Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Foucault's Holderlin

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Foucault's Holderlin

Article excerpt


This article traces the dispersal of language, its significance for Foucault's idea of Literature in modernity, and the paradigmatic role of Holderlin's writings within it. This path centrally involves outlining the interface, in the modern episteme, between language and Literature, the double withdrawal of the gods/God, the double division between reason and madness, and the "mad poet/philosopher/genius" within it. The article draws together Foucault's archaeological account of Literature, and his genealogy of madness and of genius, in order to elucidate the "truth", judged by the terms of a genealogical account, and the "falsity", judged by the terms of an archaeological account, of the proverbial epithet "the mad genius/poet/philosopher" associated with the name of Holderlin.


Hierdie artikel ondersoek die verstrooiing van taal, die belangrikheid daarvan vir Foucault se idee van die letterkunde in die moderniteit en die paradigmatiese rol van Holderlin se werke daarin. Die ondersoek skets primer die koppelvlak in die moderne episteme tussen taal en letterkunde, die dubbele onttrekking van die gode/God, die dubbele skeiding tussen rede en waansin, en die "waansinnige digter/filosoof/genie" daarbinne. Die artikel trek Foucault se argeologiese verslag van die letterkunde en sy genealogie van waansin en van genialiteit saam ter verheldering van die "waarheid", beoordeel volgens die terme van 'n genealogiese verslag, en die "valsheid", beoordeel volgens die terme van 'n argeologiese verslag, van die spreekwoordelike epiteton "die waansinnige genie/digter/filosoof" wat met die naam Holderlin geassosieer word.

Foucault's Threshold Texts

In positioning certain texts at epistemic thresholds, Foucault might have cited the words with which Holderlin dedicated his epistolary novel Hyperion to the Princess of Homburg: "Most often poets have been formed at the very beginning or at the end of an epoch." ["Meist haben sich Dichter zu Anfang oder zu Ende einer Weltperiode gebildet." (Holderlin quoted in Warminski 1987: 48)]

However, Holderlin's idea of the "beginning" and the "end of an epoch", and Foucault's delimitation of an episteme, do not form a frame for particular kinds of writing governed by the rules of formation of discourses specific to such epochs or epistemes. While a particular episteme may provide the conditions for the emergence of particular forms of writing, it does not determine them; writing is not the site of its typical expression. Out of the three groups of writers--Cervantes, Sade, and Holderlin/Nerval/ Nietzsche/Artaud/Mallarme--which feature in Foucault's account of the formation of orders of knowledge (in The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences [1966]1970), there are two that play an exemplary role--Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605 and 1615) and the Marquis de Sade's Les 120 journees de Sodome (written in 1785, published in 1909), Justine (1791) and Histoire de Juliette (1797).

But they do not simply "represent" or "express" the organising principles of "their" respective epistemes. They are exemplary in a complex way, through the contradictory or negative role in relation to the epistemes whose thresholds they inhabit. At the end of the Renaissance, Don Quixote reads the world in terms of analogies taken as signs and representations, and acts on that reading, breaking the Renaissance logic, which earns him his contemporaries' verdict of being mad. His logic is exposed by the reasoning of the age classique, which relegates it to madness: "Don Quixote is a negative of the Renaissance world; writing has ceased to be the prose of the world; resemblances and signs have dissolved their former alliance; similitudes have become deceptive and verge upon the visionary or madness ...." (Foucault [1966] 1970: 47). (1)

Don Quixote comes to function as a boundary text at the cusp of an epistemic rupture between the similitude/resemblances/analogies of the Renaissance and the representation of the age classique. …

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