I WAS FOUCAULT'S GIRLFRIEND
BY SYLVÈRE LOTRINGER
from the Blue issue
'It was really worth it,' Foucault thought, stepping out of the New York Public Library. To anyone else but him, of course, it would have sounded a little nutty, coming all the way from Sao Paolo to New York to examine an obscure Jesuit manual on child masturbation published in 1821. But it was all there - he chuckled - as he had assumed it would be. And tomorrow, Paris. His boyfriend, Daniel, would be waiting for him at Charles de Gaulle. Foucault took his glasses off and blinked into the sun.
It was at this point that Sally Beckman noticed him from the street. Well how could she not? Sally had always been ready for that moment, it seemed. The man was walking down the library steps surrounded by roaring lions. This was a special sign, Sally thought, suddenly feeling funny in her stomach.
As he meekly put his glasses back on. Sally imagined the hours he'd spent reading in the library. He must be a lawyer documenting a case - a successful businessman - or, why not? A politician. Conservative, respectable, reassuring. Sally sighed and glanced in his direction. The old school of man.
Just her luck: she'd spent hours cruising these streets for someone who would turn her on personality-wise, which happened very rarely, and now that he was here she couldn't even get close to him. Her friend Martha wouldn't approve.
Sally quickly glanced at Martha walking beside her an sighed. Martha wasn't interested in sex. A few years ago she married her boyfriend Ken, but they remained pure. Martha was a missionary. She wasn't of this world.
'Where's Ken?' Sally asked - as if she didn't know. Ken was one block away on 42nd Street handling out leaflets hailing the fall of Babylon. When Sally first met him on the street he was wearing a T-shirt with JEWS FOR JESUS written in big fiery letters. Sally was feeling so bored and lonely she would've talked to a dog. Besides, she thought, Jesus God was a Jew, so it made sense that Jews would care for him.
'I'm really tired,' Sally said. 'Why don't you check how Ken's doing. I'll wait in front of the library.'
Martha shrugged and walked off and then Sally noticed Foucault's bald head. How could she have missed it? His skull was gleaming in the sun. Well, that was alright. Even though she generally preferred men with silvery hair, he was as distinguished as Alexander Haig. Coming closer she noticed his beautiful hands and she couldn't help shivering. When she was a little girl she had a crush on this Rabbi. One day he put his arm around her and she had an orgasm - oh not a very powerful one, but it was enough, really, the first and only time it ever happened to her. She imagined the man's touch on her bare skin. Then she closed her eyes.
When she looked again the man Foucault was heading towards South Avenue. How could I talk to him, she wondered, panicking. Then she saw a group of Hare Krishnas chanting on the sidewalk, eyes turned inward, robes flowing. Blessed be the Lord, she thought - and she rushed forward.
'Excuse me, Sir,' she said. Foucault looked away. 'May I ask you for something?' She saw his body tensing. He turned around angrily, but then relaxed somewhat. The girl looked pretty harmless.
'Are you a Hare Krishna?'
'A what?…' Foucault looked dumbfounded. Then he passed his hand over his smooth skull and burst into a loud laughter.
Sally was slightly offended but relieved at the same time. That really broke the ice.
'B-but you're a be-believer, aren't you?' She went on, fumbling for words.
'I wouldn't say I'm a believer,' he replied with a glimmer in his eye. 'Although I'm definitely a student of beliefs.'
'Oh, you're a student?' She sounded very disappointed.
'Well,' Foucault said, 'I didn't mean it literally. I'm a searcher, if you will.'
'Oh so am I!' Sally said, 'So am I! And her face lit up. 'I haven't become totally convinced yet. I get close, but then I get angry and I back up.'
'What do you get angry at?' Foucault asked patiently.
'At Jesus God. Why should I worship somebody who's not making my life very tolerable?'
Foucault shrugged imperceptibly. She could tell he was losing interest.
'That's the main point, you know,' she added hurriedly. 'That's why I don't do it.'
'Well, good luck to you,' Foucault said politely. And he walked away.
'You can believe everything you want,' she shouted, running after him, 'but living a Christian life's a different story.'
He pretended not to hear.
'The advantages of it are really great.'
He walked faster.
'It's the only social security,' she pleaded, trotting along, 'I mean the most dependable I see on this earth. In terms of your personal life with another person,' - here her voice caught a little - 'most of the time they ran off, they leave you, all this corruption, adultery and cocaine, all this nonsense, insecurity and instability. Whereas these Christian marriages, you know,' she whispered, feeling utterly dejected, 'are really stable. They both rely on God's love, they work things out.'
