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Sense Of Happiness In Foucault's 'Herculine Barbin'

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In republishing Herculine Barbin Foucault sheds new light on the memoirs of what is now called the first intersex narrative, Alexina, as Foucault calls her in his introduction, tells the story of her life including the medical discovery in her adulthood that leads to her legal gender change. In his description of Herculine Barbin , Foucault suggests that Alexina’s happiness lies the “limbo of a non-identity” . I will continue to use the name Alexina and she/her terms throughout the essay, for ease, however these terms are insufficient as the translation of the German makes it difficult to “render the play of the masculine and feminine adjectives” . Foucault alludes to a time in Alexina’s life that is in direct opposition to when she has been…show more content…
Alexina’s happiness, as she expresses it looking back on her past, seems to be her time with Sara. Here, “happiness took the place of sleep for us” but equally it is her greatest torment. However, it is clear that her love for Sara does not cause her distress, nor does her body in the relationship, she takes pleasure in causing Sara pleasure. Her torment instead comes from her distress that her love for Sara cannot end the way that the discourse of love relationships at that time would accept. While one narrative would be to interpret Alexina’s statement “I sometimes envy the lot of the man who will be your husband.”” as her longing to be a man, instead it is clear from the context of her relationship that she simply longs their relationship could have the same respect, openness and eventual ending as what we would now call heterosexual relationship but then would be all relationships. As a consequence Alexina’s longing is not for a male identity but for something that the discourse of the society she is living in does not have the coding to describe. Despite this, Foucault’s argument that her happiness is in non-identity does not hold, as Drenth and Mak suggests “Foucault is guilty of […] presupposing a relation between biology and psychology, which…show more content…
In particular, she is distressed by her separation from Sara and “[t]o live alone, always alone” , without the knowledge of the codes of manhood that all the men around her know from lifetimes of experience. In fact, Alexina seems to be most distressed by the impossibility to fully embody this full identity, she describes herself as a “disinherited creature, a being without a name!” . Here Alexina’s description of her fate seems in direct opposition to Foucault’s argument regarding non-identity, her lack of full identity at this point, or lack of full classification into ‘normal’ roles, seems to be the cause of her distress not her happiness. In fact, in the final parts of her memoirs she expresses a hope that doctors and scientists will “analyse” her parts and “draw new information from it” . While it could be argued that Alexina’s hope here is not to be identified or classified, since she simply longs for information, the fact that she is so clearly distressed by being ‘nameless’ suggests that she finds no consolation in being ‘partly’ something. It could be argued then that the limbo state that Foucault describes is that state that Alexina embodies in her final moments, she is no longer a woman legally or medically and yet she is not fully a man either, she
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