Historicizing Romantic Sexuality
Foucault and the Hedgerow History of Sexuality
Jonathan Loesberg, American University
This article argues that what it calls hedgerow envy, a generalized sense of having a non-historical stake in the meaning of a historical narrative, which is part of its inauthenticity and its theory, is also a central part of how Foucault’s history works and of the light it casts on some of the debates his history has incited and played a part in over the historical meaning of sexuality and homosexuality. This essay appears in _Historicizing Romantic Sexuality_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.
I lift the term "hedgerow" from Doonesbury, as much to characterize my own ambiguous position as the author of a piece on what Foucault's influence on the writing of the history of sexuality has been and ought to be, as to characterize what I will argue that influence should be. In a series that ran sometime after Saving Private Ryan had opened, Mark Slackmeyer, one of the original baby-boomer cast of characters of that strip, is visiting his dying father. Slackmeyer was, of course, an opponent of the Vietnam War and had famously judged all the Watergate conspirators to be "Guilty, guilty, guilty." He and his father, a conservative, a veteran of World War II and of the Normandy invasion (although, as it turns out, really a veteran of the typing pool) have, unsurprisingly, never gotten along. But now Slackmeyer suddenly feels sympathetic interest in his father's wartime experiences. In one of those ripostes Trudeau frequently gives to his conservative characters when they capture the hypocrisies of his contemporaries, Slackmeyer's father refers to the baby-boomer, post-Ryan elegiac attitude to World War II veterans and the Normandy invasion as "hedgerow envy." The term not only captures the inauthenticity of the sudden nostalgia for a life-threatening challenge in support of an unmistakably good cause of all of us who had never and would never want to go anywhere near a battlefield. Because it is a nostalgia for danger held from a safe, theoretical distance, the term also captures the uncomfortable position of claiming to have a position on a matter of critical dispute that is also a matter of political dispute, without any expertise in that field, based on the tenuous applicability of a larger theoretical position and a comfortably unthreatening fellow-feeling with those political ends. Such political sympathy from afar based on safe theories certainly have all the inauthentic possibilities of Trudeau's hedgerow envy. And the term all too closely describes my own entry into debates over the history of homosexuality, with no Greek, no Latin, no expertise in any of the requisite fields and only an interest in Foucault's philosophical and aesthetic positions and an intellectual envy of the work of that history to justify me. My only further justification will be my claim that hedgerow envy, in a more generalized sense of having a non-historical stake in the meaning of a historical narrative—which is part of its inauthenticity and its theory—is also a central part of how Foucault's history works and of the light I think it casts on some of the debates his history has incited and played a part in over the historical meaning of sexuality and homosexuality. If, by attaching that term to a particular, influential part of Foucault's project, I can recuperate the value of hedgerow envy in all of its inauthenticity, I am perfectly, if inauthentically happy, to hope that that recuperation attaches to my argument as well.
Before discussing what I am calling Foucault's hedgerow history, though, I want to start with some closer connections drawn between his history and the history of sexuality. There are three levels of this connection, which occur at greater and greater levels of generality and thus in closer and closer approximations of the inauthentic distance of hedgerow envy. The first level is a recurrent interest, both among allies and critics, in connecting his work, especially the three volumes of his History of Sexuality, to his biography—in particular not only to his own homosexuality, but to his taking, in late interviews, gay S/M practices as exemplary of the shaping of one's own practices, self and life, that he came to see as a positive response to the discipline of sexuality. The second level has been the very real importance of some of his claims about homosexuality (that concept's history and its lack of applicability to sexual practices prior to the nineteenth-century) to debates through the 1980s and 1990s over the history of homosexuality and the implications of that history for an antihomophobic politics. Finally, at a more general level, although obviously connected to the prior one, Foucault's description of the disciplinary power of sexuality as a field of knowledge, while it has seemed to so many of his liberal critics and even sometime allies, as taking away all ability to engage in any political action at all, has played a strangely productive—strange, evidently only to straight notions of production, though—role in gay political action.
The attachment critics make between Foucault's life and his thought is in all ways the worst. This has nothing to do with his own ostensible antagonism to the concept of an author. If explaining a text with regard to the biography of its author has a value despite Foucault's beliefs, then it will have the same value for his case. And although biographers frequently refer apologetically to Foucault's often quoted appeal in Archaeology of Knowledge not to ask who he is or to demand that he remain the same (17; see for instance, Macey, xiii), one only need respect this request to the extent that one agrees with Foucault in the first place that such questions and demands are irrelevant to understanding a work. Of course, if one does think that, then one will hardly look to his biography in order to understand them. But if one does not, Foucault presents no special case, his appeals to the contrary notwithstanding. The problem has been that connecting Foucault's life with his work has too frequently been homophobic and, even when not, has been reductive at best. Given the fact that he died from AIDS early enough in the life of that plague so that melodramatic emplotments of such deaths did not seem as excessive as they do now, it was inevitable that anti-postmodern critics would connect his death with his thought. Of these formulations, George Steiner's is relatively restrained: "This obsessed inquirer into diseases and sexuality—into the mind's constructs of Eros and the effects of such constructs on the body politic and on the individual flesh—was done to death by the most hideous and symbolically charged of current diseases" (105). Steiner in all probability meant "hideous" as a judgment about how horrific it was that people died of AIDS. Still, in what sense does Foucault's death from AIDS tell us anything about "obsessions" that pre-date the existence of the disease by twenty years. And, although the disease has certainly been symbolically charged for some, not all symbols are even remotely useful ones for evaluating someone's thought, even for those who think that authorial lives are in principle pertinent, least of all those symbols that arise from fear and ignorance. A more fully worked out and notorious example of connecting Foucault's life to his works, James Miller's The Passion of Michel Foucault, at least means to be an admiring book which connects what Miller takes to be a life-long obsession with limit-experiences to his work in ways that are at least narratively satisfying, at any rate for those who enjoy Victorian melodrama. Regardless of whether one agrees with Halperin's evaluation of Miller's book as homophobic, however, one can only think it elucidates Foucault's thinking for those who have no interest in the details of that thought since it regularly quotes out of context and really deals with no book before Discipline and Punish on its own terms.
Perhaps the best place for arguing why one should not connect even what might seem the most personal of Foucault's meditations with his life would be in his defenses of S/M, the practice of which he separates from sadomasochism, understood as a feature of consciousness:
I do not think that this movement of sexual practices has anything at all to do with the bringing to daylight or the discovering of sadomasochist tendencies deeply buried in our unconscious. I think that S/M is much more than that; it's the actual creation of new possibilities of pleasure that one might never have imagined before. . . . I think that we have here a sort of creation, of a creative enterprise, of which one of the principle characteristics is what I would call the de-genitalization of pleasure. The idea that physical pleasure is always a matter of sexual pleasure and the idea that sexual pleasure is the base of all possible pleasures is something that I think is truly something false. What S/M practices show us is that we can produce pleasure beginning with very strange objects and using certain bizarre parts of our bodies in very unusual situations, etc. (Dits, II, 1556-57).
Because of the gossip surrounding both Foucault's activity in the bathhouses of San Francisco and his death from AIDS (were there really no such similar places in Paris, or is the location of Foucault's activity part of a mythmaking element to the story we now tell of his death?), his espousal of S/M as an example of cultivating "bodies and pleasures" as a counterattack against the power-knowledge of sexuality (History of Sexuality, 157) can seem to link his theories to his life. This may take the homophobic tone of Steiner's suggestion of the darkness and obsession of Foucault's thought, or that of Miller's melodramatic narrative of someone interested in limit-experiences in both life and work. It may take the openly hagiographic form of Halperin's analysis of the queer politics entailed in Foucault's espousal of S/M (Saint Foucault, 85-91), coupled with the evaluation that he led an "intellectually and politically exemplary life" (Saint Foucault, 7). The problem with all these connections is that they reduce the challenge of Foucault's thought to a reaction to a specific practice rather than using a reaction to a practice to test our ability to accommodate a way of thinking.
