Archive for the ‘Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls’ Category


‘Boyfriends/And girlfriends/And enemies/Those upon which we rely’ – Low

When I was a child I treated friendship as sacred. If I were to attempt some clumsy psychoanalysis of myself, these many years later, I might begin to see why. My parents broke up when I was four years old, and my world collapsed. (Unconsciously then), I think I decided that in my own life people would not be so unstable, unreliable, so breakable as my parents. But of course they were.

I say ‘child’ but this dangerous belief has of course followed me round through adulthood, so that when friendships (and romantic relationships) have broken down, I have felt a loss, an inadequacy, an anger, a shame, akin to that first big break-up of my early life. It wasn’t my fault. But nobody told me that at the time. And, even today, in the complex world of adult relations, I tend to blame myself deep down, for most things that go wrong.

But there is in me, and it is getting stronger, (thanks in part to some recent and very helpful psychotherapy), an ability to step away from that ‘guilty’ child. To see life, and people (including me), as complex and unpredictable, and to accept that. Not all friendships (or romantic relationships) last forever. That doesn’t necessarily diminish them. I broke up with my ex partner over eight years ago now, but it is only very recently I have been able to feel happy and grateful that we knew each other, were very close, had some laughs, were best mates. A Buddhist might find my revelation amusing, for they know that if life itself is temporary, the things within it are hardly going to be permanent. I always was a slow learner.

I don’t think I am the only one afflicted with a perfectionist side when it comes to friendship. I can think of one or two people out there, who are probably even more ‘extremist’ (and less reflective?) than me. They hold onto this romantic notion that if someone is not utterly wonderful and nice and the kindest bestest friend in the world, they must be some kind of devil. Freud knew about this dichotomising amongst friends and even admitted to doing it himself:

‘An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable requirements for my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy coincided in the same person.’

I think if we want to keep our friends, and to make new ones, to keep open to life and love’s possibilities, we have to acknowledge that negative aspect in people and relationships. In hindsight, I think my ex understood it better than I. After a row, or an affair, or a terrible sorrow-filled night, when I thought nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage, he would always treat me exactly as he had before the crisis. He didn’t seem fased by our ability to be ‘enemies’ at times, as well as lovers and friends. Maybe he had a bit of Nietzsche in him, and thought:

‘The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.’

I’m not quite there yet. I still have a slightly rose-tinted view of friendship. And I still get crushed by messy imperfect reality on a regular basis. But I am learning to accept, much more than that heartbroken four year old could at least, that humans have frailties and that’s ok.

I have just joined a Foucault Discussion Group in which we are going to read and discuss, aided by the joys of Google Groups, Foucault’s 1983 Lectures. Entitled The Government of Self And Others, this collection is particularly poignant to me because it represents some of Foucault’s last public work before he died in 1984. The original transcripts are owned by his ‘widow’, Daniel Defert. I still can’t quite get my head round what it must have been like, what it still is like (Defert is now  75) to have been the lover and life partner of such a man as Michel Foucault.
Even a casual observer can’t help but convey some of the electrifying moments when seeing Foucault, Live! Journalist Gerard Petitjean wrote in 1975: 

‘When Foucault enters the amphitheater, brisk and dynamic like<

someone who plunges into the water, he steps over bodies to

reach his chair, pushes away the cassette recorders so he can put

down his papers, removes his jacket, lights a lamp and sets off at

full speed. His voice is strong and effective, amplified by the

loudspeakers that are the only concession to modernism in a hall

that is barely lit by light spread from stucco bowls. The hall has

three hundred places and there are five hundred people packed

together, filling the smallest free space . . . There is no oratorical

effect. It is clear and terribly effective. There is absolutely no

concession to improvisation. Foucault has twelve hours each year

to explain in a public course the direction taken by his research

in the year just ended. So everything is concentrated and he fills

the margins like correspondents who have too much to say for the

space available to them. At 19.15 Foucault stops. The students

rush towards his desk; not to speak to him, but to stop their cassette

recorders. There are no questions. In the pushing and shoving

Foucault is alone. Foucault remarks: “It should be possible to

discuss what I have put forward. Sometimes, when it has not

been a good lecture, it would need very little, just one question,

to put everything straight. However, this question never comes.

The group effect in France makes any genuine discussion

impossible. And as there is no feedback, the course is theatricalized.

My relationship with the people there is like that of an actor

or an acrobat. And when I have finished speaking, a sensation of

total solitude . . .’

