Foucault in English: The politics of exoticization
Universidade Nova de Lisboa
It is something of a cliché to affirm that translations into English are almost always domestications, privileging
fluency and naturalness over fidelity to the source text. However, back in the 1970s, many of Michel Foucault’s major texts, which were
introduced to the English-speaking public for the first time through Alan Sheridan Smith’s translations for Tavistock Publications, were not
domesticated at all. Despite the fact that the originals are grounded in a non-empiricist theory of knowledge and use terms drawn from a
universe of discourse that would have been completely alien in the English-speaking world, these translations closely follow the patterns of
the French, with few or no concessions to the target reader’s knowledge and expectations. This paper analyses passages from Sheridan Smith’s
English translations of Les Mots et les choses and L’Archéologie du savoir in order to discuss the
long-term effects of this translation strategy. It then goes on to compare and assess two very different translations of Foucault’s lecture
L’ Ordre du discours (1970), an early one by Rupert Swyer (1971), which brings the text to the English reader, and a later one by Ian McLeod (1981), which obliges the reader to go to the text. The paper concludes by reiterating the need for
Anglophone academic culture to open up to foreign perspectives, and suggests, following Goethe (Book of West and East, 1819) that new epistemes are best introduced gradually in order to avoid alienating or confusing a public that might
not be ready for them.
Michel Foucault has undoubtedly had a tremendous influence on Anglophone culture. His works are bestsellers, studied in fields as diverse as political science, psychiatry, linguistics and literary criticism; they have helped shape interdisciplines such as criminology, gender studies, cultural studies and postcolonialism, as well as methodologies like new historicism and critical discourse analysis. Although several decades have now gone by since poststructuralism was at its height, his influence seems, if anything, to have intensified with the passing of the years. Indeed, the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI) show a steady increase in the number of references to him from the late sixties onwards (Megill 1987, 118); and in 2007, he was actually the most cited author of books in the humanities according to Thompson Reuters ISI Web of Science (
Times Higher Education 2009).
Works by Michel Foucault
1961Folie et déraison. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique. Paris: Plon.
1970“Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?”Bulletin de la Société française de philosophie 63 (3): 73–104.
Translated by Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon as “What Is an Author?” In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Selected Essays and Interviewsed. byDonald F. Bouchard, 113–138. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press1977.
1970L’Ordre du discours. Paris: Gallimard.
Translated by Rupert Swyer as “Orders of Discourse.” Social Science Information 10 (2) : 7–30. Reprinted as “Discourse on Language” as appendix to The Archaeology of Knowledge
Translated by Ian McLeod as “The Order of Discourse.” In Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Readered. byRobert Young, 51–78. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul1981.
1975Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison. Paris: Gallimard.
Translated by Alan Sheridan as Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Peregrine Books1979.
Translated by Iver B. Neumann as Forelesninger om regjering og styringskunst. Oslo: Cappelen akademisk2002.
2013 “Foucault’s Normative Epistemology.” In A Companion to Foucault, ed. by Christopher Falzon, Timothy O’Leary, and Jana Sawicki, 207–225. Chichester: Blackwell.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony
(1993) 2000 “Thick Translation.” In The Translation Studies Reader, ed. by Lawrence Venuti, 417–429. London: Routledge.
Bartky, Sandra Lee
1988 “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” In Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, ed. by Irene Diamond, and Lee Quinby, 61–86. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
(1819) 2002. “Translations.” From West-Östlicher Divan. Translated by Douglas Robinson. In Western Translation Theory from Herodotus to Nietzsche. 2nd ed., ed. by Douglas Robinson, 222–224. Manchester: St. Jerome.
1996 “Foucault in Britain.” In Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism, and Rationalities of Government, ed. by Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne, and Nikolas Rose, 253–270. London: Routledge.
1985 “Why Waste our Time on Rewrites? The Trouble with Interpretation and the Role of Rewriting in an Alternative Paradigm.” In The Manipulation of Literature: Studies in Literary Translation, ed. by Theo Hermans, 215–244. London: Croom Helm.
(1999) 2002“Renascimento e modernidade da retórica.” Translated from the French by Maria Manuel Berjano. In História da Retórica, ed. by Michel Meyer, Manuel Maria Carrilho, and Benoît Timmermans, 83–226. Lisbon: Temas e Debates.
2016 “What is an Author, Indeed: Michel Foucault in Translation.” Perspectives 24 (1): 76–92.
1995The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. London: Routledge.