Stuart Elden reviews Foucault’s Théories et institutions pénales: Cours au Collège de France 1971-1972,

Stuart’s review of the last of the courses from Collège de France to be published.

In it, he discusses two main historical themes: popular revolts in seventeenth century France, and medieval practices of inquiry and ordeal. The second theme relates to Foucault’s longstanding interest in what he called the ‘politics of truth’. From courses given in Rio de Janeiro in 1973 and Louvain in 1981, it is clear Foucault saw the medieval period as crucial to that story (a review of the second appeared in Berfrois last year). He said in Brazil that “one could write an entire history of torture, as situated between the procedure of the ordeal and inquiry”. But only now do we have the sustained study of the inquiry that those two later courses drew upon. The first theme merely receives hints elsewhere. Foucault’s example is the Nu-pieds (“bare feet”) revolts of 1639-40 in Normandy. Given that Foucault is often criticised for talking of the positive, productive side of power, but rarely examining it outside of antiquity; or of never showing how resistance takes place or is even possible, this course provides an important corrective.

Readers of Foucault may also wish to take note of this comment toward the end of the review:

I understand that there will be more volumes of lectures to come, including a course on Descartes from his time in Tunisia (currently only available in Arabic), the long-rumoured course on Nietzsche from Vincennes in the late 1960s, and possibly a 1950s course on Anthropology. Lectures originally given in English are now being translated into French, furnished with an entire critical apparatus, and then appearing again in English with the benefits of the French scholarship. A case in point are the lectures Foucault gave in Berkeley and Dartmouth in late 1980, originally edited by Mark Blasius forPolitical Theory in 1990, which appeared in French in 2013, and are forthcoming with University of Chicago Press in 2015. Other texts may yet be given the canonical treatment.


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