His Last Decade


Stuart Elden in Berfrois:

Foucault’s Last Decade is a study of Foucault’s work between 1974 and his death in 1984. In 1974, Foucault began writing the first volume of his History of Sexuality, developing work he had already begun to present in his Collège de France lecture courses. In that first volume, published in late 1976, Foucault promised five further volumes, and indicated some other studies he intended to write. But none of those books actually appeared, and Foucault’s work went in very different directions. At the very end of his life, two further volumes of the History of Sexuality were published, and a fourth was close to completion. In contrast to the originally planned thematic treatment, the final version was a much more historical study, returning to antiquity and early Christianity. In this book, I trace these developments, and try to explain why the transition happened.

Foucault’s Last Decade has its roots as far back as the late 1990s. I had just finished a PhD thesis on Nietzsche, Heidegger and Foucault. Right at the end of that process Foucault’s courses from the Collège de France began to be published – the first in 1997, the second in 1999. I already knew how much Heidegger scholarship had been changed by the insights of his lecture courses and thought that the same would be true for Foucault. (Of course, with Heidegger, much more and much worse was to come with his notebooks.) I wrote a review essay on the second published Foucault course – The Abnormals – for the journal boundary 2, on the invitation of Paul Bové, and then Paul invited me to the University of Pittsburgh when I spoke about‘Society Must Be Defended’, a text which was also published in boundary 2. I thought then that if I wrote something about each course as they came out, then in time there might be the raw materials for a book.

And so, on and off, in and around other projects, I read, spoke and sometimes wrote about most of Foucault’s courses as they appeared. Some of these were published here at Berfrois.Foucault taught at the Collège de France from late 1970 until his death in 1984. There were thirteen courses in total, but they were published in non-chronological order – the earliest courses presented the greatest editorial difficulties, and so were among the last to appear. The last of the Collège de France ones was published in 2015. Some courses from elsewhere and other material has also been published in the intervening years, and we now have far more material published since Foucault’s death than appeared in his lifetime. This, despite, his wish for ‘no posthumous publications’ – a request that was once followed scrupulously, then generously interpreted and is now largely ignored.

More here.