Editing Georges Dumézil’s Mitra-Varuna has taken far longer than I expected, but I think the text of the book is now complete. The major challenge, as I’ve indicated before, was the process of checking, completing and sometimes correcting Dumézil’s references. I’ve been mainly working on the Introduction the past several weeks, which has also taken longer than anticipated. In that Introduction I try to do three main things – provide a background to understand where Dumézil was in his career when the first edition of Mitra-Varuna was published in 1940; discuss the years between the first and second edition in 1948, including the political controversy around his work; and then outline what he did on these topics after 1948.
The Introduction is in fairly good shape now, though there is much more that could be said about many of these issues. I wrote much more on some questions, which I then cut out and replaced with a sentence or two. None of the work was wasted, but some issues which will be important in my wider project are less useful in this Introduction.
[Update: pre-order details of Mitra-Varuna are here]
As ever, the more I read and write the more I realise I need to do, with a long list of references to check. Many could be done in London, but in June I also made a short trip to Paris, where I did a little work with the Foucault archive before the BnF-Richelieu closed for three months for the final stages of the long-running renovation project. I was mainly looking at some of his Collège de France course manuscripts, some of which discuss Dumézil. While the courses are all now published, these were edited on the basis of recordings. Especially with the earliest published courses, the editors didn’t use the manuscripts very much, even if they consulted them. Restrictions on their use was relaxed over time.
For example, «Il faut défendre la société» was the first of Foucault’s Collège de France courses to be published, now 25 years ago. At the time of its publication I was writing my PhD on Nietzsche, Heidegger and Foucault. We knew some things about the course before – the course summary, ‘Two Lectures’ in Power/Knowledge, the final lecture on race and biopolitics – but there were still lots of interesting surprises. The course was edited by Alessandro Fontana and Mauro Bertani, and translated by David Macey as ‘Society Must Be Defended’ in 2003, with François Ewald and Fontana editing the overall series, and Arnold Davidson serving as the English series editor.
It was the first of the courses I read, and so it was great to finally see the manuscript. I wrote an essay on the course in boundary 2 in 2002, after a review essay of Les Anormaux in 2001. Both were enabled by the generous support of Paul Bové. Reading these courses, and writing those pieces, was really the initial work for what became Foucault’s Last Decade in 2016, but to complete that book, I had to wait until all the courses from that period were published. The last of the courses discussed in that book to be published was Subjectivity and Truth. Penal Theories and institutions followed, but that was discussed in Foucault: The Birth of Power.
Given how much other material is in the archive, and that all these courses had been edited to such high standards, I have not spent much time with any of their manuscripts. I used Lectures on the Will to Know manuscript to check some things I discuss in The Archaeology of Foucault, particularly the missing Nietzsche material. I’d also looked at the Punitive Society ms., partly in relation to the use of some of that material elsewhere.
With «Il faut défendre la société» I was looking for one specific thing too, in relation to the discussion of the Indo-European model of sovereignty, with its unstated reference to Dumézil’s work, which I discuss in a forthcoming book chapter. There is quite a lot of expansion in the lecture, but also some interesting points in the manuscript. I did look at more of this course ms., because, as the editors note, there is a whole discussion of repression which was not delivered. Although much of its content is familiar, I hope it is published in the forthcoming Seuil Points re-edition of the course. For those that don’t know, these are the smaller format editions of the texts, based on the initial publications but amended in the light of newly available sources. The first two courses are already republished (here and here). There is some other material in the box for this course which was not delivered in the course, and so is not in the original edition, which should make this re-edition interesting.
But from the other side, we would have missed so much if we’d only had the manuscript of the course, and not recordings of these and other later lectures. Foucault’s notes generally accord well to the spoken material, but there is a lot of elaboration. And some sections, particularly responding to audience comments to him outside of class, or the opening or closing of a lecture, are entirely absent from the manuscript. The discussion of Shakespeare in this course, which I have talked about elsewhere (or here), is a kind of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment in the manuscript. So I’m grateful that Foucault did more in the lecture itself, and that we have the recording and its transcription. I also looked at a couple of later courses with the same kinds of questions in mind.
