Insult and the Making of the Gay Self

Book Pages: 480 Illustrations: Published: July 2004

Author: Didier Eribon

Translator: Michael Lucey

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Queer Theory

A bestseller in France following its publication in 1999, Insult and the Making of the Gay Self is an extraordinary set of reflections on “the gay question” by Didier Eribon, one of France’s foremost public intellectuals. Known internationally as the author of a pathbreaking biography of Michel Foucault, Eribon is a leading voice in French gay studies. In explorations of gay subjectivity as it is lived now and as it has been expressed in literary history and in the life and work of Foucault, Eribon argues that gay male politics, social life, and culture are transformative responses to an oppressive social order. Bringing together the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, and Erving Goffman, he contends that gay culture and political movements flow from the need to overcome a world of insult in the process of creating gay selves.

Eribon describes the emergence of homosexual literature in Britain and France at the turn of the last century and traces this new gay discourse from Oscar Wilde and the literary circles of late-Victorian Oxford to André Gide and Marcel Proust. He asserts that Foucault should be placed in a long line of authors—including Wilde, Gide, and Proust—who from the nineteenth century onward have tried to create spaces in which to resist subjection and reformulate oneself. Drawing on his unrivaled knowledge of Foucault’s oeuvre, Eribon presents a masterful new interpretation of Foucault. He calls attention to a particular passage from Madness and Civilization that has never been translated into English. Written some fifteen years before The History of Sexuality, this passage seems to contradict Foucault’s famous idea that homosexuality was a late-nineteenth-century construction. Including an argument for the use of Hannah Arendt’s thought in gay rights advocacy, Insult and the Making of the Gay Self is an impassioned call for critical, active engagement with the question of how gay life is shaped both from without and within.


“Duke’s ‘Q’ series deserves our grateful thanks for bringing out an English edition of Eribon’s Réflexions Sur la Question Gay (1999) under the graceful hand of Michael Lucey’s translation.” — Stephen Shapiro , Textual Practice

Insult and the Making of the Gay Self is an admirably supple translation by Michael Lucey. . . . Eribon persuasively and with relentless eloquence and accessibility argues for the foundational status of shame for gay identity.” — Michael O’Rourke , Sexualities

"[A] wonderful, insightful meditation on gay and lesbian life, culture and history. It is rich in its exploration of the complex and contradictory forces which shape and reshape gay and lesbian people’s identities. . . . a beautifully written, important book that will have a powerful effect in helping us understand our secret and public selves."
Sydney Star Observer

"[C]apacious and engaging. . . . [G]racefully translated by Michael Lucey. . . ." — Ross Chambers, GLQ

"[F]or a theory freak Insult and the Making of the Gay Self is as good as two Andre Techine pictures showing at the Walter Reade as a Sunday afternoon double-feature. . . ." — James McCourt , Gay City News

"An admirable translation of Didier Eribon's best-selling Reflexions sur la question gai, Insult and the Making of the Gay Self is . . . a solid gay and lesbian studies/queer theory primer. . . . [E]loquent, accessible, comprehensive. . . ." — Tom Roach , Theory & Event

"Gay people worldwide have few other champions as erudite in French and English literature as Eribon, who are also willing to express themselves so prolifically on current events. For this Eribon is to be thanked. Long may he shake his Eribon-bon at academic conferences worldwide." — Benjamin Ivry, Lambda Book Report

"In some ways, Eribon's book reads as a deeply personal account, and indeed he tells us that it 'could be read as a kind of biography.' The details and effects of the anti-gay insults that the author describes will undoubtedly resonate with many readers' experiences and life decisions. In this respect Insult works not only as a history of gay identity but also as a vehicle to greater self-understanding." — John Garrison , Gay & Lesbian Review

“Best known in the United States for his biography of Michel Foucault, Didier Eribon is well known in France as an eloquent and influential gay critic and advocate. This stunning analysis of the continuing power of antihomosexual insult to shape gay lives shows us why. A tour de force of cultural criticism, erudition, and social engagement, Eribon’s work demonstrates the intellectual breadth and radical potential of queer critique.” — George Chauncey, author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940

“Didier Eribon’s new book is a brilliant study of the ways in which gay subjectivity is at once constituted by homophobic discourse and, from within that discourse, finds the terms with which to forge a queer resistance and a queer freedom. Not only does it add an invaluable dimension to queer theory in the United States; it will be read by an even wider audience for its incisive and original analysis of the relation between culture and subjectivity.” — Leo Bersani, author of The Culture of Redemption

“With lucid and exemplary patience, Didier Eribon dissolves more than a century of transatlantic thought-blockages. The result is a deeply clarifying book.” — Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, author of Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Didier Eribon is a philosopher, historian, and journalist in France, where he writes frequently for the weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur. In addition to his biography Michel Foucault, he is the author of books including Une morale du minoritaire: Variations sur un thème de Jean Genet and Hérésies: Essais sur la théorie de la sexualité.
Michael Lucey is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Misfit of the Family: Balzac and the Social Forms of Sexuality (published by Duke University Press) and Gide’s Bent: Sexuality, Politics, Writing.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface xi

Acknowledgments xxiii

Abbreviations xv

Introduction: The Language of the Tribe 1

Part 1 A World of Insult 13

1 The Shock of Insult 15

2 The Flight to the City 18

3 Friendship as a Way of Life 24

4 Sexuality and Professions 29

5 Family and “Melancholy” 35

6 The City and Conservative Discourse 41

7 To Tell or Not to Tell 46

8 Heterosexual Interpellation 56

9 The Subjected “Soul”

10 Caricature and Collective Insult 70

11 Inversions 79

12 On Sodomy

13 Subjectivity and Private Life 97

14 Existence Precedes Essence 107

15 Unrealized Identity 113

16 Perturbations 124

17 The Individual and the Group 130

Part 2 Specters of Wilde 141

1 How “Arrogant Pederasts” Come Into Being 143

2 An Unspeakable Vice 153

3 A Nation of Artist 160

4 Philosopher and Lover 168

5 Moral Contamination 176

6 The Truth of Masks 182

7 The Greeks against the Psychiatrist 190

8 The Democracy of Comrades 197

9 Margot-a-la-boulangere and the Baronne-aux-epingles 206

10 From Momentary Pleasures to Social Reform 213

11 The Will to Disturb 223

12 The “Preoccupation With Homosexuality” 231

Part 3 Michel Foucault’s Heterotopias 245

1 Much More Beauty 247

2 From Night to the Light of Day 250

3 The Impulse to Escape 256

4 Homosexuality and Unreason 264

5 The Birth of Perversion 274

6 The Third Sex 281

7 Producing Subjects 289

8 Philosophy in the Closet 296

9 When Two Guys Hold Hands 303

10 Resistance and Counterdiscourse 310

11 Becoming Gay 319

12 Among Men 326

13 Making Differences 334

Addendum: Hannah Arendt and “Defamed Groups” 339

Notes 351

Works Cited 419

Index 439
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3371-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3286-2
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