Sean Gaston, There are Contexts: Derrida and the Challenge of History

5b936580f5ba740e042a6505.jpgSean Gaston, There are Contexts: Derrida and the Challenge of History – short piece at the Rowman International site, on Derrida, history, politics, text and context. Gaston’s book Jacques Derrida and the Challenge of History appeared late last year.

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Books received – Wahl, Althusser, Lacan, Delaporte, Monk

Some second-hand books picked up in Paris – Wahl, Althusser, Lacan, and Delaporte, along with the second volume of Ray Monk’s biography of Bertrand Russell.


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The Early Foucault Update 24: textual comparisons and archive work at BnF, CAPHÉS and IMEC


The wonderful IMEC – the reading room and library is in the Abbey building itself

Since the last update I have been continuing to work on several different aspects of the work for both The Early Foucault and a planned book on the 1960s.

Initially I finished up the work comparing the 1954 text Maladie mentale et personnalité and the 1962 text Maladie mentale et psychologie. That took a lot of time, but was useful for what I wanted. I’ve shared the raw comparison here. I then began looking at Birth of the Clinicand the two editions of that, and discovered that while Alan Sheridan’s translation is largely of the second edition, strangely there are some parts which clearly follow the first. This alerted me to a much greater degree of revision between the two French editions than I’d previously appreciated. I still need to do a detailed analysis, but my initial thoughts and questions are here.

In my last week in Paris I did have an initial look at some materials at the Bibliothèque nationale relating to Les mots et les choses and L’archéologie du savoir. These comprised reading notes and a course from Brazil in 1965, and a complete and partial draft of L’archéologie du savoir. The reading notes for Les mots et les choses are all scanned and online, so I didn’t anticipate needing to spend much time with that box – it was really just a case of checking all the material was indeed available and that the ordering was the same. However, that box does have a text which is not digitized – the original French text for the 1970 English preface to The Order of Things. The version in Dits et écrits is a translation back into French from the English. When I was writing my PhD I used this text, and was troubled by one particular sentence. I made a comment about how it was frustrating we didn’t have the original French in the thesis and in the book that came from it, Mapping the Present (p. 100).

The English text says:

“In distinguishing between the epistemological level of knowledge (or scientific consciousness) and the archaeological level of knowledge, I am aware that I am advancing in a direction that is fraught with difficulty” (p. xiii).

Now because of Foucault’s important distinction between connaissance and savoir, this seemed like a misleading translation. But the French translation in Dits et écrits didn’t help, rendering the first ‘knowledge’ as savoir, and avoiding the problem with the second:

“En distinguant entre le niveau épistémologique du savoir (ou de la conscience scientifique) et le niveau archéologique, j’ai conscience de m’engager dans une voie très difficile” (Vol II, p. 11).

The original French clarifies things entirely:

“En distinguant le niveau épistémologique de la connaissance (ou de le conscience scientifique) et le niveau archéologique du savoir, je me rends compte que j’avance dans une direction qui n’est pas aisée” (ms. p. 6).

I can see how Sheridan got from the original text to the translation (though he really should have marked the distinction), and then I can see how Fabienne Durand-Bogaert rendered Sheridan’s English into French for Dits et écrits, but it’s an instructive lesson. There are a few other interesting differences between the original French and the derived French, so hopefully this will be published at some point.

The 1965 course is an interesting intermediate stage on the way to Les mots et les choses. A few of the pages have the lecture number, a day and sometimes a day of the month. Checking a 1965 calendar lined things up properly. This course is planned for publication at some point in the sequence of pre-Collège de France courses.

The complete draft of L’archéologie du savoirhas been available at the BnF for 25 years, and it was actually the first box of material I looked at there, but it is certainly an underexplored resource. The partial draft, of a later date to the complete one, is also interesting (it was deposited at the BnF in 2013). Three fragments of these drafts have been published in French in the past several years, but none in English. There is also some valuable discussion in the notes to Oeuvres Vol I.

On my final day in Paris made a trip to the CAPHÉS archive at the École Normale Supérieure, which I used quite a bit for the Canguilhem book, to check over some materials there. And during my time I made several trips to the Mitterand site of the BnF, and a few to the Bibliothèque Saint-Geneviève, to check books and journals which are hard to find in England.

