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Michel Foucault

ontology, nor with the formulation of a general
philosophy. They are concerned with such topics
as politics, aesthetics, literature, anthropology,
linguistics, and are often very specific’ in content. They often discuss a particular political
event or situation, a particular artist or the
theories of a specific anthropologist and many are
journalistic in form.

However, for all their concreteness, these writings – even newspaper articles
– cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of the philosophy implicitly contained in
them. For whether writing about the. Algerian war
or the French Communist Party, C~zanne’s painting
or L~vi-Strauss~ Merleau-Ponty’s approach remains
a function of his own philosophical perspective.

Thus, for example, his discussion of C~zanne’s
painting in ‘C~zanne’s doubt,23 cannot be fully
understood unless we realise the implicit parallel
which Merleau-Ponty draws between what he believes
C~zanne is doing and what he sees himself doing:

C~zanne is concerned to overcome the dichotomy of
art and nature; he attempts to paint the world and
his feelings about it as they are, avoiding either
a total subjectivism, which could make his vision
and feeling non-communicable, or an ‘objective’

approach, which would make of him the dispassionate observer of a thing-like nature – analogous to
the philosopher who surveys the world as if he is
not part of it: C~zanne’s use of perspective does
not conform to its ‘Liws’. We know that ‘objectively ” according to geometric perspective, objects diminish in size for us as we get further
away from them. But ‘lived perspective’ is not
like that: we do not perceive by geometry, but on
the basis of our own situation which is not purely
spatial, but is a function of our total existence.

The ‘deformations’ of perspective, for which
C~zanne is known, capture the non-geometric manner
in which we actually see, in which size and spatialrelations vary according to what concerns us
about a scene.

To give another example, this time drawn from

politics: we have to grasp Merleau-Ponty’s notions
of freedom and history, as developed in the
Phenomonology, in order t~understand his criticisms of the Soviet Union and of the French Communist Party. These criticisms are most fully developed in a book entitled The Adventures of the
Dialectic,24 written in 1955. In this work,
Merleau-Ponty’s central argument against the
Communism of the time is that it has destroyed the
dialectic of individual and history – and hence the
possibility of a humanistic society and individual
freedom – by denying the subjectivity of men in
the name of the inevitable laws of historical development. For Merleau-Ponty, as we have seen, men
make history as concrete, experiencing individuals.

If we forget this and suppress tne individual in
the name of the general – i.e. the inevitable march
of the proletariat to communism – then we destroy
the relationship of the ‘for-itself’ and the ‘initself’; we destroy the dialectical relationship
in which the free and open human project consists.

Merleau-Ponty’s breadth of interests and his
competence in fields as apparently distant from
each other as art and politics, physiology, linguistics and history of philosophy is something
rarely found among British philosophers.

It is a
breadth of interest, however, wholly consistent
with his conception of philosophy. To philosophise is, in his view, to ‘return to things themselves’. Philosophy cannot be an endless scrutiny
of its own propositions.

If it were, it would
become a solipsistic activity, divorced from the
world around it and doomed to unreality. To
philosophize is to think about something and the
concrete world around the philosopher must be his
field of study. Philosophy is an activity turned
outwards towards the world; the philosopher a
person who examines in wonderment the complexity
and coherence of the world ••• it is, among other
qualities, his sense of wonderment and his ability
to communicate it which makes Merleau-Ponty a
philosopher worth reading.

ftlIDandPopula .. MeID…Y
An Interview with Michel Foucault
The following interview originally appeared in
Cahiers du Cinema (251-2), July-August 1974.

It has been translated by Martin Jordin.

di~cussion is introduced by PB and ST of Cahiers

Lacombe Lucien, Night Porter, The Chinese in Paris,
The Infernal Trio, etc, films whose avowed aim is
to rewrite history, are not isolated occurrences.

They are themselves part of history, a history in
the making; they have (as we are sometimes reproached for saying) a context.

In France,-this
context is the coming to power of a new bourgeoisie,
a fraction of the bourgeoisie with its own ideology
(Giscard, president of all the French; a more-justand-humane society detc), with its own conception of
france and of history. What is called ‘postGaullism’ is also an opportunity for the bourgeoisie to discard a particular image of itself heroic and nationalist, but also anti-Petainist and
anti-fascist – which de Gaulle and Gaullism embodied, if not, strictly speaking, Pompiaou.

