Posts Tagged ‘Scribbling on Foucault’s walls’

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

This is a review by Mark Simpson of my novella Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls.

———————————————

Reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to this blog will be famil­iar with the spir­ited, sharp, thought­ful, charm­ing, insistently-infuriatingly rea­son­able — and occa­sion­ally down­right can­tan­ker­ous — com­menter Elly, alias Quiet Riot Girl.

Elly gave me enor­mous encour­age­ment and sup­port in putting together Metrosexy, which in all hon­esty prob­a­bly would never have seen the light of day with­out her. She also proved tire­less in spread­ing the word about it.

Elly is not only extremely enthu­si­as­tic about the con­cept of met­ro­sex­u­al­ity, she’s one of the few peo­ple to really engage with it and grasp its import. Per­haps more so than even Metro­daddy him­self, who remains some­thing of a dead­beat dad.

This is why Met­ro­sexy is ded­i­cated to her.

Now Elly has given birth to her own off­spring. A bounc­ing novella called Foucault’s Daugh­ter, about what might have hap­pened if the famous bald homo French philoso­pher had been a sin­gle dad, jug­gling cruis­ing Parisian S/M sex clubs with school runs. There is of course more than a lit­tle bit of QRG in Dr Foucault’s sprog, who scrib­bles all over his nice clean walls and then spends most of her adult life try­ing to live down and up to her father. Insist­ing that ‘macho fags’ (in QRG’s favourite phrase) acknowl­edge the (lit­tle) lady in their life.

It’s a fan­tas­ti­cally, pos­si­bly madly ambi­tious work that self-consciously nego­ti­ates her own highly informed, passionate-but-critical and ulti­mately highly ambiva­lent invest­ment in that very nearly extinct species: The Homo­sex­ual Intel­lec­tual. It won’t be giv­ing too much away to tell you that Foucault’s Daugh­ter, after pro­long­ing the agony of The Homo­sex­ual Intel­lec­tual with its inter­est in him (who else shows any these days?), comes very close to euth­a­niz­ing him.

Many pas­sages in it are beau­ti­fully writ­ten and breath­tak­ingly vivid. The scene, for instance, which rehearses the death of the famous cul­tural critic and QRG hero Roland Barthes in a traf­fic acci­dent stays with you. Even if you feel he is being ever-so-slightly, ever-so-lovingly pushed into the path of the oncom­ing laun­dry van.

So I strongly rec­om­mend you read Foucault’s Daugh­ter (which is free to down­load here). But if you do, you’ll also under­stand why, in the end, QRG and me, alas, had to go our sep­a­rate ways.

——————————

 

‘Hilary went to her death because she couldn’t think of anything to say
Everybody thought that she was boring, so they never listened anyway
Nobody was really saying anything of interest, she fell asleep
She was into S&M and bible studies
Not everyone’s cup of tea she would admit to me
Her cup of tea, she would admit to no one’

- Belle and Sebastian

 

I love this song (see above) by Belle and Sebastian ‘If you’re feeling sinister’, because it satirises that self-absorbed, ‘gothic’ attitude that characterises Morrissey and his fans. Why don’t you just get over yourself it seems to be asking. Well, because then we wouldn’t have such gems as Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now or I Am Hated For Loving.

 

 

‘In a work of nonfiction we almost never know the truth of what happened. The ideal of unmediated reporting is regularly achieved only in fiction, where the writer faithfully reports on what is going on in his imagination. When James reports in “The Golden Bowl” that the Prince and Charlotte are sleeping together, we have no reason to doubt him or to wonder whether Maggie is “overreacting” to what she sees. James’s is a true report. The facts of imaginative literatures are as hard as the stone that Dr. Johnson kicked. We must always take the novelist’s and the playwright’s and the poet’s word, just as we are almost always free to doubt the biographer’s or the autobiographer’s or the historian’s or the journalist’s. In imaginative literature we are constrained from considering alternative scenarios — there are none. This is the way it is. Only in nonfiction does the question of what happened and how people thought and felt remain open.’

from Janet Malcolm, The SIlent Woman (Granta UK 1996), 155

I don’t know if  Foucault’s Daughter  would agree. In my novella I documented the ‘death of the author’ and I deliberately left many stones of the narrative unturned. I think there were alternative scenarios to the one I suggested. But none I guess beyond the reader and the text. Nobody could come back from the dead, or from ‘real life’, even if I’d mentioned them or used their words in my book, and tell me I was wrong. They were figments of my imagination.

