Archive for the ‘Freedom of Speech’ Category

Jamie Palmer ( @jacobinism ) has written very eloquently about the ‘authoritarianism’ and censorious approach of many on the ‘left’. The examples he gives of attacks on freedom of speech from so-called ‘progressives’ include, surprise surprise, a few from feminist campaigners. Because as I have banged on about before, it’s hard to find any version of feminism that doesn’t exercise or endorse some kind of censorship. Here’s an extract from Jamie’s piece:

 

‘We are now reaping the harvest of liberalism’s agonising slow death on the Left. Consider the following recent examples:

  1. According to a report in The Guardian, the political director of Huffington Post UK, Mehdi Hasan, has just publicly recommended the introduction of what amounts to a de factoblasphemy law in order to combat what he calls ‘Islamophobia’. The press, he announced, has been “singularly unable or unwilling to change the discourse, the tone or the approach” of its coverage. Casually eliding matters of race, ethnicity, and belief, he continued: “We’re not going to get change unless there is some sanction, there is some penalty. This is not just about Muslims; it is about all minorities.” Similarly, on an American talkshow, a visibly distressed Ben Affleck responded to Sam Harris’s criticisms of Islam by denouncing them as “gross and racist”.
  2. Dr. Matt Taylor, one of the scientists responsible for the awe-inspiring Rosetta satellite mission, found himself vilified by incandescent feminists when he appeared on television wearing a bowling shirt adorned with images of scantily-clad young women. It later transpired that the shirt had been hand-made for him as a birthday gift by a female friend and, as a rather touching token of appreciation, he had worn it on his big day. But an article for Verge decided that it was a symptom of the misogyny allegedly endemic within the scientific community, and reported Dr. Taylor’s televised appearance beneath the headline “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing”.

    The most risible offering in this embarrassing row came from (supposedly) sex-positive feminist Greta Christina, who spent the first paragraph of her post on the subject itemising her own involvement in the production of pornography. This, she appeared to think, placed her in the unique position of being able to explain that “freedom for me does not mean freedom for thee” as she policed the clothing of another adult: “[D]oing an interview about your team’s big science achievement while wearing a shirt with scantily-clad pinup girls does not say, “Sex is awesome!” It says, “Women are for sex.”

    Christina seemed oblivious to those who would seize on this argument to call for the suppression of her own work, as well as all other kinds of pornography and erotica she defends in her writing. Nor was she moved by arguments that men, like women, should be judged on what they say and do, not on how they choose to dress themselves. Nonetheless, clearly shaken by the uproar, Dr. Taylor ended up offering a tearful and humiliating public apology to his critics. It will be an individual of uncommonly thick skin who dares to transgress in this way in the future.

  3. Last Wednesday, the Independent ran an article by an Oxford University student named Niamh McIntyre, in which she crowed defiantly about the success of her campaign to cancel a debate between two male speakers, organised by a pro-life group to debate abortion. She explained herself thus: “The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups”.

    Doubling down on her behalf, Tim Squirrell – the President of the Cambridge Union, no less! – took to twitter to declare that “shouting ‘free speech’ doesn’t help anyone without a more nuanced conception of its impacts + aspects”. He went on: “People have the right to feel…[s]afe from the expression of ideas which have historically been used to oppress them in very real ways.”

  4. Late last year, in response to long-disputed and empirically dubious claims of an omnipresent culture of rape besieging women on university campuses, activists campaigned to have Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines banned from their Student Unions. When UCL joined upwards of 20 other Unions in banning the song from its premises, its Women’s Officer Beth Sutton said: “UCLU have just passed motion to not play Blurred Lines in union spaces & events. Solidarity with all survivors!”

    [The same panic over ‘rape culture’ and anger over low prosecution rates for sex crimes has also led to unapologetic attacks from the Left, similarly advanced in the name of “solidarity with survivors”, on the presumption of innocence, the rule of law, and due process. An analysis of this disturbing facet of the effort to delegitimise liberalism lies beyond the scope of this post.]

  5. A few months ago, the New Statesman columnist Sarah Ditum wrote a rather good articleprotesting the illiberal use of ‘no-platforming’ to silence unpopular views held by those “deemed disagreeable”. However, her arguments were offered mainly in support of Julie Bindel, a radical feminist labelled ‘transphobic’ and ‘whorephobic’ for her views on trans rights and sex work. Ditum is, from what I can tell, largely sympathetic to Bindel’s positions on these issues, which made her defence of Bindel’s right to speak a relatively straightforward affair, causing her no significant ideological discomfort.

