Michael Joyce’s novel ‘Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden’ – reviewed at Berfrois

Michael Joyce’s novel Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden – reviewed at Berfrois by Dave Ciccoricco.


… Interrogating the status and resonance of unsent letters is one of the tantalizing tasks of Michael Joyce’s latest novel, Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden.

Even more seductive is the novel’s framing conceit, an imagined life of Foucault spanning several weeks of his dark Swedish winter in Uppsala, in 1956, at the end of his relationship with the composer Jean Barraqué, and at the beginning of the project that would become his first major work, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. As Joyce writes in his preface, “This novel takes the form of an historical fantasy consisting of letters, all imaginary and most of them unsent, which thus ‘fiction’ an imaginary history that is at least doubly fictional: an imagined imagined life of the philosopher Michel Foucault” (9). Literary culture may at times be all too guilty of perpetuating overly romantic conceptions of creative madness and a parasitic fascination with the figure of the mad philosopher, and Joyce enters the same fraught territory in aestheticizing Foucault. Joyce himself, in the novel’s “Afternote,” acknowledges the possible risks involved in pursuing the kind of work that might offend Foucauldian devotees (189). But these are snares he deftly avoids. The novel affords a compelling meditation on what we might call the nexus of madness, philosophy, and literature, one that conveys a productive and troubled time for Foucault with an intensity and artfulness befitting of one of the most artful philosophers of the twentieth century…

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