- Unreason, Love, and Un-Becoming Queer
Mad for Foucault, Lynne Huffer’s recent attempt at “rethinking the foundations of queer theory”—as the book’s subtitle runs—is, in a way, a rather maddening read. Whether this is because Huffer is, by her own admission, madly in love with (her) “Foucault,” or because her main subject is Foucault’s first major work, The History of Madness, published in French in 1961, but only fully translated into English and published by Routledge in 2006, I am not so sure. Madness, as Foucault’s famous argument suggests, cannot speak itself; the madman is relegated to silence or to the outside of civilization, and his (non)existence can only be spoken by the voice of morality, reason, and/or (medical) science. Any discourse about madness, however humble or self-effacing, thus cannot but ultimately repeat some of the gestures of precisely the positivist production of the negativity of madness that it is Foucault’s, and in his wake, Huffer’s project to lay bare, and subvert. Hence, I find myself dancing around discursive impossibilities, if not aporias, that inhere in Foucault’s original Madness, as much as in the “ironic terms” of Huffer’s productive encounter with this book as “object-event” (x), a happening, or “coup de foudre” (10), which, while starting off with Foucault’s question “why [have] we made sexuality into a moral experience?” (xv), gradually [End Page 309] becomes “[her] own story of love” (16).
As a story of love, Huffer’s book is as much a loving embrace of a newly discovered, or, better, a discursively recovered, “Foucault,” as it is an embrace of the archive, a succumbing to the “archive fever” that she had never experienced before she spent a month in the Foucault archives in Normandy in 2006, shortly after the “translation-event,” the appearance in English of The History of Madness (hereafter, Madness). The (to an English-speaking audience) more familiar title Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (1965) is a translation of the truncated French version, an inexpensive paperback edition of 230 pages (about one-third the length of the original), which came out soon after the original, and which, to Foucault’s apparent chagrin, became the standard edition of the book. To complicate this erratic publishing history even further: a revised edition of the 1961 original appeared in French 1972, with a new preface by Foucault—a “marvelous, self-ironizing” one, in Huffer’s words, that stands in stark contrast to, and thus forms a “distorting mirror” to the “overly poetic, ‘lyrical’ voice of the young Foucault” (x) that speaks the (subsequently suppressed) 1961 preface. Huffer foregrounds the “distorting mirror” of the Foucauldian archive, its double-voicedness—Foucault, as Deleuze reminds us, “is haunted by the double and its essential otherness” (xii)—to build on the rupturing event of Madness, and embraces its disruptive publication history to testify to its “importance for our present post-queer age” (x). Reading Madness retrospectively, which, in the context of queer theory, and its almost exclusive focus on Foucault’s History of Sexuality One, is also to read it prospectively, her aim is, appropriately, dual: on the one hand, she wants to stipulate the material presence of the archive, in casu, to mark the traces or ghosts of the historically variably defined “madmen”—including, but not restricted to, the figures of sexual unreason, or queers—and, on the other, to “unravel some of the blind spots” (xi) of queer theory and offer a reading of Madness that will allow for a “political ethos of eros” as a practice of self-transformation as a “possibility of alteration in our historical present” (261).
Huffer goes about her ambitious undertaking in five, relatively long chapters, preceded by—perversely—a preface, as well as an introduction, interspersed with four “interludes,” and concluding with a “postlude.” Each of the chapters takes on the larger challenge of relaunching a...