The Archaeology of Foucault update 2: The Birth of the Clinic, a trip to Paris, working on courses on Sexuality and Les mots et les choses


While I continue to find focus a challenge as the world lurches from one crisis to another, I’ve been doing various bits of work for this book on Foucault’s work in the 1960s.

I continued work on the comparison of the first and second editions of Naissance de la clinique. I now have a completely annotated version of the text, with all the changes, large and small, marked up. The next stage was working through the English translation The Birth of the Clinic, seeing how Sheridan got from the French to the English. This is not yet a question of how he translated, but of what he translated. Given that Sheridan switches between editions, without any obvious reason, there are places where his English matches neither text published by Foucault. But in doing this initial comparison I realised that the most recent edition of the English translation has different pagination from the earlier one with the same press. It is entirely possible other editions have different page numbers again.

Once travel without quarantine became possible, I did make a trip to Paris, which was mainly to complete the archival work for The Early Foucault, but also to do a little for this book. It was a more complicated process to use the libraries, as might be expected, but once you got past the facemasks, sanitiser and spaced out seating, it was pleasingly familiar.

I went over the Lille manuscripts again, particularly the one on Binswanger which is due to be published in January 2021. This is a delayed publication, and so I’ve had to complete the work based on the manuscript, rather than the published text. I also went back through Foucault’s course on anthropology and the manuscript on Psychology and Phenomenology – both also due to be published at some point. I also had one day at the British Library, which had also just reopened. There I was able to check the last few things for The Early Foucault, at least until I get reader reports on the manuscript. I’d hoped to get back to Paris later this summer, but just a couple of days after I got back the quarantine was reintroduced for Spain, and now they have reintroduced quarantine for France too. So, I’ve had to cancel the trip in September, and not sure when I can get back next.

In a blog post in July I mentioned a recent publication of some letters from Père Festugière to Foucault, which was a reference to add to The Early Foucault, but which has also given me a line to follow for the future. Festugière’s papers are at the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir in Paris, where Foucault worked in the final years of his life. I’ve never had a reason to use that library, though this might give me that.

I’ve also been working on the two sexuality courses from Clermont-Ferrand in 1964 and Vincennes in 1969 which were edited by Claude-Olivier Doron and published in 2018. They are forthcoming in English translation by Graham Burchell with Columbia University Press. Initially my work on the courses will be for a co-authored review, but there will be a longer discussion in this book. Naturally most of what Foucault says about sexuality is in the 1970s and 1980s, but there are traces of this work in the 1960s. As his biographers and others point out, the 1961 preface to the History of Madness already anticipates a study of sexuality. Eribon also quotes Gérard Lebrun who recalls a conversation in 1965 where Foucault said this would be the next project after Les mots et les choses [The Order of Things]. These courses fill in a lot of detail about how that project might have been conducted in the 1960s, instead of how it actually was a decade later.

Following up on the Lebrun reference, and looking a bit more into his work led naturally to Foucault’s 1965 visit to Brazil, where he was invited by Lebrun, and where this conversation took place. While the Paris trip was mainly for The Early Foucault, I did take another look at Foucault’s first course in Brazil, in late 1965, where he presented material which appeared in Les mots et les choses the following year. It’s a very full manuscript which looks in part like an early draft of the book itself. There are some little clues in the manuscript that help with dating, though there are still a few questions I have. Most of the content of the published book is there, but not some of the most famous material. In doing this work, I remembered that Foucault published a variant of Chapter 2 shortly before the book itself, both in French and English translation in Diogène/Diogenes. The English translation is not the same as the one that appeared in the book a few years later, and the French text is also different. I didn’t think it was very different, but I made a textual comparison of the two versions and it opened up a small issue that I think is worth exploring further.

Foucault’s time in Brazil has begun to be discussed in secondary literature recently, so there are some interesting things to follow up on here, even though perhaps the most interesting visits were in the 1970s and outside the remit of this book. I did discuss his 1970s courses in Brazil in Foucault: The Birth of Power and Foucault’s Last Decade, but really on the basis of published texts and archival sources, rather than more biographical material. But there are some interesting stories about his time there that can be further explored.

I have a host of small references to follow up, as and when I can get back to various libraries. A lot of the work at the moment is trying to source various texts, plan out chapters and put things in place. Most recently I’ve begun exploring Foucault’s links to the Tel Quel journal. I expect that writing time is going to be limited in the new term, and so I think having a long list of small things to do might be helpful. Even if I can only do one little task a day, cumulatively these should add up to a feeling of slow progress.

One other thing has been the revision, and most recently the proofs, for an article entitled ‘Foucault as Translator of Binswanger and von Weizsäcker’. The piece should be online soon, and in time will be part of a theme issue of Theory, Culture and Society on ‘Foucault before the Collège de France’, which I’m co-editing with Daniele Lorenzini and Orazio Irrera. I’ll post a link when the piece is available, and when any of the other papers are online.

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. The earlier books Foucault: The Birth of Power and Foucault’s Last Decade are both available from Polity.

This entry was posted in Ludwig Binswanger, Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Foucault, The Early Foucault. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Archaeology of Foucault update 2: The Birth of the Clinic, a trip to Paris, working on courses on Sexuality and Les mots et les choses

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

  2. Pingback: The Early Foucault Update 33: Completion of the manuscript, expanded table of contents, and moving into production | Progressive Geographies

  3. Pingback: The Archaeology of Foucault update 3: Early versions of some texts, the Port-Royal Grammar, Foucault’s work on literature, Bataille and Nietzsche, and a writing break in Wales | Progressive Geographies

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