There is after all a clear line of connection going from Foucault's interest in S/M to his more general statement that the value of doing history is to get free of oneself. One starts the connection with his espousal of askesis as a response to explain his statement that rather than "bemoaning dulled pleasures, I am interested in what we can do by ourselves":
Asceticism as the renunciation of pleasure has a bad reputation. But askesis is something different: it is the work that you do on yourself to transform yourself or to allow a self to appear that, fortunately, you never quite reach. Is this not our problem today? We have dismissed asceticism. It's now up to us to advance into a homosexual askesis that will enable us to work on ourselves, and invent—I do not say discover—a manner of being that is as yet improbable (Dits, II, 984).
The common ground between the practice of S/M as the invention of new pleasures that would allow us to see bodily pleasures as de-genitalized in an unfamiliar way, and an askesis construed, in accordance with its original meaning, as an exercise on oneself rather than simply a self-denial, an exercise that will allow us to create new forms of self and being, is fairly clear. And yet, if this response did not appear in an interview for the gay journal Gai Pied and if the word homosexual were left out, the text would perfectly accord perfectly with Foucault's description in his introduction to The Use of Pleasure of his motive for writing history:
As for what motivated me, it is quite simple; I would hope that in the eyes of some people it might be sufficient in itself. It was curiosity—the only kind of curiosity, in any case, that is worth acting upon with a degree of obstinacy: not the curiosity that seeks to assimilate what is proper for one to know, but that which enables one to get free of oneself. After all, what would be the value of the passion for knowledge, if it resulted only in a certain amount of knowledgeableness and not, in one way or another and to the extent possible, in the knower's straying afield of himself? (8)
From the askesis that allows us to invent new modes of being to a history that enables the knower to stray afield of himself, there is only the distance between a rule and an instance. If this is the only kind of curiosity worth acting upon with any obstinacy, though, one must assume that it should motivate more than gays (or straights) practicing S/M. My point here is not to enfeeble the espousal of S/M by turning it into a more easily digestible general principle of self-detachment. Rather the reverse, I think the force of the example of S/M for the audience that does not practice it is to stress that self-detachment, not to say the more difficult losing one's fondness for oneself, may involve harder acts of empathy than we usually imagine. If many of Foucault's liberal critics seem to shy before the hedgerow they are being asked to leap, that is no reason to let them off the hook by creating the authentic connection of a hagiography that excludes them from the possibility of comprehending. If hedgerow envy is inauthentic, it still seems preferable to its absence.
Ultimately the problem is that Foucault proposes an extreme form of self-detachment as an end. For allies of that position, proposing to attach Foucault back to his life, even merely as exemplary, does not really refuse him the detachment he seeks. It refuses to grant the value of detachment he espouses. His critics, of course, may mean to deny that he achieves that end, or to deny the value of the end, but to do so by attaching his thought to his life via that which they find in it that is most sensational and melodramatic has, to be understated, an air of insufficient detachment to evaluate the thought. But the second form of attaching Foucault to the writing of the history of sexuality suffers none of these problems. Instead it takes two significant ideas from the three volumes of the History of Sexuality and uses them as guiding ideas for further work in that history. I put these ideas simplistically, with the promise to refine them more satisfactorily further down: 1) in the first volume of the history, Foucault famously states that while "as defined by the ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts," "[t]he nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage," and 2) in The Use of Pleasure, in contrast to either of these definitions, the Greeks of the classical period, rather than categorizing sexual activity in terms of the sex of the desired object, thus dividing among homosexual and heterosexual, categorized in terms of the dominance or passivity of the desired role, thus classing boys and women—as passive—together as objects of desire for men. These ideas taken together imply, at least for some critics, the historical constructedness of first homosexuality, and as a consequence of heterosexuality as well since heterosexuality was created as a concept only in tandem with the creation of homosexuality as a concept in the nineteenth century, and thus finally of sexuality as a whole. This connection, of course, does not in any sense run afoul of Foucault's idea of detachment. Indeed, it derives quite pointedly from his desire, as we will see, to use history to estrange us from our own ways of thinking, to make them look historical rather than necessary givens, either natural or logical. And there is no question that these claims, if in more historically careful and refined terms, do play important roles in Foucault's history of sexuality. If I question the closeness of their connection to Foucault, it will not be to question the validity of the histories of sexuality that follow upon him but rather to question whether, finally, taken in the largest sense, he is making historical claims at all. And my point will be that one can get the values of the histories of sexuality written in his wake only by accepting his recognition that the value of his work is not in its historical validity (which will not be the same as saying that his claims are invalid).
Before looking at these specific arguments, however, we should note that the historical constructedness of sexuality is in one sense not a conclusion from the historical evidence but a necessary presupposition to doing the history of sexuality. Foucault recognizes this explicitly in his introduction to The Use of Pleasure, in which he claims that he needed to begin by presuming the historically changing nature of sexuality:
To speak of sexuality in this way, I had to break with a conception that was rather common. Sexuality was conceived of as a constant. The hypothesis was that where it was manifested in historically singular forms, this was through various mechanisms of repression to which it was bound to be subjected in every society. What this amounted to, in effect, was that desire and the subject of desire were withdrawn from the historical field, and interdiction as a general form was made to account for anything historical in sexuality. (4)
The logic is quite clear. Only if we treat sexuality as historically changing, treat its elements—desire and the subject of desire—as parts of the historical field, can we do a history of sexuality. Otherwise, we write a history of external variations that befall a natural constant. We will write how different historical periods allow or repress sexuality but not how sexuality itself changes through history. Halperin follows this logic and clarifies it: "Sex has no history. It is a natural fact, grounded in the functioning of the body, and, as such, it lies outside history and culture. Sexuality, by contrast, does not properly refer to some aspect or attribute of bodies. Unlike sex, sexuality is a cultural production" ("Is There a History of Sexuality," 416). Like Foucault, Halperin does not offer historical evidence for this claim at the outset (though he does go on to say that the history that follows will function as support for the claimed historicity of sexuality). He proposes a logical definition that allows the history to move forward. And, therefore, as with Foucault, the history that follows can only buttress the claim to the extent that we are willing at least to entertain the possibility of the subject having a history at all.
Although, as we will see, there is strong evidence for the historical accuracy of all of these claims, they have all been contested, and the reasons those arguments cannot be resolved satisfactorily will show us why the claims are really not ultimately historical. Let us start with the final most general one, since from it will follow the contestation of the more specific claims about the historicity of homosexuality. John Boswell, who opposed quite pointedly the notion that the category of homosexuality was an historical construct, also argued that if it were, "if the categories 'homosexual/heterosexual' and 'gay/straight' are the inventions of particular societies rather than aspects of the human psyche, there is no gay history" (93). And the logic here is as unexceptionable as that of Foucault's and Halperin's. In order to write an historical account of a single people whose common trait is that they are gay, gayness or homosexuality must actually be common to all of those people. If, therefore, gay history is to be the history of gay people, then obviously there must be such people. At issue in each of these statements is whether one wants to write the history of sexuality, thus the history of homosexuality, or the history of gay people. One's position on the constructedness of homosexuality or of its natural reality will derive at least in part from which history one wants to write. And of course the history one wants to write will have a connection with one's view of the present situation of gay people.
Although in principle, at this point, one might foresee this argument being over the status of the historical evidence for whether traits amounting to homosexuality exist in cultures regardless of how they categorize sexual acts, one needs to see that the debate begins in different evaluations of what kind of history will best forward differing positions about the best political position regarding either the origin or the essence of homosexuality. For those identified as Foucauldians, showing the historical constructedness of our understanding of homosexuality will show the emptiness of those categories as a basis for claiming knowledge about people one classifies in that category. Hence the case that other societies, in particular Classical Greece, did not have such categories implies the historical limitedness of our own categories. David Halperin makes this aim clear in both One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and How to do the History of Homosexuality. In the first book, he opens with the statement that ". . . if we are ever to discover who 'we' really are, it will be necessary to examine more closely the many respects in which Greek sexual practices differ from 'our own'—and do not merely confirm current cherished assumptions about 'us' or legitimate some of 'our' favorite practices" (1-2). Although this sentence is posed as an epistemological demand, the quotation marks around the first-person plural pronouns indicate clearly enough the ethical force behind the epistemology. And although Halperin develops a more nuanced constructivism in his second book, his statement of it only makes his ethical claims clearer: "If we cannot simply escape from the tyranny of homosexuality by some feat of scholarly rigor (as I once thought we could) . . . we can at least insist on taking our categories so seriously as to magnify their inner contradictions to the point where those contradictions turn out to be analytically informative" (107). The point of what is an openly artificial analytical act is to escape a tyranny, to show the contradictions in current categories. Nor should one think that only Foucauldian constructivism begins by assuming the historical case supposedly at issue. Leo Bersani, for instance, has argued powerfully for the idea that, contra Foucault, a gay identity serves a vital ethical and political role in a society that seems most to want homosexuality to disappear (Homos, particularly 31-76). And giving that identity historical duration often seems to motivate an animus with which essential gay historians attack constructivist ones.
It would be hard to imagine a history immune from a principle that motivates its composition, and there is no necessary contradiction between having such a principle and producing a history that adequately performs the role of evidence for it, so the above argument should pointedly not be taken as, by itself, any very strong reason for skepticism about either side in this argument, or a reason for faulting attaching one of the positions to a Foucauldian influence. But as one looks at the debate in further detail, one can see how impossible it would be to resolve in terms of an appeal to historical evidence. I will address two approaches to the debate, one a specific argument for a category of homosexuality held at least by the early Roman empire and the second a more general claim that regardless of what a specific society thought, the reality of homosexuality existed and one can see recognitions of that reality. Oddly, though those who make these arguments oppose themselves to Foucauldians, neither side contests entirely Foucault's central claim about the Greeks, one Dover made in a less pointed way before him and Halperin has argued vigorously after him. Whether or not pederasty was the only form of same-sex relationship the Greeks recognized, that relationship nevertheless followed a categorizing of sexual relationships that did not attend primarily to the sexes of the participants: ". . . sexual relations—always conceived in terms of the model act of penetration, assuming a polarity that opposed activity and passivity—were seen as being of the same type as the relationship between a superior and a subordinate, and individual who dominates and one who is dominated. . . ." (Use of Pleasure, 215). From this perspective, a dominant male desiring sex in the active role with either a woman or a boy would be experiencing the same kind of desire. Moreover, the taboo attached to the image of the effeminate gay man, in Greek society attaches to a man who, by an excess of desire, shows a lack of virile self-control. And this would be true regardless of whether that excess manifests itself in the unmanly willingness to allow oneself to be penetrated or in the unmanly excessive participation in sexual relationships with women (84-85). From this perspective, at least, it would seem that the Greeks did not think of sexual relationships as divided up along the line of the sexes of the participants as we do, and by implication at least, that they experienced desire differently in consequent ways.
One way to attack this picture as denying a natural reality to homosexuality would be to pick out one part of it and align it with current attitudes toward homosexuality to show the persistence of those attitudes, thus a persistent version of homophobia and as a consequence, a persistent sexual identity beneath the shifting conventions. An example of this approach is Amy Richlin's pointedly titled "Not Before Homosexuality: the Materiality of the Cinaedus and the Roman Law Against Love Between Men." Richlin at least intends to argue against Foucault and Halperin in contending that
[it] is true that "homosexuality" corresponds to no Latin word and is not a wholly adequate term to use of ancient Roman males, since adult males normally penetrated both women and boys. But it is partly adequate to describe the adult male who preferred to be penetrated. An accurate analysis is that here was a concept of sexual deviance in Roman culture, which was not homologous with the modern concept of "homosexuality" but partook of some of the same homophobic overtones our nineteenth-century coinage owns. (529-30)
The figure Richlin identifies here is the cinaedus, and she argues that there were people who corresponded to this term, and that they were treated with what amounts to homophobia. Both Foucault and Halperin do deal with this figure, as we shall see, so the question will not be over Richlin's having found a bit of evidence that they ignored—the existence of the cinaedus and a taboo against him—but over the significance of that figure and what kind of category he corresponds to. The first problem is simply whether it is sufficient to pick out one figure in a series of relationships categorized in entirely different ways and claim that this is the evidence of homosexuality in society. After all, if the deviance of the cinaedus is still being identified in terms of his anti-male desire to be penetrated, then while there is something like what we would describe as a gender aspect to his deviance, it is not quite a sexual aspect. To this Richlin essentially argues that if this figure corresponds to a male who enjoys sexual relations, even if only of a certain kind, only with other males, if he is depicted according to the stereotypes applied in the nineteenth-century to homosexuality construed as inversion and in the twentieth-century to homosexuals depicted in terms of their effeminacy, then regardless of the Greek and Roman values surrounding pederasty, we have a genuine trans-historical category that allows us to do a meaningful history of homosexuality and homophobia.
If Foucault and Halperin, among others, had somehow missed the figure of the cinaedus, Richlin's case, though still limited, would have been stronger, but in fact, her articulation of a commonality between negative stereotypes about inversion in the nineteenth century and negative stereotypes applied to the cinaedus might have been taken word for word from Foucault, who in the section in The Use of Pleasure labeled "an image," makes the connection explicitly. Beginning with a nineteenth-century "stereotypical portrait of a homosexual or invert" (18), Foucault then asserts that one can find exactly the same image going back through Greco-Roman to pre-Socratic Greek texts. He then asserts, however, that it "would be completely incorrect to interpret this as a condemnation of love of boys, or of what we generally refer to as homosexual relations; but at the same time, one cannot fail to see in it the effect of strongly negative judgments concerning some possible aspects of relations between men, as well as a definite aversion to anything that might denote a deliberate renunciation of the signs and privileges of the masculine role" (19). He justifies this claim in a passage that I referred to above explaining the difference between the Greek categorization in terms of active and passive sex and the modern one between hetero- and homosexuality:
In the experience of sexuality such as ours, where a basic scansion maintains an opposition between masculine and feminine, the femininity of men is perceived in the actual or virtual transgression of his sexual role. No one would be tempted to label as effeminate a man whose love for women leads to immoderation on his part…In contrast, for the Greeks it was the opposition between activity and passivity that was essential, pervading the domain of sexual behaviors and that of moral attitudes as well; thus it was not hard to see how a man might prefer males without anyone suspecting him of effeminacy, provided he was active in the sexual relation and active in the moral mastering of himself. On the other hand, a man who was not sufficiently in control of his pleasures—whatever his choice of object—was regarded as "feminine." The dividing line between a virile man and an effeminate man did not coincide with our opposition between hetero- and homosexuality; nor was it confined to the opposition between active and passive homosexuality. It marked the difference in people's attitudes toward the pleasures. . . .(85)
Foucault not only recognizes the existence of the commonality of stereotype on which Richlin bases her argument, he means by pointing to that commonality to stress precisely the difference in acts of categorization by which it is applied. Nor can we adjudicate the dispute in terms of some empirical element in the two ways of construing the cinaedus. Both Foucault and Halperin note that the term is not applied to all participants of same-sex relations and is applied to men who have sexual relations with women if their desire for sex is immoderate. And both of them, despite the fact that the term can be used of men who have sex with women, do recognize the special role that desiring to be penetrated plays in the definition of the term. Richlin, for her part, begins by recognizing that the common taboo she outlines does not refer to all participants in same-sex practices and does also allow that some men who were called cinaedi were so labeled as a result of having sex with women: "authors sometimes claim that a man's wife is involved with a cinaedus and that cinaedi seem to be faulted for excessive sexiness in general" (549). But because the stereotype is importantly tied to an enjoyment of being penetrated, she insists that "overwhelmingly and explicitly, cinaedi are said, with disgust, to be passive homosexuals" (549). In other words, there is a broad agreement on the empirical features of the category but a disagreement on whether those features comprise a depiction of a kind of homosexuality or of a kind of generalized, immoderate sexual desire.
