The Archaeology of Foucault update 1: Organisation, textual comparisons and a working timeline

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After an initial burst of enthusiasm, I’m already beginning to realise the scale of some of the tasks ahead of me with this book.

The final chapter of The Early Foucault discusses the way History of Madness was initially received, from some of the early reviews to Foucault’s interview in Le Monde and some radio programmes. That takes the story roughly up to the end of 1961, which is when Foucault finished writing Birth of the Clinic, and starts writing Raymond Roussel.  As I say in The Early Foucault, these books take the story beyond what I cover there, and already anticipate this new study. There are many more continuities between the supposed periods of Foucault’s work than are often suggested. A first draft of Birth of the Clinic was completed just six months after History of Madness was defended, and Foucault calls it the ‘out-takes’ from the earlier book. But François Delaporte’s work for the Pléiade Œuvres suggests that work on the text continued for another year, in parallel to the work on Raymond Roussel.

The first chapter of this book will be on Medicine, and Birth of the Clinic is obviously the key text. But the two editions of that text from 1963 and 1972 are quite different and as I’ve indicated before, the English translation is a peculiar hybrid of the two, rather than a consistent translation of one of them. The edition of the text in the Œuvres is unfortunately not complete in its annotation, and some way short of a critical edition. The only way I can do the work required is to sit with the two French editions, pen in hand, and mark up the differences. I have previously done this this kind of comparison for Maladie mentale et personnalité and Maladie mentale et psychologie, and for the way Histoire de la folie was abridged in 1964. I discuss the way those texts changed in The Early Foucault, and you can see the analysis of the first here. I buy additional copies of the more recent version to annotate in this way – first editions of these books are expensive.

With Naissance de la clinique it’s a bigger job than Maladie mentale, given the length of the text, and at least with Maladie mentale the English translation is consistently of the second edition. With Birth of the Clinic there will be the additional job of working out how Sheridan got from the two French source texts to the English – sometimes he switches edition mid-sentence. Additionally, the current French edition of the text has different pagination from the second edition, though there are no other changes as far as I’m aware. So, the first task was going through the most recent edition, comparing page breaks and writing the pagination of the second edition in the margins. If I can find a cheap copy of the second edition I may do the reverse. This is slow, boring work, but I’m hopeful it will save me time later.

There is some initial comparison of the texts which I did over a year ago here. Doing the whole thing is a major task. At the moment I’ve worked through the Introduction and the first five chapters, and I’m finding lots of things that hadn’t been highlighted in previous comparisons. Writing in the margins isn’t easy, and  so in a few instances I’m making copies of the first edition pages and inserting them. The plan is that I can then use this working copy to compare to the English, probably marking up a copy of that to show the way Sheridan switched between the first and second editions. He clearly had sight of some of the changes, but since he didn’t translate the second edition entirely, I can only assume he had either translated the first and then did a (not very careful) comparison to the second; or was given an (incomplete) indication of the changes to the second while that new French edition was in press.

The other mechanical task with Birth of the Clinic concerns its bibliography. When I was in Uppsala earlier this year, I was interested in how much Foucault actually used the Bibliotheca Walleriana for the History of Madness. Checking the reference list of that book to the catalogue was revealing, in that Foucault didn’t cite books held in the collection very often – contrary to his own recollection and reports in the biographies about how crucial it was. I say a bit more about that here. I’m curious about how this matches up for Birth of the Clinic too, so I’ve begun doing that checking. I have a copy of the catalogue of the Bibliotheca Walleriana, so I can do the work at home, at least initially, but again, it’s a slow process.

One of the other research tools I’ve used for writing these books is a detailed timeline. Defert provides a very helpful timeline in Dits et écrits, which is abbreviated but also emended in Œuvres. I use this as my starting point, but then as I’ve worked on different periods, I fill in details of all the things I can precisely date – lectures, press conferences, interviews, etc. I add in dates from other sources such as the biographies, news reports, memoirs of friends, notes to texts etc. I then have this as a working tool as I do the research, both to add to continually, and also to consult as I go. Among other things, it allows me to read across different registers of work. With Foucault: The Birth of Power, for example, it allowed me to see days or weeks where Foucault gave a lecture at the Collège de France, organised a press conference or attended a protest, gave an interview or signed a petition. These different types of work are often read as distinct, but I found it helpful to be able to relate them chronologically and thematically. It also allowed me to note discrepancies between various sources, which then become puzzles that I try to resolve. With The Early Foucault, where there was correspondence or other sources, I could fill in more detail. I spent a lot of time with Swedish newspapers to reconstruct the titles of public lectures for which there appeared to be no other source, for example. The years 1962-1969, the rough period of this new book, were quite empty in my working timeline, so I’m beginning to fill in detail there.

Of course, there are more interesting things to do. As well as the major books from this period – Birth of the Clinic, Raymond Roussel, The Order of Things, The Archaeology of Knowledge – there are a lot of shorter texts, most of which are in Dits et écrits, several of which haven’t been translated. There are collections of other pieces from the archive, such as Language, Madness and Desire and Folie, langage, littérature, the interviews with Claude Bonnefoy in Speech Begins After Death, and the two courses on sexuality from Clermont-Ferrand and Vincennes. While I’ve read these, I’ve not yet worked on them in detail. There is a lot more in the archive, much of which I’ve surveyed before, but need to work on much more closely as soon as that’s possible again. In particular, the draft versions of The Archaeology of Knowledge will become a major focus at some point, as well as the other lecture courses from this period, and Foucault’s preparatory reading notes. There are other questions which I want to explore which will (hopefully) lead me in different directions in terms of research. And, as ever, the point of writing a book is to find out things I don’t yet know are important.

So, the question over the next few months, before term begins, is how much I do the work with the published texts, how much I do the more mechanical work, and how much I’m able to think about archival research. I’m hopeful I can get to the archive for a week later this month to complete The Early Foucault, but I fear things will be restricted again before too long. If I can do the short trip to complete The Early Foucault without difficulty then I could get back to Paris again before term starts. But equally I’m resigned to having to wait until the Christmas break or even 2021 before I can do the next longer visit. Getting to the US to do the planned work at Yale, Princeton and possible Irvine will likely to have to wait for longer. I’ve been able to get an extension to the small grant I have for this work, so I’m not under immediate time pressure to spend or lose it. This is doubly fortunate, since internal research allowances at Warwick have been frozen for the rest of this year and next.


A little more on this book is here, and updates for The Early Foucault here. A list of the resources on this site relating to Foucault – bibliographies, audio and video files, some textual comparisons, some short translations, etc. – can be found here.

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