"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.
That French philosopher Foucault, who died from AIDS-related illness in 1984, continues to influence gay activism and theory without ever having explicitly endorsed such activism or given sustained attention to homosexuality is the paradox that Halperin, a professor of literature at MIT, confronts in this demanding, eloquent and caustic book. Halperin offers close readings of Foucault's thought, forging a link between its characterization of political resistance as a creative process and gay politics. The goal of activism, then, is not reform but resistance; the retrieval of the word ``queer'' and its empowering use by gays and lesbians is one such example. Halperin closes the book with analyses of Foucault's biographers, singling out for blistering attack James Miller, whose Passion of Michel Foucault (1993), Halperin argues, epitomizes the disingenuous ways in which ``mainstream'' accounts of gay culture play upon the very homophobia they purportedly wish to illuminate. Photos. (July)