- Do We Need a New Biography of Michel Foucault?
In the 34 years since his death, there has been no lack of interest in Michel Foucault's work. His ideas continue to be analysed, critiqued, utilised, and cited, across an ever-broadening range of disciplines. New books of material by Foucault, whether lecture courses or other previously unpublished material, have appeared at a rapid rate over the last twenty years. Most of these have been quickly translated into English and other languages. Yet there has been no new biography of Foucault for twenty-five years. Didier Eribon's biography was translated in 1991, and David Macey's The Lives of Michel Foucault and James Miller's The Passions of Michel Foucault both appeared in 1993.
Naturally, some of the many books on Foucault have had biographical elements, of which David Halperin's Saint Foucault (1995) is perhaps the key example. But that book, as with so many other interpretations and analyses had a rather different purpose than a biography in a strict sense. It was to read Foucault as a gay saint, a figure who could be held up as an exemplar of a particular way of life. I do not doubt that he can be that, but he was of course much more. The second and third editions of Eribon's biography, which appeared in French in 1992 and 2011, are important. The third, in particular, includes a lot of new material, and its English translation is overdue: the existing translation is of the first French edition (1989). Eribon's Michel Foucault et ses contemporains also includes a lot of biographical material, and there are biographical discussions in his Insult and the Making of the Gay Self (1999, 2004). Macey moved onto other topics before his own early death in 2011. His biography will be reissued by Verso in 2019, with an afterword by me.
While Eribon and Macey are hard to beat in terms of their analysis and breadth of coverage, a large amount of new material has come to light in the past several years. Beginning in 1997, all Foucault's courses at the Collège de France have been published under the general editorship of François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana. The last of these appeared in French in 2015 and is currently being translated by Graham Burchell. A number of other volumes of material have appeared posthumously. These include Foucault's Introduction to his translation of Kant's Anthropology, originally submitted as part of his secondary thesis. Lecture courses from Toronto, Louvain, Berkeley, and Dartmouth have all been published, as well as volumes of interviews, radio addresses, and other talks. His activist work with the Groupe d'Information sur les prisons (GIP) has been collected in two French volumes edited by Philippe Artières and others (2003, 2013), and an English translation of some of this material is forthcoming. In 2013, the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) bought a large collection of Foucault's papers from his partner, Daniel Defert, and much of this is now available to researchers. Led by Foucault's nephew, Henri-Paul Fruchaud, and with the assistance of Daniele Lorenzini, Ariana Sforzini, Elisabetta Basso and others, some of this material has been published, and a future programme is underway. In recent years we have had, for example, an early 1960s text on madness, the introduction to an early draft of The Archaeology of Knowledge, and a text on Homer dating from the same period. And perhaps the most eagerly awaited, the fourth volume of the History of Sexuality, Les aveux de la chair, was published in February 2018.
Some recent books on Foucault have made use of this newly available material to fill out their analysis of Foucault. This was certainly the impetus behind my own studies Foucault's Last Decade (2016), Foucault: The Birth of Power (2017) and one for which the research is still ongoing, The Early Foucault. With each of these, taking the periods 1974-84, 1969-74, and 1950-61 respectively, I have tried to outline Foucault's intellectual history through a juxtaposition of his writings and speeches, his interviews, his lectures and...