Review of Harcourt’s Edition of 1973 Foucault Lectures

Discipline, Punish, Examine and Produce: Foucault’s La société punitive
Stuart Elden
January 28, 2014

Delivered between January and March 1973, La société punitive was Foucault’s third annual course at the Collège de France. It is the eleventh of his thirteen courses there to be published, in what have been uniformly excellent editions under the general editorship of François Ewald and the recently deceased Alessandro Fontana. This course has been edited by Bernard E. Harcourt, Julius Krieger Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Chicago. Harcourt previously co-edited Foucault’s lectures at the University of Louvain from 1981, Mal faire, dire vrai with Fabienne Brion; a course soon to be published as Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling.

The first several courses published were produced through the transcription of tape recordings made while Foucault lectured, and subsequently archived at the Collège and in the Foucault archive at the Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC). Foucault’s partner and literary inheritor Daniel Defert made Foucault’s manuscript notes available to the editors, and they frequently made use of these in their notes and commentaries to highlight undelivered material or variant readings. But with the recently translated Lectures on the Will to Know, another solution had to be found. No known tapes of that course, Foucault’s first at the Collège, existed, and so Defert himself edited the course entirely on the basis of Foucault’s manuscript.  This course presented a somewhat different challenge. The tapes did once exist, and a detailed typescript was made using them, which Foucault himself reviewed and corrected. But the tapes in the archive have lectures from 1974 on them, instead of this course, and attempts to find other copies have been unsuccessful. Harcourt has therefore used the typescript as the basis for this edition, with some quite extensive additions and variant readings from Foucault’s manuscript provided in the notes. He has filled in the references in some detail, and contributes a very useful ‘Situation du cours’ at the end of the volume.

The most obvious way to read the book is as an early draft of Discipline and Punish. Foucault gave these lectures between January and March 1973; completed a draft of the book in April; and the final version in August 1974 before its publication in February 1975. Those looking for those early traces will find plenty of connections – the regicide Damiens appears here, there are discussions of Bentham, Beccaria and Colquhoun; and the theme of the prison is very important. However some crucial themes in Discipline and Punish are not highlighted here, and it is clear that Foucault elaborated many aspects that would form part of the book in subsequent lectures both at the Collège – the course from 1974 entitled Psychiatric Power – and elsewhere, notably the ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’ lectures given in Rio in May 1973. Notable among these absences is the striking image of the Panopticon – briefly mentioned here, but Foucault discusses other prison designs instead.

Bernard E. Harcourt