Foucault’s Last Decade – initial work

FoucaultI thought I’d begin writing something each week or so on what I’ve done on this project. I know that this book is going to take some time to come together, and that I may need to set it aside for a while due to other commitments or unavailability of materials.

In the first week, I did draft some opening sections of the introductory chapter, both in terms of clarification of the project (drawing from the proposal) and also sketching out an opening flourish, though I am not sure if this will work. I also did quite a bit of preparatory work. I put together a working file for the book’s front matter – table of contents, abbreviations, etc.; begun to pull together resources files; and I have a spreadsheet for word counts so I can keep track of where I am with different bits of the project.

The main preparatory task was beginning something I’ve wanted to do for a while – pulling together a timeline from late 1969 to Foucault’s death. (While the book concentrates on 1974-84, the opening chapter treats the earlier period.) This timeline draws extensively on the ‘Chronology’ Daniel Defert wrote for Dits et écrits (now translated in A Companion to Foucault).  Dits et écrits itself provides some information on the publication dates and composition dates of Foucault’s works; and the lecture courses are useful too. I don’t intend to publish this, but the idea is that I have this to hand as a reference tool. While the sequence of his lecture courses at the Collège de France is well known, various shorter lectures, seminars etc. he gave elsewhere are now fitted into this list. Defert also gives some good indications of what Foucault was reading at different times, the dates he finished various drafts of books, and what he was doing that can be fitted into this. I still have to go through the Eribon, Macey and Miller biographies again with this in mind too.

I’ve also added in the dates of various collaborative projects Foucault was involved in at the Collège and elsewhere, and the topics of his Collège seminars. The collaborative projects, many of which draw on work done in the seminars, are very important to the story I want to tell. Although Foucault did not publish single-authored books in the period between The History of Sexuality volume 1 in 1976 and volumes 2 and 3 in 1984, he did publish several books that he edited or co-edited, or contributed to, including Les équipements du pouvoir (a reissue of a journal special issue from 1973 in 1976); Les machines à guérir (1976 and reissued with variant texts in 1979); Politiques de l’habitat (1977); Herculine Barbin dite Alexina B (1978) and Le désordre des familles (1982). Of these, Foucault’s contributions to the first two are translated, along with the Barbin book, but not the others or the work of other contributors to the first two. There are also a number of other collaborative projects he was involved with that were either published without Foucault’s name attached, or which remain only in the archives.

While in London last week I had half a day in the British Library, and used that to look at a few references that had come up already which I knew would be hard to find. Two of these were to look at texts by Foucault in their original context (rather than as anthologised in collections) and one was for a report on a conference on Foucault’s work from 1981. The latter was quite funny, as the writer of the piece clearly doesn’t like Foucault-influenced work and is rude about, among others, Ian Hacking, Paul Rabinow, and Michel de Certeau. Of Foucault’s own contribution, he has this to say:

A few of the cognoscenti complained afterwards that Foucault had directed his remarks to the great unwashed. And, in fact, Foucault did opt for a less esoteric paper when he learned the size of the crowd he was to address – a sort of outline of what he sees as the trajectory of his own theoretical and political project over the last 15 years or so. Be that as it may, the talk had the virtue of relative clarity, free of the maddening jargon that had characterized a few of the earlier talks (William R. Hackman, “The Foucault Conference”, Telos, No 51, Spring 1982, pp. 191-6, p. 195).

The other thing I did was to look at the IMEC edition of reviews of Surveiller et punir, as part of their ‘Regards Critiques’ series. There are volumes on Les mots et les choses, Histoire de la folie and La volonte de savoir as well; the last of which I will certainly look at for this project.

So, a reasonable start to a long process. Although I’ve wanted to write this book for several years, and wrote some of the individual pieces on Foucault or lectures with this larger project in mind, this was the first week where I really felt I was writing a book.

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3 Responses to Foucault’s Last Decade – initial work

  1. Pingback: Foucault’s Last Decade – second update | Progressive Geographies

  2. Pingback: Foucault’s Last Decade – third update | Progressive Geographies

  3. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power Update 15 – revision and resubmission of the manuscript, and table of contents | Progressive Geographies

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