It was fifty years ago today… Michel Foucault’s inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, 2 December 1970

On 2 December 1970, Michel Foucault delivered his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France. He was 44 years old. My thanks to Marcelo Hoffman for alerting me to this anniversary. Had this not been such a crazy term, it would have been nice to commemorate this event a bit more, but I did at least want to mark the date.

The text was first published in the series of inaugural lectures by the Collège itself as Leçon inaugurale faite le Mercredi 2 Décembre 1970. It was then published as a short book by Gallimard in February 1971 as L’ordre du discours: Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France prononcée le 2 décembre 1970. Although Foucault notes in the Gallimard edition that it is not quite the same as the spoken text, I didn’t know about the Collège de France publication. When the lecture was reprinted in the Pléiade Œuvres the Gallimard version was the one used – a critical edition would have been useful.

I was first alerted to the differences by an anonymous informant, ‘Ambulo Ergosum’, who provided me with notes on the differences. I bought a copy of the original text, and also compared it to the later published (and reprinted) version. The results of this analysis are here.

The lecture has been translated into English three times – first by Rupert Swyer as a journal article which was reprinted as an appendix to some editions of The Archaeology of Knowledge, and then again in Robert Young (ed.), Untying the Text: A Poststructuralist Reader (open access here). A third – and to my mind, the best – translation by Thomas Scott-Railton is in Nancy Luxon (ed.), Archives of Infamy (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). All these translations are of the later, Gallimard version.

One week after the lecture, Foucault gave the first lecture of the Leçons sur la volonté de savoir course, which has been translated as Lectures on the Will to Know. The inaugural lecture might have been usefully included in that volume when it was published. It works as a standalone text, and initiates his series of courses, but is also very directly linked to that first course.

As far as I am aware there is no recording of the inaugural lecture. This is the case for all Foucault’s lectures from the first few courses, which is why they were published on the basis of his manuscript notes (or, with the third, on a transcription of tapes which seem no longer to exist). There was a re-recording of the lecture made a few years ago, by France Culture, but the audio is no longer available (the page it was hosted on is here).

I discuss ‘The Order of Discourse’ in the Introduction to Foucault: The Birth of Power, seeing the lecture as a kind of hinge between the work of the 1960s and the 1970s work to come. The lecture certainly has links back to The Archaeology of Knowledge, but also hints of questions of power and a project on sexuality. However, when I wrote that book I wasn’t aware of the earlier published version, and so I might discuss it a little again in the final pages of my study of Foucault in the 1960s. Work for that is ongoing, albeit very slowly at the moment. I’ll hopefully write an update on that research soon.

But for today I did want to mark this anniversary of one of Foucault’s most interesting and important lectures, at a crucial point in his career. I previously posted about a recent Brazilian collection commemorating the lecture – Rosimeri de Oliveira Dias and Heliana de Barros Conde Rodrigues (eds.), Ordens do discurso: comentários marginais à aula de Michel Foucault.

This entry was posted in Foucault: The Birth of Power, Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Foucault. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to It was fifty years ago today… Michel Foucault’s inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, 2 December 1970

  1. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

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