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The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction

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Michel Foucault offers an iconoclastic exploration of why we feel compelled to continually analyze and discuss sex, and of the social and mental mechanisms of power that cause us to direct the questions of what we are to what our sexuality is.


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Michel Foucault offers an iconoclastic exploration of why we feel compelled to continually analyze and discuss sex, and of the social and mental mechanisms of power that cause us to direct the questions of what we are to what our sexuality is.

30 review for The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    This is a perfect example of the kind of writing characterised by Clive James as prose that ‘scorns the earth for fear of a puncture’. Foucault may be able to think – it's not easy to tell – but he certainly can't write. Everywhere there is an apparent desire to render a simple thought impenetrable. When he wants to suggest that the modern world has imposed on us a great variety in the ways we talk about sex, he must refer to ‘a regulated and polymorphous incitement to discourse’. When he advance This is a perfect example of the kind of writing characterised by Clive James as prose that ‘scorns the earth for fear of a puncture’. Foucault may be able to think – it's not easy to tell – but he certainly can't write. Everywhere there is an apparent desire to render a simple thought impenetrable. When he wants to suggest that the modern world has imposed on us a great variety in the ways we talk about sex, he must refer to ‘a regulated and polymorphous incitement to discourse’. When he advances the theory that the nineteenth century focused less on marriage than on other sexual practices, he talks about ‘a centrifugal movement with respect to heterosexual monogamy’. When there is only one of something he calls it ‘markedly unitary’. It almost becomes funny, except that it tells us something about how loosely his ideas are rooted in reality. Some people seem to think that complex prose must conceal a profundity of thought, but good readers and writers know that the reverse is usually the case. A thought which is impenetrable is not easily rebutted, and so it may only seem correct by default. For example, Foucault has the following idea: that talking more about sex is really an attempt to get rid of any sexual activity that isn't focused on having children. It wouldn't be hard to pick holes in that argument, partly because it uses terms we all immediately understand and which we can very quickly relate to reality. But Foucault puts the theory like this: For was this transformation of sex into discourse not governed by the endeavour to expel from reality the forms of sexuality that were not amenable to the strict economy of reproduction [...]? And you'll see from the square brackets that I've left half the sentence out! Here the argument is harder to refute, not because it's any stronger, but because it takes some effort to work out what the fucking hell the man is talking about. Where he cannot think of a roundabout way of saying something, Foucault instead opts for words which might at least slow his readers down a bit, like erethism. And if no suitably obscure word is at hand, he simply makes one up, so we get a lot of these ugly formations which the postmodernists seem to love, such as discursivity, genitality, or pedagogization. Here I should point out that from what I can tell, all of this complexity exists in the original French, and is not simply a fault in the translator (Robert Hurley, in my edition). In fact sometimes Rob helps us out a bit, such as when he translates the typical Foucaultism étatisation as the more helpful phrase ‘unrestricted state control’. But there's only so much he can do. If he'd put all of Foucault's prose into natural English the book would be a quarter of the size. On the few occasions when Foucault does deign to explain himself, he only makes matters worse. After several pages in which he makes much confusing use of the word ‘power’, he finally defines this vague term as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization; as the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them; as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another; and lastly, as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies. My point is not that Foucault makes the reader do unnecessary work, although that's certainly an inexcusable flaw in anyone who wants their view to be taken seriously: a reader should be working to engage with an argument, not having to rewrite the whole damn thing in his head as he goes along. No, my point is that Foucault not only confuses the reader, he confuses himself. Having decided, as a mathematician decides that x equals four, that ‘power’ equals a whole range of ‘force relations’, he then combines it with other comparably dense terms and juggles them around and puts them together until you have to at least suspect that the underlying reality has been lost to Foucault as well as to us. Evidence of his own confusion therefore seems built into the texture of his sentences. He calls the family unit, for instance, ‘a complicated network, saturated with multiple, fragmentary, and mobile sexualities’. The idea of multiple sexualities is fairly clear: an assertion that, for example, homosexuality and paedophilia play their part in family life along with heterosexuality. He offers no evidence for it, but at least it is a proposition we can examine. But what about fragmentary sexualities? What on earth is a fragmentary sexuality? Perhaps one which is in some way both hetero and homo? How does a fragmentary sexuality manifest itself in terms of behaviour or desire? There are no answers. And then we also have the ‘mobile sexualities’, which sounds like some kind of wonderful bus service but which presumably we are meant to understand as sexual feelings that keep changing. To deal with any one of these ideas is problematic. To deal simultaneously with all three, and then to imagine such concepts ‘saturating’ a ‘network’, is just not a serious argument – it's a huge act of intellectual masturbation. Anyone can play this game. The opposing view to Foucault's is the traditional idea that the Victorians were frightened and offended by their sexual feelings, and that consequently their society worked to repress sex. But if we wanted to protect the argument from attack we could easily rephrase it and say that the dominant narrative of Victorian social constructs was characterised by a repressive power projection whose motus was the twin stimuli of (psycho)logical terror and physiological disgust. This is harder to argue against, because it has less meaning. Similarly many of Foucault's arguments are, to paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli, so badly expressed that not only are they not right, they're not even wrong.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Read in full in the wake of finishing Byung-Chul Han’s Psychopolitics, and the whole seems less striking than the parts assigned to undergrads. Foucault’s language is opaque but playfully so and not as hard to understand as his reputation suggests. The work’s main weakness is that the same dozen ideas are repeated again and again, in so many ways, without being nuanced or backed up by empirical evidence. As history it’s paper thin, and as theory it’s dated, full of ideas that by now have been fu Read in full in the wake of finishing Byung-Chul Han’s Psychopolitics, and the whole seems less striking than the parts assigned to undergrads. Foucault’s language is opaque but playfully so and not as hard to understand as his reputation suggests. The work’s main weakness is that the same dozen ideas are repeated again and again, in so many ways, without being nuanced or backed up by empirical evidence. As history it’s paper thin, and as theory it’s dated, full of ideas that by now have been fully absorbed into the mainstream.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Asam Ahmad

