When, in 1967, I came to the US, I carried with me a relatively small number of books, but among them was Michel Foucault’s Les Mots et les Choses, published the previous year by Gallimard. I had been reading at it since it came out & it is certainly one of the books that marked me the most. The disappearance of Man — with what to replace it, I mean Him, Her? For me, perhaps, with the appearance (or re-appearance) of the World — in & through language, via poetry. It was indeed in the thing-ness of American poetry (“les mots et les choses” of poetry?) that I would anchor my drunken boat that for a long time kept shuttling between the old & the new continents. Nearly nostalgic then to come across this 1966 interview of Foucault’s on French TV talking about Les Mots et les Choses (so unhappily, I still feel, translated as The Order of Things) — subtitled in English, thus watchable over here, now.
Interesting to note that, as far as I can tell, the first American publication of translated extracts from this book occurred in the summer 1968 “Doctrine of Signatures” issue (#5) of IO, Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough’s magazine of poetry matters, where some 15 pages from the “Prose of the World” chapter appeared translated by William Christian. I remember my excitement at coming across this issue, as in the fall of ’67 I had sent some 10 pages of the book’s opening chapter in my translation to various NYC publishers, hoping to get a contract & an advance just in case I decided to drop out of college again (this was 1967-1968, after all). But I am still waiting for an answer to that first query… The full English-language edition of Les Mots et les Choses would only be published in1970 by Tavistock in Great Britain & in 1971 by Pantheon Books in News York. None of those editions or any of their reprints give the translator’s name: Alan Sheridan Smith. Not sure why that happened. There is an essay by Karen Bennett that may give some clues as to the machinations of early Foucault translations, called “Foucault in English The politics of exoticization” but I have not yet been able to get ahold of it.
Nous voilà. Enjoy the video below the IO-owl: