Alan Sheridan

Alan Sheridan is the author of Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth, published in November. Among other books, he has translated The Turn-Around by Vladimir Volkoff, reviewed in this issue.

Diary: Regarding Foucault

Alan Sheridan, 19 July 1984

Four or five years ago when I was writing my book on Foucault, I began the conclusion with a demur: ‘It is curious enough to write about an author who could well produce more books than he has already done, without drawing conclusions about his oeuvre.’ I confess that at the time I did not really believe my prognosis. The achievement already seemed more than one could reasonably expect of one frail human being. There was also a detectable slowing down in the rate of published books. He lectured, wrote articles, gave interviews as tirelessly as ever, but the years went by and the brief first volume of the Histoire de la Sexualité, published in 1976, was still without its projected sequels. As the world’s eyes turned increasingly upon him, he seemed more and more reluctant to commit himself to the permanence of print. Most of one and about half of another of those ‘Sexuality’ volumes had been written and abandoned. Then, in 1977, a taxi ran him over in front of his apartment building, leaving him with hundreds of glass splinters embedded in his head: for a year he suffered from nausea and giddiness. I saw him last in February of this year. His appearance came as a shock: he now looked a good ten years older than he was. He had apparently fallen ill after his return from San Francisco the previous summer. He had lost several pounds in weight. The doctors, he told me, did not know what was wrong with him. Among other possibilities he talked about AIDS, only to dismiss it. Fighting illness and lassitude, he had corrected the proofs of the two further volumes of the History of Sexuality, which were to be called, respectively, L’Usage des Plaisirs and Le Souci de Soi. Their titles have a tragically ironic ring.

Poland’s Poet

Alan Sheridan, 17 December 1981

1980 was certainly the year of the Poles. With Solidarity Poland was making history, for once without tragedy, or at least not immediate tragedy. The first-ever Polish pope was riding in triumph through the world’s cities, including his own Cracow. In Stockholm the Swedish jury awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature to Poland’s greatest living poet, Czeslaw Milosz. He, too, was given a hero’s welcome when he visited his native country, after nearly thirty years’ exile – an event that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.


Alan Sheridan, 2 July 1981

For most people, I suspect, the name of Régis Debray is still inextricably linked with that of Che Guevara. For many, it still conjures up a blissful time of youthful certainties and heroic purpose. Debray was one of the first to do what many later dreamt of doing. In 1961, as a 20-year-old philosophy student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, he visited Cuba in the aftermath of the Revolution. He travelled widely in Latin America, studying the various left-wing movements. In 1966 he returned to Cuba to take up a chair in philosophy at Havana University. The following year, his Revolution in the Revolution? was published in Havana, where it was regarded as a semi-official exposition of Castroism. It was to become a best-seller the world over. In it, Debray developed the doctrine of the foco, the small guerrilla band that was to be the nucleus of Marxist revolution throughout Latin America. Repudiating the ‘reformist’ policies of the continent’s Communist Parties, this self-proclaimed Leninist rejected, not only the urban proletariat, but also the peasantry, as the motive force of the revolution. For, far from living among the peasants ‘like fish in water’ (Mao), the revolutionary base ought to remain for ever on the move, avoiding the villages and mistrusting the peasants.

André Gide made his life the very core of his art. In that way he was quite different from Oscar Wilde, who was 15 years his senior and, for a brief but crucial period, a friend. Wilde may...

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Sweet Homes and Tolerant Houses

Linda Colley, 16 August 1990

The rise in the reputation of French history, not just in its own territory but throughout the Anglo-Saxon world as well, has been one of the most remarkable cultural developments since the...

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Winners and Wasters

Tom Shippey, 2 April 1987

Professor Ladurie declares, near the beginning of this immensely detailed volume: ‘I hope in this study to bring to life the country people themselves.’ Such a reconstruction, he...

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Red Stars

John Sutherland, 6 December 1984

Yevtushenko’s face, more cadaverous by the year, stares morosely from the flap of Wild Berries. The camera has evidently caught him thinking of his native Taiga, the Siberian tundra which...

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Christopher Driver, 19 May 1983

The theme of William Trevor’s new novel – his ninth, and that leaves short-story collections out of account – is the murderous entail of Anglo-Irish history, in which, as a Cork...

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Male Fantasies

Eugen Weber, 10 January 1983

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie is probably the cleverest and certainly the most versatile French historian of our day. Beginning with his thèse on the peasants of Languedoc in Early Modern times,...

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Intelligent Theory

Frank Kermode, 7 October 1982

The first four books would normally be described as literary criticism, though they exhibit a considerable variety of interests, sociological, historical, theoretical; in Harold Bloom’s...

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Injury Time

Robert Taubman, 2 July 1981

Between the three corpses dug out of the snow in Gorky Park, Moscow and the sables let loose in the snow on Staten Island at the end – ‘black on white, black on white, and then...

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Beyond Nietzsche and Marx

Richard Rorty, 19 February 1981

Russell and Wittgenstein and Heidegger and Sartre are dead, and it looks as if there are no great philosophers left alive. At the end of his book, Alan Sheridan hesitantly stakes a claim for...

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Keys to Shakespeare

Anne Barton, 5 June 1980

Twenty years ago, Bertrand Evans published Shakespeare’s Comedies, a book with one idea. Shakespeare, he argued, habitually gives his audience an awareness of the true nature of any...

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