Jackie Mason | December 3, 2004
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Kris Weberg | December 3, 2004
Well, as Michel Foucault argues in The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, this is partly because it wasn't really until after the 18th century -- the Enlightenment -- that people worried all that much about what happened in private, so long as what happened wasn't political. You couldn't vote for a king or a lord, and they could do what they liked to you, but if they weren't personally interested in you or the group you were a part of, you could do whatever you liked so long as it didn't get their attention. Technically, the church opposed certain things, but it was much more concerned with countries than with individuals, generally working to back kings or propose conquests. Sex was regulated mainly in the context of marriage, and marriages were usually arranged for economic and political advancement in what was a feudal and later an aristocratic system. Since homosexuality couldn't produce children, and wasn't factored into things like marital virginity, people ignored it as an irrelevancy. And if you had power, well, you didn't worry too much about it either; if someone called the king a sodomite, odds were it wasn't the king who'd suffer for it.

The Enlightenment made the private and the public identical as the principle of republicanism -- the private/public division before had created a whole class of private people who had no public representation, and thus, no public (political) power. With representation, though, everyone was now politically involved in a critical way -- if you vote from your life experience, Foucalt's reasoning implies, your life experience is politicized, and will eventually be treated that way. As private life became fodder for study and politics, sex came with it, and thereby it came under scrutiny. Essentially, as political representation was extended to formerly private people, politics and the law (which is what politics is about -- the power to make laws, including laws defining the government's powers) then became intermixed with private life. Anybody, in theory, can become President; but they'll probably have their private life completely exposed in the process. And anyone can vote and can live under the law who wants to; but the law now has things to say about the way you live, and it didn't before.

Scott Hardie | December 4, 2004
What irked me a little were the newspaper critics who made light of the short hemlines and the highlights in Colin Farrell's hair. "Alexander the Fabulous" they joked. That's in poor taste, given Alexander's sexual behavior. But I try to read it as a joke about our contemporary queer-eye/metrosexual aesthetic applying itself even to historical portraits.

Kris Weberg | December 4, 2004
History always rewrites the past. That's another Foucauldian lesson.

I guess I've made it horribly clear that I'm writing lots of term papers, huh?

Scott Hardie | December 4, 2004
Hehe, yes. Just remember that we can discuss the philosophy with you, but we can't discuss the philosophers.

Kris Weberg | December 4, 2004
Basically, whenever we try to "do" history -- or for that matter, psychology, philosophy, medicine, ethics, etc. -- we end up making certain claims about what it is to be human, good, normal, sane, and so on that we treat as universally true. In the case of history, we do this in the course of trying to tease out motivations and causes. To talk about Napoleon, you have to at least gesture towards an explanation of why he wanted to conquer Europe, and doing that already takes into account assumptions. You can argue that it's something about his personality, but to do that, you have to make a general claim about people's personalities. You can say it was an aftereffect of the French Revolution in economic or political terms, but then you're making a claim about human behavior being influenced by those forces.

Because you, the historian -- just go with it -- are working in an academic discipline and a time removed from Napoleon's, where many of these ideas are different, you end up either imposing them on your reading of Napoleon and, by extension, people in his age; or you artifically try to get away fromt em and impose some artifical notion of "French eighteenth century" humanness on them. In either case, you end up making an unprovable claim about who and what they were that are invariably shaped by the society and culture that you live in -- even reacting against something is being influenced by it, as a glance at the typical teenage rebel will tell you.

So we have all these ideas about sex now that we can't really prove were held historically, and so can't claim influenced people's actions in the same way. Knowing you're gay or straight, knowing that the opposite exists out there, and knowing all the present-day arguments about it chnages the way you think and behave about sex and sexuality. And you take those opinions and ideas and try to fit historical persons into them. Foucault points out that this happens in contemporary times, as well -- statistically, identifying some segment opf the population as having this or that sexual practice, giving the practice a name, and then redoing your poll about 20 years later turns up lots of people who are suddenly identifying themselves as this or that. Sexual behavior in animals and, Foucault argues, humans is "really" pretty "anything goes." But if you start naming and categorizing the activity, humans will start to think that the categories are themselves natural and almost prescriptive rather than a relatively arbitrary category.

