Re: Foucault and Bathouses

>The term AIDS was coined by the CDC in December
>1982 and they announced that they suspected that
>the contagion was probably caused by exposure to
>blood and blood products. In Jan 1983 the first calls
>to close San Francisco bathhouses to limit the
>disease were made. May 1983 was the first AIDS
>awareness week. And by June 1983 the San Francisco
>bathhouse controversy was in full bloom and AIDS
>panic had swept the nation.

Rather than speculate, it is possible to document Foucault's
circumstances and what he knew about his own AIDS. The disease got
its name only in 1982, the first cases were reported in 1980, only in
the spring of 1984 was the virus identified and called HIV only in
1986. In 1984 when Foucault died, there was no test for AIDS.

Foucault appears to have suspected that he contracted AIDS in
California, probably in 1982, but no positive diagnosis of AIDS was
ever made. Alan Sheridan says that Foucault told him (in 1984 I think)
that the doctors did not know what was wrong with him. Aids was
considered but dismissed. Paul Veyne and Pierre Nora says that
Foucault knew he had AIDS before died in June 1984. His symptoms did
not include the "gay cancer" or pneumonia. From the summer 1983 he had
flulike symptoms, headaches, fever, a persistent cough, and weight
loss, but became noticeably ill only at the end 1983. He had taught at
Berkeley in spring 1983. Only in early 1984 when he was hospitalized
did the possibility that it was AIDS become fairly evident, but that
was clouded by the fact that he responded so well to a standard
antibiotic treatment that he was able to deliver his final set of
lectures at the College de France. It appears that the doctors
concluded that he probably had AIDS and that Foucault himself thought so,
but that was only in 1984, and Foucault is said to have cut off the
doctor's statement only to ask "How long." Paul Veyne, I think, says
that Foucault confided late in 1983 or early 1984, that "they [his
doctors] think I have AIDS." His lover Daniel Defert reports that in
the summer of 1983 "everyone in the States was talking about AIDS, even if he [Foucault] was not certain of his own situation, the
fact was on his mind."

Foucault was in Berkeley only in 1979, 1980, when no one knew about
the epidemic, and in the spring of 1983, when he was not yet ill. When
he became ill in the summer of 1983, he thought initially that his
persistent coughing was a pulminary infection which get better "as
soon as I am in California." His experiences in California in the fall
of 1983 are not well known, and those in a position to know--which
means a very small number of confidents in the French department there
who shared his tastes, suggest there were few experiences. James Miller
assembles what gossip he could find in an effort to test the idea that
Foucault deliberately infected others, but concludes that the answer
"may never be known" because there is very little evidence, and what
there is is contested by people in a position to know.

In sum, then, it is incontestable that Foucault went to the bathhouses
regularly and became involved in the S/M games played there among the
"leather" crowd. But it is a vicious libel that he ever sought to infect
other people.

John Knoblock
Professor, Department of Philosophy
Mail: / University of Miami/ P.O. Box 248054/ Coral Gables, FL 33124
Messages (305) 284-4757
Fax (305) 284-5594


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