Foucault in California

Simeon Wade began his manuscript, Foucault in California, shortly after he met Michel Foucault in 1975. He worked on the manuscript over the next fifteen years. No publisher would touch it, and until James Miller’s 1993 book, The Passion of Michel Foucault, the manuscript, and Simeon, remained unknown outside of a very small circle of friends.

I first saw this manuscript sometime in 2015, when Simeon Wade finally located a copy in one of his storage units. Although Simeon allowed me to read the manuscript, and to use excerpts of it in talks and presentations, he was deeply wary of public exposure. Therefore it wasn’t until 2017 that he finally allowed me to interview him for publication. We were both lucky in finding Jason Sexton, editor of Boom, who welcomed Simeon’s odd story.

Shortly after this interview appeared, Simeon died unexpectedly. His brother, David, has made it a mission to secure publication of Foucault in California, and placed the manuscript with Heyday Press. It is scheduled for publication in spring, 2019. I am honored to have written a Foreword for the book.

My own odyssey with this project is more complicated than this short outline. Simeon and I became dear friends, and I find his story to be far more expansive than that covered in Foucault in California. I want to capture this tangled and contradictory man, and our unlikely friendship, in a full-length work of prose, but so far I am not satisfied with what I’ve written. However, I think of Simeon and his manuscript, which is finally reaching an audience after forty-four years. And I’m not discouraged; I’m back at work.

In 2014, when I was a graduate student at the University of Southern California, I first heard about that time in 1975 when Michel Foucault dropped acid in Death Valley with an assistant professor from Claremont Graduate School. This story triggered something deeply snarky in me. I hated “theory.” I hated Foucault, who seemed to embody all the privilege and arrogance of the theory movement. When I learned that Foucault’s host in Death Valley, Simeon Wade, had an unpublished manuscript describing this experience, I decided to track him down. I wanted to get Wade’s manuscript and use it to write a satire about idiot academics in the desert.

I badgered someone who knew someone who had his address.

“He’s a recluse,” the friend of a friend said. “Doesn’t use a computer or a phone, and basically lives off the grid.”

I wrote Wade a letter introducing myself and asking for a meeting. He sent back a postcard with a date and time, and the address of a Starbucks near his home in Oxnard, California.

“How will I know it’s him?” I asked my source.

“You’ll know,” he replied.

adapted from the Foreword to Foucault in California