Day three in the Foucault archive at UC Berkeley

Bancroft LibraryA final day in the Bancroft library at UC Berkeley (see my notes on day one and day two).

Today I listened to some recordings they had of lectures in São Paulo. The library catalogue provides no information at all, and Beaulieu’s list just notes the place, the lecture number and ‘Histoire de la sexualité’ for the first. Even before I heard them my guess was that they were the lectures Foucault gave in October-November 1975, which Daniel Defert says were on “psychiatrization and anti-psychiatry”. As far as I’m aware these were Foucault’s only lectures in São Paulo. According to David Macey some other lectures on the same trip in Rio were on “criminality, urbanisation and public health”. Of course, Foucault gave some terrific – and much better-known – lectures in Rio in 1973 on ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’ and on medicine in 1974 so this was intriguing stuff.

Beaulieu suggests four lectures, across six tapes (nos 82, 86-90) though the order is jumbled and there are parts missing from his list. The transfer to the CDs has added another layer of complexity because they have been constrained by the transfer of a side of a cassette to a CD running time, and have mixed things up still further. It seems each lecture is 1-2 hours long, though it’s hard to tell with the labelling. One lecture has a clear ten minute break. In addition some of the recordings are practically unlistenable. I couldn’t make out much in the first lecture at all – the background hiss was too loud and Foucault too quiet. It sounded like a bad bootleg with a tape machine or microphone smuggled in and hidden. The other lectures are, however, much better recorded but as with many of the recordings in the archive there are frequent bursts of white noise. The recording level is generally so low that this sounds really loud if you turn the volume up. Not great for my hearing or working in a library. Of course, you have to listen to them on crappy library discmans, rather than through a computer as then you could rip the files. Somebody really needs to take the files and clean them up with audio editing software – it sounds like they have been transferred without any attempt at normalizing volume, reducing hiss, getting rid of the white noise etc.

The lectures are close to material in the Abnormals course, on confession around the 16th-17th century, sexuality and modes of penitence, which would make sense for a 1975 date. There are connections to the distinction between the ars erotica and scientia sexualis which was short lived in Foucault’s work. If the date is correct, and various indications suggest it is, they date from several months after the Paris lectures, and Foucault was clearly developing his work on this topic, not just in anticipation of the published first volume of the History of Sexuality which appeared about a year later, but also the projected second one, La chair et le corps, which was drafted around this time, and again later in the 1970s, and is thought to be almost entirely destroyed.

Overall I felt that the fragments were too jumbled to feel confident about making claims about them, which was frustrating. Because of the ordering system I ended up listening to the fragments out of order, though what order they should be in is definitely open to question. Tapes run out and when sides are being switched content is lost. This makes it hard to tell if the second side/next cd track is really the continuation and how much is missing. I think someone really should take these lectures and transcribe them, and then see if they can be lined up in a sensible arrangement. There is enough material here to make for half a book. Perhaps they could be paired with the Montreal lectures of March-April 1974 on “L’épreuve et l’enquête [Proof and Inquiry]”, though I am not sure that this material exists in either audio or written forms – I have never found a documentary trace. I suspect the Montreal lectures relate to the Théories et institutions pénales course from the Collège de France, but given the note form of that text, any recording would be extremely valuable.

So, three valuable days. In addition to the library work I had a lovely dinner with Michael Dear – the founding editor of Society and Space; a coffee with Michael Watts and lunch with Jonathan Simon. All very interesting, enjoyable and useful. Michael W. and Jonathan shared their memories of Foucault on campus in the early 1980s. Now back to New York.

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This entry was posted in Foucault's Last Decade, Foucault: The Birth of Power, Jonathan Simon, Michel Foucault, Society and Space and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Day three in the Foucault archive at UC Berkeley

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

  2. Pingback: Foucault’s Last Decade – Update 22: work with the Semiotext(e) archive and manuscript submitted for review | Progressive Geographies

  3. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power update 1 – initial work and another visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France | Progressive Geographies

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