Having spent Spring 2000 studying sexuality, gender and identity at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, I was eager to return to Goddard in Fall and begin my senior year. I was full of new ideas for my senior study and looking to build on my research projects from the previous term.
My faculty advisor introduced me to Michel who was visiting on campus for the term as he labored to complete the final volume in his series on the history of sexuality. I was immediately captivated by his presence and the fact that he was smoking a cigarette inside the manor. Dressed in black pants and a slim-fit black turtleneck sweater, thick black plastic framed glasses, and a shaved head that I longed to rub my fingers against; I immediately felt Michel’s magnetism.
I arranged to spend as much time with Michel as possible initially under the pretense of an independent study into post-structuralist French thought. Sartre, Deleuze, Derrida and even some of Michel’s own works – I often felt like I was trying to learn a foreign language and compelled to dive deeper into this seemingly alternate universe.
Michel and I were soon inseparable. We spent time in my advisor’s office, the library, and my dorm room at Pratt. In good weather we’d lay together on the lawn outside the community center. At night we would go for walks on campus often ending up in the upper gardens where Michel would regal me with tales about the panopticon, power and resistance. His command of history was vast and I especially enjoyed hearing about his investigations into sexuality in the gay clubs and bathhouses of San Francisco in the ‘70s and ‘80s. His life seemed to be modeled on Goddard’s idea of experiential learning and I longed to emulate his style.
Michel’s visa expired shortly after my graduation in June 2001 and he returned to Europe. I planned to join him in the Fall having been accepted to a graduate program in philosophy and cultural analysis in the Netherlands. Life intervened as I obtained a summer job at the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury working with psychiatric patients that would eventually blossom into my first career. Michel became ill on his return to France and would later pass away from complications due to AIDS.
The year I spent with Michel remains the best of my life. He opened my mind and body to so many possibilities for pleasure and I am forever grateful. Although he is now long since passed, I continue to relive our times together and often fall asleep with one of his books on my pillow each night. My relationship with Michel remains my longest and most fulfilling. Even today he inspires and challenges me; his words continuing to foster my growth into the person I long to be–a lifelong learner.
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Photo credit #1: https://medium.com/@the_economist/michel-foucaults-lessons-for-business-4aacb6444921 Photo Credit #2: Jean Pierre Fouchet/RAPHO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images