Foucault: The Birth of Power update 1 – initial work and another visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Foucault’s Last Decade is now in production. Over the past couple of weeks I have turned in earnest to the book on the earlier period, entitled Foucault: The Birth of Power.

FBP 1The initial work on this book was taking all the materials cut from the manuscript of Foucault’s Last Decade and some related files and assessing what I had. That was about 40,000 words of material, mostly properly formatted and footnoted. That’s almost half the book’s target length, though none of it can simply be used in present form.

The material cut from Foucault’s Last Decade was the opening two chapters of that book, which looked at the emergence of the theme of power, and then the use of this in discrete inquiries. The first chapter was entitled “Introducing Power: Measure, Inquiry, Examination” and the second “Psychiatry, Medicine and Discipline”. In its crudest form, the new book splits each chapter into thirds, giving six new chapters in total:

  1. Measure – Oedipus, Nietzsche and Greece
  2. Inquiry – Revolt, Ordeal and Proof
  3. Examination – Production, Class and War
  4. Madness – Power, Psychiatry and the Asylum
  5. Discipline – Surveillance, Punishment and the Prison
  6. Illness – Medicine, Disease and Health

Chapter One will largely discuss Lectures on the Will to Know, Chapter Two Théories et institutions pénales and Chapter Three La société punitive. Measure, Inquiry and Examination receive detailed treatment in the respective courses, but are synthesized in the 1973 ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’ lectures from Rio. The theoretical tools developed through these analyses are put to work in a range of studies: the rereading of History of Madness in the Psychiatric Power course and related writing; in Discipline and Punish; and in the 1974 Rio lectures on medicine and a range of collaborative projects developing out of the work with CERFI. These analyses each receive treatment in Chapters Four to Six. Alongside these more academic concerns are a range of activist projects, from the well-known Groupe d’information sur les prisons to lesser-studied work on health and asylums. The idea is that the activist work is analyzed alongside the academic work rather than separately.

In terms of where I am with each chapter, it varies. Chapter One can take the long discussion of Lectures on the Will to Know from the old Foucault’s Last Decade manuscript as its basis – I also gave this material as a lecture in London and Newfoundland. Chapter Two will need extensive work, since to date I’ve largely only written a long review of the Théories et institutions pénales course. Chapter Three can draw on the review essay of La société punitive which is still forthcoming in Historical Materialism – preprint available here – which was previously given as lectures in Melbourne in 2014. The English translation of this has slipped again, but one of the tasks will be to go through that, add the English page references, and check all my translations against Graham Burchell’s doubtless more felicitous renderings.

Chapter Four exists as a short, but fairly reasonable draft, as does Chapter Six – I had discussions of these questions in the old Foucault’s Last Decade manuscript. Chapter Five can draw on the long note files I have on Discipline and Punish – the challenge of incorporating these into Foucault’s Last Decade was one of the reasons I realized that the project was unmanageable in its original form. As for the activist work, that’s where much of the new and most interesting work needs to be done.

I was in Paris for four days in late July, again working at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF). Though they have extensive manuscripts of Foucault’s, recently sold by Daniel Defert, as yet access is somewhat restricted – only some materials appear in the catalogue. My work on this visit was mainly on texts which have been available for years: an early draft of what became The Archaeology of Knowledge, and another look at some of the working manuscripts for the actually published History of Sexuality volumes II and III. These include materials from the early plan for a single large book on antiquity, under the title of L’usage des plaisirs, through to drafts of the material as it actually appeared in the published books. I’d worked on the History of Sexuality material before, for Foucault’s Last Decade, but it was interesting to look at The Archaeology of Knowledge material.

Defert told me that these are the only draft materials still extant for books Foucault actually published. (There are draft materials for unpublished books in the archive, including the fourth volume of the History of Sexuality and a dossier on hermaphrodites. There may be more – much material including these manuscripts is still restricted; none is fully catalogued.) Generally, once a book was complete Foucault destroyed the drafts and the manuscript itself. The reason the sexuality material survived is due to Foucault’s death: he didn’t have time to destroy the files. For the draft of The Archaeology of Knowledge, Defert says that this dates from c.1966, and was a preliminary version that Foucault gave to him to read before he departed for Tunisia. Although Foucault extensively reworked the book over the next several years, Defert kept the copy he was given, which, along with the History of Sexuality material he gave to the BnF after Foucault’s death. A section of the opening chapter was published in Cahier L’Herne a few years ago. Unlike the material from History of Sexuality II and III, this is an entirely handwritten, complete, largely clean, fair copy.

