From the Letters to the Editor column of the May 2010 issue of Perspectives on History
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Aging and the Art of Writing
To the Editor:
Readers of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s thoughtful discussion, “Crafting Histories: For Whom Does One Write” (Perspectives on History, March 2010) might consider Edmund White’s recent recollection (The Gay & Lesbian Review, Nov.-Dec. 2009, p. 13) of Michel Foucault’s own assessment of his early writings on the prison, the clinic, and the asylum. Foucault asked: “Have you ever wondered why my writing’s gotten simpler as I lived on?” To which White responded: “I guess so. Yeah, why?” To which Foucault answered: “It’s because I’ve learned how to write. When I started writing, I didn’t know how to write. And so all the earlier books, like The Birth of the Clinic and even Madness and Civilization, are really hard to read because I didn’t know how to organize my material and express it clearly.”
On this exchange, White comments further: “But the History of Sexuality and the other works are totally lucid. And the weird, sick thing is that in France he was criticized for those books being too clear!”
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