The Early Foucault update 1: a week at the Bibliothèque Nationale

My post at the end of last week on beginning work on a possible book on the early Foucault got some attention and enthusiasm, for which I am grateful.

By the time I posted it I was already in Paris, on a long-planned research trip. The Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque Nationale is currently closed, as the renovation work over the past several years is coming to an end, and they are relocating material. This means the manuscript reading room is not accessible, and so I worked instead at the François-Mitterand main location. I’ve worked here before, using it as a place to access texts and especially journals and newspapers which I can’t get in the UK. It’s a strange building, on a large footprint with four ‘L’ shaped towers (like books opened at 90o) in the corners, with wooden decking between them surrounding a sunken garden, with the research library below ground. You have to descend to the entrance, and then down two long escalators to the reading rooms, which are arranged around the rectangle of the towers’ footprint, with very long corridors.


I had five days there on this visit, and worked on a few different parts of this potential project. The main work I did was to compare the translations made by Foucault early in his career with the German originals. This is a slow and painful process, especially because the translations are only available here on microfiche. I’ve used microfilm recently, as the British Library has Le Monde in that form, and I worked with this quite a bit when I was tracking Foucault’s activism for Foucault: The Birth of Power. But microfiche was something I hadn’t used for many years. While the BL microfilm readers are integrated with a PC, and you can take screenshots as images, the microfiche readers at the BNF seem as old as the texts I’m reading, with manual positioning and focus. Although at times it was tempting to say “focusing microfiche doesn’t”.

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Foucault’s introduction to the French version of Ludwig Binswanger’s Dream and Existence is fairly well known, but he worked closely with Jacqueline Verdeaux on the translation, and provided some notes to the text. The introduction is reprinted in Dits et écrits, and available in English translation, but the Verdeaux translation has been superseded by one by Françoise Dastur and the original is hard to find. In this short text I found some revealing things by tracking the passage from German to French.

Verdeaux also translated two other works by Binswanger – Introduction à l’analyse existentielle and Le Cas Suzanne Urban – étude sur la schizophrénie – as well as Roland Kuhn’s Phénoménologie du masque, and I also took a look at these texts here. One reliable report suggests that Foucault may have had a hand in one of these translations. I’d seen a couple of reports saying that the Verdeaux translation of ‘Dream and Existence’ had appeared in a reprint, but I’d not managed to track down a copy. It only appeared in library catalogues as the version published in 1954 with Desclée De Brouwer, and David Macey reports that it sold only a few hundred copies and the rest of the print-run was pulped. I did eventually work it out: the essay was reprinted in the 1971 collection Introduction à l’analyse existentielle that Verdeaux translated, published in the Arguments series that Kostas Axelos edited. That reprinted version does not include Foucault’s introduction, and his notes appear as translator notes in somewhat modified form.

The other translation Foucault worked on was Viktor von Weizsäcker’s Der Gestaltkreis, translated as Le cycle de la structure. Foucault is credited as co-translator with Daniel Rocher, who had also been a pupil at the ENS. This was published in 1958, but the translation seems to have been done a few years before. Again the translation was only available on microfiche, and although the German text has gone through multiple editions and is quite easy to locate in libraries or bookstores, the translation is very rare. The University of Oxford seems to be the only UK library with a copy. There are only a couple of brief translator notes to the French version, and the preface is by Henri Ey, so it is the choices in the translation itself which are revealing.

I also made use of my time here to check a few of Foucault’s early texts in their original publications. While Dits et écrits is a very useful resource, it does mean the texts are torn from their original context. The company Foucault was in can be revealing, and there are sometimes little extraneous things which are worth noting – author biographies, title pages, etc. In particular the original publications of Foucault’s essays on Nietzsche were worth looking at.

I’ll be back in Paris in January to work in the manuscripts room on some more of the archival material, but this was a useful and necessary trip to work on some printed material. I’m also planning to speak at the Institute of Historical Research in February on Foucault’s early translations.

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Verso End of Year Highlights 2016 (with 50% off) – includes Lefebvre’s Metaphilosophy

Verso End of Year Highlights list for 2016 Verso.png– with 50% off all books – includes Lefebvre’s Metaphilosophy
(edited by Stuart Elden; translated by David Fernbach).

Available for the first time in English, Lefebvre’s Metaphilosophy features this beautiful die-cut cover design (by Neil Donnelly).

