Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory (Gender and Culture)
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Michel Foucault was the first to embed the roots of human sexuality in discipline and biopolitics, therefore revolutionizing our conception of sex and its relationship to society, economics, and culture. Yet over the past two decades, scholars have limited themselves to the study of Foucault's History of Sexuality, volume 1 paying lesser attention to his equally explosive History of Madness. In this earlier volume, Foucault recasts Western rationalism as a project that both produces and represses sexual deviants, calling out the complicity of modern science and the exclusionary nature of family morality. By reclaiming these deft moves, Lynne Huffer teases out exciting new strands of Foucauldian thought. She then revisits the theorist's ethical work in light of these discoveries, divining an ethics of eros that sees sexuality as a lived experience we are repeatedly called on to remember. Throughout her study, Huffer weaves her own experiences together with Foucault's, sampling from unpublished interviews and other archived materials in order to intimately rework the problem of sexuality as a product of reason.
perspective might be better described as a politics of resistance, to use Feher’s term. This specifically Foucauldian politics of resistance requires the linking of an ethical transformation of the self with interventions into larger structures of power.63 Most important, what is missing from virtually every reading of Madness to date—including Deleuze’s—is an attention to the queerness that both sparks and shapes the entire project. This is obviously not to say that historians and other
modified).29 The language Foucault uses to describe this experience of unreason in the classical age reflects a double vision of repressive and productive forces that, together, remove mad subjectivity from its prior experience of freedom in the ship of fools. Specifically, the unfreedom of the mad is the result of repressive gestures of exclusion as well as productive forces of reorganization. The word repression occurs throughout Foucault’s description of the bourgeois, juridical, and
with our hearts or our ears or the life-affirming ethics of experience. Indeed, with the rise of biopower, life is managed and thereby drained of eros. As Foucault puts it at the end of Sexuality One: “Sex is worth death. [“Le sexe vaut bien la mort”]. It is in this, strictly historical sense, that sex is indeed traversed [traversé] by the death instinct.”24 And yet, for all its historical negation of life as eros, queer readers of Foucault have tended to embrace sexual subjectivation as a
to grieve. For even the tragic, for all its lyricism and poetic flight, requires the structures of reason that undergird the subject to make itself heard. As for the “others,” they remain lost to tragedy and lost to history. If Madness fails in its attempt to grieve that which has been lost to us, it distinguishes itself in naming that failure. Like the space that separates my first interlude about madness from this chapter’s philosophical analysis of mad subjectivity, what Madness tells us
in the psychoanalytic Oedipus myth bring attention, importantly for queer theory, to patriarchy’s specifically modern meanings. Let me focus for a moment on this place of “patriarchy” in Foucault’s book. As a feminist reader of a queer Foucault, my ears prick up at his uncharacteristic use of the term. Its deployment is even more surprising given its historical context—1961—before the rise of the second wave of feminist movements in Europe and the U.S. And, given the backdrop of numerous later