    But when it came to the no-platforming of a repellent male chauvinist and self-styled pick-up guru named Julien Blanc, Ditum’s principled defence of free expression evaporated, and she wrote a new blog post explaining that this was a very different matter. “There is no free speech defence for Julian Blanc” she concluded. (In response to the outcry, Blanc has since been denied a visa to enter the UK.)

  6. This is not to mention the recent fracas over the Exhibit B installation, deemed unacceptable by anti-racist campaigners (which I covered in an essay here), or the hounding of feminist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky for her opposition to the veil and the demonisation of ‘white feminists’ (which I covered in an essay here). The latter post, incidentally, led The Feminist Wire todescribe what I wrote as “racist and anti-Black specifically”, and an attempt “to maintain white supremacy”.
This handful of examples barely scratches the surface of the problem. Not one of the writers or campaigners above was detained by the need to establish a causal link between the expression of ideas they dislike and consequent harm. Censors never are, despite the fact that, in an open society, the burden of proof ought to rest with those who would restrict individual freedom. Instead, those inclined to defend free expression were variously tarred with the brush of racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, or rape apologism (depending on what was at issue).

When taken together, these individual cases – niggling and petty in and of themselves – speak to the flowering of a deeply sinister and censorious tendency amongst self-identifying progressives, invariably justified in the name of protecting the weak, the vulnerable, and the voiceless. In their righteous zeal to place certain people, views, and ideas beyond the pale, and secure in the complacent belief that their own opinions are beyond reproach, not one of these well-meaning men and women appears to have considered that their own liberty will, in the end, fall victim to the very same arguments they advance to silence others.

It should hardly be a surprise that in the midst of this reckless and dangerous onslaught against liberal values and the belief in the axiomatic nobility of the oppressed, there should be no room for sympathy with the Middle East’s only functioning liberal democracy. A Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] campaign, ostensibly mounted in support of Palestinian nationalism, but actually aimed at the disestablishment of the only Jewish State, has been slowly gathering mainstream support and legitimacy in the West.

Reprehensibly, the BDS movement seeks not simply the boycott of Israeli goods (which would be bad enough); it also explicitly attacks academic freedom. In the foreword to a recently released collection of essays entitled The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, the American political theorist Paul Berman argues that BDS activists are only able to make such arguments because they have convinced themselves of a misperception: they see what they are doing as “modern and progressive” when in fact it is “retrograde and disgraceful”.

The same must be said of the examples itemised above. Even as they thoughtlessly stigmatise those who defend free expression as “right wing”, these activists, writers, and campaigners have succumbed to the right’s most regressive autocratic tendencies. Dogmatic and unbending in their misanthropic view of human sexuality and race relations; unapologetic in their advocacy of an infantilising, separatist agenda of ‘safe spaces'; ferocious in their intolerance of views they deem unacceptable.

Gazing with mounting dismay at the escalating authoritarianism on the left of the political spectrum where my own political sympathies lie, I have been repeatedly reminded of a post published by the late Marxist theorist Norman Geras five months before his death. With a minimum of preamble, Geras quoted Chris Brown, Professor of International Relations at the LSE, as follows:

I think the biggest shift that has taken place in my thinking over the past 30 years is that I’m a lot less tolerant of relativist ideas, and multiculturalist ideas than I used to be. And that’s something that when you say it, it induces shock and horror sometimes. 25 years ago, I was writing material that, if it wasn’t poststructuralist, was at least ‘fellow traveling’ with the poststructuralists, arguing essentially anti-foundationalist ideas, arguing that the Western liberal tradition was just one tradition among other traditions, and so on. In a way, I think I was in bad faith over a lot of that. I believed that liberalism would always be there, and so one can afford to attack it. The events of the last 20 years have shown that that’s really not the case, that a lot of the traditional liberal values of freedom and tolerance are seriously under attack and need to be defended. So I’ve become a defender of the Enlightenment project in a way that I wasn’t maybe 30 years ago – that’s a big shift.

Unfortunately, there appears to be scant appetite for Professor Brown’s critical self-examination on the postmodern Left. Instead it clings to its metaphysical conspiracism, and disdains empiricism and a meritocracy of ideas derived from free and open debate in favour of the imposition of speech codes designed to stigmatise, shame, and silence.

