The Early Foucault update 26 – Defert, Wahl, Warsaw, Hamburg, Dumézil

EF 26.jpg

Since the last update, and a short holiday in Wales, I’ve been systematically going through each of the previously drafted chapters, and doing a bit of reorganization. I’ve also worked through all the issues of Le Magazine Littéraire which have theme sections on Foucault, many of which are revealing sources of information. More substantially, I’ve worked through the notes I took at IMEC in February, especially from the Fonds Althusser. These are helpful for looking at Foucault’s student years at the ENS, as well as the early reception of Folie et déraison.

I’ve also been consulting Daniel Defert’s revised ‘Chronologie’ in the Pléiade Oeuvres. This is somewhat abbreviated from the version in Dits et écrits, but what I hadn’t realized until recently is that some things are updated or amended. In particular, one key date is now a whole year later. I’d realized that this date had to be wrong, given the timing of various related events and hints in other sources. But it’s good to have corroboration, as instead of having to painstakingly show why a later date was more plausible, I can now write a more elegant account. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that Foucault usually dates letters, but only by day and month. There are a few instances where sources differ as to which year. When it comes to his notes and manuscripts, as I’ve said many times, he rarely dates them at all.

I’ve also been working, again, on Jean Wahl’s courses on Heidegger, some of which Foucault attended. I’ve said before about how challenging this is – while some of his courses were published as books, others were just issued by the Centre de Documentation Universitaire as bound typescripts. Few of these are available in the UK, and some of the copies in Paris libraries are lost. Most at the BnF are only available on microfiche, on machines that seem older than me. But the courses do occasionally come up for sale, and I’ve been given a pdf of one particularly hard-to-find course.

These mainly relate to the earlier chapters of the book, which were already drafted. Most of the new writing has been on the time Foucault spent in Warsaw and Hamburg, on which there are relatively few sources. There are some crucial recent ones in Polish, English and German. I have a summary of the Polish text, have been looking at some other pieces on this time, and chasing down every scrap of evidence I can find for these two periods. Some of the people who knew or visited Foucault in these postings wrote memoirs which contain bits of info – much already mined for the biographies, but always checking. This work is an important prelude to the discussion of the Kant translation which Foucault did in Hamburg. I keep saying that will be the next major task, but then repeatedly find things that I feel I need to explore before turning to that.

Increasingly, I’ve been finding the question of Foucault’s relation to Georges Dumézil important. Didier Eribon does a lot of work on this question, in his biography of Foucault (especially the third edition), and in his book Faut-il brûler Dumézil? These are very helpful, but he also has a book of interviews with Dumézil, and quotes a lot of the Foucault-Dumézil correspondence in his book Michel Foucault et ses contemporains. I’ve also been looking at a bit of Dumézil’s own work. This is interesting, but something of a rabbit-hole – he wrote a huge amount, much of it untranslated, and it is formidably technical and specialist.

I’ve also been taking some of the material from one chapter of this manuscript and turning this into a journal article. On top of this, there have been a whole host of checking references and returning to previously consulted sources with new questions. Many of these were dead-ends. Of the books on Foucault I’ve written for Polity, this one has been by far the most difficult but in many ways the most interesting.

Next week I will be at the RGS-IBG conference, to give a lecture on ‘Terrain, Politics, History’ which I wrote earlier this summer. I’ll also get a little time in the British Library on that trip. I was planning on my next Paris trip during reading week of term 1, but that would have meant being out of the country on 31 October, and travelling either side of that date, which doesn’t seem a good idea with the car-crash of Brexit looming. So I’ll be off to Paris mid-September for a very short visit. Both in Paris and London I’ll be able to resolve a host of small reference queries and read some hard-to-find newspapers, articles and chapters.


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. The related book Canguilhem is also out, 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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Books received – Martin Jones, Cities and Regions in Crisis and some for the early Foucault work


A copy of Martin Jones, Cities and Regions in Crisis, generously sent by Martin, and some second-hand ones for The Early Foucault work. Clavel, Mauriac and Italiaander all knew Foucault at different times, and Pestana is a useful study of his early work.

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Antía Mato Bouzas, Kashmir as a Borderland: The Politics of Space and Belonging across the Line of Control, Amsterdam University Press, 2019

9789463729406_prom.jpgAntía Mato Bouzas, Kashmir as a Borderland: The Politics of Space and Belonging across the Line of Control, Amsterdam University Press, 2019

Kashmir as a Borderland: The Politics of Space and Belonging across the Line of Control examines the Kashmir dispute from both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) and within the theoretical frame of border studies. It draws on the experiences of those living in these territories such as divided families, traders, cultural and social activists. Kashmir is a borderland, that is, a context for spatial transformations, where the resulting interactions can be read as a process of ‘becoming’ rather than of ‘being’. The analysis of this borderland shows how the conflict is manifested in territory, in specific locations with a geopolitical meaning, evidencing the discrepancy between ‘representation’ and the ‘living’. The author puts forward the concept of belonging as a useful category for investigating more inclusive political spaces.

