In February 1999 I made the original Foucault's Paris page, based on material that I was able to cobble together by roaming the web and through virtual contacts such as Clare O'Farrell.
At that point I hadn't actually been to Paris since a school trip in 1985. This page was obviously in need of original photographs and some hands-on research, so your intrepid reporter went in search of the Foucault legacy in April 1999...
Welcome, then, to the post-visit remix of Foucault's Paris.
Clare had already warned me that Paris does not go out of its way to lay on tourist treats for the Foucault-oriented visitor. I knew that I would not be returning with blocks of novelty fromage Foucault. I was aware that the chances of finding a Cafe Michel, serving boiled eggs with the philosopher's face drawn onto the side, was slim. Nor would we be visiting his old apartment to admire its renovation into a top-notch Visitor Centre and gift shop.
"I think the best Paris has to offer," Clare had warned me, "is the archives and the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir where one can see the very books that Foucault consulted himself!". Hmm. Clare also alerted me to the Parisian nonchalance about all things Foucault. "The French themselves seem to have lost interest in Foucault and seem rather bemused by the fanatical and enormous interest in his work elsewhere," she noted.
We stayed at the Hotel Port-Royal, which is worth mentioning because it was very nice and amazingly cheap (£15 [about US $23] per person per night), and is also a stone's throw from key Foucault sites. (It's at 8 bd Port-Royal; phone 01.43.31.70.06).
So let's start the tour. I recommend beginning with the southernmost point first, then making your way back towards the centre of Paris. This means heading for the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir (at 43 bis, rue de la Glacière 75013) where, during the last five years of his life, Foucault worked on volumes II and III of the History of Sexuality.
Heading down rue de la Glacière, on your way to the library from the city centre, you pass places which you can be almost certain that Michel Foucault must have popped in to at some point.
For example: this cafe was entirely pleasant. Foucault walked past it every day. Likelihood of Foucault having been here: 93 per cent.
Unless Foucault had a private helicopter which all of his biographers have overlooked, you can be 100 per cent certain that Foucault walked along this street. Oh, how this humble road could tell so many stories. If only it wasn't an inanimate object. Obviously.
This ice cream parlour is directly opposite the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir. The proprietor told us that Michel Foucault often stopped here for an ice cream after a long summer's day spent studying in the humid library. Foucault's favourite flavour was pecan and banana, he said. Likelihood that this was the truth: six per cent. Nevertheless, this shrewd Parisian was the only one we met who recognised the commercial potential of the cynical exploitation of Foucault students. He deserves your trade.
So finally we arrive at the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir. It has a pleasant grassy bit outside, but no marble Foucault statue, nor even a neon "Foucault Experience" sign.
Visitors can wander quite happily into this fine library. However a man will berate you in complex French. Then you will explain what you are doing. Then he will point to a sign telling you that all of the Foucault archives are now housed at the Institut Mémoires de l'Édition Contemporaine (IMEC) centre. Then you will explain that you knew that already but that you just wanted to peer into the library where Foucault worked for the last five years of his life. And the man will point to his sign again, but in a more, er, pointed fashion.
If you are like me, you will give up here, assuming that there's not much to see in a library anyway. (We will ignore, for now, the paradoxical way in which this thought undermines the entire trip). But look at the photo above to see what is on offer in the guarded sanctum: A noticeboard with bits of paper on! A wooden card index file! And more! Just be grateful that I risked incurring the wrath of the man once again by taking this photograph.
So, having been kicked out of the library, head north back up rue de la Glacière, and you soon get to the École Normale Supérieure. Foucault studied here, and between 1951 and 1955, at the invitation of Louis Althusser, Foucault returned to teach psychology. It's at 45 rue d'Ulm. (I recommend looking at a map, really). The pretty picture here is one I got from the internet.
In practice what you can see of the École Normale Supérieure is this fancy old door [left]...
...which is clearly designed to distract your attention away from the horrible concrete part directly across the street [right]. No-one was available to regale us with heart-stopping tales of how Foucault used to run around in a suicidal rage throwing psychology textbooks at his students, or anything else, unfortunately.
Now keep going north, past the Panthéon, and you soon come to Rue Des Ecoles, where you can find the Collège de France. In 1969 Foucault was elected to a new Chair in the "History of Systems of Thought" here. When I first compiled this guide it was impossible to find pictures of this college anywhere on the internet, so I am happy to remedy this situation.