In the name of a righteously-espoused ‘inclusivity’, such people have submitted to the worst kind of authoritarian elitism, and forgotten an elementary truism of Enlightenment thought. As the revolutionary 18th century pamphleteer and Dead White Male Thomas Paine observed in the short dedication with which he opened The Age of Reason:

You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it. The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.’

Read the whole of Jacobinism’s excellent post here

journalism

I saw this George Orwell quote on twitter ( /via @MrDarrenGormley ) and found it quite resonant.

The PR-ification of journalism has been well-documented already.  But maybe what hasn’t been so well documented, is the lengths to which some journalists are prepared to go these days, to censor what they don’t want ‘printed’ – or in the internet age, spoken, tweeted, blogged, etc.

I know the hoi polloi have stormed the stage now, and that makes some ‘professional’ hacks uncomfortable. But if they don’t want to be just another PR, they should embrace the new world, and what it has to offer in the way of ‘citizen journalism’, ‘feedback’, ‘BTL comments’ and diversity of information and opinion.

And if you’re a journalist reading this and thinking: yes but she’s a troll, she has no right to claim her freedom of speech may be under threat. Her speech is beyond the bounds of decency, morality or some other …ity, then maybe you’re part of the problem I’m talking about.

Those who make a living by writing and speaking should value everyone’s freedom of expression. Even mine.

 

twitter-censorship

This week has been a worrying one for twitterphiles like me.  The social media site was blocked by the Government in Turkey, in a seemingly blatant attack on Turkish people’s rights to freedom of expression.  Today a court proposed that the ban should be lifted. As they wait for confirmation that it will be, Turks are using creative means to get round the ban, such as installing   Tor browsers and tweeting via sms on mobile phones.  Whilst representatives from twitter the company did speak out against the ban by Turkey’s authorities, they are not quite perfect ambassadors for freedom of speech. In 2012 twitter.com put their new policy into practice, allowing them to block tweets in particular countries, when they censored output in Germany from neo-Nazis. I’m not a fan of racism in any form, but a social media company making political decisions to restrict access to content concerns me. This seems particularly ironic when we remind ourselves how heavily the actual Nazis relied on censorship  and repression of certain points of view in their regime.

There have also been observations by twitterers that sometimes suspension of individual users can be the result of pressure from groups who dislike them, rather than for any violations of twitter.com’s terms and conditions. I am surprised I’ve never been suspended myself, actually, considering the various political and personal cliques who don’t like the cut of my jib on twitter! (I hope I’m not giving anyone ideas *stern look*). But whatever its faults, I am inclined to agree with Paul Bernal, an  academic who studies privacy, media law and Intellectual Property, that twitter provides great opportunities for freedom of speech:

twitter

I also agree with Dan Hannan, MEP, that whether it is at state or individual level, the calls for banning, censoring and punishing people are always made in relation to other people. A  ‘troll‘  is always someone else isn’t it?. But the kind of rhetoric that demands ‘tougher penalties’ for ‘cyber bullies’ and the values it espouses could have a negative, restrictive effect on us all.

twitter_DH

I have considered leaving twitter a few times in the last couple of years. But there are too many reasons to stay. Apart from the excellent friends I have made, and apart from my ‘professional’ reasons (for that read: ego) for using twitter, illustrated by recent praise for my novella  and for my critique of feminism, Leaving The Sisterhood, I think it’s too important to abandon. I know that I am no different from the majority of twitter users, in that my ‘output’ is often frivolous, or boring, but its my self-expression. My chance to contribute to discussions and debates, to see the events of the world unfold in real time, to learn and expand my horizons.

A lot nearer to me than Turkey, we also learned this week that restrictions have been put on prisoners receiving books and other gifts. Their freedom of expression and freedom to learn is not just curtailed by their incarceration, but now by further, draconian regulations. Even in the comfort of my own home, it is all too clear to me, that my right to talk shit on the internet is not something to take for granted. And it’s certainly not something to give up. They’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming away from that little blue bird, I’m afraid.

 

feminism_q07

Happy New Year!  I hope to introduce you to more writers, thinkers and do-ers  in 2014. Maybe I’m a bit tired of the cut of my own jib, or maybe I’ve suddenly gone shy(!). Either way, I think engaging with a variety of perspectives is always a good thing.

