Mad for Foucault

Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory

Lynne Huffer
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/huff14918
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mad for Foucault
    Book Description:

    Michel Foucault was the first to embed the roots of human sexuality in discipline and biopolitics, therefore revolutionizing our conception of sex and its relationship to society, economics, and culture. Yet over the past two decades, scholars have limited themselves to the study of Foucault's History of Sexuality, volume 1 paying lesser attention to his equally explosive History of Madness. In this earlier volume, Foucault recasts Western rationalism as a project that both produces and represses sexual deviants, calling out the complicity of modern science and the exclusionary nature of family morality. By reclaiming these deft moves, Lynne Huffer teases out exciting new strands of Foucauldian thought. She then revisits the theorist's ethical work in light of these discoveries, divining an ethics of eros that sees sexuality as a lived experience we are repeatedly called on to remember. Throughout her study, Huffer weaves her own experiences together with Foucault's, sampling from unpublished interviews and other archived materials in order to intimately rework the problem of sexuality as a product of reason.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52051-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: WHY WE NEED MADNESS
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)
  5. Introduction: MAD FOR FOUCAULT
    (pp. 1-43)

    The story of queerness—as a story about madness—begins with the story of a split: the great division between reason and unreason. That split organizes Foucault’s histoire—his history and his story—about forms of subjectivity tossed into a dustbin called madness. Queerness is a name we have given to one of those forms. Since the early 1990s, we—queer theorists and loving perverts—have tried to rescue the queer from the dustbin of madness and make her our own. Theory calls this gesture resignification: we have dusted her off, turned her around, and made her into something beautiful....

  6. 1 How We Became Queer
    (pp. 44-83)

    In Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism (2006), queer legal scholar Janet Halley tells a personal, theoretical, and political story about feminism’s wayward offspring, those “prodigal sons and daughters who have wandered off to do other things.”¹ She herself is one of those children—son or daughter is not quite clear: “if I could click my heels and become a ‘gay man’ or a ‘straight white male middleclass radical,’ I would do it in an instant—wouldn’t you?”² As it turns out, those children are more rebellious than wayward, not “wandering off” but running away...

  7. First Interlude: NIETZSCHE’S DREADFUL ATTENDANT
    (pp. 84-86)

    Did Nietzsche’s madness, that “dreadful attendant,”¹ give birth to Foucault’s Madness? Or is Nietzsche a “dead man in the game of writing”:² a stuttering ghost, a “murmur of dark insects” (M xxxiii) on “a sterile beach of words” (M xxxi)? In late 1888 or early 1889 Nietzsche went mad. An incident often recounted to describe the first signs of Nietzsche’s illness occurred in January 1889, when Nietzsche caused a public disturbance at a piazza in Turin after witnessing the whipping of a horse. Nietzsche ran to the horse, threw his arms around its neck, then collapsed to the ground. Following...

  8. 2 Queer Moralities
    (pp. 87-121)

    Critics have recognized the obvious presence of Nietzsche throughout the pages of History of Madness, from the celebration of the “tragic” in the 1961 preface to Madness’s Dionysian, lyrical style, to the explicit flirtation in its final pages with the possibility of philosophy’s own fall into madness. References to the early Nietzsche—especially The Birth of Tragedy’s (1872) evocation of Dionysian intoxication and nonrationality as a creative force—are common in readings of Madness. However, critics have paid less attention to the traces Madness bears of the later Nietzschean critique of morality that begins with Daybreak (1881), continues with Beyond...

  9. Second Interlude: WET DREAMS
    (pp. 122-126)

    I’ve been trying to understand—really understand—what Foucauldian desubjectivation means, not a deadening assujettissement, but a life-affirming self-undoing Deleuze describes as becoming-other: becoming wind, atmosphere, lightning, storm. It sounds like psychosis to me. And isn’t being psychotic different, after all, than being queer? Isn’t there a difference between losing your mind and losing your sexed identity? Of course there is. That’s the point of my ongoing comparison between desubjectivation and performativity, Foucault and Butler. People who call themselves queer generally still have their wits about them. And certainly it was possible to be both queer and sane even before...

