October 15, 1926- Michel Foucault:
“The best moment of love is likely to be when the lover leaves in the taxi…”
Social Theory and Philology: two areas of study beyond my grasp. I purchased a copy of Michel Foucault’s breezy, fun read The History Of Sexuality: Volume One (1984) and couldn’t understand a word of it, not even the ”ands” and ”buts”. I held out for a film version which never seems to even to have been considered. Still, in the late 1980s, I carried it around Seattle for a while thinking someone might take me for intelligent. I always hoped to be loved for my brains and not my good-looks.
Well, I did sort of get when Foucault wrote:
”It’s not enough to affirm that we are gay, but we must also create a gay life.”
Foucault was a French philosopher, sociologist and academic, in that way that only the French can carry off. He is noted for his critical studies of psychiatry, the prison system and human sexuality.
He graduated from the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, where he earned degrees in Psychology and Philosophy. Foucault was recognized as a brilliant emerging thinker. I was recognized as a brilliant emerging drinker.
In 1960, He wrote a groundbreaking book, Madness And Civilization (1961). Foucault earned his doctorate and met fellow Philosophy student Daniel Defert, who became his lover for 20 years.
When Defert left for military service in Tunisia, Foucault followed, and in 1965, he took a teaching position at the University of Tunis. Foucault’s second major work The Order Of Things (1966) was not about my sex toy drawer. No, it was a bestseller in France and established him as an esteemed intellectual.
In 1970, Foucault was elected Professor of the History of Systems of Thought (whatever the fuck that is) at the Collège de France, France’s preeminent academic institution. He published Discipline And Punish: The Birth Of Prison (1975) his most influential book. It was made into a musical film titled Les Miserables (2012) where pretty Anne Hathaway sings while the camera concentrates on her snot bubbles.
In the mid-1970’s, Foucault taught at the UC, Berkeley. He loved San Francisco and its liberated American Gay scene, especially the bathhouses:
”I think that it is politically important that sexuality be able to function … as in the bathhouses. You cease to be imprisoned in your own face, your own past, in your own identity.”
Foucault worked on The History Of Sexuality, as a planned six-volume project. He completed three volumes, which were published shortly before his death. The first volume had a powerful influence on modern gay consciousness, but somehow, not on mine.
Foucault died of complications from HIV/ AIDS IN 1984, when he was just 58-years-old. Defert became a noted HIV/AIDS activist, co-founding France’s first AIDS advocacy group, AIDES, following Foucault’s death. AIDES was the first AIDS awareness organization in France. The name invokes the French word for “help” as well as the English acronym for the disease (the French acronym is SIDA). He served as president of AIDES from 1984 to 1991.
He has been a member of the scientific committee for human sciences of the International Conference on AIDS (1986-1994); member of the World Commission for AIDS (World Health Organization) from 1988–1993; member of the National Committee for AIDS (1989-98), of the Global AIDS Policy Coalition of Harvard University (1994–1997), and of the French Haut Comité de la Santé Publique (from 1998). He has been awarded the decoration of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur and received the Alexander Onassis Prize for the creation of AIDES in 1998.
After Foucault’s death, Defert inherited his estate despite the fact that their partnership preceded French government recognition of gay couples through civil unions in 1999 or marriage in 2013. Foucault left no official will; however he had written a letter indicating his intention to bequeath his apartment and all its contents, which included his archive and corrected proofs for an unpublished manuscript, to Defert. Other family members deferred to Foucault’s wishes, but without government recognition, Defert, like other surviving partners in a similar position, was still subject to much higher inheritance taxes than he would have been as a recognized family member.
In 2013, Defert sold Foucault’s archives to France’s national library, making the material available to researchers; subsequently the family, which owns the literary rights, elected to publish the manuscript Confessions Of The Flesh (2018), the fourth and final volume of Foucault’s History Of Sexuality, despite his wishes that none of his work be published posthumously. Defert explained the decision that after the material became available to researchers with the credentials to acquire a reader card at the national library, Defert and others close to Foucault felt that access should be either available “to everyone or no one”. Defert felt that publishing volume four did not make any encroachment on Foucault’s intimate life, but, by contrast, the letters exchanged between the two of them, Defert said he intended to “take to his grave”.
By the way, I also tried to get into Camille Paglia, and I am going to tell you the truth, not that truth truly matters, but I’m going to tell you anyway: I don’t get her either. I’m not putting her or Foucault down; I just can’t understand what they are about. I’ve tried. I tried going slowly, taking it one word at a time, and I got lost. It’s not them; it’s me. I am not savvy enough to fake it. I think it is all Theorists. I even gave Marshall McLuhan a go, and it’s over-my-head too. I do understand Carrie Fisher, I can read her in a totally postmodernism, specifically post-structuralism way.