i like the idea of foucault more than his actual work

I have written an extremely painful essay-length rant describing my sufferings in postgraduate-level humanities. If this doesn’t interest you, feel free to scroll past. If it does… please talk to me. I beg you.

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The Diogenes Conspiracy, or: The Ancient Greek Who Trolled Society’s Normative Assumptions and Spiritually Foreshadowed TJLC

Okay. So, to start off here, I’m going to just quote at great length from Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality Vol. 2: The Uses of Pleasure. (Wait! Don’t go! It gets to somewhere interesting, I promise!) I’m reading it as part of my literature review in preparing to conduct my Masters dissertation research, of which you will hear more if you’re tuned in to Sherlock fandom (specifically TJLC) on Tumblr in the coming months. I’ll be asking for this community’s help with that at some point soon. That’s later, though. Right now, this is just something that I came across and then almost threw the damnable book across the room. I absolutely would have, were I not in the middle of a very quiet library.

Anyway. This is from Foucault’s discussion of sex and sexual ethics in ancient Greece:

“The scandalous gesture of Diogenes is well known: when he needed to satisfy his sexual appetite, he would relieve himself in the marketplace. Like many of the Cynics’ provocations, this one had a double meaning. It owed its impact to the public character of the act, of course, which went against every convention in Greece; it was customary to assert the need for privacy as a reason for making love only at night, and the care one took not to let oneself be seen engaging in this kind of activity was regarded as a sign that the practice of aphrodisia [a blanket category used to describe all manner of sexual acts and actions in which the Greeks participated] was not something that honored the most noble qualities of mankind. It was against this rule of privacy that Diogenes directed his “performance” criticism. Diogenes Laertius reports that in fact he was in the habit of “doing everything in public, the works of Demeter and Aphrodite alike,” reasoning as follows: “If breakfast be not absurd, neither is it absurd to breakfast in the market-place.”

Obviously, the name ‘Diogenes’ immediately had my ears perked up, but the implications of the discussion are complicated and fascinating enough in the context of Sherlock— and indeed ACD’s original use of the reference—to merit a closer look and more analysis. I also hope that this might be a jumping-off point for other meta writers to look into the implications of this name and its associations in the show/canon. If this quotation has been discussed elsewhere, I’d love to hear more about it, too!

Okay, so The Diogenes Club is immediately associated with Mycroft and therefore with secrets. Institutional secrets, even, as Mycroft occupies a minor position in the British government— or is the British government, depending on who you ask. Almost the first thing that we know about Mycroft once his relationship to Sherlock is revealed in ASiP is that he’s involved with espionage. “He is the British government— when he’s not too busy being the British Secret Service or the CIA on a freelance basis.” From there on in, it’s pretty well-telegraphed that Mycroft is the smartest— or at least best-informed— person on the show. He has access to private information, can see everything happening within sight of a CCTV camera… he knows all the secrets, but his primary association is still with secrecy.

Originally posted by bbcsherlockimagines

The Diogenes Club is also emblematic of the societal establishment: it’s an old boys’ club if ever there was one. Everything about the club, from its strict rules against speaking to its silent, useful servants to its sumptuous, rich interiors, speak of a very traditional kind of British cultural hegemony designed and controlled by the very wealthy, white straight cismale establishment that seeks to keep itself in control through strictures leveled against any difference from that ‘norm’.

In Conan Doyle’s world, this hegemony arguably exerted even more structural power to silence and punish difference than it does now. Or at least, the power that it had was connected 1 to 1: engaging in sodomy/buggery/homosexual relations was itself a criminalized thing, aside from the more insidious cultural punishments for queerness that are still very much present in many people’s lived experiences.

So the fact that he chose to name Mycroft’s club in reference to the figure of Diogenes is perhaps significant. Because in looking more closely at the quotation from Foucault, we see that Diogenes was not actually a keeper of secrets— a guy who upheld societal expectations and notions of propriety and privacy— but sort of a freaky exhibitionist who took issue with the very idea that something that could be done in private acceptably could not be done in public with the same level of acceptance. It seems odd to connect the name of Diogenes with the oppressive heteronormative establishment and the value of silence and privacy and secrecy implied by The Diogenes Club if it’s not some sort of sneaky indictment against that secretive hegemonic norm. I don’t presume to know what ACD was thinking with this, but it is an interesting connection.

