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Foucault, Michel (1926-1984)  
 
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His most gay- and lesbian-relevant work here is his first volume, where he reflects on nineteenth-century repression, concluding that while the Victorians were explicitly concerned with regulating sexuality, they succeeded only in permeating social discourses with the sexual; they put sex into even greater cultural currency, rather than removing it from culture.

Foucault thus advances our understanding of the birth of modern consciousness about sexual identity, finding in the concepts of the "heterosexual" and "homosexual" not only a construction of identity for the purposes of regulation, but also a starting point for subversion and resistance. As many theorists now argue, narrow notions of identity can be both confining and liberating.

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Foucault's influence on gay and lesbian studies, as well as on the recent trend of "queer theory," has been immense. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, and Jonathan Dollimore's Sexual Dissidence are just a few of the many works that draw on and respond to Foucault.

And as his work has become increasingly central to theories of sexual identity, Foucault's tumultuous life has also come under scrutiny. Although his sexual orientation was well known, and his death from AIDS in 1984 was covered widely in the press, the specific resonance of Foucault's own sexuality in his work was barely considered until James Miller's critical biography The Passion of Michel Foucault was published in 1993.

Although it has been condemned by some individuals as scandal-mongering and even , Miller's work does explore the tortured sense of self that resulted in Foucault's experimentations with hallucinogenic drugs and highly unsafe forms of sex, activities that continued even after his health was impaired and AIDS transmission routes were suspected.

Although far from perfect, The Passion of Michel Foucault attempts to make sense of a life and philosophical legacy in ways that previous critics had nervously avoided.

There is no more important body of philosophical work within the gay and lesbian literary heritage than that of Michel Foucault.

Although he is often (and rightly) criticized for being insensitive to women's issues and for being overly quick to pinpoint precise dates for dramatic alterations in human consciousness, Foucault himself was responsible for one such major change: in the way we perceive power and its use by and against individuals.

While evincing his own blindspots, he helped call attention to those that in fact define the political, medical, and literary establishments still working to categorize and condemn individuals today.

Donald E. Hall

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    Bibliography
   

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Dollimore, Jonathan. Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Eribon, Didier. Michel Foucault. Trans. Betsy Wing. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Halperin, David. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Miller, James. The Passion of Michel Foucault. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Spargo, Tamsin. Foucault and Queer Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Hall, Donald E.  
    Entry Title: Foucault, Michel  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 30, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/foucault_m.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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