The Madness Outside Gender The Madness Outsi:Travels with Don Quixote and Saint Foucault

Acker's narrator, like Menard, reaches Don Quixote through her own experience.  Acker's quest to discover a mode of being Don Quixote without imitating Cervantes also resembles Foucault's exploration of the history of encounters between madness and the discourses of rationality in Madness and Civilization, where he scrupulously avoids translating insanity into a reasonable account. In discussing Acker's commitment to the politics of the punk movement, Larry McCaffery emphasizes its skeptical attitude about official and authoritative discourses: "punk art is a response to the awareness that the orderly exchange of goods, the legal and political systems that produce this exchange, the academic institutions inculcating the values and meanings of society all tightly control what is and is not the "proper" or acceptable nature of linguistic expression (just as language via legal definitions of what constitutes a drug' or sexual abnormality,' controls what is proper' to do with our perceptions and our bodies)" (227). Acker's novel continually reiterates that taking this attitude about discourse, and especially about psychoanalytic discourse, has everything to do with what it can mean to be a female Quixote and with the gendering (and ungendering) of impossible dreaming.

Madness and Civilization


Foucault concludes Madness and Civilization by remarking that "the world that thought to measure and justify madness through psychology . . . [now] must justify itself before madness" (289). Imagining two different readers of this passage opens the question of how Acker's Don Quixote can be read both as commentary on what we can learn about gender from Foucault and as a defense of Foucault's opposition to the psychoanalytic project of explaining madness in rational terms. The first imaginary reader is one who would concur with Butler's pronouncement, in The Psychic Life of Power, that the time has come to reconcile the Foucaldian approach with the psychoanalytic. This reader would agree with Butler that, "one cannot account for subjectivation . . . without recourse to a psychoanalytic account of the formative or generative effects of restriction or prohibition" (87). Consequently, this reader will probably understand Foucault's conclusion, and perhaps the whole study that it concludes as well, as evidencing his refusal to give sufficient importance to the way bourgeois subjectivity takes form, his misguided interest in the babblings of misfits, and his resistance to psychoanalytic truths. The second imaginary reader is Kathy Acker herself.



While it's difficult to say whether Acker's Don Quixote was directly influenced by Foucault's discussion of the book in Madness and Civilization, she left no doubt of her interest in his work. In discussing with Ellen Friedman her early life in "the art world," Acker talks about how "the punk movement" gave her a sense of community for the first time. Her community is one of sexual outlaws; "We were fascinated with Passolini's and Bataille's work, but there was no way of saying why or how" (15-16). Her introduction to the work of Deleuze and Guattari "and somewhat Foucault" gave her a language for expression of her group's ideas and values, "For the first time we had a way of talking about what we were doing" (16). But this reliance on philosophers to help her articulate punk concerns did not cause Acker to feel any affinity with the academic world: on the contrary she observes, "I absolutely hate it" (20). Her main complaint against English departments is that she understood "the work of Foucault and Deleuze [as] very political; it was about what was happening to the economy and about changing the political system." She observes that "the American academy" later took out the politics and made the theories a means "to uphold the empire in terms of representation as well as actual structure" (20-21). Her Don Quixote might be read as an assault on that practice and a move to free her Foucault (and her Deleuze and Guattari) from academic misapplication.






In Madness and Civilization, Foucault posits an opposition between art and psychology. Foucault reads literary texts not as affirming psychology's vision of human thought, emotion, and behavior, but as calling it into question. He sees the transgressive writings of authors like Artaud as especially apt to serve this function. Yet it is in the name of feminism and demonized sexualities that Butler, along with other less famous and influential theorists, calls for the augmentation of Foucauldian theory with psychoanalytic concepts. Examining Acker's readings of Foucault on madness and Don Quixote reveals the complexity of her opposition to psychoanalysis as generative of the master narrative of sexuality and gender identification, and thus offers a defense of the antipsychoanalytic Foucauldian method.

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