Originally posted by aningeniousuniverse

What I am particularly interested in, however, is how Diogenes might relate to TJLC and the stated/presumed intentions of the writers in allowing John and Sherlock out of the closet for once and all. There’s a lot of resistance to this reading of the text (as I’m sure you’re all painfully well aware) that comes from an overarching heteronormative blindness that makes it almost impossible for people not in-the-know to see a fairly conventional romantic arc when it is literally wiggling its arse in their faces. (This has been made all the more clear to me in the aftermath of TAB.) That is, as I understand it, the premise upon which TJLC is founded: that in telling this story ‘the right way,’ Moffatt and Gatiss are seeking to make it clear that Holmes and Watson are queer and in love— not only in THIS version of the story, but in EVERY version. I’ve sort of written about that a bit, and the tiny amount that I’ve written isn’t even a fraction of the brilliant critical work by others in this fandom. (That link’s only one of the hundreds of astonishing meta-analyses I’ve read ‘round here, by too many people to easily name.)

Diogenes spoke out in criticism of the expectations of his society that made sex something explicit, secretive, and therefore taboo. The conventional Greek expectation of keeping sexual practice a secret because it was “not something that honored the most noble qualities of mankind” sounds to me a lot like arguments I hear from people who are resistant to a queer reading of Sherlock and John’s relationship on the show and— by extension— a queer reading of the characters throughout their 130 year history: “it’s fine if you want to ship it, but they’re never going to make it canon because that’d just be going too far.” Or “I don’t think they’d actually make them gay on the show— I don’t know how well most people would respond to that.”

It’s fine as long as the queer subtext stays subtext. Keep it in the dark, keep it on the DL, and throw the occasional bone to the fangirls. (All of this is going to be part of the research I’m going to ask for your help with, btw, so if it sounds fun/interesting to you, stay tuned!) But to actually allow a gay romance and relationship to be actualized on one of the biggest television shows in the world between two of the most iconic characters in English literature? It will never happen, because the majority of the audience (presumptively the casuals and the straight folks? I honestly don’t know where these people are…) would not like it. They’re never going to risk something like that with a show this big.

Leaving aside how terribly, offensively hetnorm that whole thing is (and that’s such a huge part of the dialectical argument of TJLC), the inclusion of this reference to Diogenes seems to fly in the face of those arguments. If we take his quotation about breakfast and replace the food with queerness (and hey! Look! There’s that pesky food = sex metaphor again! In ancient Greece, no less!) we see something interesting:

Original: “If breakfast is not absurd, neither is it absurd to breakfast in the market-place.”

Subtextual: “If [being gay] is not absurd (read: perfectly fine/societally acceptable), neither is it absurd to [be gay] in the market-place (read: in public, on your goddamn television set, in your iconic detective fiction).”

Diogenes is openly criticizing the hypocrisy of a society that says that certain acts are acceptable in private, but cannot be condoned in public. It’s so easily applicable to the heteronormative dialogues of “keep it in the bedroom” and “it’s fine if you’re gay, I just don’t want to see it waved around in my face” that it’s almost laughable. Diogenes—demonstrably a TJLCer from way back—knows that if we’re living in an ostensibly progressive society that is supposedly moving all the time towards equal rights for queer folks, but where showing a gay relationship as a central premise of a popular television show is still considered too big of a risk to actually be done, our society is not actually progressive

                                         “Why would anyone mind?”

If it’s chill to be queer, then it’s chill to be queer. You don’t get to qualify it with locational or circumstantial strictures.

