The Early Foucault Update 14 – another month of slow, steady progress

Update 14It’s been a month since the last update on this book, and it’s been another one of slow, steady progress. As I said in the last update, before term began I made a list of smaller tasks which I thought I could accomplish in short work sessions, and I’ve now worked nearly through all of those. There were days where I maybe added only 50 or 100 words, but ticked something off the list; other days I was able to string a paragraph or two together with some quotes and it added a few hundred. It all moves the project forward.

I said a couple of updates ago that I was struggling to write about the things that Foucault actually did publish in the 1950s – the two short book chapters published in 1957 (but both written a few years before), the Binswanger introduction and Maladie mentale et personnalité. I decided to force myself to begin work on the chapters and sections on each came together fairly well. One of these chapters is very historical; the other an assessment of the contemporary state of the field. (I got a bit tied up with a textual issue with one of these pieces, on which I may post more in due course.) Writing a short section on each chapter took about a week, and then I moved to the 1954 book. This book is much better known in its 1962 revision, Maladie mentale et psychologie, which is the one translated into English. For the first half the two versions are almost, but not entirely, identical; the second halves are entirely distinct.

I’m working through the book chapter by chapter, taking detailed notes and sketching out how I might discuss this. For the first half it’s a three-way reference – to the 1954 version and then to the 1962 version and its English translation. Doing it this way means I should also spot all the changes made between editions, which I am noting in a separate file. They will, in time be used in my book’s final chapter which is currently called ‘Revising the Past’ and discusses how Foucault revisited both this book and how he made the abridgement of Histoire de la folie in 1964. James Bernauer has a very helpful discussion of the changes between 1954 and 1962 in his Michel Foucault’s Force of Flight book, but it’s not complete, and I want to do the analysis myself as well. I’m only three chapters in, so far, so it’s going to take at a few more weeks to finish this – hopefully by the end of term, but the second half will take more time as there is no English version to reference.

I also spent a bit of time on Foucault’s 1983 retrospective interview about his book Raymond Roussel, translated as Death and the Labyrinth. For The Early Foucault my interest is in what Foucault says about first reading Roussel in the late 1950s, rather than the book itself. There are differences between the English and French versions of this interview, which I discuss here (now also with a brief addendum).

As well as this slow, textual work, I’ve also been making some progress on more obscure references, often when I’m in London. The British Library is always my first port of call, but in recent weeks I’ve also been using the Wellcome Library, the LSE, UCL and Senate House. There is also a long list of things to check when I’m next in Paris. Inter-library loan sometimes works, but often not. One thing I was pleased to find was a memoir from one of Foucault’s colleagues in Uppsala. While his own work quite radically diverged from Foucault, and his assessment of Foucault’s research is scathing, he does provide some useful information, as well as describing Foucault’s ineptness at ice skating.


The previous updates on this project are here; and the previous books Foucault’s Last Decade and Foucault: The Birth of Power are 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.

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3 Responses to The Early Foucault Update 14 – another month of slow, steady progress

  1. Pingback: The Early Foucault Update 15: Working on Maladie mentale et personnalité and some archival and library work in Paris | Progressive Geographies

  2. Leah Ashe says:

    Dear Stuart,
    Just a quick note to say thank you for posting these updates. I’m a Foucault enthusiast among other things, and that’s how I arrived here. But the reason this post struck me* is because you give me some insight on what it’s like to “do” the sort of work that you do. I call myself “adisciplinary,” and I think that’s who I am. But I want to “do” work that uses whatever method seems best for what I want to do. As I’m getting into things in the lines of intellectual history / history of ideas / archeology of X, I’ve been figuring out how to make those sorts of studies and with my nose (and my internet fingers).
    Nothing more than that, then: Thank yoU!

    • stuartelden says:

      Thanks Leah. Yes, part of the point of these updates – which I’ve been doing on the other Foucault books too – is to talk about the process of research, rather than just the form or outcome. Glad it’s of interest.

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