Foucault slowed down. Maybe he was touched by the desperation in her voice. Or maybe it made him think of his long term relationship with Daniel. Did she think it was easy for two men to be together? And by that he meant live together, share their time, their meals, their rooms, their leisure, grief and knowledge and confidence?
'I have been locked up in this prison all day,' Foucault finally said, pointing to the Public Library right behind them. He was just trying to be nice, of course, there was nothing he liked better than spending days peering at archives from the 18th century. 'Would you like to sit in the park with me for a while?'
'Oh I'd love to,' Sally said, jumping for joy. And she grabbed his arm.
So they walked around the corner to Bryant Park, a few scratched benches and dry bushes ringed by corporate high-rise, and Sally introduced herself as she settled on a bench. 'I'm Sally Beckman.'
'Michel,' he simply said, and he shook her hand.
'Michel! That's a lovely name,' Sally said, filing her mind to the sensation of his firm hand on hers. 'It's French, isn't it?'
'Yep,' said Michel, and he stretched his big bony arms above his head. There was nothing Foucault usually hated more than nature, but actually it felt wonderful to be out today. Bryant Park was hardly nature anyway. He'd walked past it so many times before without even noticing it. He was like a mole tunneling his way out of bourgeois knowledge - well, his own really - never seeing the light. 'My life's so boring,' he said suddenly, following his own train of thought.
'Really?' said Sally. 'I thought everybody else's life is always so interesting.'
She's pretty innocent, he thought, maybe a little stupid. He began to regret his offer. There was a pause.
'What do you do, Sally?' Michel asked amicably. It was like getting one of his undergraduates to speak. 'Still going to school?'
Sally resented that one. Everyone still treated her like a baby. 'I'm an actress. I'm 18, you know.'
'That's very interesting, Sally. And what part do you like to play?'
'You know Gloria Benson? She's on TV a lot -'
'I never watch TV. To tell you the truth I haven't got one.'
'Oh you're kidding. Oooh, sorry, I mean you should get one; you definitely should, Michel. That way you can choose. You can turn it on, turn it off.'
Michel didn't look very turned-on by that.
'Anyway,' she continued, 'I used to have a real crush on her. I thought she was the coolest thing in the world, because she was always playing some kind of rebel.'
'Is that the role you like to play?' Foucault really hadn't expected this blue-eyed cherub-faced little church mouse to be a revolutionary.
'Oh yeah. A very angry kind of role. Against society. You know, women can be angry too. Hate's a human emotion.'
'I guess so.' He laughed. That was a nice way of putting it.
'What do you mean?' She exploded. 'Puerto Ricans grabbing me in the street - I HATE that! They show no respect at all. I talked to my psychiatrist about it and I got so furious that it went BANG! I pushed him to the side and just walked out.'
Foucault didn't say anything.
'I get into these fits when something sets me off. Like one time I'm walking down the street and a white man, for a change, started talking to me. Of course he was too young -' a sidelong glance at Michel, who this innuendo is lost on - 'but really, he was telling me: I like you. I want to sleep with you. What? I said. What kind nonsense is that? You don't know who the fuck I am. It could be any woman walking down the street. This is no flattery me. It doesn't make me special. Every woman has the same hole, and MINE IS REALLY SMALL ON TOP OF IT, so he certainly wouldn't even have liked it. Disgusting! Disgusting!'
Foucault couldn't help being amused by Sally's outburst. It was so American, he thought: a ritual exchange of true confessions. And then, she had no idea who he was…
'Do you find life in New York intolerable?' he asked, probing her for more.
'God! I feel oppressed all the time. And anyone who oppresses me. I want to kill.'
'You don't really mean that, Sally.'
'Sure I do. Everybody wants to kill.'
'I don't believe it.'
'Are you kidding me? I'd be a mass murder if I didn't care about being locked up. Sure I'd like to kill. Wouldn't you?'
'Wouldn't you love bashing people's heads?'
'Oh God! People who're infringing upon my rights, which they often do! Like my family… I despise them immensely, every single one of them. I wished there was a Nuclear Holocaust and they'd all be wiped out.'
'So would you incidentally.'
