The Early Foucault Update 31: IMEC, Paris, Uppsala and the impact of the coronavirus

As an earlier post said, I’ve had to cancel two talks – in New York and Bologna – and some archival work because of the current medical situation. There is a bit more on that below, but as much as possible I’m trying to continue work on The Early Foucault manuscript, as concentration and other tasks allow, and with restrictions about what I can access. The responses to a post about what this blog should and shouldn’t do over the coming weeks were that I should continue to post things as and when appropriate, so I will continue to do that. Most of what is written below is about the work I did before everything started to change. I hope it is of interest and gives a sense of how I have been working on this book over the past few weeks.


The second half of my time in France in February was spent first at IMEC, and then back in Paris. I’ve spoken before about what a wonderful place IMEC is to work – the setting, the beautiful reading room, the good food, company and helpful staff. It really is a joy to work here, and my only regret is that I don’t need to use it more.

While there, I mainly worked with the Louis Althusser collection – going back over some things I’d seen before, and some new material. Althusser kept notes on the students he prepared for the agrégation exam, including Foucault and Derrida, and these give some useful information. He moved from being a teacher to a friend and colleague when Foucault passed the agrégation on the second attempt in 1951. A decade later, when History of Madness came out, Foucault sent him a copy, and Althusser read it and annotated it extensively. That copy is in the archive at IMEC. He writes about the experience of reading the book in a couple of letters to Franca Madonia. He then presented on it on a seminar at the ENS, and Etienne Balibar’s notes on that seminar are also at IMEC. At the moment I think my discussion of Althusser’s engagement with the book will sit alongside a discussion of Derrida’s critique of it in my study of the 1960s, and for that I want to see Derrida’s copy of History of Madness, which is at Princeton.

I also looked, again, at Jacques Lagrange’s notes on Foucault’s teaching at the ENS, which are also at IMEC. Although I’m very cautious about using student notes as a source for what was actually said, they are helpful as a reference point for topics taught and when. There are some other student notes in Paris, and what remains of Foucault’s own course manuscripts are at the BNF. I’m not the only person trying to put these pieces together, as I know the editors of these texts are doing something similar, but between these three sources we can, I think, reconstruct some sense of what and how Foucault taught. Having these three sources in three different locations makes that work difficult, so I try to take full notes in each place so I can compare.

The last research I did at IMEC was to look at some of the other books from Althusser’s library, mainly Foucault’s 1960s works, and at some of things they have in the Jean Wahl collection. I didn’t order up things from the archive of Wahl, but used the library collection – several of Wahl’s many courses were published, but copies can be very hard to find. I also made use of the ‘inventaire’ for the collection which is really helpful in dating things. Wahl was an important teacher for Foucault, and a key source for his initial engagement with Heidegger.

Back in Paris, I had some long days between the Richelieu and Mitterand sites of the BNF. Mitterand is open until 8pm, so I’d leave Richelieu a bit before it closed at 6pm to do another couple of hours. At the Richelieu, I worked through the last boxes I hadn’t yet seen of the Foucault archive relating to the 1950s, did a little preliminary work for the 1960s book, and then used the remaining time to go back over some boxes I’d seen before. My approach has been to do a first pass of things and make what is effectively my own inventory, so that I know where to look again at some future point. I went back through some 1950s boxes I’d seen in December, now with a better sense of what I was looking for, and indeed, what I was looking at. There are some grey areas between notes from lectures, notes for lectures, reading notes and plans for writing. I also went back over the course manuscripts and the Hegel thesis which I’ve looked at quite a few times. I could have used a couple more days – I slightly misjudged the work required on one box. At the Mitterand, I looked at some more of the publications of Jean Delay, Georges and Jacqueline Verdeaux which related to their work at the Sainte-Anne hospital and Fresnes prison; published things relating to Foucault’s studying and teaching – course lists, study programmes, etc. – and whole lot of secondary literature that is hard to find in the UK.

Back in the UK briefly, I gave a talk about this Foucault work to a small Theory, Culture and Society seminar (audio recording available here), and had a few hours at the British Library fixing a few references.