An independent-minded UK-based blogger/tweeter I like is Jacobinism. He has begun the year with a thought-provoking post entitled Racism; Censorship; Disunity. He puts forward the view that the ‘Left’, and ‘intersectional’ activists and writers within the Left, can be blind to oppression and violence unless it comes from white people. To illustrate his point he uses a case study from within the feminist blogosphere, where a young feminist woman was attacked and then censored by ‘intersectional’ feminism, for her views.  Jacobinism writes:

‘There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power.

The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.’

Jacobin’s discussion of the feminist ‘storm’ that illustrates his points is probably best read in full. To give a flavour of the ‘case study’ here’s some extracts from his post:

‘On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West…

The response to this argument from the bien pensant Left ranged from the incredulous to the vitriolic.

In the comment thread below her article and in a storm which overwhelmed her twitter handle and her hashtag, Wilde-Blavatsky (who tweets as @lionfaceddakini) was derided with accusations of arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, racism and cultural supremacism. She was advised that she had not listened sufficiently closely to authentic voices of women of colour.  Others declared her to be beneath contempt and an object example of white feminism’s irrelevance. She was accused of using a fraudulent call for unity as a way of advancing an argument from white victimhood. It was demanded that she immediately re-educate herself by reading various academic texts on the subject. Her “white woman’s tears” were repeatedly mocked, as were her protestations that her own family is mixed-race. And, of course, there were the predictable demands for retraction, penitence and prostration…

To accept that one’s unalterable characteristics can play any part in the validity of an opinion is to submit to the tyranny of identity politics and endorse an affront to reason. Arguments about rights and ethics must be advanced and defended on their merits, irrespective of who is making them. There is no other way.’

I applaud Jacobin for taking on this thorny subject, and for referring to feminism in doing so. Not only do feminists find it difficult to have aspects of their dogma questioned, they find it particularly hard to stomach coming from a man. But I have a couple of points to make that disagree with his argument.

1) All feminism suggests men are ‘innately’ powerful and women not.  I agree with Jacobin  that actions should not be protected from criticism simply due to the identity of those taking them. But I am wary of Wilde-Blavatsky’s  allusions to patriarchal culture and behaviour in her criticisms of violence against women in ‘the Global South’. Isn’t the term ‘patriarchy’ a way of playing ‘identity politics’ too? Don’t men get dismissed by feminism in general for having views on gender because of their ‘unalterable characteristics’?

2) All feminism reinforces the gender binary There have always been tensions within feminism and different schools of thought within the ‘movement’. However as I have said in my ‘controversial’ piece Against Feminisms, all feminists rely on the binary of man v woman with ‘man’ being found powerful, oppressive and so not worth listening to. And so

‘ feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Julia Serano and Beverly Skeggs, even when they are referring to other divisions such as ethnicity, class and transgender identities, are still relying on the reification of the man v woman binary to support all their arguments about gender.’

3) Feminism is more ‘united’ than it seems I will write more on this another time, but my view is a lot of the ‘conflicts’ in feminism are not exactly fabricated, but they’re superficial.  Feminism does have common characteristics.  I find this ‘flowchart’ that was doing the rounds online recently, laughable. But it does indicate a basic worldview that I would suggest all feminists share to a large degree. It also illustrates clearly how not being a feminist is unacceptable and derided by feminists of all stripes (click image to enlarge):

FEMINIST-570

I don’t want a young woman writer to be censored for having the ‘wrong’ outlook. But I think young men are ‘censored’ from expressing their views on gender before they even begin. Gender studies and media output on gender are dominated by versions of Wilde-Blavatsky. I don’t privilege (‘white people’s’) racism over gender but I don’t think gender inequalities function how any feminist presents them. If that makes me persona non grata at some dinner parties who cares? I can have my own party (and the booze is always great)!

music-morrissey-25-live-blue

I wasn’t planning to see Morrissey 25 Live the film of a recent, ‘intimate’ (1800 seat venue) gig at a US school, Hollywood High. But Sara Annwyl invited me  so that was that. The event celebrates Moz’s 25 year solo career, but he still slipped some Smiths songs into the set list . I have never been to a Moz gig. I wondered if watching this, I’d be left kicking myself for not getting it together, in the 30 years I’ve known his music, to see the great man live. But to be honest, much as I enjoyed the experience of having huge close ups of Moz’s sneering eyes and mouth shoved in my face for 90 minutes, I’m now relieved to have kept my love at a safe distance. Why? Well, for all the reasons I loved him in the first place.