'I wish,' Sally whispered to Foucault, 'that I was never born. My mother is one of the stupidest persons in the world. Playing cards, that's her whole life. You wake up and you play your cards. It gives you an incentive to go on… Incentive for what? More arthritis? They have this blind will to live which I don't understand. Oh, to hang on to life and to go on. Eighty years old, my grandmother is, what is she going for? A great romance with Federico Fellini? I mean,' and Sally looked angrily at the old bag-lady pushing a shopping cart full of junk through the park, 'come off it! What are you living for? Go on for what? You might as well,' she screamed, 'KICK OFF!'
Foucault noticed a plane slowly veering above the park. Perhaps she wasn't such a good example of institutionalized neurosis. Perhaps she was a really crazy girl.
'Reality's so ugly and mundane,' Sally continued. 'All I like is to watch TV. Grandeur, eyes, mystery, terror, sexual excitement, rapture! That's the world of movies. All these wonderful things happen. I wish I was in a movie. I wish life was a movie with me in it.'
Sally couldn't believe Michel had let her talk so long. This was really going well! She took a deep breath to come down from the giddiness of her excitement. Then, softer: 'Wouldn't you like to be a famous movie star, Michel?'
'Who me?' Michel wrinkled his forehead and laughed. 'Not for me. I've always dreamt of being anonymous, starting a new life, to pack up a suitcase and go… But where? Dropping out of sight like Rimbaud? I don't believe enough in literature. Not that I'm ready to sell guns in Ethiopia…' He laughed. 'Maybe I'll become a journalist - someone writing history in the present. But then -' he grinned, 'I'd probably end up doing the same thing all over again.'
Sally asked timidly: 'What do you do?'
'I'm a writer.'
'Wow!' Sally had never met one of these before and she was glad Michel was not a novelist. She'd never thought of it but if she had to draw a picture of the older man she was looking for, he'd be a philosopher, graying, tweedy, looking genially down from great heights, not even seeing the kind of sordid stuff she rubbed her nose in every day. A philosopher, she thought, is like a Christian.
'Do you have any children, Michel?' Sally asked.
'Me? Oh no no no, I'm not married!' He frowned
Sally was wondering if she said something wrong. Don't most men his age have children? Maybe philosophers aren't interested in love. They're so busy searching for the truth they don't have time for worldly things.
And then there was this awkward pause. The philosopher was staring at his boots, an eyebrow raised. What to do now? Sally crossed her legs, shaked her bracelet and tossed her hair around with a willful twist just like Gloria Benson. Now what? Why didn't he pay more attention to her? She looked very attractive. She was wearing a white print blouse and the pink pleated skirt that came out so well in the portfolio shots she sent to various agents (though with little success so far). This was really beginning to bother her. Will the same thing happen with Michel?
A man was coming toward them from the other side of the park. There was something funny about the way he walked. Oh he was feeling his way with a cane. It must be awful to be blind, Sally thought, especially in New York City where people will slash your throat for a quarter and think nothing of it.
'Joint, joint, joint,' someone suddenly whispered. She turned around and saw the blind man staring at her. 'Sens, sens,' he said with a grin.
'Get lost,' Sally hissed angrily between her teeth - but then she changed her mind. She used to smoke pot every day when she was in high school, but then she started seeing angels fly in a chariot in the sky and got a little panicked. 'Wait,' she said, reaching for a wallet, and she touched Michel lightly on the shoulder.
'Uh,' Foucault said, startled. He had a date to visit the Mineshaft, and was planning his outfit, black leather jacket over black leather vest, and a leather cap to boot. He had almost forgotten he was in the park with this little girl. What was her name? Oh yes - Sally.
'Oh let's have some!' she said with a playful voice. She really was at her wit's end.
Foucault looked at her hand.
Well - he hesitated for a second and then took up her offer. It couldn't hurt, he thought, thinking of the Mineshaft. He leaned against the seat and inhaled.
He could feel his feet tingle, his whole body gently pulsating. 'Ahaaahm,' he said again, crossing his hands behind his head. It felt good being in New York incognito. No-one here would stop him on the street as if he was a TV star. Once in Paris someone even mistook him for Jean-Paul Sartre! He took another toke and coughed himself laughing thinking of the little man in his famous lumber-jacket. 'I'm not sure it's a compliment, Monsieur,' he replied superbly, and everybody roared with laughter.
Sally was laughing too, although she didn't exactly know why. She was feeling more confident now, enough to tell Michel about her predicament. 'Every time I meet someone,' she said, 'I'm all freaked out. We start talking and they don't catch on. Except someone like my shrink, because… I don't know he's different. 55, a severe face. He sits back in his chair and everything stands up, even his hair. I love that: like a needle, straight. Straight black hair… beautiful hair.' Then he realized that she was staring at Michel's bald head. 'Oooops!' she said, to make things worse.
