hallucinating foucault

(by Patricia Duncker). This was one of my birthday gifts, and given my insane schedule, I decided to read it first, mainly because of its slight profile. But this slim book packs quite a punch, both in terms of narrative force and the way it deals with the seductive power of insane geniuses.

The narrator is an unnamed middle-class British graduate student in literature, studying a fictional homosexual French author, Paul Michel. Not only was Michel homosexual, he flaunted it in the face of the establishment, and was also a paranoid schitzophrenic. The narrator meets and falls in love with another graduate student, the Germanist, studying Schiller, who seems to know quite a bit about Michel. As it turns out, her father, who is also homosexual and works at the Bank of London (referred to in the book as the Bank of London) has connections in France and the narrator, under pressure from the Germanist, decides to go hunt down Michel, who is in an asylum somewhere in France. It is then that the story takes off.

The treatment of the characters in the book is almost Brechtian. All of the major characters with the exception of Michel are nameless, referred to only by their occupation or status. Michel is humanized not only by the depiction of his incarcertation and his love of life, but also by the virtue of being named.

Central to the story is that Michel and Foucault have a strange connection — that they wrote for each other. It’s an interesting idea, and one that I felt was given an appropriately light touch. Foucault and Michel’s writing share the same themes, they were both French homosexuals, but they never really met in public, never seemed to have any connection. How better to explain it than that they were secretly writing for each other, having a love affair via the texts?

The best part is that this somewhat crazy hypothesis has some truth to it, although it falls into that nebulous realm of critical theory masturbation. In the end, the narrator meets Michel, is seduced by him, and finds out the truth about Foucault. Unforutunately, that knowledge is unwriteable, unproveable, but at thast point he no longer cares about his thesis, since he has fallen desperately in love.

All in all, a good read, and a breath of fresh air for me, occupying as I have been a world of equations and theorems.

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