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Submitted Literature

Hallucinating Foucault

By Patricia Duncker


Duncker’s academic background is clear throughout this exploration of madness and literary creativity, producing a strangely compulsive, multilayered novel of obsessions: obsessive epistemological quests, obsessive love, obsessive relationships.  There are homoerotic elements to the novel and tantilisingly the narrator’s gender remains hidden until near the closing pages.  Foucaultian ideas on power and sexuality are fictionalised through the novel, twinned with the dual theme of Paul Michel’s obsession with Foucault and his display of elements of De Clérambaults syndrome. The madness of writer Paul Michel is explored retrospectively, as he mostly appears to be well when encountered by the narrator, though the novel poses questions about notions of wellness being diametrically opposed to madness.

Key Themes:

  • Creativity and Madness
  • De ClĂ©rambaults Syndrome
  • Obsessions
  • Revealing Reads
  • Schizophrenia

Significant Quotes / Pages

4 –  "I begin screaming.  I am shaking, hysterical, distraught.  In the dream I reach out towards them, to clamp that moment back into time, to halt the corruption of change, to lock them forever into the acknowledged joy of companionship and affection, across the gulf in their lives and in mine.  That glance between them gleams, frozen forever on the hot, it drenched rocks.  I am awake, sweating, crying, consumed by the horror of what I am unable to prevent.

Sometimes I lose my grasp on what happened in the summer of 1993.  I have only these evil, recurring dreams.”

28-29 – “On the night of 30 June 1984 Paul Michel was arrested in the graveyard at Pere Lachaise.  He was found screaming and crying, overturning tombstones with a crowbar.  The cemetery watchman, M. Jules Lafarge, tried to stop him, whereupon the writer attacked the watchman, fracturing his skull with the crowbar which he subsequently used to break M. Lafarge’s forearm and to inflict multiple injuries on his back and face.  Paul Michel, described as incoherent and dangerous by the SAMU officials who eventually managed to control him, was admitted to the psychiatric unit at Sainte-Anne a few days later.  He has been diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  It was later revealed that the writer had escaped from the restraints placed upon him in the hospital and had slashed his chest several times with a razor stolen from one of the other patients.  He is not thought to be in any danger.

The heterosexual press have not hesitated to speculate on the supposed connection between Paul Michel’s madness and his homosexuality.  But who is Paul Michel?  The identity of a writer is always a subject for speculation.  Writing is a secret art; a hidden, a coded practice, often carried out in darkness behind locked doors.  The process of making writing is an invisible act.  Paul Michel suggested this link between writing and homosexual desire.

Fiction, he said, was beautiful, unauthentic and useless, a profoundly unnatural art, designed purely for pleasure.  He described the writing of fiction, telling stories, telling lies, as a strange obsession, a compulsive habits.  He saw his own homosexuality in similar terms; as the quality that was at once beautiful and useless, the potentially perfect pleasure.

[…] homosexuality is the result of an innate biological determinism.  The politically convenient aspect of this theory is of course the fact that homosexuals cannot therefore be held responsible for what is their natural condition.  No one can be blamed.  Paul Michel was defiantly against nature.  To be unnatural, he argued, was to be civilised, to stake one’s claim to an intellectual self-consciousness which was the only foundation for making art.  He relished the improbable, bizarre aspects of gay life; he frequented the leather bars, the drag shows, the baths, the roughest cruising grounds.  […] He cherished the role of sexual outlaw, monster, pervert.  So far as we know he never lived within a stable partnership.  He was always alone.”


43-4 – “ ‘It’s very rare that you find to schizophrenics who resemble each other.  The symptoms vary a great deal.  Paul Michel was very disturbed, very violent.  That's not unusual.  But it will usually be random violence.  They aren’t murderers.  They don't set out to kill anybody, plan it, do it.  That's rare.  When they’re in crisis they can enact a sort of fusion with someone else close to them, love or hate, either way.  They may fall in love with you.  They may even take you in their arms with a passion-with a tenderness that startling.  Or they're capable of killing you.  It's a terrible disease.  I'm one of those doctors who think that it is a disease.  You have no idea how they suffer.  I can remember Paul Michel, right at the beginning.  He was a very handsome man.  You know that.  Well, his pupils were gigantic that night when they bought him into Saint-Anne.  I was on duty.  When they are in crisis the pupil can take over the whole eye.  He was completely unaware of his actions.  He was very violent, possessed by an extraordinary strength-quite insane.’

[…] ‘ […] And we really did use straitjackets.  The beds in the rooms were screwed to the floors.  We had guards on the wards.  It was pretty brutal.  And frightening.  The madhouse wasn't a pleasant place.  It was oppressive to both the staff and the patients.  And we had bars on all the windows.  Now we use drugs.  But it boils down to the same thing in the end. […] The drugs put a straitjacket on the personality of the schizophrenic.  The drugs curtail their suffering, but turn them into zombies.  And their personalities degenerate.’”


Reference: Patricia, Duncker. 1996. Hallucinating Foucault. London: Picador, 1997


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009