I have also been working a bit on the 1964 shortened text of Histoire de la folie– the abridged version which was the basis for the English translation Madness and Civilization. The abridgment in French was a cheaper edition for a wider audience. Unfortunately, because it was used for the translation, it led to a lot of problems in Foucault debates. Although we now have a translation of the full, unabridged text, and the full text is the only one still in print in France, I think the abridgement is an interesting historical source in itself. It is about a third of the length of the original, and because the abridgment was made by Foucault himself, it gives some sense of how he thought the key lessons of the book might be presented in a more popular way. But I have no time for the claims that the cuts meant anything more significant than that – the full text was also reprinted in 1964, and, except for the original preface, in 1972 and 1976. The only revealing cut is his dropping of the 1961 preface, but that wasn’t removed until 1972. For this purpose I bought another copy of the current Gallimard/Tel edition so I could mark it up with pen and highlighter.

At the end of my trip I also had a few days at IMEC in Normandy. There I looked again at a few files I’d consulted before from the Foucault fonds, but also at some pieces from other collections, notably the Derrida and Althusser ones, which relate to Foucault. Among other things they have Althusser’s personal library, which includes some books given to him by Foucault with dedications. But while the dedications are interesting, it’s what Althusser does to the books that was really revealing. He fills them with underlinings, comments, other markings, links to other pages, and so on. He uses pieces of paper to mark pages, but I also found a clipping of a Foucault newspaper interview in one. The annotations were really interesting. So too were his notes for some of his seminars and those of his students. The Derrida papers were interesting for multiple reasons, including the few texts he wrote on Foucault. The archive has photocopies of some texts where the originals are at Irvine, but also several originals. IMEC is a glorious place to work, but if I come here again it really needs to be in the summer.

I have about 50,000 words of notes that I’ve taken in these past few weeks, and lots of things to follow up. I have a mountain of references to check when I get back to the UK, at home, Warwick, the British Library and a few other places. But I hope that for now I’ve done all I need to do in France. The next time I have a chance to do some archive work it will be elsewhere.


The previous updates on this project are here; and the previous books Foucault’s Last Decade and Foucault: The Birth of Power are both available from Polity. Canguilhem is forthcoming very soon, and is discussed a bit more here. Several Foucault research resources such as bibliographies, short translations, textual comparisons and so on, produced while doing the work for these books, are available here.

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Christopher Watkin – Michel Serres book project update: Draft Introduction

Christopher Watkin has shared an update and the Introduction of his major study of Michel Serres.

Michel Serres book project update: Draft Introduction

For the past three and a half years I have been working on a monograph on the thought of Michel Serres. It has been an exhilarating and exhausting project, in the course of which I have largely forgotten what it feels like to be anywhere near an intellectual comfort zone.

During these years I have also been on a journey of learning how to write a book on a single thinker. It has come down, I think, to juggling three related concerns: letting Serres’s thought speak for itself and operate with its own evolving parameters and sensibilities; bringing it into conversation with the positions adopted by other thinkers without taking the focus away from Serres’s own concerns or emphases; and developing an approach to writing on a single thinker per se, seeking to draw my book’s rhythm and approach out of Serres’s own patterns of thought rather than forcing him into an alien set of assumptions and categories, all the while avoiding a hagiographic approach.

This week I finished the first full draft of the book, which spans six chapters and runs to 181 000 words including translated quotations. I have posted the full draft Introduction below, and it is also available as a PDF on and The Introduction gives the reader a sense of my overall approach, some of the main characteristics of Serres’s writing and a potted biography, as well as making the case for the timeliness of Serres’s thought.

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Michel Foucault, “La magie – le fait social total” – a 1950s lecture published in Zilsel (2017), with an introduction by Jean-François Bert

ZIL_002_L204I missed this before, but a previously unpublished lecture from the 1950s, appeared in the journal Zilsel, No 2, in 2017. It was introduced by Jean-François Bert.

Jean-François Bert, “Michel Foucault défenseur de l’ethnologie: « La magie – le fait social total », une leçon inédite des années 1950″

