The Early Foucault update 5: Canguilhem, Merleau-Ponty, Politzer, Lacan…

Until about a week ago I was focusing on the terrain work, for the London Review of International Law lecture, the conference in Oslo, and the lecture in Maynooth. But in and around other things I was also doing a little work on Foucault for this project. Some related to a standalone essay on Foucault and Shakespeare – a companion piece to the one coming out in Southern Journal of Philosophy (preprint of the first piece here). The other work has included more reading by and on Canguilhem, especially doing a survey of the French collections of essays on his work, and on Merleau-Ponty. I’ve been looking at some of Merleau-Ponty’s courses at the Collège de France. There are some intriguing developments in his work, and themes which link back to his courses at the Sorbonne. I’m not sure how much I can discuss all of this in the book, and the material on Canguilhem, in particular, is taking on something of a life of its own.

I also did some work on Georges Politzer, whose 1928 Critique of the Foundations of Psychology was influential to at least two generations of French thinkers. I’d read some of  Politzer’s work several years ago, because he was part of the Philosophies group along with Georges Friedmann, Norbert Guterman and Henri Lefebvre. Politzer was active in the resistance in World War II, and executed by the Gestapo in 1942. Politzer made me think of a life and career that might have been – as does Jean Cavaillès, a philosopher of logic and mathematics on whom Canguilhem wrote a short book, who was also killed by the Nazis.

For the last few days I’ve begun drafting something on Foucault’s links to Lacan in the early 1950s. We know from the biographies that Foucault attended some early seminars, but this stopped when he moved to Uppsala in 1955. What might Foucault have actually heard in those talks? The first two seminars were held in Lacan’s home, and only some indications of content survive. They treated the famous ‘Dora’, ‘Wolf Man’ and ‘Rat Man’ cases. The first and second seminars of the published series, which treat Freud’s papers on technique and the ego, were likely the ones that Foucault part-attended. This is also plausible because those were the first classes held at the Sainte-Anne hospital, and more widely attended. The record is incomplete, but there is still a lot of material. In order to make sense of what there is, I went back to Freud’s texts that Lacan engaged with, and read (or re-read) these before working through Lacan’s lectures. I actually found Lacan much more interesting and approachable than I imagined – I read the abbreviated Écrits and The Four Fundamental Concepts years ago, but never went further than that. I might continue on a little in his seminars, even though I don’t think the subsequent ones have much impact on Foucault. Foucault makes lots of comments, not always very positive, about Lacan, and I’ve looked at these – he frequently comes up in interviews. Lacan says a little about Foucault. I’ve tried to offer a balanced assessment of the relation in the section I’ve now drafted, though I still have work to do on this.

It’s been good to have a few days with consolidated focus on this book manuscript again. I’d gathered quite a lot of material over the past few months, so some of the work has been shaping and working that into draft sections. There has been a lot of checking of references and so on, and I’m reminded, again, of just how non-portable this work is. In the home study I have all of Foucault in French and English, along with many of the other references I need – all of Heidegger and Nietzsche, most of Marx and Hegel, and I’ve moved all the Freud, Lacan, Canguilhem and Merleau-Ponty books I own home as I work on this. The benefits of just being able to turn around and pull the reference off the shelf are considerable. Something to consider as I plan for the trip to Amsterdam in a couple of weeks.

Since the last update I’ve also signed the contract with Polity. All being well – and this is slightly dependent on publication plans for the early courses – I am aiming to submit in late 2018, with a view to a 2019 publication.

The previous updates on this project are here; and Foucault’s Last Decade and Foucault: The Birth of Power are both now available from Polity worldwide. Several Foucault research resources such as bibliographies, short translations, textual comparisons and so on are available here.

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This entry was posted in Georges Canguilhem, Henri Lefebvre, Jacques Lacan, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Early Foucault update 5: Canguilhem, Merleau-Ponty, Politzer, Lacan…

  1. Pingback: The Early Foucault update 6: Foucault’s teachers, and returning to his work on Binswanger | Progressive Geographies

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