I’ve spent the day in the State Library of Victoria, re-reading the first two chapters of Discipline and Punish and comparing them carefully to Surveiller et punir. This took me much longer than anticipated. I knew this text well – I’ve taught it quite a few times, in different contexts, and written about it in Chapter 5 of Mapping the Present. But this reading threw up lots of new perspectives and surprises, and I’m only two chapters in.
– Some of these new thoughts were in relation to reading it in the light of La société punitive, but also Lectures on the Will to Know, and what we currently know of Théories et institutions pénales. In particular, the discussion of proof, ordeal and examination trades on these courses.
– the discussion of supplice is absolutely fascinating, and rewards close reading. At times it appears Foucault is compressing what he had treated in much greater detail in Théories et institutions pénales. Indeed, there is a general sense of a confidence in broad assertion here that is in contrast to, but surely dependent on, the more hesitant and provisional claims in the lecture courses.
– Foucault’s discussion of medieval sovereignty is very interesting. Sovereignty is probably the wrong word, and it should be really be supremacy or other terms that are actually used in texts of the time, though Foucault seems to date this period until the French Revolution so there are some issues of periodisation to be examined. But there are some very pointed analyses. Foucault’s use of Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies is well-known, but I suspect he was also familiar with Laudes Regiae: A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and Mediaeval Ruler Worship.
– there is at least one reference to the time Foucault was writing, in the mention of the execution of Buffet and Bontemps at the Santé in 1972. These are the prisoners Foucault talks about in his short text ‘Pompidou’s Two Deaths’.
– Finally, it convinced me we really need a new translation of this text. Alan Sheridan’s translation was a major work, and he made some good choices in rendering difficult phrasings. We all owe him a huge debt for what he did in enabling work on Foucault – his Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth was also, I think, the first book in English on Foucault. But the translation has nevertheless, some significant issues. Most seriously, understandings of Foucault’s work have advanced dramatically in the last forty years (it was published in 1977, from a 1975 French original). In the light of the lecture courses, for example, many previously obscure things in the text become much clearer, but are not easily seen by looking just at the translation. In addition, the translation is riddled with small errors, questionable choices, clumsy phrasings, missing phrases and the like. Some of these are detailed on Clare O’Farrell’s michel-foucault.com site, but there are many more. I plan to write a much more detailed case for why we need a new translation, hopefully next week. [Update: this is now available here.] I may also post a bit more about rereading the book itself.