Foucault and heredity

In 1969 Foucault gave two lecture courses at Vincennes, one on ‘Sexuality and Individuality’ and one on ‘Nietzsche and Genealogy’. Some time back there was talk that the second would be published, but this has not come to pass. Daniel Defert lists both in his helpful ‘Chronology’ (in Dits et écrits and A Companion to Foucault) and notes that the first ‘covers the history of heredity and of racial hygiene’. The question of heredity seems to have been a real interest of Foucault’s at this time – he discusses it in some detail in his submission to the Collège de France (‘Titres et Travaux’/’Candidacy Presentation’) in 1970, and again in his inaugural lecture in relation to botany. Traces of it here and there appear in other lectures – from the way he discusses it, it is clear Foucault had some quite specialised knowledge already, and obviously there is the link back to the discussions of biology in The Order of Things. Further ahead there are related inquiries in the first volume of the History of Sexuality and in the race analyses of lecture course ‘Society must be Defended‘.

But Foucault never gives it the sustained treatment he promises. There is a good reason for this. In the inaugural lecture, given on 2nd December 1970, he mentions the topic only to say that “this is the work that has just been done by François Jacob with a brilliance and an erudition which could not be equalled”. The reference is to Jacob’s book La logique du vivant: Une histoire de l’hérédité, published earlier that year. Indeed, Foucault had written a glowing review of the book for Le monde the previous month (Dits et écrits text 81). There he describes it as too modest in its subtitle, and as the “most remarkable history of biology ever written” . Did Foucault really believe that such work could ‘not be equalled’, and therefore put his own inquiry to one side, to concentrate on other things? But it is clear from the near-contemporaneous essay ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ that Foucault did not just envisage heredity as a topic of study, but as providing a model for the kind of work he wanted to undertake.

This entry was posted in Foucault's Last Decade, Michel Foucault. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Foucault and heredity

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

  2. Pingback: Books received – including Foucault, Power, Truth, Strategy | Progressive Geographies

  3. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power Update 2 – work on early period at the Collège de France and another visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale | Progressive Geographies

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