I’ve had, for this book (already old), to write a new preface. I
admit it made me sick, whether I’d do it right: that I not lack the
will to offer reason for what it was and re-write it (so far as this
could be done) in light of recent events. Possible or no, wise or
un-, this would not have been right. It would not take the shape
of all that it should be, so far as it’s a book, the license of the
one that wrote it. A book happens (a trifling event) to be a tiny
malleable thing. From there it is then taken into an unending
game of repetition; its doubles start to swarm, both around it
and far removed; each reading gives it, for the moment, a form
intangibly distinct; its pieces that (which one makes valid for
oneself) swirl about and look as if to envelop it almost in its
entirety and in those forms, finally, where it happens to find a
haven; the commentaries dice it up, other debates where it shall,
at last, appear itself, to confess that which it refused to say, be
freed noisily from what it pretends it is. A new edition in an-
other time and other place still is one of these copies whether
it is all a trick or identity entire.
There is an incredible temptation for someone writing a
book to make its every rule all frilly correspondences, to pre-
scribe their form, to stuff them full of an identity, to impose
on them some recognizable sign which would give them in
total a certain, constant worth. “I am the author: look at my face
or my profile; here’s what will put back together all the repeated
figures that circulate under my name; the ones that move away
from it are worthless; you’ll be able to judge the value of the
others by the degree of their resemblance. I am the name, the law,
the soul, the secret, the measure of all copies.” So is the preface
written, the first act by which the author’s sole rule begins to
establish itself, a declaration of tyranny: my intention ought to
be your instruction; you will provide your reading, your inter-
pretations, your analysis to what I wanted to do, understand I’m
being humble: When I speak of the limits of my project, I mean
to fix your freedom; and if I declare my intention has not been
equal to my task, it is because I want to allow you the right to
object to my book as the author’s projection, so very close to him,
but more beautiful than what he is. I am the sovereign of the
things I say and I oversee the power of their eminence: that is
what I mean and the sense I wanted them to have.
I should want that a book – alongside who wrote it, at
least – should be nothing besides the statements that it makes
is made of; that it not divide in its own first appearance (that is,
a preface) which claims to legislate all of these things that will
in its occurrence be formed by leaving it behind; for this object-
ive event, almost unremarkable amidst so many others, to write
itself again, to break, repeat, imitate itself and split, disappearing
at last into the absence of the one that happened to create it, never
able to claim the right of being its master, of imposing what it
wanted to mean except by saying what it was to be. In short, I
wanted for a book to not give itself the status of a text to which
academics or criticism know how to reduce it too well; battle and
weapon at once, strategy and shock, struggle and prize or wound,
guesses and traces, uneven encounter and scene redoubling.
That is why when someone asked me about writing a new pre-
face for this re-edited edition, I had not a thing to say: We hold back
the past. Such is honesty. We look neither to explain this old book
nor rewrite it today; the chain of events which relate to it and which
are its law in truth is far from its end. As for the novelty, we do not
pretend to uncover in it some secret source, a richness hitherto un-
known; it was only created as of the things said surrounding
and events in which it took place.
– But you’re going to, have written a preface.
– At least it’s short.
Michel Foucault (lives).