Front and back covers of the first edition of Michel Foucault’s ‘Surveiller et punir’ (1975)

Surveiller et punir by Michel Foucault, Paris: Gallimard, coll. Bibliothèque des Histoires, 1975 (printing from 1977). Scanned images by Jeremy Crampton, retrieved from his blog Open Geography. Follow the link for larger reproductions.

Jeremy Crampton is Associate Professor of geography in the Department of Geography at University of Kentucky. He runs the blog Open Geography. He used to run the Foucault Blog, until August 2010. Since then, the news function of this blog has passed into the capable hands of Clare O’Farrell, who maintains the well-known Foucault News blog.

Jeremy Crampton shared the following remarks on his blog, along with scanned images of the front and back covers of the first edition of Michel Foucault’s Surveiller et punir:

It would be nice to have a translation of the back cover of the book, which is otherwise one of those ephemeral texts. (The modern French edition omits a number of sentences, and is not–as far as I know–initialed.)

If I’m not mistaking, French editors of certain collections sometimes ask the author to write an original presentation for the back cover –the “quatrième de couverture”– of their own book. This practice however varies from collections to collections, and indeed from editions to re-editions. Gérard Genette classified this textual apparatus as a peritext. Another example of familiar peritext is the “blurb” (see Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, tr. by Jane E. Lewin, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 25 sq.).

I produced a rough translation of Foucault’s presentation, as well as a transcription of the original French text (below). It is an interesting exercise. Foucault’s writing is quite elegant, and some of the expression he used are rather unusual. Because of the need to remain concise, he resorted to an elaborate syntax and long sentences. Except for a few instances, I tried to produce a very literal translation. For the technical terms specific to Surveiller et puniréchafauds, châtier, assujetissement– I have relied in part on Stuart Elden’s observations: “Beyond Discipline and Punish: Is it time for a new translation of Foucault’s Surveiller et punir?” (Jan. 22, 2014). Here are a couple of additional remarks:

  • une entreprise d’orthopédie sociale” – That’s an unusual expression, even in French. It makes sense when the etymology of the word orthopédie is considered: ὀρθός + παιδεία. It has to do with the process of enforcing the correct value. It may be the correction of an inadequate posture by means of medical braces or, in the case at hand here, the discipline of proper behavior by means of various institutions (schools, hospitals, workshops).
  • In an email exchange, Jeremy Crampton suggested to translate quadriller with “partition”, which I find more fortunate than what I had first considered (“coverage”, as in “covering a territory”). In his translation of the Manifesto of the Groupe d’Information sur les prisons, Stuart Elden commented: “Quadrillage is a grid-like systematic division and control of an area.” (Aug. 2, 2013).
  • a sans doute inventé” – In French “sans doute” could mean both “probably” or “without any doubt”. Given the context, I chose to rely on the second interpretation.
  • La pénalité moderne” – This has more to do with the complex system that allows the enforcement of a penal code, than with a simple “penalty”.
  • les «sciences humaines»” – “Human sciences” provides a thematic continuity with Foucault’s earlier book The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1966).
  • justifier la justice” That could be said to be a compact play on words, and I wasn’t sure it would render properly as “justify justice”.

The translation:

Maybe we are ashamed today of our prisons. The nineteenth century was proud of the fortresses it was building around and sometimes in the heart of its cities. It was pleased with this comfort which had replaced the scaffolds [échafauds]. It marvelled in not having to chastise bodies anymore, for it knew how to correct souls. These walls, these locks, these cells were announcing a whole project of social orthopedics.
Those who steal, we put in prisons; those who rape, we put in prisons; those who kill, likewise. Whence come this strange practice with the curious project of imprisoning in order to rectify [redresser], which is inscribed in the penal codes of the modern era? An old inheritance of Middle Age dungeons? Rather, it is a new technology: the tuning, from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century, of a whole set of procedures to partition [quadriller], to control, to measure, to train [dresser] the individuals, to make them both “docile and useful”. Surveillance, exercises, maneuvers, notations, ranks and places, classifications, examinations, recordings, a whole new way of subjecting [assujetir] the bodies, of mastering human multiplicities, and of manipulating their forces, was developed during the Classical period [des siècles classiques], in hospitals, in the army, in schools, in colleges and workshops: [that is] discipline. The eighteenth century undoubtedly invented liberties, but it also provided them with a solid and deep underground: the disciplinary society which is still ours today.

Prison must be re-examined in light of the formation of this society of surveillance.

Modern penalization dares not say it punishes crimes anymore: instead, it pretends to rehabilitate the delinquents. It’s acquainted itself with “human sciences” for almost two centuries. It is its pride, or at least its way of not being too shameful of itself: “Maybe I’m not yet perfectly just; please be patient, and see how I am becoming scholarly [savante] in my ways”. But how psychology, psychiatry, criminology, could provide criteria for justice today [justifier la justice], since their own history shows they share a common political technology from the very moment they respectively appeared. Under the knowledge of humans and the humanity of chastisements, we find a disciplinary investment in bodies, a mixed form of subjectification [assujetissement] and objectification, a similar “power-knowledge”. Is it possible to make a genealogy of modern morals based on a political history of the body?

Transcription of the original French text:

Peut-être avons-nous honte aujourd’hui de nos prisons. Le XIXe siècle lui, était fier des forteresses qu’il construisait aux limites et parfois au coeur des villes. Il s’enchantait de cette douceur nouvelle qui remplaçait les échafauds. Il s’émerveillait de ne plus châtier les corps, et de savoir désormais corriger les âmes. Ces murs, ces verrous, ces cellules figuraient toute une entreprise d’orthopédie sociale.

Ceux qui volent, on les emprisonne; ceux qui violent, on les emprisonne; ceux qui tuent, également. D’où vient cette étrange pratique et le curieux projet d’enfermer pour redresser, que portent avec eux les Codes pénaux de l’époque moderne? Un vieil héritage des cachots du Moyen Âge? Plutôt une technologie nouvelle: la mise au point, du XVIe au XIXe siècle de tout un ensemble de procédures pour quadriller, contrôler, mesurer, dresser les individus, les rendre à la fois “docile et utiles”. Surveillance, exercices, manoeuvres, notations, rangs et places, classements, examens, enregistrements, toute une manière d’assujettir les corps, de maîtriser les multiplicités humaines et de manipuler leurs forces, s’est développée au cours des siècles classiques, dans les hôpitaux, à l’armée, dans les écoles, les collèges ou les ateliers: la discipline. Le XVIIIe siècle a sans doute inventé les libertés; mais il leur a donné un sous-sol profond et solide, –la société disciplinaire dont nous relevons toujours.

La prison est à replacer dans la formation de cette société de surveillance.

La pénalité moderne n’ose plus dire qu’elle punit des crimes; elle prétend réadapter des délinquants. Voilà deux siècles bientôt qu’elle voisine et cousine avec les «sciences humaines». C’est sa fierté, sa manière, en tout cas, de n’être pas trop honteuse d’elle-même: «Je ne suis peut-être pas encore tout à fait juste; ayez un peu de patience, regardez comme je suis en train de devenir savante.» Mais comment la psychologie, la psychiatrie, la criminologie pourrait-elles justifier la justice d’aujourd’hui, puisque leur histoire montre une même technologie politique, au point où elles se sont formées les unes et les autres? Sous la connaissance des hommes et sous l’humanité des châtiments, se retrouvent un certain investissement disciplinaire des corps, une forme mixte d’assujetissement et d’objectivation, un même «pouvoir-savoir». Peut-on faire la généalogie de la morale moderne à partir d’une histoire politique des corps?


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