To understand the unyielding quality of the debate, we need to recognize that what is at issue in how to read the evidence is precisely the issue the evidence is supposed to solve. Boswell puts the essentialist argument in its most general terms when he compares our recognition of homosexuality in the Greek period to our recognition of Newton's laws of gravity (96). The Greeks clearly had no concept of a law of gravity but, because that law describes features of the world in which we live, regardless of human categories of knowledge, the Greeks clearly did describe the forces those laws explain. In like manner, even though the Greeks might not have had concepts of homosexuality and heterosexuality, if those concepts capture real elements of the human psyche, then the activities they do describe will correspond to those concepts and exhibit their real existence. Of course the analogy pre-supposes precisely the issue: whether the concepts of hetero- and homosexuality do correspond to elements of the psyche in the same way that the laws of gravity describe certain forces in the universe. Halperin, thus, proposes, as an alternative analogy, asking whether it makes sense to describe those who work with their hands prior to capitalism as a "proletariat." (How to do the History of Homosexuality, 59-60). In a vague way, it makes sense to see a commonality among people in history who work with their hands and whose labor produces surplus value for those who more or less dominate them. But a proletariat exists precisely as a function of being alienated, physically unattached labor in relation to a capital-owning class and thus the term only become meaningful in a capitalist society when there is other than agrarian labor. In the same way, one can find a recognition in certain contexts of a distinction between same-sex objects of desire and alternate-sex objects of desire. But it will not get you very far in understanding how the society construes sexual relations and how people in it experience their desires and come by them to think of that distinction as indicating the real existence of a category of people that we could call homosexuals, if in fact the entire conceptual apparatus for making that distinction is absent from the society. In effect, Boswell, Richlin and critics like them, adduce the reality of the categories by pointing to elements in Roman and Greek society that could be described as showing the existence of homosexuality. Foucault, Halperin and others, similarly point to the same features as showing that the Greeks categorize sexual practices in an entirely different way. Since the only way to choose between one interpretation and another will entail presuming whether the concepts of homosexuality and heterosexuality actually do operate trans-historically, it follows that pointing to those features will not resolve the question.
I do not mean this account of the debate to suggest a throwing up of the hands, in the manner of Stanley Fish, with the clichéd conclusion that all historical debates are ultimately matters of interpretation with no interpretation-free facts that can decide matters. My problem with such a conclusion is, in the first instance, not that it might not be the case but that, even if it is, it does not have much to say about the specific issue of writing the history of sexuality, which project would be left in the same fix that all history is in. But, second and more pertinently here, despite the above presentation of the dispute, my neophyte's reading of this historical debate leaves me entirely persuaded by the argument made by the critics who follow Dover and Foucault and more particularly by Halperin's account of it in his two books. Or, rather more specifically, I am persuaded by the accounts of the sexual categories of the Greeks and Romans to see our own as at least historically local, as hardly necessary conditions of human thought even if I am agnostic about whether or not those categories can be meaningfully superimposed on past descriptions of practices and events—whether or not such a superimposition would look like reading the physics of the past through Newtonian categories or like reading pre-industrial, feudal agrarian economies through the categories of capitalist class structure. I want to argue further that this estrangement from the categories of the present remains the real aim of Foucault's writing (whether one calls it history or philosophy) and the more important element in them for telling us how to do the history of sexuality. This will lead finally to what I take to be the most important connection between Foucault's work and the history of sexuality aimed at supporting an antihomophobic politics, which is not the details of the history he writes but the rightness his picture of discipline has for many gay critics (in contrast to the wrongness it has had for so many liberal critics), how recognizing this rightness necessitates what I have been calling hedgerow envy on the part of many of those of us who as theorists, treat Foucault as a theorist, and why hedgerow envy may not, in this case, be a bad thing.
To get at what I all too grandly call "the real aim of Foucault's writing," I will, in my capacity of general theorist, treat one of his more philosophical and theoretical moments, his articulation of his theory of genealogy in his reading of "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History." "Genealogy," as the term that succeeded "archaeology" in Foucault's thinking, is all too frequently construed as a specific way of doing history, a new method, as archaeology arguably was. In this perspective, genealogy undoes our delusions about the meanings of institutions by pointing to their actual past affiliations, and thus exhibiting their actual discontinuities. And certainly the essay starts by posing genealogy as "gray, meticulous and patiently documentary" as "demanding a precision of knowledge, a large amount of materials, and patience" (Dits, I, 1004). But Nietzsche would be an odd avatar to choose to embody such documentary patience and meticulousness. His Genealogy of Morals proposes only the sketchiest of histories and bases them on virtually no documentary evidence. What Foucault does find in Nietzsche to share is a genealogy that stands in opposition to a history that bases itself on "the metahistoric unfolding of ideal significations and vague teleologies" (1004-5). In other words, genealogy is characterized by its skepticism of teleology and origin more than by any specific documentary method or itinerary that would arrive at that end.
In the course of the essay that follows, Foucault continues to talk about how genealogy "will attend to the details and accidents of beginnings," how its intention will always be to see "the face of the other emerge, all masks finally fallen" (1008). In other words, genealogy, despite the essay's attack on philosophy (by which it means any belief in meaning or teleology), has a Nietzschean, philosophical expectation about what it will find through its historical researches and that expectation, as much as the researches, and determining their courses, defines it. The final pages of the essay confirm the role of this expectation in a startling claim that genealogy has three uses each of which corresponds to and recuperates by parodying or reversing one of the forms of history outlined in Nietzsche's "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life" (Untimely Meditations, 57-123). There Nietzsche describes three modes of history, each one of which can forward the needs of the present or, if engaged in without perspective or limit, obstruct those needs: monumental history, antiquarian history and critical history. To oppose monumental history, Foucault proposes instead a history that parodies beliefs, thus "de-realizing us" (1021). As against antiquarian history, which seeks to discover continuities in the past, Foucault offers a history that "systematically dissociates our identity" (1022). The final use of history sacrifices the knowing subject—"le sujet de connaissance" (1023) and this use recuperates the critical history that in Nietzsche serves the will to truth. Nietzsche's essay is itself an attack on the historicism that he sees the Germans as priding themselves on. His point with each of these forms of history is that they have value only insofar as they aid the present. Foucault's genealogy goes one step further in this attack on history as a field of knowledge. It does not present a new kind of history but undoes the knowledge claims of the old ones. Far from being a more vigorous historicism that would discover the real truth the past has to tell us, behind the illusions of an overly philosophical history, it is rather an attack on the philosophy of history that uses its researches to parody and invert the forms of history. Genealogy has the project of detaching us from ourselves; historical research is its instrument, not its end.
If one reads the first two volumes of The History of Sexuality for the genealogical theme that undoes identity, one will find that the two positions that have influenced the subsequent debate over the history of homosexuality—that the nineteenth-century invented homosexuality as a personality, while prior to that there were merely acts of sodomy and that Greek categorizations of sexual acts cannot be understood through the categories of hetero- and homosexuality, which categories thus appear as historically local rather than universal—are actually secondary to his more central claims and so consequently is the empirical truth of them. Let us start with the first volume of the series, whose French title is The Will to Knowledge. Foucault makes all too clear in his introduction that will—erased from the title of the English translation—is indeed his theme:
And finally, the essential aim will not be to determine whether these discursive productions and those effects of power lead one to formulate the truth about sex, or on the contrary falsehoods designed to conceal that truth, but rather to bring out the "will to knowledge" that serves as both their support and their instrument. (11-12)
Foucault's objection to the will to knowledge follows from his objection to the concept of man in Order of Things and of the discipline that enforces self-regulation through knowledge in Discipline and Punish. In all cases, the claim to know human essence ties individuals to the limits of the identities imposed upon them. Sexuality, constructed as a science, as it has been in the West, imposes identities on individuals. Freedom from those identities does not depend on proving that the knowledge claims of nineteenth-century scientific sexuality are false, only that they are not intellectually necessary, that lives can be conducted in their absence. Thus Foucault claims indifference to whether discursive productions and power lead to truth or falsehoods. He aims only to disengage from the productions and the power a will to knowledge that may be identified as a constraining will, regardless of the status of the knowledge it discovers.
