The Early Foucault update 10: translations of Binswanger, von Weizsäcker and by ‘G-J Verdeaux’

After a too-short holiday, I’ve been back working on the Foucault book. Although I’d drafted some of this material before, my focus has been on the translations of Binswanger and von Weizsäcker. With Binswanger’s ‘Dream and Existence’, Foucault was not listed as a translator, which was credited to Jacqueline Verdeaux alone, but all the accounts point to his significant role.

I’m working with the German text, Verdeaux and Foucault’s translation, the English translation by Forrest Williams and, to a lesser extent, the 2012 French translation by Françoise Dastur. Foucault was brought into the project because of his knowledge of German philosophy, especially Heidegger. Binswanger makes extensive use of Heideggerian terminology. In the early 1950s almost none of Heidegger’s work was translated into French, and so there are some choices about core terminology which are interesting. In as much as anyone has looked at this before, the one thing remarked upon is the translation of Dasein by présence, but I think there is much more to say.

There is a change between the 1930 original of Binswanger’s text and the 1947 version which was translated (the version reprinted in later German collections). So I’m now looking to find the 1930 original for the missing passage, and the 1947 version for the note explaining the change. The English translation notes these; the French doesn’t. That will make four versions of the German I’ll have consulted. One of the things that has slowed down the work is looking for specific editions of texts – not just the text itself. I’ve mentioned this before in relation to Foucault’s writings – there are a couple of instances where Dits et écrits doesn’t include material from the original version. So it’s useful, but painstaking work – I have a list of six London libraries and two Paris ones I need to visit just for this chapter…

There are some notes to the French translation which were added by Foucault (he is credited for this), and I’ve been writing a bit about them. Most notes are editorial – filling in some, but by no means all, references. But two are interesting because they talk about translation choices and I’m reproducing, translating and discussing them. The translation is reprinted in a later collection, but Foucault’s role is even less apparent there, and the notes are incorporated as editorial material. As far as I can tell that later reprint did not make any changes to the actual translation, even though by then lots more Heidegger was in French and practices had changed. Dastur’s translation illustrates that shift.

All this is of course before I come to discuss Foucault’s introduction to the text…

With von Weizsäcker’s Der Gestaltkreis, there is only the German original and Foucault and Daniel Rocher’s translation to look at – there is no English translation. It did take me a long time to find a copy of the French version, but I do now have it. The editorial problems here are much less significant, but the text is substantially longer – a book compared to an essay – and it’s conceptually more challenging, at least for me. One thing this text has is a Glossary, provided by von Weizsäcker with specialist terms and explanations. The translation of that is very helpful in illuminating Foucault and Rocher’s translation choices – there are only two translator notes in the text, in part because this Glossary obviates the need.

While Binswanger was really important to Foucault – he wrote the long introduction, taught him, and filled pages with notes from his works – von Weizsäcker seems anything but. As far as I’m aware Foucault doesn’t discuss him elsewhere, and I’ve not found any notes on his work. So there is a curiosity to this translation project, which slow work on the text is beginning to reveal some interesting linkages to other interests.


Biographies of Foucault often mention his enthusiasm for Rorschach tests. But it seems that it was more than a mere passing interest. There are some notes on his reading about these tests in the archive, for example, and he lectured about them. His collaborator on the Binswanger ‘Dream and Existence’ translation, Jacqueline Verdeaux, had previously translated a book by Roland Kuhn into French as Phénoménologie du masque à travers le Test de Rorschach. It was Kuhn that introduced Verdeaux to Binswanger, and Foucault and Verdeaux visited them both in Switzerland.

A previous French translation, this time of a work in English, was also on this topic. Ruth Bochner and Florence Halpern’s The Clinical Application of the Rorschach Test appeared in French as L’application clinique du test de Rorschach in 1948, with the translators credited as Dr André Ombredane and Dr G.-J. Verdeaux. The research for the work was carried out in the Bellevue Sanatorium in Switzerland – a clinic founded by Binwanger’s grandfather and now run by him. But who were the translators? Ombredane was a fairly well-known doctor and psychologist, but I cannot find any trace of ‘G.-J. Verdeaux’ beyond this one book.

Worldcat Identities lists the book among the publications of Jacqueline Verdeaux, and this would make sense, though it would be her only translation from English. Foucault’s biographers attribute it to her. But if it is her then why is it signed ‘G-J’? Did she have a hyphenated name, of which she later dropped the first part? Foucault was of course originally Paul-Michel. It could be her husband, Georges Verdeaux, who was also a psychologist, though all his other works seem to just be credited to ‘Georges’; or perhaps ‘G-J’ means  ‘Georges-Jacqueline’ as a credit for both of them.

I’m curious with this as it certainly make sense to be Jacqueline – the Bellevue connection to Binswanger; the Rorschach connection to Kuhn. Jacqueline’s other translation from this period was Jakob Wyrsch’s Die Person des Schizophrenen – another link to Binswanger, who published four detailed case studies of schizophrenia, one of which Verdeaux also translated. It’s clearly credited to ‘Jacqueline Verdeaux’.


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

This entry was posted in Michel Foucault, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Early Foucault update 10: translations of Binswanger, von Weizsäcker and by ‘G-J Verdeaux’

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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