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  • Ethics/Reading/Sex:Toward a New Historical Reading Practice?
  • Debjani Bhattacharyya (bio)

While I am tempted to begin with the book's provocative title and talk about the lips and the grave, the book's subtitle, "A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex," will instead be the focus of my response. I will begin by trying to understand what this ethics is. This ethics of sex in Lynne Huffer's text has two aspects that I would like to highlight in this response. First, I elaborate on Huffer's ethics of sex as a practice of reading, and, second, I show how such a practice is one of spatializing her ethical concerns to uncover a fissured ground upon which queer-feminist politics and a certain practice of history both come alive.

This practice of ethical reading is, in Huffer's evocative phrase, "apocryphal" (Huffer 2013, 55). To elucidate this point, let us turn to her reading of Collete's recovery of the lesbian in The Pure and the Impure ([1941] 2000), which in turn is a lesbian reading of Marcel Proust's The Remembrance of things Past ([1913] 1934). In Huffer's words, an ethical reading is not performed by showing the absence of the lesbian in Proust, but is instead "a kind of reading where the figure of lesbianism functions as a cipher for the multiple gaps, displacements, and silences at work in … the text[s], and by extension in queer theory" (Huffer 2013, 134). Huffer's reading of these two texts gives us what she calls the space of Albertine-Gomorrah as the site of an "ungraspable otherness," as something "that literally does not exist" (140; emphasis added). Throughout the book, she practices this apocryphal reading of law, literary texts, films, biblical narratives, the queer literature on Irigaray, and the feminist readings of Foucault. What such a reading reveals for us is not how to merely reconstruct the gaps in language, thought, discourse and our political narratives, but instead how to begin thinking from the space of the gap. This thinking-through-reading, which is enacted from the site of forgetting, reveals that not only has the site been forgotten, but also that the forgetting of the site has also been forgotten.1 Are the Lips a Grave? is an impassioned reading that seeks to excavate silence as silence, while revealing the forgetting of queerness, of harm, of betrayal that [End Page 193] often organizes our ethical and political endeavors. This apocryphal reading reveals the fissured ground from which—in an extension of the concerns of Huffer's previous book Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory (2010)—she simultaneously shows what a project of rethinking the foundations of queer theory might look like. For instance, in this earlier work, she approaches French philosopher Michel Foucault's writings on sexuality primarily (and unconventionally) from the lens of The History of Madness, along with his interviews and unpublished material in order to move away from an identitarian reading of Foucualt's work on sexuality and recover an ethic of living and the transformative power of eros.

Such a practice of ethics is a double-handed reading, she tells us in Are the Lips a Grave? It is a reading that occurs in a twofold register: the first element is an epistemological task and constitutes reading what has remained unread. The second is ethical, which is enacted by revealing those very structures and processes that produced the forgetting of that which was forgotten. The erotic ethics that Huffer posits radically departs from contemporary eros-as-bios formulation,2 and eros becomes, in her words, "the unintelligible form of fading unreason, [which] can only reemerge, in the historical present as an atemporal rupture—as the lightning-quick flash of a 'mad' mode of knowing" (2013, 12). Within the space of this "mad" mode of knowing/reading, we find the site at which the ethical crux of the book is located. For Huffer shows us, through her queer reading of Luce Irigaray and feminist recovering of Foucault, that an "erotic ethics of the other … links the act of loving to knowing" (Huffer 2013, 45). Through this act of loving...


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pp. 193-197
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