Chaban’s electoral failure signed the death warrant
of this pompous and rqther grotesque heroic image

(cf. Malraux) of France’s recent history. A different version is beginning to be written and
scre~ned: that France was not so anti-fascist as
all that, that the French people didn’t give a
damn about Nazism, that the anti-fascism and resistance were never anything more than prec.isely
this farcical image of Gaullist ‘grandeur’ which
is currently being shown up as a fraud.

What is emerging is an ideology of cynicism:

the ideology of the technocratic multinationals
whose representative Giscard is. They feel the
French people are ripe for such cynicism (a cynicism of the ruling class; the disenchantment of the
exploited classes). A cynicism which appears on
the screen in the so-called ‘retro style,l: a
snobbish fetishism of the old-fashioned (clothes
and ornaments) and a ridiculing of history.

All the implications, all the effects of this
fake archaeology of history had to be exposed.

It was and is necessary to confront it with a gen(1) The current fad for the recent past, this
hearking-back to the thirties and forties, etc,
has come to be known in France as ‘la mode retro’.

(trans. )

uine archaeology; that popular memory ~f struggles
(and of all their forms) which has never really
found expression – which has never had the power
to do so – and which must be refreshed, faced with
forces which are constantly striving to stifle
it, and silence it for good.

No one was better placed than Michel Foucault
to put these issues in perspective. His work has
been a systematic attempt to restore to light what
officialdom conceals, what lies forgotten in the
black archives of the ruling class. We hope the
following talk will suggest some directions for
future study.



Let’s start from the journalistic phenoof the ‘retro style’. Basically, we can put
the question like this: how is it that films like
Lacombe Lucien or Night Porter can be made today?

Why do they meet with such a fantastic response?

We think the answer has to be sought on three

1 The present political situation. Giscard
d’Estaing has been elected. A new kind of approach
to politics, to history, to the political apparatus
is coming into existence, indicating very clearly
– in such a way that everyone can see it – that
Gaullism is dead.

So it’s necessary, insofar as
Gaullism remains very closely linked to the period of the Resistance, to look at how this is
translated in the films which ~re being made.

2 ‘How is it possible for bourgeois ideology to
attack the weak points of orthodox Marxism ‘(rigid,
economistic, mechanical – the terms don’t matter
much) which has for so long provided the only
framework for interpreting social phenomena?

3 Lastly, what does all this mean for political
militants? Given that militants are consumers and
sometimes also makers of films.

The thing is, that after Marcel Ophuls’ film
The Sorrow and the Pity, the floodgates have been

Something hitherto completely repressed or
forbidden h~s flooded out. Why?


I think this comes from~the fact that
the history of the war, and what took place around
it, has never really been written except in completely official accounts. These off~cial histories are to all intents and purposes centred on
Gaullism, which, on. the one hand, was the only way
of writing this history in terms of an honourable
nationalism; and, on the other hand, the only way
of introducing the Great Man, the man of the right,
the man of the old 19th century nationalisms, as
an historical figure.

It boils down to the fact that France was exonerated by de Gaulle, while the right (and we know
how it behaved at the time of the war) was purified and sanctified by him.

What has never been described is what was going
on in the very heart of the country from 1936, and
even from the end of the 1914 war, up until


Cahiers: So what has come about since The Sorrow
and the Pity is some kind of return to truth in



The point is whether it really is the

This has to be linked to the fact that
the end of Gaullism means an end to this exoneration of the right by de Gaulle and’by this brief
period. The old right of Petain and Maurras, the
old reactionary and collaborating right; which
disguised itself behind de Gaulle as best it could,
now feels entitled to write its own history. This
old right which, since Tardieu, had been upstaged
both historically and politically, is now coming
back into the lime-light.

It openly supported Giscard. There’s no longer


any need for it to rely on disguises, it can write
its own history. And among t~e factors which
account for the present acceptance of Giscard by
half of France (a majority of 206,000), we mustn’t
forget to include films like those we’re discussing – whatever their makers’ intention. The fact
that it’s been possible to show everything has
enabled the right to ‘carry out a certain regrouping.

