The Early Foucault Update 27: Paris, Wales, Kant

Kant.jpgThankfully, this book manuscript has been the main focus again of work over the past month.

I’ve been continuing to work on Foucault’s relation to Dumézil, on Foucault’s time in Warsaw and Hamburg, and other things in the later 1950s. I had a couple of days in Paris where I was able to resolve a lot of small issues with texts that I can’t access in the UK, as well as return to a box of materials at the archive. Work included rechecking material on microfilm and newspapers, tiny details that perhaps cumulatively add up to something. Following up a reference in one of Didier Eribon’s studies led me to a text that isn’t in any of the Foucault anthologies and which I’d previously not known about. No UK libraries seem to have a copy, but I found a second-hand copy online, so that’s on the way.

For the last ten days of September, before term started, I was on a writing retreat in Denbighshire, North Wales. I booked a small apartment in the middle of nowhere, took a box of books, the laptop and the bike and tried to concentrate on this manuscript, interspersed with some good rides in the hills. I’ve done this the past two summers in the Peak District. The weather was glorious for the first few days; dreadful for the second half. There are some really tough roads round here, for which my guide was Simon Warren’s Cycling Climbs of Wales, with Horseshoe Pass and The Road to Hell being two of the more memorable. Bwlch Pen Barras was easily the toughest I attempted.

The main work task has been comparing Foucault’s French translation of Kant’s Anthropology with both the German original and Robert Louden’s English version. At some point I may consult other English translations and Alain Renault’s more recent French one. I’ve been trying to work out the choices Foucault made for key terms, and how consistent he was in these. I’ve been doing this work along the same kinds of lines as the work I did on Foucault’s co-translations of Binswanger and von Weizsäcker, which I discuss in an earlier chapter of the manuscript. With this text, Foucault was building on work he’d done for a course on philosophical anthropology he gave in Lille and Paris a few years before. That course is also discussed in another chapter of my manuscript, and there are plans for it to be published in the next few years. The translation of the Anthropology was made in Hamburg between 1959 and 1960 and together with a long introduction served as Foucault’s secondary thesis. The translation was published in 1964, with a brief ‘Notice Historique’ drawn from the long Introduction. I first read the Introduction in 2004 at IMEC, but it has been available in both French and English for a decade now.

This comparative work is helped immeasurably by the way that the three main texts I’m using have the pagination of the Akademie Ausgabe in their margins, so it doesn’t take long to locate a passage in each language. (This is the case for the 2009 edition of Foucault’s translation, with his Introduction; though not the edition he published himself in 1964.) The German edition I’m using also has a useful index, with page and line number. But that is keyed to the edition’s pagination, not the Akademie Ausgabe’s, which adds another step into every cross reference. It’s slow work, but it is interesting and I think it has yielded something worth saying.

I’d originally planned to write a separate section on the Introduction, but in the chapter I’ve drafted the discussion of the Introduction and the translation are thematically linked. At his thesis defence Foucault was accused of having written an Introduction that owed more to Nietzsche than to Kant, and there are certainly traces of that influence. But it’s also a serious piece of Kant scholarship, discussing textual problems alongside vocabulary, the relation to other parts of Kant’s work, and obsessed with issues of dating.

Scholarship on the Anthropology has moved on a lot since Foucault did this work in 1959-60. In part this is due to the labours of Werner Stark, who edited the extant student transcripts for a later volume of the Akademie Ausgabe. I got to meet Werner and Robert Louden through the work Eduardo Mendieta and I did when we co-edited a book entitled Reading Kant’s Geography, in which they both wrote chapters. Physical Geography was a lecture course Kant gave for almost forty years. The Anthropology was initially part of the Geography, and then they were delivered as separate courses for many years. The Geography was published late in Kant’s life, not by Kant but apparently with his support, in an edition whose relation to lecture materials is much debated. Kant prepared the Anthropology for publication himself. and uniquely among his books his manuscript survives. There are suggestions that Foucault consulted that manuscript when preparing the translation, but I’m not sure that it is quite that simple.

The manuscript is housed in the library of the University of Rostock. Foucault did the translation in Hamburg, and Rostock and Hamburg are just over 100 miles apart. But in 1959-60 they were in different countries – Rostock was the major seaport of the German Democratic Republic. It would have been a very difficult journey to make, and it’s not at all clear to me that Foucault actually made it. Even if he could, I’m not sure how easy it would have been to consult the manuscript at the time.

The new academic year starts today, and I do nearly all my teaching this term. I’m hoping to keep going with the writing during this time, with the main thing left to do for this book working on the History of Madness itself. My entire book is really leading up to this, and while it’s a text I know quite well, and wrote about in Mapping the Present back in 2001, I’m looking forward to working on it again in the light of all the research I’ve done on the period of its writing.

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.

This entry was posted in Cycling, Eduardo Mendieta, Georges Dumézil, Immanuel Kant, Michel Foucault, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Early Foucault Update 27: Paris, Wales, Kant

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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