This aim shapes Foucault's later influential claim, quoted above, with regard to the homosexual becoming a personage in the nineteenth century. If one attends to the modifications with which Foucault surrounds that claim, it will be clear that he does not claim that there were no such things as personality types tied to sexual desires prior to the nineteenth century but merely that it was possible under different contexts to think about sexual practices in the absence of identity concepts. One should note to start that the claim comes in a list that purports to show that what happened in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was not the interdiction of sexual acts but the definition of sexual identities. The first item in the list contrasts the attempt to regulate childhood masturbation with the attempt to forbid incest. In the second instance, the aim was to eliminate all instances of the act. In the first, masturbation supported an apparatus for overseeing and regulating childhood more closely. Foucault then moves to the second example:
This new pursuit of marginal sexualities entails an incorporation of perversities and a new specification of individuals. Sodomy—that of the old civil or canonic laws—was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was only their juridical subject. The homosexual of the nineteenth century has become a personage: a past, a history, a childhood, a character, a form of life; a morphology as well, with an indiscrete anatomy and perhaps a mysterious physiology. (42-3)
Even taken in isolation, the passage does not claim that the concept of sexual identities did not exist prior to the nineteenth century, or even that prior periods did not have identity concepts that they linked to those who showed a preference for genital activity with members of their own sex. It specifies that sodomy in canonic and civil laws referred to a set of acts not to an individual; the laws did not define a subject except in the juridical sense. Foucault's remark a few pages earlier makes the specification about those codes even clearer: "Up to the end of the eighteenth century, three major explicit codes—apart from customary regularities and constraints of opinion—governed sexual practices: canonical law, the Christian pastoral, and civil law" (37). Foucault begins with the recognition that the laws defining sodomy were not the only ways European culture defined sexual practices prior to the nineteenth century. Indeed, since the heightened attention to childhood masturbation he describes in the preceding point, which participates in the same process as the nineteenth century definition of the homosexual, begins in the eighteenth century—although in other discourses than the old codes—he could hardly have thought that those codes comprehended all the cultural definitions of sexuality.
But with these qualifications, what purpose can this statement any longer serve? Granted, homosexuality, with the precise psychological etiologies and even biological specifications with which the nineteenth century first endowed it, may be a recent construction. But if past cultures did have categories through which they classified those whose tastes ran toward one sexual practice as opposed to another, and if one of those categories contained those who preferred same-sex practices, then effectively one cannot claim that homosexuality—except as specifically defined by nineteenth century discursive practices—is a cultural construction. First one should note that, when posed the question of whether homosexuality was innate, or socially conditioned, Foucault refused to answer because "I think it's simply not useful to speak of things that are outside of my field of expertise. The question you ask does not come under my area of competence, and I don't like to speak about that which is not actually an object of my work" (Dits, II, 1140). In other words, Foucault does not think that his work has as a consequence the claim that homosexuality is culturally constructed. This might seem surprising if one does not consider what the passage does claim and how far that claim goes. First, Foucault wants to show that the activity of giving sexual preferences characterological ties of a kind that made them a proper object of knowledge was a nineteenth-century innovation. Since The History of Sexuality argues that we still live with discourses that define sexual preference as a matter of psychological identity, seeing that form of categorization as historically local is all that matters to his claim here. As long as, first, one can instance a form of categorization that does not see sex acts in terms of sexual identity—for instance sodomy as defined by the old civil and canonic laws—and second one can see the definition of homosexuality in terms of etiology, mode of living, biology, etc. as a nineteenth-century innovation (does anyone argue that these definitions of homosexuality existed prior to the nineteenth century?), then his claim holds up. And second, if that claim holds up, and we see the modern practices of sexual definition not as knowledge—or at least as merely knowledge—but as a practice of constraint, his genealogy will have achieved its end. He does not need a theory of what homosexuality is to assert that any claim as to what it is amounts to a form of constraint. Nor does he need an historically accurate account of what was prior to it for the genealogically ironic Nietzschean critical history to have called into question the domain of knowledge that produced the concept of homosexuality.
If, when he wrote this passage, Foucault did believe that prior to the nineteenth century, culture did not construct identities out of sexual practices, he would have to have given up this position by time he wrote The Use of Pleasure since the very theme of that book is how the Greeks constructed their understanding of the subject, and of how they judged the choices subjects made according to their different sexual morés. He did, as we have seen, think that the Greeks thought about both sexual relations and about the basis on which ethical decisions should be made with regard to sexual relations through very different categorizations both of sexual practices and of what counts as an ethical choice or problem. But he also did argue that they thought one's sexual partners, one's ability to restrain one's sexual impulse, one's preference for activity or passivity all did derive from and thus indicate something like a character. If the cinaedus discussed above was not really a homosexual, he nevertheless was a personage and his quality as personage was manifest in his sexual comportment. What was manifest and how it was manifested was entirely different, but Foucault's point in contrasting how the Greeks thought about their sexual comportment was hardly that they didn't think about it at all as significant. In contrasting how they made their judgments, he makes clear that they did make judgments. Their moral reflection on sexual conduct (and, of course, not entirely sexual, since they way they thought about it also pertained to other domains in which restraint or excess were relevant), he says "did not speak to men concerning behaviors presumably owing to a few interdictions that were universally recognized and solemnly recalled in codes, customs, and religious prescriptions. It spoke to them concerning precisely those conducts in which they were called upon to exercise their rights, their power, their authority and their liberty. . ." (23). The reflection spoke to the Greeks on a different basis and about different qualities of their personality, but it did speak to them about the significance their acts had as more than merely acts.
This distinction conditions Foucault's discussion of how the Greeks categorized the significance of one's sexual preferences. His contention that they did not attend to the sex of one's object choice but rather to who was active and who passive, who dominant and who submissive, as is well known, comes almost entirely from Dover's Greek Homosexuality. But he is not particularly concerned to argue that the pederasty Dover analyzes represents all or the main forms of Greek same-sex practices. And, while he does insist that homosexuality does not accommodate how the Greeks thought about sex, that is neither the central point of his book nor even of the chapter in it on pederasty. He more or less assumes Dover's definition of pederasty but argues that what matters is not the particular shapes that set of practices took but the fact that the Greeks both problematized it and theorized it: what is historically singular is not that the Greeks found pleasure in boys, nor even that they accepted this pleasure as legitimate; it is that this acceptance of pleasure was not simple, and that it gave rise to a whole cultural elaboration. In broad terms, what is important to grasp here is not why the Greeks had a fondness for boys but why they had a "pederasty"; that is, why they elaborated a courtship practice, a moral reflection, and—as we shall see—a philosophical asceticism around that fondness. (214)
Foucault means to show the different ways the Greeks constructed the subject, what kinds of choices made one one kind of subject rather than another, and accordingly what kind of choices manifested who one was. Thus the significance of Greek pederasty was not that it does not correspond to our cultural division of homosexual from heterosexual (though it does not) but that the various problems it caused the culture and the forms of self-control those problems led to created an alternative way of constructing one's identity.
