Foucault’s Inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, L’ordre du discours – comparison of the two different versions

L'ordre du discours.jpgFoucault’s Inaugural lecture at the Collège de France was delivered on 2 December 1970, one week before the beginning of his first course, published as Leçons sur la volonté de savoir and translated as Lectures on the Will to Know.

The inaugural lecture was published in French by Gallimard as a short book in 1971, L’ordre du discourse: Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France prononcée le 2 décembre 1970. It has been translated into English twice, as a journal article which was reprinted as an appendix to some editions of The Archaeology of Knowledge, and in Robert Young (ed.), Untying the Text: A Poststructuralist Reader (open access here). A third translation is forthcoming.

In the Gallimard book, Foucault notes, “due to limitations of time, certain passages were shortened or changed in the lecture. They are restored here” (p. 6).

In Foucault: The Birth of Power I commented on this: “Unfortunately these passages are not marked, and in the absence of a recording of the lecture – none of the archives have a copy – it is not possible to distinguish between what was said, what was written, and what may have been changed after the event in the editing process” (p. 15).

This was a mistake on my part, because I had not realised until recently that an earlier version of the text, essentially what Foucault said on the evening of 2 December 1970, had been published by the Collège de France itself. It did not have the title L’ordre du discours, but simply Leçon inaugurale faite le Mercredi 2 Décembre 1970. I was alerted to this version of the text by ‘Ambulo Ergosum’ – someone who attended this lecture and others by Foucault, but who wishes to remain anonymous.

Ambulo sent me a comparison of the two different versions, and this led me to look for a copy of the original. It’s not the easiest thing to find, in part because the titles are so similar, and very few libraries have copies. Eventually I was able to buy it second-hand. The lecture is included in the recent Pléiade edition of Foucault’s Œuvres, but the two different versions are only indicated briefly. Daniel Defert, who edited this text for the Œeuvres, says that “On trouve d’infimes variants entre les deux éditions; nous suivons la seconde” (Vol II, p. 1459). Defert gives a couple of examples of these “tiny variations” in a note to that page, but does not list the variants in detail. The text as printed is indeed that of the Gallimard edition.

However, the Gallimard text has hundreds of differences from the earlier Collège de France version. These range from very minor punctuation changes, through substitution of words and phrases, through to the much more significant – paragraphs or sections being replaced or added. Some of the additions are of several pages. The most significant additions are L’ordre du discours pp. 33-36, 38-47, a paragraph on p. 54, pp. 56-61, 62-64, 65-66, and 67-70. There are also substantial changes on pp. 19-20, 25-26, 63-64, and 71.

At this page I provide a comprehensive list of the differences between the two texts, building on Ambulo’s analysis but supplemented with the differences I found on my own line-by-line comparison. The comparison is between the two French editions – I have not cross-referenced to English translations, but that should be straight-forward for anyone with the Gallimard text.

(This post is part of the Foucault Resources part of this site, which also includes bibliographies, links to audio and video recordings, some other textual comparisons, a few brief translations, and some other pieces.)


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