Truth and navigation


From a 1973 talk by Michel Foucault on the history of madness and anti-psychiatry, partly reproduced in Artières and Bert’s stimulating dossier on Histoire de la folie:

[There is] an entire geography, an entire differentiated chronology of truth, in other words truth was not always conceived as the very element of the universal, but in our culture there is – running through the centuries and no doubt yet to be extinguished – this idea that truth is an event that produces itself in certain places and certain moments; one could perhaps say, and indeed I do, in brackets and by way of hypothesis, that the moment in which this idea that truth is an event that is simply produced in certain places, in certain moments, in which this idea started to be seriously shaken up, my impression is that it was with the great techniques of navigation, that is to say when one was compelled to invent instruments such that one could register, discover, define, formulate truth in any place whatever and any moment whatever. The ship, that placeless place, lost in infinite space, which at each instant must take stock of its situation; it is, if you will, the very image, the very problem that is at the heart of our society: how, everywhere and no matter from what point of view, to grasp truth, and, here and there, the great problem of navigation was the great moment of rupture [coupure], I don’t mean in scientific consciousness, but in what I would call the technology of truth. 

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