cover image Foucault in Warsaw

Foucault in Warsaw

Remigiusz Ryziński, trans. from the Polish by Sean Gasper Bye. Open Letter, $15.95 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-1-948830-36-2

Ryziński, a lecturer on gender and queer theory, debuts with a brisk and intriguing account of the months French philosopher Michel Foucault spent in Poland before he was expelled from the country for "immoral conduct." Arriving in October 1958 to serve as director of the Centre for French Culture at the University of Warsaw, Foucault befriended a group of young gay men that included informants for the country's secret police. Ryziński describes how some of these men were pressured into becoming informants, and examines records from the "homosexual dossiers" maintained by Poland's intelligence services. Foucault, a "caring, open, and energetic person with a sunny disposition," knew that he was being surveilled, but dismissed the threat, and used the situation as inspiration to work on his doctoral thesis, which was published as History of Madness. Ryziński maps the terrain of gay life in 1950s Warsaw ("The bathrooms were the clubs of that era," according to one drag queen), and discusses the links Foucault drew between madness and homosexuality as "categor[ies] of social exclusion." The admirably taut translation by Bye brings the hunt through Warsaw's archives to life. Readers will welcome this vivid and empathetic excavation of an historical footnote. (June)