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photos by Lara Shipley

Crompton’s Rejoinder

August 9th, 2005 · No Comments

In my Foucault post below, I mentioned Louis Crompton’s Homosexuality and Civilization, which argues against the Foucauldian view that the notion of a homosexual identity (as opposed to homosexual behavior, which has been around longer than humans) originated in the 19th century. I suggested there that the book may actually supply a point in favor of Foucault’s view, in the form of ancient Greek dialogues in which the relative value of hetero- and homosexual relations is debated, which I took to suggest that the authors supposed anyone might choose either. Crompton thinks (and I’ll certainly take his word for it) I’ve misapprehended what’s going on there:

I suppose it is a matter of how you define the debate. You define it as concerning “which sort of relationship was better for a man to pursue.” But the debaters do not seem to be focused on having men change their lifestyles. Rather, the debate is framed as deciding which is intrinsically better, the love of boys or the love of women, and the participants present themselves as the lovers of one or the other–though a bisexual does turn up in the prologue to the dialogue by “Lucian”–for him the question is merely a philosophical one since he has no intention of giving up either pleasure.

Perhaps the strongest argument for the existence of a gay identity among the Greeks is Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium. The playwright divides humanity into three kinds of couples on the basis of a fantastic myth -–male/ male, female/female, and male/female. I call him a “gay chauvinist” for his bias against the the third of these pairings.

Tags: Sexual Politics