From the Letters to the Editor column of the May 2010 issue of Perspectives on History

Aging and the Art of Writing

Ty Geltmaker, May 2010

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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!”

—Ty Geltmaker
Los Angeles