Forensic Poetics: Legal Documents Transformed into Strange Poems
L'Esprit Createur: a critical quarterly of French literature
Johns Hopkins University Press
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Barda, J. (2018). Forensic Poetics: Legal Documents Transformed into Strange Poems. L'Esprit Createur: a critical quarterly of French literature, 58 (3), 86-102. https://doi.org/10.1353/esp.2018.0034
Browsing petitions, lettres de cachets, internment records, and administrative and police documents from the beginning of the eighteenth century at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Michel Foucault confesses in Vie des hommes infâmes that the reading of these archives disconcerts more than any literary text. These documents sealed the fates of ordinary individuals – squandered and abused spouses, disobedient young people – such as Jean-Antoine Tousard, who, after being found guilty of committing sodomy and being an atheist, was sent to and confined at the Chateau de Bicêtre on 21 April, 1701. Even though the exhumation of ordinary lives, of secondary actors as opposed to historic memorable figures, has been anchored in recent historiographical debates and in a renewed interest in the archive, Foucault did not intend to analyse or decipher their meanings but rather to show how they articulated certain norms of their times and reflected the encounter between political mechanisms and discourse. From the material observation of the lives etched into these archives came the idea of a collection – as opposed to a rational classification – which consisted in gathering these ‘poèmes vies’ according to specific pragmatic and stylistic criterion in order to restore their sparkle, intensity and violence.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/esp.2018.0034
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/280066