Volume 20, Issue 2, Fall 2016
Foucault’s Last Decade
An Interview with Stuart Elden, Eduardo Mendieta, and Diana Taylor
At the time of his death in 1984, Foucault’s late career forays into Stoicism and other sets of ancient texts were often little understood, except as part of a larger project on the history of sexuality. Indeed, outside of France and outside of an incipient queer theory, Foucault was often taken up in terms of debates over post-structuralism and postmodernism—themes all but absent from his writings. More than thirty years later, after the publication of all of his lecture courses at the Collège de France from 1970-1984 as well as his collected writings, we have gained a better understanding of the deep continuities in his set of concerns from Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961) to the third volume of his history of sexuality series, Le Souci de soi (1984). Yet many Foucault scholars continue to see momentous shifts in his writings, e.g., from knowledge (1960s) to power (1970s) to ethics (1980s), and the almost bewildering range of texts he covered in the years after finishing the first volume of his history of sexuality series, La Volonté de savoir (1976), lead to very different interpretations concerning what Foucault was attempting to do and how much his rendering of ancient texts differed from his own claims. Stuart Elden’s Foucault’s Last Decade (Polity, 2016) steps into this breach, using archival work to fill in many of the details of this period, from when and on what Foucault was lecturing to listing those with him in that amusing late photo of a beaming Foucault in an ill-fitting cowboy hat. The publication of Elden’s book marks a good time to assess this often misunderstood period in Foucault’s work, and we have gathered Stuart Elden (University of Warwick) and two more of Foucault’s best interpreters, Eduardo Mendieta (Pennsylvania State University) and Dianna Taylor (John Carroll University), to do so.