9 August 2012
The imaginative (dream-like?) quality of heterotopia leads to potential connections to certain textual spaces and Foucault’s interest in and study of Blanchot’s work and, particularly, Roussel’s literary experiments.
Blanchot’s (1982: 10-11) ‘space’ [espace] of literature has a distinct meaning, as the English translator of The Space of Literature explains thoroughly. Although the meaning of this word has the sense of a domain or realm, it also ‘implies the withdrawal of what is ordinarily meant by “place”; it suggests the site of this withdrawal’. Literature’s space is deeply ambiguous and similar somewhat to Foucault’s description of the heterotopian mirror: nowhere and here. It is most often described as the outside [le dehors] that is both unreachable and unavoidable. Literature presents a void or interval ‘in place of the place it takes’. It is cut through with a different time and is never quite itself. These different spaces provide, as Foucault (1987: 76) remarks in his study of Roussel, a ‘passage which is an enclosure’.
Like the ship of fools, both textual and physical heterotopias form enclosures that are a passage to somewhere else, detaching us from ourselves: a placeless place. Textual spaces have the freedom to be utterly different and to undermine all traditional unities of language and their attachment to things. The ‘different’ non-discursive spaces as outlined by Foucault in his lecture in their own way both reflect and at the same time interrupt or disrupt the spaces that surround them. Each space is at variance somehow and ‘never quite itself’.
However, I do not wish to force the comparison; there are also distinct differences between the two types of space. For example, Borges’ textual space is truly ‘heteroclite’ in that elements are placed in sites so utterly different from one another that it is impossible to find a common ‘place of residence’ for them (Foucault, 1970: xvii). Roussel’s literary spaces are somewhat closer to Foucault’s non-discursive heterotopia, presenting a bewildering play of representation, contestation and reversibility: a fictional ‘game by which things and words designate one another, miss one another, betray one another, and hide one another’ (Foucault, 1987: 150). Roussel has the freedom to conjure up his own ‘strange space’, experimenting with words (as a playful scientist?) creating the most complex diversions of order and chance.
Blanchot, M. (1982) The Space of Literature, translated with introduction, A. Smock, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Foucault, M. (1970)  The Order of Things, Andover, Hants: Tavistock.
Foucault, M. (1987)  Death and the Labyrinth: the World of Raymond Roussel, London: Athlone Press.
Roussel, R, (1995) How I Wrote Certain of My Books, Cambridge MA: Exact Exchange.