Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 11: clearing the decks and beginning to move from Foucault to Shakespeare

FBP update 11

The UCL talk last week was the last one in the diary until September – a very deliberate choice to open up some time that needed quite a bit of forward-planning to achieve. I might do one or two book events when Foucault’s Last Decade is out, but I’m not planning on things beyond that. In the second half of 2015 I’d already made a substantial reduction in travel, and didn’t get on a plane for six months – I really can’t remember the last time that was the case, probably in the PhD. All the trips to France have been by train.

I now have a substantial period of time ahead of me for consolidated writing. Completing a draft of Foucault: The Birth of Power in early January means that I hope to be able to submit it for review in the next couple of months. A week away meant I came back to it with fresh eyes. Because of the UCL talk I had to return to the material in Chapter Six, in order to produce a presentation, and was surprised at how smoothly it read. For the talk I didn’t have a prepared text, but a very image-heavy PowerPoint, with a very few quotes, and some scribbled notes alongside a print-out of the slides. The talk wasn’t a close reading of specific texts, unlike much of the book, but an overview of the collaborative research and activism, along with some general discussion of the sources I’ve worked with. For that I felt I really should be able to dispense with a formal text – something I generally prefer to do, but is often difficult with the textual way I usually work.

I’ve already ticked off several things on the ‘to do’ list, after some productive days at the British Library and some days back at home with my ‘Foucault library’. It needed a really thorough proof-read, some tightening of the argument, improving transitions, and a little reorganization. I am now fairly sure the key things are in the right place. I’m slowly clearly the desk of all the books related to this project, and doing some further bits of reading and re-reading. I know what else needs to be done, and some of that is in Paris. It’s good to have a bit of time to sit with the book in its current shape, and I plan to do that – not working on it quite so intensely, and then returning to it with some degree of distance.


The key focus for the next several months will be Shakespeare. I already have a lot of material drafted for this project. Some of this is in good shape – I’ve published on King Lear and Coriolanus already, and the King John chapter draft is properly written and referenced. With other texts I have some quite detailed and extensive discussions drafted from talks – especially with Richard II, Henry V and Hamlet – and notes in various states on most of the other plays I plan to discuss. The idea is that I take a text or two per month and work intensely on what I already have. First up will be Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V. With Henry IV Part One I know I want to have a discussion of the map scene between Mortimer, Worcester, Glendower and Hotspur from Part I, but not sure what else I will focus upon; I plan to supplement the discussion of Henry V with one on Edward III. That should keep me going for a while – I will go back over all the other history plays, though don’t intend to discuss them in detail, and then the rough idea is to move to Hamlet and perhaps pair it with a shorter discussion of Macbeth. After that, we will see. I’ll certainly go back to the earliest drafted texts and edit and perhaps rework them, but I’m planning to do that as a much later part of the work.

As I’ve said before, I’m largely beginning with the primary text, focusing on various critical editions, and only later moving to the secondary literature. I’ve become increasingly interested in the variant forms of the texts in the Quartos and the Folio, as well as editorial emendations, so I spend a lot of time burrowing into the textual notes. I usually begin with the Arden Third Series edition, and then compare every important passage to the Oxford, Penguin and Cambridge editions. I then read the introductions to all these editions, as well as the Arden Second Series, and work through all their notes and other apparatus. (A few texts I’m working on are not yet in Arden 3, but those should be published before I complete this project.) This work then generally gives me a long list of relevant secondary literature to consult, gleaned from notes and suggestions for further reading, which I begin to work through. All this reading necessarily generates a long list of further references to chase up. And of course, there can be more specific searches for literature on topics or questions, and people continue to recommend things to read…

I’ve been reading a lot of more general secondary literature on various themes over the past several years, and have loads more on the reading list and in various to-read piles or shelves. But this literature is of course so vast that I can’t pretend to be exhaustive. I hope that as the work develops I will make substantial inroads into this, but I’m not sure how much actual citation and engagement there will be in the finished project. I’m hoping for a text that is informed by debates and aware of the issues, but isn’t so encumbered by them that it becomes unreadable to all but specialists.

I do have a few small writing projects to do – a piece on managing academic workload for The Times Higher Education; a short piece on Shakespeare’s tragedies for a textbook; an encyclopaedia entry – but I hope I can wrap those up in the next week or two. At some point, probably in August, I will need to turn to the talks I’ve committed to giving in Memphis, San Marino, and Giessen in September, October and December. And I will obviously need to begin thinking about teaching in the autumn as well. But for now, reading, thinking and writing, again and again, is the sole thing on the agenda…


Foucault’s Last Decade is available to pre-order – due in April. For more information on these two books, see the descriptions here. Audio and video recordings relating to them are here; and a full list of the updates I’ve been posting on the process of writing here. Some translations, bibliographies, scans and links are available at Foucault Resources.

This entry was posted in Foucault's Last Decade, Foucault: The Birth of Power, Michel Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 11: clearing the decks and beginning to move from Foucault to Shakespeare

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

  2. Pingback: Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 12: Another trip to Paris and submission of the manuscript | Progressive Geographies

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