Friday, February 15, 2013

Humanities Speaking: Cultivating Democracy in Education

Knowledge is ubiquitous. We can find it everywhere. We can carry mini-computers in our pockets that allow us, at any moment, to “google” a question to find an answer. We can sit down at a computer, while watching TV, and find the answers to Jeopardy questions or the filmography of a particular actor to “know” more stuff. The rise of MOOC’s illustrates that anyone with an internet connection can learn and learn from the pre-eminent scholars in any given field. Knowledge is everywhere. Scratch the surface and it is there. This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing as NBC teaches us “the more you know”… Being informed is quite central to living in a democracy. Yet, if knowledge is everywhere are schools - once the place of learning - becoming obsolete? The obvious answer is no because there is something that keeps us going to school - namely the law. However, in going to school the question perhaps changes from thinking about “knowledge” to thinking about about “relating”. We go to school to meet others and this meeting is crucial, particularly for youth, in developing how one relates to the other. Relating is not devoid of knowledge - both relating and knowing are intertwined. Martha Nussbaum (2010) notes as much writing “when we meet in society, if we have not learned to see both self & other in that way, imagining in one another inner faculties of thought and emotion, democracy is bound to fail” (6). Democracy (and public education is a significant piece of democracy) fails when people fail to meet, fail to see (and seeing requires knowing) the other as quite simply “human”. So, how do we not fail at democracy, but perhaps succeed at it…even if momentarily?

Nussbaum’s Not For Profit, is a manifesto - a manifesto for the necessity and importance of meeting the other. Such meetings are cultivated through a liberal arts education. Yet, looking at the current state of affairs - globally but with specific emphasis on the US and India - she draws our attention to the growing emphasis on placed on an education that provides  “skills for short term profit” centered on learning in the STEM subjects. To counter this trend, she puts forward an argument for the arts and humanities as necessary for creating not a society of technocrats, but citizens who experience an education that engages the soul. The soul for her is “the faculties of thought and imagination that makes us human and make our relationships, rich human relationships, rather than relationships of mere use and manipulation” (6). The soul (along with the body that works) becomes the foundation for her vision of democratic education. Refusing to give up the critical, aesthetic, and ethical components of human life that are brought out by the arts, she argues drawing upon classical philosophy of Aristotle, the life and work of Dewey and Tagore, along with empirical work emerging from the social sciences that we cultivate critical thinking and reflection to re-assert the purpose of education as one that is not merely about “employment”, but also about citizenship and creating meaningful lives.

Now, of course, some will say such purposes are too costly in depressed economic times, but as Nussbaum shows, the capabilities that are cultivated through the arts and humanities (alongside the STEM subjects) are ever more important at times like these and worth the cost. Many in contemporary politics may scoff at her thoughts - particularly given President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address that argued for education, but only for education that created capable employees that can boost our economy (whether those employees are happy, healthy, or enjoy their work is of no concern for him). The task for us, if we follow Nussbaum, is to question such an approach to education - to, in fact, not do business as usual, but make the “art” argument. “Art” as she writes “is a great enemy of that obtuseness, and artists…are not the reliable servants of any ideology…they always ask the imagination to move beyond its usual confines, to see the world in new ways” (23-24). While it would seem, drawing of President Obama’s SOTU address and his call for American’s to take seriously the “unfinished task” of American democracy, that the imagination would be fostered; the fact remains that educational policy has failed to cultivate crucial abilities to take part in democracy [see K. Bernstein’s piece in the Washington Post entitled “A Warning to College Profs from a High School Teacher”].

