The Early Foucault update 17: Canguilhem, Beinecke library and back to Foucault

I wrote the last update on this book over two months ago, just as I was finishing up an extended research visit to Paris. Since then I’ve mainly been focusing on the Canguilhem manuscript, which is inching toward a near complete draft. I will share more about the Canguilhem book in due course. While that has taken up most of my time, I did also write a long review essay on Foucault’s Les aveux de la chair, the fourth volume of his History of Sexuality. It’s available open access on the Theory, Culture & Society blog, and should appear in the journal itself later this year.

In early April I was in New York for a workshop at Columbia University, and used the opportunity to take a side-trip to the Beinecke rare books and manuscripts library at Yale University. This library owns the Michel Foucault Library of Presentation Copies– the books from Foucault’s library which have dedications by their authors. There are a few details about the collection here– a news report just before Daniel Defert spoke at the library about it.

Beinecke copy.jpg

Beinecke library at Yale University

The collection comprises 1450 volumes, and is housed off-site, with books taking two days to arrive. So I had to preorder just a few things in advance. Given my interests and other projects, I chose the two pieces in the collection from Canguilhem, and three from Lefebvre. There is just one book by Binswanger here, and I also ordered a couple from Derrida and one thing each from Lacan, Dumézil, Althusser, Deleuze and Guattari. While there is something just in seeing a book that passed from one of these thinkers to another, with a handwritten note from the author, I wasn’t expecting to learn a great deal. I have copies of almost all these books anyway, so it was just the notes I was intrigued by. The best thing I found was Deleuze’s children’s drawings in Anti-Oedipus– already previewed in the Yale report.

I’ve spoken before about the lack of an encounter between Foucault and Lefebvre in person – Lefebvre is always critical in print, and Foucault only mentions Lefebvre once, in passing, and in a way that implies he knew next to nothing of his work. But Lefebvre sent copies of some of his books to Foucault – I looked at the 1979 reisssue of La conscience mystifiée, co-authored by Norbert Guterman, Métaphilosophie and Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche. Métaphilosophie had uncut pages after page 40, so if Foucault did begin reading it, then he didn’t get very far. There is no indication if either of the others were read or not.

I was interested to see whether there were any traces of Foucault’s reading in these books. While the notes at the Bibliothèque nationale de France are extensive, they mainly look like notes taken in libraries. There are very few notes on any of Foucault’s contemporaries. I had imagined that this was because Foucault owned books by them, and perhaps had written in them. There are a very few marginal marks and a little underlining in a couple of the books I looked at here, but very few clues as to how Foucault read. Of course, these are copies presented to him, and not all are ones he references in his work. So, a small sample of this selection from his library doesn’t fully resolve this one way or the other, but it indicates that he didn’t extensively annotate all his books.

I also had a couple of days in Paris in mid-April, mainly to check some Canguilhem references at the main Bibliothèque nationale site. These were things I couldn’t find in the UK, and so a couple of days work here was necessary to complete this. It was mainly things that Canguilhem himself quoted and where I wanted to check the reference and what was actually said. Some of this is hard work – one text he referenced without a page number, and I eventually found the quote on p. 361. At least he referenced the correct book (for more on this work see my comments here). I did use the time to look at a bit more in the Foucault archive, mainly some of his 1960s courses which will be published over the next few years. As ever there were some surprises in the material I consulted. Perhaps the best was a set of extensive notes on mushroom reproduction.

BNF April 2018 copy.jpg

BNF-François Mitterand

As well as this library work I spoke about the early Foucault work at a conference in Madrid, and Foucault was part of the discussions at Columbia. I will be talking about the work on the early Foucault in Leuven and Warwick in May, and I’ll also be speaking about Les aveux de la chair at Goldsmiths on 9 May. Details of all talks are here.

Now the Canguilhem book is close to being drafted, I have a couple of pieces on Shakespeare to write – one a summary of the argument of Shakespearean Territories for a presentation and a journal piece, and the other for a conference in June on Foucault and Shakespeare. Along with standard term three stuff and various talks it feels like it’s going to be the summer before I am able to return to the early Foucault project with full attention.

