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Saint=Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography

Saint=Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography

by David M. Halperin

"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


"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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Foucault, the worm having turned, needs defenders these days, and Halperin fills the position well, arguing that Foucault provides the radical gay movement with both the philosophical underpinnings and political means with which to resist suppression by mainstream culture."—The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Saint Foucault is not only the most stimulating analysis to date of 'the Foucault effect': it is a major contribution in its own right to the political effect of Foucault's work. It is required reading for everyone interested in Foucault's thought, in philosophical thought and contemporary politics, as well as everyone interested in Queer Theory and in the ongoing controversies and struggles of the gay movement."—Didier Eribon, author of Michel Foucault and Michel Foucault et ses contemporains

"Without even setting out to do so, David Halperin has provided the most lucid explication of the later work of Foucault that I've read. As if this were not rebuke enough to those who have got it all wrong, Halperin goes on to demolish, point by point, those liberal critics and biographers who would make of Foucault that object of their homophobic knowingness. For all of that, the book's real utility resides in something more: its extraordinarily able demonstration of the ways that Foucault's strategies of resistance are enacted in queer political and cultural practices."—Douglas Crimp, author of On the Museum's Ruins and co-author of AIDS Demo Graphics

"Bracingly clear-headed and endlessly smart, David Halperin's new book commands attention. Saint Foucault represents a major contribution to the philosophy of sexuality and a magisterial introduction to one of the twentieth century's most important thinkers. Unafraid to take real intellectual risks, Halperin delivers Foucault at last from the pedants and the purists, the doubters and the debunkers. A sage, searching, and sensible book."—Diana Fuss, Department of English, Princeton University and author of Identification Papers

"For those concerned with the thought of Foucault and the politics of gayness, an absolutely necessary book."—Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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)

Product Details

Oxford University Press
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Product dimensions:
5.79(w) x 8.57(h) x 1.07(d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:

David M. Halperin is Professor of Literature at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A founding editor of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and GayStudies, and a coeditor of The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, he is the author most notably of One Hundred Years of Homosexuality, which Outweek called "the single most important contribution to the interpretation of gay history in nearly a decade."

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