The Diogenes Club is all about secrecy and silence, and yet its namesake was the dude who basically coined the phrase ‘say it loud, say it proud.’ I don’t know if Doyle meant to introduce that tension in the original stories, and I don’t know if Mark Gatiss spends his weekends with his nose buried in The History of Sexuality (although that wouldn’t precisely shock me, tbh) but in the grand endeavor of critiquing the hypocritical assumptions and expectations of an irrepressibly heteronormative society that has co-opted Sherlock Holmes for far too long, they nevertheless have an ally somewhere in ancient Athens. \o/

On Guattari, Lacan, and Deleuze, or, Oh God, Not This Again

Kirk e-mailed me a question:

Dear FT,

I have a more specific question that’s been nagging at me for a little while: what relationship does Guattari’s thought have to Lacan, and do you see it as having had any influence on his collabortion with Deleuze? If there is no errant Lacanianism floating around in Capitalism & Schizophrenia, what do you think kept it out? If there is, does that mean that there are a few salvageable ideas in Lacan’s thought?

I’ve only delved into Anti-Oedipus once or twice before I realized that I need to take a step back to get a firmer grip of its intellectual heritage before going back in (reading Spinoza is swift becoming my reward for getting all of my work done in the day, by the way), so I would be content if the answer is “read the fucking book first and get back to me then.” But I’m curious about your perspective.

All the best,
- Kirk

Alright, so, first things first.

The reasons I don’t like Lacan are definitely blogged about here.
The question of whether anything can be “salvaged” from Lacan’s thought has been answered here.  To save you from having to actually read it, sure, something can be salvaged from Lacan, just like something can be salvaged from any text if the reader is clever enough.  But that salvaging operation is a tribute to the cleverness of the reader and not to the profundity of the text.  I’ve heard people say extremely intelligent things about Fifty Shades of Grey, but that’s a tribute to those people’s intelligence and doesn’t change in the least the fact that it’s an absolutely execrable excuse for a novel.  

So.  Onward.  

Despite my repeated insistence that I don’t care about Lacan or want to talk about him anymore, people keep asking me questions about Lacan.  I understand why - I write a lot about post-war 20th-centiury French thought, which is overwhelmed by Lacan’s shadow - but the thing is, at some point removing Lacan from his pedestal will mean no longer assuming that going through him is an essential prerequisite to understanding post-war 20th-century French philosophy.  Do you see how the loop works?  It’s a vicious cycle that can only be broken by choosing to focus on something else.  It honestly boils down to a choice of focus, rather than to an inescapable interpretive fact. As it happens, Anti-Oedipus may well be the best possible example for how this choice of focus could be made.  

The text is absolutely about Lacan.  And it’s absolutely not about Lacan.  And you can choose to read it either way.  There is, let’s be clear, no “errant” anything in Anti-Oedipus.  The entire text is constructed with immaculate care to both respond to a set of existing conceptual assumptions and to completely sidestep those assumptions by developing an entirely new conceptual language not dependent on an available - and heavily freighted - intellectual vocabulary.  That it manages to do this so effectively is a testament to the brilliant collaborative efforts of Deleuze & Guattari, one of whom was intimately enmeshed in the conceptual language of Lacanian psychoanalysis and the other of whom was completely removed from it.  

The enmeshed one was, of course, Felix Guattari, a trained analyst who came to Lacan through his involvement with Jean Oury and the La Borde clinic.  Guattari’s relationship to Lacan is extensively detailed by Francois Dosse in his excellent double biography of D&G, Intersecting Lives.  Without rehashing too much, the nutshell version is that Guattari was Lacan’s favorite pupil and heir apparent for a fair while, until he was summarily dismissed and effectively excommunicated after Lacan took active steps to block his ideas and arrest his career.  Anti-Oedipus was thus performs, in relation to its authors’ intellectual history, the very question it poses as a text:  can we think up a framework through which to grasp the the Law of the Father and its castrating trauma without undergoing a psychoanalytic indoctrination that is, itself, oedipalizing and patriarchal?  If we were inclined to Hegelian dialectics - which hopefully we are not - we might say that your question and my answer to it rehashes, yet again, on yet another level, that same struggle.  But let’s not, tbh, because why.

To answer your question most directly, then:  Guattari’s relationship to Lacan is one of deep influence and considerable trauma, and that influence, as well as that trauma, are deeply engraved in Anti-Oedipus - if you choose to look for it.  