Whereas in non-fiction, some people  will have a different  story to tell, and a contrasting  version of reported events. They will be able to refute the contents of the work. In fiction you can only read it differently.
http://daviddobbs.posterous.com/janet-malcolm-on-truthiness-in-fiction-v-nonf

 

Foucault’s Daughter has found a home! She is going to be residing at the rather chaotic, exciting and a little bit dirty House of Zizek. Zizek press is the future!

I am not going to sell the book on Amazon due to the fact it is a copyright legal case waiting to happen. So it will remain on smashwords for free, but as a Zizek Title.

All she ever wanted was somewhere to call home.

‘SOFW mashes up the conventions of the novel but unlike, say, Cloud Atlas it doesn’t do it just to show off: it has run into a question that requires a novel to be butchered and splayed open and its entrails read to get the answer.’

http://zizekpress.com/2011/07/21/zizek-press-to-publish-scribbling-on-foucaults-walls-by-quiet-riot-girl/

http://zizekpress.com/2011/07/20/camera-lucida/

 

 

There is this trick (you will have played it on yourself) where a writer writes something very personal and somehow manages to convince him/herself that on finishing it, it will magically turn into just another book. That is detached from the personal things it refers to. But that is the point when it becomes even more personal. How do we manage to pull that one on ourselves?

And there is another trick. This one is where I convinced myself that finishing the story would mean the story would be finished. It feels like now, it has only just begun.

Quel con!

I could not keep my patient QRG readers waiting any longer. So here is the first of three-parts of Foucault’s Daughter, aka Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls.

It is available FREE on smashwords:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/70119

I am busy trying to get an e-publisher at the moment, so if I am successful the whole novel/la (it is quite short for a novel) will be available to buy online soon!

Thanks everyone for your interest in this project. A reader is a valuable, and sometimes a dangerously powerful thing! As Foucault’s Daughter knows all too well…

Foucault’s Daughter is probably not made for the big screen. I think my novella is very much for reading. But, it does contain some choice clips from some wonderful films. I won’t give the story away by putting them in context, except that I think you may be able to see a common thread running through them… Lost Children? Alienation? ‘ Desir’?

From Bicycle Thieves, to 400 Blows, to Gone With The Wind, to Cemetery Gates, I think Foucault’s Daughter is stood at the cemetery gates of the 2oth century, feeling locked out of the new world and alone.

I have just completed the first draft (Hopefully nearly the last one) of my  novel about Foucault’s Daughter.

Imagine for a moment, if I was one of those writers who got interviewed. And the interviewer asked me how Foucault’s Daughter came into being. I would find it a very difficult question to answer.You may realise why if you read the story.

But I am afraid, dear long-suffering QRG readers, that part of my answer would involve a one Mr Simpson. I don’t know what you know about Foucault. But he worked in a period and a place when intellectual discussion was not treated as weird, abhorrent even. He was surrounded by ‘peers’ with whom he developed long and lasting, sometimes turbulent ‘dialectic’ relationships.

If you had been interviewing or reading Foucault in the 1960s and 1970s for example, it is quite likely he would mention and refer to the work of Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, just as much if not more than I talk and write about Mark Simpson. And, I do not know for sure, but I don’t think people then told Michel to go and ‘bum’ Barthes. Or marry him. Or ‘get a room’. Because that is what people who had ideas did. They discussed them with other people who had ideas in the same field.

“The intellectual was rejected and persecuted at the precise moment when the facts became incontrovertible, when it was forbidden to say that the emperor had no
clothes. ”  Michel Foucault

One of my papers from my Phd research was called ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. I did not know then that Foucault had made this statement. But I remember the stony silence when I gave my paper to a conference seminar. And I remember how the chair of the session ignored me and took questions from the floor to all the other speakers. I remember being ‘rejected’.

