Ecco Press

Hallucinating Foucault, Patricia Duncker

(Ecco Press, $21, 173 pp.)

Hallucinating Foucault is such a promising title. I expected something dense, brilliant and wild. But first-time novelist Patricia Duncker has managed something infinitely more subversive. She has evoked the spectre of the shaven-headed s/m artist, philosopher, and gay saint in order to bury him alive in a tale told by a narrator self-confessedly "unadventurous, prim and middle-class."

The slim volume is divided into four sections of approximately 40 pages each, labeled "Cambridge," "Paris," "Clermont-Ferrand," and the "Midi (Riviera to you)," way stations in the narrator's linear quest for the subject of his doctoral thesis, a French writer named Paul Michel (Duncker's greatest invention). Michel was a generation after Foucault. They met only once, but wrote to each other through their published texts. When Foucault died of AIDS in 1984, Michel was left without his "reader" and descended into madness.

The nameless narrator, nominally male, starts textual life as a het attached to a Germanist, but after locating Michel in "the largest psychiatric hospital in central France," he is gently initiated into the gay lifestyle, even the bohemian lifestyle, as they go on the road together. Nothing exciting or dangerous happens and Michel conveniently drives off a cliff so the academic can return and finish his thesis (in which he makes no mention of having met his victim/subject).

<<Epater l'avant-garde!>> seems to be Duncker's touch-in-cheek rendering of the inevitable revenge meted out by the Establishment on its most daring darlings. Nobody reading Hallucinating Foucault would ever guess there was any point in breaking social norms or sexual taboos. Which may be Duncker's most hallucinatory strategy.

-Erin Blackwell