I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes-all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms.
Michel Foucault, The Masked Philosopher, The Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, Volume 1, New Press, 1997 (1994)
I really like what he is saying here. I have not read much Foucault beyond his early work which I read at the wrong point in my life (or perhaps for the wrong reasons).
This seems to me what I endeavour to achieve when I write about a book – not to judge but to bring a work to life. If I can’t do that, I don’t review (or generally even finish) a book. Sometimes though, I finish a book with a measure of ambivalence but in the process of writing about it, my appreciation deepens and my regard for the book grows. To read and write critically is, for me, to attempt to inhabit the creative process, not to assign a letter grade. That was an aspect of reading as part of the IFFP shadow jury that convinced me I don’t want to do that again.
That’s also why I try to write about the books I read and love how figuring out what I want to write about a work sometimes makes it expand. It also goes the other way, particularly when a week or two elapses between reading and writing.
My reading of Foucault is fragmented. He is a writer I nibble at even though I find his work insightful and often moving. I don’t know why I’ve never given him sustained attention. Perhaps a leaning toward Derrida.