Put another way, why do we talk about sex in terms of gender preferences and then physical technique when most peopl's sexual choices also include other things. Plenty of women won't date men shorter than they are; plenty of people only like certain hair and eye colors. And almost everyone has standards of beauty an attraction that probably determines their sexual choicesBut these aren't called sexualities even though they organize and delineate sexual choices and practices as muh as anything else, and can widely differ across cultures and time period. But we don't think of "blondesexuality" or "heightophilia" or "Reubenism" as sexual orientations except in the most extreme of cases, where we consider them fetishes and put them in a special class of abnormality by invoking often arbitrary degrees of 'abnormality" in the process.

If you went back in time, learned ancient Greek and Persian, you'd have to invent a word to call Alexander of Macedon "gay" or "metrosexual." Odds are he wouldn't know what in blue Hell -- erm, make that brass Tartarus -- you were talking about....before he chopped your head off.

I strongly, strongly recommend Foucault's History of Sexuality, vol. 1. It's an excellent read, full of theory and, yes, lots of stuff about sex. At the very least, it will make you glad that you don't live in the 19th century, when masturbation was a sign of serious mental illness and was combatted by, among other things, piercing the foreskin with wire and binding it shut over the glans to deter tumescence in general. And Foucault actually has a pretty good reasoning process for this sudden social concern with masturbation, and for a lot of other ideas about sex throughout history. (And no, I promise, it's not about blaming religion -- the Victorians, as I noted, generally thought masturbation was a health issue, not a religious one.)

It's not too long, either.

Scott Horowitz | December 6, 2004
Kris, I understand you have a lot to say... but they're just too long. can't you get it accomplished in 1 or 2 paragraphs?

Kris Weberg | December 6, 2004
Not so much, no -- this stuff is extremely nuanced, and it doesn't simplify well. That isn't to say, "smart" or "sophisticated," but rather "complicated." There's not really an honest way to summarize these guys: all their work is in the details.

Scott Hardie | December 6, 2004
I'll get to Kris's comments later. I just wanted to mention that the lawsuit has been dropped now that the lawyers have actually watched the movie. (link) Why don't people ever seem to wait to criticize a movie until after they see it? Do they really enjoy embarrassing themselves?

Robert Phillips | December 7, 2004
Not to mention that perhaps the most masculine army in world history..The Spartans were almost certainly at least bi sexual.

Kris Weberg | December 8, 2004
Despite that, they are esteemed as some of history's greatest ass-kickers.

Well, according to Levinas, of course :)

Robert Phillips | December 8, 2004
I wanted to say in addition to being bisexual they are "history's greatest ass-kickers", not in spite of.

Anna Gregoline | December 8, 2004
I think that people like to deny facts these days, for some reason.

Jackie Mason | December 9, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | December 9, 2004
Right. Let's stop all drug development then too. And even though the D.A.R.E. program isn't working, let's continue funding it. And for goodness sakes, let's teach abstinence only in schools, because it's not like it's INCREASING teen pregnancy and diseases.

Robert Phillips | December 9, 2004
I wish someone would disagree with us.

Anna Gregoline | December 10, 2004
Now I'm really confused.

John E Gunter | December 10, 2004
Because a discussion where everyone is in agreement isn't a debate.


Anna Gregoline | December 10, 2004
Didn't know we were having a debate.

John E Gunter | December 10, 2004
I think that's Rob's point; it’s not a debate because everyone is agreeing.


Anna Gregoline | December 10, 2004
Ok, I get it.

It's ok to talk and not argue sometimes, really!

Jackie Mason | December 10, 2004
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Kris Weberg | December 10, 2004
Bear in mind that posters who consider homosexuality sinful or wrong haven't posted on this thread at all. But then, we've all been there, posted that with the Gay Marriage Thread of Eternal Doom.

Robert Phillips | December 11, 2004
I did not personally say it is okay to be gay. I just think they should not be fired because they are gay, and that being gay does not preclude you from being a great fighter.

Robert Phillips | December 11, 2004
See have I stirred up some contraversy...

Robert Phillips | December 11, 2004
Perhaps my spelling can be disagreed with...

Anna Gregoline | December 13, 2004
I would think that most people, divorced from a religious viewpoint, would agree that there is nothing really wrong with homosexuality as an act.

Scott Hardie | December 16, 2004
Me too.

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