In 1977, shortly after the first volume of The History of Sexuality came out, Foucault published an essay entitled ‘The Lives of Infamous Men’. It was supposed to be the introduction to a book, or series of books, but it never quite worked out like that. In the 2009 collection Archives de l’infamie it is described as a “parenthesis that was opened, but never closed” (p. 34).
Archives de l’infamie takes material that was previously an exhibition (flyer here; website here), and includes Foucault’s own essay. It is authored by the ‘Collective Maurice Florence’, which includes Philippe Artières and Judith Revel. The contextualising essay aside, I found this a little disappointing, but it did get me thinking about Foucault’s project again. If we look at the books he devoted to the stories of Pierre Rivière and Herculine Barbin, or the study he and Arlette Farge produced entitled Le désordre des familles (surely a contender for Foucault’s least known book), it’s clear that Foucault didn’t really abandon this work. The Rivière book predates the essay, but is clearly part of the same motivation of taking obscure stories from archives for what they show of uses of power and systems of knowledge. There are some examples in some of the lecture courses too – for instance in The Abnormals. Foucault described the idea of an ‘anthology of existences’. Farge continued the project with her own book Fragile Lives.
When I return to Foucault for the planned book on his History of Sexuality project, these stories and Foucault and his colleagues’ analyses of them will form a small but important part.