The Early Foucault update 18: back to work, and thinking about the 1960s

EF18.jpegIt’s taken longer than anticipated for me to return to the work on The Early Foucault. The last update was back in April. Through the spring the book on Canguilhem was drafted, revised and then submitted to Polity Press on 4 May. Following the reader reports the revision was sent off on 13 July, and the book is now in production with a scheduled publication in early 2019. Much of the research time in May and June was taken up with work on Shakespeare, part for some summary pieces about Shakespearean Territories (here and here), and some the continuation of a side-project of putting Foucault and Shakespeare in relation. It was only in late July, following a holiday, that I was really able to return to the work on the early Foucault.

The materials I’d drafted were in fairly good shape, although some sections are more note-like than finished prose. I reread everything, making some minor changes but overall I was quite pleased with how the pieces were shaping up. I was struck, again, with how limited the sources are for this period. In the later years, almost everything Foucault said was preserved in some form, and published either in his lifetime or posthumously, and there is extensive commentary. In this earlier period, before he was famous, he was rarely interviewed, lectures were not recorded, many materials were not preserved, and he published little. There are few people still alive who knew him in the 1950s. The archives help enormously, but often it’s a case of patching together the smallest bits of evidence, and weighing up sometimes conflicting sources.

A lot of time was taken up with some relatively small things. Foucault cites Roland Kuhn quite a bit in the early 1950s, but one I was interested in was not given a page reference. Finding that – in a two-part German article of 90 pages, when my only clue was Foucault’s own translation – took a while. Others were more mechanical – filling in all the references to an interview which had first appeared online, but is now more officially published in a book; chasing up references, including locating libraries that might have the text; double-checking the biographies for details, and so on. I have worked on the dating of the early publications before, which is an issue raised by all the biographers though is generally said to be unresolvable. But newly available material seems to clarify things, and I think I’ve constructed a plausible timeline, though this, as much else, is provisional.

When I proposed a book on the early Foucault to Polity in January 2017, I said that the timescale for completion would be dependent on the publication of some of his first lecture courses from the 1950s. Although we agreed a provisional deadline of December 2018, this was before I agreed to write a book on Canguilhem for them, and it was also subject to change based on the lecture schedule. Although the order of the publications is not yet clear, the first of the pre-Collège de France volumes will comprise two 1960s courses on sexuality from Clermont-Ferrand and Vincennes. It may be some time before the others appear – there are quite a few volumes planned. As such I’ve told Polity it is likely to be 2020 before I submit this manuscript.

But the plan for the publication of 1960s courses, including notably from his time in Tunisia, means that I’m beginning to think beyond The Early Foucault to the next, and last volume of my intellectual history of Foucault. These books have been written in the order they have because of the availability of material. The first to be written covered the final period – Foucault’s Last Decade – and was followed by one on the period immediately before – Foucault: The Birth of Power. The Early Foucault is the first in the sequence, and likely the third to be completed and published. The plan is to write one final book to complete the sequence, looking at 1962-69, the period between The Birth of the Clinic and The Archaeology of Knowledge. So as I continue work on The Early Foucault, I’m already seriously thinking about this book on ‘Foucault in the 1960s’.

I’m now away for two weeks on a writing/cycling ‘retreat’ – an extended form of what I tried out last September, and in the Peak District again. I’m hoping to clock up some miles, tackle some climbs, and make further progress on this book. I’ll be back in Paris in September to go over some archival materials again. Hopefully there will be a bit more substance in the next updates.


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. Canguilhem is forthcoming in early 2019, and is discussed a bit more here. Several Foucault research resources such as bibliographies, short translations, textual comparisons and so on are available here.

This entry was posted in Canguilhem (book), Georges Canguilhem, Michel Foucault, Shakespearean Territories, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized, William Shakespeare. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Early Foucault update 18: back to work, and thinking about the 1960s

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

  2. Thanks for your obsession.

  3. Hongjie Zhu says:

    Thanks a lot for your sharing, which inspires me to know more about Foucault.

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