Michel Foucault, “La magie – le fait social total

Si Michel Foucault n’était pas ethnologue, il a pourtant entretenu une longue familiarité avec les écrits fondateurs de la discipline. C’est ce que nous révèle le manuscrit original d’une leçon que le philosophe a donnée à l’École normale supérieure (ENS) à propos de la magie comme fait social total. Nous le publions dans la rubrique « Classiques » de ce numéro et dans l’article introductif qui suit, Jean-François Bert, qui a trouvé et retranscrit ce document, signale combien la lecture de Marcel Mauss a été cruciale pour le jeune Foucault qui, à la demande de Louis Althusser, enseigna la psychologie rue d’Ulm à partir de 1951. Cette lecture a été essentielle d’abord parce qu’elle l’a confronté à un domaine disciplinaire qui n’était alors pas le sien mais qui fut source d’inspiration. Elle l’est également parce qu’elle lui a fourni les outils d’un décentrement continu des problématiques sur lesquelles il travaillait. Foucault envisageait ici la magie comme fait social et en profitait pour la requalifier en termes philosophiques. Elle s’extrayait alors des formes techniques pour s’inscrire dans une histoire des manières de penser. Dans le prochain numéro 3 de Zilsel, Jean-François Bert poursuivra l’analyse du dialogue que Foucault n’a cessé d’entretenir avec l’ethnologie dans les années 1960 et 1970.

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Which edition of Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic did Alan Sheridan actually translate?


Foucault’s Naissance de la clinique was published in two editions in his lifetime. The first appeared in 1963 as the first volume in Georges Canguilhem’s ‘Galien’ series with Presses Universitaires de France. The second appeared in the same series in 1972. There are a number of changes between the first and second editions, notably the removal of a lot of the overtly structuralist language, but also some quite large additions.

There have been several reprints of that second edition in the Quadrige series. But unhelpfully, sometime between the 3rd Quadrige edition (1993) and the 9th (2015) the text was reset, and the pagination changed – the preface was incorporated into the main page running order. I’ve made dual references below.

Alan Sheridan’s English translation as The Birth of the Clinic appeared in 1973, shortly after the second edition. But because the structuralist language of the first edition appears in the translation, I’d thought that it was a translation of that edition. But checking some details has made me realise that it is not that simple, and indeed that the changes between the first and second edition are much more significant than I’d previously thought. (I’ve used the Routledge edition for the English references – it’s possible pagination is different in other English editions.)

Here are just a few examples from the preface and first chapter:

Example 1

First edition: p. xiv: On voudrait essayer ici une analyse structurale d’un signifié – l’objet de l’expérience médicale – à une époque où, avant les grandes découvertes du XIXe siècle, il a modifié moins ses matériaux que sa forme systématique. La clinique, c’est une nouvelle découpe du signifié, et le principe de son articulation dans un signifiant où nous avons coutume de reconnaître le langage où nous avons coutume de reconnaître, dans une conscience ensommeillée, le langage d’une « science positive ».

Second edition: pp. xiii-xiv (later reprints p. 16): On voudrait essayer ici l’analyse d’un type de discours – celui de l’expérience médicale – à une époque où, avant les grandes découvertes du XIXe siècle, il a modifié moins ses matériaux que sa forme systématique. La clinique, c’est une nouvelle découpe des choses, et le principe de leur articulation dans un langage où nous avons coutume de reconnaître le langage où nous avons coutume de reconnaître [cut] le langage d’une « science positive ».

Translation: pp. xvii-xviii: I should like to attempt here the analysis of a type of discourse – that of medical experience—at a period when, before the great discoveries of the nineteenth century, it had changed its materials more than its systematic form. The clinic is both a new ‘carving up’ of things and the principle of their verbalization in a form which we have been accustomed to recognizing as the language of a ‘positive science’.

Sheridan translates the second edition.

Example 2

First edition p. xv: Ici, comme ailleurs, il s’agit d’une étude structurale qui essaie de déchiffrer dans l’épaisseur de l’historique les conditions de son histoire elle-même.

Second edition p. xv (later reprints p. 18): Ici, comme ailleurs, il s’agit d’une étude qui essaie de dégager dans l’épaisseur du discours les conditions de son histoire.

Translation: p. xix It is a structural study that set out to disentangle the conditions of its history from the density of discourse, as do others of my works.

Sheridan translates the first edition.

Example 3:

First edition p. xiv: Mais, considerée dans sa structure formelle…

Second edition p. xiv (later reprints p. 17): Mais, considerée dans sa disposition d’ensemble…

Translation p. xviii Nonetheless, considered on an over-all basis…

This is difficult to tell, since the English is not close to either French version but I can see how he got from the second edition to this translation.

Example 4:

First edition p. 2: … c’est-à-dire cette forme de pensée médicale qui, historiquement, a précédé de peu la méthode anatomo-clinique, et l’a rendue, structuralement, possible.

Second edition p. 2 (later reprints p. 20): … c’est-à-dire cette forme de pensée médicale qui, dans la chronologie, a précédé de peu la méthode anatomo-clinique, et l’a rendue, historiquement, possible.

