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Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite

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With an eye for the sensual bloom of young schoolgirls, and the torrid style of the romantic novels of her day, Herculine Barbin tells the story of her life as a hermaphrodite. Herculine was designated female at birth. A pious girl in a Catholic orphanage, a bewildered adolescent enchanted by the ripening bodies of her classmates, a passionate lover of another schoolmistress, she is suddenly reclassified as a man. Alone and desolate, he commits suicide at the age of thirty in a miserable attic in Paris.

Here, in an erotic diary, is one lost voice from our sexual past. Provocative, articulate, eerily prescient as she imagines her corpse under the probing instruments of scientists, Herculine brings a disturbing perspective to our own notions of sexuality. Michel Foucault, who discovered these memoirs in the archives of the French Department of Public Hygiene, presents them with the graphic medical descriptions of Herculine’s body before and after her death. In a striking contrast, a painfully confused young person and the doctors who examine her try to sort out the nature of masculine and feminine at the dawn of the age of modern sexuality.

224 pages, Paperback

First published May 26, 1978

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About the author

Michel Foucault

639 books5,345 followers
Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," but before he was Professor at University of Tunis, Tunisia, and then Professor at University Paris VIII. He lectured at several different Universities over the world as at the University at Buffalo, the University of California, Berkeley and University of São Paulo, University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, medicine, the human sciences and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. His writings on power, knowledge, and discourse have been widely influential in academic circles. In the 1960s Foucault was associated with structuralism, a movement from which he distanced himself. Foucault also rejected the poststructuralist and postmodernist labels later attributed to him, preferring to classify his thought as a critical history of modernity rooted in Immanuel Kant. Foucault's project was particularly influenced by Nietzsche, his "genealogy of knowledge" being a direct allusion to Nietzsche's "genealogy of morality". In a late interview he definitively stated: "I am a Nietzschean."

Foucault was listed as the most cited scholar in the humanities in 2007 by the ISI Web of Science.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 98 reviews
Profile Image for hafsah.
383 reviews135 followers
February 18, 2022
read for university — decided to not rate this book

this is a collection of diary entries written by Herculine Barbin, who was an intersex individual in the 19th century. It's a raw, dark and disturbing insight into her life, following from when she was a young school girl, to her sudden reclassifiication as a man, and her eventual suicide at the age of 30.

We watch her slow descent into depression, her struggles with identity and sexuality, the abuse and isolation she faced due to archaic views on her body. It was actually very difficult to read at times, due to how exposed these diary entries are, and how we're witnessing the darkest and most brutal parts of this person's life. It felt extremely intrusive to read this? Especially considering that these were her diary entries, and not an autobiography.

It asks interesting questions on what it means to be masculine or feminine, as well as nicely covers how gender is a social construct and that it's harmful to regulate the way that people live their lives, based on outdated and restrictive societal ideals.
It was insightful and eye-opening, but also difficult af to read because of the sensitive content.
Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 55 books579 followers
August 28, 2018
My review is online now at Bogi Reads the World! Read about the first ever intersex #ownvoices book! (And why it has non-ownvoices bits too, and which parts of the book to avoid.)

I really liked this short memoir and I recommend it, but some of the bonus material attached to it was just weird, and not in a good sense:


Source of the book: Present from Amazon wishlist (thank you!)
Profile Image for Skylar.
1 review15 followers
September 24, 2019
Rating this is bittersweet, because out of respect for Barbin I want to rate this highly, however I hold serious resentment towards Foucault and Panizza for their additions to Barbin's memoirs. Foucault, by including Barbin's medical dossier and including the graphic details of the medical examinations they underwent feels gratuitous; seeming to imply that understanding Barbin's anatomy is crucial to our ability to sympathize with them and reducing Barbin to a medical case study. and Panizza's dramatization of Barbin's life story just feels sensationalist and wrong. Barbin deserves better than this treatment. Rest in power.
Profile Image for DoctorM.
836 reviews2 followers
August 5, 2011
Fascinating and sad--- the story of an intersex tragedy of the mid-1800s. Herculine is raised female, and, after confessing her love of women, is examined, found intersexed, and "re-assigned" by doctors as male. She has no idea how to be male, how to play the male role in ways society understands, and the career possibilities for someone whose sex has been altered aren't good. It ends badly, yes, in misery and suicide. Foucault touches on so many of the points made famous in his other works: the nature of sexuality, the power of the medical profession to define and control, the way identity is shaped and monitored. It's a tragic little tale, made worse by the good intentions (however pompous and condescending) of Herculine's surgeons. A small book that makes one realise how humane and often subtle a thinker Foucault was.
Profile Image for Caris.
40 reviews4 followers
July 5, 2023
*Content Warning: sexual abuse, suicide*

