The Early Foucault Update 24: textual comparisons and archive work at BnF, CAPHÉS and IMEC


The wonderful IMEC – the reading room and library is in the Abbey building itself

Since the last update I have been continuing to work on several different aspects of the work for both The Early Foucault and a planned book on the 1960s.

Initially I finished up the work comparing the 1954 text Maladie mentale et personnalité and the 1962 text Maladie mentale et psychologie. That took a lot of time, but was useful for what I wanted. I’ve shared the raw comparison here. I then began looking at Birth of the Clinicand the two editions of that, and discovered that while Alan Sheridan’s translation is largely of the second edition, strangely there are some parts which clearly follow the first. This alerted me to a much greater degree of revision between the two French editions than I’d previously appreciated. I still need to do a detailed analysis, but my initial thoughts and questions are here.

In my last week in Paris I did have an initial look at some materials at the Bibliothèque nationale relating to Les mots et les choses and L’archéologie du savoir. These comprised reading notes and a course from Brazil in 1965, and a complete and partial draft of L’archéologie du savoir. The reading notes for Les mots et les choses are all scanned and online, so I didn’t anticipate needing to spend much time with that box – it was really just a case of checking all the material was indeed available and that the ordering was the same. However, that box does have a text which is not digitized – the original French text for the 1970 English preface to The Order of Things. The version in Dits et écrits is a translation back into French from the English. When I was writing my PhD I used this text, and was troubled by one particular sentence. I made a comment about how it was frustrating we didn’t have the original French in the thesis and in the book that came from it, Mapping the Present (p. 100).

The English text says:

“In distinguishing between the epistemological level of knowledge (or scientific consciousness) and the archaeological level of knowledge, I am aware that I am advancing in a direction that is fraught with difficulty” (p. xiii).

Now because of Foucault’s important distinction between connaissance and savoir, this seemed like a misleading translation. But the French translation in Dits et écrits didn’t help, rendering the first ‘knowledge’ as savoir, and avoiding the problem with the second:

“En distinguant entre le niveau épistémologique du savoir (ou de la conscience scientifique) et le niveau archéologique, j’ai conscience de m’engager dans une voie très difficile” (Vol II, p. 11).

The original French clarifies things entirely:

“En distinguant le niveau épistémologique de la connaissance (ou de le conscience scientifique) et le niveau archéologique du savoir, je me rends compte que j’avance dans une direction qui n’est pas aisée” (ms. p. 6).

I can see how Sheridan got from the original text to the translation (though he really should have marked the distinction), and then I can see how Fabienne Durand-Bogaert rendered Sheridan’s English into French for Dits et écrits, but it’s an instructive lesson. There are a few other interesting differences between the original French and the derived French, so hopefully this will be published at some point.

The 1965 course is an interesting intermediate stage on the way to Les mots et les choses. A few of the pages have the lecture number, a day and sometimes a day of the month. Checking a 1965 calendar lined things up properly. This course is planned for publication at some point in the sequence of pre-Collège de France courses.

The complete draft of L’archéologie du savoirhas been available at the BnF for 25 years, and it was actually the first box of material I looked at there, but it is certainly an underexplored resource. The partial draft, of a later date to the complete one, is also interesting (it was deposited at the BnF in 2013). Three fragments of these drafts have been published in French in the past several years, but none in English. There is also some valuable discussion in the notes to Oeuvres Vol I.

On my final day in Paris made a trip to the CAPHÉS archive at the École Normale Supérieure, which I used quite a bit for the Canguilhem book, to check over some materials there. And during my time I made several trips to the Mitterand site of the BnF, and a few to the Bibliothèque Saint-Geneviève, to check books and journals which are hard to find in England.

I have also been working a bit on the 1964 shortened text of Histoire de la folie– the abridged version which was the basis for the English translation Madness and Civilization. The abridgment in French was a cheaper edition for a wider audience. Unfortunately, because it was used for the translation, it led to a lot of problems in Foucault debates. Although we now have a translation of the full, unabridged text, and the full text is the only one still in print in France, I think the abridgement is an interesting historical source in itself. It is about a third of the length of the original, and because the abridgment was made by Foucault himself, it gives some sense of how he thought the key lessons of the book might be presented in a more popular way. But I have no time for the claims that the cuts meant anything more significant than that – the full text was also reprinted in 1964, and, except for the original preface, in 1972 and 1976. The only revealing cut is his dropping of the 1961 preface, but that wasn’t removed until 1972. For this purpose I bought another copy of the current Gallimard/Tel edition so I could mark it up with pen and highlighter.

At the end of my trip I also had a few days at IMEC in Normandy. There I looked again at a few files I’d consulted before from the Foucault fonds, but also at some pieces from other collections, notably the Derrida and Althusser ones, which relate to Foucault. Among other things they have Althusser’s personal library, which includes some books given to him by Foucault with dedications. But while the dedications are interesting, it’s what Althusser does to the books that was really revealing. He fills them with underlinings, comments, other markings, links to other pages, and so on. He uses pieces of paper to mark pages, but I also found a clipping of a Foucault newspaper interview in one. The annotations were really interesting. So too were his notes for some of his seminars and those of his students. The Derrida papers were interesting for multiple reasons, including the few texts he wrote on Foucault. The archive has photocopies of some texts where the originals are at Irvine, but also several originals. IMEC is a glorious place to work, but if I come here again it really needs to be in the summer.

I have about 50,000 words of notes that I’ve taken in these past few weeks, and lots of things to follow up. I have a mountain of references to check when I get back to the UK, at home, Warwick, the British Library and a few other places. But I hope that for now I’ve done all I need to do in France. The next time I have a chance to do some archive work it will be elsewhere.


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 very soon, and is discussed a bit more here. Several Foucault research resources such as bibliographies, short translations, textual comparisons and so on, produced while doing the work for these books, are available here.

This entry was posted in Canguilhem (book), Georges Canguilhem, Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Early Foucault Update 24: textual comparisons and archive work at BnF, CAPHÉS and IMEC

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

  2. Pingback: The Early Foucault update 25 – back after a long break on other projects | Progressive Geographies

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