Anonymous asked: what is your take on accusations of Foucault's misogyny?
I’ve never heard it quite phrased like that, but if you mean certain feminist critiques of him as being male-centric or phallogocentric, I think there’s some validity to them. That opening anecdote in HoS v.I about the “game of curdled milk” with the “town idiot” and the little girl is ambiguous enough to be offensive (especially that phrase he uses, something like, “oh life’s innocent pleasures” or whatever sounds a bit like he’s romanticizing this pre bio-political time and borders on erasing a very real violence that this girl, fictional or not, might have undergone). But if you take these instances in the context of his work, Foucault was very clear about his own kind of ambiguity towards power (in the same way Marx was pretty ambiguous towards capitalism)—he’s not arguing that we go back this the old Machiavellian model or anything (as if we could), so that’s why his treatment of the anecdote seems out of place. And I do think that in terms of politics/praxis, his work is much more useful to feminists (and queers) than a lot of so-called “feminist” theorists—even if he was a “misogynist” (which I don’t think he was), it wouldn’t change that.
On a related note: the curdled milk anecdote always really bothered me since it kind of epitomized my one hesitation with Foucault: sometimes he risks a kind of historical erasure in his genealogical account of power relations. Take for example his treatment of “homosexuality” as having been recently invented, medicalized, scrutinized, brought under the both productive and controlling hand of biopower. He’s very clear that “homosexual” acts have always existed, but the homosexual as an identity or category did not, and again the ambiguity here might suggest he thinks it was better before, or at least easier before, to enact same-sex desire without the scrutiny of the State or whatever institution trying to control it. Of course we know that rather than attempt to produce/control/medicalize homosexuality, in the past institutions have simply condemned the acts we now associate with it, even to death. I don’t think Foucault is arguing we go back to that or anything, but his point I think is that resistance in the old top-down model of sovereignty was much easier, and he wants to move away from identity politics and towards micro politics, or “bodies and pleasures,” for a more strategic resistance of biopolitical regimes (“resistance” being a tentative, non-agency related thing here). I think something like the modern and mainstream LGBT rights movement in the US is a great example of why the so-called liberation embedded within the discourse of/on the homosexual is problematic, however, my issue with Foucault’s treatment of homosexuality in this schema is two-fold:
1. He’s a little too ambiguous in his historical analysis and borders on erasing the violence that many people we would now consider gay faced.
2. Although I agree with his critique of identity, I think there’s something to be said for the community that stems from a kind of identification (the queer community in this case) that is, to me anyway, super necessary and politically viable. So I think there’s something to be said here of the difference between identity-as-individualization and identity-as-communalization. Being that Foucault himself was out and talked about how queerness is a way of life centered on friendship, and also that we need to “work on being homosexual,” it’s not something one just is—I don’t think he would be in disagreement with me here.
Anyway sorry that was long but I’d love to hear your thoughts guyz.