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Opacity and the Closet

Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol

Nicholas de Villiers

Publication Year: 2012

Opacity and the Closet interrogates the viability of the metaphor of “the closet” when applied to three important queer figures in postwar American and French culture: the philosopher Michel Foucault, the literary critic Roland Barthes, and the pop artist Andy Warhol. Nicholas de Villiers proposes a new approach to these cultural icons that accounts for the queerness of their works and public personas.

Rather than reading their self-presentations as “closeted,” de Villiers suggests that they invent and deploy productive strategies of “opacity” that resist the closet and the confessional discourse associated with it. Deconstructing binaries linked with the closet that have continued to influence both gay and straight receptions of these intellectual and pop celebrities, de Villiers illuminates the philosophical implications of this displacement for queer theory and introduces new ways to think about the space they make for queerness.

Using the works of Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol to engage each other while exploring their shared historical context, de Villiers also shows their queer appropriations of the interview, the autobiography, the diary, and the documentary—forms typically linked to truth telling and authenticity.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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PREFACE: Bartleby’s Queer Formula

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pp. ix-xii

Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” explicitly concerns itself with the problem of biography regarding the “opaque” subject of the narrative: a pale, mechanical lawyer’s copyist named Bartleby. The narrator, Bartleby’s employer, begins...

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INTRODUCTION: Opacities: Queer Strategies

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pp. 1-35

In an interview titled “The End of the Monarchy of Sex,” Michel Foucault diagnoses a movement “taking shape today which seems to be reversing the trend of . . . ‘always more truth in sex,’ a trend which has doomed us for centuries. . . . I have the impression of an ‘anti-sex’ grumbling...

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ONE: Confessions of a Masked Philosopher: Anonymity and Identification in Foucault and Guibert

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pp. 37-61

Many of Foucault’s biographers find here the irony of Foucault’s fame, yet his desire for anonymity. (Here, Foucault no doubt references Maurice Blanchot, as perhaps the most famously “faceless” French writer.) Against a writing style that seems self-effacing, they attempt to put a face to the...

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TWO: Matte Figures: Roland Barthes’s Ethics of Meaning

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pp. 63-87

In his preface to Renaud Camus’s 1979 novel of gay cruising, Tricks, Roland Barthes asserts the literary nature of the work in its “certain way of saying ‘I.’” He then exemplifies the performative consequences of saying “I” one way rather than another when he addresses the “feats of...

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THREE: “What Do You Have to Say for Yourself?” Warhol’s Opacity

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pp. 89-116

The question “Who is Andy Warhol?” is often put in terms of an enigma: “What does Andy Warhol want?”1 Warhol is often portrayed as mute, nonverbal, instinctual, passive, autistic, apolitical (if not right wing), noncommittal, lacking intention, monosyllabic, and opaque.2 Often this...

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FOUR: Unseen Warhol/Seeing Barthes

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pp. 117-131

In the previous chapter, I wanted to move away from the customary emphasis on Warhol’s visual art and toward an extended examination of his discursive strategies of opacity. In the next two chapters I will be moving back from the verbal to the visual aspects of Warhol’s persona, but via...

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FIVE: Andy Warhol Up-Tight: Warhol’s Effects

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pp. 133-149

The potential of the “archive” as a technology of memory has gained increasing attention within queer studies, in part because questions of “cultural memory” get invested with particular urgency in the age of AIDS. The archive seems to offer some resistance to the “obliterative...

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CONCLUSION: The Interview as Multi-Mediated Object

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pp. 151-163

The film FROST/NIXON (2008) presents a perfect example of the interview situation as a proxy for a courtroom trial.1 Many saw the interview as a substitute for the criminal trial that President Nixon had avoided in being pardoned by President Ford. David Frost begins the interview with the...

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pp. 165-166

I would like to thank the archivists John Smith and Matt Wrbican at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Martine Ollion and the staff at the Centre Michel Foucault and IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine) library, and the librarians at the Bibliothèque nationale de...


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pp. 167-218


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pp. 219-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780816680290
E-ISBN-10: 0816680299
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816675715

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012