'Aren't you sure of what you're saying? Are you going to change yet again, shift your position according to the questions that are put to you, and say that the objections are not really directed at the place from which you are speaking? Are you going to declare yet again that you have never been what you have been reproached with being?" . . . "Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write." (Foucault 1972: 17)
These frequently quoted words could be taken as a manifesto of queer theory. All through his writings Foucault undermined the idea of fixed identity, whether his own identity as an author, or any conception of an identity or essence of rationality, health, delinquency, or sexuality. He showed that things were always more complicated, considerably queerer than could be captured by any talk of essence. Moreover, he showed that the shape-shifting that these putative universals have gone through were not simple changes, but that they were always also interconnected with issues of power and authority, with what counts as truth and who gets to do the counting. Foucault summarized his method as "a systematic scepticism with respect to all anthropological universals," such as madness, crime, or sexuality.
Yet the refusal [of such universals] entails more than the simple observation that their content varies with time and circumstances; it entails wondering about the conditions that make it possible, according to the rules of truth-telling, to recognize a subject as mentally ill or to cause subjects to recognize the most essential part of themselves in the modality of their sexual desire (Florence 1994: 317).
Foucault demonstrated the investment of authority of those who would keep our "identity papers in order." If we have learned anything from Foucault, we have learned first to look for the genealogy - and therewith the queering - of any putative essence; and second, to look for the ways in which such queering is resisted by those who want to be able to tell one true story, whether about rationality, sex, or even God, and make their story compulsory for all.
Although Foucault thus demonstrates queer strategy, however, he is not consistent in carrying it through. For example, it is a commonplace of feminist discussion of Foucault that he writes from an untroubled male perspective and rarely takes into consideration how differently things might appear if he were to queer gender rather than take unexamined masculinity as normative (see McNay 1992 and Hekman 1996). I do not mean only that a woman would write differently, though probably she would. I also mean that the issues Foucault presents, especially around sexuality and religion, would be contoured differently if instead of writing as though masculinity were universal or normative he had problema-tized gender in the way that he problematizes sexuality, say, or madness, or illness. In the first section of this chapter I shall take Jeremy Carrette's collection of Foucault's writings on religion and culture and indicate some of the places where taking gender seriously would give insights beyond what Foucault himself achieved, insights that are crucial for the development of a queer theology (Carrette 1999).
But this, while important, is not new. What I want to go on to suggest is that, just as Foucault is constantly bumping up against gender and yet maintains a blindness about it, so also he keeps bumping up against another category which, like gender, he almost acknowledges but never actually deals with. That category is death. Time after time death crops up in his writings, like an undercurrent with which he is fascinated; and sometimes Foucault seems to recognize that at this point some major work needs to be done. But it is only towards the end of his life, in The History of Sexuality, that he begins a project of queering death, destabilizing its conceptual hegemony. I shall discuss this in the second and third sections of this chapter.1
Now, what I suggest is that these two lacunae are of a piece; and moreover that they are related to religion in the Western symbolic. Gender and death are linked together in Foucault's thinking, not, I suppose, at any conscious or focused level but as part of the baggage of the Western philosophical and religious tradition. While Foucault challenges many of the assumptions of that tradition and explores many of its silences, he hardly does so in the case of gender, and only begins to in the case of death, but rather for the most part reinscribes their stereotypical identities in his own writings. However, I think that some of the queering strategies that he develops, especially subverting identities by working through a genealogy of what had been taken as a universal and thereby troubling it, would go a long way toward queering his own assumptions on gender and death. Therefore I shall show that although his own stance is from a queer feminist perspective unacceptable, Foucauldian tactics can be fruitfully brought to bear on things which Foucault himself left untroubled.2
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