Foucault’s completion of The Archaeology of Knowledge is in a sense the beginning point of this new book, as I’m effectively tracing how he got from there to Discipline and Punish, so I’m not especially interested in its drafting and preliminary forms. But it became clear that the version at the BnF is not just a first draft, but effectively a different book on the same topic. Working through it was intriguing, and I spent more time on it than I anticipated. There are more references to literary works than I remember from the published book (including Balzac, Proust, Joyce, Robbe-Grillet and one to Shakespeare); there is some expanded discussion of Foucault’s relation to the history of ideas tradition (including a few remarks relating to Dumézil, Cassirer, Dilthey and Lovejoy, alongside Canguilhem); and some mentions of analytic philosophy (Wittgenstein and Putnam) and German thought (Hegel and Fichte). Key terms in the published book like the historical a priori are absent; others are given much more extensive discussion. The way the book links to Foucault’s earlier historical studies is very clear, but also perhaps to the parallel work he did on literature in the 1960s.

It’s not my project, but I would think there Is at least an article or two doing a detailed comparison between this and the published version, or it would make a great topic for a PhD thesis. It’s pretty astonishing, given how long it has been available, that this hasn’t be done by anyone – Mark LeVine has also made this point in his study of Foucault in Tunisia. It would seem crucial for anyone interested in Foucault’s epistemology and his relation to Anglo-American philosophy, but also perhaps to those interested in Foucault as a literary theorist. There are no references, and I only recall one note – this seems very clearly a draft written for self-clarification rather than publication, with some interesting asides, and there are indications some of it was prepared for oral delivery. But it’s a complete draft, without obvious gaps, with consistent internal numbering of sections and consecutive pagination, and could easily be published – there are relatively few crossings-out, it’s always clear what goes in their place, and there is little rearrangement of material.

This work on The Archaeology of Knowledge was preliminary background work, because although they only form the point of departure, I’ll be working back through Foucault’s work of the 1960s in the writing of this book. Although I don’t anticipate much discussion of the books in their original forms, I am interested in what Foucault does with them in the early 1970s. This is both in terms of the reworking of their analyses in courses or lectures in the light of the new conceptual developments, but also in terms of the 1972 editions of History of Madness and The Birth of the Clinic. The Pléiade edition of Foucault’s work will be out in the autumn, which collects his major books and some articles, and I understand it will be a critical edition, which should make that work of textual comparison easier.

Since I was last at the BnF, a few more Foucault papers have appeared in the catalogue, out of a total of 110 new boxes. The draft of The Archaeology of Knowledge and the preliminary drafts of History of Sexuality II and III comprise five boxes, so that gives some idea of the scope of the total material. The new material – this is from the 37,000 pages of text sold by Daniel Defert – comprises reading notes, lecture courses, and some correspondence. There are also book manuscripts as mentioned above, but as with much of the rest these do not yet appear in the catalogue. Some of the material has already been published in whole or part. With the Collège de France course manuscripts, the 1970-71 and 1971-72 ones were used in their entirety, and the others were used by the editors to supplement the recordings. The files also include the Berkeley lectures from 1983 (‘The Culture of the Self’ and the ones on parrēsia). But there are some courses in the archive that haven’t been published yet.

This visit I only began to scratch the surface of the newly available material they have, and I’m going to need additional visits to work through more of this. My focus was on Foucault’s notes on German philosophy from the early 1950s – mentioned in a late interview. There are very detailed notes on Heidegger, and a huge amount on Nietzsche. Some of the material clearly dates from later than the 1950s – another reason this needs proper cataloguing from a Foucault expert.

