How many questions did Esprit ask Foucault…

In 1967, Esprit sent Foucault some questions to answer. He answered only the last, in a piece which appeared in 1968, “Réponse à une question”. It’s reprinted in Dits et écrits, and translated by Colin Gordon as “Politics and the Study of Discourse” in The Foucault Effect (with earlier translations in Salmagundi and Ideology and Consciousness).

In his ‘Chronologie’ in Dits et écrits (and the revised one in Œuvres), Defert says this was the last of ten questions; the English translation of that ‘Chronology’ says six; David Macey’s biography says eleven. So how many? This is, in itself, a tiny, issue.

But rather than fudge my sentence and say “some questions”, I wanted to find out, so I went back to the original publication. And this confirmed that Macey was correct – the editors clearly say they sent Foucault 11 questions.

But this indication is in a brief editorial note to Foucault’s answer, which is not included in Dits et écrits, which has some interesting detail. And it makes it clear that these are questions which follow a previous issue of Esprit (Macey and Defert say this too, though the title is slightly incorrect in the Chronology). So I went looking for that earlier issue too. And this throws up some interesting perspectives on how this journal was engaging with Foucault’s work, especially Les mots et les choses/The Order of Things, including a piece prophetically called “L’archéologie du savoir” – about two years before Foucault’s book of that title appeared.

In other words, obsessing about a tiny detail can often lead to interesting things.