    The History of Sexuality is not really a history of sexuality. It is rather a genealogical study of a specific historical, political & discursive construction called ‘sexuality’ – a construction that has been deployed since its inception to police bodies and to service the social, political & economic exigencies of power. Foucault begins by questioning why we so ardently believe that our sexuality is repressed – why we think 'confessing our sex' is a liberatory or even revolutionary activity. Un The History of Sexuality is not really a history of sexuality. It is rather a genealogical study of a specific historical, political & discursive construction called ‘sexuality’ – a construction that has been deployed since its inception to police bodies and to service the social, political & economic exigencies of power. Foucault begins by questioning why we so ardently believe that our sexuality is repressed – why we think 'confessing our sex' is a liberatory or even revolutionary activity. Unlike most people writing in the 70’s, he did not think confessing the 'secrets' of our sex would lead to a revolutionary utopia in which we all live happily after. In the HoS he explores how the idea of sexuality functions – what uses this idea has for the discourse(s) of power/knowledge and how sexuality retains its (false) emancipatory sheen even as it services the needs of power in an increasingly subtle and insidious fashion. Before Foucault power had been conceived of as performing an almost entirely negative function: especially in relation to sex, the conventional wisdom held that power only had the power to say no, to censor, to deny. Power supposedly elided that which it wished to suppress (‘do not appear if you do not want to disappear’), and it had almost no 'productive' function. Foucault notes that on the contrary, since the 16th century, power has demanded instead that sex confess itself (beginning primarily but not exclusively in the form of the confessional) - and these confessions have been instrumental in creating the categories power wishes to police. Foucault shows that if to talk of sex as was done before was prohibited after the 16th century, not any less was said about it. On the contrary, ‘things were said in a different way; it was different people who said them, from different points of view, and in order to obtain different results’ (27). Sex was brought into new types of discourses: ‘not the rigor of a taboo, but the necessity of regulating sex through useful and public discourses’ (25). From the confessional, Foucault traces the beginnings of new forms of pedagogies and discursive practices: the codification of sex/desire into the field of rationality, the birth of the science of demography (along with demographic controls in the service of labor capacity), the medicalization of sex with all its pathologizing tendencies (the hysterization of women, the increased regulation of onanism, the intensification and normalization of the family unit and the discourse of marginal & 'perverse' sexualities). Clearly, all these discursive practices did not repress sex so much as incite it to discourse. This is where Foucault articulates his extremely influential notion of bio-power. In tangent with the rise of capital, the exigencies of power have changed and evolved considerably over the past three centuries. In 'Madness and Civilization' and 'Discipline and Punish' Foucault traces the development of power from a few sovereign points of contact with the general population to its sublimation into the entire field of social relations – power is concerned no longer simply with extracting taxes or punishing criminals, it is now in the business of administering life itself. This is a considerable shift – and in the HoS Foucault argues that the deployment of sexuality was indispensable to this shift. For the deployment of the idea of sexuality is not really about sex – it is about bodies: specifically the policing, managing and control of bodies (hence 'bio-power'). Sexuality is not a stubborn drive ‘disobedient to a power which exhausts itself trying to subdue it’ (103). It is rather an ‘especially dense transfer point for relations of power. [...:] Not the most intractable element in power relations, but rather one of those endowed with the greatest instrumentality: useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies’ (103). Just as the legal-judicial system is no longer content to simply punish the criminal for the crime s/he has committed - postulating instead the need for disciplining the individual's entire existential being - the deployment of sexuality makes sex no longer simply something one does, but rather something one is. This deployment thus allows the policing of bodies in a way that was unimaginable before the advent of this interlocking network of discursive practices. Foucault argues that our innermost 'identity' has been tied to sex not to emancipate us from power’s regulatory demands - but in order to service its most urgent tactical exigencies. Foucault's theory of power is clearly still incredibly relevant today (if not more so). The idea that power is productive, that it is exercised and not held, that it is immanent in all social relations, etc. seems to be the modus operandi of most regulatory mechanisms of power today (as well as being the foundation of almost all critical theory written since the 80's). This analytics of power is particularly useful in the post 9/11 era - where power has literally created and continues to create the categories necessary for the indefinite deployment of its hegemonizing, regulatory and disciplining technologies. Of course, there are still more than a few critiques I could make of this text: the irritating refusal to let go of the exclusionary use of the male pronoun, the scant mention of women aside from their hysterization under new power regimes, the tendency to make power seem totalizing and omniscient, the bizarre contrasting of the West's science of sexuality with the Other's (the orient's?) erotic art, and the refusal to trace a genealogy of the body or even question how the body itself is discursively constructed for the demands of power/knowledge. One could and should make all of these critiques. But regardless - this is one of those seminal texts that should be read by everyone interested in how power functions today.

