An Inclusive Litany

11/9/98

From Rethinking Sexuality: Foucault and Classical Antiquity, edited by H. J. Larmour, Paul Allen Miller, and Charles Platter, published by Princeton University Press:
David Halperin... contends that gay male gym culture is a form of Foucauldian political ascesis. To those who label this position a trivialization of Foucault's concept of resistance, he responds that they are mere elitists, "suspicious of any technology of the self that is widely dispersed in a culture, and is genuinely popular." From the Marxist perspective, this is disingenuous at best. In the same text he makes a clear distinction between gay muscles and "the kind of muscles that are produced by hard physical labor." This distinction, in turn, is part of a larger argument that "gay male body-builders," in their inscription of their disciplinary practices on their flesh, should be seen as having "performed a valuable political service on behalf of everyone." While Halperin's position makes the valuable distinction between the complex and largely independent matrices of gay and straight gym culture, it is difficult not to draw the inference that gay muscles are somehow superior to those "produced by hard physical labor." The implication of such a position is twofold. The first is that the service provided to the community by gay male body-builders is more important than that of those who get their muscles through back-breaking labor; hence, gay gym culture is more worthy of the attention of radical theorists than, say, the labors of farm workers picking strawberries in the Rio Grande valley. The second is that none of the young workers sweating in the fields are gay. This is a position difficult to square with a stance that aspires to be antielitist and "truly popular." It defines gay males as essentially upper-middle-class, urban professionals, a definition consistent with Halperin's stated desire not to deny "the possibility that resistance could ever take the form of shopping for the right outfit." Yet Halperin's view represents only one rather narrow interpretation of Foucauldian politics, and to conclude from it that Marxists and Foucauldians share no common ground would be to undervalue the depth and complexity of Foucault's work.

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