David Beer on The Early Foucault at The Fragment
Reading Elden’s most recent installment in the series, The Early Foucault, is to be mesmerised by sheer detail. Focusing on the 1950s, a period before Foucault was established, Elden is deep in the archives. From amongst the dusty files, the book gives glimpses behind the curtain. As well as reading across different editions and versions of published works it also layers-in the type of insights that can only come from opening boxes and handling papers. At one point, for instance, Elden noticed, contrary to what is often thought, that Foucault was actually working on Nietzsche as far back as the mid 1950s – this is a discovery that is made due to some notes scrawled on the back of an early draft version of another piece of writing. This is one amongst many such moments. As a result, most of the book’s content is totally fresh, even to those who have read Foucault. It also means that it could be read by someone with no interest in Foucault but who is interested in writing, theory and the emergence of thinkers. By focusing on the period before Foucault’s well-known works, and during a time when there were few publications to work with, the archive has been allowed more space than in the previous volumes. The consequence is a rich engagement with the inner workings of ideas. The more archival focus of this book gives it even more of a backstage view on proceedings.
A really generous and thoughtful review – thank you!