As has been well-documented already, Morrissey is pretty intense. And, it’s not necessarily his introspective, caustic lyrics that produce that intensity. Though they add to the mix. No it’s his performance, his body, and the response he provokes in his adoring fans that make Moz explosive. Scary. Weird. From his first appearances on Top Of The Pops in 1983, when we witnessed opened mouthed, as he waved his gladioli-adorned tush, and wailed that distinctive wail, it was clear that this man wanted our attention. And boy he got it. But even knowing what I know, even being the ‘crazy’, ‘obsessive’ fan I am (not just of Moz), I was pretty taken aback by what I saw on screen in the Curzon Soho last night.
morrissey25liveathollywoodhighflowers

The plain fact is; Morrissey demands to be worshipped, and quite literally. As Morrissey put his hand to his heart, or reached it out in a plaintive plea (to God?) so did the fans. Any ‘extreme’ or ‘religious’ symbolism taken up by the screaming audience was started and exacerbated by Moz himself. It was he after all, who grabbed a very young boy from the crowd in the closing moments of the gig, and held him in his arms, beatific, Christ-like. Earlier, when Stephen gave the mike to a few lucky members of his loyal flock, he was met with utter, complete devotion. As the Evening Standard put it:

‘The inanity of the fans makes a nonsense of the 54-year-old singer’s self-deprecating wit (“I’ll always hold my head up high…in a psychiatric unit”). “Thank you for living,” says a woman and Morrissey, instead of retching, smiles.’

It was that coy smile that got me. Suddenly all ‘irony’ and detached commentary was gone from the 50 something’s expression. He was the cat that got the cream. Morrissey LOVES Morrissey-love. And that love of the love he receives, but only pretends to reciprocate is probably what got Moz through that gig at Hollywood High. As @louderthanwar  explained in some detail, the show was meant to be at the start of an American tour this year, turned out to be one of the last as he fell ill and ran out of funding for the rest of the planned shows. It’s hardly surprising that the way Morrissey performs, body and soul splayed before us, takes more out of him in his 50s than it did in his 20s. Maybe the show is over for good. If so, this film will become more iconic than it seems at the moment. More poignant. We’ll see.

But, I for one can’t finish on the topic of Morrissey without mentioning his tits. And how he has to get them out at any given opportunity. What began as a young slip of a man tearing his shirt off unexpectedly and aggressively at Smiths concerts infront  of flustered teenage boys has evolved into something a bit more mannered. A bit more of a strip-tease. @THEAGENTAPSLEY pointed out rather astutely that towards the end of the gig:

‘ Morrissey ripped open a shirt that he must have intended to sacrifice (unlike the first two [see above-QRG], which he had worn to go offstage and change, and which looked much nicer) at crucial words about those whose physical appearance one despises’.

It just wasn’t like the old days anymore. When Morrissey didn’t care about the state of his (now designer) clothes, and ripped them off spontaneously. Now it’s a carefully choreographed part of the stage show. But with his pretty body still in bloody good nick for his age, nobody was complaining and certainly not me.

moz25live_pink

In our little darkened corner of central London Morrissey 25 Live became a sing-along. It might have been The Sound Of Music or Rocky Horror for the sense of joyous camaraderie (especially the young(ish)man two seats down from me who was in fine voice) and our enthusiastic going for the top notes. I sang Speedway with particular gusto. And I said my goodbyes.

FBerkley

‘Somehow I managed not to be thrown out of his borrowed office (that I was a leather-jacketed male may have contributed to his patience) and was able to shift the topic away from Stone and classifications of madness in the European Middle Ages to ask about his blurb for John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. My point of entry for the shift to my keener interests was something he said about ahistorical heritage-making of “gay people.” I suggested that one of the most egregious examples, where even rabbits are “gay,” came in a book bearing a blurb from him.

He recommended ignoring Boswell’s first chapter and said that he had been more struck by his initial reading of Boswell’s book than he was later, working through some of the same materials himself. The resolution he proposed was not to regard Boswell’s writings as a sound history of “gay people” but as valuable for understanding the particular problematic of intolerance for sexual diversity. (I rejected that, saying that I read the book as a very tendentious apologia for the moral responsibilities of the Holy Mother Church specifically for persecution of those diverging from its prescriptions for sex. He neither endorsed or rejected this characterization.)’[i]

Stephen Murray met Foucault when he was teaching at Berkeley in the 1970s. He was a student and attended his lectures, but quite critically. ‘Foucault worship’ had not taken hold then. He wrote this account of their meeting in an email to his friend, Sam , many years later:

Stephen to Sam

Hey Sam,

Thanks for your email. I am glad to hear you have a new book coming out. Sure it’s electronic but isn’t everything these days? It won’t be long before we are all fucking robots and men will just be clothes horses. Maybe that day has arrived.