'I'm not a shrink,' Michel replied, and both laughed.
'Oh, you're very different, Michel,' Sally hastened to say. 'I'd like to curl up on his lap and maybe give him a kiss, but he doesn't respond.' Pause. 'He's boring really.' Laugh. 'And he wouldn't let me do anything anyway.' Sigh. 'You know, he can't. He's a shrink, I'm just another patient.'
'Why did you go to a shrink in the first place?' Foucault asked. He didn't believe in psychoanalysis anymore. And he hated confessions.
'I had no-one else to talk to. My father was never there.'
'And your mother?'
'My mother,' - her voice dripping with contempt - 'all my mother wants is to meet someone and get laid! She's so liberated! When I was 11 she told me to get a diaphragm. Couldn't wait to tell me everything. If you ever get pregnant, Sally, she said, come to me; WE'LL get an abortion. Don't you think that's sickening?'
'You talk so much about sex,' Foucault reflected.
'It isn't me,' Sally said. And then she's off again: 'Every time you touch someone they expect you to end up in bed with some kind of orgasm. It's a serious thing to let someone inside your body. I don't enjoy it. So far it's been rotten. And it's not, you know, the size of someone's penis or the way they put it in. It's a mental thing.'
'When I go down on a man,' Sally told Foucault, 'I hate it, God they stick everything in your mouth, it's like a garbage truck parking, you know? Fucking the dead. It doesn't feel natural and the inner voice says no.'
'I see,' Foucault replied, remembering the Jesuits. 'You have many things to confess.'
Sally jumped at this. In acting class she excelled at improv. You catch the ball, and then you run with it. A good improviser thinks on her feet, can transform even the lamest conversational lulls into… opportunity. 'Yes, Father,' she drawled, feeling her way. 'I've sinned. I've sinned. I've sinned… but, it's all in my head. I can't be blamed, you see, because,' - she changed gears artfully - 'You have such a nice body.'
Foucault was really taken aback.
'I can't help it, Father, you're so attractive. Would you mind if I sit on your lap?'
Foucault stiffened and tried to get rid of his legs. 'I suppose,' he said, taking a theological detour, 'you believe in the Immaculate Conception?'
'I do, Father, yes I do. I don't approve of sex, bodily orifices and things, out of the bond of matrimony. And unless you're with someone who's a missionary or a religious person, to know, to know absolutely for sure that they're not going to sleep with everyone else…'
'Father,' she said, I just want to ask you one thing. You can say whatever you want. I promise I won't mind.' She whispered in his ear and he suddenly woke up.
'No! That is ridiculous. You jump on me with the rant about marriage and Christianity. I sit here listening out of curiosity or pity and then you throw yourself at me as if I could respond? I don't! Is that clear? I can't have a girlfriend, ever.'
Sally was concentrating very hard, but her eyes kept moving around. Some fifty yards away she noticed a couple standing under a tree. They were having a fight, she could tell.
'I understand,' Sally said. 'I think I do. But it's not pleasure I want… I mean, oh I don't know.' And she threw a glance at the couple, fighting.
The woman was shrieking. The man was trying to get away but she was hanging on to his jacket. Finally he pushed her and walked away. It was all over between them. Sally felt so sad she could've cried. Anyone could divorce or die, anyone could stop loving you - except Jesus. Sally sighed with relief. No, Jesus would never leave me for another woman… And then it dawned on her: what if Jesus was a fag? She gasped. What if he didn't care for women at all? The thought went through her like a knife.
'If you don't like women,' Sally finally said, regaining her composure, 'that's okay. At least, I know you're not going to… In a sense, I trust you more. I'd be your ONLY girlfriend. 'Cause all I want,' she finished, 'is to be your friend.'
'I don't know about that,' Foucault said, frowning.
Sally looked at him intently, as if for the first time. Now it was all up to him.
Foucault grabbed his bag.
For a moment everything was suspended.
The woman now was crying against the tree, her frail shoulders going up and down, up and down. He was gone, she was alone. My father, Sally thought, never cared much for women. He didn't care for my mother. They didn't love each other. They slept in separate rooms. But what if it had been a mistake? If he didn't want to live with a woman? And now she was sobbing, all these years piled up on the bench like so much junk.
Finally Foucault said: 'Once I had a woman friend…'
Sally stopped sniffling and smiled. Maybe they could still be friends.