Stuart Elden, Do We Need a New Biography of Michel Foucault?, American Book Review, Volume 39, Number 2/3, January/April 2018
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 New books of material by Foucault, whether lecture courses or other previously unpublished material, have appeared at a rapid rate over the last twenty years.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.