AI: Back to Life


I’m taking a history of sexuality course this semester, and it’s challenging me in unexpected ways. I come from anthropology, so I’m not used to thinking about everything in its historical context (though I should!). I tend to focus more on processes and interactions that are going on now or very recently.

Anyway, the class started off by reading the first couple of chapters of Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality. I’ve read the whole thing (and some of his other work) before, but many people in the class had not even heard of him, let alone read his work (and, yes, this is a graduate level class that shares the name of the course with the name of that really famous book). Each week, we’ve sort of referenced Foucault in some way, but it wasn’t until last week that people started really resisting.

They weren’t resisting Foucault’s work per se—how could they, they haven’t read it! They were resisting ideas about Foucault’s work. One student said he was a bad historian—fair enough! But he wasn’t really a historian, he was a philosopher and social theorist. When the professor pointed this out, another student said she had no use for philosophy because philosophy is mumbojumbo and meaningless and has no practical use. “I prefer facts,” she said, completely oblivious to the irony of her statement.

Needless to say, that was not a productive discussion, but I couldn’t help but wonder how Foucault would have responded to them had he been there. I also wondered how he would have responded to the myriad articles, books, and other discourse about him and his work. Given the fact that Foucault is the most cited scholar in the humanities (and in anthropology), I would totally resurrect Foucault, if I could, to see how he would respond and update/revise his theories.

If there were one person you could bring back to life, who would it be and why would you do it?

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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  1. Piotr Kropotkin. He’s one of my favourite historical figures – both in science and anarchism. I’d love to see what he’d think about modern views on things, and especially (given his support of WWI), what he would think of the post-modern world.

    There’s a book, “The Watch” Dennis Danvers, that’s basically that.

  2. Most cited, and arguably also the most abused. A lot of the more obfuscatory and ill-conceived work in the Humanities tends to use him in the way fundies use their bibles–quote mining for the appearance of authority and grounding whilst saying nothing insightful or coherent.

    I do think that a lot of people fall into the trap of overextending Foucauldian kinds of reasoning to present scientific knowledge. I had a very long and eventually unpleasant argument with a colleague recently about that case of conversion disorder in NY that’s been making the rounds. Her argument was essentially that conversion disorder isn’t real because the diagnosis had its origins in hysteria, and historians of medicine have shown that hysteria was just a discursive construct meant to pathologise women. I was dumbfounded that she considered a book written 25 years ago about nothing that occurred after 1930 to be definitive proof that psychologists and neurologists now are wrong. A bit of a tangent, but it came to mind.

    As for someone to rez (after my L. 10 cleric), I’d go for someone like Madison or Jefferson, so they could walk into the RNC and say “No, we really meant that thing about a WALL OF SEPARATION, guys. So do it.”

  3. Newton. Look at what he accomplished with some lenses, some paper, and a pen. Give him a PC, the internet, and a few hours with the LHC… we’ll have warp drive in no time.

  4. Perhaps someone like Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison or Leonardo da Vinci, just to see his reaction to modern technology and to show him where some of his own work led.

  5. My girlfriend's father. They were extremely close and I never got to meet him.  He died way too young, totally unexpectedly.
    I realize that's not a very intellectual response – but it is what I would do.

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