Guattari was not the only person Lacan spectacularly fucked over.  He was also not the only person who tried to reject Lacanianism.  The difference is that most other contemporary critiques of Lacan begin by taking Lacanianism for granted as a coherent explanatory framework, then arguing against it.  The best example of this is Irigaray’s unspeakably brilliant Speculum of the Other, Woman.  Nobody rips Lacan apart quite as subtly, as dismissively, and as effectively as Irigaray.  It’s easy to see why Speculum absolutely infuriated Lacan:  it makes him seem like a bumbling, obnoxious, shitty reader and blind thinker, both of which I think he was.  But even Speculum still engages with Lacan on Lacan’s own terms.  Rather than ignoring Lacan’s assumptions and looking elsewhere, Speculum attempts to refute his arguments, mostly by following their implications through to reductio ad absurdum.   

The thing is, Lacan’s influence on post-war Paris is really difficult to overstate.  Between the mid-50s and the mid-70s, he effectively replaced Sartre as the French intellectual par excellence.  His lectures were a literal who’s who of the creme de la creme of the wait, what? of Parisian intellectual life.  Everyone fell under his shadow.  Everyone that is, except Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.  I think Foucault and Deleuze shared two qualities that helped them resist Lacan’s influence:  a deep suspicion of Freud and of psychoanalysis; and a deep philosophical knowledge that included working through the ideas of Hegel and Heidegger on their own terms, rather than through the quasi-Marxist pseudo-Freudian rehashings of Kojeve and Lacan.  The Hegelian dialectic is a hypnotic and seductive spiral of illogic; combined with the sexiness of Freudian phallocentrism it made for a heady and convincing theoretical cocktail that, unfortunately, was also utter horseshit.  Having already concluded in the ‘40s, before Lacan, that Hegelianism was nonsense, Foucault and Deleuze were much else susceptible to Lacan’s penis-shaped reworking of the Master-Slave Dialectic.  

What Guattari shared with many others, then, was a desire to escape Lacan’s influence and prove him wrong.  What Deleuze gave him - what other critics of Lacan completely lacked - was a way to move forward without becoming enmeshed in the same conceptual hurdles that made Lacan’s thought so untenable and gross.  And Deleuze’s answer - so simple, so obvious, so brilliant - is simply this:  if everyone who tries to engage these problems falls into the same set of traps, why not engage a different set of problems?  In other words, everyone else who tried to take on Lacan began from the premise that Lacan’s questions were the right ones, but his answers to them was wrong.  And in trying to answer them differently, everyone inevitably fell into the same problems.  Deleuze, instead, sidesteps these traps by engaging a different set of questions.  Post-Lacanian French thought offers a million different conclusions to the premise “If desire is negation, then…”  Deleuze shrugs and flips the script.  From its very opening, Anti-Oedipus addresses an entirely different assumption.  The premise it addresses is “If desire is a pure positivity, then…”  It’s kind of that simple.

To cycle back, then, to the question of Lacanianism and Anti-Oedipus.  Can we find Lacan’s shadow in the text?  Sure.  Why not.  To the extent that the questions the text engages are formed in relation to Lacan’s questions, it exists in relation to his thought.  But by making his intervention at the level of the questions the text addresses rather than at the level of the answers it provides to them, Deleuze manages to reshape Guattari’s fervent critique of Lacan into a text that demolishes Lacan’s intellectual framework without becoming enmeshed in its assumptions or beholden to its conceptual language.  

In short, the answer to your question is “Deleuze is better than everybody.”

Hope that helps.  
And yes, finish reading the fucking book.  

To see and to know - and to surround

Part 3 of the gaze series! I strongly suggest reading part 1, “penetration,” and part 2, “occultation,” first.

