The Early Foucault Update 28 – second half of the manuscript, Swiss archives and asylums

Term 1 is when I do most of my teaching, but I’ve been doing a little bit of work on my The Early Foucault manuscript most days. I’ve mainly been reworking the organisation of the second half of the text. Chapter 6 discusses the writing of History of Madness, mainly in Uppsala; Chapter 7 the time in Warsaw and Hamburg, with the work on the Kant translation and introduction; Chapter 8 the defence of the theses, publishing the History of Madness and its initial reception. The concluding chapter discusses the revision of Maladie mentale et personnalité into Maladie mentale et psychologie in 1962, and the abridgment of History of Madness in 1964 for the 10/18 series. It also points towards themes that Foucault would work on in the 1960s, which will be the topic of my planned fourth book in this series.

Foucault’s thesis defence is interesting. The notes he used for his short presentations of the two theses are in the Paris archive, and Didier Eribon reproduces the formal report and some of Henri Gouhier’s notes from the defence itself in his biography, with most detail in the revised third edition. This discussion works better now that I have a clearer account of the Kant thesis. I’ve seen the introduction part of that thesis in a couple of archives (rather than just the published version), but not the thesis version of the translation (as opposed to the 1964 publication). The two partts of the thesis are at the Sorbonne, and I’ve recently discovered another copy is elsewhere in Paris. Hopefully I’ll get to look at them later this year.

Chapter 6 needs the most work, and I plan to do more with this in Uppsala next year. I have begun working through the published History of Madness again, and working out what I want to say about it here. Initially I’ve been working on the 1961 and 1972 prefaces (and the abbreviated 1964 version). I’d long liked the 1961 text, but there is a nice phrase in the 1972 one which I’d sort of glossed over before about the book as produced is “a miniscule event, an object that fits into the hand”, and how Foucault hopes that his book might be just the sentences that make it up. I’m trying to do something about how what I’m doing in this book works backwards from that point. Chapter 5, on Foucault’s reading of Nietzsche and Heidegger also needs some reworking and addition – much of that needs to be done in Paris.

I’ve also been tracking some of the harder to find sources for this period. As well as some visits to the British Library, this has included a trip to the Bodleian library in Oxford to consult the University of Hamburg’s teaching records for the time Foucault was there. While I might go to Hamburg at some point, the Bodleian is the only UK library that seems to have a copy. There are almost no traces of lecture material from Uppsala, Warsaw or Hamburg in his own archive, so working out what Foucault did needs to be on the basis of reports elsewhere. These include newspapers announcing lectures, the course catalogues for universities at which he taught, and memoirs from people who attended. Eribon and Macey do a lot of this work, but I think a little more can be established.

I’ve also updated the chronology of audio and video recordings of Foucault online

Kreuzlingen asylum 10 with couch.jpg

Part of Ludwig Binswanger’s old asylum in Kreuzlingen, metres from the Swiss-German border

In reading week I went to Switzerland for a few days on the trail of papers by some of the people Foucault knew in the mid-1950s. Because I wanted to go to both Berne and the north of the country, I stayed in Zürich. While I made the trip for the archives, I had a bit of time there when they were closed so I went to Kreuzlingen and Münsterlingen, where Ludwig Binswanger and Roland Kuhn ran psychiatric hospitals. Foucault visited them in 1954 – the Foucault à Münsterlingen collection has a lot of detail about this. But it was good to see what was left – not so much of Binswanger’s workplace in Kreuzlingen, although a couple of key buildings remain; but there is a lot of the Münsterlingen hospital still there. It’s still used as a hospital, in an impressive setting on the shores of the Bodensee/Lake Constance. Kuhn’s papers are in Frauenfeld, not far from Kreuzlingen, and Binswanger’s are in Tübingen. I got to see Kuhn’s papers on this trip, and I will look at Binswanger’s soon.

Some of these visits involve checking things referenced by others, where I would prefer to see the original rather than just follow someone else’s reference. But others are through a bit of pro-active work – contacting various archives and finding out what they have, and then sometimes negotiating access. Some things are restricted, but I’ve usually been able to get to see things I need.

Such visits are always worthwhile – either to find the text someone else has referenced, or to see what remains of something I’m actively looking for, or to be surprised. One text I was hoping to find only exists in a German translation, even though the catalogue entry was in French, but that’s certainly better than nothing; another non-descript file that I was checking for completeness sake turned out to have a typescript of something I’d thought no longer existed. Other things triggered thoughts of other places to look – even discovering Warwick had a copy of something I might never have otherwise checked, but which has an interesting nugget of information.

I’m continually struck by how some claims become engrained in the secondary literature, but on checking all ultimately derive from a single source which may or may not be accurate. But repetition means that it appears common knowledge, and challenging it becomes ever more difficult with the passing of time. This, and much else, is not helped by people not citing sources, or claiming that they’ve consulted a primary text or document when really they have only seen it cited elsewhere. Little repeated errors in references are often a giveaway for this.

At the end of reading week I headed off to Wales to a remote place with no Wi-Fi, barely a phone signal and lots of hills. I had a couple of days of cycling and writing – I was much more focused without any form of contact with the outside world. The initial irritation of not being immediately able to check a reference online or find a library that had something soon fell away, and instead I made lists of things to check later and got down to writing, cutting and reorganising. I’m now much happier with the second half of the text.

I’ll be speaking about some of this work in Warwick and Oxford in 2020. I’m also planning some future archive visits – Paris in December, Germany in January, and then hopefully Uppsala, the United States and France again.

The previous updates on this project are here; and the previous books Foucault’s Last Decade and Foucault: The Birth of Power available from Polity. The related book Canguilhem came out earlier this year, 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 Ludwig Binswanger, Michel Foucault, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Early Foucault Update 28 – second half of the manuscript, Swiss archives and asylums

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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