Alexina Barbin, as she referred to herself, was an intersex woman who lived in the mid-1800’s (before the term ‘intersex’ emerged). She studied in a convent in Southwestern France from a young age, and eventually became a teacher there. She was assigned female at birth, but in her early twenties, she was legally reassigned male and forced to live in society as such. Upon her death in 1868, she left behind memoirs, which Michel Foucault discovered in the 1970’s and republished with an introduction. Alongside these memoirs, this volume includes a dossier of medical reports from the physicians who subjected her to invasive medical examinations both before and after her death. Throughout her life she went by many names and labels, understandably, though most of them were imposed by those around her.

This is a difficult book to review. I’m going to do so briefly in three parts: Alexina’s memoirs, the medical reports, and finally Foucault’s commentary.

The memoirs themselves are eloquently written, and Alexina just excelled at expressing emotions through her writing. Few memoirs move me the way this did. As she is forced to live in poverty in Paris, she articulates fears of being brought to the attention of the police, the abandonment by those she knew who might have otherwise assisted in her livelihood, and her isolation as she became separated from the social class of other women. Due to the pain, despair, and desperation she endured having to leave everything she knew behind her and live as male, Alexina died by suicide at 29 years old.

Then there are the doctors… honestly, this part fills me with anger, and it brought me close to tears. The physicians who came in contact with Alexina throughout her life were despicable people, and the abuse she suffered at the hands of the medical and religious establishments in France was unforgivable. They dehumanized and objectified her with invasive examinations, against her consent, and the reports in this volume are simply pages of grotesque descriptions of her body that none of us have a right to read. Consequently, I couldn’t read them. As other readers have noted, reading these portions of text feels intrusive and their very publication is an act of violence.

While Foucault provides great context in his introduction, he inconsistently genders Alexina, while simultaneously dramatizing her life as “an unfortunate hero of the quest for identity” (pp. xii). One of the most upsetting things about the conversations about Alexina has been the degree of carelessness, apathy, almost playful attitude with which people refer to her. Foucault’s commentary in particular has certainly been criticized from several angles; honestly, I don’t think it would honour Alexina’s life to provide my own opinion on this. I think even the way Foucault presents his insights, regardless of their validity, is in itself insensitive.

I’m not intersex. I’m a transgender woman, and the identities and worlds Alexina and I have inhabited are starkly different. Yet, so much of her story resonates with me on a deeply personal level, so much so that I’m not going to expand here. I have nothing but contempt for society’s abuse of non-conforming bodies, and the archaic practice of sex assignment. I think listening to intersex voices today—those who have the choice to be publicized—is a more productive form of allyship, and one that we need to engage with more.
Profile Image for Sara.
36 reviews18 followers
May 30, 2012
~ I first became interested in Herculine Barbin as I was reading another book: The Book of Shadows", by James Reese. He uses her as the main character but in his novel she is also a fledgling witch (excellent book, by the way). Her memoirs, which are written in an almost prosaic way, are very sad. She was a woman and then had to revert back to legal status as a man at age 22. She tragically commits suicide at age 30. From what I read, she was a good person with a loving heart. She deserved better. Michael Foucalt explains the laws regarding hermaphroditism expertly in the introduction and poses the very interesting question of our true sex. Does everyone need to have one true sex? I don't think so. And her character should not have been defined by forcing a male gender and legal status that way. Another part that was rather macabre but interesting were the medical examinations of her body done pre and post mortem.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for amy.
105 reviews1 follower
March 16, 2021
It's not often you get to hear the voices of marginalized people from history. If another edition of this book is released though, I hope Barbin's own voice be left to speak for herself, without the latter sections of the book (the medical reports and sensationalized story by Panizza), which I found to be dehumanizing and violent.
Profile Image for Cru.
16 reviews1 follower
March 7, 2022
How to rate this book? Idk. It is def worth it for Herculine's memoirs. But the rest?
I read this book twice and it has made me physically ill, because the brutal violence of it comes not only from Herculine's tragic story, but also from the way this book has been edited and curated, half of it being "explanations" or "contextualizations" of Herculine's writings by the same doctors/medical perspective that lead them to commit suicide and by Foucault, who instead of publishing the text on Herculine's name decided to make his own publication with the unfortunate choice of a juxtaposition with Panizza's short story and the intrusive file report of Herculine's case - a masturbatory act of making the real life of a person into an element of his theory. Especially reading Herculin's diary and understandiong how writing and text was so important for them, it really saddens me to think about Foucault's conscious choice of edition.
Profile Image for Lucy .
115 reviews12 followers
February 19, 2021
Read for University.

