26 November 2012

The Game of Identity

[The following is taken from an interview with Foucault done in June 1982, about two years before his death.  The passage is noteworthy, I think, because it suggests an approaching shift in the politics of sexual identity.  At the moment the appeal of fringe sexual groups is always to a natural principle: desire inscribed in my identity cannot be wrong, therefore it should be embraced.  Society at large can only sustain a few possible "natural" sexual identities, however, and the very form of sexual perversity involves the proliferation of differences and the cultivation of new areas of eroticism.  Hence we will soon see a shift, already anticipated in Foucault, from appeals to nature toward appeals to the creative individuality of sexual agents, unconstrained by any supposedly determinate nature or identity.]

Q. Is it significant that there are, to a large degree, identities forming around new sexual practices, like S&M? These identities help in exploring such practices and defending the right to engage in them. But are they also limiting in regards to the possibilities of individuals?

M. F. Well, if identity is only a game, if it is only a procedure to have relations, social and sexual pleasure relationships that create new friendships, it is useful. But if identity becomes the problem of sexual existence, and if people think that they have to "uncover" their "own identity," and that their own identity has to become the law, the principle, the code of their existence; if the perennial question they ask is "Does this thing conform to my identity?" then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility. If we are asked to relate to the question of identity, it must be an identity to our unique selves. But the relationships we have to have with ourselves are not ones of identity, rather, they must be relationships of differentiation, of creation, of innovation. To be the same is really boring. We must not exclude identity if people find their pleasure through this identity, but we must not think of this identity as an ethical universal rule.