FYI France

File 3: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler,

May 15, 2009 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on May 15, 2009.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to:

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Foucault, an exhibit at the Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon


Libraries in France have an uncanny knack for addressing crucial issues in a timely and pungent manner, and occasionally for hitting a nerve, with their extraordinary exhibitions both online and off. There have been the great expositions at the BNF -- Gallica -- and at the BPI and the BIUM and others. Countless smaller shows, too, every saison populate the calendars of local libraries throughout the Hexagone.

Now comes a sterling new example: [tr. jk] --

* Exposition -- May 14 to August 28

* Bibliothèque de la Part-Dieu, Lyon

* "An Imaginary Collection : the Archives of Infamy -- Michel Foucault"

"In 1977 Michel Foucault published 'La vie des hommes infâmes / The life of the infamous', in Les Cahiers du Chemin.

"The article is well-known, in literature and history and the general humanities, also in the visual and theater arts. An outgrowth of 'Surveiller et Punir: la naissance de la prison / Discipline and Punish : The Birth of the Prison' (1975), and 'La Volonté de savoir : droit de mort et pouvoir sur la vie / The Will to Know : the right to die and power over life' (see ed. 2006), this text shows once again the importance Foucault placed on what he called 'the groaning battle'. It bears witness to his ongoing interest in aspects of those two works which often are overlooked.

"The text is designed as a preface to a supposedly - forthcoming book in which are assembled, from the archives of institutions which imprison people, the little histories of all those who ever have become imprisoned in the nets of power. The project is to create an anthology of lives, which eventually might be extended to include other times and other places.

"It is to this unaccomplished aspiration that the exhibition devotes an imaginary book, an imperfect and fragile collage, part police novel, part literature, part absurdity, in which one might see and understand the encounters, often dramatic and sometimes poetic, of ordinary people and power.

"These are encounters stronger than those delimited by 'surveiller, épier, surprendre, interdire et punir / watch, spy, surprise, forbid and punish' -- these encounters 'incite, suscite, produit / incite, sustain, produce', they are not just matters for the eye and the ear, one must act and speak.

"Unlike Bataille, for whom infamy -- for example that of Gilles de Rais -- is tied to the idea of an excess of badness, for Foucault 'l'homme infâme' is primarily a person without a reputation [see "Sin Nombre", below], the person of the streets who for a brief instant is lifted from obscurity by the symbols of power.

"In this struggle with that for which he yearns, l'homme infâme attains 'the most intense point of his lifetime'.

"This exhibit assembles, simultaneously, the writings of these hommes infâmes and the archives of their imprisonment : photographs, registers, letters, life stories, notecards, notebooks, files, notices, manuscripts.

"From this mass of documents have been extracted itineraries, routes, events, grouped into chapters. In inviting the spectator to leaf through this volume, the exhibit offers a plunge into the world of the invisibles, of those who are excluded from grand history, are not even on its margins, who constitute the great silent majority of hommes infâmes."


See also, accompanying:


Figures inquiétantes d?une enfance livrée à elle-même, ombres de nos sociétés, faites de chutes et de débris, ces silhouettes portent avec elles une histoire universelle de l'infamie.

La marche des enfants
Cécile de La Monneraye
du 14 mai au 28 août
bibliothèque de la Part-Dieu, 69003 Lyon


En écho au texte de Michel Foucault, La vie des hommes infâmes, l'exposition présente un montage de 3 travaux réalisés par Mathieu Pernot et réunis ici pour la première fois.

Le Dortoir - installation - 2009
Les Hurleurs - 2001/2004
Les Photomatons - 1995 et 1997
Mathieu Pernot
du 14 mai au 28 août
La Galerie / bibliothèque de la Part-Dieu, 69003 Lyon .pdf





It's a difficult time, for prisons, and for societies which have them. They're full: the US has become the world's most incarcerated society, with 756 imprisoned per 100,000 of the national population -- "one in eleven [US] men will be incarcerated in his lifetime, one in four if he is black" -- in California, national government authorities keep threatening to take over the state's heavily-overcrowded prisons, saying the terrible conditions are "cruel and unusual punishment", forbidden by the national constitution -- in France, too, the prisons are filling, only 85 per 100,000 there, but as in the US the statistic can be considerably higher for certain groups.

For immigrants and aliens and guest-workers, too, the modern world is anomalous in similar ways: a globalizing economy demands their mobile labor, as ferociously as local customs and competition restrain and mistreat them -- anyone who can view Cary Fukunaga's extraordinary Sundance-award film, "Sin Nombre", can get a taste of that... Saskia Sassen details and documents the anomalies and their ramifications in her writings: i.e.,


We owe much of our modern understanding, of these very old problems with their new quantitative twists, to Michel Foucault.

Of course some of our modern prison overcrowding is due simply to the fact that we in the US and in France do imprison our miscreants, and we both maintain elaborate and expensive criminal justice systems which assist us in doing so. In most places on the planet such folks, les hommes infâmes, roam free, and they prey upon us "normal" people.

The current problem though, again in both the US and France, is that not all prisoners nowadays are malfeasors or even miscreants, it turns out: one US governor recently emptied Death Row -- and the bad things some prisoners do are not so bad, studies show -- quite a few of Them believe in The System but simply disagree with Us the majority on points, are uneducated, are ill or just poor, are out on some wayward end of some social spectrum along which we all are only "varying degrees of normal".

And our overcrowded prisons have become schools for crime... a youth from a housing project out in Sarcelles or Clichy, like one from Oakland, nowadays learns nothing "good" in prison...

Alexis de Tocqueville first came to the US, producing his insights fulgurants about us, when he was in search of our prisons. His was an era of Panopticons and workhouses and Jeremy Bentham and Jean Valjean, of debtors' prisons and Dickens and the little children of the Marshalsea, of the detritus of the Industrial Revolution in spite of all its many wonders.


Beneath the current critical issues of prisons and labor mobility, though, lie Foucault's broader and deeper concerns: acceptance, rejection, normalcy -- where are we all, along those lines which separate one extreme from the other with "normal" in-between, particularly if we all are just "degrees of normal", and what do we do with those of us who are outside those norms?

Young de Tocqueville wanted to know, for his turbulent France of the 19th century; young Foucault asked the same questions in the 20th; both sought their answers in America, and greatly informed Americans about themselves in the process.


So it's a role for libraries, going forward, both digital and other: highlighting and informing and providing fora for discussion, on the issues of our time.

Now that the newspapers are disappearing, and the overly-orderly print media world of the 1950s is being replaced by the chaos of digital information overload, and by "float to the top" search & retrieval, we need places where things can get pulled together, and discussed...

the library... been doing this a long time...

-- libraries as social centers -- central campus and downtown city center locations, devoted to something more than just commerce, or politics, or religion, or to other Things Established -- places devoted instead to ideas and their discussion, like the libraries installed in bathing centers of Ancient Rome long ago, or like the older Greek agora before that.

Yes the library can be online, but there too it must be engaging, informative, topical, well-structured and yet still "open" -- which is some trick, doing all that and still being "open" -- this BM Lyon exhibit looks like it might offer a good example, though.


Jack Kessler,







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