In the same way that, conversely, it’s
really the healing of the breach between the national right and the collaborating right which has made
these films possible. The two are inextricably


This history, then, is being rewritten
both in the cinema and on television.

It seems
this rewriting of history is being carried out by
film-makers who are thought of as more or less
left-wing. This is a problem we should look at
more closely.


I dori’t think it’s that simple. What
I’ve just said is very schematic. Let’s go over
i t again.

There’s a real fight going on. OVer what? Over
what we can roughly describe as popular memory.

It’s an actual fact that people – I’m talking about
those who are barred from writing, from producing
their books themselves, from drawing up their own
historical accounts – that these people nevertheless do have a way of recording history, or remembering it, of keeping it fresh and of using it.

This popular history was, to a certain extent,
even more alive, more clearly formulated in the
19th century, where, for instance, there was a
whole tradition of struggles which were transmitted orally, or in writing or songs, etc.

Now, a whole number of apparatuses have been
set up (‘popular literature’, cheap books and the
stuff that’s taught in school as well) to obstruct
the flow of this popular memory. And it could be
said that this attempt has been pretty successful.

The historical knowledge the working class has of
itself is continually shrinking.

If you think,
for instance, of what workers a~ the end of the
19th century knew about their own”history, what
the trade union tradition (in the strict sense of
the word) was like up until the 1914 war, it’s
really quite remarkable. This has been progressively diminished, but although it gets less, it
doesn’t vanish.

Today, cheap books aren’t enough. There are
much more effective means like television and the
cinema. And I believe this was one way of reprogramming popular memory, which existed but had
no way of expressing itself.

So people are shown
not what they were, but what they must remember
having been.

Since memory is actually a very important factor in struggle (really, in fact, struggles develop
in a kind of conscious moving forward of history),
if one controls people’s memory, one controls their
dynamism. And one also controls their experience,
their knowledge of previous struggles. Just what
the Resistance was, must no longer be known •.•
I think we have to understand these films in
some such way as this. Their theme is,, roughly,
that there’s been no popular struggle in the 20th
century. This assertion has been successively
formulated in two ways •. The first, immediately
after the war, simply said: ‘What a century of
heroes the 20th century is! There’s been Churchill,
de Gaulle, those chaps who did the parachuting,
the fighter squadrons, etc!’

It amounted to saying:

‘There’s been no popular struggle, because this is
where the real struggle was’. ~t still no one
said directly, ‘There’s been no popular struggle’.

The other, more recent formulation – sceptical


or cynical, as you prefer – consists in proceeding
to the blunt assertion itself: ‘Just look at what
happened. Where have you seen any struggles?

Where do you see people rising up, taking up

Cabiers: There’s been a sort of half-rumour going
round since, perhaps, The Sorrow and the Pity, to
the effect that the French people, as a whole,
didn’t resist the Germans, that they even accepted
collaboration, that they took it all lying down.

The question is what all this finally means. And
it does indeed seem tbat what is at stake is popular struggle, or rather the. memory of that

Foucault: Exactly. It’s vital to have possession
of this memory, to control it, administer it, tell
it what it must contain. And when you see these
films, you find out what you have to remember:

‘Don’t believe all you’ve been told. There aren’t
any heroes. And if there aren’t any, it’s because
there’s no struggle’. SO a sort of ambiguity
arises: to start with, ‘there aren’t any hero~s’

is a positive debunking -of the whole war-hero
mythology A la Burt Lancaster. It’s a way of
saying, ‘No, that’s not what war is about’. SO
your first impression is that history is beginning
to reappear; that eventually they’re going to tell
u~ why we’re not all obliged to identify with de
Gaulle or the members of the Normandy-Niemen
squadron, etc. But beneath the sentence ‘There
are no heroes’ is hidden a different meaning, its
true message: ‘There was no struggle’. This is
what the exercise is all about.

Cahiers: There’s another phenomenon which explains why these films are so successful. The
resentment of those who really did struggle is
used against those who didn’t. The people who
formed the Resistance, watching The Sorrow and the
Pity for example, see the passive citizens of a
town in central France, and they recognize this
passivity. And then the resentment takes over;
they forget that they themselves did struggle.

