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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary criticism

Death and the Labyrinth

Michel Foucault

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To purchase Death and the Labyrinth

Title: Death and the Labyrinth
Author: Michel Foucault
Genre: Literary criticism
Written: 1963 (Eng. 1986)
Length: 202 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Death and the Labyrinth - US
Death and the Labyrinth - UK
Death and the Labyrinth - Canada
Raymond Roussel - Canada
Raymond Roussel - France
Raymond Roussel - Deutschland
  • The World of Raymond Roussel
  • French title: Raymond Roussel
  • Translated by Charles Ruas
  • Includes an Introduction by John Ashbery
  • Includes an Interview with Michel Foucault
  • The new 2003/4 edition of Death and the Labyrinth, published by Continuum, also includes (in addition to Ashbery's essay and the Foucault-interview) an Introduction, Chronology and Bibliography to Foucault's work by James Faubion

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Our Assessment:

B+ : engaging, interesting study of Roussel's writing

See our review for fuller assessment.


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The complete review's Review:

       Death and the Labyrinth was Foucault's first book, and the one focussed most specifically on literature. In it Foucault offers a thorough study of Roussel's work, paying particular attention to Roussel's special method, as outlined in his posthumous text, How I Wrote Certain of my Books (see our review).
       Foucault leads the reader through Roussel's texts, and provides considerable detail and analysis. Most of it is well done, though too often Foucault admits that open questions remain as he essentially wonders aloud in his essay (something we find rather irritating).
       The book can serve as a good introduction to Roussel's works, as Foucault does present and summarize them well, as well as suggesting what Roussel was trying to do (and specifically how he was doing it). Still, readers who have read How I Wrote Certain of my Books or Mark Ford's excellent (and -- in all respects -- more accessible) study, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams (see our review), will find much of the material familiar.
       Even more familiar, of course, is John Ashbery's introduction -- apparently the obligatory introduction to any and all books about Roussel. You've read it before and here you can read it again. (Yes, it's a fine piece, but surely there's more to say by way of introduction .....)
       A bonus is translator Charles Ruas' interview with Foucault, shortly before his death. It offers some background about Foucault's interest in and understanding of Roussel -- and about Foucault himself.

       Worthwhile, especially for the uninitiated (i.e. those not familiar with Roussel and especially with the secondary literature).

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Death and the Labyrinth: Michel Foucault: Raymond Roussel: Books by Raymond Roussel under review: Other books about Raymond Roussel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author and philsopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984) wrote on a wide variety of subjects.

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