While these are strange and disruptive times, as much as I’m able, I’m trying to make progress on this book manuscript. I’d intended to submit it to Polity by the end of April, but that unfortunately wasn’t possible. I can manage without the days I’d planned on having in Uppsala when I cut that trip short, and the work I would have done at Yale and Princeton was mainly for the next book on Foucault in the 1960s, so I hope to reschedule that trip when the situation has improved. But I do need some more time in Paris to complete this manuscript, and I am not sure when that will be possible.
Although I have most of my French theory books at home, there are a few things in my Warwick office that I can’t currently access. The Warwick library is closed, and there are few things I want to check there. And I need to get to at least two libraries in London, and both are currently closed. A key book – Foucault’s long manuscript on Binswanger – was due to be published in April, but this is now put back probably until next year as a result of the pandemic. I don’t want to wait that long, so my discussion will be based entirely on its manuscript, but for that I’ll need to have some more time with it in Paris. Finishing my manuscript is therefore dependent on ability to travel and libraries reopening.
In addition, I have found concentration much more difficult than usual. There has been something of a backlash against people writing on covid-19, and an incredulity that anyone can carry on with what they were doing before. While I am sceptical of the worth of some of the ‘hot takes’ out there, I have found other pieces very useful and interesting (see my attempt at a list of links here). Equally, I can’t see what is wrong with people continuing, where possible, with some semblance of normality. But I am surely not alone in finding concentration difficult, with anxiousness about what is happening, and the lure of news and social media updates.
I’ve been using the time to work on a few things in the manuscript, going back over drafted sections and reworking a few sections. I did make some reasonably large structural changes to the last few chapters, moving sections around, and rewriting transitions. I think it works much better now. I’ve also been reading – largely things that are peripheral to the main argument but helpful nonetheless. I’ve also gone back through my notes on the archives and filled in a few more things.
One of the key things I’ve been reading has been work by Georges Bataille. I think most of the discussion of Foucault and Bataille will be in The Archaeology of Foucault – the book looking at Foucault in the 1960s. There, I plan to discuss ‘Preface to Transgression’ and some related works, but also to see what I can say about Foucault’s work with Bataille’s Oeuvres Complètes, and his involvement with the journal Critique. Foucault joined the board after Bataille’s death, and I don’t think he ever actually met him. So, it is very much a dialogue through Foucault’s reading of his work – I don’t think Bataille would have read Foucault, and he died in 1962, just as Foucault began to be more widely known.
That Foucault read Bataille is widely reported, and there are some traces of that reading in the archives. He certainly knew Inner Experience and On Nietzsche quite early – there is a record of his reading Sartre’s very critical review of the first of these, and saying that was the moment he decided he was for Bataille and against Sartre. He also knew Bataille’s journal Acéphale, but the notes on this are, as is normal, undated, so it’s not clear when this was. By the time Foucault started to write on Bataille he obviously knew more – Eroticism is a key reference, for example. I find Bataille hard work, and while I have the Oeuvres complètes in French, I’m grateful for Stuart Kendall’s excellent translations. Following a request for help that didn’t turn up the things I was looking at, I’ve produced a Bataille bibliography of English translations, referenced to the Oeuvres complètes and other collections in French. I think it’s fairly complete – at least to any pieces translated in books by Bataille, or collections of Bataille’s writings. But as I say there, I’d welcome additions, corrections and comments.
I’ve also been doing a bit more work on how encountering Heidegger would have been for someone reading him, in German but also French translation, in the early 1950s. There wasn’t that much Heidegger published even in German at the time – some early writings, Sein und Zeit, the Kant book, several long essays which ended up in Wegmarken, and some texts on Hölderlin. The ‘Letter on Humanism’ was a key text, written in response to a question from Jean Beaufret, and very much directed to a French audience. Holzwege came out in 1950 and this was really the beginning of the later Heidegger. Introduction to Metaphysics was published in 1953; Vorträge und Aufsätze and Was heißt Denken? in 1954. So, not a great deal in German compared to what has become available since, but quite a lot of that was in French, and certainly much more in French than English in this period. This has led me to read quite a few of the early French translations – texts Foucault had access to, though he was also reading the German. Foucault also had access to some unpublished texts. There is a substantial discussion of how Foucault read Heidegger in Chapter 5, following a discussion of some lectures he attended on Heidegger in Chapter 1.
I’ve also been working through an accumulated folder of pdfs – various articles on Foucault and connected thinkers in this period, which I’ve been collecting over the course of working on this project. Some sent to me, others have been sitting there for a long time. I’ve moved some to the folder for the 1960s book, but this ‘to read’ folder is now looking very empty. I’m nearly there, and if it wasn’t for the archives and libraries being closed this may well have been the post where I would have sent the book off to review. As it is, I need to put it to one side for an indeterminable and possibly interminable period.
I’ve been doing a little tentative work towards the 1960s book, beginning work on a Lefebvre editing project I planned to do from now until the end of June, and thinking seriously about the next big project beyond Foucault. Much is uncertain in future planning, and my plans for research leave are thrown into doubt by the current situation in Universities. For the moment at least I have some time to make progress on these different projects, if only I could regain my usual focus…