It feels weird rating this book because it is like rating someone retelling their pain and struggles through life.

Nevertheless, amongst all the heartbreaking moments, it was a very revealing read.

Profile Image for Mikki.
357 reviews
December 9, 2018
A very interesting read for the most part, although I wasn't at all enamored with novella which was included with the book. Still, I can recommend this story to anyone who doubts the reality of the human condition called hermaphrodism. It's fortunate that today we have mostly a more understanding climate surrounding the issue of gender identity, not to mention sexual preference. However, I believe depression can still result in such individuals today because of lack self-knowledge and self-tolerance, especially if such a diagnosis is not discovered nor sought due to fear of ridicule and/or condemnation by ignorant people (especially those in the thrall of conservative, religious convictions) who see difference as something to hide and be ashamed of, or - even today - something abhorrent and 'of the devil' (a view which is, IMO, the most dangerous and erroneous piece of made-up religious dross to emerge from the patriarchal religions mascarading as spiritual truth.) That's a whole other issue which wasn't apparent at all in the story Herculine told, so the tale came across as one of bemused purity of thought and deed prior to diagnosis, and of angst surrounding her/his condition afterwards - which led to suicide at age 30.
Profile Image for Neophrem.
168 reviews6 followers
January 9, 2021
Come molte testimonianze dirette, anche questa presenta una grande defezione: è un crogiolo non scremato di emozioni alla rinfusa, salti di palo in franca, riferimenti oscuri al lettore e opinioni personali non supportate da fatti - perché chi scrive dà per scontato che tutto sia chiaro a chi legge.
Mi aspettavo onestamente qualcosa di più da questa biografia: maggiore chiarezza di cronaca, maggiore maturità emozionale, maggiore volontà di lasciare vere e proprie memorie, e non una serie di spezzoni di diario segreto che, in fin dei conti, racconta davvero poco se non dei patemi amorosi dell'autore.
Illuminanti sono le trascrizioni mediche in appendice perché senza quelle, francamente, la storia di Camille apparrebbe ancora meno interessante.

Si tratta di un'importante testimonianza storica, ma come opera narrativa è assolutamente mediocre.
Sull'ermafroditismo, piuttosto consiglio di leggere "Middlesex" di Eugenides, che perlomeno ha il pregio di saper incastonare le emozioni in una storia coerente.
Profile Image for Abigail Tarttelin.
Author 8 books401 followers
March 17, 2013
God I wish I could grab Alexina's hands and tell her everything is alright!! It's so sad to think she missed out on our times by a mere 150 years and thus has to live such a wretched and vexed life. On the other hand, I wonder if a story like this is possible now, still, maybe somewhere rural. As luck would have it, Herculine aka Alexina was a really brilliant writer and storyteller, so this is an engaging read. Such a sad story. I wish she could have stayed with her friend. The medical notes from Foucault were interesting but after reading the human account they werent the meat of the book. I wasn't going to read the final section A Scandal At The Convent, but it was short and interesting so I'm glad I did.
Profile Image for Kate.
341 reviews1 follower
November 29, 2018
I wrote about this book for a paper on the role of the Catholic Church in defining gender roles and identity in 19th Century France. As an intersex individual, Herculine grows up with a feminine religiosity- focused on submission, obedience, and devotion. Once reassigned as a man, the inability to cross the strict gender divide ultimately leaves Herculine without a community, religion, or identity.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
1,384 reviews12 followers
February 4, 2021
It sucks when stability doesn’t understand you and medicalizes what it doesn’t want to understand and then when you finally get free from that, you’re unemployable because you either can’t explain your past or don’t have the words to explain your past. At least now, it’s a little more safe to be honest about how you experience yourself.
Profile Image for Mark.
447 reviews14 followers
June 11, 2021
Wow. That was a humbling and sobering read. It's a shame that the issues of people on the margins (such as intersex, or as they used to be called, hermaphrodites) have been so heavily politicized (and in such a bulky, partisan way). Though increasing the visibility of these people's issues is positive, the bulk solutions and forced equivocations are not.

This book is the perfect book to explain this issue to Christian (quasi)conservatives me, and Barbin was the perfect person to do it. To me the most heartbreaking part of the journals (besides their ending) was the point at which they questioned whether anyone cared, and they wondered why God allowed this to happen to them. It was because the author's simple yet cutting prose was exactly what it needed to be. I believe that giving a copy of this book to any Christian would do wonders for gender relations in today's political climate. Unlike Ta-Nehisi Coates disastrous instigations in "Between the World and Me", this little journal made a powerfully empathetic plea with Christians to love their neighbors, especially those who are struggling sexually and with identity issues.