Foucault: In my view, the politically important
phenomenon is, rather than any one particul~r film,
that of the series, the network established by all
these films and the place – excuse the pun – they
‘occupy’. In other words, the important thing is
to ask: ‘Is it possible at the moment to make a
positive film about the struggles of the Resistance?’ Well – clearly the answer’s no. One gets
the impression that people would laugh at a film

like this, or else,- quite simply wouldn’t go and
see it.

Cahiers: Yes. It’s the first thing to be Mought
up against us when we attack a film like Malle’ S’.

The response is always, ‘What would !IOU have done,
then?’ And you’re right: it’s impossible to answer.

we should be beginning to develop – how shall I
put it – a left-wing perspective on all this, but
it’s true that one doesn’t exist ready-made.

Alternatively, this restates the problem of how
one is to produce a positive hero, a new type of

Fc:)ucault: The problem’s not the hero, but the
struggle. Can you make a film about a struggle
without going through the traditional process of
creating heroes? It’s a new form of an old problem.

Cahiers: Let’s go back to the ‘retro style’.

From its own standpoint, the bourgeoisie has
largely concentrated its attention on one historical
pertod (the forties) which throws into focus both
its strong and weak points. For on the one hand,
this is where it’s most easily exposed (it’s the
bourgeoisie which created the breeding-ground of
Nazism or of collaboration with it); while on the
other hand, it’s here that it’s currently trying
to justify its historical behaviour – in the most
cynical ways. The difficulty is how to reveal
what, for us, is the positive content of this same
historical period – for us, that is, the generation
of the struggles of 1968 or Lip. Is the period of
the Resistance really a weak poiat to be attacked,
the point where some different kinds of ideological hegemony could emerge? For it’s a fact that
the bourgeoisie is simulta~eously defensive and
offensive about its recent history: strategically
defensive, but tactically offensive because it’s
found this strong point from which it can best
sow confusion. But do we have to be restricted
(which is to be on the defensive) to simply reestablishing the truth about history? Isn’t it
possible to find some weak point where we might
attack the ideology? Is this point necessarily
the Resistance? Why not 1789 or 1968?

Foucault: Thinking about these films and their
common subject, I wonder whether something different couldn’t be done~ And when I say ‘s~bject’,
I don’t mean showing the struggles or showing they
didn’t exist. I mean that it’s historically true
that while the war was going on there was a kind
of rejection of it among the French masses. Now
where did this come from? From a whole series of
episodes that no one talks about – the right doesn’t, because it wants to hide them; and the left
doesn’t, because it’s afraid ~f being associated
with anything contrary to ‘national honour’.

A good seven or eight million men went through
the 1914-18 war. For t”our years they lived a
horrifying existence, seeing millions upon millions
of men die all around than. And what do they find
themselves facing again in 1920? The right-wing
in power, full-scale economic exploitation and
finally an economic crisis and the unemployment of
1932. How could these people, who’d been packed
into the trenches, still feel attracted by war in
the two decades of 1920-30 and 1930-40? I f the
Germans still did, it’s because defeat had reawakened such a national feeling in them that the
desire for revenge could overcome this sort of
repulsion. But even so, people don’t enjoy fighting these bourgeois wars, with middle-class officers and these kind of benefits resulting from them.

I think this was a crucial experience for the working class. And when, in 1940, these blokes tossed
their bikes into the ditch and said, ‘I’m going
home’ – you can’t simply say ‘They’re yellow!’ and


exist any more. The monarchy and its rituals were
you can’t-hide it either. You have to find a
created to stimulate this sort of erotic relationplace for it in this sequence of event~. This
ship towards power. The massive Stalinist apparanon-compliance with national instructions has to
tus, and even that of Hitler, ‘l?ere constructed for
be fitted in. And what hap~ened during the ResisBut it’s all coliapsed in
tance is the opposite of what we’re shown. What
~. the same purpose.

