Even though it is now well into term, with all the things that entails, I have been able to make small bits of progress on The Early Foucault manuscript. I’ve said before how I try to write for two hours in the morning before going onto campus, which can make for some long days but equally means I’m moving things forward, however slowly. In conversations with several colleagues about their summer writing, there was a constant theme of ‘and of course I won’t look at again until Christmas’. I try not to work that way.
On the last writing day before term began, I made a list of small, discrete tasks which I thought could be done in short periods of time. Some were things I could do on campus when there were odd moments spare – collect things from the library, scan old journal articles from things that are not online, fill out inter-library loan forms, check references to things I have in the office. Others were bits of writing – a paragraph or part of a section – that I thought I could do in short periods of time. Some days, writing is excruciating; most days it’s just hard work. But a bit each day adds up. Even adding 200 or 300 words a day or a few times a week keeps things ticking along.
In the introduction to Binswanger’s ‘Dream and Existence’, Foucault quotes from René Char’s Partage Formel. David Macey highlights this as an early instance of Foucault’s slapdash referencing, and I wanted to check them all to see how bad it was. It’s made harder to spot because the editors of Dits et écrits and the English translator have silently corrected or completed most or all of them. So it was a case of checking the original 1954 text. There are five passages – one as the epigraph and four late in the text Foucault only provides references for two of the five, and one of those is incorrect. Not a great score.
I also followed up on a source Macey references about the Fresnes prison, which led me to another piece about the Centre National d’Orientation where Foucault worked with Jacqueline Verdeaux. I’ve said before how meagre the sources are for this part of Foucault’s career, so these helped fill in a bit more detail.
As before, checking the original source of early publications – as opposed to the reprint in Dits et écrits – yielded a few helpful bits of evidence. There are also some helpful documentary sources collected in later editions of Didier Eribon’s biography or by Phiippe Artières and his colleagues in French collections. These were also things that I could re-read and write about in short bursts of writing. Another small task was going back over some references in the von Weizsäcker translation made by Foucault and Daniel Rocher, and reworking a few paragraphs in the discussion of that text.
I’ve also got a list of things I know I need to write which will take me longer than a couple of hours. I’m saving those back for when I have a day or two I can devote to writing. Although it is not ideal, I think you can build up longer texts from smaller pieces, rather than wait for the time to write whole sections or chapters in one go or in sequence. A paragraph or two in a short writing session, or a section in a day all adds up, and I’m making slow, but steady progress on building up material. It might be obvious, but this is in no sense linear work – I have bits of Chapters 1-4 and 8-10 written and lots of working files of notes for other sections.
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.