Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 13: Another (final?) trip to the Bibliothèque Nationale archive

While waiting for the reader reports on Foucault: The Birth of Power I have been almost exclusively working on Shakespeare. That project is taking shape, and I’ve been developing conference and seminar papers into more polished prose, with fuller notes and much more careful checking of variant editions of texts. I’ve also been adding new material and discussions to the work. I now have new chapters on Richard II and Henry V – on economic and legal aspects of territory, respectively – in fairly good shape. Next I will work on Hamlet – again a text I’ve given lectures on before, and one on which I will also be speaking about in the autumn.

IMG_1412.JPGI did have one more trip to Paris booked, in early April, when I worked through some more Foucault material at the Bibliothèque Nationale. I especially wanted to look at boxes 17-19, the last remaining boxes clearly relevant for the 1970s. As I’ve said before the catalogue is still rather vague at present, and there is enough misleading information in what I’ve looked at already that I couldn’t be entirely sure what they would contain. Boxes 18-19 are listed as on the theme of ‘Economie’, though ‘government and economy’ would describe the contents better. The material relates to the 1977-78 course Security, Territory, Population and the 1978-79 course The Birth of Biopolitics. Box 17 is not listed in the catalogue as yet, but it contains most of the images used in Surveiller et punir – which are more extensive than those in Discipline and Punish – as well as some that were not used; and lots of photocopies of material from Annales d’hygiène publique et de médecine légale used in Foucault’s early Collège de France seminars.

Reading the material in boxes 18 and 19 together reinforced the clear sense that the two courses are a continual inquiry, and that Foucault is led to the material in the second by the questions he raises in the first. There are, as ever, very detailed notes. Not all of the preparatory work was used in the course – standard practice for Foucault. The idea that Foucault was unable to do original research for the 1979 course because of the injuries following his car accident is now proved as nonsense – it was always a very peculiar suggestion. Equally it would be good if at least some of the contributors to the ‘Foucault and neoliberalism’ debate spent some time looking at Foucault’s notes from this period – I think they would be forced to agree that there is no clear differentiation in style between notes on ‘neoliberalism’ and on other lecture topics, and that Foucault is, as ever, trying to reconstruct the internal logic of texts and debates, rather than being converted to or by the material he is studying. In addition, there is a lot of material on the missing period between the historical 1978 lectures and the contemporary 1979 lectures – detailed notes on Smith, Malthus, Mill, Hayek, Polanyi etc.

As I had a little time left on this trip, I began looking through the next box in sequence. Boxes 20-23 are labelled as ‘Réforme, Pères de l’Eglise, etc.’, but I already know that box 24 – labelled as ‘Sém’, i.e. ‘Seminar’ – actually continues that theme. Box 20 begins a very detailed set of notes on Christian practices of confession in Protestant and Catholic traditions, with a mix of notes on secondary sources and detailed notes on theologians from a range of historical periods. Some of these notes were used in the On the Government of the Living course from 1979-80, and the editor of that course, Michel Senellart, makes reference to some of them in his footnotes; but they are also clearly preparatory work for the book on confession Foucault intended for the History of Sexuality series – both, I think, in its original form of the mid 1970s and the later version which treats a much earlier historical period. These are the books La chair et le corps, promised in History of Sexuality I, and Les aveux de la chair, noted as forthcoming in 1984 when History of Sexuality II and III were published. As I’ve found many times while working on these notes, it would be so useful if they were dated. But not only are they undated, they are filed thematically, and the change in handwriting, ink and paper suggests that notes from quite different time periods are combined together. I discuss all this work in detail in Foucault’s Last Decade, and while nothing I’ve found so far would change what I say there – though I might add some more precise indications of Foucault’s source material – it is fascinating actually now to be able to consult his working notes for these projects.

A45885The remaining boxes that I have not yet worked through which are listed in the catalogue concern either the late 1970s or early 1980s (the remaining boxes 21-23 on Christianity, and boxes 27-28 on antiquity) or the 1950s-1960s (boxes 31, 34-38). While undoubtedly interesting, these are either on a period I have already published on in Foucault’s Last Decade, or which I may turn to at some later point. But for this book, which treats 1969-74, as I didn’t trust the catalogue labels, I did really want to see what was in boxes 18-19. That accomplished, I have now worked through the relevant material of what is currently available. I now just need to wait for the referee reports before final revisions. In the meantime I am returning to Foucault’s collaborative book with Arlette Farge, Le Désordre des Familles, for a book chapter – the book is forthcoming in translation, and there will be a companion book of essays of which I’m delighted to be part. I’m reading and rereading some of Farge’s work from around this time to round out the account.


Foucault’s Last Decade is now available in most places, though it seems not yet in North America. 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.

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

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

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