If there is a shift in Foucault's thinking between the first and second volume of the history of sexuality in that the first volume—in this sense still following upon Discipline and Punish and even Order of Things—tries to depict forms of thought without the concept of subjectivity or identity while the second and third volumes try instead to depict alternative means of constructing subjectivity, alternative materials out of which it might be built, there is no shift in the motive behind the depictions. The Use of Pleasure is not, as some of its first critics oddly seemed to think, a paean to the Greek form of subjectivity as a positive alternative to our own. Foucault's description of the shift that took place between The Will to Knowledge and The Use of Pleasure makes clear that his goal was to depict the modern concept of subjectivity as historically local by showing alternative constructions of the concept:
. . . it seemed to me that one could not very well analyze the formation and development of the experience of sexuality from the eighteenth century onward, without doing a historical and critical study dealing with desire and the desiring subject. In other words, without undertaking a "genealogy." This does not mean that I proposed to write a history of the successive conceptions of desire, of concupiscence, or of libido, but rather to analyze the practices by which individuals were led to focus their attention on themselves, to decipher, recognize, and acknowledge themselves as subjects of desire, bringing into play between themselves and themselves a certain relationship that allows them to discover, in desire, the truth of their being, be it natural or fallen. In short, with this genealogy the idea was to investigate how individuals were led to practice, on themselves, and on others, a hermeneutics of desire, hermeneutics of which their sexual behavior was doubtless the occasion, but certainly not the exclusive domain. Thus, in order to understand how the modern individual could experienced himself as a subject of a "sexuality," it was essential first to determine how, for centuries, Western man had been brought to recognize himself as a subject of desire. (5-6)
In the first volume of the history of sexuality, Foucault meant to give a limit to sexuality as a domain of knowledge by showing its inauguration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Despite what he says here, for that purpose, beginning with that field of knowledge's pre-history in Christian confession would have been sufficient. The goal of the genealogy, which was still, as we shall see, just to think differently, led him to decide that historicizing the subject meant not a pre-history in which we were blessedly free of thinking of ourselves as subjects but a history of different kinds of subjectivities. This would not be a history of successive conceptions of desire. Such a history, delineating a line of development would not be a genealogy, which, as we have seen, must undo notions of essence and end by undoing notions of development. Instead, it analyzes different practices that different periods thought led to a knowledge of the truth of being since, if the practices are sufficiently disparate, the connection between our own practices and their goal in that knowledge will seem equally tenuous.
I have silently assumed Foucault's earlier definition of "genealogy" in construing the term in this passage, firstly because nothing in the passage otherwise explicates the term. It cannot be true that, if one's subject-matter is desire and the desiring subject, the only kind of history one could write would be a genealogy. Foucault might not approve of other ways of writing such a history, but one could write one nevertheless. Nor does telling us that by genealogy he means analyzing practices rather than successive conceptions by itself tell us why he calls that alternative a genealogy. But second, his description of the genre of the work he is now engaged in makes clear its connection to the Nietzschean discussion of that term in the earlier essay:
The studies that follow, like the others I have done previously, are studies of "history" by reason of the domain they deal with and the references they appeal to; but they are not the work of a "historian."…Considered from the standpoint of their "pragmatics," they are the record of a long and tentative exercise that needed to be revised and corrected again and again. It was a philosophical exercise. The object was to learn to what extent the effort to think one's own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently. (9)
The exercise is philosophical because the object is not the history it depicts but the effort to think outside the limits of one's own presumptions. This is of course the classic effort of philosophy since at least the Enlightenment. The goal of thinking differently as its own end, though, makes the exercise genealogical inasmuch as genealogy, as Foucault sees its version of critical history, destroys the subject of knowledge—the subject that knowledge produces (Dits, I, 1024). From this perspective, Foucault's historical depictions in and of themselves cannot tell us much about how to do the history of sexuality since neither his aim nor his method are historical. Even the claims he makes in referring to history must be carefully qualified and placed within context to be maintained as historical. In particular, it is hard to imagine him getting very exercised by questions of how to refer to same-sex practices prior to the nineteenth-century definition of homosexuality. But this hardly means that the uses historians of sexuality and homosexuality make of his work and of the most frequently cited claims are somehow actually improper or unFoucauldian. Rather it means that Foucault tells us of the propriety of having a philosophical object in one's historical perspective. And this brings us back to hedgerow history.
Hedgerow envy, that wonderfully inauthentic desire to have had a valuable experience without the trouble of actually having experienced it, has the feature, in addition to its inauthenticity, of the distance of safeness. But from distance and inauthenticity we can, I think, reconstruct a connection between Foucault's aims and the features of his works that have led to so much discussion. To do so, I will now turn to what I described at the outset as the third level of Foucault's influence at least on gay historians of homosexuality: while Foucault's analysis of power and particular its skepticism about liberation has seemed either quietist or irrationally anarchist to many straight liberal critics (though not all of them), it has seemed strangely right (strangely, of course only to those who don't share the sense of the rightness) to many gay critics and activists (though not all of them). Halperin offers numbers of reasons for this sense that Foucault's position on power just does describe the way things work and how one can work with that situation. Two seem to me particularly pertinent. One, he says, is the experience of the closet, whereby being in it, while that is hardly freedom, still allows a latitude of action that being out does not and coming out hardly amounts to emerging "from a state of servitude into a state of untrammeled liberty" (Saint Foucault, 29-30). Second, he notes, that Foucault's sense of the workings of power and resistance seem particularly pertinent to the experience of confronting homophobia, with all of its contradictory resources (31). Although he does not discuss it here, claiming liberation on the basis of an identity can hardly seem promising to gays since the first homosexual liberation movement in the nineteenth century in fact provided the material for homophobic stereotypes that are still with us (Halperin, One Hundred Years, 52). On the other hand, to the extent that a constructivist position can be transformed into a position that gayness is a "free" choice, it can be the grounds for arguing that the choice ought not to be made (Sedgwick, 41). Such double-binds make very attractive the idea that one should act precisely without theories of origin or of pure states outside of power.
Now this connection between the politics of The History of Sexuality and at least gay politics may seem in both good and bad ways the very opposite of both the distance and the inauthenticity of hedgerow envy. Imagine, for instance, how a straight critic who finds Foucault quietist or anarchist might criticize the position (it is, alas, only too easy if you try). First, granting the appropriateness of Foucault's analysis to the position within which gays who assent to his argument see themselves, one ought not to generalize too quickly from the contingencies of one's own position to a theory of power and resistance in general. If Foucault's critics are correct in arguing that he does not offer a position from which to resist power coherently and effectively, if power is inherently negative and the only ethical choice is to step outside it, then, even given all the ways those from outside the gay perspective will tend to distort it and not see its particularities, it will remain theoretically true that gays' sense of their own politics will still contain within it some version of a position of freedom and their politics could be recuperated on that basis to look like a liberal theory of individual liberty. Second, to the extent that the kind of history of homosexuality Halperin, for instance, writes shares this politics as its motivating force—and Foucault's histories, after all, certainly did have as their motivating force a philosophy of questioning value-free original positions and saw as a particular instance of this position gay politics, as we have seen in some of his statements in interviews—then that suggests that those histories will be distorted by their political presumptions. And finally, to the extent that the histories following upon Foucault imagine working out those politics within the very limited position of arguing a couple of specific Foucauldian claims as the basis for a history of homosexuality when his aims and his themes were much larger, then even despite their sympathy with Foucault's basic apprehension of power, these historians will even be improperly limiting their own source.
