Foucault’s Queer Virgins: An Unfinished History in Fragments

  • Lynne Huffer Emory University
Keywords: Virginity, Confession, Christianity, Counter-conduct, Sexuality, Ethopoiesis


This essay attends to the place of virginity at the center of the fourth volume of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Confessions of the Flesh. Reading virginity through a rhetorical lens, the essay argues for an ethics and a politics of counter-conduct in Foucault characterized by chiasmus, a rhetorical structure of inverted parallelism. That chiastic structure frames Foucault’s Confessions, and all of his work, as a fragmented, self-hollowing speech haunted by death and the dissolution of the subject. The essay reads Foucault as apophatic speech that returns to us, no longer itself, made strange. In that deathly movement of eternal recurrence, Foucault’s Confessions speak after death from the x’d out place of the queer virgin: on a threshold that separates life from death, in a movement of metanoia or ethical conversion. As an unfinished history in fragments, the essay’s form brings attention to incompletion as a crucial aspect of Foucault’s work. The fragmentation that characterizes an unfinished history underscores poetic discontinuity as the hallmark of Foucault’s genealogical method and thought.

Author Biography

Lynne Huffer, Emory University
Lynne Huffer is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. She is the author of a trilogy on Foucault’s ethics of eros: Foucault’s Strange Eros (2020); Are the Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex (2013); and Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory (2010). She is also the author of Maternal Pasts, Feminist Futures: Nostalgia, Ethics, and the Question of Difference (1998) and Another Colette: The Question of Gendered Writing (1992). She has published academic articles on feminist theory, queer theory, Foucault, ethics, and the Anthropocene, as well as personal essays, creative nonfiction, and opinion pieces in mass media venues. She is also the author, with Jennifer Yorke, of Wading Pool, a collaborative artists book: Her current book project is Respite: 99 Anthropocene Fragments.


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Special Issue: Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 4, Confessions of the Flesh