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

The view back from the Devil’s Staircase
The hairpins on the way up Penrhiw-Wen
The valley road to the Devil’s Staircase

A lot of the time recently has been spent revising The Early Foucault, but that is now done, and in the run-up to term I spent a bit of time on this manuscript. Ordinarily I’d have had to spend this time preparing teaching, but this coming academic year is very different and so I’ve not been able to do this. It was only a few days before term started that I was definitively told what I’d be teaching, which is mainly to run seminars on one of our big undergraduate modules on the history of political thought. Some seminars are in person, and some online. I’ve taught on this module before, but not for almost twenty years… My own module on European Political Theory is being ‘rested’ as part of a rationalisation of the teaching programme. The MA seminar series I run on Geopolitics attempts to be very contemporary, and so I only finalise the material in the hours before it runs.

So, in the last couple of weeks of the summer I headed deep into the Welsh countryside to a little farm I stayed at for a few days last year. It has no internet and it’s hard even to get a mobile phone signal. It’s great for cycling – not far from Penrhiw-Wen and the glorious Elan valley, Pennau Hill, and the infamous Devil’s Staircase. Simon Warren’s Cycling Climbs of Wales was one of the non-work books I packed. So, my days were spent on a mix of reading, writing and cycling. I found the lack of internet helped enormously with the concentration, and just watching the TV news at fixed times, rather than the constant availability of live feeds or social media, was much better for keeping a sense of perspective.

While I’ve done some of the initial work for the discussions of Foucault’s major texts in this period – Birth of the ClinicThe Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge – I’ve yet to begin the drafting of the discussions of those books. Instead I’ve been doing some more of the preparatory work, and writing some bits on other texts from this period. In a sense the writing I’ve been doing is creating the framework into which the discussion of the more famous works can fit. It seems to work well as a means of not allowing the familiar to structure the story, but let the archives and other less obvious traces set the familiar in a fresh context. With both Foucault: The Birth of Power and Foucault’s Last Decade, there was the sequence of the Collège de France courses alongside the books Foucault published in the 1970s and 1980s, and so I could try to trace how ideas emerged and developed in their light. With The Early Foucault, although a large part of the purpose was to trace how Foucault came to write the History of Madness, much of the book is actually about things he disowned, didn’t publish or otherwise obscured. With this book, there are relatively few courses which have been preserved, and as yet relatively few things from this decade have been published beyond what Foucault did himself. But I think there are traces that can be explored to set the familiar in a new light.

In the 1960s, Foucault published some parts of his books before the books themselves. He didn’t do that so much later in his career, with the exception of parts of the second and third volumes of the History of Sexuality. With Les mots et les choses/The Order of Things, for example, both the chapter on Velasquez and ‘La prose du monde/The Prose of the World’ were published independently, and one chapter of Raymond Roussel also appeared beforehand. But none of these texts are exactly the same, so as part of the preparatory work for this study I’ve been comparing and annotating the original versions to those in the books. He also anticipated themes of The Archaeology of Knowledge in a couple of pieces written in response to questions.

“Dire et voir chez Raymond Roussel/Saying and Saying in Raymond Roussel” (text 10 in Dits et écrits, and translated in Essential Works Volume II) threw up a puzzle. Despite both French and English editors saying this is a variant of the first chapter of the book Raymond Roussel/Death and the Labyrinth, that is only partly true. The article begins with material that was used for the book certainly, with some changes there is then an extensive passage in the book which is not the article; some more material which appears in the book, again with variations, and then some material which does not appear in the book. But the English translation of the article, in Essential Works, volume II, does not print the text in the order it appears in the French: it puts the material which is not in the book before the final section which is. Essentially, the English reader who wants to see what is in the French should read Essential Works II pages in this sequence: 21-25 [From start up to “the light it sheds on the other works”], then 30-31 [“All these perspectives… but a third or more”], and finally 25-30 [“Every esoteric interpretation… procession of masks”]. I imagine they worked with separate files, editing the existing book translation and the other material which had to be freshly translated, and then put them in the wrong order.

As well as ‘What is an Author?’, which I’ve discussed before, there is also at least one other shorter piece from this period that exists in two versions – Foucault’s Introduction to the Port Royal Grammar. In 1967, in the journal Langages, Foucault published a short text entitled “La ‘Grammaire générale’ de Port-Royal”. While this is noted in Dits et écrits, and allocated text number 49, it is not actually printed in the collection. The editors note that “Une variante plus developée de ce texte servie en 1969 de preface pour une réédition de la Grammaire générale de Port-Royal”. That second version appears in its chronological place as text number 60 – in the four-volume edition the note is on Vol I, p. 600; the second text on Vol I, pp. 732-52. That text is a critical version which shows the variants between the two texts. 

