Monsters of Sex: Michel Foucault and the Problem of Life

Sarah K. Hansen


This article argues, contra-Derrida, that Foucault does not essentialize or pre-comprehend the meaning of life or bio- in his writings on biopolitics. Instead, Foucault problematizes life and provokes genealogical questions about the meaning of modernity more broadly. In The Order of Things, the 1974-75 lecture course at the Collège de France, and Herculine Barbin, the monster is an important figure of the uncertain shape of modernity and its entangled problems (life, sex, madness, criminality, etc). Engaging Foucault’s monsters, I show that the problematization of life is far from a “desire for a threshold,” à la Derrida.  It is a spur to interrogating and critiquing thresholds, a fraught question mark where we have “something to do.” As Foucault puts it in “The Lives of Infamous Men,” it an ambiguous frontier where beings lived and died and they appear to us “because of an encounter with power which, in striking down a life and turning it to ashes, makes it emerge, like a flash [...].”


: Foucault; Derrida; biopolitics; life; sex; monsters; problematization

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Copyright (c) 2018 Sarah K. Hansen

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