Since the last update, and a short holiday in Wales, I’ve been systematically going through each of the previously drafted chapters, and doing a bit of reorganization. I’ve also worked through all the issues of Le Magazine Littéraire which have theme sections on Foucault, many of which are revealing sources of information. More substantially, I’ve worked through the notes I took at IMEC in February, especially from the Fonds Althusser. These are helpful for looking at Foucault’s student years at the ENS, as well as the early reception of Folie et déraison.
I’ve also been consulting Daniel Defert’s revised ‘Chronologie’ in the Pléiade Oeuvres. This is somewhat abbreviated from the version in Dits et écrits, but what I hadn’t realized until recently is that some things are updated or amended. In particular, one key date is now a whole year later. I’d realized that this date had to be wrong, given the timing of various related events and hints in other sources. But it’s good to have corroboration, as instead of having to painstakingly show why a later date was more plausible, I can now write a more elegant account. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that Foucault usually dates letters, but only by day and month. There are a few instances where sources differ as to which year. When it comes to his notes and manuscripts, as I’ve said many times, he rarely dates them at all.
I’ve also been working, again, on Jean Wahl’s courses on Heidegger, some of which Foucault attended. I’ve said before about how challenging this is – while some of his courses were published as books, others were just issued by the Centre de Documentation Universitaire as bound typescripts. Few of these are available in the UK, and some of the copies in Paris libraries are lost. Most at the BnF are only available on microfiche, on machines that seem older than me. But the courses do occasionally come up for sale, and I’ve been given a pdf of one particularly hard-to-find course.
These mainly relate to the earlier chapters of the book, which were already drafted. Most of the new writing has been on the time Foucault spent in Warsaw and Hamburg, on which there are relatively few sources. There are some crucial recent ones in Polish, English and German. I have a summary of the Polish text, have been looking at some other pieces on this time, and chasing down every scrap of evidence I can find for these two periods. Some of the people who knew or visited Foucault in these postings wrote memoirs which contain bits of info – much already mined for the biographies, but always checking. This work is an important prelude to the discussion of the Kant translation which Foucault did in Hamburg. I keep saying that will be the next major task, but then repeatedly find things that I feel I need to explore before turning to that.
Increasingly, I’ve been finding the question of Foucault’s relation to Georges Dumézil important. Didier Eribon does a lot of work on this question, in his biography of Foucault (especially the third edition), and in his book Faut-il brûler Dumézil? These are very helpful, but he also has a book of interviews with Dumézil, and quotes a lot of the Foucault-Dumézil correspondence in his book Michel Foucault et ses contemporains. I’ve also been looking at a bit of Dumézil’s own work. This is interesting, but something of a rabbit-hole – he wrote a huge amount, much of it untranslated, and it is formidably technical and specialist.
I’ve also been taking some of the material from one chapter of this manuscript and turning this into a journal article. On top of this, there have been a whole host of checking references and returning to previously consulted sources with new questions. Many of these were dead-ends. Of the books on Foucault I’ve written for Polity, this one has been by far the most difficult but in many ways the most interesting.
Next week I will be at the RGS-IBG conference, to give a lecture on ‘Terrain, Politics, History’ which I wrote earlier this summer. I’ll also get a little time in the British Library on that trip. I was planning on my next Paris trip during reading week of term 1, but that would have meant being out of the country on 31 October, and travelling either side of that date, which doesn’t seem a good idea with the car-crash of Brexit looming. So I’ll be off to Paris mid-September for a very short visit. Both in Paris and London I’ll be able to resolve a host of small reference queries and read some hard-to-find newspapers, articles and chapters.
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. The related book Canguilhem is also out, 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.