If I am going to be brutally honest, Intersex is easily the group in the LGBTQIA+ alphabet soup which I am most empathetic towards. Unlike the sexual orientations (which, since they are actions, are all choices, including heterosexuality) and unlike trans issues (in which one has a normally functioning male or female body and one does extensive surgeries and alterations to artificially swap sexes), this is something that people, without any room for debate, are born with. Often, with today's medical capabilities, parents will simply choose which sex the child is most like, and have the doctors operate on the baby so that they end up that way and then the parents raise the child as that gender. This brings up a parallel issue of children being circumcised as babies without being able to choose. Additionally, this brings up the most legitimate version of the questions that gender activists often ask, such as "who are you to decide this person's sex?" We already use the third person plural they/them for third person singulars who we do not know the gender of, so I have no problem with the rare exceptions to the he/she dichotomy to be able to have their own category. Intersex people are an exceedingly small percentage of the population, but we would do well to remember they exist. The shame is that I never hear about them, all I hear about is drag queen book hours and trans athletes. Those are issues which we must address, but if the left actually gave a shit about convincing people or helping people they would start with the intersex community and flower out from there, instead of starting with gays and lesbians (the LG in LGBTQIA.... there's even chronological snobbery here too haha).

In this little book we are met with a person who is labelled and raised as a girl for their whole life until about 19, when they have some pains and a Dr. takes a look at them, only to see that they're a bit more complicated than they thought. Barbin hops through some legal hoops and is legally branded a man. This comes with excessive public judgement, but at the same time it is balanced out somewhat by rather understanding family and exceedingly christlike catholic clergy, lawyers, and supervisors.

It is clear that Barbin's separation from their first female lover was a big part of their downward spiral, but there's a certain point at which their Catholicism becomes replaced with an obsession with cemeteries and death. How exactly this transformation took place is only briefly treated, even though it's probably the most important point, since that's what led to their eventual demise. Once their love was torn away, their place in society was utterly jumbled, and their religion faded, this opened the door wide for nihilism and suicidal thoughts. With Barbin's skillset and schooling suddenly unusable, their attempts to secure a new job were extremely frustrating. The ending of the journal reminded me of Hunger by Knut Hamsun, which upon reflection is probably one of the most extreme cases of social dejection and hunger I've ever read about, roughly as bad as jews in the holocaust. Barbin, due to other things such as health issues, didn't last as long as Hamsun.

I sincerely hope God spared Barbin from their sin and had mercy on them. This little journal was moving, and, as I said earlier, would be the best tactical move to make LGBTQIA inroads among christians. Time will tell how this all pans out, because I fear the partisan bloc of "LGBTQIA" means that they are a package deal and you can't have one without all the others. This is what I meant about their politicization. It is a good thing that these heavily marginalized people (such as intersex folks) have a political voice, but it's a shame that it has so much baggage, both politically and philosophically. That baggage is largely what Christians balk at (which thus causes them to mistrust and mistreat such groups when they wouldn't have previously). The openness which leftists ask of conservatives would go far if applied to the leftist in the mirror.
Profile Image for Jack.
1 review4 followers
December 16, 2017
Like a mix between Lolita and The Bell Jar, not in content, just in how it made me feel.
17 reviews
September 19, 2022
Herculine Barbin’s book Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite was translated by Richard McDougall and includes an introduction written by French philosopher Michel Foucault, who initially discovered the memoirs. The book is a compilation of journal entries from Herculine, an intersex person, who is raised surrounded by females within a religion that emphasizes humility, compliance, and dedication. She grows up in catholic care and forms close connections with the other girls, her female teachers, and the nuns. Following her passion for reading and learning, Barbin becomes a teacher in a similar environment and thus meets Sara, a woman who Barbin initially regards as family until a much deeper intimacy forms between the two. Barbin’s lifelong sickness quickly declines, leaving her lover no choice but to call a doctor. The medical professional performs immensely violating assessments on Herculine, which lead him to make a “terribly shocking” conclusion (63). After being forced into rectification and reclassified as a male, Herculine is subsequently left isolated from society, lacking in faith and personal identity due to her struggles with transcending the rigid gender barrier. Herculine tragically goes on to commit suicide at the young age of thirty.

I thoroughly enjoyed every second I spent reading this book, and I consider myself lucky to have been given such a close-up and detailed look at this unique past. The book truly humanizes what was regarded as a grotesque outcast, a monstrous pariah, in nineteenth century France. It depicts the issues with strict, conventional Western sex categorizations and the gross treatment of those who didn't fit seamlessly into them. The way in which Barbin describes the examinations she received, how the doctor’s face was “distorted, betraying extraordinary excitement,” and how she begged him to “leave [her] alone” because he was “killing her,” exemplifies the sickening nature of the so-called medical professionals at this period in history regarding anything that deviated from a cis-heteronormative ideology (63). She felt another doctor examining her was “initiat[ing] himself into [her] deepest secrets,” which displeased her entirely (70). As Barbin herself remarked, these behaviors were a complete human violation.