  4. 5 out of 5

    AC

    Disappointing, esp. after reading a masterpiece like Discipline and Punish. This book consists of a serious of loosely connected, and individually incomplete meditations on various topics, that are intended to serve (not very successfully, imo) as a prolgomena to a history of sexuality. Indeed, the project was abandoned (what was eventually publishd as vols. 2-3 was part of a newly and differently conceived project begun several years later), proving that the current work was a failure. It shoul Disappointing, esp. after reading a masterpiece like Discipline and Punish. This book consists of a serious of loosely connected, and individually incomplete meditations on various topics, that are intended to serve (not very successfully, imo) as a prolgomena to a history of sexuality. Indeed, the project was abandoned (what was eventually publishd as vols. 2-3 was part of a newly and differently conceived project begun several years later), proving that the current work was a failure. It should not have been published, and one can assume that MF may have felt the pressure to come out with another book fast to capitalize on the success of D&P. Parts I-III contain suggestive hints on the relation of sex in the formation of the Self (whereas for Freud, the ego is constructed at the boundary between desire/id and reality, for Foucault the Self is constructed at the boundary where superego (i.e., the administrative gaze of Power/Knowledge) inscribes itself upon the body. This is a brilliant conception, and a fascinating answer to the inherited problem of the transcendental ego, but it is really only adumbrated in these chapters. Part IV deals with method, and is long and dull, and can be "skimmed". Part V then takes the topic of sex in the direction of MF's new interest in biopower, which was then the topic of the Collège de France lectures of these years (1976-1979), before he turned back, at the end of his life, both in the lectures of 1981-1984 and in vols 2-3 of Sexuality, to the problem of the constuction and the hermeneutics of the Self -- a topic that Dreyfus-Rabinow also discuss in detail at the end of their study...

  5. 4 out of 5

    a.novel.femme

    um. what can i say about this book that hasnt already been said? i read it my second year of college and it blew my mind, and in a good way, unlike kant, who made me cry actual tears in overwhelming frustration. foucaults ability to trace the burgeoning relationship between science and sexuality, the changes in the ways of perceiving a womans body, the notion of the creation of (a) sexuality, and, of course, the dynamics of power and discourse, are nothing short of brilliant in this classic stud um. what can i say about this book that hasnt already been said? i read it my second year of college and it blew my mind, and in a good way, unlike kant, who made me cry actual tears in overwhelming frustration. foucaults ability to trace the burgeoning relationship between science and sexuality, the changes in the ways of perceiving a womans body, the notion of the creation of (a) sexuality, and, of course, the dynamics of power and discourse, are nothing short of brilliant in this classic study of poststructuralism. one dissatisfaction, which is true of the majority of foucaults works: he implies, sometimes more vehemently than others, that everything starts in the modern era, which is, as known to numerous scholars, simply untrue. i wish he were alive. id buy him a beer and beg him to love me, even though i am lacking the proper sexual organs that he was attracted to. i love me some foucault.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    A much more difficult Foucault - and not nearly as interesting as his history of madness. He seems to take a long time to get started and does seem to repeat himself an awful lot. All the same, the ideas around the difference between Western and Eastern notions of sexuality are well with thinking about. Essentially Eastern sexuality is an erotic thing - something understood through experience. Western sexuality is 'scientific' in the sense that it only makes sense once we can talk about it. Freu A much more difficult Foucault - and not nearly as interesting as his history of madness. He seems to take a long time to get started and does seem to repeat himself an awful lot. All the same, the ideas around the difference between Western and Eastern notions of sexuality are well with thinking about. Essentially Eastern sexuality is an erotic thing - something understood through experience. Western sexuality is 'scientific' in the sense that it only makes sense once we can talk about it. Freud is interesting in this context. Foucault makes a remarkable observation that psychoanalysis serves much the same function in the Western tradition as the Catholic confession did. We can only be sure our sexuality is 'normal' once we have been able to verbalise our concerns and have these assessed and approved by an expert. Foucault has occasional insights that really are mind blowing. But this book is hard work and it is hard to see what point is served by making it quite so difficult.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stef Rozitis