– Gérard Petitjean, “Les Grands Prêtres de l’université française,” Le Nouvel Observateur

1983 and 1975 are a long time ago now.   When Foucault was giving his last lectures before his death, I was too busy trying on ra-ra skirts and buying Howard Jones records to notice. But since I first read Foucault in the early 1990s, I have been quite overwhelmed by the clarity and incisive force of his ‘voice’.  So I strongly disagree with philosopher John Searle, who, like many, describes Foucault’s writing style as ‘obtuse’:


‘Philosopher John Searle once asked Foucault why his writing was so obtuse when he was easily understandable in conversation. Foucault told Searle that 25% of one’s writing needs to be incomprehensible nonsense to be taken seriously by French philosophers.’

I think these lectures show that actually Foucault’s speaking and writing styles were quite similar, and his urgency to illuminate and interact with his audience/readers was as strong in both arenas. Beginning to read the transcripts I am already reminded of Freud, and how it is quite easy to switch between his written work and representations of his speeches/lectures. I am also pleased to see that whilst I’ve struggled to find in Michel’s oeuvre, any direct challenge to or description of the function of ‘power’ in academia, the comments on Foucault’s lectures do show he had some issues with the conventions of the university, and the problems of actually having a dialogue between lecturers and students. If I’d been there I have no doubt I’d have been one of the keen young things arranging to meet Michel for coffee off campus to get down to discussing the nitty gritty of his ideas.

The journalist who wrote the evocative passage above called his article ‘Les Grands Pretres de l’universite francaise’ – The High Priests of The University of France. Now I am a critic of the ‘Great Men Theory’ of history which holds up individuals as demigods. But as my novella Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls reveals, I am guilty of embodying it too.

At the risk of completely going into religious mode, a radio four programme last night called  The Voice Of God also seems relevant here.  Participants in the show talk about how, despite all the texts and rituals people use to ‘find God’, the voice of God is actually pretty difficult to hear. In order to get the full benefit of God’s message, you have to put yourself somewhere very quiet and still, you have to meditate and open yourself up to what He might want to say to you.

And it’s the same with Foucault – for me, at least. I think there’s an interesting dissonance between how his work is all about the ‘modern’ (or postmodern, or post-postmodern) age, with its institutions, discourse, power relations and ‘noise’, but the only way to really ‘get it’ is to sit back and stop, to read, to listen, to think.

That’s what I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks. But as my long suffering readers/friends know, I might find it hard to keep my meditations to myself!


What would Derrida say about us? If I told him that I shall be spending today immersed in ‘texts’ I wrote a year ago? Some of them ‘letters’ to you. Some of them cries out into the ether. That I will be going over my words with a fine-toothed comb, looking for clues, looking for an escape route. That copies of my throwaway texts, some of them casual tweets, are also sat in a file in a drawer in a filing cabinet in a grey office. Waiting to be deconstructed by the little man in his grey suit whose hopes and dreams have amounted to this bureaucratic role as a servant. To the crown. Would Derrida frown and smile that wry smile of his? Would he shake his head and sadly say that you take a text out of its context at your peril? That if you try to consider words and words alone, separate from the sad desperation of the person who wrote them, separate from the blank incomprehension of the person who read them, separate from the cold officious room where the little man in his grey suit will one day be reading them out in a dead pan monotone, you lose all meaning? That deconstruction, inspite of what thousands of English  Literature Undergraduate students may believe, is not an academic exercise? It’s blood and guts.  It’s the opposite of abstract. It’s finding the life that is hidden in every text. The fear. The love.

What would Barthes say about us? He knows a thing or two about this. In his book, A Lovers Discourse, he ripped out his heart, laid it on a table, and ‘deconstructed’ it with a scalpel right infront of us. He reminded us that all those cliches we have come to associate with a trite, sentimental expression of ‘love’, are much much more. Goodbyes at train stations, scented notepaper, whispered ‘I love yous’ are merely cyphers, outward acceptable codes for a torrent of feeling, of loss, of pain, of the fear of death enacted in the scene where our Lover slams the door in our face.  I think Barthes would have some compassion for us.  If he were to join us in the cold, officious room, he’d probably be solemn as he transcribed the words coming out of the mouth of the little man in his grey suit. He’d probably find beauty in the translations of translations of words once written in great anguish. And he would save his wry smile for the moment when we started to argue about who ‘owned’ which ideas, whose texts were whose, he’d cough and mutter something about The Death of The Author. And the fact that, if we’re going to be picky about it, he has some claim to ownership of our ideas and our texts anyway.

