The Early Foucault update 6: Foucault’s teachers, and returning to his work on Binswanger

Update 6.JPG

I’ve largely been able to continue the focus of the last update, with a series of fairly uninterrupted days’ research and writing. Aside from continuing work on Lacan, I’ve also been looking at the people who taught Foucault. Merleau-Ponty is the key figure, as I’ve mentioned before, and I’ve done a bit more work on him, but Jean Wahl, Jean Hyppolite, Jean Beaufret, Henri Gouhier, and Daniel Lagache are all important. It’s taken a bit of digging around, but quite a lot of the lectures Foucault attended have been published. So, where possible, I’ve been tracking these down and doing some selective reading. Warwick has a pretty good collection, often in French and English. I was back in London for a couple of days, so did some work in the British Library, though my list of things to do there, and in Paris, is still quite extensive. I have the references I made when working on Foucault’s notes in Paris, which has helped guide this work a bit. I knew a bit about Hyppolite before, and had read Beaufret’s Dialogues avec Heidegger some time back, but others were less known to me. There were also some figures about whom I knew nothing before – Julian de Ajuriaguerra on psychiatric science, or Jean-Toussaint Desanti on philosophy of science (he was a student of Jean Cavaillès). The tight intellectual circles of France are ever more apparent – Desanti directed Derrida’s doctorate; Gouhier supervised Bourdieu’s dissertation, which was on Leibniz; and there seems to have been a common route between the Sorbonne, ENS and the Collège de France. And many of Foucault’s teachers reappear in his story about a decade later, as members of his thesis jury. Later still Gouhier and Wahl chair important lectures Foucault gave at the Société française de philosophie.

As a side-note, in the English translation of Lacan’s second seminar (p. 294), there is a list of the people who gave special lectures to the Société Française de Psychanalyse between November 1954 and June 1955, usually the day before Lacan’s seminar. The SFP was formed in 1953 as a breakaway from the main Paris body, led by Lagache and supported by Lacan. Lacan regularly refers to the most-recent lecture in the seminar. The list of speakers reads like an entirely male who’s who of French intellectual life at the time: Jean Delay, Alexandre Koyré, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jean Hyppolite, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Étienne de Greeff, Marcel Griaule, Medard Boss, Émile Benveniste, Daniel Lagache, Jacques Lacan. The external person is Medard Boss from Zurich – who organized the Zollikon seminars with Heidegger. The only one I’d not heard of before was Étienne de Greeff, but he too looks interesting.

Following some of the connections between Foucault and these figures has taken me outside of the time period I’m currently working on (essentially up to 1961), but it’s been interesting to track the intersections. Hyppolite, for example, was Foucault’s predecessor in the chair at the Collège de France, and Foucault and Canguilhem organized a tribute session at the ENS in 1969 after he died in 1968. Their two speeches were published at the time, and then they were among those who contributed to a small volume Hommage à Jean Hyppolite in 1971. Foucault’s text in that volume is his famous ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ essay. In between the ENS session and the book Foucault was elected to the Collège de France chair, and paid fulsome tribute to Hyppolite in his inaugural lecture ‘The Order of Discourse’. (There is a new, and likely definitive translation of that important text coming out soon, a text which is long overdue an overhaul.) In the mid-1950s Hyppolite was a regular attender at the early sessions of Lacan’s seminar, and contributes a text to the discussion which is reprinted and commented upon in Lacan’s Écrits. Jacques-Alain Miller has commented that Hyppolite “was quite open-minded at a time when other French philosophers found Lacan too difficult to understand”. I shared Lacan’s acerbic remark that Hyppolite had found time to do the reading, and that he was at least as busy as the other students, earlier this week.

I also spent some time on the ‘What is an Author?’ lecture, partly because there are some interesting points in the introduction and the subsequent discussion – which are not in the translations of the lecture. For more on this, see my post here.

In the last couple of days I’ve begun sketching out the section on Foucault’s work on Ludwig Binswanger. I’m talking not just about his introduction to the translation of ‘Dream and Existence’, but the translation itself. This will then lead into a discussion of the co-translation of the book by Viktor von Weizsäcker. I hope to pick up on that when in Amsterdam. But now for a holiday.


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.

This entry was posted in Jacques Lacan, Ludwig Binswanger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Early Foucault update 6: Foucault’s teachers, and returning to his work on Binswanger

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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