Though Michel Foucault is one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century, little is known about his early life. Even Foucault’s biographers have neglected this period, preferring instead to start the story when the future philosopher arrives in Paris. Becoming Foucault is a historical reconstruction of the world in which Foucault grew up: the small city of Poitiers, France, from the 1920s until the end of the Second World War. Beyond exploring previously unexamined aspects of Foucault’s childhood, including his wartime ordeals, it proposes an original interpretation of Foucault’s oeuvre. Michael Behrent argues that Foucault, in addition to being a theorist of power, knowledge, and selfhood, was also a philosopher of experience. He was a thinker intent on making sense of the events that he lived through. Behrent identifies four specific experiences in Foucault’s childhood that exercised a decisive influence on him and that, in various ways, he later made the subject of his philosophy: his family’s deep connections to the medical profession; his upbringing in a bourgeois household; the German Occupation during World War II; and his Catholic education.
Behrent not only reconstructs the specific nature of these experiences but also shows how reference to them surfaces in Foucault’s later work. In this way, the book both sheds light on a formative period in the philosopher’s life and offers a unique interpretation of key aspects of his thought.
Michael C. Behrent is Professor of History at Appalachian State University.
"In this innovative and thought-provoking intellectual history, Michael Behrent paints an intimate portrait of the young Foucault and his family, as well as a panorama of early twentieth-century Poitiers, the town in central France in which they made their lives. In doing so, he gives us a radically new perspective on one of the most important thinkers of modern times. Becoming Foucault should be on the bookshelf of every scholar interested in postwar French thought."
~Edward G. Baring, Princeton University
"In what may very well be the definitive work on the topic, Michael Behrent’s innovative and insightful Becoming Foucault shows how understanding the thinker’s early milieu—born of a family of doctors, submitted to middle-class strictures, navigating wartime occupation, surviving local schooling—casts new light on his mature projects and positions. Neither traditional biography nor conventional intellectual history, Behrent’s book breaks new ground by demonstrating the mutual, irreducible relations between thought and experience. Well-written and accessible, based on remarkable archival research, and imaginatively argued, Becoming Foucault will interest anyone devoted to experiencing thought and thinking about experience."
~Julian Bourg, Boston College