Re: A non-defense ofthe Miller book.

Although I found Flannon (Jackson's?) response interesting, I think it
missed the point a bit. What is Foucault? Well, perhaps an interesting
question, but one which cannot be answered by Miller's book. I myself found
the Miller book to be thoroughly offensive. However, I have been sitting
here think about why I found it offensive, and I must admit that there are
some fundamental problems with my own dislike of it.

I disliked Miller's book primarily because I thought it attempted to trivial
Foucault, by reducing his body of texts to the end result of some aberant
Frenchman. It reminded me of Habermas's Modernity travesty (wherein he
reduced Derrida's work to being the result of his jewishness). It reminded
me of the stock dismissals that come from the centre: it is the result of
an aberation and therefore, although perhaps noteworthy, certainly not worth
taking seriously. It is Anglo-American dismissal of Existentialism once again.

But perhaps more seriously, it is offensive because, if placed within the
context of academic biography, it is homophobia writ large. And again, I
find myself in a bit of a bind here (although I have yet to get to the first
bind!). I am specifically thinking of "Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius" by
Monk, I think (I leant my copy out, and am truly horrible with names).
Perhaps you will indulge me a bit and let me discuss both biographies. I
shall try to be brief (although I fear these side comments will be the death
of such a hope).

I thoroughly enjoyed Monk's book. It was the book that finally inspired me
enough to go back to school. However, when discussing it with someone, I
found that I was a little ambivalent about the way he treated Wittgenstein's
sexuality. He approached it in a Clintonesque style. He would discuss his
relationships with his boyfriends, but always in a subdued tone, mentioned
in the same sentence as your mysterious 'aunts', although you know that you
are not related to one of them. He insinuated that he was gay, although
there was no need for insinuation, as the evidence was clear: he was gay.

My co-discussor pointed out that Monk merely wished to avoid detracting from
Wittgenstein's acheivements. If he focussed on his homosexuality, people
would dismiss his work as that of a homosexual (as I accused Miller of
doing). I, however, found this reasoning unacceptable. If he was gay, this
should be acknowledge, and not merely quitely tolerated. It was a part of
the man, probably a part of what made him a genius, certainly a part of what
made him interesting. Monk merely reinforced the belief that someone who is
a queer is merely that: a queer. Otherwise, he would not have so feared
open discussing that he had to relagate it to an appendix. I conclude that
Monk was a homophobe (although I still acknowledged that it was by far and
away one of the best biographies I had read).

Now I come across Miller, who is quite explicit. Foucault was a faggot.
Not only that, he wasn't even a nice pleasant monogamous faggot, he was a
s&m pervert, and no wonder he got aids. Why should we pay any attention to
him, he subverted our American values, like all these post-modern loonies,
reprobates, frenchmen, nazis and jews (Oh, well, he didn't say anything like
that, but I just know he would have loved to say something like that).

Isn't he filling the gap?

Well, no. Although he tells us information left out of the Eribon book (for
reasons similar to Monks, although I didn't love Eribon), his subtext is
that Foucault is dismissable. He is a muckraker. He wishes us to wink and
nudge, and slighly make off-coloured insinuations in graduate seminars.

How truely horrific. The best biography must dismiss ones sexual mores (if
they at all differ from the norm) while the ones that acknowledge it only
serve to delegitimate the subject. Truly, this is the malaise of a
heterosexist culture.

So what is one to do?

When I first started writing this, I was thinking about geneaology and
history. There is no centre-point from which one can dismiss others, there
is only circumscribed history and that which it gives birth to. To dismiss
Foucault in the way Miller does is to say that there is a centre, and that
which dwells without is not part of the universal. But then what? Do we
act like pragmatists, and say: very well, we are all part of dirty history,
let us celebrate our past, acknowledge it, and be very glad it lead to where
it lead? Probably. I can't think of any other response. That is what a
good biography of Foucault would do. However, can it do so? The answer to
that, I fear, is not so cut and dried.

Sorry about the length. Didn't even get to my point.

Stuart Chaulk


Partial thread listing: