LANGUAGE, COUNTERMEMORY, PRACTICE: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault

LANGUAGE, COUNTERMEMORY, PRACTICE: Selected Essays and Interviews

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

For the last two decades, Paris has been the center of a polyglot literary criticism best characterized by its concern for the impact of language on society. One of the most influential and controversial voices of this movement belongs to Michel Foucault, Professor of History and Systems of Thought at Collège de France. Translating some of Foucault's most important essays, lectures, and interviews, Donald Bouchard has skillfully edited this selection into three parts which successively develop and extend the critic's assault on system and structure. According to Foucault, in the last few centuries language has burst into a limitless, uncontrollable multiplicity with words and books taking on new meanings in an ever-changing context. Tracing the development in the words of de Sade, HÖlderlin, Flaubert, Bataille, Nietzsche, and Deleuze, Foucault welcomes the flux as an affirmation of infinite possibilities for the writer. Those who search for the static, all encompassing truths, he contends, are only seeking to enhance their own power. Foucault prefers to approach the past with Nietzschean genealogy, not in search of unifying, exclusive threads, but looking instead for the counter-memory: ""accidents, . . . the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and have value for us."" In the interviews of the third section, Foucault discusses how his literary theories could affect the social environment. Considering the rejection of classification and categorization in the other sections, it follows that he espouses a radical politics critical of French educational and justice systems, which, he claims, were conceived in the narrow interests of the ruling class. After the earlier ascriptions of social significance to language, this leap from literature to politics seems neither abrupt nor surprising. For anyone interested in the potential of words beyond the page, Foucault will be an exalting instructor.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1977
Publisher: Cornell Univ. Press