You wanted me to write about that time I met Foucault? Jeez it seems so long ago. Sure you can pass my account onto your contact. I have never been in a novel before. Foucault’s Daughter sounds like she might be an interesting character.

Anyway, excuse the flowery prose. I couldn’t help myself darling! Here goes:

‘It was a bright crisp autumn morning in Berkeley. It is funny sometimes to think of how Fall is called Fall and to actually witness leaves cascading off the trees in the wind. There are not many words that so literally describe what they describe. How about ‘fuck?’ No, that doesn’t work. What about gulp? No. You see it is hard to find one. Winter? No. Passover? I guess but that’s not quite the same.

I was nervous about meeting Mr Foucault. My worst fear: that the eminent philosopher would just slam the door in my face.

I approached the study, the one Foucault was borrowing from a Professor and knocked, a limp-wristed knock on his door. ‘Entrée’ came a voice from inside.

So I entered. Who wouldn’t enter Monsieur Foucault’s inner sanctum given half a chance?

I had been in Foucault’s lectures but nothing had prepared me for being in such close proximity to the man himself. I held out my limp-wristed hand…

He did not take it but pulled out a seat and told me to sit. I felt like a kid.

‘coffee;?

‘oh yes please’ I said a little too enthusiastically.

We sat and drank coffee and I looked at his face which was so alert and alive and his bald pate and his glasses, and it was partly like looking at a cartoon and partly like looking at a lover and partly like looking at my father and partly like looking at…some kind of religious deity?

Anyway. I looked and then I thought it was about time I said something.

‘Um, well, I have always been interested in your separation of the gay’ person from people who do homosexual acts. It seems this ‘’gay identity is gaining more and more currency…

‘It does, yes. But sometimes I prefer to examine power separately from the obvious that is being presented to me. In one sense the ‘gay identity’ is only very partial. It is worth uncovering how sexuality is regulated across the board , no? ‘ he took a sip of his coffee.

‘Yes of course. I guess I was looking at your work over the course of your career and noticing a link between all the theories of how you have distinguished between an essentialist idea of the person.. for example, the ‘mad’ person and the actual systems of discourse by which…

‘Oh I do not make any link between my work over time. I am not part of the canon and I never will have my own ‘canonical oeuvre’ this is ludicrous! And bourgeois!

Foucault slammed his coffee down on the desk hard and it spills onto his papers.

‘Merde!;

This was not going too well.

‘I meant..’

‘I know what you meant! But you are wrong.!;

So I left the talking to him. He explained about how his work would get appropriated and watered down over time and how he didn’t like it and worried that when he is gone there will be such a bastardisation of his writing it could be meaningless.

‘Knowledge is not for knowing. Knowledge is for cutting’.

He looked wistful for a moment, anxious. He said that sometimes he wished he could take his work with him when he died and so everyone had to start again. He did not want to be mis-remembered, misinterpreted.

I looked sheepish, being one of those students who was guilty of lifting Foucault quotes left right and centre.

He smiled softened.

‘I am tired of these four walls. He said. J’en ai mar de ces murs’. He gesticulated at the cramped space around him.

‘let’s go for a drink’.

With that he stood up and reached for his leather jacket , which made his attire become remarkably similar to mine.

And then he almost pushed me out of the door, talking as he went, down the corridor out of the building, across the campus, strewn with fallen golden leaves.

SandM

He took me to his favourite bar just off campus. I felt like I was in a dream.

‘what would you like?’

‘a beer please;

We took our beers and we sat at a table. Quiet for a moment. Just two guys in a bar.

‘so do you go out? On the scene?’ asked Michel.

A little I said.

‘I t gets a bit repetitive after a while/

‘and do you go to the s and m clubs?

‘yes. Sometimes’

‘They do not have them in Paris. I think it is amazing to have a public place for such things.

‘I guess so, yes’.

I am very interested in the overt demonstration of power dynamics in the S and M sexuality. It seems, so, so,… honest.