happened was that the process of repoliticisation,
~ins and obviously you can’t be in love with
Brezhnev, Pompidou or Nixon. At a pinch you might
remobilisation and a taste for fighting reappeared
love de Gaulle, Kennedy or Churchill. But what’s
little by little, in the working class. It gradugoing on at the moment? Aren’t we witnessing the
ally reappeared after the rise of Nazism and the
beginnings of a re-eroticisation of power, taken
Spanish Civil war. Now what these films show is
to a pathetic, ridiculous’eXtreme by the porn-shops
just the opposite process; namely, that after the
great dream of 1939, which was shattered in 1940,
with Nazi insignia that you find in the United
states, and Ca much more acceptable but just as
people just gave up. This process did really take
place, but as part of another, much more extended
ridiculous version) in the behaviour of Giscard
d’Estaing when he says, ‘I’m going to march down
process which was going in the opposite direction:

the streets in a lounge-suit, shaking hands with
starting from a disgust with war, it ended up, in
the middle of the occupation, as a conscious
ordinary people and kids on half-day holidays’?

awareness of’ the need to struggle ••.

It’s a fact that Giscard has built part of his
I think there was a positive political meaning
campaign not only on his fine physical bearing but
to this noncompliance with the demands of the
also on a certain eroticising of his character,
his stylishness.

national armed struggles. The historical th~e of
Lacombe Lucien and his family takes on a new light
Cabiers: Tha t ‘s how he’s portrayed himself on an
if you look back to Ypres and Douaumont •••
electoral poster – the one where you see his
Cabiers: This raises the problem of popular, memdaughter turned towards him.

ory; of a memory working at its own pace, a pace
Foucault: That’s right. He’s looking at France,
quite detached from any seizure of central power
but she’s looking at him. It’s the restoration to
or from the outbreak of any war •••
power of seduction.

Foucaul t: This has always been the aim of the

Something that struck us during the
history taught in schools: to teach ordinary people
electoral campaign, particularly at the time of the
that they got killed and that. this was very heroic.

big televised debate between Mitterand and Giscard,
Look at what’s been made of Napoleon and the
was that they weren’t at all on the same level.

Napoleonic wars •••
Mitterand appeared as the old type of political
Cabiers: A number of films, including those of
man, belonging to the old left, let’s say. He was
Malle and Cavani, leave off talking about history
trying to sell ideas, which were themselves dated
or the struggle over Nazism and fascism; usually
and a .bit old-fashioned, and he did it with a lot
talking instead, or at the same time, about sex.

of style. But Giscard was selling the idea of
What’s the nature of’ this discourse?

power, exactly like an advertiser sells cheese.

Foucault: But don’t you make a sharp distinction
between Lacombe Lucien and Night Porter on this?

It seems to me that the erotic, passionate aspect
of Lacombe Lucien has a quite easily identifiable
function. It’s basically a way of making the antihero acceptable, of saying he’s not as anti as all

In fact, if all the power relations in his life
are distorted, and if it’s through him that they
keep on running; on the other hand, just when you
think he’s distorting all the erotic relations, a
true relationship suddenly appears and he loves
the girl. On the one hand, there’s the machinery
of power which, starting with a flat tyre, carries
Lacombe closer and closer to something crazy. On
the other hand, there’s the machinery of love, which
seems hooked up to it, which seems distorted, but
which, on the contrary, has just the opposite
effect and in the end restores Lucien as the handsome naked youth living in the fields with a girl.

So there’s a fairly elementary antithesis between power and love. While in Night Porter the
question is – both generally and in the present
situation – a very important one: love for power.

Power has an erotic charge. There’s an historical problem involved here. How is it that Nazism
– which was represented by shabby, pathetic, puritanical characters, laughably Victorian old maids,
or at best, smutty individuals – how has it now
managed to become, in France, in Germany,. in the
United States, in all pornographic literature
throughout the world, the ultimate symbo: of eroticism? Every shoddy erotic fantasy is now attributed to Nazism. Which raises a fundamentally
serious problem: how do you love power? Nobody
loves power any more. This kind of affective,
erotic attachment, this desire one has for power,
for the power that’s exercised over you, doesn’t

Foucault: Even quite recently, it was necessary
to apologise for being in pOwer. It was necessary
for power to be self-effacing, for it not to show
itself as power. To a certain extent, this is how
the democratic republics have functioned, wher’e the
aim was to render power sufficiently invisible and
insidious for it to be impossibie to grasp, to
grasp what it was doing or where it was.