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. Several Foucault research resources such as bibliographies, short translations, textual comparisons and so on are available here. On the related Canguilhem book project, see this page.

Posted in Canguilhem, Felix Guattari, Georges Canguilhem, Gilles Deleuze, Henri Lefebvre, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, Ludwig Binswanger, Michel Foucault, Shakespearean Territories, The Early Foucault, Travel, Uncategorized, William Shakespeare | 1 Comment

Lisa Downing (ed.) After Foucault: Culture, Theory, and Criticism in the 21st Century – forthcoming with Cambridge UP

9781316506042.jpgLisa Downing (ed.) After Foucault: Culture, Theory, and Criticism in the 21st Century – forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. Thanks to James Tyner for the alert.

The work of Michel Foucault is much read, widely cited, and occasionally misunderstood. In response to this state of affairs, this collection aims to clarify, to contextualize, and to contribute to Foucauldian scholarship in a very specific way. Rather than offering either a conceptual introduction to Foucault’s work, or a series of interventions aimed specifically at experts, After Foucault explores his critical afterlives, situates his work in current debates, and explains his intellectual legacy. As well as offering up-to-date assessments of Foucault’s ongoing use in fields such as literary studies, sexuality studies, and history, chapters explore his relevance for urgent and emerging disciplines and debates, including ecology, animal studies, and the analysis of neoliberalism. Written in an accessible style, by leading experts, After Foucault demonstrates a commitment to taking seriously the work of a key twentieth-century thinker for contemporary academic disciplines, political phenomena, and cultural life.

Posted in Michel Foucault, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Foucault’s Confessions of the Flesh – talk at Goldsmiths, 9 May 2018

hs-iv.jpgI’ll be talking about Foucault’s Les aveux de la chair at Goldsmiths University on May 9th at 3pm at the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought. Full details here.

Richard Hoggart Building room 137, 3-5pm

Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, SE14 6NW

In February 2018 the fourth volume of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality was finally published. Les Aveux de la chair [Confessions of the Flesh] was edited by Frédéric Gros, and appeared in the same Gallimard series as volumes 1, 2 and 3. The book treats the early Christian Church Fathers of the 2nd-5th century. This talk will discuss the book in relation to Foucault’s other work, showing how it sits in sequence with volumes 2 and 3, but also partly bridges the chronological and conceptual gap to volume 1. It will discuss the state of the book and whether it should have been published, despite Foucault’s stipulation of ‘no posthumous publications’. It will outline the contents of the book, which is in three parts on the formation of a new experience, on virginity and on marriage. There are also some important supplementary materials included. The talk will discuss how it begins to answer previously unanswered questions about Foucault’s work, and will also say something about how the book might be received and discussed.

Posted in Conferences, Foucault's Last Decade, Michel Foucault, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Ethics and Self-Cultivation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Matthew Dennis and Sander Werkhoven

9781138104372Ethics and Self-Cultivation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Matthew Dennis and Sander Werkhoven and published by Routledge (usual comments on pricing apply).

The aim of Ethics and Self-Cultivation is to establish and explore a new ‘cultivation of the self’ strand within contemporary moral philosophy. Although the revival of virtue ethics has helped reintroduce the eudaimonic tradition into mainstream philosophical debates, it has by and large been a revival of Aristotelian ethics combined with a modern preoccupation with standards for the moral rightness of actions. The essays comprising this volume offer a fresh approach to the eudaimonic tradition: instead of conditions for rightness of actions, it focuses on conceptions of human life that are best for the one living it. The first section of essays looks at the Hellenistic schools and the way they influenced modern thinkers like Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche, Hadot, and Foucault in their thinking about self-cultivation. The second section offers contemporary perspectives on ethical self-cultivation by drawing on work in moral psychology, epistemology of self-knowledge, philosophy of mind, and meta-ethics.

