- Recursive, Restorative, Respite
What a joy it has been to engage these reflections on my work. Reading the commentaries in this dossier feels like returning to old friends, picking up dropped threads and recommitting to the thing we are making together. I am deeply grateful to Meridith Kruse and David Rubin for curating these commentaries, to Feminist Formations for publishing them in its pages, and to all my interlocutors for their careful, fervent, and inventive engagements. I cannot do justice to the detail of these responses, but I hope the reverberation of my thought with theirs will be apparent to those who read this. Importantly, I want to place this recursive movement under the sign of ethics, as an ethical practice of writing and thinking. The practice is ethical because, in my view, the postmoral excavation of our age—our ethos—requires this kind of Nietzschean recoiling movement: a genealogical spiral, a retraversal of a present-day land of morality that Foucault called catastrophic. The historical sediment we call the archive is crucial to that recursivity. The threads of thoughts articulated, dropped, and picked up again are a crucial part of that archive.
In my own writing, I try to practice this recoiling movement. Mad for Foucault (2010) is recursive: the book returns to Foucault's first major book, History of Madness ( 2006), to rethink the foundations of queer theory. Like Nietzschean genealogy, this return takes the form of a spiral. One of queer theory's oft-noted beginnings is Foucault's later text, History of Sexuality Volume One ( 1990). Mad for Foucault begins there, but doubles back to History of Madness for a different perspective on the history of sexuality than the one we find in queer theory's Foucauldian Ur-text. I track queer theory as a Freudo-Foucauldian de-historicization of the history of the sexual psyche History of Madness tells. Spiraling back to its own beginning in Foucauldian queer theory, Mad for Foucault returns there, with Madness, carrying something new: a Foucauldian ethics of eros. [End Page 198]
These spiraling returns in Mad for Foucault are doubled again in Are the Lips a Grave? (2013), a book I stage as a post-Foucauldian return to Irigaray. Having written about Irigaray in an earlier book, Maternal Pasts, Feminist Futures (1998), I thought I had exhausted what I had to say about her. But my immersion in Foucault's History of Madness produced something generative and unexpected: a return to Irigaray. With that return came a fractured convergence between Foucault's and Irigaray's genealogical methods. The return was generative because it enhanced the ethical stakes of the disciplinary separation that drove the book: the queer-feminist rift that gave us feminism, gender, and strong ethical claims, on the one hand, and, on the other, the queer, sexuality, and a suspicion of ethics. Bringing Foucault and Irigaray together under the rubric of an erotic ethics allowed me to rework that rift in ways that went beyond my own autobiographical identifications, producing a queer feminist that, as Angela Willey puts it, is "something more than an amalgamation." In this counterdisciplinary Foucault-Irigaray convergence, I found another surprise: a queer theory doubling back to feminism in an erotic restoration of rifts. That recoiling movement is "lipkinky," as Kyoo Lee poetically puts it. Its structure is lamella-like, David Rubin suggests, rendering ambiguous, like a Moebius strip, the inside/outside divisions of the psyche-driven self.
The nonlinear, spiraling structure I have just described also characterizes my own "liplinking" (Lee) writing process. The "earlier" book, Mad for Foucault, emerged out of Are the Lips a Grave? (2013), a book that came "later." I began writing Lips in the late 1990s. Over years of writing, I increasingly found myself turning to Foucault as a resource for thinking about sexual ethics. "A brief chapter on Foucault, just here, will do nicely," I thought. That brief chapter became monstrous, an excess I could not fully control. As my ethical thinking increasingly drew on Madness, the chapter I had imagined continued to grow far beyond the proportions I had originally given it. Thus the "brief chapter" in Are the...