Cabiers: Perhaps we have to talk about a certain
powerlessness of traditional Marxist discourse to
account for fascism. Let’s say that Marxism has
given an historical account of the phenomenon of
Nazism in a deterministic, economistic fashion,
while completely leaving aside what the specific
ideology of Nazism was. So it’s scarcely surprt”sing that someone like Malle, who’s pretty familiar
with what’s going on the left, can benefit from
this weakness, and rush into the breach.

Foucault: Marxism has given a definition of ~az­
ism and fascism: ‘an overt terrorist dictatorship
of the most reactionary fraction of the bourgeoisie’. It’s a definition that leaves out an entire
part of its content and a whole series of relationships. In particular, it leaves out the fact
that Nazism and fascism were only possible insofar
as there could exist within the masses a relatively large section which took on the responsibility
for a number of state functions of repression,
control, poliCing, etc. This, I believe, is a
crucialcharacteris~ic o~ NC!-zism; that is, its deep
penetration inside the masses and the fact that a
part of the power was actually delegated to a
specific fringe of the masses. This is where the
word ‘dictatorship’ becomes true in general, and
relatively false. When you think of the power an
individual could possess under a Nazi regime as
soon as he was simply S. S. or signed up in the


Party! You could actually kill your neIghbour,
steal his wife, his house! This is where Lacombe
Lucien is interesting, because it’s one side it
shows up well. The fact is that contrary to what
is usually understood by dictatorship – the power
of a single person – you could say that in this
kind of regime the most repulsive (but in a sense
the most intoxicating) part of power was given to
a considerable number of people. The S.S. was that
which was given the power to kill, to rape •••

which one doesn’t want to confront head on, is
dodged, or rather shoved completely into the
question of sexuality. So that this eroticising
is ultimately a process of evasion, or repression •••

The problem’s really very difficult and
it hasn’t been studied perhaps enough, even by
,Reich. What leads to power being desirable, and
to being actually desired? It’s easy to see the
processes by which this eroticising is transmitted,
reinforced, etc. But for the eroticising to work,
Cahiers: This is where orthodox Marxism falls down.

it’s necessary that the attachment to power, the
Because it’s obliged to talk about desire.

acceptance of power by those over whom it is
Foucault: About desire and power •••
exerted, is already erotic.


It’s also where films like Lacombe LUcien
and Night Porter are relatively ‘strong’. ,They

can talk about desire and power in a way which
seem coherent •••
It’s interesting to see in Night Porter
how under Nazism the power of a single person is
taken over and operated by ordinary people. The
kind of mock trial which is set up is quite fascinating. Because on the one hand, it has all the
trappings of a psychotherapy group, while in fact
having the power structure of a secret society.

What they re-establish is basically an 5.5. cell#
endowed with a judicial power that’s different from,
and opposed to the central power. You have to bear
in mind the way power was delegated, distributed
within the very heart of the population; you have
to bear in mind this vast transfer of power that
Nazism carried out in a society like Germany. It’s
wrong to say that Nazism was the power of the
great industrialists carried on under a different
form. It wasn’t simply the intensified.central
power of the military – it was that, but only on
one particular level.


This is an interesting side of the film,
in fact. But what in our view seems very open to
criticism is that it appears to say: ‘If you’re a
‘typical S.S. man, you’ll act like this. But if,
in addition, you have a certain inclination for
the job, it will offer you incredible erotic
experiences’. So the film keeps up the seductiveness.



Yes, this is where it meets up with
Lacombe Lucien. Because Nazism never gave people

any material advantages, it never handed out anything bot power. You still have to ask why it was,
if this regime was nothing but a bloody dictatorship, that on May 3rd~ 1945 there were still
Germans who fought to the last drop of blood;
whether these people didn’t have some form of emotional at~achment to power. Bearing in mind, of
course, all, the pressuring, the denunciations .••
In Lacombe Lucien, as in Night Porter, this excess
of power they’re,given is converted back into love.