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David Harvey Marx & Capital Lecture 5: Use Values: The Production of Wants, Needs and Desires

David Harvey Marx & Capital Lecture 5: Use Values: The Production of Wants, Needs and Desires


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Stuart Hall, Selected Political Writings

9781910448656_tempStuart Hall, Selected Political Writingsforthcoming with Lawrence & Wishart.

In one sense, of course, all of Stuart Hall’s writing was political, but this collection focuses on the essays he wrote throughout his life that directly engaged with political issues. From the beginning, his analyses focused strongly on the central role of culture in politics, and his insights are evident across the whole selection, whether he is writing about Thatcher’s authoritarianism or the double shuffles of Tony Blair.

These essays come from three broad periods: the 1950s and 1960s, when Hall was involved in the New Left; the 1970s and 1980s, when he evolved his critique of Thatcherism; and from the 1990s until the end of his life, when he focused on the emergence of neoliberalism.

The editors have brought together the best and most representative works of a writer with a unique and conjunctural approach to understanding politics, and have collected those works that have a general application to broader political questions. The collection is therefore valuable for readers interested in the politics of the past sixty years, in specific political questions, such as around political commitment, or the politics of empire, and specific political moments, such as the Cuban Crisis, or the actions of New Labour. But Hall’s engaging writing and the connections here between his more obviously political writing and the other areas of his work—including identity politics and race—also make the collection an essential resource for those interested in politics more generally.

This collection also contains an introduction by the editors.

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13 Critical Theory books that came out in November

13 Critical Theory books that came out in November – as ever, a very useful roundup.


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(Almost…) In the Ruins of the Cold War Bunker – materiality, affect and meaning making

Luke Bennett provides a preview of his forthcoming book on bunkers.



Nearly there – the manuscript will be with the publisher by the end of this week. Here’s a sneak peek at the 14 essays that make up my bunker book (due for publication by Rowman & Littlefield International in August 2017, as part of their Place, Memory, Affect series…

Part I – Introducing the Bunker: Ruins, Hunters and Motives –  features a general introduction followed by a second chapter written by me, Entering the Bunker with Paul Virilio: the Atlantic Wall, Pure War and Trauma, in which I discuss the importance of the seminal bunker hunting of French cultural theorist Paul Virilio, who between 1958 and 1965 systematically visited, photographed and researched the imposing bunker formations of the Nazi Atlantic wall, and who did so at the height of the Cold War. I outline Virilio’s affective engagement with these bunkers, their impact upon his later theorising and argue that…

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Jacques Lacan’s earliest seminars from 1952-53 – a question

Jacques Lacan began his weekly seminars in 1951, and these moved to the Sainte-Anne hospital in 1952. There are reports that from the first Sainte-Anne series these were typed by a shorthand typist. These shorthand typescripts were the basis for the editing work of Jacques-Alain Miller. But the first seminar in the publication history is the 1953-54 one, Les écrits techniques de Freud. And that seminar only has a fragment of the first session (18 November 1953) and the only complete transcripts are from the 1954 sessions. So, what happened to the notes from 1952-53? I assume they were lost, but Foucault attended the seminar from 1953, so I’d be very curious to read what he heard!

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From Our Fellows podcast 02, December 2016 – including a piece by me on Shakespeare and Territory

The British Academy has begun a series of short podcasts where fellows talk about aspects of their work. I’m featured in the second of these, just released. The task was to speak about our work, but to keep to six minutes. Given the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, they asked me to speak about my Shakespeare and territory work. Six minutes is quite a challenge. The other contributions are by Patricia Clavin, Joanna Bourke, and Simon Goldhill. My contribution begins at 21.45 minutes.

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The Early Foucault – beginning work on a possible book

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When I was in Australia early last year I bumped into Mark Kelly on the University of Melbourne campus. We had a conversation about the work each of us was doing on Foucault, and I said that after I’d finished Foucault: The Birth of Power I thought I might turn to ‘Foucault in the 1960s’. Mark’s reply was that ‘Foucault in the 1950s’ would be the really interesting book.