    I was unsure how many stars to give it, but after reading the critiques of it by some readers I need to give it a lot of stars because the critiques just don't make sense. It does lose a star from this subjective and biased reader for consistantly using terms like "man" and "men" for humans even though there IS an awareness of misogyny in the history. I do think the author could have worded that better (quite probably I have the translator to blame). This book is hard to understand, densely and c I was unsure how many stars to give it, but after reading the critiques of it by some readers I need to give it a lot of stars because the critiques just don't make sense. It does lose a star from this subjective and biased reader for consistantly using terms like "man" and "men" for humans even though there IS an awareness of misogyny in the history. I do think the author could have worded that better (quite probably I have the translator to blame). This book is hard to understand, densely and complexly written and seems to meander off topic and around the point at times but if you follow it it draws the connection back in to show all the ways that sexuality and "sex" itself are constructs of human society and imbued with power relationships- not by accident or as a side effect but as constituent parts of what "sex" is. I got into a sort of incoherent argument with a girl at a pub immediately after reading this because (we were both drunk) I agree with Foucault and I think I came across as thinking sex is bullshit or bad or something. I don't think Foucault's argument is that we should dismantle "sex" or anything...pleasure and connection are things that people like and want and need but just that sex is one way of putting pleasure and connection together and also contains other ingredients and that maybe we can invest less strongly in some of the myths around sex (eg that it is a "natural" or the "only" way to enjoy pleasure and connection). I do think that humans need societies and social constructions have a function YES for power but also for other things so to transform a social construction like "sex" does not necessarily mean being prohibitive towards it or banning it or even overthinking it (particularly in the moment when connection and pleasure are happening). I don't think I understood every sentence and every paragraph perfectly and I will have to come back to the book in order to understand it better. Some of the ideas in it are transferrable to other fields of power not just sexuality. On p43 I learned some knew words that I had to google. Do you know what a gynecomast was? Even google can't tell me what mixoscophiles are! Anyway a fun read for a rainy afternoon long drawn out couple of months of stretching your brain.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Caterina

    "The aim of this series of studies? To transcribe into history the fable of Les Bijoux indiscrets. Among its many emblems, our society wears that of the talking sex. In the space of a few centuries, a certain inclination has led us to direct the question of who we are, to sex … The West has managed … to bring us almost entirely—our bodies, our minds, our individuality, our history—under the sway of a logic of concupiscence and desire. . . . Sex, the explanation for everything.” (pp. 77-78) In the "The aim of this series of studies? To transcribe into history the fable of Les Bijoux indiscrets. Among its many emblems, our society wears that of the talking sex. In the space of a few centuries, a certain inclination has led us to direct the question of who we are, to sex … The West has managed … to bring us almost entirely—our bodies, our minds, our individuality, our history—under the sway of a logic of concupiscence and desire. . . . Sex, the explanation for everything.” (pp. 77-78) In the mid-nineteen-seventies Foucault published this powerful introductory volume, an in-depth analysis that overturned then-accepted notions. He saw “sexuality” as a construct of power, instrumental in the transformation, in the Western world, from a society of “blood” whose primary power was to take life or let live, to a society of “sexuality” with a new form of power: “bio-power” which exercised ever-increasing surveillance and control at the minute level of individual bodies as well as populations. This power began, he says, as the effort of the rising bourgeois classes to enhance their own strength, health, and dominance over the nobility, which formed the basis for the rise of “biological” racism in the 19th century, and with it the ability to dominate and exploit the working classes. Its “strategies” within the field of sexuality were four-fold: “the hysterization of women, which involved a thorough medicalization of their bodies and sex, was carried out in the name of the responsibility they owed to the health of their children”; “the sexualization of children [i.e. campaign to prevent sexual activity in children, including masturbation] was accomplished in the form of a campaign for the health of the race”; the regulation of fertility; and the psychiatrization of perversions. (pp. 146-147) Laying the foundations for the invasive medical, psychiatric, and governmental scrutiny and control of the sexuality of women, children, married couples and people with sexual "perversions" (Foucault's term), right up through today's endless, excessive discourse about sex, were changing practices of confession and spiritual direction in the Christian Church dating from the 16th century, where, Foucault believed, talking about sex created dynamics of power and pleasure for both the confessor and the one making the confession. Through the “deployment of sexuality” for the purposes of power and control, we have now come to the bizarre place where, according to Foucault, “It is through sex … that each individual has to pass in order to have access to his own intelligibility, to the whole of his body, to his identity. Through a reversal that doubtless had its surreptitious beginnings long ago … we have arrived at the point where we expect our intelligibility to come from what was for many centuries thought of as madness; the plenitude of our body from what was long considered its stigma and likened to a wound; our identity from what was perceived as an obscure and nameless urge. …for centuries [sex] has become more important than our soul, more important almost than our life … Sex is worth dying for. … When a long time ago the West discovered love, it bestowed on it a value high enough to make death acceptable; nowadays it is sex that claims this equivalence, the highest of all. (p. 156) “We must not think that by saying yes to sex, one says no to power; on the contrary, one tracks along the course laid out by the general deployment of sexuality. It is the agency of sex that we must break away from, if we aim … to counter the grips of power with the claims of bodies, pleasures, and knowledges … The rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexuality ought not to be sex-desire, but bodies and pleasures.” (p. 157) In this first volume Foucault does not delve into what he might mean by “bodies and pleasures” nor how they might be a “rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexuality.” Is it possible that Foucault himself died for sex, or would it be more accurate to say he died for bodies and pleasures? I don’t know. This is the first book I’ve read by Foucault; I wanted to read his work because of its enormous influence on Western culture and its intelligent, original, controversial analysis. I am not saying that I agree with his conclusion; I would be much more inclined to see the only possible rallying point as that of love in the Christian sense of agape or caritas - caring for one another. (By this I do not mean to imply that Foucault did not care for others; I believe he did.) I would also like to see contemporary (i.e. the 2000s) critique, and feminist critique, of what he said. For instance, writing pre-sexual abuse crisis, he seems quite insensitive to issues like sexual molestation of children, including parental incest, and in expounding his views of the deployment of sexuality as strategies of sovereign power, he never mentions (and to be fair, it is not his focus) the many benefits to women and children of programs of public health and other aspects of “bio-power.” A final note: I find Foucault’s writing to be very well-organized, clear, and intelligible - a breath of fresh air in a field where so much of the writing is so very difficult to decipher. (I'm utterly puzzled by those who think his writing is unclear.) He also seems to me quite non-polemical — he does not engage in emotional attacks, but in quiet, powerful analysis — something I also appreciate.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Shaw

