Plague, Foucault, Camus

Foucault Studies 35:70-96 (2023)
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In January 1975, Michel Foucault contemplated the nature and formation of what in subsequent years he would come to know as governmentality. For Foucault, plague marks the rise of the invention of positive technologies of power, where these relations center around inclusion, multiplication, and security, rather than exclusion, negation, and rejection. In a point that might at first seem ancillary to his central argument, Foucault comments on stylized works about plague, such as those, according to the lecture series’ editors, exemplified by Albert Camus. In footnote fifteen of the January 15, 1975 lecture, in reference to what Foucault deemed the “literary dream of” plagues, the editors list Camus’ 1947 novel La Peste, among other works, as representative of what Foucault described as “a kind of orgiastic dream in which plague is the moment when individuals come apart and when the law is forgotten.”. This article places Camus’ novel and other works in conversation with Foucault on governmentality, subjectivation, and truth to demonstrate the ways in which individualism itself can be viewed biopolitically. In so doing, it offers an urgent intervention that speaks powerfully to and is exemplified by the current global pandemic. Plague serves both as this literary dream and as a discursive mechanism engaged simultaneously with regimes of truth and the individuals constructing them. By pairing Foucault’s historical understanding of the invention of positive technologies of power with Camus’ treatment of “the absurd” in and out of the plague context, one uncovers the interrelation of governmentality, subjectivation, and truth.

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Adam Herpolsheimer
Temple University


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