Which edition of Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic did Alan Sheridan actually translate?

 

Foucault’s Naissance de la clinique was published in two editions in his lifetime. The first appeared in 1963 as the first volume in Georges Canguilhem’s ‘Galien’ series with Presses Universitaires de France. The second appeared in the same series in 1972. There are a number of changes between the first and second editions, notably the removal of a lot of the overtly structuralist language, but also some quite large additions.

There have been several reprints of that second edition in the Quadrige series. But unhelpfully, sometime between the 3rd Quadrige edition (1993) and the 9th (2015) the text was reset, and the pagination changed – the preface was incorporated into the main page running order. I’ve made dual references below.

Alan Sheridan’s English translation as The Birth of the Clinic appeared in 1973, shortly after the second edition. But because the structuralist language of the first edition appears in the translation, I’d thought that it was a translation of that edition. But checking some details has made me realise that it is not that simple, and indeed that the changes between the first and second edition are much more significant than I’d previously thought. (I’ve used the Routledge edition for the English references – it’s possible pagination is different in other English editions.)

Here are just a few examples from the preface and first chapter:

Example 1

First edition: p. xiv: On voudrait essayer ici une analyse structurale d’un signifié – l’objet de l’expérience médicale – à une époque où, avant les grandes découvertes du XIXe siècle, il a modifié moins ses matériaux que sa forme systématique. La clinique, c’est une nouvelle découpe du signifié, et le principe de son articulation dans un signifiant où nous avons coutume de reconnaître le langage où nous avons coutume de reconnaître, dans une conscience ensommeillée, le langage d’une « science positive ».

Second edition: pp. xiii-xiv (later reprints p. 16): On voudrait essayer ici l’analyse d’un type de discours – celui de l’expérience médicale – à une époque où, avant les grandes découvertes du XIXe siècle, il a modifié moins ses matériaux que sa forme systématique. La clinique, c’est une nouvelle découpe des choses, et le principe de leur articulation dans un langage où nous avons coutume de reconnaître le langage où nous avons coutume de reconnaître [cut] le langage d’une « science positive ».

Translation: pp. xvii-xviii: I should like to attempt here the analysis of a type of discourse – that of medical experience—at a period when, before the great discoveries of the nineteenth century, it had changed its materials more than its systematic form. The clinic is both a new ‘carving up’ of things and the principle of their verbalization in a form which we have been accustomed to recognizing as the language of a ‘positive science’.

Sheridan translates the second edition.

Example 2

First edition p. xv: Ici, comme ailleurs, il s’agit d’une étude structurale qui essaie de déchiffrer dans l’épaisseur de l’historique les conditions de son histoire elle-même.

Second edition p. xv (later reprints p. 18): Ici, comme ailleurs, il s’agit d’une étude qui essaie de dégager dans l’épaisseur du discours les conditions de son histoire.

Translation: p. xix It is a structural study that set out to disentangle the conditions of its history from the density of discourse, as do others of my works.

Sheridan translates the first edition.

Example 3:

First edition p. xiv: Mais, considerée dans sa structure formelle…

Second edition p. xiv (later reprints p. 17): Mais, considerée dans sa disposition d’ensemble…

Translation p. xviii Nonetheless, considered on an over-all basis…

This is difficult to tell, since the English is not close to either French version but I can see how he got from the second edition to this translation.

Example 4:

First edition p. 2: … c’est-à-dire cette forme de pensée médicale qui, historiquement, a précédé de peu la méthode anatomo-clinique, et l’a rendue, structuralement, possible.

Second edition p. 2 (later reprints p. 20): … c’est-à-dire cette forme de pensée médicale qui, dans la chronologie, a précédé de peu la méthode anatomo-clinique, et l’a rendue, historiquement, possible.

Translation p. 4 … that is to say, in that form of medical thought that, historically, just preceded the anatomo-clinical method, and made it structurally possible.

Sheridan translates the first edition.

Example 5:

First edition p. xiii: N’est-il pas possible de faire une analyse structural du signifié qui échapperait à la fatalité du commentaire en laissent en leur adéquation d’origine signifié et signifiant ?

Second edition p. xiii (later reprints p. 15) : N’est-il pas possible de faire une analyse des discours qui échapperait à la fatalité du commentaire en ne supposant nul reste, nul excès en ce qui a été dit, mais le seul fait de son apparition historique ?

Translation: p. xvii Is it not possible to make a structural analysis of discourses that would evade the fate of commentary by supposing no remainder, nothing in excess of what has been said, but only the fact of its historical appearance?

The first part of this sentence follows the first edition, then it follows the second. “structural analysis of discourses” is a blend of the two editions – not a phrase Foucault wrote for either. The differences between the two French editions continues for the rest of this paragraph, but then Sheridan follows the second.

 

There are many more examples of Sheridan following either the first or the second edition. There are other places where he seems to switch which edition in a paragraph, or even a sentence.

This issue is not one of how Sheridan translated – perhaps the topic for another time – but what he translated. The English edition is a peculiar hybrid. It doesn’t translate either the first or second edition as an integral whole.

In 1990, James Bernauer, did a comparison between the two French editions in his book Michel Foucault’s Force of Flight. These are in Appendix II, pp. 188–92. What he does is very useful but it’s not comprehensive. (He notes some of my examples, but not others.) Nor does he compare the texts to the English translation. The recent French Oeuvres has endnotes by François Delaporte to Naissance de la clinique that indicate many of the changes, but again not all. Some of his notes require checking the first edition to see what was actually said there, and of course this is just for French variations.

So, before I spend days of work comparing the texts systematically, has anyone ever done this kind of analysis?

How on earth did this happen? The only explanation I can think would explain it is that Sheridan did a translation of the first edition, and then was alerted to the second before publication. He incorporated the major changes where whole paragraphs were replaced, and some of the smaller changes, but didn’t do a comprehensive comparison of the texts which meant he missed several changes.

And why, given that the translation was published 46 years ago, has nobody ever tried to resolve this problem and make a translation of either the entire first or second edition, or better yet, a proper critical edition?

This entry was posted in Michel Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Which edition of Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic did Alan Sheridan actually translate?

  1. Pingback: The Early Foucault Update 24: textual comparisons and archive work at BnF, CAPHÉS and IMEC | Progressive Geographies

  2. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

  3. Fatemeh Valiani says:

    Merci pour vos remarques pertinentes.A ma connaissance,personne d’autre n’a traité cette question.En traduisant Naissance de la clinique vers le Persan,j’ai comparé la traduction de Sheridan avec le texte de Foucault et j’ai constaté plusieurs contre-sens et des phrases mal traduites ,notamment la fameuse phrase “Mais c’est là sans doute projet sur l’histoire une vielle théorie de la connaissance dont on connait depuis bien longtemps les effets et les méfaits”n’existant pas dans la première édition et se trouvant dans la traduction de Sheridan.
    j’en ai parlé à plusieurs spécialistes de Foucault en France mais la question ne les intéressait guère!
    Au plaisir de voir la suite de vos recherches!

  4. Pingback: Foucault resources – some updates and reorganisation | Progressive Geographies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s