 

 

Michel Foucault:

The experience of heterosexuality, at least since the Middle Ages, has always consisted of two panels: On the one hand, the panel of courtship in which the man seduces the woman: and, on the other, the panel of the sexual act itself. Now the great heterosexual literature of the West has had to do essentially with the panel of amorous courtship, that is, above all, with tha which precedes the sexual act. All the work of intellectual and cultural refinement, all the aesthetic elaboration of the West, were aimed at courtship. This is the reason for the relative poverty of literary, cultural and aesthetic appreciation of the sexual act as such.

In contrast, the modern homosexual experience has no relation at all to courtship. This was not the case in ancient Greece however.  For the Greeks, courtship between men was more important than courtship between men and women (Think of Socrates and Alcibiades). But in Western Christian culture homosexuality was banished and therefore had to concentrate all its energy on the act of sex itself. Homosexuals were not allowed to elaborate a system of courtship because the cultural expression necessary for such an elaboration was denied them. The wink on the street, the split-second decision to get it on, the speed w ith which homosexual relations are consummated: all these are products of an interdiction. So when a homosecual culture and literature began to develip it was natural for it to focuse on the most ardent and heated aspect of homosexual relations.

Q:

I’m reminded of Cassanova’s famous expression that ‘the best moment of love is when one is climing the stairs’. One can hardly imagine a homosexual today making that remark.

Michel Foucault:

Exactly. Rather, he would say something like: ‘the best moment of love is when the lover leaves in a taxi’… It is when the act is over and the boy is gone that one begins to fream about the warmth of his body, the quality of his smile, the tone of his voice. This is why the great homosexual writers of our culture (Cocteau, Genet, Burroughs) can write so elegantly about the sexual act itself, because the homosexual imagination is for the most part concerned with reminiscing about the act rather than anticipating it. And, as I said earlier, this is all due to very concrete and practical considerations and says nothing about the intrinsic nature of homosexuality.


I have been reminded of this passage in one of my favourite interviews with Foucault, recently. I think it sheds some light on two questions I asked. The first was about why homo literature often seems so ‘romantic’ about homo-sex, when homosex in reality tends to be  so ‘unromantic': pragmatic, casual, ‘un-emotional’. Foucault’s response might be that this is because homo writers always seem to be looking back wistfully on the sexual act. The way it was conceived tends/tended to be rushed, illicit, snatched in a stolen moment, rather than the result of an elaborate and often public courtship, as a heterosexual sexual act might be.

The other question I asked, that it reminds me of, I didn’t actually ask. I am asking it now.  This relates to your stories of being a ‘straight-chaser’, of those men for whom ‘it is my first time, mate. I’m nervous’ might be a common refrain. About the questions you may ask yourself about why you are so intrigued by their nervousness, even more than the actual act of sex with them. If it arrives. I wonder, if straight chasers are in some way chasing that ‘courtship’ that in modern times has been denied gay men (who have had to spend some of their time skulking in bushes, quite literally, in order to have sex with other men). The way that maybe more ‘traditional’ gay men might also be chasing  courtly love, by chasing the ‘rights’ and rituals of straight people, such as dating, engagement, marriage (divorce).

I feel more sympathetic to those ‘straight’ gays after hearing you and reading this interview with Foucault. Though not to the fundamentalist verve with which they pursue their aims, at the expense of those whose version of ‘romance’ is a little more dark and mysterious, dappled as it is with the shadows of illicit sex and unexplored sexualities amongst seemingly straight men.

Just as Genet and Baldwin created and reported on the  romance of the sexual act that is gone, the warmth of his body and the memory of his smile, maybe you and other homo-romantics are trying to reclaim a romance that has been denied you, the  traditionally hetero-romance of ‘will she won’t she?’ the waiting, the hope, and sometimes the bittersweet disappointment of coitus not achieved.

Maybe the internet adds to and also takes away from that romance. It tends to in most situations, be both a promise of, and a desultory ruiner of all hope of anything resembling poetics.

I wish he was here, still, to look upon this world with wonder and horror and annoyance and laughter.  I wish I didn’t have to be always looking back at the memory of the warmth of his words.

2nd Image: Still from Genet’s Chant d’amour