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


Why the Foucauldian method should need to be defended to feminism was perhaps most influentially explained by Teresa de Lauretis in Technologies of Gender, which still serves for many as an introduction to the constructionist position on gender, and the title of which is a direct response of Foucault's discussion of "technologies of sexuality" in The History of Sexuality. Lauretis objects to the distinction he makes between bodies and pleasures and sexualities in the discursive production of sexuality. She quotes his conclusion that "[t]he rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexuality [by institutional powers] ought not to be sex-desire, but bodies and pleasures'" and then judges it "at best paradoxical . . . as if bodies and pleasures existed apart from the discursive order, from language or representation. But then they would exist in a space which his theory precisely locates outside the social" (36). At this point in Lauretis's reading of Foucault, it would seem that the question of what, if anything, exists outside the social is raised. To consider that question from within Kathy Acker's punk aesthetic might bring us to think of Patti Smith's song, "Rock N Roll Nigger," "Outside of society, if you're looking,/ that's where you'll find me." Acker's admiration for Smith makes her enthusiasm about Deleuze and Guattari easy to understand, for their two volume work, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, also conjures up a vision of an outside: the deterritorialized zone, an uncharted zone of "madness," what cannot be articulated within discourse. To de Lauretis such turning aside from the social in Foucault's work signifies an avoidance of the issue of gender as a construct, since she sees gender as socially constructed. His work therefore cannot be seen as useful to feminism without modification.

The History of Sexuality.


"Rock and Roll Nigger"

The same disjunction in concepts of where it is possible for experience to occur characterizes Butler's responses to Foucault in The Psychic Life of Power. Butler focuses on Foucault at his most compatible with Deleuze and Guatarri, whose Anti-Oedipus, volume one of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, he introduced and whose ideas he frequently praised. Deleuze and Guattari are never cited in The Psychic Life of Power but their theories haunt the text like a ghost interlocutor to which many remarks ostensibly about Foucault seem addressed. For instance in the introduction, while critiquing the emphasis on the ongoing effects of encounters with various time bound and situational cultural discourses in the "Foucauldian postulation of subjection as the simultaneous subordination and forming of the subject," Butler argues that psychoanalytic focus on early childhood as the most important (and invariable) determinant of subjectivity is justified because "this situation of primary [passion in] dependency conditions the political formation and regulation of subjects and becomes the means of their subjection" (7). This certainly sounds more like a response to Deleuze and Guattari's anti-Oedipal politics than to anything directly said by Foucault. As she later remarks, "Foucault is notoriously taciturn on the topic of the psyche" (18).




Can there be, as Butler claims, "a Foucauldian perspective within psychoanalysis" (87: emphasis hers)? Where she most departs from Foucauldian methods is in her self-confident assumption of the role of one who knows. In explaining the "truths" of sexual interactions Butler's book is characterized by certainty. For example, she asserts, "debates about the reality of the sexual abuse of children tend to mistake the character of the exploitation," and then goes on to universalize and posit as inevitable "the adult sense of humiliation when confronted with the earliest objects of love -- parents, guardians, siblings and so on" (7-8). She concludes, that "no subject can emerge without this attachment formed in dependency, but no subject, in the course of its formation can ever afford to see' it" (8). The reasoning here seems to be that all children are dependent upon and passionately attached to their parents and that all such love because it is unconditional is humiliating. All unconditional love is apparently understood by Butler as humiliating because "there is no possibility of not loving" (8) and the horror of this lack of volition is compounded by the eroticism of passionate attachment, since in her language, as in the discourse of incest recovery therapy, "sexual contact" and "abuse" are interchangeable terms. Furthermore, underlying her sense that one can only love one's parents masochistically, is the unspoken assumption that masochistic feeling is so shameful that it can never be brought up into consciousness. Thus subjectivity is always split, with the unconscious always the repository of sexual secrets about the parents. In this instance what Butler seems to consider merely an addition to a Foucauldian approach becomes a contradiction of the critique of the "repressive hypothesis" presented in The History of Sexuality.

 (87: emphasis hers)?



 Where Foucault agrees with Deleuze and Guattari that the sex-secret filled interior of the psyche is a construct of the discourses of psychology and psychoanalytic theory, Butler follows Melanie Klein and offers a theory of love as inevitably radically conflicted and for that reason formative of the unconscious. She argues that loving itself is a humiliation to the point of the loss of selfhood which summons up aggressive impulses which are in turn inhibited from expression except in the form of guilt (26-27). That some people are not particularly inhibited about expressing aggression within sexual relationships and that such expression need not be destructive to the relationship within which it occurs is never considered, presumably because sadomasochistic intercourse is not seen by Butler as a possible mode of experiencing satisfactory erotic connection.