What would Foucault say about us? I don’t know. I am not so sure he would be that concerned, no matter how much we wish he would be, about our individual feelings. Our petty struggle. He is more of a bigger picture guy. I suspect that if he too found himself with us in the cold, officious room, it could get quite crowded in there, he’d notice the lay out. Not from an interior design perspective, the State has no eye for style, but in terms of Power. Who goes where, who stands, who sits, who is left behind a glass screen. He might smile wryly too, and he might pull out an old battered copy of Discipline and Punish as he noted that whilst the days of flogging in the public square are long gone, there is still something theatrical about this scene. That the desire for rituals of public humiliation haven’t left us, we’ve just made them less gory. I hope at least, he might also spare a thought for Foucault’s Daughter, and how I said she’d get into trouble one day. How, in my fumbling attempt at fiction, I ended up doing what he does, and dissected, analysed, prophesised reality.

What would Freud say about us? For the Daddy of Psychoanalysis is also the Daddy of Deconstruction. It was he who, before anyone was ready, began to pull apart our words, and showed how words are rooted in thoughts, and thoughts are rooted in base impulses. I expect Freud would say very little. He might puff on his pipe and knot his brow. But it wouldn’t escape his attention, that it is me, not you, and not the little man in his grey suit, who has accepted that this is a psychological drama. That we have been interacting on a subconscious level, and that if I want to make sense of what has happened, I won’t find the answers in the cold, officious room, I’ll find them on the analyst’s couch, in my own mind, through my writing.

And, as much as I may have made out you to be the centre of this story, as Derrida, Barthes, Foucault and Freud know full well, it’s me I am writing to and talking to, it’s my thoughts and feelings and, yes, ideas, I have been ‘deconstructing’ all this time. The girl who wasn’t there is here. And she hasn’t finished yet.

I am doing nanowrimo this year. Nanowrimo is a project where writers across the globe (or rather across the internet) commit to writing each day in November with the goal of having 50,000 words of a piece of (usually fiction) writing by the end of the month.

The last nanowrimo I took part in was a resounding success – for me anyway – because I wrote the bulk of what became my novella, Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls. I ‘m very proud of that book, and not least because it marks my first completed piece of full, or at least novella length fiction. I, like many of you I expect, have sat around in various bedrooms and living rooms through my life, imagining myself as a novelist. Of writing THAT book. Of being A WRITER. Like ‘Jonathan’ in Teddy Thompson’s song, I  have spent almost as much time in those same bedrooms and living rooms with nothing to show for my fantasy. For that is what it often is.

It’s not that now, having written my novella I am full of confidence, or of self-worth based on my secure identity as ‘writer’. I still sit around dreaming, chewing my proverbial pencil, and not making my ideas into tangible characters and stories. I still feel like a failure as a writer relatively often. But I have a kind of reference point, a starting block. I know what it feels like and looks like to write a book of fiction. I know I can do it again. But. Well. I am not sure I can do it this November. 50,000 words are stubbornly refusing to flow from my fingers and my mind. Ideas are falling flat on their faces. Metaphors are flying too near to the sun and coming crashing down in front of me. This time, nanowrimo is as hard as it was natural last time, as frustrating as it was enjoyable, as disappointing as it was satsifying.

I am quite an ‘all or nothing’ person with creative writing. This contrasts with my approach to other aspects of life, such as work, and even non-fiction blogging, where I tend to plod along, keep doing it, until something valuable appears. But with fiction (and poetry) I am impatient, wild,  lazy, moody, dramatic, non-commital, insecure.  Maybe a bit like how I am in ‘romantic’ relationships. And you may guess I’m not exactly brilliant at them.

So rather than do what I have done before, and throw a strop, chuck my writing implements at the wall, and storm off into the sunset, I have come up with a couple of ways to keep at it, to plod along, when I am really not feeling it. The things I am doing instead of giving up nanowrimo are:

1) Keeping a journal. I started writing a journal this summer, when something happened to me that just had to be written down. And I realised the writing down helped me deal with what was happening. So I carried on writing things down, events, thoughts, feelings, tweets, conversations, the occasional idea, all in the privacy of my notebook. Now I am onto book three and this journal-writing lark has become a habit.

2) Practising Mindfulness I have been aware with some of the principles of meditation for a long time. I have done a little bit (before throwing one of my strops and giving up) and read round the philosophy it is part of. Mindfulness, a key aspect of meditation, is ‘paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. It is an excellent antidote to the stresses of modern times. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience’. So far I mainly practise it on my walk to and from work. I pass through a park and make a point of slowing down (my sister often complains I walk too fast) and noticing what is around me – the changing colours of the autumn leaves, a shock of cold air, a man placing a poppy wreath on a memorial. And I am already feeling some beneficial effects. I am beginning to notice I am less stressed, and more leaning towards feelings of contentment, sometimes even joy. I have a lot on my plate at the moment, some of which has the potential to bring me down. So mindfulness is one strategy I have found for staying, wherever possible, up.

