In the last update on the writing of this book, back in May, I talked about how the impact of the coronavirus had made it impossible to complete the manuscript. At that time, it wasn’t clear when I would be able to get to Paris to consult a key text in the archive again. Rather than delay the whole process further, in discussion with my editor at Polity we agreed that I would complete everything else, and the manuscript could be sent to readers with a note in place of the final part of the discussion of that text. The aim would be that I could try to get to Paris to do this work while it was being reviewed, rather than have to wait for the work to be done before that process could begin.
I then moved onto the initial work for the next Foucault book, The Archaeology of Foucault, discussing the 1962-69 period, and waited to see what would happen with travel restrictions and libraries reopening. There was a short period when you could travel to France and return to the UK without quarantine, when the Bibliothèque nationale was open, so I had a week there. I’ve already said a bit about this work in an update on The Archaeology of Foucault, but essentially I was able to work with the material I needed, and finish the relevant section of the manuscript. I’m so glad I made that trip when I did, as I had to cancel another planned trip in September due to reimposed quarantine on return, and it’s not at all clear when I will be able to get back again – both because of travel restrictions and now being in term-time.
The reader reports and editorial comments came in early September, and so I’ve spent the past few weeks revising the manuscript to address them. While one was extremely positive, the other indicated some parts which worked less well. In particular, I reworked the first chapter completely. This chapter is on Foucault’s time studying in Paris from the end of the war until 1951. It covers what he heard in lectures, his diploma thesis on Hegel, and the agrégation, and discusses his teachers including Louis Althusser, Jean Beaufret, Jean Hyppolite, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean Wahl, and others. It also discusses his relation to other formative figures in this period, including Jacques Lacan and Georges Canguilhem. But the chapter was a bit list-like, proceeding largely name by name, and didn’t have a strong narrative thread. I tried a different version where the account was more chronological, but this didn’t work, before settling on one which was more thematic.
Elsewhere there was a bit of reorganisation of material, some cuts to the long discussion of Maladie mentale et personnalité and a lot of more minor changes. I also developed the book’s Coda to recapitulate some of the key themes in previous chapters, and to link more strongly through to what will be discussed in The Archaeology of Foucault, and what I did in Foucault: The Birth of Power and Foucault’s Last Decade. Beginning the work on The Archaeology of Foucault while this manuscript was still in process was a bit strange – I’d have preferred to complete one before really beginning the other – but it’s been helpful in terms of making them work together. Two friends generously read this manuscript at a late stage and made some really helpful suggestions, as well as giving me a confidence boost which helped with the final push to completion. And in the very last days I was given access to something I’ve wanted for a long time.
The final table of contents for The Early Foucault will just have the chapter titles, but the expanded contents list follows, and should give an idea of what I discuss:
The book is now in production, and we’re hoping for publication in summer 2021. It’s certainly been the hardest of the Foucault books to write – and I’d have said this before the complications of its final stages. It’s taken me to archives in five countries; libraries there and elsewhere to find some really obscure sources; required me to employ some researchers to read material I couldn’t otherwise have accessed, in Swedish, Polish, and Portuguese, and for help with archives in Hamburg; and to spend a lot of time tracking down the smallest scraps of information.
One of the last things I did was to reread this series of research updates. They are quite extensive, and for me at least interesting in seeing how this project developed. There are so many things I’ve discovered in researching and writing this book. I have discussions of texts that I didn’t even know existed, or still existed, when I began writing it. I’ve learned a huge amount, and have tried to convey this in the written version, hopefully without getting too bogged down in detail.
I’m really pleased with the final product, and look forward to the publication and the chance for others to engage with this work. I really like the cover too, which has a photo of Foucault from 1957 for which I found the original in the Uppsala archive. I’ve seen it reproduced in one book, but as far as I am aware, it’s never been used for a cover before. Into production just before term starts. This is going to be hard…
All the updates for The Early Foucault are listed here; and the ones for the ongoing The Archaeology of 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.