Nussbaum offers a list of abilities that she thinks should be cultivated in schools with such abilities allowing for a broad “liberal” education that simultaneously develops capable employees, but more importantly informed citizens and happy people that can think and engage in the complexities of the world (rather than merely listening to “authorities”). These include, but are not limited to, “the ability to think well about political issues affecting the nation, to examine, reflect, argue, and debate, deferring neither to tradition nor authority”; “to have concern for the lives of others”; and “the ability to imagine well a variety of complex issues” (25-26). While these are all abilities that could be cultivated in various spaces, Nussbaum draws particular attention to schools (not because they can solve it alone) but because “schools…are at least one influential force in a child’s life, and one whose messages we are likely to be able to monitor more easily than others” (35). It is the school that has a “captive” audience for years as students navigate their way through grades, subjects, and school buildings figuring out how to make sense of the world, themselves, and the relationships with those around them (physically and virtually).

The current state of education - following Nussbaum’s argument - does not adequately cultivate the ability for students to engage the world democratically. It “teaches to the test”, it emphasizes “technical” training or “STEM subjects” while negating or neglecting the arts and humanities. There is, of course, nothing wrong with technical training or STEM subjects. The issue is when any one approach to education or subject matter becomes the dominant approach or subject. Students are able to become “smart” in a specialized way, but are not invited to develop broad based abilities outside of their specialization. They are allowed to develop immense stores of knowledge about “x”, but are not offered opportunities to develop emotional understanding, imaginative thoughts, and ethical relationships. Education - when conceived as an economic, and predominantly an economic situation, becomes obsessed with particular things (e.g. knowledge and skills) while negating or neglecting other things (e.g. enjoyment, ethics). This impacts not only what and how students learn, but also how and what teachers are allowed or able to do given the political situation.

So, what are we to do? Nussbaum offers a couple golden nuggets to help think about developing arguments for and the importance of the arts and humanities. “An adequate education for living in a pluralistic democracy must be multicultural” which Nussbaum means “acquaints students with some fundamentals about the histories and cultures of the many different groups with whom they share laws and institutions” (91). To live in democracy is not to agree with everyone, but it is to meet others and to do so without violence. And to meet others requires the ability to meet others (one of the reasons why segregation is problematic) and the opportunity to learn from (and with) the other (the need for a complex curriculum). “Good teaching” in such a way she contends “requires teaching children to see how history is put together from sources and evidence of many kinds, to learn to evaluate evidence, and to learn how to evaluate one historical narrative against another” (89). While Nussbaum uses history, the example is for illustrative purposes as “once students learn how to inquire, and what questions to ask, they can transfer their learning to another part of the world” (92). This again is not merely to acquire knowledge, but also to engage the emotion and imaginative capacities of living in a global world so that when one meets some other, one does not react in violence. Knowledge only gets us so far as we also have to deal with human vulnerability which is often negated (particularly for men) by trying to have complete control. The education that Nussbaum is advancing then is, perhaps simply, one that “involves the ability to see the world as a place in which one is not alone” (97).

Education often makes people feel alone (at all levels). Its focus on competition and success cultivates a skepticism of collaborating with the other. So, what is the task to disrupt this approach, to develop an education that is not so lonely? That cultivates collaboration? That refuses to neglect or ignore the emotional side of things? I am not sure. It is a project that is perhaps on-going and changing. But it is a challenge that must be taken up in order to create an education that is democratic, humane, and pleasurable.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Reading Thoreau: Democracy and Self-Fashioning

I want to begin thinking about the insights Henry David Thoreau provided in “Civil Disobedience” and what his thoughts provide in thinking through democracy. Democracy is, of course, a contested concept that has had much written about it since the ancient Greeks. Democracy can be conceived of as a form of  government that a nation-state develops through the creation of institutions, laws, rights - all often explicated in a constitution. For instance, the American Constitution, in light of its recent independence, sets forth the system of governance that will govern this new nation. The development of the three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial) and the different powers each branch hold are written in ink and continue, for better or worse, to guide the experiment in democracy. For engagements with the constitution see Seidman’s (2013) On Constitutional Disobedience and Robert Dahl’s How Democratic is the American Constitution (2003). However, I am not interested in the constitution and its framing of “democracy” as a form of government (let’s call it a legal framing) and more interested in Thoreau’s framing of democracy as a citizen of a government, governed by the constitution (let’s call it a citizen framing).

In Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” he begins by accepting the motto “that government is best which governs least”. This is not a call for anarchy and the dissolution of the government, but a challenge to remember, it would seem, “that the government itself, which is only the mode by which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it”. The government, as was done in Thoreau’s time and continues to be done in contemporary times, can be used as a “tool” for a few (e.g., elected officials) to do things that “the people would not have consented to”. What we have with Thoreau, to be perhaps cliche, is a call to arms for citizens to recognize that the government is not responsible for doing things, but it is “the character inherent in the American people” that “has done all that has been accomplished” even as the “government sometimes got in its [the people’s] way”. This is not, I would argue, an attempt to do away with the government and the institutions it has built - some of which Thoreau recognizes as important and useful in his own daily life. Rather, it is an argument to recognize democracy as an on-going process of, not only consensus but also dissensus.

Now, for those who are skeptical of “call to arms” or a theory of civil disobedience, Thoreau does offer a rather “practical” approach:

But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once, a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.
The citizen cannot simply accept the government in existence, but must develop an understanding of government, the expectations and responsibilities of that government, and “make known” such ideas so that such ideas can be debated and discussed within the public forum. This entails a challenge to the idea of the majority as he writes “but a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it” but must be ruled in “conscience”.

What is this conscience that he speaks of though? I would argue it is a challenge to develop autonomous citizens who “think for themselves” and do not have an “undue respect of the law” since that has led all kinds of citizens to do things “against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences”. Such a call for “thinking” is challenging of course as it opens us up to quite diverse and divergent possibilities, but as Morris Kaplan (1997) notes in Sexual Justice “Thoreau situates the struggle for justice within the individual’s negotiation of her own conflicting desires” (177). There is no clear-cut answer, there are conflicting desires and demands, but citizens must work through those, rather than simply be taken by the government’s thoughts on such matters. And, in neoliberal times, of which we already see in Thoreau’s day-and-age, this requires a trenchant challenge to the economic arguments, in favor of humanity. Thoreau writes regarding the existence of slavery (and the need to abolish it) that “the opponents to a reform are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture that they are in humanity”. While it may be easier to blame politicians for not doing something (like abolishing slavery), Thoreau’s challenge is to the everyday citizen who allows it to exist, asking “what is the price-current of an honest man and patriot today?” with a response of “they hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have to regret”.

Thoreau finds such an approach problematic - hence why he theorizes democracy through the acts of civil disobedience. And with such a theory, one might be a bit overwhelmed. In this age of 24-hour news and a “machinery” that is much bigger and more complex that Thoreau could have imagined. Thoreau realized this writing

It is not man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.
If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too.
Such an approach is challenging. It requires vigilance and respect for others, and arguably it challenges the concept of competition, in favor of collaboration and compromise. How do we pursue our goals, our thoughts without doing so at the detriment of others? Is it possible even or a mere pipe dream?

For Thoreau it was a way of life - he himself being imprisoned for his refusal to pay taxes he did not feel were just. He faced the consequences of his decision, but he cultivated a democratic sensibility that allowed him to “do” democracy through contesting it. As Kaplan writes “Thoreau’s texts are ‘queer’ in this insistence on the centrality of nonconformity to democratic politics and on the idiosyncrsy, conflict, and recalcitrance of desire in the ethics of self-making” (177). Dissenting from democracy and cultivating the self through the “doing” of and “thinking through” issues was not the goal, though, for Thoreau writes:
I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split hairs, to make find distinctions, or set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land. I am but too ready to conform to them. Indeed, I have reason to suspect myself on this head; and each year, as the tax-gatherer comes round, I find myself disposed to review the acts and position of the general and State governments, and the spirit of the people, to discover a pretext for conformity.
He believes that through actions - through cultivating a democratic self - things may change and when they do, he will embrace and conform to them . . . with of course the understanding (the sensibility) that he will remain vigilant and continue to engage the democratic struggle for governing the self, relating to the other, and living humanely.