    In the words of my professor, "we're living in a post-Foucauldian world, so this will seem really self-evident, but that doesn't mean its right." Coming from that angle, I've been reading from a very critical position. I like Foucault's thesis and his examination seems pretty exhaustive, at least historically. I'm really caught on the discussion of the bourgeoisie and proletariat 'sexual bodies.' Foucault's statement that the technology of sexuality and proliferation of sexual power discourses w In the words of my professor, "we're living in a post-Foucauldian world, so this will seem really self-evident, but that doesn't mean its right." Coming from that angle, I've been reading from a very critical position. I like Foucault's thesis and his examination seems pretty exhaustive, at least historically. I'm really caught on the discussion of the bourgeoisie and proletariat 'sexual bodies.' Foucault's statement that the technology of sexuality and proliferation of sexual power discourses were essentially produced by the dominant class is interesting, and seems to contradict his thesis that sex was not repressed for the sake of economic gain, but rather produced within a fluid discourse or network of power (implying that this is somehow seperate from economic concerns?). Sex may not have been repressed, but it was certainly produced to ensure particular economic performance. Reading "Eros and Civilization" by Marcuse really adds to this text and produces some excellent questions. I like the combo of the latter Marcuse text, Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents" and "The History of Sexuality," all of which bounce off one another really nicely. This is a smooth read, not incredibly dense, suitable for an introduction. I will reserve further criticism until after I've read the other volumes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ali Ben

    Why one more review? Reading our comrades' review, one is very surprised. First of all, many seem to think this book "outdated", which is quite surprising - towards Foucault's writings, the question probably is if we failed the test of time, rather than if he did... More interesting, most seem to be deceived by the title, and assume this is a book about "sexuality". Indeed, the discourse on sexuality (Victorian Era, confession, psychoanalysis, etc.) forms its background. The real subject, however, Why one more review? Reading our comrades' review, one is very surprised. First of all, many seem to think this book "outdated", which is quite surprising - towards Foucault's writings, the question probably is if we failed the test of time, rather than if he did... More interesting, most seem to be deceived by the title, and assume this is a book about "sexuality". Indeed, the discourse on sexuality (Victorian Era, confession, psychoanalysis, etc.) forms its background. The real subject, however, is power and the subject : this book was written just after Discipline and Punish where his thesis on power were already outlined. As such, it contains Foucault's famous criticism of the sovereign theory of power. It also deeply contested the conception of power as being exclusively a censorship machine, which says what is right and what is wrong, what is legal and what is illegal. Power is also something which produces stuff - the last chapter on populations and nazism should be enough for readers to understand that this book is concerned with something much larger than "sexuality".

