Several schools of literary theory hold that readers have no business
being interested in the private lives of authors; words on a page are
utterly distinct from their creators, and the words are what matter. In
Hallucinating Foucault (Ecco; 175 pages; $21), Patricia Duncker plays
entertaining variations on these arguments and on the relationships
between readers and writers.
Her unnamed narrator is a 22-year-old Englishman studying for an advanced
degree in French literature at Cambridge. He is working on a thesis about
the novels of a writer named Paul Michel, who emerged in the 1960s as "the
wild boy of his generation." The narrator is more interested in Michel's
cool, classically restrained fiction than in his public role as an
outspoken homosexual. In fact, the narrator seems unaware of the fate of
the real Paul Michel until his Cambridge girlfriend tells him that Michel
was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in 1984 and has been held ever
since in one or another French mental institution.
Before he quite knows what has hit him, Duncker's hero finds himself in
Paris, "having been chosen for reasons I did not understand" to rescue
Michel from his captivity. Eventually he succeeds, and then succumbs to
the confusion of author with text: "Paul Michel and the hidden drama lived
in his texts were utterly and terribly fused."
The definitive novel on the chaotic collision between reader and creator
remains Nabokov's Pale Fire. But Duncker, 45, who teaches at a Welsh
university, turns Hallucinating Foucault into something more than an
academic thriller. And the questions she leaves unanswered are of more
than academic interest. --P.G.
On Mon, 10 Mar 1997 brehkopf@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:
> May or may not - and probably the latter - belong on this list, but...
> I've just read a review of _Hallucinating Foucault_, which I hadn't
> heard of before, in _Time_ and I was wondering if anyone out there had
> read the book. If you read the blurb in _Time_ you may well understand
> why I'm interested, even if the book itself sounds so-so.
> Just wondering.
> Blaine Rehkopf
> York University