Upon reading the memoirs, I didn’t expect to connect with Herculine a great deal. However, for the majority of the book, I felt as though we were living out similar journeys. Without the medical introduction or cultural context of any kind, one could equate this story to that of a sapphic experience, which is the lens through which I view most pieces of media and writing. As a lesbian, I was able to see myself represented through Barbin, up until about three quarters of the way through, of course. The book reads similar to Virginia Woolf’s journals, and especially with the role of gender coming into play, I was reminded of her book Orlando. This novel depicts a male character who later transforms into a female and was heavily inspired by Woolf’s female lover, Vita Sackville-West. Understanding the context in which Woolf’s novel was written, I was able to connect the two homoerotic “friendships,” as they both preferred to label them as.

A third response I had towards the book was that of a connection between the text and Alice Dreger’s Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. In the chapter entitled “Hermaphrodites in Love,” Dreger mentions the story of Brade, a male who mistakenly ended up in a nunnery. One French writer and many other medical men often warned of these “womanish-looking m[e]n” who supposedly posed a “grave danger” to unwitting females, even going as far to say that if one of these “mal-sexed individuals” were put into “religious order or a teaching position,” then “morality would be compromised” (Dreger 118). Herculine’s story provides a real refutation against this harmful belief, as she herself was in fact both a part of the Catholic church and acquired a teaching position for a number of years. No danger was placed onto the students or other teachers, and Herculine was actually loved by most people she encountered, especially Sara and her other lovers, who were the supposed “unwitting females” that ended up adoring Herculine entirely. Even after learning of Barbin’s situation, Sara wanted to continue their relationship, providing true proof against this nineteenth century French rhetoric regarding intersex people.

In conclusion, I highly appreciated reading this book because of the humanization of early intersex cases, the connections I was able to have to Barbin, and the way it was able to accurately refute old harmful beliefs. I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who is looking to learn more about intersexuality, memoir-lovers, and people who detest Eurocentric gender norms, although it may be necessary to first look out for trigger warnings.

* I read this for school and only read the introduction and the memoirs
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Hulttio.
156 reviews39 followers
March 8, 2021
“You are to be pitied more than I, perhaps. I soar above all your innumerable miseries, partaking of the nature of the angels; for, as you have said, my place is not in your narrow sphere. You have the earth, I have boundless space. Enchained here below by the thousand bonds of your gross, material senses, your spirits cannot plunge into that limpid Ocean of the infinite, where, lost for a day upon your arid shores, my soul drinks deep.”

These are from the words of A. H. Barbin, the subject of this book from Barbin’s own memoirs—which is the core text contained in the book. The book, compiled by the famous Michel Foucault, was part of his greater work on the history of sexuality; I have not read that fuller work, so I can’t comment on the connections there. I was primarily interested in Barbin’s story, especially as told in their own memoirs, which are vivid and are extremely emotionally persuasive. You watch as Barbin is reared in different convents and religious communities as a child, having various affairs with the women they live with, mostly secret trysts. You learn how Barbin’s physical ailments manifested, resulting in a medico-legal intervention that had their sex reassigned at the age of twenty-two. Barbin’s story as an intersex person is not unique or without comparisons, but the memoirs themselves have Barbin’s unique voice. For this part of the book, the compilation and translation of the memoirs, I give Foucault a fair amount of credit.

The rest of the book contains medical and legal documents pertaining to Barbin’s reassignment, which tend towards repetition and needless sensationalism. The worst is the included ‘dramatization’ of Barbin’s story, a short story written by novelist Oscar Panizza. This last piece felt extremely unnecessary and overly dramatic, fixating on some of the more tragic details of what Barbin had to endure at the hands of cruel society.

What I liked in particular about the memoirs was Barbin’s internal conception of themselves; you see them as a young girl, living in convents with fellow girls having little qualms about it. In their teenage years, you see some reservations about modesty and feelings of alienation from being different than the other girls, but there is still a relational sense. However, after the reassignment, you see Barbin struggling in their masculine assigned sex, particularly with trying to find work as a ‘weak effeminate man’ and destined to live a life of solitude (they couldn’t get married, as women must have children in those days, apparently). The difficult thing the reader has to grapple with is that Barbin did everything right—they tried to fit in with the sex assigned to them at birth, failed to do so, and then quietly took up their reassigned sex once the medical and legal systems in place decided it must be so. Yet, there was no normalcy remaining for Barbin, and the singular joy and love of their life was left in the past.

