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.
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.
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.