I end where Thoreau ends with both a recognition and the imagination. He writes
There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even world not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who are fulfilled by all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.
In this attempt to develop a theory of civil disobedience then Thoreau challenges his readers to take responsibility for the world they live in and see democracy not as a form of government, that through voting we participate in, but democracy as an opportunity to fashion a self under the assumption that humans are free and have intelligence to cultivate a way of life, a self, and relations with others that are complicated, challenging, but hopefully fulfilling, joyful, and dutiful.


Kaplan, M. B. (1997). Sexual Justice: Democratic Citizenship and the Politics of Desire. New York: Routledge.

Thoreau, H. D. (1849). "Civil Disobedience". Accessed at:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thinking through Rancière and his Hatred of Democracy

Democracy, in the sense of the power of the people,
the power of those who have no special
entitlement to exercise power, is the very
basis of what makes politics thinkable.
Rancière, 2011 79

Alexis de Tocqueville in 1853 wrote “I accept the intellectual rationale for democratic institutions, but I am instinctively an aristocrat, in the sense that I contemn and fear the crowd. I dearly love liberty and respect for rights, but not democracy” (New York Daily Tribune, June 25th, 1853, as cited by Bensaid, 2011). While a prolific political thinker - most well-known for his two-volume set Democracy in America, we see in this comment a particular “hatred of democracy”. We might also recall Winston Churchill’s famed (and now cliched) statement that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others”. In contemporary times democracy is discussed incessantly as the reason why, in particular, the United States does what it does. It fights in the name of democracy. It spreads democracy (through military intervention). Yet, in doing so it ironically becomes rather undemocratic.

Jacques Rancière in Hatred of Democracy explores this hatred - looking at the ways in which justifications for democracy often come at the expense of democracy itself. In the final chapter of his book he returned to “the initial terms of our problem”:

We live in societies and States known as ‘democracies’, a term by which they are distinguished from societies governed by States without law or with religious law. How are we to understand that, at the heart of these ‘democracies’, a dominant intelligentsia, whose situation is not obviously desparate and who hardly aspire to live under different laws, day in day out blame all of humanity’s misfortunes on a single evil they call democracy?

As Rancière elucidated in his text the concept of democracy is rather complicated with the standard form taking the “form of a double bind” where “either democratic life signified a large amount of popular participation in discussing public affairs, and it was a bad thing; or it stood for a form of social life that turned energies toward individual satisfaction, and it was a bad thing” (8). This tension between popular rule and individual success becomes a paradox of democracy where “a social and political form of life, democracy is the reign of excess. This excess signifies the ruin of democratic government and must therefore be repressed by it” (8).

What does this mean? Well, it seem that as democracy emerged, there was an individual quest for happiness (if God is dead and “man” can rule the self, then the individual becomes thinkable in new ways) and a change in social relations (individuals relate to others differently because it becomes possible as the hierarchy of aristocracy is in decline) that has led to escalating demands (for rights) and expectations (for protections) that Rancière contends has a double effect - one where citizens as individuals become unconcerned with the public good (democracy tied with consumerism and the market; the ability to acquire things) the other where the governments ability to respond to demands has been undermined (the effects of neoliberalism and privatization; the decimation of the welfare state)

Governments - namely governments that claim to be ‘democracies’ such as the United States and France - that have sought to spread democracy while clamping down on democracy show the ungovernable state of democracy and the need for democracy to be governed. This is of course seen in the support “democratic states” provide countries seeking democracy while clamping down on popular protest at home (see the disdain for Occupy; Union Strikes). We see in this the desire to “spread democracy” through violence or interventions (supporting mass uprisings) while governing democracy at home (to suppress mass uprisings).

