I have just this minute receive the message from Amazon France that my copy of Du governmenent des vivants [On the government of the living] has been despatched to my work address at Istanbul Technical University. This is Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France for the academic session of 1979-1980, in the Seuil series of the complete set of lecture courses. It has just been published this week and I ordered it beforehand.
These are open lectures at an institution founded in the 16th century, which does not offer degrees, but lecture courses presenting the recent research of the leading researchers who are appointed there. According to the relevant page at the Seil site, Foucault’s courses as a whole progress through regimes of truth, the juridical and the judicial, the political field, power-knowledge, governmentality. The recently published volume is said to deal with Foucault’s questions: what is about the government of men in the culture of western Christianity, government which demands more acts of obedience and submission which are acts of truth, so that what is demanded if the subject is not only to speak the truth but to speak it of oneself, with regard to one’s faults, desires and the state of one’s soul? This project goes from a re-reading of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King to the analysis of acts of truth that belong to primitive Christianity, across the practices of baptism, penitence and the direction of conscience. Foucault chose to interest himself in acts by which the believer is led to manifest the truth of what he is himself, as much as he is indefinitely fallible. It is the organisation of a pastoral economy centred on the confession that can be seen to emerge in the public expression of the condition of sinner, in ritual from penitence to minute verbalisation of the most intimate thoughts, in the examination of conscience.
My reading of the other recently collected volume of Foucault’s lectures, his Louvain course Mal faire, vrai dire,which I have been posting about recently, was interrupted by the email concerning Du gouvernment des vivants, and the two books do intersect. There is discussion of Oedipus the King, Christian Confession, the development of the ideas of the self and of government since antiquity in both volumes. The publication of both volumes with weeks of each other makes the autumn of 2012 a memorable season in the publication of Foucault’s lectures, which are an intellectual monument just as great as those of the books he was able to publish himself. I cannot find any information about when the translation will appear, but judging by precedent it will be out with Palgrave in Britain, and Picador in America in the Arnold I. Davidson edited series of the Collège de France lecture series.
Clearly both these recently published volumes are essential reading for those with a strong interest in Foucault.