Controversies of this sort, between the testimonies of those in a certain subject position and those who, from outside that position, appeal to values of objectivity, which values are then contested on the basis that objectivity is its own kind of subject position, never have satisfactory outcomes, never go anywhere new. I do not want to play ventriloquist, to offer a justification for the application of Foucault to doing the history of sexuality based on Halperin's perception of the rightness of his description of power. Not sharing the subject-position being attacked, pretending to defend it from within would amount to the kind of critical cross-dressing Elaine Showalter criticized some years back. Instead, I want to suggest that the problem with the straight objectivist position articulated above is not that it sacrifices the values of authenticity for those of a false distance, but that it is insufficiently distanced and insufficiently inauthentic. The insufficiency in the distance of the positions outlined in the prior paragraph is easy enough to articulate. Since all of three of those arguments fault Halperin's description of gay experience for being insufficiently objective, they amount to an attack on the place from which that description comes rather than an analysis of either Foucault's theory of power and knowledge or of what it means to the claim that ethical positions must be based on at least the concept of a power-free state, a state moreover that one group within our society finds literally meaningless for their experience of how they must operate politically. Given that the aim of Foucault's project is to get us outside of ourselves, the refusal to engage in the project because of our sense—even if accurate—that the arguments of some of those who have been influenced by him are insufficiently distanced amounts to a refusal to engage in that project of distancing for merely formal reasons. Foucault's aim of getting us to lose our fondness for ourselves, to free thought from what it silently thinks, is so completely in line with Enlightenment ideals that to the extent that his "histories" do effect that end, one would think that their philosophical value would far exceed any details of historical inaccuracy or accidents of political implication. With regard to his theory of power and his theory of resistance, if the ideal of liberation cannot work for even one group, then its value for other groups can only be local, not a universal ideal. So again, one would think that liberal universalism would compel an attempt to make sense of its own provinciality rather than worry the source of the information that indicates that provinciality.
But does such a defense really do Foucault justice? Doesn't it make him "philosophical" at the cost of robbing him of his political force? After all, these most general theoretical statements of Foucault on which I am fixing could be so readily detachable from one history and affixed to another that making a case for his writing at that level may take from it the vital sting of its more specific political claims. Once again, an effete Arnoldian holds up the pouncet box of theory while serious forms of oppression surround us. At the very least, one might accuse my argument of wanting the kick of political arguments while preserving itself from the dangers they incur by remaining safely within the walls of indifferent theory and so of enacting the inauthenticity of hedgerow envy.
But inauthenticity is not really such a bad state for a Foucauldian. It allows that self-crafting that was the ethical aim of his history of the Greek Use of Pleasure. Here, for instance, Foucault discusses Sartre, authenticity and the art of self-creation:
From a theoretical point of view, I think that Sartre set aside the idea of the self as something that is given to us, but, thanks to the moral concept of authenticity, he fell back on the idea that one must be oneself and truly oneself. In my view, the only practical and acceptable consequence of what Sartre has said entails linking his theoretical discovery to creative practice and not to the idea of authenticity. I think there is only one possible way to go from the idea that the self is not given in advance: we must make works of art of ourselves. (Dits, II, 1211)
Certainly Foucault had a deep skepticism for the universal intellectual. But he was equally skeptical of claims of authenticity and propriety, of arguments that take their value from subject positions. His attack on the concept of sexuality as a form of power that took part of its force from the claim to be a universal knowledge was in the service of freeing individuals from being objects of knowledge. Since a concept of universal freedom or a concept of authentic identity simply re-introduces the constraints he meant to avoid, the inauthenticity of an artificial theoretical self-distancing can claim a tie—a tenuous and inauthentic one to be sure—to the history of sexuality and the historical provinciality Foucault outlined. This inauthenticity cannot interdict the deployment of identity as a political tool or the statements by a group of Foucault's specific pertinence to their situation, nor should it want to. It certainly cannot fault subsequent histories of sexuality for fixing on details of Foucault's theories because of their political effectiveness. But it can demand of critics who defend objective distance that they carry that criterion to its logical if artificial and self-undercutting end.
Inauthenticity has one trait in common with Nietzschean genealogy: they are both motivated by the will to knowledge and they each wind up, precisely because of that motivation, worrying the will rather than extending the knowledge. Foucault's liberal critics frequently complain that his theories paralyze political resistance. His answer is relevant here:
Who is paralyzed? Do you believe that what I've written on the history of psychiatry has paralyzed those who for some time experienced unease with regard to the institution? And to see what has happened in and around prisons, I don't think that the effect of paralysis is very obvious. . . . On the other hand, it is true that a certain number of people—for instance those who work within the institution of prison, which is not quite being in prison—must not be able to find in my books advice or prescriptions that allow them to know "what to do." (Dits, II, 850-1)
I think this statement can be applied to the supposed problem of what kinds of consequences his history of sexuality has. His work does not seem to block the activities of those it would support. It may block the discourse of those on the outside looking in from thinking they can act from an outside free of power, but it also tells us what the value of that position "outside" really is.
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Showalter, Elaine. "Critical Cross-Dressing: Male Feminists and the Woman of the Year." Raritan 3 (Fall, 1983), 130-49.
Steiner, George. "Power Play." The New Yorker. March 17, 1986. 105-109.
Warner, Michael, Ed. Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
Wolin, Sheldon. "Foucault's Aesthetic Decisionism." Telos 67 (Spring, 1986), 71-86.
1 The essay usually cited is "Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?" ("What is an Author?"). It really argues less against considerations of authorship than it posits an historicist explanation of a contemporary critical antagonism to that concept that predates the essay: "In this indifference [to who speaks], I think one must recognize one of the fundamental ethical principles of contemporary writing. I say ‘ethical' because this indifference is not so much an aspect of the manner in which one speaks or writes; it is rather a sort of immanent rule, constantly repeated, never completely applied. . . ." (Dits, I, 820). I will cite Foucault's books from their English translations, emending where I think necessary. I translate his essays and interviews from the collection Dits et Ecrits since some remain untranslated and the translations are widely scattered.
2 Roger Chartier opens an essay that really is not at all biographical criticism by questioning the validity of the concepts "Foucault" and "Foucault's work" in the light of "What is an Author?" (167-68). But, although Foucault certainly did not want only to explain texts by reference to the intentions of their authors, or to privilege the works of an author as their only explanatory context, even the most summary reading of his works, from first to last, will show that they are hardly barren of references to authors and to their works. While it is surely true that to do a Foucauldian history in which his texts function as evidence or document, one would have to do more than consider them as "works" of a specific author, that hardly entails that one can never consider them in this way. Until we can look at "What is an Author?" as about the problem of how the categories through which we see texts determine their histories and not as about whether to use the word "author," it bids fair to become a shibboleth.
3 Halperin offers a long evaluation of Miller's work in Saint Foucault (162-82). Alexander Nehamas's admiring evaluation of the late works of Foucault as exemplifying what he takes to be an Art of Living has a more admiring take on Miller, but it is hard to see how we need Miller's book to get Nehamas's reading, or indeed that we need any knowledge of Foucault's life. Nehamas subjects Socrates to a far more telling reading of the same kind with no evidence beyond Plato and Xenophon, which is to say, as he recognizes, no evidence at all of any Socrates behind those texts. Halperin's book is perhaps the best evidence of my claim that Foucault's life doesn't get you anywhere in reading his work. Halperin is a sympathetic and acute reader of Foucault. His critiques of other biographers are telling and informative. His chapter on Foucault's politics has influenced my argument here. But despite the book's subtitle, "Toward a Gay Hagiography," any such hagiography is simply invisible in the book. After having taken apart the three current biographies of Foucault, he offers no alternative of his own. Even a fairly unexceptionable claim of the kind that Robert A. Nye makes that one can best understand Foucault's theories of sexuality and homosexuality by looking at the context of his experience of specifically French attitudes toward homosexuality in the mid-twentieth century during which he formulated his thought, may be instructive only if one does not take its limits too far. Nye suggests that we can only understand Foucault's thinking if we do not "collapse together national, cultural, and temporal boundaries" (237). But if this is to suggest that his theories are only significant for France in the middle of the twentieth century, we would have come to understand Foucault only at the cost of making him an historical curiosity.
