Indo-European thought project update 7: Working on Dumézil’s teaching, a few research resources, and some archival work in Paris

I’ve made some progress with the Indo-European project over the past few weeks. Not as much as I’d hoped, and it feels a bit unsystematic at this point, but early work is often like that. This has included a couple of trips to Paris to work through archival material, mainly at the Collège de France.

Both there and generally I’ve been working on Georges Dumézil, filling in some details about his work beyond what I wrote in the Introduction to the re-edition of Mitra-Varuna. In Paris, the concentration has been on his Collège de France teaching from 1949 to 1968. I’ve also been working on both his early teaching and the so-called bilan period – the years immediately after his retirement from teaching in which he brought together a number of his earlier studies, updated and extended them to provide a summary of his research. 

As I did with the Foucault work, I’ve also been sharing some research resources. These are often things I wanted to use or consult, looked for, and when I discovered they didn’t exist, set out to make my own. So, for example, I thought it would be useful to have a clearer sense of how Georges Dumézil’s work on the warrior function developed over time, from Aspects de la fonction guerrière chez les Indo-Européens in 1956 to Heur et malheur du Guerrier in 1969 and a second edition in 1985. They are basically three versions of the same book, but each expanded by about a third. But although there were some indications in secondary literature, there wasn’t what I wanted, so I did the comparison and shared the preliminary analysis here. [I should clarify that there are other works which discuss this function, notably Horace et les Curiaces from 1942.] Equally, Dumézil’s masterwork, the three-volume Mythe et épopée, has only been partly translated into English – none of the first volume, most of the second across three English books, and parts of the third – so I checked exactly what, and shared the results here. I’ll do more of these as the work progresses, and hope someone finds them useful.

I also shared a new Foucault resource –a list of the preannounced titles of Foucault’s seminars at the Collège de France, about which we still don’t know much. And a wrote a short post about an interdisciplinary seminar on structuralism in 1970 at which Foucault spoke about Dumézil’s work.

Romulus and Remus at the Square Samuel Paty

With Dumézil, there is a detailed list of his teaching at the Collège de France, which has been valuable for me as I’ve been working through the files in the archive of these lecture materials. It used to be online, but I can no longer find a link to share. That material was taken from the Annuaire du Collège de France, and uses both the reports on the courses and the pre-announced titles. I’ve mentioned before that Dumézil provides little detail in his course summaries. In contrast, Foucault or Lévi-Strauss shared sufficient information that these summaries were in each case collected as books, giving a good overall sense of their teaching. Dumézil was concerned that sharing too much would give less scrupulous people information he wanted to use himself in publications. And it does seem that he very often published material from his courses quite quickly afterwards. Foucault, in contrast, didn’t publish any of his courses, although some are clearly preparatory research for his books. I don’t know Lévi-Strauss as well, but my sense is that he is somewhere in the middle.

But while Dumézil’s Collège de France courses are all listed in a single document, I don’t think the same is true for his courses at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. The references for annual summaries are listed in Hervé Coutau-Bégarie’s bibliography, but there are a couple of omissions, and he only lists the reports after the courses had been delivered. But importantly, as with the Collège de France, courses were preannounced, so I slowly worked through the records to identify what Dumézil said they would be on. I’ve put together a preliminary list of these, which I will next work through in relation to the reports on what he actually did. Some of the preannounced titles are very vague, but others are more interesting. And, in time, this list will be helpful as I go through the archival papers relating to this teaching.

Dumézil taught at the Collège de France from 1949 until 1968, when he retired at the statutory age of 70. He taught at the EPHE from 1933 to 1935 as a temporary lecturer, and then from 1935 until 1968, for the last period in parallel to the Collège de France. Before 1933 he had taught in Warsaw, Istanbul and Uppsala. His courses directly informed some of his books, in the temporary years at the EPHE he delivered courses which became Ouranos-Varuna and Flamen-Brahman, and then a little later Mitra-Varuna. Often he simply seems to have written up his notes and published them. He also taught Armenian at the École des langues orientales in the 1930s and 40s.

One interesting thing is that a 20-year-old Roger Caillois attended his classes right from the start, both in the 1933-34 and 1934-35 years. Another is that in the 1934-35 year, another one of the temporary lecturers was A. Kojevenikoff, who gave a course on Hegel’s religious philosophy. He would soon change his name, and become Alexandre Kojève. These lectures on The Phenomenology of Spirit, which continued for a few years, are of course famous, even legendary. There are various – sometimes conflicting – reports about his extraordinary audience, but the list of attendees in the records for 1934-35 are already quite a rogues’ gallery – [Henri] Corbin, [?] Adler, [Raymond] Queneau, [Gaston] Fessard, [Georges] Bataille, [Jacques] Lacan, [Boris] Poplavski, [?] Stern, [Éric] Weil, Mme [?] Tatarinoff.

What I found extraordinary is that Dumézil never took a sabbatical. Foucault took one after six years at the Collège de France (in the 1976-77 year), and could presumably have taken another had he lived longer. But not Dumézil. There are records for each of the 19 years he taught there, and he gave two courses just about every year – there are a couple of instances where the course was a double-length one in consecutive hours. Foucault gave 13 courses in total, the last three as double-length, along with the seminars for 10 of those years. (The requirement was 26 hours of classes a year, of which no more than half could be seminars.) As far I know, Dumézil never ran a seminar there. I’ve done an initial pass through most of the Collège de France courses in the archive, and this was the main work in the last two visits to Paris. One more week there should complete that initial survey, but there is a lot more to do, both with these courses and teaching elsewhere.

At the EPHE, Dumézil taught every year from 1933-34 to 1967-68 with the exception of the year he was suspended from teaching. This was by the Vichy regime, because he had been a free-mason before the war. He regained his position about a year later, in a complicated story for which there are various sources. I’ll be digging into that more, of course. Checking the pre-announced courses did at least give me details of what he had planned to do. The teaching reports are a bit erratic for the beginning and end of the war, for obvious reasons, but I think I’ve found the crucial records.

I’ve also done a little bit of work on some other aspects of the project – finding out a bit about the Mission Paul Pelliot, which led to some of Émile Benveniste’s early publications; following up some references on some of the political questions which I will be exploring much more in time; and reading some of the work of André Leroi-Gourhan, who succeeded Dumézil at the Collège de France, and published one of his books in a series Dumézil edited. And I had a couple of half-days back the Bibliothèque nationale archives, working with the Foucault papers. There I was looking back at some materials I’d previously seen which mentioned Dumézil, and at a couple of other places where there is something related to him in the files – one a page of notes, another a mention in working notebooks. I am trying to resist getting drawn back into the Foucault material, which remains endlessly interesting, but this more focused visit was worthwhile for the new work.

Previous updates on this project can be found here, along with links to the resources and forthcoming publications, including the reedition of Dumézil’s Mitra-Varuna. There is a lot more about the Foucault work here. The final volume, The Archaeology of Foucault, is out next month!

This entry was posted in Claude Lévi-Strauss, Emile Benveniste, Georges Dumézil, Indo-European Thought, Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Foucault. Bookmark the permalink.

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