- A Few Words (and Four Notes) of Introduction
I would like to introduce this text, which appears here in English for the first time, just as Laura Odello did in her footnote to the published French text (Odello 2014), by briefly recalling its editorial history. “Beyond the Power Principle” was first delivered by Jacques Derrida at a conference organized at New York University (with the support of the Center for French Civilization and Culture and the New York Institute for the Humanities) by Thomas Bishop and Richard Sennett on March 27, 1985.1 The conference, titled “Homage to Michel Foucault,” took place less than a year after Foucault’s death on June 25, 1984, a death that itself occurred just days after the French publication of volumes 2 and 3 of The History of Sexuality (L’usage du plaisir and Le souci de soi). The 1985 conference was thus both homage and celebration—an homage to the man and a celebration of The History of Sexuality, as we see in the opening paragraphs of “Beyond the Power Principle.”2
Although Derrida’s 1985 lecture remained unpublished until 2014, the reader may well recognize some of its questions and themes from the 1991 text “‘To Do Justice to Freud’: The History of Madness in the Age of Psychoanalysis.”3 Like “Beyond the Power Principle,” its source and urtext, “To Do Justice to Freud” considers not only the place and role of psychoanalysis in the Foucauldian project of a history of sexuality but also the problematization of the concept of power and what Foucault calls the “spiral” in the duality power/pleasure in The History of Sexuality. [End Page 1] Indeed, much of the language of the last section of “To Do Justice to Freud” recalls that of “Beyond the Power Principle.”
For this reason, in fact, we can now say that “Beyond the Power Principle,” even more than “To Do Justice to Freud,” signals a shift in Derrida’s relationship to Foucault. Not only does “Beyond the Power Principle” move the discussion from the figure of Descartes and the “exclusion” of madness to the figure of Freud and Beyond the Pleasure Principle, but it also dispels the “shadow” (1996, 70) that made Derrida and Foucault invisible to one another for close to ten years after Foucault’s caustic response to Derrida’s essay “Cogito and the History of Madness.”4 Although the two men had been on good terms following Derrida’s release from a Czech prison on January 1, 1982 (and Foucault’s intercessions on his behalf), “Beyond the Power Principle” is the first text to testify publicly to this reconciliation. Sadly, we can only speculate about what the future of such a reconciliation might have been.
In this sense, “Beyond the Power Principle” is an elegiac text. It is a text that mourns the loss of a man greatly admired by Derrida. But it is also a text that mourns the missed encounter between the Foucauldian project and the Freudian project, between the “perpetual spirals of power and pleasure” and the enigma of Freud’s Bemächtigungstrieb. As we know from “To Do Justice to Freud,” it is to this missed encounter that Derrida will return at great length in 1991. Six years after “Beyond the Power Principle,” that is, Derrida is still trying (and still daring) to imagine Foucault’s response—as if this missed encounter were a loss to which Derrida could not reconcile himself. [End Page 2]
Elizabeth Rottenberg teaches philosophy and comparative literature at DePaul University. She is one of six founding members of the Derrida Seminars Translation Project. Her published work includes translations of Lyotard’s Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (1993), Blanchot’s Friendship (1997), Blanchot and Derrida’s The Instant of my Death/Demeure (2000), and Derrida’s The Death Penalty, vol. 2 (2000–01) (2016). She is the editor and translator of Derrida’s Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews (1971–2001) (2001) and the coeditor and co-translator (with Peggy Kamuf) of the two-volume edition of Derrida’s Psyche: Inventions of the Other (2007/2008). She is the author of Inheriting the Future: Legacies...