Preface Michael Slote Introduction Matthew Dennis and Sander Werkhoven Part I: Historical Perspectives 1.Roman Stoic Mindfulness: An Ancient Technology of the Self John Sellars 2. Affective Therapy: Spinoza’s Approach to Self-Cultivation Aurelia Armstrong 3. Was I just Lucky?: Kant on Self-Opacity and Self-Cultivation Irina Schumski 4. Nietzsche and Kant on Epicurus and Self-Cultivation Keith Ansell-Pearson 5. Nietzsche’s Ethics of Self-Cultivation and Eternity Michael Ure 6. Ilsetraut Hadot’s Seneca: Spiritual Direction and the Transformation of the Other Matthew Sharpe 7. Foucault, Stoicism and Self-Mastery Katrina Mitcheson Part II: Contemporary Perspectives 8. Neo-Aristotelianism: Virtue, Habituation, and Self-cultivation Dawa Ometto and Annemarie Kalis 9. Formal Excellences and Familiar Excellences Edward Harcourt 10. Cultivating an Integrated Self Luke Brunning 11. Moral Perception and Relational Self-Cultivation: Reassessing Attunement as a Virtue Anna Bergqvist Epilogue: Reflections on the Value of Self-Knowledge for Self-Cultivation Quassim Cassam, Matthew Dennis, Sander Werkhoven


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Interview with Stefan Kipfer – Gramsci as Geographer

gramsci.pngInterview with Stefan Kipfer – Gramsci as Geographer in Historical Materialism (open access). Some interesting discussion of his relation to Lefebvre, among other themes.

A French version of this interview was originally published at

  • Your research interests include a recurrent focus on space, specifically urban questions as well as the spatial organization of relations of exploitation and domination. Theoretically, you mobilize the works of Henri Lefebvre and Frantz Fanon, but you are also interested in Gramsci’s take on, for example, urbanity and rurality.  How do you see the relevance of Gramsci’s analyses for geographical concerns today?

I started reading Gramsci in 1990 just before turning to urban research and the debates around ‘radical geography’ that were still in full swing then. Broadly speaking, these debates  tackled two problematic treatments of space in social theory: the reduction of space to a strictly passive, ‘empty’ container of history, and, in turn, the elevation of space to  historically invariant determinant of social life. Instead, a key lesson in these debates was to discuss space dialectically, as a product of history and an active historical force. These debates quickly pushed me to return to Gramsci and consider something that a few geographically minded intellectuals had considered here and there but that was then still an unusual topic for the Gramscians amongst my colleagues: the place of space in Gramsci’s particular strand of Marxism.


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Problems in twentieth-century french philosophy – theme issue of Angelaki edited by Sean Bowden and Mark Kelly

Problems in twentieth-century french philosophy – theme issue of Angelaki edited by Sean Bowden and Mark Kelly. The Introduction is open access, the rest requires subscription.

It is often said that thinking begins with problems, or that problems are the motor of thought and practice. If this is true, how exactly should this notion of problems be understood? What must a problem be in order to play this inaugurating role? Does the word “problem” have a univocal sense? What is at stake – theoretically, ethically, politically, institutionally – when philosophers use the word? This special issue is devoted to making historical and philosophical sense of the various uses and conceptualizations of notions of problems, problematics and problematizations in twentieth-century French thought. In the process, it augments our understanding of the philosophical programs of a number of recent French thinkers, reconfigures our perception of the history and wider stakes of twentieth-century French philosophy, and reveals the ongoing theoretical richness and critical potential of the notion of the problem and its cognates.

The contributors to this issue are Amy Allen, Giuseppe Bianco, Sean Bowden, Pierre Cassou Nogues, Simon B. Duffy, Jill Hernandez, Mark ̀ G.E. Kelly, Colin Koopman, Craig Lundy, Alison Ross, Matthew Sharpe and Daniela Voss. Their contributions treat thinkers as diverse as Bergson, Cavailles, Lautman, Bachelard, Canguilhem, Althusser, Simondon, Marcel, Hadot, Foucault and Deleuze.

