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Death and the Labyrinth

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Table of Contents

General Introduction by James Faubion; Chronology of Foucault's Life & Work; 1. The Threshold and the Key; 2. The Cushions of the Billiard table; 3. Rhyme and Reason; 4. Dawns, Mine Crystal; 5. The Metamorphosis and the Labyrinth; 6. The Surface of Things; 7. The Empty Lens; 8. The Enclosed Sun; 9. An Interview with Michel Foucault by Charles Ruas Postscript: "On Raymond Roussel" by John Ashbery Bibliography of primary and secondary works Selective Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French philosopher and widely recognised as one of the most original and influential thinkers of the 20th Century. James Faubion is at Rice University, USA. Charles Ruas is the translator of Death and the Labyrinth.


In Roussel's fictional world, a litter of kittens performs on parallel bars, people disguise themselves as tiny objects, a man wears a bracelet that is a giant earthworm. His novels, naive plays and poems, which mesmerized the French Surrealists, are populated by human machines, lovers taken by surprise, magical substances, prisons and tortuous signs. Roussel's word inventions inspired Giacometti, and Gide revered him as a genius, yet this recluse who apparently committed suicide in 1933 is today considered a minor writer. Foucault (Madness and Civilization originally published this in-depth literary study in 1963. Regarding Roussel's ties to the Surrealists as incidental, Foucault shows how Roussel used childlike devices, word puzzles, double entendre and free association to create modern myths and unlock the unconscious. Roussel's themes are imprisonment and liberation; Foucault, well-known for his studies of madness, prisons and sexuality, has a natural affinity for this compelling, sometimes obscure writer whose world of inhuman beauty seems always on the point of divulging its secrets. February 21

This book was written about 20 years ago, just after Foucault had discovered the works of Roussel, a contemporary of Proust whose works, while not generally well known, have influenced a number of modern writers including Robbe-Grillet. Foucault explores the relation of words and things and paradoxes of language, time, and space in Roussel's work. This is the only work of Foucault that deals with literature as such and it is an interesting and illuminating performance. The book includes a useful introduction by John Ashbery and an interview with Foucault, but American readers who are not familiar with recent French criticism, Foucault, or Roussel will find it difficult and of marginal interest. Richard Kuczkowski, Dir., Continuing Education, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y.

"One of the important things about the Roussel book, however, is that it shows that approach to literature in full flight. And reading it is a pleasure, but a pleasure that is not unmixed with pain. Foucault's own enjoyment, not only of the texts of Roussel, but of the process of producing his analyses of those texts, is contagious. And if that makes us go back and read some of Roussel's work, then the book has served an important function... given Foucault's own fondness for subjugated knowledges and forgotten histories, we would be well justified in uncovering this secret love of an anguished and obsessive young philosopher." -Timothy O'Leary, Foucault Studies, February 2009--Sanford Lakoff

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