Conversely, there are some courses where the only surviving material is the manuscript Foucault used, with no recordings, or at least no known surviving ones. This is the case with Lectures on the Will to Know and Penal Theories and Institutions, or the 1960s courses on sexuality, for example. We don’t really know what Foucault did with those notes in the classroom, although there are clues when he lectured on related topics elsewhere, especially in Rio for those early courses. With some courses, such as the just-published anthropology course from the mid 1950s, we have valuable and detailed student notes.
What the editors do in establishing these courses is really important and valuable work. But just as it can be useful to listen to the lectures, as well as read them, it is also good to see the source manuscript. The work of the editors in establishing references is really crucial, and I think largely unacknowledged. Foucault provides very few indications in his ms. (not surprising, since they are lecture notes). Some can be completed by looking at his related reading notes, but even so it is a case of finding, checking, correcting. And not all the allusions are obvious. The work of the translators – above all for the Collège de France courses Graham Burchell who did 12 of 13 – in finding English equivalents is also very substantial, under-recognised and under-compensated work. I’m obviously not suggesting that everyone interested in the courses needs to consult their manuscripts. But they are interesting, and seeing the raw material (tape recordings and manuscripts) which led to the editions really underlines the crucial work of the editors and translators.
I also had some time at the Collège de France, doing some preliminary work with the Dumézil papers. I did look at some specific things, in part for the Introduction to Mitra-Varuna, but really at this early stage I’m getting a feel for the material. This is about the organisation of the archive, how Dumézil wrote his lectures, and the materiality of the papers.
I made a few visits to the BnF-Mitterand, checking a few things which are hard or impossible to locate in the UK and doing some reading around the themes I discuss in the Mitra-Varuna Introduction, and will explore more in the wider project.
I had planned that between the completion of the Foucault work, and the beginning of the new project, on Indo-European thought, I would have a complete break, but it hasn’t quite worked out like that. I had quite a few things I’d been delaying until I completed the final Foucault book, and so working on them has taken some time. The copy-editing of the book is done, and I now have the proofs to complete.
I am now beginning to think more seriously about the new work, with the Mitra-Varuna editing work acting as a good prelude to that. I have a mountain to climb here, just in terms of the reading ahead of me, which will never be finished. One of the appeals of the project is that I will learn so much in the process of trying to write something. I don’t know the answers, have some questions, and imagine I will discover a lot of questions along the way.
The funding was given on the basis I will write a book, of which I know something of the projected content, but not so much about its form. I don’t have a contract, and might well wait until quite late in the process before trying to get one, as I did with The Birth of Territory. Initially, I plan to do a lot of reading, some background work, some reading and rereading of mythologies. While I know something about the Roman histories and the Norse myths, for example, I know much less about the Vedas, and little about Irish and Welsh myths, nothing about the Nart Sagas, and so on. I want to get to a point where I have a sense of what it was that the authors I want to focus on were thinking, doing with this material.
And while I’m reasonably comfortable with the post-war French context, I know much less about the inter-war period, or even intellectual life in the occupation or Vichy France. The wider European context is important too, as all of the people I’m writing about spent time outside of France, and read and thought and sometimes wrote in other languages.
I chose the focus on what was happening in France (rather than just the French) because of both a wish to limit the scope somewhat, to work largely with a language I have the competence to just about manage, but also to exclude some aspects of the problem. In Germany, for example, the Indo-European work seems complicated by Nazism to an overwhelming degree, and perhaps too with Fascism in Italy. It is there as a condition in France too, with Dumézil’s right-wing sympathies in the 1930s discussed in some quite polemical works. Eliade’s own politics were part of the reasons he was in exile in France after the war, rather than able to return to Romania. And there are doubtless complications in England and the United States too. These will be a factor in the wider story. But, my sense, at least so far, is that this isn’t going to overwhelm the work in the way it might if I’d tried to bring in other countries.
So I have the proofs of the Foucault book to complete, the final work on Mitra-Varuna, and a related article to draft. I hope I can spend August and September doing some background reading before the fellowship begins in October.