Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stuart Elden Reviews Foucault’s Leçons sur la volonté de savoir

Stuart Elden has published a review of Michel Foucault’s Leçons sur la volonté de savoir-- the 1970-1971 lectures at the Collège de France:
One of the things that is striking about the course is that here we find a Foucault who is deeply engaged with Greek thought. This alone should act as a correction to those who thought his turn to the Greeks was a late phase in his work. It should also be noted that here the project of genealogy is very clearly a complementary analysis to that of archaeology, rather than its replacement, and that genealogy is first brought to bear on knowledge, then truth, and only subsequently to concerns with power. Yet while the discussions of knowledge and truth in themselves are important, it is likely their links to the question of power that will prove the most interesting for readers.
It is in the analysis of juridical and political practices in ancient Greece that perhaps the most striking analyses are found. These include the management of agrarian crises, particularly in terms of fragmented lands and the legacy of colonization; advances in the army, especially in terms of the developments of mining techniques and the use of iron, and the new types of inter-city and intra-city warfare; the emergence of a new class of artisans; and wider political transformations including production, slavery, and the development of urban civilization. There is an important discussion of the development of written legal codes (nomos) and money as an institution, not simply of exchange, but of distribution, allocation and social correction. Foucault also spends a good deal of time discussing popular power, as the reverse side of the plans of Plato, Aristotle and the legislators. As well as the conceptual aspects of this discussion, it is important to link this to Foucault’s own activism, especially the foundation of the Groupe d’information sur les prisons at the same time. Their manifesto was read by Foucault on 8th February 1971; about midway through the delivery of this course.
There is one other aspect of this publication that Elden has mentioned elsewhere, but that he does not develop here: "Unlike the other courses published to date, this volume is based almost entirely on Foucault’s manuscript for the course, rather than transcribed from tape recordings of the actual delivery." In his first thoughts on the text, posted on his blog, Elden writes:
The ‘no posthumous publications’ injunction, previously circumvented by publishing transcriptions of tapes in the public domain, is now being entirely ignored. Might an edition of The History of Sexuality volume four, Les aveux de la chair, now be conceivable?

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