In Convulsing Bodies: Religion and Resistance in Foucault, Mark Jordan invites us to read (and re-read) the complex and contested corpus of Michel Foucault, attending to the form, style, and other literary dimensions therein in order to reflect on the process of reading and writing about bodies, especially the bodies of the lost, forgotten, subjected, and violated. While this book certainly contributes to the important scholarship that surrounds Foucault’s perspectives on religion, its aims and execution strive beyond the typical “scholarly exposition,” as Jordan subtly guides the reader through stylistic boundaries between literature and philosophy so that these same elements are revealed in Foucault’s writing. In describing what allured him to make this book, he writes, “I am lured not by [Foucault’s] bodily life but by whatever lured him to write endlessly about the bodily production of our words for bodies” (3).
The contributors to this symposium have each offered unique and engaging perspectives after allowing Jordan to lead them in this singular book. The imaginative exercises enacted in reading the writing of these readings of Jordan coalesce in their vulnerability to lay bare their own practice. Some imagine Jordan’s own reading and writing practice in a mimesis of his activity with Foucault (Tonstad, Dubilet). Others engage in analogous readings of authors both classical and recent who engage in their own process of reading, writing, re-reading, and re-writing (Larsen). All the authors highlight new lines of inquiry opened up to them by their reading, such as “the question of forms of resistance to pastoral power” (Dubilet), “the figure of the entrepreneur” (Tonstad) and the aesthetic dimension of life (Brintnall). Finally, Jordan’s engaged responses to each contributor is itself a helpful opportunity for him to give voice to theoretical and strategic dimensions of the book that can only assist in the reading process.
Linn Marie Tonstad links Jordan’s practice of writing and reading to queer interpretive practices as she reflects on the tense interplay between word/sound and the body in agony and wonders about the role of sexuality as strategy of power. Alex Dubilet’s “structured ruminations” attend to the interplay and porousness in discourses of religion and secularity, while most perceptively identifying perhaps Jordan’s greatest achievement in his book: the “training [of] readers’ sight to these elements—modes of speech, comportments of body, modes of subjectivation, techniques of power, forms of discourse and truth…” Lynne Huffer pays excellent attention to Jordan’s intended re-figuration of philosophy into camp, a kind of “histrionic excess,” as the lens through which to read Foucault’s writings, best understood as “dramaturgies” (140). This sensibility saturates Foucault’s work, and especially Jordan’s, which she identifies as an “ethopoietic camp philosophy.” Kent L. Brintnall captures the didactic dimension in Jordan’s book poetically when he writes, “Jordan’s writing traces a finger across the page of Foucault’s texts, directing our eyes and focusing our attention.” His essay focuses on the literary dimension of Foucault’s and Jordan’s texts, articulating Jordan’s program as an invitation to consider the question “Should we read Foucault as a novelist?” In a most helpful and learned essay, Sean Larsen situates Convulsing Bodies within the context of Jordan’s other work in ethics, theology, and queer studies, as well as providing analogous examples through readings of the re-writing of bodies in writings of James Baldwin and Augustine of Hippo.
Theology plays and haunts throughout these essays, as it does Jordan’s book and Foucault’s work. Allusions to the word, the Word, and other incarnational references are peppered throughout, often in poetic contexts. This is appropriate, considering the great struggle and joy of the work is about bodies and the tension of their presence and absence as we, Jordan, Foucault, and others, write them. All of these essays take Jordan’s invitation and challenge seriously to disrupt the rationalistic stranglehold on scholarly discourse, a challenge Jordan himself reveals as a constitutive aspect of Foucault’s own work.