It’s very clear at the end of Night Porter, where
a miniature concentration camp is built up around
Max in his room, where he starves to death. So
here love has converted power, surplus power, back
into a total absence of power. In one sense, it’s
almost the same reconciliation as in Lacombe
Lucien where love turns the excess of power in
which he’s been trapped, into a rus’tic poverty far
removed from the Gestapo’s shady hotel, and far
removed, too, from the farm where the pigs were
being butchered.

So we now have the beginnings of an explanation for the problem you were posing at the
start of our discussion: why is Nazism, which Was
a repressive, puritanical system, nowadays universally associated with eroticism? There’s a sort of
shift of emphasis: the central problem of power,



It’s that much more difficult since the
representation of power is rarely erotic. De
Gaulle or Hitler are not particularly seductive.


True – and I wonder if the Marxist
analyses aren’t victims to some extent of the abstractedness of the notion of liberty. In a regime
like the Nazi regime, it’s a fact that there’s no
liberty. But not having liberty doesn’t mean not
having power •••
There’s a battle for and around history going
on at this very moment which is extremely interesting. The intention is to reprogramme, to stifle
What I’ve called the ‘popular memory’; and also to
propose and impose, on people a framework in which
to interpret the present. Up to 1968, popular
struggles were part of folklore. For some people,
they weren’t even part of their immediate concept
of reality. After 1968, every popular struggle,
whether in South America or Africa, has found some
echo, some sympathetic response. So it’s no longer
possible to keep up their separation, this geographical ‘cordon sanitaire’. Popular struggles
hav-e become for our society, not part of the actual, but of the possible. So they have to be set
at a distance. How? Not by providing a direct
interpretation of them, which would be asking to
be exposed. BUt by offering an historical interpretation of those popular struggles which have
occurred in France in the past, in order to show
that they never really happened-! Before 1968, it
was: ‘It won’t happen here because it’s going on
somewhere else’. Now it’s: ‘It won’t happen here
because it never has done! Take something like
the Resistance even, this glorious past you’ve
talked about so much, just look at it for a
moment •.. Nothing. It’s empty, a hollow facade!’

It’s another way of saying, ‘Don’t worry about
Chile, it’s no different; the Chilean peasants
couldn’t care less. And France, too: the bulk of
the popUlation isn’t interested in anything a few
malcontents might do’.


When we react to all this – against it
all – it’s important that we don’t limit ourselves
to re-establishing the truth, to saying, about the
Resistance, for example, ‘No,I was there and it
wasn’t like that! ‘. If you’re going to wage any
effective ideological struggle on the kind of
ground dictated by these films, we believe you have
to have a much broad~r, more extensive and positive frame of reference. For many people this consists,in reappropriating the ‘history of France’,
for instance. It was with this in mind that we
undertook a close reading 9f I, Pierre Riviere;
because we realised that, paradoxically enough, it
was ‘useful to us in understanding Lacombe Lucien,
that their comparison was not unproductive. A
significant difference between them, for example,
is that Pierre Rivi~re is someone who writes, who
,commits a murder and who has a quite extraordinary
memory. While Mala, on the other hand, treats
his hero as a half-wit, as someone who goes through

war every evening, war becomes totally acceptable.

everything – history, the war, collaboration without accumulating any experience. This is
That’s to say, thoroughly tedio~s, you’d really
where the theme of memory, of popular memory, can
love to see something else. But when it becomes
help to separate off someone like Pierre Rivi~re
boring, you put up with it. You don’t eve~ watch
from the character created by Malle and Modiano.

~. it.

So how is this particular reaiity on film to
Pierre Rivi~re, having no way of making his voice
·be reactivated as an existing, historically
heard, takes the floor and is obliged to kill
important reality?

before he wins the right to speak. While Malle’ s
Cahiers: Have you seen The Camisards?

character proves, precisely by making nothing of
what has happened to him, that there’s nothing
Foucault: Yes, I liked it very much. Historically,
worth the trouble of remembering. It’s a pity
it’s impeccable. It’s well made, intelligent and
you haven’t seen The Courage of the People. It’s
it makes a lot of things clear.

