The Early Foucault Update 20: Paris, some cautions and future work

EF20.jpgIt’s been steady progress in the last part of summer on the manuscript of The Early FoucaultI had a few days in Paris in mid-September, where I did my usual pattern of working in the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque Nationale when it was open, and then heading to either the Mitterrand site or the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in the early evening. At the latter two libraries I was able to read and check a number of things I can’t access in London. The Richelieu site houses the Foucault fonds, and for the first time in all my visits here I looked at no new material. Instead I went back over the folders relating to Nietzsche, Histoire de la folie and the early courses from Lille and the ENS. Some of this was to recheck small details, and some to reread material which I am writing about. Although much of this material is due to be published, there are fragments of material which I think are unlikely to be included, and as I’ve mentioned before the editors are not simply transcribing the material. There is a good deal of interpretative work in their labours, and although I have the highest respect for what they do, and would rarely take a divergent view, I want to examine the material in the raw state as much as possible.

One thing I noticed this time, is that some of the other people looking at this material, whether editors, archivists or other researchers, are actually moving some of the material around a little. I have detailed notes of what I’ve previously read, and I note things like ‘b2f’ if I think a page is filed back to front, or when things are in the wrong number order. But on rereading things these were often put back into the ‘correct’ order. I’m scrupulous in leaving things exactly as I found them, and had assumed that others would be too. Some pages are numbered, but not all, and some have two sets of numbers. Some are labelled on recto and verso, some on recto only. Other pages are sometimes inserted in the middle of a sequence, sometimes of different style or paper. The original folders, often with Foucault’s handwriting, are generally enclosed in newer cleaner folders – some of the original ones are falling apart. Some of the slips of paper folded around sheets are Foucault’s; others are not.

It’s been noted before by me and others that the broadly thematic ordering of these materials is the way that Foucault left them, rather than another order which might make sense. We know that Foucault reorganized his reading notes as he worked on new projects, often bringing different sets of notes from quite different time periods together. He also took material from lecture courses to reuse when he was visiting another university, and sometimes wrote over part of the original material something which related to the new outlet. This is sometimes very confusing. Foucault dated almost nothing. Of course, these were his working folders, intended for his own teaching and research use, not in preparation for future researchers. Defert has added slips of paper to indicate provenance of material, and written on some of the folders. Many hands have handled these materials since Foucault, from Defert, to the librarians and archivists, to other researchers like me. What it means that we need to be really careful in claiming that an arrangement or order is solely down to Foucault.

We also need to be careful in terms of an orthodoxy that can exist. While there are many contrasts between the three biographies of Foucault (Eribon, Macey and Miller), there are moments where they all agree. In some ways this is not surprising – Eribon was an important source for both Macey and Miller. But other times all of them reference a single source for a claim. But if that source turns out to be even slightly incorrect or misleading, then its error gets replicated again and again, given that so many other accounts rely on the biographies – myself included. A few times checking back to that original source, and then checking something it says against another source raised something which didn’t seem quite right. Sometimes this is a long, and time-consuming dead end. But just occasionally, it opens up an intriguing new perspective on something. All the biographies remain valuable resources, since they are each the only sources for key claims – all did interviews which are otherwise unpublished, and many of those interviewees are no longer alive.

Many of the leads in the biographies opened up more questions than answers. Many of the figures in Foucault’s early career are well known. Others were, at least to me, obscure. So I have been reading up on some of his colleagues, publishers, mentors and others. Often this gives details that I can’t possibly use for this book, but just occasionally it helps me to make a connection that seems important. One dead end was trying to see if   Georges Duhamel (1884-1966) and Jacques Duhamel (1924-1977) were related. The former was a novelist, poet and president of the Academie française, and the latter a politician. They are not father and son, but both are connected to Foucault in the 1950s. Georges was responsible for Foucault entering the Fondation Thiers; Colette Duhamel, married to Jacques and later to Claude Gallimard, was his editor at La Table Ronde. More useful was the excellent first volume of the biography of Althusser by Yann Moulier Boutang. I read this in the 2002 reedition in two parts. But it only takes the story up to 1956. Will other volumes ever see the light of day? Following the lead of Edward Baring on the young Derrida and more generally Alan Schrift, I also went back to look at the French agrégation in the early 1950s. Foucault sat this demanding exam twice, passing on the second occasion. The curriculum for each year was set, so I went looking for details of the relevant years. This has led to a few more questions which will take some archival work to fully work through.

Just before term began, I printed the whole manuscript as it currently exists. I don’t print drafts very often – this is the first time for this manuscript. There are a couple of big holes – the discussion of the Kant translation and introduction, and History of Madness itself – and many smaller ones. There are also a whole lot of things to check, follow up, or revise. I have system of colour-coding when I highlight things that need work – for home, Warwick, London libraries, Paris and IMEC. It makes the text a bit messy, but I can both immediately see things that need resolving, and where I can do them. Several of these are things that will take little time, but it helps to be able to go through material and see what, if anything, I can try to resolve in the place I currently am.

I know that I need more trips to Paris, at least one to IMEC, and hopefully some time in Uppsala to continue the work for this book. Ideally I’d also get to Tübingen to look through the Binswanger papers, perhaps back to Yale, and even to Irvine…  But none of that will happen for a while, since it is now term time, and I also need to turn to the proofs of the Canguilhem book, which have just arrived.


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 Daniel Defert, Immanuel Kant, Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Early Foucault Update 20: Paris, some cautions and future work

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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