From the catalogue entries so far, we have headline details of about forty boxes of material. But these are very general and there is a lot of subdivision within boxes. Much is not yet listed at all. Given it’s taken me about two weeks to work through six boxes, I’d need a substantial visit to go over all of it. I know that there are plans to publish at least some of the courses, but I’m not sure of the schedule, and it may take several years. The latest information I have is that the next volume of the Philosophie du présent series with Vrin will be a corrected and critical edition of the 1983 parrēsia lectures from Berkeley – which we have in English as Fearless Speech. That series is, at least initially, focusing on material that was first delivered in English and/or was available in some published form. Their first volume was the 1980 Berkeley/Dartmouth lectures and some discussions from that time; the second pairs the ‘What is Critique?’ and ‘The Culture of the Self’ lectures; and the forthcoming third volume is a previously unauthorized publication given canonical treatment. The critical apparatus in these volumes is extremely useful, but the substantive content is mostly not new.

What would be really interesting is if the Vrin series published or transcribed some of the lesser-known lectures from elsewhere. This could include the 1982 seminars and lectures at Toronto, for which there are transcripts in the Berkeley archive. Even better would be the São Paolo and Rio ones from 1975 on “psychiatrization and anti-psychiatry” and “criminality, urbanisation and public health”. There are recordings of what appear to be those lectures in the Berkeley archive, but as I’ve said before the recording order is jumbled, and some of the CDs are practically unlistenable. But there may be other recordings available, or transcripts or preliminary notes, so perhaps they could be edited. We also know of other lectures Foucault gave across the world but which I do not think are available in archives, including “L’épreuve et l’enquête” from Montreal in spring 1974, and some other lectures from Rio in late 1974 – three on medicine are published, but Defert says there were two seminars and six talks. There were lots of additional single lectures at US or Canadian institutions, though some of those were likely lectures given elsewhere on the same trips.

In other words, there is a wealth of material still unpublished, some of which is slowly coming to light. It will be some time before all that can be published is available. I had to draw a line with Foucault’s Last Decade, and that was the publication of all the Collège de France courses. With Foucault: The Birth of Power I’m hoping more will be officially published while I’m working on my manuscript, but I’ll supplement that as much as I’m able with archival work. I’ll next be back in Paris for a week in late August. First though, I’m off to Provence for a week’s cycling holiday.

You can read more about these books, along with links to previous updates, here. And, as a reminder, a lot of resources I produced while writing Foucault’s Last Decade are available here. It includes a list of audio files, a bibliography of collaborative projects, a list of short pieces which did not appear in Dits et écrits, comparison of variant forms of texts, a few short translations, and so on.

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5 Responses to Foucault: The Birth of Power update 1 – initial work and another visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

  1. Kurt Borg says:

    Great post. Is access to the Foucault stuff at BnF and Berkeley quite easy? How does it work; does one need a researchers’ pass or is it publicly available? thanks

    • stuartelden says:

      With Berkeley, I just emailed them a couple of weeks ahead of time to request access, and they had the files ready for me when I arrived. Reader registration could be done on the day and was quick.
      With the BnF, it’s a bit more involved. I did the pre-approval in advance, and then registration on the day was reasonably quick. You then need to pay for each visit – either 3 or 15 days, which can be non-consecutive. I couldn’t work out how to preorder materials before having a card, so it was only once I was in Paris that I could order, and it took a couple of days for them to arrive. Now I can preorder material by email in advance of a visit.
      With the BnF, the bureaucracy and procedures can be complicated, and I frequently seemed to make mistakes, but I got what I wanted in the end.

      • just seeing this two years later! i was the first person to examine his course notes from tunis at the BnF, at la bourse. also they have the 2nd draft, as far as i can tell and defert imagines, of the AK there. it’s different in a few key aspects than the published version which is interesting. i have not been there since 2015 so not sure what’s new but if you have a card to enter and you make an appointment they are publicly available to researchers. the chief archivist of the foucault papers back then is no longer there so i can’t recommend whom to contact.

      • stuartelden says:

        Thanks Mark. Yes, in the last two years I’ve been going to the BnF regularly. The manuscripts room is now reopened, in a dedicated space. I have not worked on AK in detail yet, since the books out cover 1969-74 and 1974-84, and the one I am working on now is on the 1950s. In time I plan to work on a book on the 1960s, when I will work on AK among other studies. The introductions to the two draft versions have been published in French. There is a new archivist in charge of the Foucault papers. She is very helpful. Some boxes are available, and others still restricted.

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