Translation p. 4 … that is to say, in that form of medical thought that, historically, just preceded the anatomo-clinical method, and made it structurally possible.

Sheridan translates the first edition.

Example 5:

First edition p. xiii: N’est-il pas possible de faire une analyse structural du signifié qui échapperait à la fatalité du commentaire en laissent en leur adéquation d’origine signifié et signifiant ?

Second edition p. xiii (later reprints p. 15) : N’est-il pas possible de faire une analyse des discours qui échapperait à la fatalité du commentaire en ne supposant nul reste, nul excès en ce qui a été dit, mais le seul fait de son apparition historique ?

Translation: p. xvii Is it not possible to make a structural analysis of discourses that would evade the fate of commentary by supposing no remainder, nothing in excess of what has been said, but only the fact of its historical appearance?

The first part of this sentence follows the first edition, then it follows the second. “structural analysis of discourses” is a blend of the two editions – not a phrase Foucault wrote for either. The differences between the two French editions continues for the rest of this paragraph, but then Sheridan follows the second.


There are many more examples of Sheridan following either the first or the second edition. There are other places where he seems to switch which edition in a paragraph, or even a sentence.

This issue is not one of how Sheridan translated – perhaps the topic for another time – but what he translated. The English edition is a peculiar hybrid. It doesn’t translate either the first or second edition as an integral whole.

In 1990, James Bernauer, did a comparison between the two French editions in his book Michel Foucault’s Force of Flight. These are in Appendix II, pp. 188–92. What he does is very useful but it’s not comprehensive. (He notes some of my examples, but not others.) Nor does he compare the texts to the English translation. The recent French Oeuvres has endnotes by François Delaporte to Naissance de la clinique that indicate many of the changes, but again not all. Some of his notes require checking the first edition to see what was actually said there, and of course this is just for French variations.

So, before I spend days of work comparing the texts systematically, has anyone ever done this kind of analysis?

How on earth did this happen? The only explanation I can think would explain it is that Sheridan did a translation of the first edition, and then was alerted to the second before publication. He incorporated the major changes where whole paragraphs were replaced, and some of the smaller changes, but didn’t do a comprehensive comparison of the texts which meant he missed several changes.

And why, given that the translation was published 46 years ago, has nobody ever tried to resolve this problem and make a translation of either the entire first or second edition, or better yet, a proper critical edition?

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1969 : Michel Foucault et la question de l’auteur. Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur ? (2019)

This looks a valuable study. Perhaps it would be a good text to translate, especially if this was an opportunity to do a proper critical edition of the text in English. For the problems with existing English versions, see this post –

Foucault News

Dinah Ribard, 1969 : Michel Foucault et la question de l’auteur. Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur ?
Texte, présentation, et commentaire

Éditions Honoré Champion, Textes critiques français no 2. 2019. 1 vol., 112 p., broché, 13 × 20 cm. ISBN 978-2-7453-4832-6. 20 €

Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur ? est le texte d’une conférence donnée en 1969 à Paris, puis en 1970 aux États-Unis. Il existe plusieurs manières, fort différentes, de donner un contexte aux propositions avancées par Michel Foucault dans ce texte qui fit événement, de raconter l’histoire de l’impact de sa réflexion sur la théorie, la critique, l’histoire du fait littéraire, d’y réagir enfin. On s’efforce ici d’éclairer ces interprétations, ces récits, leurs évolutions et leurs enjeux, en s’intéressant notamment à leur caractère contradictoire, ainsi qu’à l’importance qu’ont eue, pour l’évolution des études littéraires, des choses que Foucault ne dit pas.

Foucault’s 1969 conference, « What is an author? » has been interpreted in various…

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The changes between Foucault’s Maladie mentale et personnalité (1954) and Maladie mentale et psychologie (1962)



Maladie mentale et personnalité (1954) and Maladie mentale et psychologie (1962)

As mentioned in the last update on my research for The Early Foucault, I have done a comparison of the 1954 text Maladie mentale et personnalité and the 1962 Maladie mentale et psychologie.

The full analysis can be found here.

Foucault tried to prevent the reissue of the book, following the success of Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), but was unable to do so. Instead, he revised the text and changed its title.