The representative government that is viewed as foundational to democracy is simply a process of choosing a different oligarch. This is quite visible within US politics where politicians make a career out of being politicians, starting in one position and moving “up” and “over” throughout different positions, knowing how to gain and seize power. Of course, there are ways in which such might be challenged.  As he wrote:

“We can specify the rules that lay down the minimal conditions under which a representative system can be declared democratic: short and non-renewable electoral mandates that cannot be held concurrently; a monopoly of people’s representatives over the formulation of laws; a ban on State functionaries becoming the representatives of the people; a bare minimum of campaigns and campaign costs and the monitoring of possible interferences by economic powers in the electoral process (72).

Of course, as Rancière wrote, to mention these would provoke hilarity because such ideas challenge the ways “democracy” works where there are

eternally elected members holding concurrent or alternating municipal, regional, legislative and/or ministerial functions and whose essential link to the people is that of the representation of regional interests; governments which make laws themselves; representatives of the people that largely come from one administrative schools; ministers or their collaborators who are also given posts in public or semi-public companies; fraudulent financing of parties through public works contracts; business people who invest colossal sums in trying to win electoral mandates; owners of private media empires that use their public functions to monopolize the empire of the public media (72-73).

Rancière, in all of this, wants to perhaps provide a third way to think about or through democracy - exposing the hatred while proposing something different. For him democracy “is the action that constantly wrests the monopoly of public life from oligarchic governments and the omnipotence over lives from the power of wealth” (96). And “it is only entrusted to the constancy of its specific acts” which “can provoke fear, and so hatred, among those who are used to exercising the magisterium of thought” (97). As Rancière continues “But among those who know how to share with anybody and everybody the equal power of intelligence, it can conversely inspire courage, and hence joy” (97).

Democracy must be thought of not as an “individual quest for happiness” nor as a form of governing the social body, but as a contingent, constant force or action that disrupts the oligarchy that persists. Democracy is, as he notes in an interview with Eric Hazan “irreducible to either a form of government or a mode of social life” (2011, 76). In this view of democracy as a force (not a form) that exists beneath and beyond “forms of government” cannot be lived in. Rather “we live in States of oligarchic law, in other words, in States where the power of the oligarchy is limited by a dual recognition of popular sovereignty and individual liberties” (73). The freedoms that are gained or achieved in the oligarchic states we live in “were not gifts of oligarchs. They were won through democratic action and are only ever guaranteed through such action. The ‘rights of man and of the citizen’ are the rights of those who make them reality” (74).

Perhaps there is an argument that democracy must be done away with, that its time has come and gone. Certainly if we see democracy as a form of government (a parlimentary system) or a mode of being (with constitutional liberties) this might be the case, particularly in the West. Yet, we can see all kinds of democratic uprisings and stirrings throughout the global world (beyond those instances of “spreading” democracy through military interventions seen in Iraq and Afghanistan) where democracy visibly serves a “critical function”, such that “it is the wrench of equality jammed (objectively and subjectively) into the gears of domination” and “it’s what keeps politics from simply turning into law enforcement” (2011, 79). However, this is not to see democracy as simply moments of uprising that then return to a status quo, “but also of the ongoing effort to create forms of the common different from the ones on offer from the state, democratic consensus, and so on” (80). Democracy becomes a critical tool that looks to the past (the archives), the present (the going-ons of current societies and States), to impact the future (unknown) ways in which people engage the world. This is, of course, not a tool that seeks to finally capture the ideal of equality for

Rancière already pre-supposes equality. His democracy and politics are not a “kicking of the can” to find equality there, in the future, but to see that “equality it not given, nor is it claimed” rather “it is practiced, it is verified” (1991, 137). Furthermore “one need only learn how to be equal in an unequal society” and this is “what being emancipated means” (133). How then is democracy - this critical tool - a means of practicing equality, an equality that already is, to create something different?

