In the last part of the summer I was able to make some good progress on this manuscript. In late August and early September I had two-week writing and cycling break in Wales. The weather was good until the last day, and I got to do quite a lot of cycling, of which the highlight was Rhayader to Aberystwyth and back on the mountain road. I also did a lot of work on this book manuscript.
Much of the work was with the chapter on The Order of Things. I now have a fairly complete discussion of the book, the 1965 Brazil course where Foucault lectured on his manuscript in progress, and on some of the responses to the book particularly from Sartre and the relation Foucault had to structuralism. I also have short parts on some related material – the TV discussions with Badiou and others; the dialogue with Raymond Aron in 1967; the discussions with Raymond Bellour; the Introduction to the Port-Royal Grammar; and more briefly on the seminar paper on Cuvier, and the review of Cassirer. I looked again at Philippe Sabot’s books on Les Mots et les choses, which are really helpful – I can’t think of a comparable study in English. His notes to the Œuvres edition of Les Mots et les choses are also important. With Brazil, I needed to look at the manuscript again, but I was able to do that in Paris and the discussion is now in broad shape. I’ve previously mentioned Heliana de Barros Conde Rodrigues’s Portuguese book which is now translated into French as Michel Foucault au Brésil, and Marcelo Hoffman’s special issue of the Carceral Notebooks on ‘Foucault and the Politics of Resistance in Brazil’. Most of these discussions look at the several visits of the 1970s, but there is nonetheless some very useful contextualisation of the 1965 course.
I went back over the chapter on Nietzsche, and spent quite a bit of time trying to line up the chronology of the materials – either published, in the archive, or presumed lost. This led me to re-read the later lectures on Nietzsche which I discuss in Foucault: The Birth of Power – especially the one from McGill part-published in Lectures on the Will to Know and the first of the Truth and Juridical Forms lectures from Brazil. I also looked, yet again, at ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ and the inaugural lecture The Order of Discourse. The discussion of Foucault’s work with Deleuze in editing the French edition of Nietzsche’s works was in quite good shape already. There were some things I could only resolve by looking back at the Nietzsche materials in the Paris archive, but I’m now much happier with the organisation of the material in the draft chapter.
In connection with this chapter, I re-read some work by Pierre Klossowski which Foucault mentions in correspondence – his book on Nietzsche and Living Currency. I think this chapter is probably where I will discuss Foucault’s reviews of Deleuze, but I’ve yet to begin drafting that. I also read, again, Foucault’s little books of interviews with Claude Bonnefoy and Roger-Pol Droit (the first is translated as Speech Begins After Death, the second is only part-translated in Politics, Philosophy, Culture). These give some useful indicators on a number of themes, but are especially good on discussing Foucault’s attitude to writing.
While in Wales I tried to focus on new writing or reorganising notes rather than editing what I had drafted before, but there was a lot of fiddling around with material, including in some of the chapters I’d thought were in fairly good draft form. There was also quite a lot of cutting – the word limit is going to be a real problem with this book, especially given the range of material I’m trying to discuss.
Being away from an internet connection (and no phone signal for about a mile) was liberating even if sometimes frustrating. It’s one of the reasons why I like this place I’ve been staying. It’s amazing how much time is wasted even with work things – with a connection I can try to find a journal article immediately, or add a book to the British Library basket and order for the next visit, find a second-hand copy in a bookstore, or check something else. In some ways that’s great, but it’s much more time efficient to make a list of those things and check them in one go, rather than immediately as they arise. A quick detour – I’ll just check this – can lead to something else, and before you know it, you’re several steps away from the focus. Not being able to do that – or even get a book from a shelf to check a quote or find a reference – can mean a lot of things that are provisional or unresolved while writing, but it’s much better for keeping on track. Social media, news sites, etc. are an obvious distraction. I block those – either entirely or for discrete periods when I’m writing – as a matter of course. And I can try to discipline myself only to check email at specific times. But I only rarely turn off the internet entirely when working at home. Perhaps it’s something I should do more often.
Getting to Paris earlier in the summer proved impossible, but I was able to have a short visit before term began. I spent quite a bit of time before I left trying to do everything I could to prepare for that. Time there was precious even before, but in the current circumstances I didn’t want to be doing things there I could have done elsewhere, or find I can’t make sense of an archival document because I wasn’t ready – i.e. I didn’t yet know well enough a published text of which the archive has a variant. I can’t avoid these kinds of things entirely, since I’ve learned that the path is never straightforward or linear, but I did want to maximise the time there. Apart from the complications of two governments and travel restrictions, there were also some issues with Warwick authorising the trip, since they administer the grant which I’m using. But it was possible and I’m now hoping to get back in reading week, or maybe over the Christmas teaching break. However, I’m not sure things will be easier in the autumn and winter than they are now. Logistically this was already the most difficult trip to plan.
In Paris I did my usual practice of a full day in the archive, at the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque nationale, and then heading across the city to the Mitterand site for a couple more hours in the evening. I can do quite a lot of work with the material on the open shelves, but there are loads of things in the printed collection which are hard to find in the UK. Among other things I was able to resolve things about the dating of Foucault’s work on the Nietzsche Œuvres, find the full transcripts of the TV interviews with Badiou (rather than the edited ones), an ENS report of the tribute session to Jean Hyppolite, and see the originals of Foucault’s interviews with Tunisian newspapers.
In the archive, I largely concentrated on material I’d seen before, but which I needed to look at again. So, I went back over the boxes of material on art and literature, to largely complete the work on those chapters. Some of those manuscripts are already published, and more are planned. The Nietzsche box has some important material for this period, notably what remains of his Vincennes course from 1969-70, and related lectures in Buffalo, Montréal, and Rio. The Brazil course on Les mots et les choses was also really important. Looking at the manuscripts of another well-known lecture opened up a much bigger issue than I imagined. I need to do the work, but I might write more about this.
While in Wales I also did a little work on the chapter on The Archaeology of Knowledge, mainly in relation to interviews and other things leading up to it. But I still need to write the discussion of the book itself, and all the preparatory materials that exist. That’s probably the most substantial job left with this book. It also requires much more time in the archive, since there are some substantial manuscripts for the book’s preparation – a complete early draft, a fragmentary draft, and a related but abandoned project. There are also some very interesting lecture materials from this period.
In addition to this chapter on that book and the related materials, I have a lot still to do with the Madness and Medicine chapters, and the Sexuality chapter, for which I really just have a bunch of notes. But the manuscript is certainly a lot further forward than it was a month ago. Term begins on Monday…
Previous updates on this book are here. The Early Foucault was published by Polity in June 2021, and updates for its writing are 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 in this series are Foucault: The Birth of Power and Foucault’s Last Decade, both available from Polity.