Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 12: Another trip to Paris and submission of the manuscript


The books are now back on the shelves – OeuvresDits et écrits, the complete set of the Collège de France courses and the beginning of the non-Paris volumes.

I’ve spent most of my time since the last update working on Shakespeare, but I made a trip to Paris in February to do some further work on Foucault.

At Richelieu site I continued working on the manuscripts, moving to boxes 11-16, which appear in the catalogue as ‘Biopolitique (déb. Histoire de la sexualité, Cours)’. As with many of the labels, this is only part accurate. If correct, it would not have a direct relation to the work for Foucault: The Birth of Power, but given the misleading labeling of some of the manuscript boxes so far, I wanted to continue beyond where I imagined the notes relating to the early Collège de France course and Surveiller et punir would be found. And this immediately paid off: Box 11 contains a lot of material that relates to the book and to the 1972-73 course The Punitive Society. The key focus is on workers, and control of their lives inside and outside the workplace. There are detailed notes on Auguste Blanqui, on the army, workers associations, strikes and riots. Notes come from mainly historical sources, including lots from journals such as L’Atelier.

Box 12 is a smaller box, containing material on race, and very clearly linked to the 1976 course ‘Society must be Defended’. (Material on the intervening two courses can be found in boxes 6-10, but also some later boxes as I discuss below.) With box 13, we have much more of Foucault’s resource files, rather than his own notes. There is a typed document which provides the table of contents of all the early issues of the Annales d’hygiène publique et de médecine légale, which was a journal where Foucault and his Collège de France seminar discovered many interesting cases, including Pierre Rivière. I suspect this 79 page document was produced by someone for those early seminars. Remaining folders in this box include some notes, but mainly extensive bibliographies, as well as a lot of photocopied material. Most of these bibliographies and copies concern topics which are obvious interests from the early-mid 1970s – abnormality, prisons, armies, monstrosity, hermaphrodites, sexuality, confession, etc. – but Foucault also gathered material on heredity, social inequality and, most surprisingly, the situation of Jews in north Africa (especially Morocco, Algeria and Egypt). Quite why is unclear, as it’s not a topic Foucault discusses anywhere yet published, but it perhaps relates to his time in Tunisia when, the biographies suggest, he became concerned with this issue.

Box 14 is fascinating, and principally contains Foucault’s notes on Charcot and hysteria. While hysteria is only briefly mentioned in History of Sexuality I: The Will to Knowledge, he discusses it in some detail in the Psychiatric Power course. We know that Foucault initially intended to write a volume of that series on women, of which hysteria was one of the themes. Daniel Defert says that Foucault did some work in the Charcot archives in 1975, which was a year after Psychiatric Power was delivered. While none of Foucault’s notes are dated, there are notes from the archives here, as well as detailed notes on Charcot’s Leçons. There are also a lot of notes on other theorists of hysteria, including Tourette and Babinski. This box contains a range of other things, including some photocopied texts that look to have been collected for Foucault, rather than by Foucault. Most of these are in English, and some texts have annotations in another hand.

Box 15 contains a lot of material on hermaphrodites, in what seems to be the dossier mentioned by the editors of the Abnormal lecture course. At various times Foucault talked of a volume of the History of Sexuality on this topic. Elsewhere here, and in box 14, there are also materials relating to initially planned volumes of the History of Sexuality on children, perverts, the family and so on. All those volumes are discussed in Foucault’s Last Decade, on the basis of available traces, and nothing I have found so far has substantially challenged my analysis there. That said, I’d be a bit more generous than the editors of the Abnormal course in terms of what material Foucault had gathered on masturbation. They suggest that the presentation ‘depends mostly – and sometimes without the necessary checking – on Léopold Deslandes’s Onanisme of 1835’. I quote that in Foucault’s Last Decade – at the time, it was the best indication I had – but I think now I’d suggest that while there are certainly extensive notes on Deslandes, there is a lot more research evident here. But, again, because the notes are undated, it’s unclear if this material was used as the basis for the 1975 course, or if these notes and copies were made later, when Foucault still envisaged writing a book with the title La croisade des enfants, the originally planned volume 3. The editors of the recent Œuvres indicate that some later boxes, not yet available, contain further material relating to that book, so it may well be that Foucault did write much more on this topic at some stage. Indeed, some of the scrap paper Foucault folded in half to group notes in Box 15 has text on it which may come from a draft of this volume, or perhaps from a lecture on the topic.

