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Huffer returns to old ground with much new material many readers of Foucault in the Anglo-American world are not familiar with. Leading the way in the resurgence in 'Queer theory', Huffer takes the classical Foucauldian problematic of how – to borrow from Foucault's teacher, Canguilhem – normality is constituted only through its negative, pathology. This problematic is most committedly addressed within Foucualt's oeuvre in his first major book, The History of Madness (the edited version of the text, more familiar to most, originally appeared in English as Madness and Civilization), in which Foucault outlines the practical, material and intellectual exclusions, begun in the medieval world, of madness. Reason defined itself in contradistinction to what it was not, hence, without its other, lacked positive description. Huffer ambiguates this equation by introducing the word 'queer' as something not only the normalized heterosexual had to exclude from his world but also rationality itself.
The author makes explicit that in Foucault's first book lies the beginnings of a radical attempt to rethink human subjectivity and correlatively, human sexuality. Initially, the text deals with the historical processes and apparatuses which underlie the production of the normative and nonnormative. Though it may seem that Foucault is dealing in the struggle between reason and unreason in his early work, Huffer argues that Foucault is highlighting the struggle for recognition of nonnormative sexualities. The text then draws out to contend with the larger debates had on Foucault's later works inspired by Nietzsche. Huffer takes a contentious stance against much contemporary thinking by claiming that in Foucault's early works in the 1960s there is a more sophisticated account of human subjectivity which does not minimize but boldly takes on the problem of human interiority. This portion of the text is heavily theoretical, criss-crossing references between Judith Butler, Gilles Deleuze and Nietzsche, which can be quite dizzying at times to those not familiar with the theoretical background of the debates.
The last third of the text focuses on ever more theoretical problems of the relation between subjectivity, sexuality, Hegelian accounts of recognition, and critiques of psychoanalytic accounts of the radically split subject. This theorizing leads to the conclusion that Foucualt's thought and politics is one ofan erotics. Foucault's attempt to move out of the language of reason, knowledge, and certainty land him in a language and thought of love, one which can puncture the unquestioned grounds of modern intellectualism.
I found this text a highly stimulating read which returns to many of the debating points so important in the humanities in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Huffer's referencing of much of Foucault's unpublished material, available only in the Foucault library, unveils a great number of gems and highlights the tremendous struggles Foucualt's thought was constantly undergoing.
© 2010 Hayder Al-Mohammad
Hayder Al-Mohammad is currently finishing his Ph.D. thesis which takes as its main focus 'the metaphysics of everyday life', which is based on several years fieldwork in Basra, Iraq.
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