The Collège is set just a little bit back from Rue Des Ecoles, on the south side of the street. There are some interesting bookshops over the road. Likelihood that Foucault went in the interesting bookshops, in his time: 98 per cent.
You can wander around the very attractive main courtyard. Likelihood that Foucault did this: 99 per cent.
After my experience at the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir, I didn't bother going to the IMEC centre, where the Foucault archive is housed, because I hadn't written to them in advance and so feared that they wouldn't be very welcoming -- which may not be justified -- and at the time I thought that there wasn't much point in just gazing at the stuff anyway. My previous trawl of the internet had turned up this photo showing a bit of the Foucault archives. The collection includes 2000 documents and 400 cassette recordings of Foucault's lectures, conference talks, discussions and interviews. The archive lives at the Institut Mémoires de l'Édition Contemporaine (IMEC), which is at: 9, rue Bleue, 75009 Paris.
When the Foucault tourist boom really kicks in, the French are going to have to take all of this much more seriously. One of the more obvious problems for the English-speaking tourist that most of these archive cassette recordings are in French. We therefore propose that the well-known bald actor Patrick Stewart should record translated highlights from the audio archive, for an English-language CD to be sold in the shop. (You wouldn't believe how much time I spent making this fake picture of a Patrick-Stewart-reads-Foucault CD, incidentally. Quite tragic, really).
So my tour, which started at the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir and took you past the École Normale Supérieure before ending up at the Collège de France, ends around here. I recommend wandering into the middle of Paris, which is predictably very nice, and Foucault definitely wandered round it too. Visit the Centre Georges Pompidou (or their website -- which has an English language version). Or if you don't mind doubling back a bit, the Rue Mouffetard is absolutely unmissable -- a cobbled street up a hill with great cafes, cheap restaurants and cheese shops.
Finally, however, we should look at this grave, in Paris, where Foucault was buried. Unfortunately this particular Foucault is Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1868), the physicist who invented the "Foucault's Pendulum", which is a device that demonstrates the rotation of the earth, and is frankly rather a pain for anyone looking up 'Foucault' on the internet, in web bookshops (that Umberto Eco novel) and anywhere else.
As for Michel Foucault's grave... it's in Vendeuvre (Poitou) near Poitiers, where is father was a surgeon. This is not to be confused with the Château de Vendeuvre, the rather nice house pictured here, where Foucault corrected proofs for Le Souci de Soi (The Care of the Self) a couple of months before his death. This is somewhere else altogether, near Caen.
In the year 2001, the IMEC archives moved to a new centre on the site of the Abbey of Ardenne, also near Caen, which is (a) good news for Foucault tourists in Normandy, who can go to the Château and the archive on the same day; and (b) disastrous news for the newly booming Paris Foucault tourist industry. [English-language Normandy tourist info here].
Here's a few more web resources:
Clare's info on the Foucault Archives
le Centre Michel Foucault (in French)
La Bibliothèque du Saulchoir (in French)
IMEC (Archives) information (in French)
If your French isn't much good, AltaVista's Babelfish will produce a dodgy translation of any web page. Below is the Babelfish translation of information about La Bibliothèque du Saulchoir on the Centre Michel Foucault site. It's not bad, though tourists may want to avoid requesting "the street of the Refrigerator":
'The library of Saulchoir is a library belonging to the command of the Dominican ones, and whose access is allowed to the students and to the researchers. Its collection is mainly devoted to philosophy and religious sciences. One finds there, in "usual", works of the Fathers of the Church and the reference works out of religious matter.
'Foucault worked there as from the year 1979, until his death. There Foucault found the sources principal of his last works (volumes II and III of the History of Sexuality), as well as his reflexions on the parrhesia, and the Christian experiment of the "flesh".
'Library of Saulchoir, 43bis street of the Refrigerator, 75013 Paris, subway Refrigerator. The funds Michel Foucault was lodged during ten years by the library of Saulchoir. Thousands of researchers of all the countries could appreciate the daily devotion of the personnel of this library. Association for the Center Michel Foucault owes a great part of its development with the collaboration of this library'.
www.theory.org.uk is unable to accept responsibility for any injury, stress, or loss of cheese sustained as a result of the use or abuse of this Foucault's Paris tourist guide.
© David Gauntlett 1999