3) Being social Another tendency I have as a writer, and a person (there is only one of me), is obsessiveness. I personally don’t think that is such a bad thing. Foucault’s Daughter wouldn’t exist without my obsession and my ability to spend long periods of time focused on one thing. But once I get into a project, a thought, a book, a PhD, I find I lose track of other people sometimes. My need for human contact, and my responsibilities to my friends and family. So, whilst I am not gripped with The Best Idea In The World, I am making sure I get out and see people. So if and when inspiration does strike, I hope I will have built in some kind of social life, in the new place I am living and working, and elsewhere.  And who knows? Maybe some of my social interactions will find their way into my stories. Don’t worry I won’t tape our conversations. But well, you know what writers are like. Everything is material to us.

So if you’re doing nanowrimo, but aren’t doing it, maybe these notes will help you get out and stay out of the rut. Or maybe you have some tips for me. I would love to hear how you deal with that lack of spark when it inevitably descends.


Foucault’s Daughter has found a home! She is going to be residing at the rather chaotic, exciting and a little bit dirty House of Zizek. Zizek press is the future!

I am not going to sell the book on Amazon due to the fact it is a copyright legal case waiting to happen. So it will remain on smashwords for free, but as a Zizek Title.

All she ever wanted was somewhere to call home.

‘SOFW mashes up the conventions of the novel but unlike, say, Cloud Atlas it doesn’t do it just to show off: it has run into a question that requires a novel to be butchered and splayed open and its entrails read to get the answer.’


‘I wonder how you’re going to feel

When you find out that I wrote this

Instead of you’.

I have been dealing with having readers for the first time, in the formal sense, as a few people have read Foucault’s Daughter.

And, as is to be expected, most of those few are writers too.

When writers read other writers words, something happens.

I don’t even think I need to say what it is.

We can feel it in the air, can’t we?

I sometimes think I could pull it out of the sky and eat that ‘something’.

You have read me now.

I got to you, didn’t I?


Elise at Autobiography of A Soul has blogged about her reactions to Foucault’s Daughter. It doesn’t give the story away but her piece and our discussion does cover some of the issues raised in the book (and on this blog. I worry sometimes, dear readers if you get bored of me, and my ‘issues’!)

There is probably a lot more I could say in response to the response but it all can get rather naval gazing.

For a little while I’d quite like Foucault’s Daughter to stand on her own two feet without my interference. If that is in any way possible.

I felt two moments of relief, of ‘closure’ during the process of writing Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls. The first was when I finished writing the last words of the final scene – and you can see how much I wanted it to be the end when I tell you those words were ‘It’s over’. The second was after my wonderful first reader had read it and given me comments, and I’d edited and modified it to produce the final manuscript.

But since then, this process has proven to be never-ending. I in my usual ahead of myself, but so slow to learn anything way, had of course predicted that never-endingness of the process of fiction writing. In a very memorable (for me, and me alone) discussion on Mark Simpson’s blog, a while ago, about Susan Sontag, I compared fiction writing to therapy. Mark said he hoped my book would ‘settle the score’ but I replied:

‘Nobody ever settles the score. The story is in how she fails.

‘As Freud realized that neurosis was the human condition, he came to understand that every analysis is a failure. It has to be. A”successful”analysis would be monstrous’.

-Janet Malcolm, The New Yorker, 1987′

Damn it, Janet, you (and Freud) were right.

It’s not over.

As Barthes, my dear original Roland has suggested in his last lectures before his death (which have recently been published), about The Preparation of The Novel, the novel is only the process of thinking and writing.  It never really ‘exists’ especially not for the writer. This view is summed up by David Winters:

‘So, the novelist dreams of a single moment in which every ruinous thing she has done will be redeemed. Yet she is never delivered into this moment; her novel is a lie she tells herself, and literature is on the side of death. In the end, the novelist knows that she belongs here too, with literature.’

But I hope that in writing this thing I will have gained something, some insight, some clarity, some basis for peace of mind. And I hope that once the shock of it being out there, and the flush of shame of knowing that some people who are crucial to the story, have already read it, has subsided, I might start resembling a ‘normal’ human being (or at least not a total crazy nutjob one).

It had to be worthwhile didn’t it?

Roland Barthes crops up in Scribbling on Foucault’s Walls. In fact, in some ways, I might have called the work ‘Scribbling on Roland’s Walls’. The spirit of the writing is more Barthes than Foucault. And my feelings are often torn between Roland and Michel, both emotionally and intellectually.

Luckily it is ok to love more than one fossil.

Here is Foucault’s Daughter in all her glory. Be nice to her she is a bit scared of the big, wide world…