3. panopticon

This is a concept that comes from Foucault (if you want to know more, you want Discipline and Punish) and from Jeremy Bentham (Foucault’s “Panopticon” or Bentham’s own writing on the Panopticon). Basically, Bentham designed an ideal prison–for a certain ideal, anyway. This was a prison in which every prisoner was visible, always, from the guard tower, but the guard in the tower was never visible to any of the prisoners. (Hence the name “Panopticon,” as in all-seeing.) This creates a particular effect: the prisoners know that at all times they may be observed, but they have no way of knowing whether they are being observed at any given moment. This causes them to more or less police themselves: since they are always aware they might be being watched, they never transgress, lest they be punished. In theory, once sufficient fear of observation and punishment has been instilled in them, there need never or rarely be a guard present at all: how would they know the difference? How would they know that the cat is away and so the mouse may play? So they become their own wardens.

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encounters with tattered knowledge: on writing outside the academy

One of the reasons “too academic” burns is that I have no access to an academic library. I actually feel the presence of academic libraries as a continuous provocation. Some of the books I read are cheap; others almost unobtainable from non-academic sources. There are people with free lifetime access to those sources who will never use or even need them.

And there’s me, who would love to run between their shelves, who’s instead securing scraps and fragments of articles and books from dodgy Google searches, borrowing books via friends, buying endless second-hand copies for “£0.01 + £2.80 postage”, or just reading titles/abstracts/reviews and taking a running guess at the rest of the content. Sometimes I can only read a book from within the pages of a book search, and it only lets me view a certain number before it shuts me down. Sometimes I take screenshots, and read them later.

There’s something to be said for it from a queer point of view; by moving through this kind of “tattered knowledge”, I’m encountering it in a much more phenomenological, engaged way, and it’s not bearing down on me from old, high shelves, in neutral-covered bindings. Books’ author-ity is undermined by bent pages and pencil markings or from the fragmentation of the text as it’s viewed in an endless series of .png images, sometimes not even in order. Even an individual book can be patchwork; I can’t afford the £30 third edition, so I’ll get an out-of-print 2nd-hand paperback and try to find the author’s introduction to the latest edition online.

Mary Daly wrote about being on the edges of an institution. I distinguish her position - on the inside edge - from mine - outside. Journal retrieval services aren’t my ally, bringing me article access; they’re my enemy, barring it up. “This isn’t for you,” they tell me. Often, I find a way to read it anyway. She called herself a pirate, and, ideologically, I’m sure she was - often reading from outside the ideologies she criticised. But in terms of access, she was inside. I’m not.

At other times, I am inside a library, but I can’t be there for long - or I can’t take books out. Then, I find myself taking books off the shelves, looking at the covers, reading the introduction, flipping through, and returning them, then moving onto the next. I have to learn to see the shape of a book, its central question, often without a chance to follow the argument’s course. I find new books as much by smell (sometimes literal; radical feminism smells to me like old pages) as through structured search. I know there must be something out there on this… but no lecturer has summed it up, it’s not on any reading list.

This means that when I respond to work, sometimes I feel that I’m as much writing or responding to fanfiction as I am the original work. Carol Adams asks, “What are the sexual politics of meat” and I jump ahead. “The sexual politics of meat.” I can follow that thread. Years later, I have a copy of the book, and I compare my fanfiction understanding of her work to the reality. We converge and diverge. I’m already planning responses, many of which I never write.

If academia is structured knowledge, I find myself moving in and creating antistructure, counterstructure. Who the fuck is Foucault? I don’t care. Val Plumwood wrote about him once - I read a paragraph summary. Somewhere else, I saw the word “genealogy”. Later, “archaeology”. Already a picture; who needs to read thousands of pages of the history of sex to understand it has a his-story. The idea is there, I eat it, I move on. He can’t slow me down.

Certainly, I’m not entirely outside. My life situation is that I have the time and energy to do this work - and it is work - scavenging and reworking knowledge. My whiteness and class situation has taught me to be arrogant, to assume I understand before I give up and feel stupid. This often carries me through difficult texts, even allows me to recognise that some work is just bad, boring or deliberately paralysing-of-thought. Nonetheless, I’m constantly aware of myself as outside the structures I’m responding to.

If I was offered access to an academic library, I’d still take it. I can’t afford to read many of the books I want to. Others I can read via computer, but it’s affectively very different, and in reality I’ll probably never get through them this way. Searching for text online is difficult and often I give up rather than following every possibility. In the meantime, these are the benefits of my relationship with tattered knowledge.