Dr. Antía Mato Bouzas is a researcher at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin. Her research focus is on the politics of the South Asian region, with an interest on borders and citizenship. She currently works on a project funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation) on migration from north-eastern Pakistan to the Gulf.

This looks interesting, and especially relevant given recent events, but a shame about the prohibitive price, even for the e-book.

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Special issue: The Politics of Life. European Journal of Social Theory (2019)

European Social Theory theme issue on The Politics of Life, including a piece by Roberto Esposito (requires subscription)

Foucault News

Special issue: The Politics of Life, European Journal of Social Theory, Volume 22 Issue 3, August 2019


Guest editors: Greg Bird and Heather Lynch

Special issue introduction

Introduction to the politics of life: A biopolitical mess 301
Greg Bird and Heather Lynch

Special issue articles

Postdemocracy and biopolitics
Roberto Esposito

Me, my self, and the multitude: Microbiopolitics of the human microbiome
Penelope Ironstone

Geopower: On the states of nature of late capitalism
Federico Luisetti

Esposito’s affirmative biopolitics in multispecies homes
Heather Lynch

The eroticization of biopower: Masochistic relationality and resistance
in Deleuze and Agamben
Hannah Richter

Religion and the spontaneous order of the market: Law, freedom, and power
over lives
Elettra Stimilli

From homo sacer to homo dolorosus: Biopower and the politics of suffering 416
Charles Wells

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Nancy Luxon (ed.), Archives of Infamy: Foucault on State Power in the Lives of Ordinary Citizens – University of Minnesota Press, August 2019

imageNancy Luxon (ed.), Archives of Infamy: Foucault on State Power in the Lives of Ordinary Citizens – University of Minnesota Press, August 2019

Great to see a copy of this collection, in which I have a piece ‘Home, Street, City: Farge, Foucault and the Spaces of the Lettres de cachet‘ (preprint available here).

Expanding the insights of Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault’s Disorderly Families into policing, public order, (in)justice, and daily life

What might it mean for ordinary people to intervene in the circulation of power between police and the streets, sovereigns and their subjects? How did the police come to understand themselves as responsible for the circulation of people as much as things—and to separate law and justice from the maintenance of a newly emergent civil order? These are among the many questions addressed in the interpretive essays in Archives of Infamy.

Crisscrossing the Atlantic to bring together unpublished radio broadcasts, book reviews, and essays by historians, geographers, and political theorists, Archives of Infamy provides historical and archival contexts to the translation of Disorderly Families by Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault. This volume includes new translations of key texts, including a radio address Foucault gave in 1983 that explains the writing process for Disorderly Families; two essays by Foucault not readily available in English; and a previously untranslated essay by Farge that describes how historians have appropriated Foucault.

Archives of Infamy pushes past old debates between philosophers and historians to offer a new perspective on the crystallization of ideas—of the family, gender relations, and political power—into social relationships and the regimes of power they engender.

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Arthur Bradley, Unbearable Life: A Genealogy of Political Erasure – Columbia University Press, October 2019


Arthur Bradley, Unbearable Life: A Genealogy of Political Erasure – Columbia University Press, October 2019

In ancient Rome, any citizen who had brought disgrace upon the state could be subject to a judgment believed to be worse than death: damnatio memoriae, condemnation of memory. The Senate would decree that every trace of the citizen’s existence be removed from the city as if they had never existed in the first place. Once reserved for individuals, damnatio memoriae in different forms now extends to social classes, racial and ethnic groups, and even entire peoples. In modern times, the condemned go by different names—“enemies of the people;” the “missing,” the “disappeared,” “ghost” detainees in “black sites”—but they are subject to the same fate of political erasure.

Arthur Bradley explores the power to render life unlived from ancient Rome through the War on Terror. He argues that sovereignty is the power to decide what counts as being alive and what does not: to make life “unbearable,” unrecognized as having lived or died. In readings of Augustine, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Robespierre, Schmitt, and Benjamin, Bradley asks: What is the “life” of this unbearable life? How does it change and endure across sovereign time and space, from empires to republics, from kings to presidents? To what extent can it be resisted or lived otherwise? A profoundly interdisciplinary and ambitious work, Unbearable Life rethinks sovereignty, biopolitics, and political theology to find the radical potential of a life that neither lives or dies.