The authors of the grammar – a companion to the Port-Royal Logic – were Antoine Arnauld and Claude Lancelot, and the text was first published in 1680. There is an English translation of the text from 1754 (easily available as print-on-demand), and an expensive modern translation (General and Rational Grammar: The Port-Royal Grammar, translated by Jacques Rieux and Bernard E. Rollin, The Hague: Mouton, 1975). However, as far as I am aware, neither version of Foucault’s text has been translated into English. Of course, Foucault also discusses the Grammar in Les mots et les choses/The Order of Things.

Although the version in Dits et écrits was probably sufficient, I wanted to find a copy of the original text. At the moment, it’s available open access on Jstor, though I also found a cheap copy of the journal issue from a second-hand bookshop. The article itself notes that “Cet article est extrait d’une Préface préparée par M. Foucault pour une réédition de la Grammaire Générale de Port-Royal. (Note des éd.)” (p. 15). This suggests that the longer text predates the shorter one, rather than the preface being an expanded version of the earlier article. The editors of Dits et écrits did nearly all the work comparing the two versions, but there are a few little things they missed.

I mentioned in the last update that I’d been writing a little on Foucault’s links to the Tel Quel journal, and I’ve developed this a bit, along with some wider discussion of his literary work in the 1960s. There will be a discussion of the book on Raymond Roussel, but also of the wide range of texts he published, and several he did not, on literature in the 1960s. The posthumous collection Language, Madness, Desire was translated very quickly, and Folie, langage, littérature will also appear in English, but we still don’t have translations of several of the essays and reviews Foucault actually published in this period. Several of these essays were translated in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice in 1977, and most of those were reprinted, and some more added, in volume II of the Essential Works. But there is probably a book’s worth of material not in English. It’s a slightly silly situation that we have almost all the posthumous material in English or forthcoming, but several essays Foucault authorised for publication are untranslated.

I also wrote a section on Foucault’s engagement with Bataille in the 1960s, which discusses the “Preface to Transgression” in the tribute issue of Critique in 1963, as well as Foucault’s “Présentation” to the first volume of Bataille’s Œuvres complètes which appeared in 1970. There are pages of the prospectus of the Œuvres in Foucault’s archives, used as scrap paper. There is no complete version, but between different boxes and folders at least one copy of each page. Although this wasn’t written by Foucault, but by Jean Bruno, it gives an indication of the way the project was planned. I’ve had some correspondence with one of the other editors of the Œuvres about Foucault’s role, so have written a bit about this work. 

There are various sources for the history of the journal Critique, which Bataille founded and whose Conseil de Rédaction Foucault joined after Bataille’s death. These sources include the correspondence between Bataille and Eric Weil, one of the co-editors, the memoir of Jean Piel, the other co-editor, and the excellent Critique 1946-1998 by Sylvie Patron. Roland Barthes was also on the Conseil, as was Jacques Derrida a bit later. Some other sources, notably the collection of Barthes’s letters in Album helped to fill in detail about this story. One thing I discovered was Foucault’s role in editing an issue on Merleau-Ponty; another was a link in the story of Foucault and Derrida’s falling out. There are some good studies of Barthes, including the biography by Tiphanie Samayoult and the earlier book by Marie Gil, both of which are very interesting and provide some useful details. 

Elsewhere in the book I try to discuss Foucault’s role in editing the French translation of Nietzsche’s works. Over a couple of the more productive days I had in Wales, I wrote a long section on “Nietzsche, Freud, Marx”, the preface written with Deleuze for the edition of Le Gai savoir, and the two published interviews about the editorial work. One of those interviews was conducted with Deleuze, but the text in Dits et écrits does not indicate who is speaking in response to the interviewer’s questions. For one question, on Les mots et les choses, it is obviously Foucault, but there is at least one other response where a turn of phrase suggests Foucault. I’m going to try to find a copy of the original interview, even though I doubt that will mark things differently. There are also some interviews with Deleuze on this work. The other part of this chapter on Nietzsche will discuss his 1969-70 course at Vincennes, on the basis of the manuscript in Paris and some student notes.

Finally, together with Alison Downham Moore, I wrote a review of Foucault’s two 1960s courses on sexuality, published in 2018 (and forthcoming in translation by Graham Burchell with Columbia University Press). Being away from internet and most of my books meant I have a long list of things to check, articles to download or scan, books to locate or buy, libraries to visit, things to read and so on. In some ways this is quite useful as I move into term. Having a long list of small tasks is quite helpful, as I’ve said before, for keeping a sense of slow, steady progress around other things. The rationale of this is that even if substantial blocks of writing time are going to be harder to come by, a little bit a few times a week still keeps the book moving forward. But this term is going to be like no other.

The previous updates on this book are here, and those for The Early Foucault here. The Early Foucault should be out in 2021. 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 Powerand Foucault’s Last Decade are both available from Polity.

This entry was posted in Cycling, Michel Foucault, teaching, The Archaeology of Foucault, The Early Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 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

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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