[lbo-talk] Atlas Flopped

Dennis Claxton ddclaxton at earthlink.net
Fri Apr 29 09:08:47 PDT 2011

At 08:50 AM 4/29/2011, Doug Henwood wrote:

> >> But I don't want to see a movie about
> Foucault. For one thing, knowing he had AIDS,
> he spent a fair amount of time having
> unprotected sex with young men for some kind of
> radical reason that I don't understand.
> >
> > You've said this before but have never
> offered any evidence. How do you know this is true?
>I think it's in James Miller's bio of MF.

I'll take a look. How would Miller know though?



Since his death, Foucault's time in the Bay Area has become steeped in mythology. Foucault was openly gay, and sexuality became an increasingly important part of his thought later in life. At Berkeley, he put the finishing touches on The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self, volumes two and three of his muli-part history of sexuality. He also became a habitué of the San Francisco leather scene.

At the time, HIV/AIDS was little understood. The disease that would soon devastate San Francisco's gay community had only been given a name in August 1982. In July of that same year, the Centers for Disease Control had only 452 cases of AIDS on record.

Foucault biographer James Miller has gone so far to suggest that Foucault deliberately failed to take the precautions necessary to protect himself from HIV, citing references in Foucault's work to death as the "ultimate work of art."

Sluga (UC Berkeley philosophy professor) believes the truth may be less dramatic--but no less tragic. When Foucault came to Berkeley to teach that fall (1983), he sublet a French professor's apartment in Haight-Ashbury. Sluga lived nearby on Buena Vista Hill and would often give Foucault, who didn't drive, a lift to Berkeley.

"These were great occasions because we would get stuck in the Bay Bridge traffic and we could talk about philosophy, talk about life," Sluga says. They talked about Wittgenstein, with whom Sluga believes Foucault shares an under-recognized affinity.

They also talked about AIDS.

"I was telling him about AIDS and he wouldn't believe it. He said this was American anti-sexual hysteria," Sluga says. "I think he underestimated the realities, unfortunately."

But Sluga remembers another Foucault from that time, as well, a man far removed from the glamorous denizen of Folsom Street. On campus, Foucault looked, except for his distinctive bald pate, like any other professor in his tweed and glasses, briefcase at his side.

"Here was this figure who had this international reputation and drew these huge crowds," Sluga says, "and what did he do most of the time when he was at Cal? He was in the main library, reading. He was a very scholarly man. He loved to read books."


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