In this book, Arthur Bradley identifies the antinomical point of crossing, hitherto obscure, between the paradigms of biopolitics and political theology in the sovereign prerogative of making life, or death, never happen. It is a conceptual passage of extreme interest that, by rethinking the performative role of negation, widens the boundaries of political ontology. The sources used—ancient, modern, and contemporary—place this work at the center of current philosophical and political debate. Roberto Esposito, author of Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life

Arthur Bradley poses here a dramatic and unsettling challenge: to think a new natality. Not a renaissance, but a powerful call for ‘future political children’ to be born, who would break the cycles of a sovereign power intent on erasing countless existences that, beyond annihilation, would simply never have been. By way of Augustine, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Schmitt, and others, Unbearable Life presents us with a generalized martyrology, reading with unceasing insights the remarkable figures of Cacus and of Jephthah’s daughter, of Robespierre and the Zapatistas, in order to diagnose and combat a nihilopolitics that, older and stronger than we wish to admit, very much persists today. Gil Anidjar, author of Blood: A Critique of Christianity

There is no ‘murderous consent’ organized by the state more radical and absolute than the one that declares the very existence of an individual or a community to be intolerable. What sovereign power then organizes is that individual or community’s confinement to a state of inexistence that culminates in its erasure. Because such consent takes us to the heart of the modern theological-political imaginary, it is important to write its genealogy. Revisiting anew the thought of Foucault, Augustine, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Schmitt, and Benjamin, this is what the decisive analyses of Unbearable Life propose: a plunge into the roots of the violence that the contemporary world does not stop imposing upon us with increasing urgency. Marc Crépon, author of Murderous Consent: On the Accommodation of Violent Death

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Todd Miller, Empire of Borders: The Expansion of the US Border around the World, Verso, 2019

EB.jpgTodd Miller, Empire of Borders: The Expansion of the US Border around the World, Verso, 2019

The United States is outsourcing its border patrol abroad—and essentially expanding its borders in the process.

The twenty-first century has witnessed the rapid hardening of international borders. Security, surveillance, and militarization are widening the chasm between those who travel where they please and those whose movements are restricted. But that is only part of the story. As journalist Todd Miller reveals in Empire of Borders, the nature of US borders has changed. These boundaries have effectively expanded thousands of miles outside of US territory to encircle not simply American land but Washington’s interests. Resources, training, and agents from the United States infiltrate the Caribbean and Central America; they reach across the Canadian border; and they go even farther afield, enforcing the division between Global South and North.

The highly publicized focus on a wall between the United States and Mexico misses the bigger picture of strengthening border enforcement around the world.

Empire of Borders is a tremendous work of narrative investigative journalism that traces the rise of this border regime. It delves into the practices of “extreme vetting,” which raise the possibility of “ideological” tests and cyber-policing for migrants and visitors, a level of scrutiny that threatens fundamental freedoms and allows, once again, for America’s security concerns to infringe upon the sovereign rights of other nations.

In Syria, Guatemala, Kenya, Palestine, Mexico, the Philippines, and elsewhere, Miller finds that borders aren’t making the world safe—they are the frontline in a global war against the poor.

“An indispensable guide to our bunkered, barb-wired world. For more than a decade, well before Donald Trump landed in the White House, Miller’s reporting has revealed the conceits of globalization, documenting the slow, steady garrisoning of US politics behind ever more brutal border policies. Now, with Empire of Borders, he looks outward, to a world overrun with so many border walls it looks more like a maze than a shared planet. If there’s a way out, Miller will find it.”
– Greg Grandin, author of The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

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Richard Seymour, The Twittering Machine, Indigo, 2019; reviewed by Will Davies in The Guardian

The+Twittering+Machine+COVER.jpgRichard Seymour, The Twittering Machine, Indigo, 2019; reviewed by Will Davies in The Guardian

In surrealist artist Paul Klee’s The Twittering Machine, the bird-song of a diabolical machine acts as bait to lure humankind into a pit of damnation. Leading political writer and broadcaster Richard Seymour argues that this is a chilling metaphor for our relationship with social media.

Former social media executives tell us that the system is an addiction-machine. We are users, waiting for our next hit as we like, comment and share. We write to the machine as individuals, but it responds by aggregating our fantasies, desires and frailties into data, and returning them to us as a commodity experience.

Through journalism, psychoanalytic reflection and insights from users, developers, security experts and others, Seymour probes the human side of the machine, asking what we’re getting out of it, and what we’re getting into.

‘Richard Seymour has a brilliant mind and a compelling style. Everything he writes is worth reading.’ – Gary Younge, Editor-at-Large, Guardian

‘One of our most astute political analysts.’ – China Miéville, author of October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

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Books received – Neil Brenner, New State Spaces, and books from Duke University Press


A copy of Neil Brenner’s New Urban Spaces: Urban Theory and the Scale Question, sent by Neil, and some books from Duke University Press in recompense for review work. They are Stuart Hall, Essential Essays and Cultural Studies 1983; Ann Laura Stoler, Duress, Ernesto Bassi, An Aqueous Territory, Jason Dittmer, Diplomatic Material, Elizabeth Povinelli, GeontologiesLauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart, The Hundreds and collections edited by Kregg Hetherington on Infrastructure, Environment and the Life in the Anthropocene and by Suzanne Guerlac and Pheng Cheah on Derrida and the Time of the Political.

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Teo Ballvé, The Frontier Effect: State Formation and Violence in Colombia – Cornell University Press, 2020

Teo Ballvé, The Frontier Effect: State Formation and Violence in Colombia – Cornell University Press, 2020

No details yet on the Cornell site, but it is part of the Cornell Series on Land: New Perspectives on Territory, Development, and Environment. Really good to see Teo’s work about to be published in book form.

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