David Beer, The making of Foucault (2021), On David Beer’s blog The Fragment, 9 September 2021
How do thinkers happen? We can start with a quite obvious negative. It would seem that they don’t arrive fully formed or with a preset direction to their thinking. It is tempting to imagine that they do, especially for those figures we most admire. We might like to imagine them as knowing exactly where they were heading, from the outset. It is comforting to think of thinkers as being assured and as having both a plan and a cast iron sense of direction. This assumed assuredness lends a sense of inevitability to their ideas. Of course, despite any impressions we might cling to they are much more likely to bump against options, to equivocate and to steadily find their feet. Thinking is contingent, it is shaped by circumstance. And not every avenue is followed. Thinkers leave untrodden paths along the way and may even have some doubts too. Even Foucault.
In a series of books published over the last five years, Stuart Elden has been meticulously sifting his way through the writings, lectures, notes, letters and other archival miscellanea of Michel Foucault. The results are expansive and full of insight, telling us of the ideas whilst also giving glimpses into the working practices through which they were made. The four volume intellectual history of Foucault that he has been working on, with three volumes published so far and a fourth in process, has been built out of a mass of traces. A prolific writer and worker like Foucault leaves much to explore and many narratives to question.