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

What is apparent in all of these readings is a conflict that has also emerged in feminist theory.  Since the rise in the 1970s of various versions of feminism that reinscribe binary difference and supports conservative attempts to regulate sexuality, a crucial determinant of how one understands feminist praxis has become whether or not one finds bourgeois domesticity bearable. If so, then the political expression of feminism can be envisioned as the achievement of a happy and successful marriage of two economic/domestic partners who both earn income and both do household chores. But if bourgeois assimilation is held to be intolerable, then feminism must look to other modes of sexual expression than the now conventional capitalist egalitarian partnership. As Dix demonstrates, Acker was at least as avant-garde in her feminism as she was in her writing style. As if anticipating Walsh's later essay, Dix discusses Don Quixote's conscious recognition that no "split [can] be made between the psychological and the political, so that the reactionary can explain away revolutionary fervor as simply a child's response to his/her parents: the interior is the exterior, so that the familial structure is the site of the implementation of society's norms and values" (60). Dix comments that, "What she comes to realize is the possibility of affirmation. . . . Although she cannot change the society itself in some final way, she can become a nomad, increase the velocitiers of her lines of flight, and disrupt the hegemonic control of the state apparatus. She can deploy the war machine of the text" (61). In this sense Acker's Don Quixote is not only autobiography but bildungsroman.



 This reading is supported by the text's references to Virginia Woolf's fanciful auto/biographical story of the development of a writer, Orlando. A few allusions suggest that like Orlando as androgynous artist lover of the androgynous, unfaithful object Sasha, who can only exercise agency through withdrawal and escape, Don Quixote is made into an artist through an impossible love. St Simeon's double, De Franville, is initially described as looking like a beautiful girl with "Russian eyes" and pale hair like "the fur hat, camouflaged by snow, of a Slav princess" (128). Such references to Woolf's exploration of the development of the artist who refuses stable gender identity crucially contextualize Don Quixote's abortion. Orlando finds resolution to her gender role conflicts when she obeys the nineteenth century imperative to marry and procreate while she still resists compulsory heterosexuality to the extent of preserving her primary identification as artist. Don Quixote fails to order her life, to prioritize her desires. As Don Quixote writes in the (anti-)climactic poem that parodies Orlando's epic "Oak Tree" poem in Woolf's novel: "I am a mass of dreams desires which, since I can no longer express them, are foetises beyond their times, not even abortions. For I can't get rid of un-born-able unbearable dreams, whereas women can get rid of unwanted children" (194). Orlando can integrate into the society of the 1920s because of its greater flexibility about gender but also because she wants things that have always been socially acceptable for mainstream males and almost always for women under capitalism: useful work to do, home, partner, and child. She wants to live in the daylight world that all recognize as real. Don Quixote wants to live in nighttown, the city of night, the world where ecstasy and desire blend without rationality or reason. "This, my first and final dream, is not the dream of capitalism" (206).




Becoming an author who can articulate a vision of the New Women who want to take on some of the gender attributes of men, but without rejecting all foundational values of the mainstream, is a project that demands logic and rationality. Orlando and Woolf's narrator spend a substantial part of the novel reasoning out Orlando's challenges to traditional gender identifications by showing how, while never altering in essence, she can function in society with interchangeable success as a man or as a woman. Acker faces a much more difficult task, for to show how a person can function as an improvisationally gendered writer and lover outside society, she needs recourse to the mad zone outside discourse.
If we look at the novel's quest from this perspective, nothing about Acker's choice to cast her protagonist-narrator as Don Quixote seems accidental. In Madness and Civilization Foucault claims that writers like Cervantes communicated madness at the historical moment before its silencing, "Outside of time, they establish a link with a meaning about to be lost, and whose continuity will no longer survive except in darkness." Linking this madness to what will later be deemed masochism and "the death drive," Foucault goes on to say that in "Cervantes, madness still occupies an extreme place, in that it is beyond appeal. Nothing ever restores it either to truth or to reason. It leads only to laceration and thence to death." (31). To Foucault this mad life is not in itself finally sad, but what follows is when "madness leaves these ultimate regions where Cervantes and Shakespeare had situated it" and enters into medico-judicial discourses. Then madness is pressed into service, "authoriz[ing] the manifestation of truth and the return of reason," as those terms are defined by society's authority figures. From a sublime outside the very presence of which throws all of society into question, madness descends to inhabit the narrow confines of moral "error" (33).



