When I finished my first book, Mapping the Present, I remember asking a much more senior academic friend ‘what do I do now?’ His response was clear: ‘Write another one!’
This came back to me this week as I’ve been contemplating the next work after the completion of the Foucault’s Last Decade revised manuscript (more on that here). It’s of course possible that the press will ask me to do a bit more work, and then there is the copy-editing, proofs, index, promotional material, etc. But the intellectual work is done, and it’s a strange feeling of absence. I’ve lived with this book, as an ever-growing and transforming manuscript, for two years, with over fifteen years of working on this material. Really the idea has been growing since 1997, when Foucault’s first lecture course, «Il faut défendre la société» came out, and especially since Les anormaux in 1999, which was the first course I wrote about.
So bringing it to a completion has been, as it has to varying degrees with all my books, a major relief and loss in about equal measure. The nature of how I work means that there is plenty stored up to do. First it was a pile of accumulated emails and small tasks from the several days when I was in effective writing-lockdown. Then there are some less pressing matters that need to be taken care of. One of the unpredictable things about a book submission and completion is that you are never sure when the reports will come in, nor, of course, how much work they will require. With my previous two books, it was six to nine months before all the reports were on hand; with this one six weeks. So I couldn’t easily schedule a break immediately after the re-submission. I have a proper holiday coming up in early August, but am at least going away for the weekend.
Next week I’m off to Paris, for a return to the Bibliothèque Nationale. And that’s when I plan to really begin the next book, Foucault: The Birth of Power, in earnest. If I wasn’t so tired, then perhaps I’d have spent this week going over the materials I already have for that – two long chapters cut from Foucault’s Last Decade earlier this year; some more recent cuts from that manuscript; a review essay of La société punitive; long working notes on Surveiller et punir/Discipline and Punish; and some more notes on collaborative projects. I think sitting down with all that material is an important next step, perhaps shaping things into draft chapters and organized notes files.
I don’t have any talks scheduled until early September, having done three earlier this month. In that September talk I’ll be speaking about Théories et institutions pénales, which gives me a clear timeframe to work on for that text. It’s the most substantial text by Foucault that I’ve yet to work on in detail. I did publish a long review in Berfrois earlier this year, but the book will have much more about it, and I’ve already begun getting hold of some of the texts Foucault used in the first half of the course. I may be speaking about the course again in the autumn, and likely on it and/or La société punitive in Copenhagen in December. My other autumn talks are on territory, or Shakespeare and territory.
And it’s been Shakespeare that I’ve returned to this week. Light stuff – watching the old BBC production of Henry VI, Part One; going to see a fun production of Twelfth Night in a Covent Garden churchyard with Susan; and a wonderful, fast-paced, four-person The Tempest in a small theatre above an Islington pub. The days in the British Library this week have largely been spent going over some introductory materials for the history plays. I still can’t work out quite how to approach these, or even which plays to address, but I’ve done some preliminary thinking on Henry VI this week.
So the plan is to work primarily on the second Foucault book, but alongside that to do a little with Shakespeare, over the next several months. With a sabbatical year coming up, and no teaching until October 2016, it seems a good way forward. So, just as I’ve finished one book, I’m about to work on two more…