  11. 4 out of 5

    sologdin

    Reassessed, in light of re-reading Gender Trouble: Author lays down the gauntlet against received wisdom that sexual liberty was destroyed by “the monotonous nights of the Victorian bourgeoisie” (3), wherein “silence became the rule,” “a single locus of sexuality was acknowledged in social space,” and “proper demeanor avoided contact with other bodies and verbal decency sanitized one’s speech” (id.). In this system of “taboo, nonexistence, and silence” (5), there was surreptitious transfer of “ Reassessed, in light of re-reading Gender Trouble: Author lays down the gauntlet against received wisdom that sexual liberty was destroyed by “the monotonous nights of the Victorian bourgeoisie” (3), wherein “silence became the rule,” “a single locus of sexuality was acknowledged in social space,” and “proper demeanor avoided contact with other bodies and verbal decency sanitized one’s speech” (id.). In this system of “taboo, nonexistence, and silence” (5), there was surreptitious transfer of “pleasures that are unspoken into the order of things that are counted” (4). Author raises doubts against this ‘repressive hypothesis,’ with a purpose of defining “the regime of power-knowledge-pleasure that sustains the discourse on human sexuality” (11), taking care to “account for the fact that it is spoken about, to discover who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions that prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said” (id.). In order for the bourgeois to “gain mastery over [sex], in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words that rendered it too visibly present” (17). Despite these imperatives, “when one looks back over these last three centuries with their continual transformation […] one sees a veritable discursive explosion” regarding sex, even with an “expurgation” of “authorized vocabulary” (id.). Foucault’s primary model of the “proliferation of discourses” (18) is the “nakedness of the questions formulated by the confession manuals of the Middle Ages” (id.), wherein the detail “believed indispensable for the confession” included: “description of the respective positions of the partners, the postures assumed, gestures, places touched, caresses, the precise moment of pleasure” (19). Though the 17th century may have stepped back from the level of detail, “the language may have been refined,” confession’s extent increased, “the confession of the flesh,” inclusive of “thoughts, desires, voluptuous imaginings, delectations, combined movements of the body and soul” (id.). “Examine even unto your dreams, to know if, once awakened, you did not give them your consent” (20). Author regards this period as laying down an “injunction” (id.) of “telling oneself and another, as often as possible, everything that might concern the interplay of innumerable pleasures, sensations, and thoughts which, through the body and the soul, had some affinity with sex” (id.). This is a “scheme for transforming sex into discourse” and had been the province of “ascetic and monastic” persons (id.), here generalized as an “obligation” and a Christian “imperative” (21): “Not only will you confess to acts contravening the law, but you will seek to transform your desire, your every desire, into discourse” (id.). (This process is to be parodied in de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, it is noted. (id.)) Through the generalized prescription to produce discursive products regarding sex, it became “not something to be judged,” but rather “a thing one administered” (24), a matter for biopolitical management, a “police matter” (id.), an “economic and political problem of population” (25). The transformation “went from ritual lamenting over the unfruitful debauchery of the rich, bachelors, and libertines to a discourse in which the sexual conduct of the population was taken both as an object of analysis and as a target for intervention” (26). Different institutional mechanisms arose, such as “discursive orthopedics” (29) as a pedagogy, and the “sexual perversions” (30), handled by medicine and law—even inspections for “degenerescence of anatomy” (31)—a “kind of generalized discursive erethism” (32). Contrary to a great repression, “sex was driven out of hiding and constrained to lead a discursive existence,” “a singular imperialism that compels everyone to transform their sexuality into a perpetual discourse” (33). Part of the project may have been to “expel from reality the forms of sexuality that were not amenable to the strict economy of reproduction” (36), a straightforward part of the natalist biopolitical interest. The expulsion involved “prohibitions […] of a juridical nature” (38): “For a long time hermaphrodites [sic] were criminals, or crime’s offspring, since their anatomical disposition, their very being, confounded the law that distinguished the sexes and prescribed their union” (id.). Non-heteronormative desire and conduct “was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphroditism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species” (43). (Coke’s comments in the Institutes regarding ‘lepers of the soul’ come to mind here.) Other species were made of “all those minor perverts” of the 19th century: Krafft-Ebing’s zoophiles and zooerasts, Rohleder’s auto-monosexualists; and later, mixoscopophiles, gynecomasts, presbyophiles, sexoesthetic inverts, and dyspareunist women. These fine names for heresies referred to a nature that was overlooked by the law, but not so neglectful of itself that it did not go on producing more species, even where there was no order to fit them into. (id.)Perhaps an aporia in the argument there, if the system produces them but can’t fit them anywhere? (The reference to ‘heresy’ no doubt reinforces the connection to Coke.) The most interesting conceptual distinction drawn herein is ars erotica v. scientia sexualis. In what might be a generalized model of ‘science’ as such, the science of sex “was in fact made up of evasions since, given its inability or refusal to speak of sex itself, it concerned itself primarily with aberrations, perversions, exceptional oddities, pathological abatements, and morbid aggravations” (53). This science “subordinated in the main to the imperatives of amorality whose divisions it reiterated under the guise of a medical norm” (id.), which is the process described in Fine’s Delusions of Gender and Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body, incidentally. Science produced “an entire pornography of the morbid” (54), and was “incorporated into two very distinct orders of knowledge: a biology of reproduction […] and a medicine of sex” (id.). In the “continuous incitement to discourse and to truth that the real mechanisms of misunderstanding operated […] an immense apparatus for producing truth, even if this truth was to be masked at the last moment” (56). In distinction to the science is the ars erotica of ancient societies, wherein “truth is drawn from pleasure itself, understood as a practice,” closely held as secrets to be transmitted by masters to students (57). We have the scientia sexualis, “a form of knowledge-power strictly opposed to the art of initiations and the masterful secret” (58), rooted in the confession. I recall sex education in school in 5th grade, and it really didn’t involve the confession, but it simply laid out the operability of pregnancy and then tried to scare the fuck out of all of us with images of sexually transmitted infections. There was no instruction in the praxis of sex—I had to be instructed viscerally, for instance, in manual stimulation by an eager master later in life. Quite a bit on the permutations here, including how the scientia sexualis might react back and become the ars erotica of our society. Text thereafter traces the ‘deployment’ of the knowledge-power sex system. Its objective is usefully summed up as “where there is desire, the power relation is already present” (81). Some readers get very annoyed with his proclamation that “there is no escaping from power, that it is always-already present, constituting the very thing which one attempts to counter it with” (82). The explanation is nuanced: “the problem is not to know whether desire is alien to power, whether it is prior to the law as is often thought to be the case, when it is not rather the law that is perceived as constituting it” (89). He wants moreover to “construct an analytics of power that no longer takes law as a model and a code” (90), and to “rid ourselves of a juridical and negative representation of power, and cease to conceive of it in terms of law, prohibition, liberty, and sovereignty” (id.). Plain that “power is everywhere, not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (93). Resistance is accordingly “never in a position of exteriority in relation to power” (95). The deployment of sexuality therefore has four rules as its ‘method’: immanence (“no exteriority” (98)), continual variations (“the pattern of the modificati0ns […] relations of power-knowledge are not static forms” (99)), double conditioning (“two different levels (one microscopic and the other macroscopic) […] the family does not duplicate society” (99-100)), and tactical polyvalence of discourses (“discourse as a series of discontinuous segments […] a multiplicity of discursive elements that can come into play in various strategies” (100)). The ‘domain’ of the deployment is further differentiated into four institutional loci: “hysterization of women’s bodies,” “pedagogization of children’s sex,” “socialization of procreative behavior,” and the “psychiatrization of perverse pleasure” (104 ff.). All of this is periodized along a discontinuous chronology, showing ruptures in the 17th and then again in the 20th century, insofar as their development was not triumphant march of progressively unfolding awesome (see 115 ff.). The final section shifts gears to more obviously biopolitical concerns, how “one of the characteristic privileges of sovereign power was the right to decide life and death” (135). Notes a political dream of genocide (137), to go with the dreams of the leper and plague and panopticon in Discipline & Punish. Transformations in power noted as a shift from sanguinity to sexuality (147). A “faustian pact”: “to exchange life in its entirety for sex itself” (156). Plenty more here, especially for readers of Agamben. Underlying all of Foucault’s work is the fiction of the “individual,” even while he works to critique the ideology of the ‘subject,’ such as, for instance, in the proclamation that “It was essential that the state knew what was happening with its citizens’ sex, and the use they made of it, but also that each individual be capable of controlling the use he made of it” (26). Huh? Some work to be done here, I think. One of the more interesting notes was the tracking of sexual norms as class-bound, inhering in the aristocracy and only later escaping the country club and the debutante ball to infect the rest of the world. Much like the early affliction of Christianity on Europe (see The Barbarian Conversion), the ruling class was transformed first and only thereafter using the regular ideological state apparatus remade the world in its image. Basic German Ideology Marxism there. Recommended for demographers on the eve of the revolution, those who say that there are class sexualities, and readers under the sway of a logic of concupiscence and desire. my 3* review from 2011, recalling it as read from 1997: "a good book to read in a public café, wherein meatheads of any gender might discern the title and proclaim, as happened to me, that "y'all don't need no books for that because I can teachy'all." I can affirm that, whereas a picture is worth a thousand words, a meathead is worth a thousand books."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Spyros Passas

