Foucault's asceticism and the subject of AIDS

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Ayres, Jonathan Peter

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Although Foucault elaborated upon the socio-political possibilities he associated with a “homosexual ascesis” in several other interviews and writings, his death from AIDS in 1984 kept him from continuing to speak about this his final project. My dissertation, Foucault’s Asceticism and the Subject of AIDS, will argue for the contemporary significance of Foucault’s call for a “homosexual ascesis” by placing Foucault’s last work on the genealogy of asceticism into direct dialogue with three of his intellectual and artistic peers: Derek Jarman, Herve Guibert and David Wojnarowicz. Like Foucault, all three men died of AIDS; unlike him, they left us a prolific literary and visual documentation of their experience with the disease. Drawing upon Foucault’s historical-theoretical discussions of asceticism to identify interpretive topoi for reading these AIDS self-writings, my goal in this dissertation is twofold: 1) to reveal the specificity of Foucault’s transvaluation of asceticism and in doing so, to contribute to the work of current scholars who seek to refine and extend our grasp of Foucault’s late theories of subjectivity; and 2) to argue for the important place Foucault’s “asceticism” must have within our ongoing attempts at understanding how AIDS has impacted the formation of homosexual subjectivities and cultures.