"My work has had nothing to do with gay liberation," Michel Foucault reportedly told an admirer in 1975. And indeed there is scarcely more than a passing mention of homosexuality in Foucault's scholarly writings. So why has Foucault, who died of AIDS in 1984, become a powerful source of both personal and political inspiration to an entire generation of gay activists? And why have his political philosophy and his personal life recently come under such withering, normalizing scrutiny by commentators as (...) diverse as Camille Paglia, Richard Mohr, Bruce Bawer, Roger Kimball, and biographer James Miller? David M. Halperin's Saint Foucault is an uncompromising and impassioned defense of the late French philosopher and historian as a galvanizing thinker whose career as a theorist and activist will continue to serve as a model for other gay intellectuals, activists, and scholars. A close reading of both Foucault and the increasing attacks on his life and work, it explains why straight liberals so often find in Foucault only counsels of despair on the subject of politics, whereas gay activists look to him not only for intellectual inspiration but also for a compelling example of political resistance. Halperin rescues Foucault from the endless nature-versus-nurture debate over the origins of homosexuality ("On this question I have absolutely nothing to say," Foucault himself once remarked) and argues that Foucault's decision to treat sexuality not as a biological or psychological drive but as an effect of discourse, as the product of modern systems of knowledge and power, represents a crucial political breakthrough for lesbians and gay men. Halperin explains how Foucault's radical vision of homosexuality as a strategic opportunity for self-transformation anticipated the new anti-assimilationist, anti-essentialist brand of sexual identity politics practiced by contemporary direct-action groups such as ACT UP. Halperin also offers the first synthetic account of Foucault's thinking about gay sex and the future of the lesbian and gay movement, as well as an up-to-the-minute summary of the most recent work in queer theory. "Where there is power, there is resistance," Michel Foucault wrote in The History of Sexuality, Volume I. Erudite, biting, and surprisingly moving, Saint Foucault represents Halperin's own resistance to what he views as the blatant and systematic misrepresentation of a crucial intellectual figure, a misrepresentation he sees as dramatic evidence of the continuing personal, professional, and scholarly vulnerability of all gay activists and intellectuals in the age of AIDS. (shrink)
One. Hundred. Years. of. Homosexuality. I. In 1992, when the patriots among us will be celebrating the fivehundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, our cultural historians may wish to mark the centenary of ...
Sexuality is a cultural production: it represents the appropriation of the human body and of its physiological capacities by an ideological discourse. Foucault made sexuality into a field of historical investigation. The next project is to fill in the outlines of the picture he has sketched. The study of classical antiquity has a special role to play in this historical enterprise, in that it exposes sexuality, as a domain of knowledge, power, and personal experience, as a uniquely modern production. Neither (...) the isolation of sexuality as an autonomous entity nor the use of sexuality to individuate human beings can be exampled in Greek antiquity. The history of sexuality therefore cannot posit "sexuality" as a stable object of historical knowledge but must inquire into the various ways that sexual experience is constituted in society. The answer to the question "is there a history of sexuality" is yes, but only a relatively recent one. (shrink)
The answer to this question is simple, but it requires elaborate argumentation. Epicureanism in The First Circle stands for the ethics of Stalinist society and furnished Solzhenitsyn with the vehicle for a destructive critique of Stalinist moral theory. But Stalinism has tended to be viewed in the West chiefly as a vicious form of political opportunism, its implicit ethical structure has escaped due recognition. But Stalinism was more than one man's strategy for the seizure and consolidation of power, more even (...) than the collective aims, policies, and methods of the Soviet bureaucracy. The ideological component of Stalinism must not be neglected. Howsoever the integrity of its doctrines was subordinated to political exigencies of the moment, Stalinist ideology could lay claim to a coherent and distinguished intellectual ancestry: it was heir to the materialist philosophy of the so-called Left Hegelians , a philosophy militantly reinterpreted by the architects of the Russian Revolution. Stalinist ideology expected a profound influence on the popular notions of obligation and moral value during the period of its ascendancy, smoothing the way of acquiescence and cooperation for the reluctant, the dubious, and the conscience-stricken. One need not therefore subscribe to an idealist interpretation of history in order to agree with Solzhenitsyn that Stalin's creation of an univers concentrationnaire would have been impossible without an accessory code of official ethics. David M. Halperin, an assistant professor of literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author of articles on Solzhenitsyn, Conrad, Augustine, Virgil, and ancient bucolic poetry. (shrink)