It’s easy to understand how Barbin’s story ends and why it does, but it is harder for the reader to reconcile this with the society they lived in. Interestingly, many had positive or jocular responses to Barbin’s reassignment, despite knowing them as a girl for many years. I suppose if the doctors and courts will it, you become agreeable to it, no matter how strange it is. Still, it was positively surprising to see an article clipping talking rather crudely but optimistically about Barbin appearing at mass with male attire for the first time; at the end, the article wishes him a happy life. This rings so differently from the heated discussions had today about forced infant reassignment surgeries and a general widening understanding of intersex identity; for all that, it doesn't seem to be a much less hostile place for intersex people. In Barbin’s time, there was hardly any discussion or understanding at all, yet people were able to be accepting, or at least sympathetic, in spite of that. (Of course, not everyone was, and Barbin still struggled to function with finding work; they were forced to live a socially estranged life.) I am glad that Barbin decided to undertake the project of writing down memoirs of their life, even though it may have taken many years (the beginning hints that they are twenty-five, but they were thirty when they died).

The medical and legal documents compiled by Foucault are interesting but nothing noteworthy, and the short story by Panizza is absolutely atrocious to read through. I would recommend reading this for the memoirs alone, because it is worth taking a glimpse into Barbin's singularly extraordinary life.
Profile Image for Zvjezdana.
20 reviews2 followers
December 23, 2020
Kroz upoznavanje tuđih emocija razumijevamo i upoznajemo drugog čovjeka. Kroz njegovo upoznavanje i prihvaćanje upoznajemo i razumijevamo sami sebe. U zbirci Herculine Barbin zvana Alexina B. Michael Foucault predstavio je dva literarna predloška koji nemaju značajniju književnu vrijednost. Odabrani su s ciljem prepoznavanja problema hermafroditizma kod ljudi i čine cjelinu. Pod pretpostavkom poznavanja Foucaultove seksualne orijentacije, čitatelj je unaprijed pripremljen na sadržaj koji ga očekuje. Tome doprinosi Foucaultov predgovor i stručan pogovor sociologa Erica Fassina Pravi rod, koji je ujedno i odličan poznavatelj književnosti i literature o rodnoj teoriji istaknutih feministica poput Judith Butler, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Suzanne Kessler i dr. te znanstvenika iz područja humane medicine, ponajprije fiziološko-anatomskog i psihološkog profila. Prvi iskaz čine Moje uspomene, intimni zapis hermafrodita Herculine Barbin, a drugi je pripovijest Oscara Panizze Skandalozan slučaj koja je prestala biti ekskluziva promatrajući je kroz prizmu globalizacije i napretka znanosti 21. stoljeća. No, u 19. stoljeću kada se opisani događaj otkrivanja drugog i drugačijeg dogodio, zasigurno je pobudio gađenje i averziju dobrog dijela francuskog građanstva i u manjoj mjeri seljaštva s obzirom na nepismenost i nedostatak kolanja informacija. Ranija izdanja Herculininog dnevnika i Panizzijeve pripovijetke nisu imala veći odjek među čitateljima i vrlo brzo su bila zaboravljena.

Pročitani tekst izaziva podvojene osjećaje sažaljivosti, nemoći i suosjećanja, s tim da se jednostavna, plošna pripovijest Skandalozan slučaj ni po čemu ne čini skandaloznom. Ona predstavlja drugo gledište i nema namjeru optužiti, već opisati problem s kojim su se suočile pitomice samostana i njihove učiteljice. Tome doprinosi i činjenica da u 19. stoljeću seksualnost i pitanje roda nisu bili profanirani na način kao što su danas, a žena nije imala društveni položaj kakav uživa u 21. stoljeću. Tragom takvog javnog mijenja i sredine u kojoj su odrastale, štićenice samostana nisu uspjele razviti empatiju prema drugom koje je drugačije kao ni prema onome što odskače od imovnog i intelektualnog prosjeka. Umjetno izazvana histerija djevojaka različitih dobnih granica omogućila je napredovanje jedne od učiteljica lokalnog internata. Histerija u ovoj pripovijesti nije opisana kao psihosomatski poremećaj, već emocionalno stanje pitomica uključujući poveznicu s imenicom hyster koja označava ženski reproduktivni organ u smislu tjelesnog i psihološkog poremećaja. Pri tome vjera i duhovnost u suprotnosti su s iskorištenim događajem tada neprihvatljivog ponašanja dviju djevojaka od kojih je jedna i junakinja oba teksta. Možda će se izraz junakinja činiti nepriličnim s obzirom da svjedočimo intimnom zapisu, ali je on upotrijebljen kao imenica za sve one malobrojne koji su suočeni s različitošću svojih fizičkih obilježja nasuprot fizički relativno zdravih jedinki i zbog toga neizostavno pate. Svećenstvo i državna vlast kao obrazovani sloj pučanstva nisu vršili pritisak i izgon iz zajednice i ostavljaju pozitivan dojam. Zaostala sredina osuđivala je sve što je bilo u suprotnosti s vjerskim zakonima pa za drugost nije bilo mjesta u lokalnim sredinama. Sama zajednica odrađivala je prljave poslove odstranjenja prijetnje prosjeku i komformizmu.

