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