a Bolivian film made with the explicit aim of
Cabiers: I think that’s the direction we have to
becoming evidence on a criminal record. The
take in making films. To come back to the films
characters in this film – which has been shown
we were talking about at the beginning – we must
throughout the world (but not in Bolivia, thanks
raise the question of the extreme-left’s confusion
to the regime) – are played by the very people
in the f~ce of certain aspects of Lacombe Lucien
who were part of the real drama it re-enacts (a
and Night Porter, particularly the sexual one; and
miners’ strike and its bloody repression). They
how this confusion can be of benefit to the right …

themselves take charge of their picture, so that
nobody shall forget ••…

Foucaul t: As for what you call the extreme-left,
There are two things going on in the cinema at
·1 find myself in considerable difficulty. I’m not
the moment. On the one hand there are historical
at all sure that it still exists. Nonetheless,
documents, which have an important role. In A
there really needs to be a thorough summing-up of
Whole Life, for example, they play a very big part.

what the extreme-left has done since 1968; both
Or again, in the films of Marcel Ophuls, or of
negatively and positively. It’s true that this
Harris and Sedouy, it’s very moving to watch the
extreme-left has been the means of spreading a.

reality of Duclos in action in 1936 or 1939. And
whole number of important ideas: on sexuality,
on the other hand, there are fictional characters
women, homosexuality, psychiatry, housing, mediwho, at a given moment in history, condense within
cine. It’s also been’ the means of spreading
themselves the greatest possible number of social
methods of action, where it continues to be of
relations, of links with history. This is why
importance. The extreme-left has played as importLacombe Lucien is so successful. Lacombe is a
ant a role in the forms of activity as in its
Frenchman under’ the occupation, an ordinary !!lloke
themes. But there’s also a negative summing-up
who has a concrete ·connexion with Nazism, with the
to be made, concerning certain Stalinist and terrorcountryside, with local power, etc. And we
ist organisational practices. And a misunderstandshouldn’t ignore this w~y of personifying history,
ing, too, of certain broad and deeply-rooted
of incarnating it in a character or a collection
processes which recently resulted in 13 million
of characters who embody, at a given moment, a
people backing Mitterand, and which have always
privileged relation to power.

been disregarded, on the pretext that this was the
There are lots of figures in the history of the
politics of the pOliticians, that this was the
workers’ movement that aren’t known; there are
business of the parties. A whole heap of things
plenty of heroes in the history of the working
have been ignored; notably, that the desire to
class, who’ve·been completely driven out of its
defeat the right has been a very important politimemory. And I think there’s a real issue to be
cal factor within the masses for a number of
fought here. There’s no need for Marxism to keep
months and even years. The extreme-left hasn’t
on making films about Lenin, we’ve got plenty
sensed this desire, thanks to a false definition

of the masses, a wrong appreciation of what this
will to win really is. Faced with the risks a
Foucault: What you say is importa~t. It’s a trait
co-opted victory would involve, it prefers not to
of many Marxists nowadays – ignorance of h.istory.

take the risk of winning. Defeat, at least, can’t
All these people who spend their time talking about
be co-opted (rt3C!lpere). Personally, I’m not so
the misinterpretation of history, are only capable

of producing commentaries on texts. What did Marx
say? Did Marx really say that? Look, what is
Marxism but a different way of ana.lysing history
itself? In my opinion, the left in France has no
real grasp of history. It used to have. At one
time in the 19th century, Michelet might be said
to have represented the left. There was Jaur~s
Demystifying youth culture, radical interventoo, and after them there grew up a kind of tradition, qenerational consciousness, method,
tion of left-wing, social democratic historians
signific;;!nce of style, why no girls, doin’ nothin’,
(Mathiez, etc). Nowadays it’s dwindl-ed to a
reggae / rasta~ / rudies. teds-mods, skinstrickle; wnereas it could be a formidable wave,

carrying along writers, film4makers. True, there


has been Aragon and Les Cloches de Bale – a very
great historical novel. But there are relatively
few things, compared to what it could be like in a
society where, after all,one can say that the ‘intellectuals are more or less impregnated with Marxism.

Cahiers: In this respect, the cinema offers something new: history captured ‘Live’ ••• How do
people in America relate to history, seeing the
Vietnam war on television every evening while
they’re eating?



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