U pripovijesti Oscara Panizze iščitava se da se radi o napredovanju jedne od službenica samostana-internata na viši položaj. Namjerno izazvani stres i histerija poslužili su kao sredstvo kojim se postiže cilj. Dvospolac Herculine i intelektualno ograničena pitomica Sara, dva su antagonizma koja su se uspjela spojiti i učiniti cjelovitost. Herculine s fizičkim defektom koji nije u stanju prepoznati, muškobanjastog stasa, ali izuzetnih intelektualnih sposobnosti pronalazi u savršeno fizički oblikovanoj i priglupoj Sari svoje drugo Ja, sve ono što joj je rođenjem uskraćeno. Dvije potpune suprotnosti pronašle su put jedna ka drugoj i spojile se u savršenu cjelinu. U pronalasku vlastitog identiteta Herculine nije uspjela participirati socijalni status skrivajući se pod maskom intelektualnosti. Ona ili On stalno su razapeti između osjećaja pripadnosti i nepripadnosti posjedujući premalenu količinu odvažnosti da osobno jastvo bude iskazano i prepoznato. Potisnuti rodnost i spolnost kroz nemogućnost prezentacije prema van, manifestiraju se kroz gramatički rod koji je osobito naglašen na početku ispovijesti. U jakom i tipično muškom vladajućem okružju nemogućnost manifestacije Herculininog identiteta odraz je školovanja u ženskim samostanima, u vrijeme kada se jedino na taj način žena mogla potpunije realizirati. Siromašna Barbin nije imala izbora, ponajprije što njen rod pri rođenju nije prepoznat od roditelja. U ovoj melankoličnoj ispovijesti ona stalno preispituje samu sebe pokušavajući shvatiti što bi trebalo biti i ono što jest. Egzistirajući na rubu društvene ljestvice socijalno marginalizirana, suočena je sa svojom različitošću koju ni sama ne uspjeva do kraja prihvatiti. Psihički profil pokazuje prevagu muškarca zarobljenog u ženskom tijelu i duhu s obzirom da je imala podjednako nerazvijena oba reproduktivna organa. Stalno samooptuživanje kroz pitanje prihvaćanja sebe omogućilo je racionalizaciju negativnih osjećaja prema sebi, a time je pojačala tendenciju da se manje cijeni, ne prihvaća, pa čak i mrzi. Samooptuživanje i duboka introspekcija su metode izbjegavanja sučeljavanja sa samom sobom. Ukoliko se prizna i objasni drugo i drugačije, ono narušava cijeli društveni poredak idealiziranih vrijednosti određene zajednice pa i njenih. Prelazak granice društveno mogućeg i dopuštenog očituje se kroz nepripadnost. Zajednica uspješno odstranjuje i pri tome ne biva ugrožena ako zatvori oči pred različitostima. Kako tekst odmiče, gramatičko žensko jastvo prelazi u muško. Stječe se dojam da Alexina nije pretjerano željela promjenu spola, ona je žrtva okolnosti uplašena onim što jest i što je razlikuje od drugih. Formalno-pravna promjena iz ženskog u muški rod je neuspjeli pokušaj prilagodbe sredini u kojoj je živjela. Pri kraju teksa, osiromašena i izopćena propituje svoje postupke. Nastaje antagonizam između idealnog Ja i realnog Ja. Da je imala više odvažnosti i motiviranosti, mogla je promijeniti okružje i započeti novi život. Izigrano Drugo odrezano od cjeline, također je uskraćeno za dobar i društveno prihvatljiv život. Razarajuća destruktivnost jastva razorila je sebstvo.

