Sunday, January 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 19.3 (Michel Foucault)

Foucault, Michel
The Archaeology of Knowledge

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think I bought this to read for my oral exams in graduate school. It was definitely on the theory reading list I did with Rodolphe Gasché. Once a month or so I would visit him his office, the shelves of which were lined with philosophy books in German and French, to discuss the books of theory and philosophy I had read.

My recollection was that Foucault was not all that interesting to him. I don't recall ever having a thorough discussion of his work or of being asked about him on the exam. My clearest memory is of discussing Adorno's Negative Dialectics. We once spent a whole meeting on that book, at the end of which he asked me, "How are you going to use Adorno?"

I proceeded to spend the next several minutes explaining various ways in which I might integrate Adorno into my dissertation, until he stopped me and said, "I meant, How are you going to use him in your poetry?" He seemed to have an instinctive sense that for me it was poetry that mattered and that my heart really wasn't in my critical work.

It was a shock as both an undergraduate and graduate student to discover how many professors of English literature seemed to hate writers and creative writing. I suspect the ratio of failed creative writers to English professors is quite high, which would account for some of this. But the naive young student in me is still perplexed that people who profess to love literature to the extent that they dedicate their lives to teaching it would so de-value the practice of creative writing among their students. While I could understand that they didn't have time to read one's writing or to evaluate it, I could never understand their unwillingness to recognize anything other than standard academic writing as a legitimate intellectual response to literature.

The few professors I had like Rodolphe Gasché (I can count them on one hand), who encouraged and seemed to truly value creativity in an academic context were rare, precious, and crucial to my development as a writer.

from The Archaeology of Knowledge

This book was written simply in order to overcome certain preliminary difficulties. I know as well as anyone how 'thankless' is the task that I undertook some ten years ago. I know how irritating it can be to treat discourses in terms not of the gentle, silent, intimate consciousness that is expressed in them, but of an obscure set of anonymous rules. How unpleasant it is to reveal the limitations and necessities of a practice where one is used to seeing, in all its pure transparency, the expression of genius and freedom. How provocative it is to treat as a set of transformations this history of discourses which, until now, has been animated by the reassuring metaphors of life or the intentional continuity of the lived. How unbearable it is, in view of how much of himself everyone wishes to put, thinks he is putting of 'himself' into his own discourse. when he speaks, how unbearable it is to cut, analyze, combine, rearrange all these texts that have now returned from silence, without ever the transfigured face of the author appearing...

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