The next thing was a trip to Uppsala. I’ve been twice before as side trips from Stockholm – once to give a lecture, and once for preliminary research on this book. This time I did a few small things – going back over the teaching catalogues for Foucault’s time here, looking at a few difficult to find references – but the major task was examining how Foucault used the Bibliotheca Walleriana. An earlier update about two days here in 2017 discussed Foucault’s time as a lecturer in Uppsala, and said how extensively he used this collection – a bequest by Erik Waller of almost 21,000 books in the history of science, mainly of medicine. The account I gave of that was based on the biographies, which indicated that it was an invaluable resource for the History of Madness. So, the major purpose of this visit was to work with the collection that Foucault used, following up on references in the book.

The first job was to see which texts Foucault referenced were in the collection here. Foucault provides a bibliography to the History of Madness – a few general studies and then lists for each of the three parts. There are about 250 references. The Bibliotheca Walleriana catalogue is divided thematically, with sections on Medicine, History of Medicine and other categories. Within those, authors are listed alphabetically by name, and then within those by work. Each book has a unique reference number. Cataloguing it must have been a huge task. So, did Waller have a copy of a book listed in Foucault’s bibliography? I first checked Medicine, then History of Medicine, and then the author index to see if I’d missed any or if it was listed elsewhere. This took a long time – the catalogue is in two volumes, totally almost 1,000 pages.

I’d imagined I’d find the majority of Foucault’s references here. But that isn’t what I found at all. Only about a fifth of the things listed in Foucault’s bibliography are in the catalogue, and only about half of those are the same edition. Foucault’s references are multi-lingual, but he lists a few books in French translation which Waller has in the original Latin, German or English edition. Several of these books went through multiple editions, and Foucault sometimes lists an earlier or later edition to the one Waller had. In total I found only 25 references which were definitively the same as the listing in the Waller catalogue. That seems to me to be what might be expected simply by the coincidence of Foucault’s research topic and Waller’s scope of collection, or even a bit less. Far more of the books Foucault references can be found in Paris. This has led me to revise the section of my book discussing how Foucault wrote his study. On the weekend I was there I took a walk out to the site of the old Ulleråker mental hospital which Foucault mentions.

Ulleraker 1.jpg

“… fifteen years ago, on the road which goes from Uppsala to Stockholm, I saw an establishment which looked like a very comfortable French school building” (Foucault in 1972)

This certainly wasn’t a wasted trip, though I’m glad that this was a short trip with the possibility of a later follow-up once I had an idea of the scale of the task. I was able to look at a few of the books Foucault referenced that they have here, but a few others useful things too. The Bibliotheca Walleriana would have been useful for the research for Birth of the Clinic. There is a long reference list in that book, and I’ve done some preliminary checking for references. But that book of Foucault’s will be discussed in my study of the 1960s, so it isn’t immediately pressing.

I had a trip to Yale and Princeton booked for later this month, with one to Paris in mid-April. Unfortunately given travel restrictions both those trips had to be cancelled. I actually came back from Uppsala a few days early as I wanted to avoid the risk of being stuck. This has also meant the cancellation of talks in New York and Bologna, hopefully both of which can be rescheduled.

This has left a large hole in my diary over the Easter break, and I’m trying to see what I can do with this manuscript in that time. The inability to travel has thrown my plans out, since there were a few things I wanted to look at before completing this manuscript, though most of the work I was going to do in the USA was for the 1960s book. I’m trying to work out how I can fix things for this manuscript without travel. I’ll then focus on another project – editing translations and co-writing an introduction – before turning back to Foucault in the 1960s in the summer. Hopefully travel will be easier later in the year, though everything is completely uncertain at the moment. In the current situation, my research on Foucault is obviously a very minor concern, though I’m struck by the relevance of so much of his work.


The earlier updates on this project are here; and the previous books Foucault’s Last Decade and Foucault: The Birth of Power are available from Polity. The related book Canguilhem came out in 2019, 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 Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Foucault, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Early Foucault Update 31: IMEC, Paris, Uppsala and the impact of the coronavirus

  1. catatau says:

    Great post. I worked on the Lagrange’s anotations early, in 2010-11. Its one of the first extensive works on this subject (link on “website”). I hope that it can be useful.

  2. Marcio says:

    Great post. I worked on the Lagrange’s anotations early, in 2010-11. Its one of the first extensive works on this subject (link on “website”). I hope that it can be useful.

    • stuartelden says:

      Thanks Marcio. Yes, I have your thesis. I’m hoping that a post-doc who reads Portuguese will provide me with a summary of it soon – he’s currently completing that work on another thesis.

  3. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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