Interestingly she also fails to imagine that anyone might not defend against a universalized "absolute fear" by interiorizing societal and cultural ethical norms, with "suppression of bodily life" dependent upon endless fascination with regulation of body as the dual, paradoxical results (42-43, 53, 57). Foucault's argument that repression serves to "proliferate the domain of the bodily beyond the domain targeted by the original restriction" can be used as a ground for resistance is dismissively deemed by Butler a "utopian gesture" (59; emphasis Butler's). She claims that only "the psyche . . . exceeds the imprisoning effects of the discursive demand to inhabit a coherent identity, to become a coherent subject. The psyche is what resists the regularization that Foucault ascribes to normalizing discourses" (86). She attacks Foucault's view of "the psyche [as] an imprisoning effect in the service of normalization" asking how "he might then account for psychic resistance to normalization" (87). My answer would be that psychic resistance does not seem very interesting to him. At its most conscious, psychic resistance to normalization resembles the French Resistance of Is Paris Burning?, a film which celebrates the Parisians for secretly disliking the Nazis as they expediently wait to fight until the American troupes are outside the city, rather than the active resistance of the drag queens and transgendered people in Paris Is Burning (Note3). Unconscious resistance seems of even less political value.

 (42-43, 53, 57)


(59; emphasis Butler's)



Despite the crucial role performance plays in Butler's theory of gender, her understanding of how gender is manifested has become, with each successive book's articulation of her theories, more focused on the involuntary and the unconscious. And in what is perhaps the most troubling development for feminists attempting to follow Butler's recommendations is her increasing elision of heterosexual object choice and absolute social conformity. In The Psychic Life of Power "a firm heterosexuality" (signifying a rigid disavowal of the possibility of same sex attachment or of identification with a person otherwise gendered), "heterosexuality" (tout court) and being "straight" (not having a same sex partner) are basically treated as three synonyms (136, 146). Because most people do make heterosexual object choices, this turn in her theory suggests a world in which conscious resistance of any kind to gender normativity would be impossible for the vast majority.

 (136, 146)

Butler speculates critically that "if, for Foucault the subject is not the same as the body from which it emerges, then perhaps the body has come to substitute for the psyche in Foucault" (94). This substitution emphasizing sensation and action over thought, outer life over inner, seems troubling to Butler, perhaps because she presumes an intractable level of conformity in all people. She claims, "We cannot simply throw off the identities we have become, and Foucault's call to refuse those identities will certainly be met with resistance" (102). In her view, attraction to "normalization" and "domestication," brings up "the question of masochism" (102), which she seems to read here and throughout her work as a sort of joyless compulsive conformity to the will of others, rather than, as in Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari -- and Acker -- as a strategy for expressing resistance through bodies and pleasures.




Foucault's self-described hagiographer, David Halperin, finds central to the philosopher's thought his exhortation that we "make ourselves infinitely more susceptible to pleasures," by seeking out new sexual experiences even, or perhaps especially, when this means venturing into realms deemed mad by our culture's reigning medico-juridical discourses (Note 4). As Foucault argues in Madness and Civilization, such enactment of madness returns the actor to an earlier understanding of it, like that of Cervantes, in whose Don Quixote Foucault claims madness is the ultimate liminality, beyond moralizing and disciplinary control, where we experience erotic love as both loss and indissoluble union, and also as "the imperishable life of death" (33).


While Butler follows Freud in urging her readers to look into the psyches of those who conform in order to see how gender "inevitably" takes form, Acker, through her mad history of masochist saints, provides what is literally another vision of the construction of conventional gender identities and a radically different understanding of how they might be resisted. Her novel's emergence from the overlapping 1980s punk and s/m scenes gives it a take on bodily sensation, sexuality, and gendered subjectivity that is necessarily differently politicized than Butler's investigations into gender constructions of the mainstream and its less demonized subcultures. Like Foucault, who was also at times immersed in the same counter cultures, Acker historicizes the formation of subjectivities in ways psychoanalytic paradigms preclude. Now that academic feminist theory has begun a return to the psychoanalytic, led by influential figures like Butler, it seems time for a reappraisal of Acker's contribution to the debate over the liberatory possibilities of "insane" uses of the body.