Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Halperin's Masculinity Course on How-To-Be

Hat tip to Liam for the link.
I have been a Halperin reader since 2002. I especially enjoy his gendered 'reading' of the Greeks and his work, Saint Foucault, is, in my humble opinion, his strongest and most sincere so far. In it he publicly admits that he had fallen prey to other scholars’ dislike of Foucault during the early part of his career. Subsequently, the more mature and not-so-impressionable Halperin, wrote Saint Foucault in which he almost makes a case for a ‘canonization’ of the French philosopher. In one specific Masculinity course he teaches at the University of Michigan he seems to be congruent with much of his earlier work. One of the questions he investigates is:
Just how are/can identities be acquired?
Halperin’s course on masculinities at the University of Michigan is called "How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation."
Here are two paragraphs taken from the course description:

'Just because you happen to be a gay man doesn't mean that you don't have to learn how to become one. Gay men do some of that learning on their own, but often we learn how to be gay from others, either because we look to them for instruction or because they simply tell us what they think we need to know, whether we ask for their advice or not.

At the core of gay experience there is not only identification but disidentification. Almost as soon as I learn how to be gay, or perhaps even before, I also learn how not to be gay. I say to myself, 'Well, I may be gay, but at least I'm not like that!' Rather than attempting to promote one version of gay identity at the expense of others, this course will investigate the stakes in gay identifications and disidentifications, seeking ultimately to create the basis for a wider acceptance of the plurality of ways in which people determine how to be gay.'

I generally tend to think that at the core of any experience there is not only identification but disidentification as well. Ergo, to apply this way of thinking only to gender and time-specific gender and gendered identities oozes some measure of essentialism. To me, at least.

If there is indeed a plurality of ways in which people ‘determine’ how to be, wouldn’t that presuppose a shifting from the notion that identities are fixed?

Also, I got to thinking about his How To Do a History of Homosexuality in which he seems to criticize other scholars who, according to him, tend to 'reduce the history of sexuality to a mere history of sexual classifications instead of a history of human subjectivity itself.'
And then there's the syllabus.
Read the full text here.
What do you think?

graph: book jacket of halperin's how to do a history of homosexuality


Anonymous said...

I wonder what a course like "Liberace Learns How to Drive Lorries' would be like.

Anonymous said...

i'd be interested to know what texts he is using. also, he mentions show tunes, movies, and marked cultural signs which some tend to associate with alternative orientations. i wonder how he'll manage to scape the stereotype or if he is going to use the stereotype to eventually denude/deconstruct it.
bottom line: i'd like to see which primary literary texts he is using. broadway musicals are fine and dandy, but i'm actually referring to pieces from the canon.....
too bombastic a syllabus, by the way. i wouldn't have signed up for it as i can see do contemp. 'texts' on my own. what i need help from Halperin with would be Plato, Aristophanes and some Foucault, not Mamma mia, or Les Mis.

Anonymous said...

Brikena: I realize I could be 'way off the mark' here but isn't Halperin being unFoucaultian here. If nothing else, Foucault stayed away from the urge to comment on the notion that sexual identities are socially/culturally produced.... Or do I remember my Foucault wrong?
And the 'How to Be Gay' class would perhaps be sth I'd take if I were a graduating senior, was done with my other requirements and wanted to see how a 55-year-old bloke would go about doing the class.

Anonymous said...

Beware of mega-popular syllabi, eh?
By the way, is this the guy you wanted to speak at our grad student conference in '04?
It would have been fun. However, I would still privilege a Chomsky over a Halperin or Butler but that's only because I like my scholars to make sense to me.
I figure you're laughing now and my job's here is done.

Anonymous said...

"Liberace Learns How to Drive Lorries?"
This was my sentence of the day!

Unknown said...

g-ma: nicky,honey, what are you taking this quarter?
nicky: g-ma, i'm taking this class called 'how to be gay.'
gma: well, honey, you've got to learn how to be happy, might as well learn it in school.

u like?

Anonymous said...

oopsie daisies! I meant to write 'my job here is done' on my earlier comment.... Pardon the extra use of "'s." I hope it didn't vex you too much.

I also got a copy of Constructing Masculinity. Will hit you up with comments/?'s when I get done. TTYL.

B.R. said...

Joanna over at Zeitgeistboheme shared the following with me today: "Does it presume that only gay male students would or should enroll in the class? I wonder if it will cover "culture" vs. "stereotype." It seems as though it would which is partly what makes identification aspects of gay culture an ambivalent subject for those finding themselves in those contexts. I wonder what's on the syllabus."
Knowing which primary texts he plans to feature on the syllabus would help me understand the syllabus better.

EvaDress said...

Gee, upon reading this, I thought I would take this class without feeling out of place (I'm a girl). I guess this is due to my 'I don't fit in anywhere, therefore, I fit in everywhere' mentality. Afterall, there were men in my Women's Studies class last quarter-nobody looked twice at them being there!