A minor note on Michel Foucault and Peter Brown: From a watershed to the parting of the waters

In the closing lines of ‘Le combat de la chasteté’, first published in May 1982, Foucault mentions Peter Brown’s description of “la cartographie du partage des eaux” between pagan antiquity and Christianity (Dits et écrits, Vol IV, p. 308). We now know that this phrase was also used in Foucault’s Subjectivité et vérité course, in the lecture of 14 January 1981. It appears on p. 40 of the published course – “comment établir ce partage, comment faire la cartographie de ce «partage des eaux»”.

The English translation as ‘The Battle for Chastity’ translates the phrase as “the topography of the parting of the waters”. The first version of the translation, by Anthony Forster, appeared in the edited collection Western Sexuality in 1985, and was reprinted in the Foucault collections Politics, Philosophy, Culture; Ethics and Religion and Culture. Though the translation in Ethics was slightly revised, the phrase is the same in all of these.

198836I was curious as to what, exactly, Brown said. There is no note, by author or translator, to this phrase in ‘The Battle for Chastity’. But the editor, Frédéric Gros, provides a note in Subjectivité et vérité, p. 47 n. 8. There, he refers to Foucault’s source, Brown’s The Making of Late Antiquity. He provides a page number to the French translation of Brown’s book – Genèse de l’Antiquité tardive, p. 22 – citing a passage talking of “la ligne de partage des eaux”. The English original is referenced, but no page number is given.

The English text has the relevant passage on p. 2. But there Brown talks of a ‘watershed’, a term that he takes from W.H.C Frend, Martyrdom and persecution in the early Church, p. 389: the “watershed between the Ancient World and the European Middle Ages”. Gros notes that link, but provides the French version of the line Brown cites: “la ligne de partage des eaux entre la monde antique et le Moyen Âge européen”. Consulting the French translation of Brown, rather than the English of Frend, would have been sufficient for this note.

A few things to note.

  1. The French translation of Brown, by Aline Rousselle, Genèse de l’Antiquité tardive, was published in November 1983 – almost three years after Foucault’s lecture and eighteen months after the chapter. Of course, Foucault read English, and knew Brown, so he was not reliant on the translation. But it’s curious that Foucault chose this phrase – which, to me at least, seems to indicate something more like the Red Sea and Moses than a geophysical change – which is then the same phrase used in the French translation. (That said, ‘Parting of the Waters‘ is a site in Wyoming where a creak splits and flows to either the Atlantic or Pacific ocean.)
  2. It’s interesting that all the English editions of the translation of Foucault’s essay go for a literal translation of his French phrase, without checking the source in Brown’s work.
  3. That the translation also renders ‘cartographie’ as ‘topography’, which is carried over in all reprints.
  4. That the division isn’t quite the same in all three authors. For Frend it’s between antiquity and the Middle Ages; for Brown between “the pagan, classical world and the Christian Late Roman Empire”, of which Marcus Aurelius and Constantine stand as emblematic figures; and for Foucault the difficulty of establishing a clear break between paganism and Christianity.
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Conference: Contested Spaces of Citizenship


Details of a conference on ‘Contested Spaces of Citizenship’ at Durham University.

Originally posted on Path to the Possible:

Postgraduate Conference
Durham University, Department of Geography
Wednesday 29 April 2015
Room W007

Keynote speaker: Professor Engin F. Isin

Space is at the core of political struggles and contestations. Brown (2010) highlights how borders and territory are, almost paradoxically, increasingly important in a globalised world. In this neoliberal era borders are apparently more detached from their geographical location (Sassen 2005; Bigo and Guild 2005), yet an increase in international migration has highlighted the violence at the borderzone (Bigo 2007). Along with the idea of a borderless world a new form of spatial management became relevant, the space of camp (Agamben 1998; Minca 2005) that is proliferating as a way of managing those who trouble the territorial order, such as the Roma (Sigona 2005), refugees and asylum-seekers (Hyndman 2000), and undocumented migrants (De Genova and Peutz 2010). At the same time, these camps also produce new forms…

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Preprints of a couple of forthcoming publications now available

I’ve added the preprints of a couple of forthcoming publications, on Foucault and territory respectively, to the page on this site.

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Mark Kelly, Foucault and Politics: A Critical Introduction

Mark G. E. Kelly, Foucault and Politics: A Critical Introduction

9780748676859.coverThis book surveys Michel Foucault’s thought in the context of his life and times, utilising the latest primary and secondary materials to explain the political implications of each phase of his work and the relationships between each phase. It also illustrates how his thought has been used in the political sphere and examines the importance of his work for politics today.

One of the most prominent theorists in the contemporary humanities and social sciences, Foucault is known as a radical thinker who disturbs our understanding of society. He also presented a moving target, continually changing his concerns and his apparent position. So, until now, comparatively little attention has been given to his politics.

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Marijn Nieuwenhuis – New Conceptualisations Of Space In The Work Of Peter Sloterdijk And Graham Harman (open access)

My Warwick colleague Marijn Nieuwenhuis has just published an article entitled ‘ Taking Up The Challenge Of Space: New Conceptualisations Of Space In The Work Of Peter Sloterdijk And Graham Harman‘, in Continent – open access.

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How to Start a Blog Guide – free ebook

Free How to Start a Blog Guide - ebook from FirstSiteGuide.

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News of Erik Swyngedouw’s new book. Liquid Power: Contested hydro-modernities in 20th century Spain


Details of Erik Swyngedouw’s forthcoming book Liquid Power.

Originally posted on the anthropo.scene:

An advanced description of Erik Swyngedouw’s new book from the MIT Press website. Looks like the book is due out in the new year at some point:

“In this book, Erik Swyngedouw explores how water becomes part of the tumultuous processes of modernization and development. Using the experience of Spain as a lens to view the interplay of modernity and environmental transformation, Swyngedouw shows that every political project is also an environmental project.

In 1898, Spain lost its last overseas colony, triggering a period of post-imperialist turmoil still referred to as El Disastre. Turning inward, the nation embarked on “regeneration” and modernization. Water played a central role in this; during a turbulent period from the twentieth century into the twenty-first—through the Franco years and into the new era of liberal democracy—Spain’s waterscapes were completely transformed, with large-scale projects that ranged from dam construction to irrigation to desalinization. Swyngedouw…

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