Bensaid, Daniel. (2011). Permanent Scandal. In Democracies in What State? (16-43).New York: Columbia University Press.
Rancière, Jacques. (1991). The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons of Intellectual Emancipation. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
---. (2006). Hatred of Democracy. London: Verso.
---. (2011) Democracies against Democracy: An interview with Eric Hazan. In Democracies in What State? (76-81). New York: Columbia University Press.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Jodie Foster's Anti-Climatic Speech

I have been asked by a number of people about my thoughts on Jodie Foster’s speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award. While I am not sure I have any particular expertise for commenting on the speech, its rhetorical moves...I am a lifelong fan of Jodie Foster’s work so I will, like so many others, throw in my two-cents.

Fortunately, I recently finished reading Nicholas de Villier’s new book Opacity and the Closet: Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol which is fitting for thinking about the concept of the “confessional” coming out speech. So, please stay with me a moment while I review his work before doing my work. de Villier’s goal, as he notes in the conclusion “has been to explain how and why the ‘mystique’ of Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol has continued into the new millenium, where the media’s desire for ‘full access and 360-degree disclosure’ is perhaps stronger than ever” (154). Proposing queer opacity as a particular “tactic”, he engages the interviews (the spoken, perhaps transcribed words) of Warhol, Barthes, and Foucault to think through this “multi-mediated object” and how these three particular queer authors disrupted then and it would seem now the “smooth functioning of ‘confessional discourse’, the image-system, and the celebrity interview” (154). 

To not be completely opaque myself, I begin thinking about opacity. What is opacity and how does that translate into a tactic or strategy that “intervenes”? According to Merriam Webster (I’m lazy so excuse me for not using the OED) opacity means “an obscurity of sense; unintelligibleness”, “the quality or state of being mentally obtuse; dullness”, and “the quality or state of a body that makes it impervious to the rays of light; broadly : the relative capacity of matter to obstruct the transmission of radiant energy”. While it would seem to be insulting to be called unintelligible, dull...opaque, it appears that there might be queer potential in such states. Plus, it is rather en vogue to re-appropriate the abject and take the place of shameful affects these days within particular realms of queer theory. “Queer opacity” as de Villiers argues “ is one way of locating and marking the weak points in the system known as the ‘epistemology of the closet,’ and finding an opening for the creation of a queer public persona that manages to resist confessional discourse” (163).

There are it would seem a plethora of queer figures that might be taken up in exploring such tactics. But the constellation of Foucault, Warhol, and Barthes seems fitting. de Villier notes common reference points that exist between them - Foucault and Barthes were colleagues at the College de France; Barthes and Foucault both wrote about Duane Michal’s, a photographer of Warhol, and all three write about issues of the surface and contest similar cultural modes of being while offering alternatives.Drawing from those contestations, de Villier maps out the tactics such authors utilized to, well, contest, disrupt, and arguably drive people nuts for not abiding by the limiting “epistemology of the closet”. Drawing upon the reparative impulse that currently captivates a realm of queer scholarship, he wants to see the tactics, the strategies of these authors “less for their reactive or protective abilities...but rather more for what they might enable, creatively and politically” (6). Returning to my earlier comment, what would it mean to not allow these authors refusal to be “clear” or “intelligible” or “out” drive us nuts, but to “go nuts” and see what their opaque tactics enable. How might dullness, unintelligibleness, or being “impervious to light” (which we might see as impervious to depth) offer unthought possibilities that offer ways out or around current cultural ruts regarding sexuality, out-ness, and queer place and time of homosexuality historically and presently. Drawing on Foucault, this is a project that contests the idea of sexuality as one’s truth to be confessed, but “to move toward an understanding of the writer’s life as work, the relation to oneself taken as a creative activity” (13).

