Thursday, 8 December 2011

Mendelsund Foucaults

Synchronicity! A week or so ago, keen-eyed reader Monty Carlo (possibly not his real name) pointed me towards these beautiful covers designed by Peter Mendelsund for the Vintage US covers of Michel Foucault's work. I hadn't seen them: over here in the Commonwealth our Foucaults aren't so striking, as the actress said to the bishop. And then the other day the Casual Optimist lists them as part of his much-delayed best covers of 2010 post. So here they are...

These were even part of the AIGA 50 of 2010, so how I missed them I don't know. Feebleness, presumably.


Dan said...

Well, as I've been saying all week, "better late than never!" :-)

JRSM said...

You still beat me!

Pjotr Verhovenszkij said...

OK, it's fantastic, it's awesome, it's so good. ... but. - I do not understand the logic behind these covers. The megaphone is not obvious, not one bit, but for example the axe or the crown are so simple that it's actually hurts. Russain dolls could be clever or could be khm, silly, cause I have no idea how many books of Foucault Mendelsund read. The glasses are the same. Does it mean anything, or just looks good? Of course, it is possible he knows everything about Foucault, and the dools are represent the paradox of the history, or even the knowledge, but anyone can tell me what does it mean the apple, the screw, and the spring? The History of Sexuality is not about the sexuality, it's about the history of Sexuality, so when you put an apple on the cover of the Use of Pleasure, you should be able to explain why you did that. Because it is not obvious. Right, a cover design could be mysterious, or clever, but it allways should be represent something else, or showing in reference to something, or just being a clue, but more than a nothing. More than a pure picture, especially when it comes to Foucault. 

I am a philosopher, and I actually like to buy and read books from and about Foucault. But even for me hard to understand the conception behind or beyond this series of covers. Let me explain more precisely. If you ask anyone about Foucault, there are three things what they are saying about him: he was bald, gay, and incredibly clever. And he is spinning in his grave because of  the Pierre Riviere cover. 

Pjotr Verhovenszkij said...

This series could it be so good. But this is not a series, it's just a bunch of books with similar covers. Let's see.

The Archeology of Knowledge: Megaphone, because of Foucault's seminal work on the speech act. This is clever, and it's working before and after the reading process. When you read the Archeology, you can appreciate the idea of the Megaphone, but even if you never read the book, the Megaphone means something about the speaking, or the language.

The Birth of Clinics: I have no idea. Is the denture represents the medical science itself, or is it means that the modern medical science has artificial solutions for natural questions? Or means that when you are talking about illness, you cannot use a pure language, but one with full of artificial tools? And what does it mean? Cloudy.

Herculine Barbin: Razor. So he was a man, not a woman. Or, he needed to be a man.

Discipline and Punish: So obvious, so simple. And actually works.

Power/Knowledge: Crown. This is just wrong. If you put a crown on the cover of this book, you do not understand Foucault. Period.

I Pierre Riviere: Axe. This is so cool, it's almost pathetic. Would you put an axe on the cover of the Crime and Punishment? No, because it would be displeasingly stupid. So why would you do this with the Pierre Riviere?

Madness and Civilization: Glasses. The scientific view is like the glasses. And Foucault broke that clean view. We can not wear this glasses anymore, because the history, our history is not that simple and pure anymore. However the different aspects are outside of the science, they are not different aspects of the same sight, but different glasses. Actually more like different eyes.

The Order of Things: Matryoshka dolls. Mendelsund actually read this book for sure, and this is a clever design. Everywhere else there is only one item can be found on the cover but not here. Is this one item or five different things? Could you put it together without destroying the concept of the dolls? Could you put it together the different aspects of the history? Is the modern episteme contains the classic one, or rather it's like the representation of the paradox of the order of things in history? The history is like the russian dolls: it seems to be so easy and so obvious to put together all the pieces, but when you done you realize that some point you lost or even destroyed the original plurality of the time.

And the History of Sexuality: There is no answer for me. Why these items? What they mean? Between two artifial items there is an apple. I just have no clue.

And finally, the title of the series: The Museum as Heterotopia. It means nothing.

So, I think this new series is great, but somehow doesn't working. I understand how cool Mendelsund is, but this is simply not enough. Maybe Foucault doesn't deserve more, but I do.

JRSM said...

Pjotr, thanks for your comments. I actually don't know very much Foucault--perhaps this is why they work better for me! My assumption with the 3 sex volumes was that the spring was a coil (as in contraception), the apple was emblematic of sin, and the screw was a visual pun. But these are all based on not having actually read the books.

I can certainly understand your frustration--when you know and love a writer or their work, and the cover seems to completely miss the point, it's maddening.

san go newsky said...

oh. i love it. Thanks you very much. Great post!