Before the Renaissance madness gave access to another reality of greater status than that of the quotidian; it conjured up "the presence of imaginary transcendences." By "the classical age," madness has been transported to a lesser, subordinate plane: "for the first time madness was perceived through a condemnation of idleness and in a social immanence guaranteed by the community of labor. This community acquired an ethical power of segregation, which permitted it to eject, as into another world, all forms of social uselessness. It was in this other world, encircled by the sacred powers of labor, that madness would assume the status we now attribute to it. If there is, in classical madness, something which refers elsewhere, and to other things, it is no longer because the madman comes from the world of the irrational and bears its stigmata; rather, it is because he crosses the frontiers of bourgeois order of his own accord, and alienates himself outside the sacred limits of its ethic" (58). Because madness was no longer balanced by a transcendent, religious truth, but was subordinated to the mainstream as if inferior to it, "[i]t was no longer the presence of the truth that determined the cure, but a functional norm" (177). To reinfuse madness with its former power to challenge the bourgeois order, not merely escape into its despised fringe, to resignify it as an alternate source of vision rather than a miserable failing to achieve normalcy, Acker must resanctify madness.



 Acker's emphasis on physical passion seems in part determined by Foucault's recognition that it has long acted as a force to combat the discourses of reason as "the meeting ground of body and soul . . . the locus of their communication" (86). Acker shows us from the first mention of Don Quixote's love for St Simeon, "The possibility of madness is therefore implicit in the very phenomenon of passion" (Foucault, Madness 88). The moralistic denaturalizing of such behavior is also well represented in the novel. Foucault claims that as madness was seen increasingly not as a hazard of passion but as the result of voluntary giving in to temptations and excesses, "abuse of things that were not natural," the mad person began to be understood not only as a sufferer of "nervous diseases," but as one who brings it on him or herself. This new way of thinking gave "madness a new content of guilt, of moral sanction, of just punishment" (157-58). Foucault argues that since the nineteenth century the major concerns of those treating the mad have been to determine the extent of their guilt and to assert their immaturity so as to justify their control by the law in loco parentis, so Freud's attempts to have an exchange with the mad ended in confessional monologue where, "the formulations he hears are always those of transgression" (262). The physician of the mind became: "Father and Judge, Family and Law" (272).


(Foucault, Madness 88)




Foucault describes Sade as one of the most notable opponents to this trend, "Through Sade . . . the Western world received the possibility of transcending its reason in violence, and of recovering tragic experience beyond the promises of dialectic" (282). After Sade, Foucault sees the relation "between madness and the work of art" as "much more dangerous than formerly . . . Theirs is a game of life and death" (286-87). For it is through this game, this contest between what is articulable and what lies beyond it that "a work that seems to drown in the world, to reveal there its non-sense, and to transfigure itself with the features of pathology alone, actually . . . provokes a breach without reconciliation where the world is forced to question itself" (288).




 Nowhere is Don Quixote's madness more evident, nor its power to make the world question itself more in force than in its treatment of the gendering of love. When St Simeon indicts women for their too rational denial of erotic love, Don Quixote is moved to respond, "we have to deny you. Why? Objects can't love back" (28). Consequently, she reasons, she can achieve the goal of her quest to feel love "only by becoming part male" (29). So she refuses to let St Simeon beat himself to death in her name, and instead chooses to "die" sacrificially to save him. But this rationally determined course of action costs her his love, for if her deepest desire is to be a subject, his corresponding desire is to be an object (of love), and to truly understand him she must embrace suffering, as he does and learn to hate subjectivity, as he does.



In the section entitled "HETEROSEXUALITY" Don Quixote reaches this goal. Here her dog companion, speaking in two voices, tells the tale of Villebranche, a dominant female who cross-dresses as male, and De Franville, a submissive male who cross-dresses as female. Hearing how Villebranche is driven into a towering rage by De Franville's passivity and finally throws herself on him slapping him and handcuffing his wrists, Don Quixote has sort of Deleuzian epiphany, remarking, "This must be how sexual desire tears down the fabric of society" (137). As Villebranche assumes complete control of him, which she sees paradoxically as loss of control of herself ("Villebranche had lost control" "Villebranche was out of control" 137) and as gaining control ("I was too in control to be upset,'" "I not only was totally in control, I also had to be in control, for love controlled me and this world isn't dualistic'" 139), De Franville feels loved and wanted for the first time in his life. He responds by demanding that she never "deviate, falter, or alter in the slightest way,'" lest he destroy her (141). Within the confines of their inflexible contract, then, woman can be a subject but can never be the beloved object, as that place is reserved for the male who has now successfully escaped the demands of masculinity as constructed by the fathers. Subjectivity is thus deromanticized for Don Quixote. At last she is ready to experience story-telling not as a form of therapy through which the writer, like Woolf's Orlando, gains insight into her place in society but as entrance into a space outside society. She can create her own narrative of masochistic passion knowing that although, "My family protests the way I am. The fact is that I am this way. I'm conscious that my refusal, my refusal upon refusal, my double mutiny that mutiny, this momentary attempt of mine to be a whole human being, renders me liable to their penalties. Like any other rebel slave, perverse rebel, I resolve, now and forever, with total desperation, always to go to all lengths" (146). From this viewpoint, like Pierre Menard's, "All Story-Telling Is Revolution" (147).






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