Foucault’s Last Decade – eighth update

Update EightThe first thing I did on arrival in Melbourne was finish work on a short piece on Grégoire Chamayou’s Manhunts for The Funambulist, which returns to some of the arguments I’ve made about Foucault and territory. I’m grateful to Léopold Lambert for this invitation. Since then, in my first few weeks here, I’ve been continuing work on the book manuscript, in between several meetings, other projects and record heat-waves. My review of La société punitive was also published; as were two interviews – at Polis and Groundwork.

The next thing – and which took far longer than expected, over several long days at the State Library of Victoria – was a careful re-reading of Surveiller et punir and Discipline and Punish. I wanted to get a sense of how the vocabulary from La société punitive was carried across to this work, and to understand the shifts in register. Reading Discipline and Punish alone wouldn’t have been sufficient for this given it is a question of precise words and tone. But in so doing I realized the extent to which Discipline and Punish is a problematic translation of this crucial text, not just because of the numerous small errors in the translation, but also because of the way discussion of Foucault, his context and concepts has changed in the past forty years. For these reasons – as I discuss at length here – I think we really need a new, or at least heavily revised, translation. I also shared a few notes on my re-reading of the first two chapters.

In doing that re-reading I realised not just the indebtedness of the analysis in the book to La société punitive, which has long seemed likely, but also to Lectures on the Will to Know, and what we currently know of Théories et institutions pénales, mainly in relation to the notion of the inquiry, but also on popular insurrections. The Rio lectures of 1973 on ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’ and the 1974 ones on medicine are also important sources of some of the examples and analysis. However, and this is a point well worth stressing, there is a lot in the book that appears never to have been trialled in a lecture context. In addition, and perhaps under-appreciated, there is a shift in the tone, the register, of how Foucault writes as opposed to how he speaks. There is a difference in genre between these different texts.

My notes on this rereading of Surveiller et punir and Discipline and Punish became quite extensive – about 10,000 words or so. I had not intended on having much in my book on that text – which in some respects is well known and which I’ve discussed at length elsewhere – but I’ve had to revise my view a bit. There is now quite a long discussion in Chapter Two, especially as to how it sits in relation to the lecture courses, but this section is almost certainly too long.

I then went back to La société punitive again and took even more detailed notes; from which I wrote a long section on this course for Chapter One,  which also discussed the last two ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’ lectures which develop (rather than merely repeat) its themes. I had hoped to deliver a lecture providing a comparative reading of La société punitive, those 1973 lectures, and Surveiller et punir here at Monash, in a workshop on Foucault, but that has now unfortunately been cancelled. It might be given as talk at the University of Melbourne in March (details when confirmed), and it might become the basis for a standalone article, which would help with the word-count issues I’m having with the book manuscript. This is a book which, I need to keep reminding myself, is on Foucault’s last decade, which essentially begins at the point the writing of Surveiller et punir ends…

The next task, now I’ve filled in those two missing sections from earlier chapters, is to turn to the first volume of the History of Sexuality, which will be the subject matter of Chapter Five. I may post something about the translation issues with that book too.

You can read more about the Foucault’s Last Decade project, along with links to previous updates, here.

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This entry was posted in Foucault's Last Decade, Grégoire Chamayou, Michel Foucault, My Publications, Territory. Bookmark the permalink.

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