What exactly does this mean, well de Villiers provides a rather compelling engagement with his three authors of choice (Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol) so I will leave you to read and contend with his arguments. Instead, I want to think through de Villiers in relationship to the recent acceptance speech given by Jodie Foster. Ms. Foster’s speech was anything but clear. At times it seemed to ramble, she feigned nervousness, she performed the ...ellipsis...asking for the audiences support so she can “put it out there, loud and proud”, announcing that she is...single. Like one of Warhol’s interviews in David Bailey’s documentary on Warhold - addressed by de Villiers - Foster, in that moment, illuminated “the art of the anticlimax” (153). Instead, she announces she is single. Yes, all the build up when she says Ends up anti-climatically with people on the edge of their seats (particularly the editors of Out magazine that inanely argue that Foster is in the “The Glass Closet” and after Foster's speech "The Glass Closet Revisited") falling off because she didn’t say what she was expected to say, instead saying something else while still saying what it is people expected. She said it “Loud and Proud” (a mantra of gay rights) and even mentioned that she came out “a thousand years ago, in the Stone Age”. Yet, she refused to abide by the lesson other celebrity-gays-and-lesbians have learned which is that they are “expected to honor the details of their private life”.  

Jodie Foster, I would argue, made an intervention - perhaps one that will inevitably fail - to contest the idea that one has to “confess”, that one must “tell it to the world”. Instead of abiding by the trope of the lonely lesbian trapped in the closet in need of a good, cathartic, televised coming out speech, Foster performs and regails a life lived creatively alongside for the last 20 years “my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life, my confessor, ski buddy,consigliere, most beloved BFF of 20 years, Cydney Bernard”. Jodie Foster came out of the closet years ago, but refused its logic. She created her life, her art, her films but did not see the need to or the point in confessing her sexuality as if it spoke her truth, her inner experience. 

This, I think, is compelling because it refuses the clarity demanded by the “coming-out squad” while providing a rather humble, smart, and beautiful example of living creatively a rather queer life that does not use the confessional coming-out speech as a money-maker “with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show”. Not only does Foster eschew the confessional discourse, while playing with its logic, but she disrupts the consumerist logic that has developed around the coming-out story. She refuses to sell her story, to reveal what is already there, on the surface of her daily life for a quick couple of millions. 

So, while Out can argue she missed her opportunity for “meaningful visibility”, I think Foster’s opacity promises something else.  She exposes the ties between coming-out, consumerism, and the spectacle around the “open-secret”. She continues the challenge to the “closet-metaphor”, while illustrating a life lived “loud and proud” outside of the public eye and the demand for “clarity” and “outness” defined by the neoliberal gay machine (e.g., HRC, Out). She does this with grace and poise, performing nervousness amidst her colleagues and the watching audiences that speaks not to her inner depth, but to her creative way of doing what is wanted of her in her own terms to show other gays and lesbians the “confessional” as Foucault and others showed us in their work, has its own pitfalls. That one can opaquely do life and refuse to abide by other's logic. 

I will end (almost) with Daniel Defert’s lesson from Michel Foucault’s death from AIDS. Foucault, as Defert points out, was heavily criticized for not being more vocal about living with AIDS and such silence often read as “shame”. In Defert’s (Foucault’s partner-in-crime) retort to such claims he penned a piece entitled “the more ashamed one is, the more one admits/claims” (de Villiers, 48). Perhaps then, it is in opacity, in refusing the opportunity for “meaningful visibility” defined a priori as having to utter “gay and lesbian” (or for Foucault “AIDS”) that new opportunities emerge. Perhaps the suspicious gaze should be turned to those at Out, HRC, and others who lambast people for not being “out” in the ways they themselves see one needing to be out. Perhaps it is them, their demands for clarity, visibility, and outness (seemingly tied to consumerism) that needs to be challenged and not Ms. Foster’s smart, snarky, and humble “confessional”. Perhaps their insistent and consistent demands speaks more of them and less of the state of out-ness.

I conclude then with Ms. Foster's final hope, a hope that is perhaps her lesson to her listeners...a hope "to be seen, to be understood...deeply and to not be so very lonely" in this mad world.