4 Since gai pied (gay foot) is a homonym in French for guêpier, which is either a wasp-nest or a trap, the journal's title may be taken, in the manner of the double-entendre of the term "queer studies," as announcing political aims that have effects beyond a gay audience.
5 "Se déprendre de soi-même" means not just to get free of oneself but to lose one's fondness for oneself, a more telling figure of speech for the grip Foucault wants to loosen here.
6 Richard Rorty is a particular case in point. His essays on Foucault have always seemed more dismissive than is usual of his treatment of Continental critics, even those with whom he is not in much agreement. His review article of Miller's The Passion of Michel Foucault, in which he characterizes the American reaction (by which he means his own liberal reaction) to S/M as "as long as nobody gets damaged, why not" and the reaction to the transformation of consciousness achieved by S/M as wondering if it could be achieved comfortably, perhaps by a pill, thus detaching it from Foucault's larger political program, is a case in point (63). While I think his ethical position is, if uninteresting, unexceptionable enough, his refusal to confront the political connection Foucault makes except with such bland dismissiveness is insufficient precisely because uninteresting. Rorty is at fault here, though, not because he can't comprehend Foucault's position but because he refuses to do the intellectual work that would enable him to.
7 Judith Butler, in "Imitation and Gender Insubordination," explicitly uses the Derridean model of "The Double-Session" to argue that heterosexual identity, rather than being the norm parodies homosexual roles that themselves are criticized for imitating heterosexual roles (313-314). Eve Sedgwick's work, most importantly Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet has had the project of articulating the centrality of the definition of homosexuality, and consequently of heterosexuality in the formation of modern culture. One may take as a sample statement, her argument that "The special centrality of homophobic oppression in the twentieth century, I will be arguing, has resulted from its inextricability from the question of knowledge and the processes of knowing in modern Western culture at large" (Epistemology, 34-5). And Michael Warner maps out the role of this argument in the way Queer Studies means, by its construction of the concept of heteronormativity precisely to terminate that states existence as a norm in his "Introduction" to Fear of a Queer Planet (vii-xxxi). It should be evident that this footnote amounts to a neophyte's overview of a field. If one couples this naiveté with what I hope will be an evident admiration for the way these critics and others like them have given Foucauldian and Derridean analysis telling political edge, it will be clearer why I have described at least my position with regard to it as hedgerow envy.
8 Foucault, it should be pointed out, did not grant that sex was any more a natural given than sexuality (History of Sexuality: Volume 1 (156-7). Whether he would grant a natural givenness to sex as a mode of reproduction common to most forms of life or whether he would see such categorization as one of the features that separate organicist biology from classical natural science (following the argument of The Order of Things), however, does not have material effect on the history Halperin wants to write. I bring it up, though, as a reminder of what will become more important to my argument, that Foucault's arguments about sexuality always take place in a much larger philosophico-historical context.
9 Interestingly, Foucault, in two interviews (one of which was also printed in the same number of Salmagundi from which I have drawn Boswell's claim that homosexuality must be an aspect of the human psyche for a gay history to exist), claims that Boswell does not believe that homosexuality is a historical constant (Dits, II, 1111 and II, 1139-40). Foucault's ability to interpret Boswell into agreement with him indicates how porous this debate may become.
10 Halperin, of course, means his history to serve a political end, so there is neither surprise nor problem with these statements of those ends. But even K.J. Dover's groundbreaking Greek Homosexuality begins with a statement about an attitude necessary for such an historian to have to see evidence accurately that also amounts to an ethical claim: "No argument which purports to show that homosexuality in general is natural or unnatural, healthy or morbid, legal or illegal, in conformity with God's will or contrary to it, tells me whether any particular homosexual act is morally right or morally wrong. I am fortunate in not experiencing moral shock or disgust at any genital act whatsoever, provided that it is welcome and agreeable to all the participants…" (viii). No one reading Dover's book, I think, would doubt the complete seriousness with which it deals with a vast array of historical evidence. But even one who reads it in agreement with an ethical view that seems to me as unexceptionable as it is unexciting cannot fail to see how much that view needed to be in place for him to analyze his evidence in the way he did.
11 Halperin argues out Foucault's remarks here in considerably more detail (How to Do the History of Homosexuality, 32-38.
12 Halperin criticizes the writing of theorists on Foucault for requiring him to have a theory (How to Do the History of Homosexuality, 44), and, while I do not require him to have a theory of sexuality, I certainly do write about him as if he has theories of various kinds. Halperin here has a little of the tone of Frederic Harrison criticizing Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy for being an irresponsible literary type, holding up the pouncet box of culture while there was serious political work to be done (233). And I am enough of a Victorian aesthete in my theorizing to bear the accusation all too comfortably.
13 See for instance H.D. Harootunian, "Foucault, Genealogy, History," p. 122. Han also argues that genealogy "is the only approach that can make this will to truth apear, complete with all its history and ramifications" (7).
14 I have modified the translation here to stress that Foucault limits his statement about sodomy to the juridical codes he lists. I also think that "only their juridical subject" means "only their subject juridically." The distinction comes out more in the French, which names the person who commits the crime as their author (not really idiomatic in English) rather than their perpetrator.
15 This qualification hardly makes Foucault's claim a tautology. As Janet E. Halley argues, contemporary attempts to regulate homosexuality legally are often rendered incoherent by the current incoherence of sodomy as a legal concept. Thus the fact that same sex genital activity was forbidden under the different concept of sodomy does tell us something about how those codes considered the acts they were forbidding.
16 Halperin anticipates much of my argument here (How to Do the History of Homosexuality, 27-32) though with importantly different emphases since he does want to preserve a distinction between noticing sexual preferences and defining sexual orientations as fixed and a matter of identity. I do not want to dispute that distinction as much as I want to suggest that one doesn't need such refinements in historical specification to deal with Foucault's claim.
17 Sedgwick's gesture of refusing to take a part in the debate between constructivists and essentialists but rather to analyze the debate itself skeptically in such a way as to free gays from the consequences of either position is I think homologous to the logic of Foucault's aim here (Epistemology, 91).
18 Halperin, though, in recognizing Dover's founding importance, also notes the ways in which the book does not always state clearly its thesis, but teases it out of empirical comment (One Hundred Years of Homosexuality, 5) so the clearer and more polemically directed statements of that thesis by Foucault and others who followed upon Dover must also be taken as a refinement of his position. Dover also accepted that homosexuality, defined as "the genus definable by the sex of the person participating (in reality or in fantasy) in action leading towards genital orgasm" does comprehend Greek pederasty (quoted in One Hundred Years, 164). Although Halperin says he can assent to this stripped-down formal definition of homosexuality as capable of being used to refer to sexual practices prior to the nineteenth century, he may be giving away more than he means to. While one can use the term in that way, it would be unclear what value it would have to categorize sexual practices in a culture contrary to the way that they do unless one presumes that that categorization is not merely a formal one but one that actually does capture the relevant events in a superior way.
19 Cohen and Saller also note that Foucault's innovation upon Dover was in his discussion of how the Greeks problematized pederasty (39).
20 For an example of this kind of response, see Wolin.
21 Although he generously cites Sedgwick elsewhere, Halperin oddly does not cite her here, although Epistemology of the Closet (particularly 67-90) seems the inescapable reference here in the way it works out all the ambiguities of being in and out of the closet in such a way as to make coming out seem hardly an unproblematic stepping out into freedom.
22 Thus Habermas famously accuses Foucault of cryptonormativism (382-386), and the accusation would be transferable to gays, with little change in argument, who assent to his position. Nor should the animus of the term "cryptonormativism" hide the seriousness of Habermas's claim for the necessity of conceptualizing a power-free position.
23 To the extent that cross-dressing is both an openly recognized masquerade and—at least in Showalter's metaphor—an attempt to appropriate an external subject-position, it may be that it is not a bad liberal goal since it at least recognizes the carnivalesque side of the belief that one can understand all positions as if from the inside.