Archive for the ‘michel foucault’ Category

a homosexual life

September 10, 2007

what does it mean to be homosexual? having sex with other men? maybe. maybe not. so what is a homosexual life? maybe it could be an approach to living life that has not much to do with sexual orientation. so good news for all you heterosexuals out there: you can lead a homosexual life, too!

what follows is a little sketch of a definition of homosexuality, of a homosexual life that follows somehow the ideas of foucault regarding this subject – but extracted from the reading of foucault by patrick ffrench in “a different life? barthes, foucault and everyday life“, an essay published in 2004 in cultural studies (the detailed information you’ll find at the bottom). i will not totally adhere to this text – so don’t blame mister ffrench for any simplifications and/or mistakes.

allright, so let’s get started. we already know that foucault was interested in new ways of thinking, and as a consequence in new ways of living. as a basic assumption we take that identity is formed through the social norm – through the installation of the norm our lifes get produced, through the norm we get created as subjects (to do, to become what society expects from you), the social norm defines our identity – and it does not make any difference if we try to adhere to the norm or if we oppose it, since both ways use the social norm as reference point. so that explains also foucault’s interest in history – history in this context means the history of the self, of how in history people related to themselves.

during this investigation foucault postulates that one important field in western society where we get formed as subjects is sexuality. so sexuality has a privileged role in defining our identity, our social selves.

so our desire makes what we are: a normal heterosexual or a normal homosexual.

so the homosexual desire makes one a homosexual (as social identity) – so this desire is not subversive in any way towards society – it already has a meaning in society. so how do we get out of being just made, of being ascribed an identity based on our desire? one way to change that is identity politics – changing the social meaning of what is a homosexual.

but foucault was not really interested in identity politics – he was more interested to find another way – to leave desire out, since desire is in any case occupied by the forces of social definitions. he was thinking of something more radical, more utopian.
in a first step he substitutes pleasure for desire and body for subject (or identity).

pleasure not as something defined by society, but as something that might be, but not necessarly must be connected to sex.

body as in sharp contrast to the subject – the body as having not a clear social definition, but as something that enables the giving and receiving of pleasure.

and the relationships of bodies outside and beyond sex is then what he would call “une mode de vie homosexuel”, a homsoexual way of living.

therefore we find a definition of heterosexuality and homosexuality which has nothing to do with sexual desires, but with different ways of structuring relationships.

heterosexuality: the goal is sex, the structure of relationships are given by the society (the courting, for example).

homosexuality: the goal is friendship, the structure of relationships have to be invented.

so the homsexual way of life is friendship as a way of life. as example we can take the relationship between two men with great age difference, or from a very different social standing. contrary to a heterosexual relationship you already start with sex – and then you don’t really have an idea how you deal with each other, meaning society has no template for this kind of situation. therefore one has to invent ways of relating to the other. and since sex is not the goal (already done, thank you), the goal is friendship.

so homosexuality is not the truth about oneself, it is not ones essential identity, but a strategic position:

“Homosexuality in this instance is re-articulated not as the truth and secret of one’s desire but as the possibility at least of new and strange relations after and beyond sex. One could imagine it voiced in this statement: You identify me as homosexual, I identifiy myself as homosexual (or why not, as heterosexual) but I am going to claim that identity not as my truth, as the truth of my desire, but as a local and strategic means of inventing different relations with others, of realizing virtual relations:

Homosexuality is a historic occasion to re-open affective and relational virtualities, not so much through the intrinsic qualities of the homosexual but due to the biases against the position he occupies; in a certain sense diagonal lines that he can trace in the social fabric permit him to make these virtualities visible. (Foucault, 1997, p.138)

(ffrench, 2004, p. 302)”

so just havin these same sex desires will not make you in any way subversive or any different from any member from society – it just puts you in a (still stigmatized) specific place. you can fight that definition as homosexual, fag, queer or change their meaning in society, and then you can take these identities as a starting point to actually make your daily life more adventurous in the sense that you take it just as a strategic position (not as the truth about yourself) and try to establish relationships far away from any given rules.

so this is in a very condensed form the ideas of foucault how to avoid the trap of a daily life – opening oneself to new ways of relating to other people, not by trying to find yourself, but rather by constantly loosing and re-defining yourself. and yes, homosexuality is a good starting point…

here the detailed bibliographic information:

ffrench Patrick: A Different Life? Barthes, Foucault and everyday life, Cultural Studies Vol. 18, No. 2/3 March/May 2004, pp. 290-305

the cited foucault text:

Foucault Michel: Ethics: The Essential Works I, trans. Robert Hurley and others, ed. Paul Rabinow, Penguin, London

prof. patrick ffrench homepage

cultural studies journal online

foucault discussed, part II

August 28, 2007


more? yes, more! here the final part of foucaults lecture in berkeley in 1983 – the discussion part II.

hope you enjoyed it and that i was able at least to show you a door to the universe of foucault’s thoughts. thank you for listening.

foucault discussed, part I

August 27, 2007

and here we go with the first part of the discussion with students of foucault’s lecture of the culture of self.

additionally you get a rather funny pic of foucault as cowboy (errr…) with students in berkeley. and always when i see this pic i wonder if one of them is leo bersani?


michel foucault – en français

August 26, 2007

bienvenue les amis francophones! comme j’ai pas mal du matériel sur / de michel foucault et comme il était français, après tout, c’est seulement juste de vous donner quelque chose à écouter de lui en français.

ici vous trouvez une introduction à michel foucault avec michel foucault qui s’apelle auto-portrait, originaire du radio canada de 1971 (via radio france culture).

et ici vous trouvez un petit bijou – aussi une émission radio avec le titre le corps utopique (de france culture, 21.12.1966). une écoute plutot poétique… recommandé!


l’ami qui ne va pas te sauver la vie

August 25, 2007


allright – n knows what’s coming, he downloaded the second part of the edmund white post.

for everybody else: we move on to michel foucault. uff – yep, a heavyweight.

you will find a plethora of information about him and his work on the net and elsewhere – i just want to give some hints (in case that you are interested) how you might approach his work. oh, and as a selling argument to the ones who do not know him: he was gay, fascinated by (and into?) kinky sex and took drugs. yeah, there was a time when professors were quite rock ‘n’ roll. oh yeah – and he was writing books. intelligent books. and professor of the history of systems of thought (at the collège de france, paris).

  • as with any scientific work you read: you will have to work to understand – but be not too impressed. theory is worth nothing if it does not work with and for you, too. or said differently: of course there are rules and conventions you have to be aware of and follow while reading theory – but you are giving sense to the text.
  • a good access to theory – besides introductory books, which are sometimes great, sometimes crap – are interviews, articles, and the like – it is like the backdoor to the world of a big thinker. not as grand as to start with an important work, but easier.
  • for me foucault works also as literature (like a lot of good theory). dive into the text – in the best case it will unfold itself. maybe later, maybe much later.
  • one problem with foucault is that people think his texts will explain them the world – they won’t. foucault will not save your life, as others already remarked.
  • as deleuze pointed out it’s actually quite easy: they were both working on how to live a non-fascistic life (don’t forget the historic context). so foucault’s work is always about the search for ways to think differently.

and maybe out of this comes a different way of thinking, a different way of relating to other people. a different way to live – a conscious life: the art of living. then theory is worth it.

so how about listening to the man himself? via the digital archive of the university of berkeley comes a lecture michel foucault held on april 12, 1983, and which fits perfectly into this blog: the culture of self. here you have the first part (introduction / lecture). the discussion (part 2 & 3) will soon follow…

and it’s actually fun!