  10. 3 Unraveling the Queer Psyche
    (pp. 127-186)

    Toward the middle of Sexuality One, Foucault strikes the pose of Charcot, the paradigmatic analyst-doctor of the sexuality-saturated nineteenth century. In that pose, Foucault ironizes a doctor’s response to the bourgeois anxieties that emerge when the public medicalization of private sexual secrets threatens to break up the family with its moral values. As Charcot, he offers advice that is reassuring to parents and children alike. “Parents,” he says, “do not be afraid to bring your children to analysis: it will teach them that in any case it is you whom they love.”1 Children, for their part, require a different message....

  11. Third Interlude: OF METEORS AND MADNESS
    (pp. 187-193)

    Working on Foucault’s critique of psychology and psychoanalysis has made me very nervous around my numerous friends who are enthusiastically committed to the project of the psyche as either therapists, analysts, or patients. The cause of my nervousness was confirmed one morning at breakfast with friends, one of whom is a therapist. Over eggs and coffee, I casually mentioned Foucault’s History of Madness as the focus of my current scholarly investigations.

    I should say here that, although I’ve never been psychoanalyzed, I myself have spent years in therapy and respect those practioners, like my friend, who work hard at listening...

  12. 4 A Queer Nephew
    (pp. 194-234)

    Foucault, Deleuze reminds us, is haunted by the double. All of Foucault’s work, and Madness in particular, is peopled by ghosts, figures, personages, and characters: the twins of those who “really did exist” (M 9) but whose lives have been lost to history. These figures function as masks or overlays for the traces of unreason whose rendering by reason betrays them: they are the doppelgängers who haunt Foucault’s present. Rendered as fictions to rewrite the past, they traverse and disturb Foucault’s histoires. They are the “poor wretches” Foucault finds in the archives, performing in a “theater of power” whose stakes...

  13. Fourth Interlude: A SHAMEFUL LYRICISM
    (pp. 235-241)

    After my encounter with the Nephew’s blistering irony, I can’t help but recall Foucault’s ironic voice in the 1972 preface to History of Madness. Does the Nephew’s emergence in the middle of Madness signal, like the rewritten preface, an ironic repudiation of an earlier lyricism? There is surely a resonance—it’s unmistakable—between the homosexual lyricism that was left behind in the Renaissance and the lyrical pathos of the 1961 preface that Foucault suppressed. Reading it again, through the lens of Rameau’s Nephew, I wonder if Foucault’s irony really does succeed in effacing the lyricism of an earlier, tragic voice....

  14. 5 A Political Ethic of Eros
    (pp. 242-278)

    Foucault’s ethical project in History of Madness is built on a paradox. The paradox is familiar: to explain unreason or make it speak is to betray unreason with reason’s language about madness. The stakes of that paradox are epistemological—what can we know?—and ethical—to whom are we accountable? They are also thoroughly historical: to explain unreason is to return, impossibly, to the time before a great division, an epistemic break that cannot be breached. Unreason exposes the alterity of history, the untranslatability of the historical other. The historical other, unreason’s ghost, remains on the far side of modernity,...

  15. Postlude: A FOOL’S LAUGHTER
    (pp. 279-280)

    In August 2008 I returned to the Normandy archives to listen to Foucault’s last course on the ancient Cynics, “Le Courage de la vérité.” He died not long after his final, March 28 lecture, on 25 June 1984.

    The wind howls through the library, hour after hour, as I listen to the ghost voice, sometimes lively, sometimes fading. I feel the loneliness of the twelfth-century monk and the twentieth-century farmer crouched in the debris of a Nazi bombardment. Foucault’s voice grows weaker, faster, higher, the flash of a kite disappearing. It is the voice of the hysteric—la folle—the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 281-312)
  17. Works Cited
    (pp. 313-324)
  18. Index
    (pp. 325-344)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 345-346)