‘I hadn’t really thought of it like that before’ I said. I had really but I decided to be deferential to the don. Despite his protestations I think that is how he liked to be treated, and something was telling me that  beer could turn into something much more interesting.

‘It is fascinating.. the way people, men, enact power inequality in the sexual arena and it produces something new it is not merely reproducing power but creating it, I am sure it can have a liberating effect!’

He was getting very animated now and took off his jacket in the heat. I saw his chest through his poloneck it looked firm, sensual. I started to wonder what his cock was like. Oh god this was Michel Foucault and I was thinking about his cock.

Was he thinking about my mouth, on his cock?

He stopped talking.

What is it? He asked. ‘You were miles away.

‘Oh sorry’  I mumbled. I don’t think Foucault liked it if you didn’t pay attention to him.

‘anyway I was saying about how in s and M the dominant partner synthesises the irreducible element of power, the mythical irreducible element of power and presents a challenge for the bottom. The submissive partner to either conform to that irreducibility, or to disrupt it. Do you see what I mean?

I nodded. I understood perfectly how I would have liked Michel Foucault to challenge me to disrupt his irreducible power by either sucking his cock or not. Or sucking his cock in a way that was not 100% satisfying to him which would challenge him back to reassert his irreducible power, maybe by turning me round and spanking my arse very hard.

Now he sounded angry.

‘You are not listening to me Stephen! What is going on!;

Or maybe I could challenge his irreducible power by mere insolence?

‘I am sorry Michel. I am really interested in your theory it is just.. just..’

‘What? What is the problem.’

‘let me get you another beer and I will tell you.’

So I went to the bar. I walked slowly, breathing in, moving my ass in as seductive a way as possible. He couldn’t fail to see the signs. Could he?

I came back with the beers and he just started talking again.

Talking and talking about fucking power. All theory and no practice.

I tried one last time.

‘S o how would it work, in practice, if the actors were, say, you and me?’

I looked at him as coyly as I could.

‘oh.’

For a moment the great philosopher seemed embarrassed.

‘er.. I don’t know.

And then he said:

‘ you see Stephen, in my recent explorations of power in S and M, I have been most interested in ‘surrendering power.  It is quite  a new experience for me and I have found it, liberating! I think there is an ontological change that comes about .from giving up power to another man don’t you agree?

‘yes’ of course I fucking agreed. That’s what I wanted to do too.

This exchange of power was really not working for me.

And then Foucault returned my coy look with his best coy look and said.

‘I would consider giving up my power to a man like you’.

I started to laugh.

At first he seemed hurt, angry again.

But the man was not stupid.

He got the joke and he started to laugh as well.

We drank our beer and we laughed at the ridiculousness of sex and power, and the impossibility of equilibrium, a pair of cock suckers sharing a private joke.

Outside the leaves kept falling off the trees . There was nothing anybody could do to stop them.

From Sam to Stephen:

Ha. Wasn’t it Edmund White who said he thought all writers are bottoms, really? They must use up all their phallic penetration in their intellectual practice. Looks like I got everything the wrong way round. As usual.

This is an extract from my 2011 novella, Scribbling on Foucault’s Walls. You can obtain a PDF copy here

And another one’s gone! From Feminist Ideology. I was recently contacted by the blogger called Female Fed Up With Feminism. Like me, she is a woman who has used that precious right of women (and everyone else) everywhere, and changed her mind. Now that she has become ‘fed up’ with feminism, and seen its bias against men, and against honest open debate, she has decided to challenge some of the worst excesses of the gender politics ‘cult’. FFUWF writes:

‘I am a very proud non feminist female who has decided that it’s time to deal with the frenzy that is now going on in the media about how society is riddled with so-called ‘sexism’. I believe that things are much more complicated than that, and that the manner in which feminism is hijacking important issues is stopping us from having a mature and rational debate about many things.’

Also like me, the blogger is concerned about feminists’ tendency to attack  freedom of speech   in the name of combatting sexism.  And one of the outfits she finds most irritating and propogandist on the subject of sexism is that well known (to some of us) twitter account  and blog Everyday Sexism. If anyone has any ideas about how to challenge Everyday Sexism’s bullshit about men, women and gender, let us know!

I will finish by wishing this latest Female Fed Up With Feminism all the best in fighting her  ‘sisters’ . Don’t forget to wear protective clothing though – these debates can get very heated!