You may be on the right path, P3nt. Here is something I hope will help. The interlude chapter discusses a particular book, namely J.M. Coetzee’s novel The Life and Times of Michael K
(1985). The author believes this provides an example of of Foucauldian freedom, in a "poignantly hyperbolic manner".
Throughout the novel Michael K traverses the harrowing landscapes of the civil war-torn South Africa without identiﬁcation papers, is repeatedly detained in and successfully escapes from the ‘camps’ set up by the warring parties for the purposes of the containment of the ‘non-combatant’ population.
Coetzee’s ‘camps’ are diagrammatic spaces, in which ‘bare life’ is to be transformed into ‘good life’, spaces of order, positivity and identity, beyond which, on the outside, lies the disorderly space of civil war, in which the exception is the rule and life is indeed reduced to a fragile physical existence.
When Michael K ﬁnds himself in one of the camps, he is discreetly advised against an escape attempt by an inhabitant of the camp, who explicitly distinguishes it from a prison and asserts his voluntary choice for the security of the diagram over the risks of free existence on the outside.
‘This isn’t a prison’, said the man. Didn’t you hear the policeman tell you it isn’t a prison? This is Jakkalsdrif. This is a camp. Don’t you know what a camp is? A camp is for people without jobs. […] They put all the people like that together in a camp so that they won’t
have to beg anymore. You say why I don’t run away. But why should people with nowhere to go run away from the nice life we’ve got here? From soft beds like this and free wood and a man at the gate with a gun to stop the thieves from coming in the night to steal your money? […] Where do you want to go anyway?’ He dropped his voice. ‘You want to go
to the mountains?’ (Coetzee 1985, 86)
Eventually, Michael K does indeed end up in the mountains, at an abandoned farmhouse, subsisting on insects and roots before discovering pumpkin seeds and growing his own pumpkins. Despite deprivation and exhaustion that he underwent in this solitary period, Michael ‘felt a deep joy in his physical being. His step was so light that he barely touched the earth. It seemed possible to ﬂy; it seemed possible to be both body and spirit.’ (Ibid., 102) The force of Michael K’s ﬂight from the camps is animated by the desire for freedom in its ‘concrete’ sense of the lightness of being outside the diagram of the camp, a lightness that may be ‘unbearable’ in the most direct, physical sense of starvation, but is at the same time the source of physical joy.
This desire for freedom is not accessible in terms of ideas or beliefs – it is not that Michael K opposes the ‘ideology’ of the camps or advocates a dissident conception of social order. Nor is his placement in the camp intended as a form of punishment or repression for ‘inappropriate’ behaviour. The only thing about Michael K that is inappropriate from the standpoint of the authorities of the camps is his being outside them, which is simultaneously his only desire. In Deleuze’s terms, Michael K’s ﬂight is directed towards the line of the outside, ‘[a] terrible line that shufﬂes all the diagrams, above the very raging storms. But however terrible this line may be, it is a line of life, that can no longer be gauged by relations between forces, one that carries man beyond terror, where one can live and indeed where Life exists par excellence.’ (Deleuze 1988, 122)
It is important to emphasise that Michael K’s practice of freedom cannot be rendered in the teleological terms of a project: he did not ﬂee the camp in order to live in solitude in an abandoned farmhouse and it is not clear whether he actually seeks solitude. The very ﬁgure of Michael K seems to epitomise non-identity: purposefully nondescript, never resorting to inner monologue, apparently not prone to reﬂection at all, Michael is indeed insigniﬁcant, obscure and simple, as Foucault’s ‘infamous men’ tend to be. In his encounters with others he actively resists the ‘confessional’ incitement to narrate his existence to a compassionate audience excited about his ‘authenticity’: ‘Everywhere I go there are people waiting to exercise their forms of charity on me. […] They want me to open my heart and tell them the story of a life lived in cages.’ (Coetzee 1985, 181) When arrested and taken away to yet another camp, Michael K practically refuses to speak at all, which results in his ‘identiﬁcation’ by camp authorities as ‘Michaels’, an identity bestowed by administrative mistake.
This erroneous identity is the only knowledge the camp doctor is able to extract from Michael K despite his incitement to discourse that echoes Foucault’s analysis of the confessional technology:
We brought you here to talk, Michaels. […] You see how easy it is to talk, now talk. Listen to me, listen how easily I ﬁll this room with words. […] Give yourself some substance, man, otherwise you are going to slide through life absolutely unnoticed. You will be a digit in the units column at the end of the war when they do the big subtraction sum to calculate the difference, nothing more. You don’t want to be simply one of the perished, do you? You want to live, don’t you? Well then, talk, make your voice heard, tell your story! We are listening! Where else in the world are you going to ﬁnd two polite civilised gentlemen ready to listen to your story all day and all night, if need be, and take notes too? (Ibid., 140)
Although Michael K clearly has a desire to live, he refuses to confuse life with discourse (cf. Foucault 1989, 211), is disinclined to give himself substance through telling his life story and does not seem to mind ‘sliding through life unnoticed’. Furthermore, since his life appears to consist solely in a series of conﬁnements and escapes, he does not seem to have a story to tell, a self to ‘express’ or ‘fulﬁl’. There is, in Michael K, nothing to confess. In the initial opinion of his doctor, ‘he is a simpleton, and not even an interesting simpleton […] There is nothing there, no story of the slightest interest to rational people.’ (Coetzee 1985, 141–42) His desires appear exhausted by the desire for freedom, not a freedom to pursue one’s desires but merely a state of being ‘out of the camps’, a bare life of freedom that, in contrast to Agamben’s thesis, no longer appears caught up in the sovereign ban that exposes it to death but rather is an act of exception that exposes itself to death in the ﬂight from the camps. The following passage vividly asserts the possibility, pace Foucault’s critics, of this desire for freedom that has nothing to liberate and is protective of nothing but its status of an inﬁnite potentiality that, as we recall, must not pass into actuality to remain potential.
I was mute and stupid in the beginning, I will be mute and stupid at the end. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being simple. They were locking up simpletons before they locked up anyone else. Now they have camps for children whose parents run away, camps for people who kick and foam at the mouth, camps for people with big heads and people with little heads, camps for people with no visible means of support, camps for people they ﬁnd living in storm-water drains, camps for street girls, camps for people who can’t add two and two, camps for people who forget their papers at home, camps for people who live in the mountains and blow up bridges in the night. Perhaps the truth is that it is enough to be out of the camps, out of all the camps at the same time. Perhaps that is enough of an achievement, for the time being. How many people are there left who are neither locked up nor standing guard at the gate? I have escaped the camps; perhaps if I lie low, I will escape the charity too. (Coetzee 1985, 182. Emphasis added.)