Sat. Oct 24th, 2020
BOOKS Max Fox takes on late friend's work, 'Sexual Hegemony'

The late Christopher Chitty started a dissertation titled “Sexual Hegemony: Statecraft, Sodomy, and Capital in the Rise of the World System” while he was a PhD candidate. Writer, editor and friend Max Fox took on Chitty’s work—and it was recently released as a book.
Chitty earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago. In 2008, he went on to the history of consciousness doctoral program at the University of California ( UC ), Santa Cruz. It was at Santa Cruz during Fox’s undergrad junior year where the two met as they participated in the UC Student Occupation Movement.


“It really made me feel like it was a possibility to take part in something larger than myself that could actually have an impact on the world,” said Fox, describing Chitty as a close friend. “I met all these brilliant people, and learned about certain kinds of bravery and inventiveness.”


“Chris was really huge for me in that way and I met him at a very formative moment, but he made a big impact on everybody,” Fox said, adding Chitty had a charismatic ringleader type of personality. “He was this really brilliant, beautiful, generous, intense person who was a community fixture.”


Fox described Chitty’s dissertation as basically complete at the time of his death in April 2015 and as was something he had spoken with Fox about many times.


“He was generating this really powerful, exciting theory and I was very impatient for him to finish writing the PhD so I could have it to point to when I wanted to explain what something was that I thought was going on with these questions because I thought he was someone who was really influential on me and my thinking,” said Fox.


When Chitty died, Fox was devastated. Ultimately, taking on this book as the editor, Fox said, was more than a way to grieve.


Friends and teachers were able to gather materials to get the school to award Chitty a degree posthumously, but with Fox’s attachment he did not want it to end there. Using his experience as an editor and time as a freelancer he decided to take it a step further.


“I was like I need to do this, I have the capacity and I really need this book to exist and I don’t know for sure that if I don’t do it someone else will,” Fox said, explaining how he discussed it with Chitty’s family and friends.


“Why I took this on I think was because I had to find a way of working through my feelings of loss of this person who meant so much to me and preserving him at some level and sharing him with people at some other level,” Fox explained. “It’s his work and it’s the possibility of totally new inventive uses of what he was working on that I probably won’t be able to foresee.”


Sexual Hegemony is a narrative of the centuries of capitalism’s effects on sexual relations, specifically studying class dynamics of the bourgeoisie’s attempts to regulate homosexuality ( sodomy, in particular ). Fox detailed it also lays out “the intellectual foundations or blueprints for a new way of thinking about sexuality through a recognition that it’s intimately tied up with the social form of property, which is a hallmark of class society, which means that you have to take in account the entire history of what comes through the capitalist world that we live in.”


“It’s a reflection on why and how sexuality has to have a history in the first place,” Fox explained. “Why do we think that you need to kind of justify a certain way of living in the present by making the claim that is has a lineage or past.”


“Unavoidably, the following text is limited to a reconstruction of what this work could have been,” Fox wrote in the book’s forward. He details that this book was a long time in the making and took much effort to release what he thought Chitty would have submitted.


Christopher Nealon—professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion Before Stonewall—wrote the book’s introduction. He also served on Chitty’s dissertation committee.


Fox explained Chitty was a close reader of French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault and was definitely trying to do something new when writing Sexual Hegemony. Fox added that he thought Chitty wanted to intervene and point out “there’s much more going on than what people take from Foucault.”


“I think he thought [The History of Sexuality] was a very important book, or attempt or preliminary version of a crucial history that he thought wasn’t told in the right way or wasn’t complete,” said Fox of Chitty’s writing. “So I think Chris was trying to fix what he saw as the omissions or errors.”


“He was trying to say there’s a lot that’s valuable that’s introduced in the past, in the decades since the queer liberation movement forced the academy to open itself up to taking sexuality and queer studies seriously. That’s very valuable. And there’s something very valuable still in the kind of Marxian understanding of history as a process without a subject that is driven by collective action taken by the global proletariat to liberate itself, but the two traditions certainly don’t talk to each other very much. They have been the last couple of years and I’ve been really grateful to see it.”


People should read the book, Fox said, “if they are interested in how capitalism produces and is produced by what we understand as sexuality.


“I hope people find a rich roadmap to thinking in a new way about capitalism and sexuality. I think that he did an astounding amount of historical research and reconstruction, but there’s so much more still to do that I think he was hoping to do later. So, what I really hope people get out of this is the inspiration to start thinking about their own relation to structures of class and property and how that informs their sexuality in new ways than they already do.”


To learn more about Sexual Hegemony, visit dukeupress.edu/sexual-hegemony .

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