Foucault in Warsaw

June 13, 2018

On 25 May 2018 the Polish CRUSEV team hosted its final public seminar before the university’s summer break. The invited speaker was Professor Remigiusz Ryzinski, author of Foucault w Warszawie (Foucault in Warsaw), recently nominated for the prestigious Polish “Nike” literary award in the category of reportage. Ryzinski talked about his archival research and the oral history interviews behind the book, in which he uses Michel Foucault’s nine-month stay in Warsaw as a pretext to describe the city’s queer life at the end of the 1950s. Ryzinski shows that the “homosexual milieu” in Warsaw and in other Polish cities was being investigated by the state police years ahead of the much better known “Hyacinth” campaign in the mid-1980s. He also speculates that the Palace of Culture, a Stalinist-era building looming over the city’s centre and visible from the street where Foucault lived, may have inspired the philosopher’s notion of the panopticon. Foucault in fact worked on Madness and Civilization while staying in Warsaw, where he directed the newly founded Centre de Civilization Francaise at the University of Warsaw. He was forced to leave Poland abruptly in July 1959, probably to avoid a diplomatic scandal related to his homosexuality.