The Early Foucault Update 15: Working on Maladie mentale et personnalité and some archival and library work in Paris

Earlier this month I finished working through Maladie mentale et personnalité, which I discussed beginning in the last update, and have drafted a substantial section analyzing the book. I imagine I can only use a fraction of the quotes I took down in my notes, as at the moment it’s a long section. Only then did I go to the valuable secondary literature on the book, including the work of Macherey, Dreyfus, Gutting, Bernauer, the biographies and so on. Initially I was trying to read it without those filters.

This book is often read either in relation to its 1962 version Maladie mentale et psychologie (the version we have in English), or as a summation of a positon Foucault moved beyond, in this chapter I’m trying to read it as a valuable book in its own right. (The other two aspects will be treated elsewhere in my study.) There is a structure to the original argument which I found more compelling on this detailed reading that I’d realised before, and I’m going to try to capture that in my discussion. Of course, it is a book Foucault tries to hide away, compromises to revise in 1962, and then does stop further editions in his lifetime. If it had not been by Foucault, it would doubtless have been forgotten. But it is by Foucault, and for an intellectual history of his formation as thinker it is a crucial source. His Lille and ENS lecture courses from the early 1950s clearly inform it, and the archival traces of those will inform my reading, though they will be treated in detail elsewhere in the book. We also can consult the notes Foucault took from his extensive reading around this topic – as with so much of Foucault’s work, the texts referenced are but a tiny fraction of what he read. But even from the book itself I found things that had evaded me before. Above all it was a far less phenomenological, and far more Marxist text than I remembered.

In the present chapter, I’m reading it in relation to the two texts published in 1957, but likely completed a few years before. These are reprinted in Dits et écrits as texts 2 and 3. The following chapter discusses the work translating and introducing Binswanger, and translating von Weizsäcker. Between these two chapters, I therefore will discuss just about everything Foucault published pre-1961. But there will be five or six chapters of the book discussing that period.

In this work I got caught up in a textual issue concerning “La psychologie de 1850 à 1950”, and also returned to the dating issue concerning Foucault’s translation of Leo Spitzer. There is more about the Spitzer issue here. Essentially, I’m intrigued as to whether Foucault did the translation of Spitzer in the same period as his other translation work – mid-1950s to early-1960s – or almost a decade later. If the former, when seems intuitively more likely, then I should discuss the work in my current book. This has involved quite a lot of library work, but also a number of emails to people who might shed light, if not on the date itself, on how their bibliographies reflect it. They have been extremely generous in their responses, with several useful leads to follow, even if as yet I still do not have a definitive answer.

BNF reading copy

I then had a few days in Paris. The main work was working through some boxes of material in the Foucault archive at the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque Nationale, but I also did some work with printed sources at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and the main Mitterand site of the Bibliothèque Nationale. I was able to resolve a good number of issues with the notes for my book in those libraries – checking references, finding quotations, checking different editions and so on. Some involved microfilm and microfiche, on the archaic BNF machines. Some of this verged on the heroically recondite – which early-20th century French translation of Nietzsche provided the quotation which Foucault’s then-lover Jean Barraqué used for the title of an article? When a PCF editorial was reprinted, what was left out from the original? Was a journal piece by Henri Ey on von Weizsäcker the same as the preface he wrote to the translation which Foucault made? I found one relevant passage when Foucault doesn’t provide a page number – in a 400-page book, in the final chapter. Inevitably resolving these kind of reference issues threw up a number of other ones, but I feel that I made good progress on this work. The rationale for doing this is part my own somewhat obsessive tendencies, but also because of an attempt at being careful. I’m increasingly convinced that some of the issue with the Spitzer dating stems from people copying references for texts they’ve not personally verified. I tend to make the trip across the city to the Mitterand site or the BSG in the evening, since they are open after the archive room at the Richelieu site is closed, but this does make for some long days.

In the archive I returned to a box of materials relating to Foucault’s theses, which holds some fascinating material including his notes for the oral presentation at the defence. This box also includes a partial but hand-corrected copy of his Introduction to Kant’s Anthropology, which was his secondary thesis, though that Introduction has now been published. (Incidentally, though I know of three archives which have this introduction, I’ve never found the manuscript of the translation which accompanied it, though that was published in Foucault’s lifetime.)

I also took a first look at a box with some materials on Nietzsche – not the reading notes which I’ve looked at before and will return to again, but texts on Nietzsche, most of which were either published or delivered as lectures in courses. Among other things this includes Foucault’s presentation on ‘Nietzsche, Freud, Marx’ from 1964 – close to, but not the same as the published version; a version of ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ in typescript which is in another archive; his 1969-70 course on Nietzsche and genealogy delivered at Vincennes; the SUNY Buffalo lecture from 1970; and the McGill lecture from April 1971 included in Lectures on the Will to Know. I had a reasonable idea what to expect for the most part, but there were still some surprises, including what was for me a big one: some unpublished texts from the 1950s. Although it’s long been known that Foucault’s significant encounter with Nietzsche was in 1953, I only knew of one text he’d reportedly written on him at that time, mentioned by Defert. I found that text, but there is much more here. I’m going to have to say more about Nietzsche in this book than I imagined.

Looking at materials used for lectures, and comparing them to the published versions is slow work but can be revealing. On the one hand, the editors’ ability to decipher cryptic abbreviations and shorthand is impressive, as is their organization of materials which are sometimes lacking page numbers and/or out of sequence. In the later years material has been used for other purposes – parts of Paris lectures taken out to serve as the basis for lectures elsewhere, for example, sometimes with new page numbers, added or dropped material. Apart from the fact that he seems to have kept nearly everything, and it is well organized, Foucault was obviously not working with a future editor in mind. The editors also do invaluable work adding references and contextualizing remarks. But on the other hand, it is clear that there are some significant editorial choices made, and not all of these might have been made by another in their place.

The Nietzsche box took me much longer than I expected, given how interesting its contents were, so again I found my time with the box containing Foucault’s Lille courses was limited. I spent all my time on a single course, which I’d not been able to consult before. I thought I knew what sort of thing it would contain, but I was mistaken. It’s a course almost entirely devoted to a thinker whom Foucault only mentions briefly elsewhere. I’m planning to come back to Paris for a longer visit in late January and it’s clear that I will need to spend much more time with this box. In that visit I’m also hopefully going to take a look at another box that likely contains a copy of what might be the earliest extant piece of academic writing by Foucault.

I’m now going to have to put this book aside for a while. First, I have the copy-editing queries on Shakespearean Territories to deal with, and then I’m taking a proper break over the holidays. In the New Year I have a number of shorter writing tasks to complete, and then will balance this Foucault work with the Canguilhem research and writing. I see the work on these two books as being mutually reinforcing, but the Canguilhem book needs to be the priority until the spring.


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 book project, see this page.

This entry was posted in Canguilhem, Daniel Defert, Friedrich Nietzsche, Georges Canguilhem, Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Shakespearean Territories, Sigmund Freud, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Early Foucault Update 15: Working on Maladie mentale et personnalité and some archival and library work in Paris

  1. Pingback: Back to writing in 2018 – Foucault, Canguilhem and Lefebvre | Progressive Geographies

  2. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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