works such as Discipline and Punish a rhetorical strategy through which the intellectual acts as a prophet while also distancing him/herself from this role: the genealogist speaks as a universal intellectual while also encouraging others to question the truths thus provided, as well as the role of the intellectual as prophet itself. I argue that in so doing the genealogist engages in a kind of exile, a term I borrow from Edward Said to denote a movement of distancing without effecting a clean break. This intellectual, rather than rejecting outright the role of the prophet, works within this role while yet distancing him/herself from it -- acting as (what I call) a “prophet in exile.”

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Christina Hendricks
University of British Columbia


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