At the time I replied to say that this would be an incredibly difficult book to write, since there would be so few sources on which to draw. Foucault published only a handful of texts in the 1950s, and these have all been available for some time. They include the short book Maladie mentale et personnalité and the long introduction to the translation of Ludwig Binswanger’s Dream and Existence, both from 1954, plus a couple of short book chapters published in 1957.  Maladie mentale et personnalité is not available in English translation, though we do have a translation of the revised 1962 version Maladie mentale et psychologie. The two texts are quite different in the first part, and entirely distinct for the second. The Binswanger introduction is in the standard English edition of Binswanger’s text; though the original French is hard to find. This is partly because the translation by Jacqueline Verdeaux, to which Foucault added the introduction and notes, has been superseded by a translation by Françoise Dastur. The original translation sold very poorly, and much of the original print run was pulped. Neither of the two chapters from 1957 are available in English, though they are of course included in Dits et écrits. There are only a couple of other minor pieces published between 1954 and 1961.

So, I thought, not much to draw upon. In the later 1950s Foucault was working in Uppsala, briefly in Warsaw and then in Hamburg. In Uppsala he wrote most of History of Madness, which he redrafted in Poland and completed in Germany, though some of the archival and bibliographical research was conducted back in Paris. There is a long-known story that his attempt to get this work accepted as a thesis in Uppsala was unsuccessful, but a later version was submitted, with Georges Canguilhem’s support, as a doctorat d’état in France. It was this thesis which appeared with Plon in 1961. The four year gap from the two 1957 essays to that book, or the seven years between substantive publications can be explained by the huge amount of work undertaken for the thesis. There are strong indications the 1957 essays, and the 1958 co-translation of Viktor von Weizsäcker’s Der Gestaltkreis: Theorie der Einheit von Wahrnehmen und Bewegen were all completed before he left for Uppsala.  Nonetheless, this was not all he was doing. While in Hamburg he translated Kant’s Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, which is still the main French translation of that text. When it first appeared in print in 1964 it had only a brief ‘notice historique’, but Foucault’s long introduction, which alongside the translation served as his secondary thesis, has appeared both in French and English translation more recently.

I kept thinking about this period of Foucault’s work, and intended that there would be a discussion of this material, over a chapter or two, in any book I wrote about Foucault in the 1960s. My thinking on this continued to develop though, especially when at IMEC I read the notes Jacques Lagrange took as one of Foucault’s students at the ENS in the early 1950s. These notes covered several courses and single lectures which treated a range of themes in existential psychology, connected to the Binswanger and von Weizsäcker translations and his wider work.

Then in conversations with Daniel Defert and Henri-Paul Fruchaud I learned of the plans to publish some of Foucault’s pre-Collège de France courses, which would include one on ‘philosophical anthropology’ from the 1950s, given in Lille. A related course was given at the ENS. I’ve also looked at some of the boxes at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France that relate to that early period, including the detailed notes on Nietzsche and Heidegger which Foucault talks about in one of his last interviews. There have also been a couple of books published recently which shed some light on this period, and more might come to light.

So I’ve begun to think about whether there might actually be two books to write in order to complete my multi-volume study of Foucault. One, under the working title of ’The Early Foucault’ would look at his work up to and including The History of Madness, a kind of ‘genesis’ of the book on the model of Theodore Kisiel’s The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time(That book was very much on my mind as I wrote Foucault’s Last Decade.) I’m quite interested in doing some work comparing Foucault’s translations of German texts with the originals, as well more recent translations into French or English, where those exist. The sources for early lectures are partial at present, but may become more extensive as things are published or the archive further opened up. And the story of the development of History of Madness might be interesting. Second, I could write the book on ‘Foucault in the 1960s’ I’d intended, but by beginning with Birth of the Clinic and continuing to The Archaeology of Knowledge I have a better sense of how to keep that within a single volume. Birth of the Clinic is a relatively neglected work, and the parallel interest in literature might be worth reappraising, especially in the light of some recently published lectures. There is quite a lot of archival material which sheds light on this period, and there are plans to publish a few courses from this era, from Tunisia and Vincennes, too.

There are some good books on Foucault’s early-mid period work, so this project felt it was only worth doing if there was new material which earlier studies – Dreyfus & Rabinow, Lecourt, Gutting, Han, Webb, et al. – had not had access to. I’m now beginning to think this is, or at least will, be the case. But in sketching out how such a study might be undertaken, I’m increasingly clear that it could not be a single volume and that the story could begin a bit earlier. How and when these books might be done will, in large part, depend on the availability of the archive and the publication schedule for these earlier courses. With all, as I’ve made clear, these are not biographies, but intellectual history.

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David Harvey Marx & Capital Lecture 4: The Space and Time of Value

David Harvey Marx & Capital Lecture 4: The Space and Time of Value

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