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Penelope Anthias, Limits to Decolonization: Indigeneity, Territory, and Hydrocarbon Politics in the Bolivian Chaco

80140100747480LPenelope Anthias, Limits to Decolonization: Indigeneity, Territory, and Hydrocarbon Politics in the Bolivian Chaco – now out with Cornell University Press. This is the first volume in a new series, Land: New Perspectives on Territory, Development, and Environment, edited by Wendy Wolford.

Penelope Anthias’s Limits to Decolonization addresses one of the most important issues in contemporary indigenous politics: struggles for territory. Based on the experience of thirty-six Guaraní communities in the Bolivian Chaco, Anthias reveals how two decades of indigenous mapping and land titling have failed to reverse a historical trajectory of indigenous dispossession in the Bolivian lowlands. Through an ethnographic account of the “limits” the Guaraní have encountered over the course of their territorial claim—from state boundaries to landowner opposition to hydrocarbon development—Anthias raises critical questions about the role of maps and land titles in indigenous struggles for self-determination.

Anthias argues that these unresolved territorial claims are shaping the contours of an era of “post-neoliberal” politics in Bolivia. Limits to Decolonization reveals the surprising ways in which indigenous peoples are reframing their territorial projects in the context of this hydrocarbon state and drawing on their experiences of the limits of state recognition. The tensions of Bolivia’s “process of change” are revealed, as Limits to Decolonization rethinks current debates on cultural rights, resource politics, and Latin American leftist states. In sum, Anthias reveals the creative and pragmatic ways in which indigenous peoples contest and work within the limits of postcolonial rule in pursuit of their own visions of territorial autonomy.

“With this book Penelope Anthias has the potential to shape scholarly debates around indigenous struggles, neoliberalism, and postcolonial rule in important ways. Limits to Decolonization is a thoughtful challenge to the prevailing scholarship.”

– Aaron Bobrow-Strain, Associate Professor of Politics, Whitman College

Limits to Decolonization is a sensitive account of a peoples’ struggle for land and livelihood against the weight of centuries of colonialism and the power of the new extractivism. It is a great piece of work.”

 – Bret Gustafson, Associate Professor of Sociological Anthropology, Washington University

“Anthias offers an entirely new and compelling account of the relations between hydrocarbons, identity, and space. Ethnographically rich, historically framed, and theoretically sophisticated, Limits to Decolonization is a provocative and powerful account of contemporary extractivism, movements from below and the operations of power in indigenous struggles.”

– Michael J. Watts, Class of 63 Professor, University of California, Berkeley

Thanks to Mara Duer for telling me about this book.

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David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault – to be reissued by Verso in 2019, with Afterword by Stuart Elden

Macey---Lives-of-Foucault-(dragged)-650f6b95125d9c2c43a563be8ebe9690.jpgDavid Macey’s biography, The Lives of Michel Foucault will appear in a reissued edition with Verso in January 2019, with an afterword by me.

When he died of an AIDS-related condition in 1984, Michel Foucault had become the most influential French philosopher since the end of World War II. His powerful studies of the creation of modern medicine, prisons, psychiatry, and other methods of classification have had a lasting impact on philosophers, historians, critics, and novelists the world over. But as public as he was in his militant campaigns on behalf of prisoners, dissidents, and homosexuals, he shrouded his personal life in mystery. In The Lives of Michel Foucault — written with the full cooperation of Daniel Defert, Foucault’s former lover — David Macey gives the richest account to date of Foucault’s life and work, informed as it is by the complex issues arising from his writings. In this new edition, Foucault scholar Stuart Elden has contributed a new afterword assessing the contribution of the biography in the light of more recent literature.

Posted in Michel Foucault, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Catherine Millot, Life with Lacan reviewed by Stuart Jeffries in The Spectator

lacanThe English translation of Catherine Millot, Life with Lacan is reviewed by Stuart Jeffries in The Spectator

The review is open access. Here’s Polity’s description of the book.

‘There was a time when I felt that I had grasped Lacan’s essential being from within – that I had gained, as it were, an apperception of his relation to the world, a mysterious access to that intimate place from which sprang his relation to people and things, and even to himself. It was as if I had slipped within him.’

