Saint Foucault

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279

In SAINT FOUCAULT, it is not David Halperin’s intention to write yet another in the string of recent biographies about the French poststructuralist. His allusion to Jean-Paul Sartre’s SAINT GENET, an homage to another gay author, and his work’s subtitle, TOWARDS A GAY HAGIOGRAPHY, hit closer to the mark, indicating Halperin’s “worship” of Foucault and his writings for enshrining an expansive notion of queer activism. The shorter and less consequential of the two essays reworks an earlier commentary on three major Foucault biographies—those written by Didier Erbon, David Macey, and James Miller. In the essay, Halperin theorizes about the authority that the biographer assumes over the dead subject, and then he addresses the degree to which these works successfully resist the tendency to pathologize their subject and reduce him to the single marking of his homosexuality. In the more substantive longer essay, Halperin discusses Foucault’s agenda of empowering the previously disempowered by reducing heterosexuality from the subject of discourse to an object of critique. Whereas homosexuality has been delegitimized as transgressive, Foucault reverses the subject-object position, turning queer sexual practice—which he understands as encompassing all sexual activity that is in any way marginalized—into a technique of political resistance. Homosexuality, regarded as an “aesthetic” of existence that requires self- regulation and transforming oneself, can help devise new ways of relating to others. In this context, sadomasochism is a performative strategy that remaps the body to discover new, often degenitalized possibilities of pleasure, rather than a way of dominating or exercising power over another. Through beautifully precise expository prose, Halperin renders a difficult subject accessible even to those not initiated into poststructuralist thought.

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