Between fiction and reflection

Foucault and the experience-book

Timothy Rayner

pp. 27-43

Foucault notoriously suggests that his historical analyses are "fictions." Commentators typically interpret this claim in a negative light to mean that Foucault's works are not, strictly speaking, true. In this paper, I present a positive interpretation of Foucault's claim, basing my argument on a hitherto marginalized aspect of his work: the "experience-book." An experience-book is defined as a use of fiction in the practice of critique with desubjectifying effects. My argument for this interpretation proceeds in three steps. First, to prepare a preliminary account of Foucault's concept of fiction and its effects, I look at Blanchot's ontological interpretation of the work of literature in The Space of Literature. Blanchot, I suggest, provides a template for understanding Foucault's concept of the experience-book. Second, I identify traces of Blanchot's concept of fiction in Foucault's study of Jules Verne, "Behind the Fable." I argue that Foucault's critique of fiction, in this paper, anticipates and prefigures his later use of fiction in the practice of critique. Third, pursuing this intuition, I develop an interpretation of Discipline and Punish understood as a use of fiction and experience-book. This interpretation provides a new, immanent perspective on Foucault's critique, and mitigates the epistemological skepticism of the claim that his works are fictions.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1023/A:1025166608906

Full citation:

Rayner, T. (2003). Between fiction and reflection: Foucault and the experience-book. Continental Philosophy Review 36 (1), pp. 27-43.

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