Foucault, Fossils and Leibniz

Three good days in the British Library rare books room. First up was Daniel Defert, Philippe Artières, Laurent Quéro and Michelle Zancarini-Fournel, Le groupe d’information sur les prisons: Archives d’une lutte, 1970-1972, so that I can offer some thoughts on Foucault’s work with that group in relation to the Leçons sur la volonté de savoir course for my lecture on Thursday. The course was delivered at the time Foucault was establishing the group, and some of the comments in the course hint at a contemporary relevance, even though the ostensible subject matter is Greek politics. But re-reading the ‘Manifeste du G.I.P.’ (co-authored by Foucault and read by him at a press conference on 8 February 1971) and other materials again in the light of the course make the links even more explicit. I’ll try to show this in the lecture. I was also struck by the contemporary relevance of the Manifesto’s suggestion that “we are told that prisons are over-populated. But what if it was the population that was being over-imprisoned?”

The second element of work was tracking down some of the more obscure references relating to the Fossils work I did in Australia, but where I needed to check translations or other details. There are also some references that have come up since. This took me to pieces by Avicenna, Albertus Magnus, Georgius Agricola and Bernard Palissy.

Finally I took a look at some work on Leibniz. I read Pauline Phemister’s The Rationalists recently, which I found a little disappointing, but it reminded me to look at her Leibniz and the Natural World, which I mentioned in relation to Justin Smith’s Divine Machines before. Leibniz and the Natural World was better than her other book (though that still doesn’t justify Springer’s outrageous price) and provides a really useful critique of the idealist readings of Leibniz that are still dominant. I also found an interesting piece on Leibniz and race by Peter Fenves (whose book on Late Kant I found useful a few years back). This piece mentions some of Leibniz’s more geopolitical arguments, including a brief piece I didn’t know about before that was an unpublished addendum to his Consilium Aegyptiacum. I also found a fascinating 1803 English summary of the arguments of the Consilium Aegyptiacum, which tries to suggest that Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 was basically the realisation of Leibniz’s proposal to Louis XIV over a hundred years before.

I still think a piece on Leibniz’s geographies – in multiple registers of political, historical, biological, geopolitical, etc. – might be worth doing. With that in mind I also took a quick look at Leibniz’s Writings on China, and Franklin Perkins’s Leibniz and China: A Commerce of Light but this theme requires more work than I had time for on this trip.

This entry was posted in Fossils, Gottfried Leibniz, Medieval Studies, Michel Foucault, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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