Dear Mister Zeeland,
I don’t know if you will read this or not but I am going to write it anyway. I have been thinking of you lately, as I have had my head up Michel Foucault’s arse. I make that link in my mind in the nicest possible way of course. I really have loved what I have read by you so far, in The Queen Is Dead, on your blog and in some essays posted on Mark Simpson’s website. You have shown me a world I never knew existed before and now I am kind of transfixed by it.
I am currently writing a fictional account about Michel Foucault’s life and work as seen through the eyes of his daughter. Yes I know he didn’t have a daughter. That is the fictional bit. Well to be honest it is all a complete departure from the truth except for when it suits me. That’s what writers do it seems. I’ve never written a whole novel before.
Anyway. I have started doing some research, but I am finding that I am learning most from his writings themselves, and also by talking to other people who have read them, who have a sense of the man, just as I do. Mark Simpson kindly sent a list of my questions about Michel to Professor Halperin, but he wouldnt answer them, saying I had to read all the official biographies. I have this horrible suspicion that even if I do, I still won’t get the answers I require.
Currently I am quite intrigued by how Michel-positioned-himself in his sexual acts. To what extent he was a fucker, and what extent he was a sucker. Because when I come to write scenes in my story, he has to be one or the other, at any given point. I am starting to think he was versatile, as his accounts of the SM scene in Sanfrancisco suggest he had some quite self-shattering experiences, that only a bottom could have. And because of his diagnosis it is most likely he contracted the virus through being penetrated. But you never know with that one. But he also seems quite…dominant to me. He keeps taking control of situations in my story, anyway. I can’t seem to stop him from chasing young men round Paris.
Which is where you come in. I want to write a scene in a public toilet in the capital, and I was wondering if A) you knew of any particular locations that he might have visited, or B) have a sense of which side of the glory hole he might have fallen on. Would he have been a putter-of-dick through the hole, or would he have been a sucker on the other side.
I know this sounds rather crude. I don’t think you’ll mind. My one worry about investigating this subject from this angle is that it could come across as sounding like that age old question: ‘but what do gay men do in bed?’ Well you see it is and it isn’t. My key interest, as I think yours is, Mr Zeeland, is social identity. When it comes to sex, our social identities are created through what we do, and more significantly, how we talk about what we do (and what other people do) in bed. (Or in public toilets). Also, with the move from treating men who take it as —–> not sure about this bit need to check my history! —–>dirty perverts, as inverts, and those who do the fucking as potentially not perverts at all <—————, to this clean cut, homogenous ‘gay’ identity, I feel something has been lost in translation. I of course don’t want to return to a world where men are distinguished by whether they take it up the arse or whether they give it. But the plain fact is we still live in that world, it is just that nobody talks about the difference any more. And in not talking about that difference, power is allowed to flourish and flow unexamined. Foucault would not approve of that situation. From this perspective, I feel it is a valid, and actually a vital question to ask. What did Michel Foucault do? My question is of course in part redundant. The man is dead and did not leave a ‘sex blog’ or a set of juicy memoirs. I don’t really want to know the ins and outs of his sex life. But I am on this journey now, down into the annals of discourse and power, and when it comes to power, it matters which end of the glory hole you find yourself on, doesn’t it sir? As a woman, I have always been stuck on the receiving end. I have not taken my strap-on and built myself a cock with which to change that ‘natural’ gendered power dynamic. I don’t want to. But figuratively speaking, it is my mission to fuck gendered power up the ass. And in order to do that, unpacking this dichotomy between ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’ in men’s sexual relations seems to be a very good place to start. I don’t need your blessing but I do crave it. You and Mr Simpson are really the dons in this arena – forget Halperin. I want you to approve of my project. Like Foucault’s daughter there is a little girl in me, that wants a man (her father?) to tell her she’s doing the right thing. Or at least not the catastrophically wrong thing.
I have been reading about the 1960s and how the government declared homosexual acts in public a ‘scourge’ on society, and so cottaging would have been illegal then. But people would have still done it, right? Do you know anything about that time in France? I read a great story about the 1860s, a century before, and how ‘pederastes’ would drill holes in the cubicles in Les Halles, only for the police to fill them in in the mornings. And then the pederastes would come out and drill the holes all over again. I loved how defiant it was. I can’t see gay men defiantly staking their claim on their territory like that these days can you? Not sexually. Maybe gay marriage is the equivalent of drilling glory holes in the 1860s, and maybe it isn’t.
Thank-you for inspiring me to go underground, down into the labrynths of history, and of Paris, and, well, of Michel Foucault’s libido. It is a fascinating place to explore.
I hope you are well.
Yours, in some kind of solidarity,
P.s. In my down the rabbit hole world I call Mark ‘Roland’. Foucault described Barthes as a ‘meticulous observer’ and I think that description suits Mr Simpson very well. But I am not sure which character you would be. Sometimes your work reminds me of Erving Goffman, and his study of ‘the presentation of self in everyday life’. I will let you know if I think of anyone else you might be. You are certainly not Deleuze. James Miller, the controversial biographer of Foucault, the one I wasn’t supposed to read, so of course, the one I turned to first, said of Deleuze that he differed from Foucault in that he didnt seem interested in actually doing any of the things he talked about. So you are definitely not him.