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  • Lynn Huffer's Mad For Foucault:An Analysis of Historical Eros?
  • Laura Hengehold

Mad for Foucault is a remarkably beautiful book balanced on the edges between the personal, the impersonal, and the public and reflected through Foucault's own struggles to establish those divides. Huffer's goal in Mad for Foucault is to draw scholarly attention to the emotional and ethical content of Foucault's writing, as well as to assess the risks of queer theory's dependence on dialectics and psychoanalytic theory. Reading History of Sexuality I in light of History of Madness, she argues, renders the ethical aspects of Foucault's early project clear and reveals the continuity with his later work on ethics, putting the central concerns of queer theory in a different light. But this continuity is only visible through attention to the lyrical force resulting from tensions between these edges, which also separate genders and epochs, as if Las Meninas were to draw the viewer's gaze toward a fractured mirror rather than a sovereign one.

The elements of History of Sexuality I that have been most important for the queer theorists Huffer engages are Foucault's attempt to date the shifts from a perception of sinful acts to a perception of homosexual personality types, and his warning that reifying such personality types as "identities" in hopes of liberation from heterosexist oppression continues to support the social mechanisms that identify personal truth with sexuality. Some (associated with Judith Butler) have tried to develop an account of agency that owes less to the exclusions of traditional moral and psychological theories but risks establishing its own hierarchies of psychic "health." Others (Lee Edelman is exemplary) [End Page 226] have also argued that the affects associated with these acts and identities, and possibly the ethical attitudes arising from these affects, are historical effects that must be bracketed in the name of resisting biopower (Huffer 2010, 94-95).

Both groups, Huffer argues, have merely performed a dialectical reversal within the order of sexualities inherited from the nineteenth century, without appreciating Foucault's effort to cast the very terms of that order into question—above all, in History of Madness (Huffer 2010, 113-16). What is more disturbing, both sides have enlisted psychoanalysis on their behalf, although Foucault remained skeptical of psychoanalysis. In History of Madness (2006a), Foucault's skepticism was justified in the name of the affective attachments of queer life and his deeply felt fascination for the traces of a sexual hybridity almost erased from European history. For Huffer, the real question posed by both History of Sexuality I and History of Madness is not, as queer theorists might believe, "why sexuality became a moral issue" (and how might it cease to be one) but who was buried when the nineteenth-century medicalization of sexuality replaced erotic experience with explanations of sexual abnormalities (2010, 229). She reads Foucault's work as a meditation on the ethical tragedy presented by the scattered ashes of even "infamous men."

Although there are many themes I could address, I will let my comments be guided by Huffer's reading of the explicit and implicit critique of psychoanalysis found in Foucault's work, and its relation to Foucault's ambivalent Kantianism (2010, 127-33, 134). This critique comes from several directions. First, throughout all his works, including Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault criticizes interpretive approaches to the historical record and to human speech. Practices such as "commentary" reduce the variety of events that can be perceived in the historical field and turn some into the content or meaning of others, which are thereby privileged metaphysically as "more real." Second, Foucault criticizes power relations forcing some to confess and to interpret the products of their own confession in terms of the meanings religious or medical authorities insist on finding there. From the seventeenth century through the present, such authorities have identified work and family-oriented behavior as "reasonable" and have forced those whose behavior does not fit those terms to understand themselves as deviations from that norm (Huffer 2010, 105, 107-108).

Third, according to Huffer, Foucault subjects belief in the psyche as scientific object and focus of work on the self to historical analysis...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2155-0905
Print ISSN
2155-0891
Pages
pp. 226-238
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-05
Open Access
No
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