Foucault’s Last Decade – Update 15

Update 15

In the past few weeks I have continued working on Subjectivité et vérité and took a very full set of notes, far more than can be contained in this chapter. I gave a talk on this lecture course at Nottingham Contemporary gallery earlier this month, which seemed to go well. As well as discussing some key themes from the course, I also outlined this book project in some detail. The event was filmed, and can be seen here.

I spent a bit of time tracking some of Foucault’s references, especially to Artemidorus’ Onirocritica, and his use of a phrase from Peter Brown, which I thought was interesting enough to discuss in a post on this site.

I then moved onto The Hermeneutic of the Subject. I reviewed the French edition of this text back in 2003 (available here), and used it for a 2005 article on the various forms and detours the History of Sexuality project took – a kind of preview of the work I am now doing in considerably more detail (available here). But this recent reading was the first time I’d worked with the English translation as well as the French, and the discussion of this course will be new. Like the two final courses on parrhesia, this course anticipates a lot of projects Foucault did not live to complete.

While I had worked on the second and third volumes of the History of Sexuality some time ago, I’d deliberately refrained from reading them again before working through these two courses. I wanted to focus on how Foucault introduced the material to his audience in Paris initially, and only then to see how he reworked it for the books themselves. So the next stage will be to reread the books, now I have taken notes on both courses.

Foucault presented material that went into volumes two and three in 1981 and 1982, though much of the 1982 course was never published in book form. If we consider On the Government of the Living, from 1980, as presenting some work from the unpublished volume 4, his lecture courses work backwards while the volumes from 2 onward are presented forwards. This is not uncommon in how historians work, but is revealing in multiple ways. One thing that is noticeable is how in, for example, Subjectivité et vérité, which predominantly deals with Hellenistic and Roman periods, the comparisons forward to early Christianity are more sure-footed than the distinctions suggested from classical (Hellenic) Greece. The classical period is then treated in The Hermeneutic of the Subject in a way that addresses many of the limitations of Subjectivité et vérité. This is only to be expected: while there are discussions of antiquity in Lectures on the Will to Know, Subjectivité et vérité is the first time in his Collège de France lectures Foucault has worked on these specific themes. His lectures were to report on his ongoing research, and it is remarkable how confidently he addresses these texts and their complexities when he has clearly only been engaging with these themes, and these questions, for a limited time. That said, as Frédéric Gros notes in his editorial matter to Subjectivité et vérité, some of the claims of the lectures are toned down or left out of the books.

In addition, there is a lot of material, especially in Hermeneutic of the Subject which does not find its way into these books. The Hermeneutic of the Subject is closer to an elaboration of the originally planned material for a book under the title of The Care of the Self, back when The Use of Pleasure contained the material that eventually was distributed between volumes 2 and 3. In that version, which Daniel Defert says was drafted in May 1983, The Care of the Self was the title of a separate volume, not part of the series. But Foucault used the title for the second half of a new arrangement of the sexuality material. It is also striking that a lot of material in The Use of Pleasure as published was not tried out to his Paris audiences.

All this means is that in almost no instances do we have exact replication of material between lectures and books. Given this is the case for books he published in his lifetime and during his time at the Collège de France – Discipline and Punish, and the three volumes of the History of Sexuality – it cautions against any simple suggestion that the material for promised and unpublished books can be gleaned from the lectures. La société punitive has thematic overlaps with Discipline and Punish, but not a straight-forward equivalence and there are crucial differences of inflection. Much material in The History of Sexuality was not presented in Paris; much that was ended up not being used – the long discussion of Plato’s Alcibiades, for example. The lectures are revealing for the process of his thinking, not the end product.

From all this material I’ve shaped a draft of the first part of Chapter Eight. I now need to work up the notes on The Hermeneutic of the Subject and work through volumes two and three, including the various variant texts of the introduction and related materials. The final Chapter Nine will largely focus on the final two Paris lecture courses and some related materials, including Fearless Speech.

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



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1 Response to Foucault’s Last Decade – Update 15

  1. Pingback: Top posts on Progressive Geographies this week | Progressive Geographies

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