Enjoying Wendy Brown’s Book On the Regulation of Tolerance & Identity. -an Excerpt #foucault #lgbt

Posted: October 26, 2010 in 2010
Regulating aversion: tolerance in the age of identity and empire By Wendy Brown pp. 41-42
One contribution made by Michel Foucault to understanding contemporary political life pertains to his tracing of the formation and regulation of the modern subject through a discursive equation of certain beliefs and practices with essential truth of a given subject. This order of subject formation, in which behaviors or beliefs are traced back to inner (hidden) truths that are in turn regulated by the sciences of these behaviors and beliefs, is understood by Foucault as a means of ordering, classifying, and regulating individuals in the age of mass society. Individuality is in this way organized as a basis of knowledge that can be deployed as an instrument of regulation.
Foucault’s best-known example of this kind of subject formation is the construction of the homosexual in modernity through the convergence of various scientific, administrative, and religious discourses. According to Foucault, what was regarded prior to the eighteenth century as a contingent act becomes—through nineteenth-century medicine, psychiatry, pedagogy, religion, and sexology—increasingly constitutive of identity such that homosexual acts come to be seen as expressions of the homosexual subject. Homosexual acts become signs of the core truth of this subject, which is now also reduced to its desires; its sexual desires are the truth of this subject. No longer is one defined by being of this village or that family, this language group or that vocation, but rather by a particular and fundamental sexual or other persona—an identity rooted in desire and behavior. Here is the oft-quoted passage from the History of Sexuality in which Foucault summarizes this historical transition:
As defined by the ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology. . . . Nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality. It was everywhere present in him: at the root of all his actions because it was their insidious and indefinitely active principle. . . . Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.
Foucault makes a similar claim in Discipline and Punish: what was once regarded as a criminal act, a singular event, becomes the sign of the criminal soul or psyche. In the nineteenth century, the prisoner becomes a type, a case, a total personality, as she or he becomes the subject and object of criminology, psychology, sociology, and medicine.
If Foucault is right about this dimension of subject production in modernity, and about its fairly steady expansion as a form of biopower concomitant with a decline in corporal and other kinds of juridical power, this adds another worrisome dimension to the tolerance problem. Marked identities, ranging from “black” to “lesbian” to “Jew,” are understood to issue from a core truth that generates certain beliefs, practices, and experiences of the world. The practice or attribute is seen as issuing from the identity and as constitutive of certain kinds of experiences, and the combination of the identity and the experiences is treated as the fount of certain views or beliefs. (Only from this construction is it possible to make sense of the claim that a particular woman “does not really understand that she’s a woman” or that a black person is “not really very black,” claims that presume to issue from a radical critical position on race and gender but are, according to this analysis, actually complicit in the dominant view.) And, if tolerance designates the right to mutual existence possessed by these identities representing nodes of belief, experience, and practices, it also designates them as existing in a potentially or even inherently hostile relationship to one another. Built as sites of identitarian truth that differ fundamentally from the truth of others, respective identities cancel out one another’s truths, threatening or canceling one another’s orthodoxies or absolutes—and thus, in the case of identity, threatening one another as persons. In other words, the enmity or cancellation occurs not simply at the level of belief or experience but rather, since the person and the belief are conflated and indexed through attribute or practice, at the level of persons as well. Moral relativism pertaining to belief, coined through an undecidable discord among beliefs, is now conveyed to identity based in body and soul.
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