Kroz iskaz ispovijesti Herculine je osobno Ja pretvorila u društveno. Ono to postaje u trenutku kada je objavljeno. Tako njeno napisano jastvo postaje javno. Izložila je svoje intimno u prostoru autobiografskog zapisa. Jedino na taj način mogla je realizirati potrebu da iskaže i potvrdi patnju i diskreditiranost kojoj je bila izložena. Abel je ubio Kaina, a trauma tijela postala je trauma duše.
Profile Image for Caterina Pierre.
223 reviews2 followers
March 12, 2018
I read Herculine Barbin because it is widely accepted as the influence for the basis of the pop singer Prince Rogers Nelson’s alter ego Camille. First published in English in 1980, the book contains writings related to the historical figure and hermaphrodite Alexina Herculine Barbin (called Camille in her memoirs). Michel Foucault discovered (or, actually, rediscovered) the memoirs, and presents them alongside a “dossier” of historical documents related to Barbin’s life, and a fictional story (“A Scandal at the Convent” by Oscar Panizza) based on Barbin’s story.

Luckily for the reader, Foucault only introduces the materials, and then remains silent for the rest of the book. Barbin’s heart-wrenching memoirs are worth a read, especially by anyone interested in the history of gender. Male or female, Barbin is a hero: s/he experiences a pure love for Sara, but has to submit to medical testing, which, post puberty, assigns to her a different gender than that which s/he was given at birth. S/he gives life as a man a go, and, well, more heart breaking events ensue.

The medical reports are too technical for the lay reader: basically all you need to know is that the historical Barbin had the organs of both sexes, but neither were fully functioning.

The fictional story at the end of the book is a real idiotic bore compared to Barbin’s beautiful memoirs. It’s a sex romp that belittles the love between “Alexina” and “Henriette.” I wouldn’t have included it at all, but I guess it is an example of how something pure and beautiful has to be tarted up dumbed down for a popular audience, then as now.
13 reviews
May 14, 2021
I picked this book up in the library on a whim because it was with madness and civilization, the next stop on my Tour du Foucault. I’ve recently read Discipline and Punish, The Order of Things, and History of Sexuality vol. 1, and this text is a perfect opportunity to see many of the concepts Foucault discusses in those other texts.

We see D&P’s commentary on the discipline required of both students and teachers in Barbin’s early years. We see sexuality use as a method of control, discussed in HoSv1 throughout Barbin’s memoir, but most of all in her relationship with Sara and interaction with doctors. And of course, we see elements of the 19th century episteme, detailed in tOoT, in the examination notes of the doctors.

While Barbin’s memoir wasn’t the most interesting read on its own, in the context of Foucault’s other work, it’s transformed into a perfect case study. It provides the examples that his other works are missing. Also, Foucault’s introduction to Barbin’s memoir is probably the most accessible of his writing that i’ve read so far. Highly recommended for anyone reading Foucault.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lee Kofman.
Author 8 books120 followers
June 26, 2017
The memoir was heartbreaking. I was a little put off by Barbin's very emotional style at the start but once I got used to the way she expressed herself, which I think was true to that era, the main feeling that remained was deep respect for her and sorrow that she wasn’t born later, when she wouldn’t have to ‘impersonate’ a man, something that went completely against her grain. The graphic descriptions of hermaphrodite genitalia in medical reports on one hand satisfied my curousity but on the other also left me feeling sad, thinking of all those examinations she was subjected to which were probably almost unthinkable for a girl of her time and upbringing. I also liked the short story included in the book. The only thing that disappointed me was Foucault’s introduction that I found too critical of the poignant pieces that followed.
Profile Image for Batisse.
86 reviews4 followers
January 19, 2020
Important text that shines light over danger and wrongness of insisting on simultaneity of one sex and one gender. Herculine's "Memoirs" give us an insight into how homosociality and heterosexuality determine one's interpretation of his/her gender. As a teenager, Herculine was surrounded by nuns and young teachers where she was accepted as a normal girl - homosociality gave her an opportunity to get closer with other women which she couldn't have done as a man. She starts to discover that she has strong feelings for women - she falls in love with another teacher Sara and they start to develop a relationship. Only with Sara, Herculine starts to refer to herself as a man. Unable to continue her life as a woman, she starts to look for help. Needles to say, her adaptation to society as a man did not end well.
Profile Image for Dimis.
118 reviews
January 26, 2022
This is not a philosophical book, but an introductory analysis at the beginning in relation to gender in general and its separation into biological and social gender written by Foucault himself.
Then we have her memoirs or autobiography of Herculine Barbin.
Then we have the memoirs or autobiography of her who grew up as a girl, who also falls in love with girls and then discovers that the male organs predominate and is forced to live as a man and behave as such. This is the beginning of the end of the same.
The epilogue of the book that shows us the history of hermaphroditism and how it was treated until the time of Foucault is also excellent. And from there we can see how the issue of gender identity and the general characterization of gender in our lives has evolved (although we still have a long way to go).
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