Roussel and Foucault

The Roussel book would not be especially important if it were the one
book by an obscure writer. It is, I think, important because it gives
us a clue to what Foucault was actaully up to in his other works.
Roussel wrote a book titled something like "How some of my works
where written". In this book he revealed that the plots of several of
his novels grow out of playing endlessly with of a single pun by
following the chain of it's associations wherever they might go. The
result, weirdly enough, is an odd surrealist kind of plot that seems
to hang together and mean something even though it is very hard to say
exactly what it all means in board final terms as in answer to the
question "what is this book about."
The dessiminating pun which opens up the discoursive space of the
narrative is never specifically mentioned in the narrative. Imagine
reading Roussel in English translation or even Foucault writing about
Roussel in English translation. Something totally arbitrary on the
surface of a language, something to superficial to survive translation
into another language, has generated a whole discoursive space policed
by the associations and extensions of itself.
This is, I think, where Foucault got his idea of how discourses
in general come to be, from the pure example offered in Roussel's work
of the process at work. Foucault's point is that we live inside
discourses which seem to us essential but which are actually rooted
historically in pure and capricious chance. We are all living inside
one vast language game of a Roussel novel with the grammar rules which
police our lives being derived from a pun made in a dead language it
takes archeology to recover.
In the beginning was the word and the word was if not God at
least grammar. It's a very liberating sort of pie in the face to
realize that the word was a pun. The learned pedant of law or
psychiatry seems less deep and daunting spinning his webs after this
insight is achieved and that, I think, was Foucault's radically
subversive final agenda.

---Stuart Elden <Stuart.Elden@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> Clare wrote
> >But I think Raymond Roussel would have to be Foucault's least read
> >(with good reason I might add)!!
> Agreed: I quite liked it but it didn't really get used greatly in my
work on
> Foucault. As I recall I suggested that Foucault's work on literature
> paralleled his work on history, that the opening line of Birth of
the Clinic
> could easily stand as a description of Roussel. I was actually
talked about
> neglected (ie not used) rather than not read, because it is so
difficult to
> know whether books are read! Les mots et les choses may have been a
> best-seller in France, but as someone else suggested, how many
copies were
> actually read, and how many 'just looked good on the shelves'?
> But the neglected pile also includes books that have never appeared in
> English, although they are collaborative pieces: Les machines a
guerir (aux
> origines de l'hopital moderne) and Les desordre des familles. The
first of
> these, along with the Rio lectures, make a really essential
supplement to
> Birth.
> >I agree Birth of the Clinic is
> >neglected - I have seen people in the health related areas
referring to
> >Disicpline and Punish when a reference to Birth of the Clinic would
> >been much more helpful.
> >
> >Clare
> >
> Yes, the Bunton & Robinson collection contains many examples of this
sort of
> thing. Let's hope the Foucault centre conference proceedings are
> as they intimated they would be, and that an English translation can
> arranged so that it doesn't remain closed from the English speaking
> who seem to be Foucault's largest current audience.
> Best wishes
> Stuart

"I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order." Michel Foucault

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