The usual way of describing the changes is that Foucault lightly revises the Introduction and first half (chapters 1-4) and provides a new second half (chapters 5-6) and Conclusion. But the second part does make use of the original: Foucault revises the introduction to the second part, writes a new fifth chapter, uses about half of the original fifth chapter in his new sixth one, with some new material, and drops the original chapter six. He then writes a new conclusion in place of the original. The English translation is of the 1962 edition, which is the only one still in print in France.

The changes are important in tracking how Foucault’s thought developed between 1954 and 1962. A discussion of each book and what the changes mean will be in The Early Foucault. But the raw material for a comparative analysis is here. I’d welcome any corrections or additions to what I’ve done, and I do hope someone finds it useful.

There are lots of other resources on this site relating to Foucault – bibliographies, audio files, some short translations, some more textual comparisons, etc.

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Anthony King, Command: The Twenty-First Century General – CUP, 2019

9781108700276Just published by my Warwick colleague Anthony King, Command: The Twenty-First Century General – Cambridge University Press, 2019

In the wake of the troubled campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, military decision-making appears to be in crisis and generals have been subjected to intense and sustained public criticism. Taking these interventions as a starting point, Anthony King examines the transformation of military command in the twenty-first century. Focusing on the army division, King argues that a phenomenon of collective command is developing. In the twentieth century, generals typically directed and led operations personally, monopolising decision-making. They commanded individualistically, even heroically. As operations have expanded in range and scope, decision-making has multiplied and diversified. As a result command is becoming increasingly professionalised and collaborative. Through interviews with many leading generals and vivid ethnographic analysis of divisional headquarters, this book provides a unique insight into the transformation of command in western armies.

  • Includes interviews with some of the most prominent generals of the current era (such as James Mattis, David Petraeus and Nick Carter)
  • Contains a highly original and detailed ethnography of the divisional headquarters, based on extensive fieldwork
  • Includes historical research back to the First World War of both counter-insurgency and conventional operations
  • Presents international comparisons of the major western powers (France, Germany, UK and US)

‘A timely study of the transformation of military command from the realm of individual genius to a more collective and participatory style better suited to today’s multifaceted organizations, global distances, and complex environments. King argues that twenty-first century generalship requires not just heroic leadership and tactical brilliance, but the ability to establish networks and empower subordinates in a more collaborative model tuned to the realities of the information age. A controversial argument that is highly recommended reading for military officers and defense policy makers.’ Peter R. Mansoor, author of Surge: My Journey With General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War

‘This book is bound to become a core text on contemporary military command. By focusing on the divisional structure Anthony King is able to chart the move from traditional individualistic and hierarchical approaches to a more professional and collectivist approach. This is done using examples of military success and failure, from Monash to Mattis, and from conventional battles to counterinsurgency.’ Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies, King’s College London

‘A fascinating study of the evolution of military command over the past century, explaining how and why many of the challenges of command today are different. Highly recommended – not least for twenty-first-century generals and those who aspire to be.’ John Kiszely, Retired Lieutenant General and author of Anatomy of a Campaign. The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940

‘No one gives a better inside view of what goes on in a combat headquarters than Anthony King. His fieldwork in the Afghanistan War is set against the background of heroic generals in the World Wars, the growth of administrative bureaucracy in WWII, and the shift to counterinsurgency midway through the Iraq War. Throughout, King discerns a growing trend to program combat decisons in a collective of headquarters officers. Apart from the usual studies of generals’ strategies and heroism, King shows how generals have actually commanded their divisions in daily action. On a new level of sociological sophistication, King shows the lifeworld of command – the mesh of individual leaders with the organization that enables and constrains them.’ Randall Collins, author of Civil War Two

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Marcus Power, Geopolitics and Development – Routledge, 2019

Now published – Marcus Power, Geopolitics and Development

Progressive Geographies

9780415519571Marcus Power, Geopolitics and Development – Routledge, 2019

Unlike many Routledge titles, pleased to see this will be in paperback immediately.

Geopolitics and Development examines the historical emergence of development as a form of governmentality, from the end of empire to the Cold War and the War on Terror. It illustrates the various ways in which the meanings and relations of development as a discourse, an apparatus and an aspiration, have been geopolitically imagined and enframed.

The book traces some of the multiple historical associations between development and diplomacy and seeks to underline the centrality of questions of territory, security, statehood and sovereignty to the pursuit of development, along with its enrolment in various (b)ordering practices. In making a case for greater attention to the evolving nexus between geopolitics and development and with particular reference to Africa, the book explores the historical and contemporary geopolitics of foreign aid, the interconnections…

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