Box 16 changes direction again, and comprises material on the death penalty, revolutionary justice in the French Revolution and the history of that time period generally. While the Revolution is certainly there in the background of numerous works, this is never the main focus. Some of the notes in this box are also enclosed in manuscript pages, and some in other scrap paper, including some letters sent to him. As letters are dated, that does at least give an indication of the earliest date Foucault grouped the material, as he wrote thematic titles on these subdivisions. But the grouping may have happened some time after the notes were taken, and of course, he may have used older scrap paper for this purpose. But since the letters date from after the lecture courses the material relates to, it does indicate Foucault returned to the material at a later date. Right at the end there was one great page which really helped with a spin-off piece from this work. This was the final box I got to on this visit. That’s probably all the work I need to do here, with currently available material, for this book. The remaining boxes relate to the 1980s or the 1950s-60s. But I have another visit booked in early April, so will continue a bit further.

As well as the days at the Richelieu building, I also spent two evenings at the François Mitterand site. The Mitterand is the main library, and there I was able to deal with nearly all the remaining things on my ‘to do’ list for this project. This included Bruno Tessarech’s little book – almost a love-letter – on Vincennes, where Foucault taught between 1969 and 1970; Anne Guérin’s excellent study Prisonniers en révolte which has some good discussion of the Groupe d’Information sur les prisons (GIP) and Comité d’Action Prisonniers (CAP); and the 1970 pamphlet of prisoner demands Le combat des détenus politiques. This was produced by ‘political prisoners’ concerning the 1970 hunger strikes. Foucault says that these hunger strikes were crucial to motivating him to become involved with prison issues, even though he worked with the GIP to break down the distinction between ‘political’ and ‘common’ criminals. I also looked through some of the early issues of the CAP Journal des prisonniers and the journal Zone des tempêtes. CAP was a group set up in late 1972 by prisoners, notably Serge Livrozet. The GIP ended its work around the time this new group was set up, and there is a good editorial explaining why, co-signed by the GIP and CAP, in the first issue. Foucault was a named editor of that first issue, and then named as working with the editor Annie Livrozet for the next two issues – a clear case of handing over control from the GIP to the CAP. There is a text in Dits et écrits (no 121) from Zone des tempêtes which is signed by Foucault, but Defert says that Foucault simply leant his name to this journal to support it and prevent it being banned. This was a tactic Sartre and de Beauvoir had both used for other radical journals. This journal had previously appeared under the title of Nouvel Africasia, and sometimes appeared with an additional title of La parole aux peuples. I found the first two issues under the new name at the BN, and while Foucault’s involvement does indeed appear to be nominal, it was an interesting loose end tied up. The one frustration concerned the journal Gauche révolutionnaire, as detailed here.

Given that is the only thing that I would, ideally, like to resolve, I have now submitted the book for review. I had two friends read the full manuscript, and both made some useful suggestions and caught a few typos or especially clunky sentences. Obviously I will need to work on the manuscript again after I receive the reports, so perhaps can also address the Gauche révolutionnaire issue at that time. All being well, we are aiming for publication in early 2017.


An excerpt from Chapter Six of the manuscript has recently been published by Viewpoint: The Biopolitics of Birth: Michel Foucault, the Groupe Information Santé and the Abortion Rights Struggle” (open access).

Foucault’s Last Decade is available to pre-order – it will be published 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.

5 Responses to Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 12: Another trip to Paris and submission of the manuscript

  1. sergio falcone says:

    Reblogged this on sergiofalcone.

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

  3. Does the thought that emerges from this period of intellectual crisis and self-criticism bring into focus the insights and limitations of Foucault’s earlier attempts to theorize power?Does his emphasis upon problems of statecraft, historical consciousness, and political economy during this period represent a departure from or a culmination of his earlier studies of the internal physiognomy of institutions such as the military, prisons, medicine and psychiatry?

    • stuartelden says:

      Thanks for the comment. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this an ‘intellectual crisis’, and Foucault’s self-criticism is, on my reading more of an ongoing process of development and refinement of argument. This book concentrates on the 1969-74 period, when he is developing these themes; the book Foucault’s Last Decade on 1974-84. I’d see the later work as a development from the earlier concerns, rather than a departure from them, but this doesn’t mean that there are not important aspects that are different. In general terms I think a lot of secondary literature has overemphasised discontinuities in Foucault’s work, whereas I am trying to track the slower development of his ideas and practice.

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