Still hallucinating Foucault?

Still hallucinating Foucault?

Some readers of this WWW blog will have heard about or perhaps themselves have read an excellent novel by Patricia Duncker (1996), called Hallucinating Foucault.

For purposes of the blog, the details and characters are less important than the fact that the object of the novel, a writer called Paul Michel, is unable to write because of having a specific reader in mind, who provides a kind of haunting of his texts. This reader is Michel Foucault, and the novelist ceases to write and is unable to do so after Foucault dies, something which drives him to madness. He is pursued to a sanatorium in France by the protagonist (a PhD student, never named), who wants to know the secret of his prose, his creativity. The novel conveys the obsession, the burning obsession, of the compulsion to find out, to investigate, to research. On another level it is written as an elaborate metaphor, one which explores the mainspring of the urge to write and the elusive, ever present, always absent, figure of ‘the reader‘, personified here as Foucault.

For many people who write, there is no personification, but there is still a haunting of the text by ‘the reader‘. This is usually an elusive entity that a writer has in mind as they go about the business of producing a text, which may be fiction or fact, may be words or numbers, may be script or oral or visual. It is not necessarily a stable entity that persists over time; it may be different for different pieces of writing or other work, or even for different points within the same piece; and it may be amorphous rather than taking material or quasi-material form.

Writing these WWW blogs is a case in point. Usually there is some notion of the kind of person or set of interests that might take kindly to a particular topic or a particular style adopted when writing one week’s blog rather than another. This one, for instance, has been animated by my unprompted recollection of the Hallucinating Foucault novel, a colleague writing something interesting and my wanting to know who or what ‘the reader‘ is for him, partly an abiding sense of an elusive group of people whose work I admire and would like them to like mine. But sometimes there is something additional, a straining to pin down what these interests are and what it is they would like from me, and even more specifically it is whether the weekly blogs are read at all. The writer worries! Is the reader actually there, or might they, these unknown unnamed unknowable protagonists, have gone off to France to interview a novelist whose work they are attracted to?

Last updated:  7 October 2021