In this short book, Catherine Millot offers a richly evocative reflection on her life as analysand and lover of the greatest psychoanalyst since Freud. From time in Paris to his country house in Guitrancourt, Millot provides unparalleled insight into Lacan’scharacter as well as his encounters with other major European thinkers of the time. She also sheds new light on key themes, including Lacan’s obsession with the Borromean knot and gradual descent into silence, all enlivened by her unique perspective.

This beautifully written memoir, awarded the Prix de littérature André-Gide, will be of interest to anyone wishing to understand the life and character of a thinker who continues to exert a wide influence in psychoanalysis and across the humanities and social sciences.

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Andreas Bieler and Adam David Morton, Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis – out soon with Cambridge

9781108452632Andreas Bieler and Adam David Morton, Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis – out soon with Cambridge University Press

This book assesses the forces of social struggle shaping the past and present of the global political economy from the perspective of historical materialism. Based on the philosophy of internal relations, the character of capital is understood in such a way that the ties between the relations of production, state-civil society, and conditions of class struggle can be realised. Conceiving the internal relationship of global capitalism, global war, global crisis as a struggle-driven process is a major contribution of the book providing a novel intervention on debates within theories of ‘the international’. Through a set of conceptual reflections, on agency and structure and the role of discourses embedded in the economy, class struggle is established as our point of departure. This involves analysing historical and contemporary themes on the expansion of capitalism through uneven and combined development (global capitalism), the role of the state and geopolitics (global war), and conditions of exploitation and resistance (global crisis). The conceptual reflections and thematic considerations raised earlier in the book are then extended in a series of empirical interventions. These include a focus on the ‘rising powers’ of the BRICS (global capitalism), conditions of the ‘new imperialism’ (global war), and the financial crisis since the 2007–8 Great Recession (global crisis). As a result of honing in on the internal relations of global capitalism, global war, global crisis the final major contribution of the book is to deliver a radically open-ended dialectical consideration of ruptures of resistance within the global political economy.

  • Provides the definitive account of the internal relations of global capitalism, global war, global crisis shaping contemporary world order
  • Makes a major intervention in debates across the social sciences from a historical materialist perspective
  • Delivers key insights on the expansion of capitalism through uneven and combined development (global capitalism), the role of the state and geopolitics (global war), and conditions of exploitation and resistance (global crisis)

‘A glorious debate on ways of seeing capital and state hegemony as relational and material, from global capitalism in China, to global war in Iraq and the new Bomb-and-Build imperialism, to global crisis in the Eurozone. Andreas Bieler and Adam Morton deliver a rigorous and uncompromising geopolitical text. They also honour the insights of ecological and reproduction feminists on appropriation-accumulation by non-economic means-identifying expanded forms of class struggle emergent today in the grassroots contestation of neoliberalism.’ Ariel Salleh, University of Sydney

‘Marx’s dialectics prioritise the relational and evolving qualities of literally everything over the logically separate and static parts into which most people divide our world. The authors of this book give dialectics the attention it deserves in understanding global capitalism, taking you on a mind-stretching voyage you do not want to miss. Highly recommended.’ Bertell Ollman, New York University

‘As tensions and confrontations rise, it is incumbent upon us to understand the intrinsic relations of global capitalism, global war, and global crisis. Feminist political economists share with historical materialists the concern for the increasing reach of capitalist exploitation within households, states, at the border and in zones of conflict and post-conflict. A holistic, explanatory account has never been more important and Andreas Bieler and Adam Morton have produced that account for our time. All serious analysts of world order looking for answers about ‘how we got here’ and ‘where we are going’ should take heed.’ Jacqui True, Monash University, Melbourne

‘Andreas Bieler and Adam Morton offer an original, tightly-argued and extraordinarily rich analytical panorama of the emergence and unevenness of global capitalism, the geopolitical conflicts entailed, and its crisis conditions provoking sources of resistance. The ground-breaking approach developed in this book will shape debates in and beyond political economy for years to come.’ Alfredo Saad-Filho, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

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