    A popular quote goes by: "everything is about sex, except sex; sex is about power". While this can be interpreted in many ways, one of the most interesting approaches is the one presented in this book. Foucault investigates not so much the history (if you're looking for a historiographical view of sex, this is not the book for you) but a -post- structuralist genealogy of sex; a study of the lineage and evolution of sexuality the last four centuries, examined under the dominant notion of Power. In A popular quote goes by: "everything is about sex, except sex; sex is about power". While this can be interpreted in many ways, one of the most interesting approaches is the one presented in this book. Foucault investigates not so much the history (if you're looking for a historiographical view of sex, this is not the book for you) but a -post- structuralist genealogy of sex; a study of the lineage and evolution of sexuality the last four centuries, examined under the dominant notion of Power. In this context, Foucault defines Power not as an authority exerted through centralised forces by political or legal means but instead as a set of multiple and intertwined discourses, acting on multiple levels forming sources of both oppression and resistance. The need for knowledge and the exhortation to confess every detail about sex, as expressed in multiple and completely diverse environments shape the new discourses that, in turn, form the complex and constantly shifting forms of Power (the power-knowledge paradigm as postulated in the book). Four sexual identities, originating from these new knowledge-fuelled discourses, play a central role to the analysis: the hysterical woman, the masturbating child, the Malthusian couple and the perverse adult. Foucault uses these four types as the anchoring points between which the knowledge-power forces circulate, in the contexts of therapy, clergy, family, policy and science. The book in my eyes was very pleasant to read (it is not as difficult as many people claim, especially after you start adapting to Foucault's way of writing) and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    After enjoying The Seventh Function of Language so much, it seemed like the right time to read some more Foucault. I radically underestimated how long ‘The Will to Knowledge’ would take me, having previously only read Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Being based on a lecture series, the latter is presumably as a consequence rather less dense. The paragraphs in ‘The Will to Knowledge’ are unnecessarily long. Nonetheless, I got into it eventually and found so After enjoying The Seventh Function of Language so much, it seemed like the right time to read some more Foucault. I radically underestimated how long ‘The Will to Knowledge’ would take me, having previously only read Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Being based on a lecture series, the latter is presumably as a consequence rather less dense. The paragraphs in ‘The Will to Knowledge’ are unnecessarily long. Nonetheless, I got into it eventually and found some particularly thought-provoking material in the latter half. The first half used a somewhat excessive number of words on the concept of sexuality being turned into discourse, rather than repressed as such. This became more interesting when discussing confession and how this evolved from religious into secular, medicalised forms. Foucault’s famous bio-power concept is also considered, largely in the wider context of what constitutes power. His propositions regarding power more generally seem to elide the presence of institutions rather, although they are perhaps more helpful when considering power relationships at the level of micropolitics. Nonetheless, I liked this point: Despite the difference in epochs and objectives, the representation of power has remained under the spell of monarchy. In political thought and analysis, we still have not cut off the head of the king. Hence the importance that the theory of power gives to the problem of right and violence, law and illegality, freedom and will, and especially the state and sovereignty (even if the latter is questioned insofar as it is personified in a collective being and no longer a sovereign individual). To conceive of power on the basis on these problems is to conceive of it in terms of a historical form that is characteristic of our societies: the juridical monarchy. Characteristic yet transitory. For a short book about sexuality, ‘The Will to Knowledge’ has a remarkable reluctance to focus on the topic. Rather amusingly, near the end of the book Foucault evokes a straw man asking him (I paraphrase), “How come you’ve written a book about sexuality that doesn’t talk about sex, man?” It’s the first volume, of course, and Foucault is making the point that sexuality is created and manipulated by society. I found that argument convincing, especially the links he draws between Victorian discourse around sexuality and the rise of racism and eugenics. Also notable was the inclusion of class dynamics: The most rigorous techniques were formed and, more particularly, applied first, with the greatest intensity, in the economically privileged and politically dominant classes. The direction of consciences, self-examination, the entire long elaboration of transgressions of the flesh, and the scrupulous detection of concupiscence were all subtle procedures that could only have been accessible to small groups of people. [...] The same can be said of the family as an agency of control and a point of sexual saturation: it was in the ‘bourgeois’ or ‘aristocratic’ family that the sexuality of children was adolescents was first problematised, and feminine sexuality medicalised; it was the first to be alerted to the potential pathology of sex, the urgent need to keep it under close watch and to devise a rational technology of correction. Foucault is much more inclined to weave theories than systematically support them with references or other evidence. I can understand why his approach to sexuality has been so influential, though, as it effectively counters the simplistic and insidious idea that in the past sexuality was repressed and now it’s not because we understand biology. The fact that society provides our understanding of sexuality is still generally ignored in popular culture; current terms and concepts are projected back into history as if universally applicable. One of this book’s key points, which has been elaborated on by subsequent writers, is that the sorting of people into sexual categories (legal/illegal, straight/gay, healthy/pathological, etc) was a Victorian innovation. As I was already familiar with this idea, one of the most memorable passages for me concerned the pre-Modern era: A society of blood - I was tempted to say, of ‘sanguinity’ - where power spoke through blood: the honour of war, the fear of famine, the triumph of death, the sovereign with a sword, executioners, and tortures; blood was reality with a symbolic function. Echoes of Bread of Dreams: Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Europe there. Overall, if you make the effort to dig, there are some fascinating ideas in ‘The Will to Knowledge’. I expect I’ll read the subsequent volumes in the History of Sexuality at some point.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I read this while visiting friends in Springfield, Vermont, mostly on their porch and outside the town's sole cafe. The reading occurred after the completion of Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death, another book concerned with the liberatory and repressive potentials of sexuality. My intellectual interest in sex stems in part from the recognition of how references to it are used to manipulate. Advertising is a conspicuous example, but the manipulatory sexualization of society is far broader and m I read this while visiting friends in Springfield, Vermont, mostly on their porch and outside the town's sole cafe. The reading occurred after the completion of Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death, another book concerned with the liberatory and repressive potentials of sexuality. My intellectual interest in sex stems in part from the recognition of how references to it are used to manipulate. Advertising is a conspicuous example, but the manipulatory sexualization of society is far broader and more subtle than that, ranging from cosmetic techniques to considerations of gender and generation. Much of this manipulation is taken for granted and, so, effectively unconscious. I am not free of this myself and it bothers me to think of how I and others play the game, judge and am judged by its rules, without much sense of alternatives. A recent example, a trivially common and pernicious example, was that I was walking down the street in this neighborhood from the food market on a warm day and saw two scantily clad women a block ahead of me, both with good figures. They were engaged in conversation, so I gradually caught up with them to discover that one was a friend's thirteen year-old daughter, the other her schoolmate. Both had bare midriffs, extremely short shorts and lots of makeup. The recognition and the immediate switching of mental gears was pronounced. Now, there was nothing wrong, morally speaking, with my seeing these girls from behind as sex objects. What was wrong was that they dressed to the roles, not appreciating what they were doing. I knew one of the girls pretty well and am reasonably confident that they didn't think much about sex--about having boys paying attention to them, yes, but not about fucking. Indeed, these hypotheses have been confirmed over subsequent years by her maturation through dating, some unfortunate party expereinces and now--she being seventeen currently--a serious relationship with a fellow. Those euphemistically phrased "unfortunate party experiences" were, to my perception, examples of the unintended consequences of apparent, but not real, sexual precocity. Where I find myself ethically compromised by this most regularly is in the preference I give to normatively sexy women. It workd two ways, both of them bad. I either avoid such persons in recognition of my prejudice or I favor them, assigning to them virtues which go way beyond the facts of appearance or behavior. I don't so much consciously do this as catch myself having done this, often when the projections are disappointed by contrary evidence. The tendency to be lured by suggestions of sex complicates and makes suspect relations between heterosexual men and women and makes same-sex friendship easier. Similarly, all relations between persons involving potential, desired transactions, narrow those relations and distort perception, particularly when their respective powers are unequal. Some of my objections to capitalism, and reactions to its relations, are similar to those I have as regards sex and sex roles. I read Foucault as I read Brown, in order, to raise my consciousness, to break out of habits, to become more free and authentic. The fact that Foucault was an active, even aggressive, homosexual makes him particularly intriguing--not that he mentions this in this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Foucault's "History of Sexuality" was assigned twice over the course of my semester; for one class, our theme is the intersection between queer and race theories; for the other, a strict literary (theory) methods foundation. As such, we discussed the text in two very different ways for each of the classes, with one debate focusing largely on the absence of race in Foucault's history; the other, on conceptions of power in the text, and their relation to Foucault's "What Is an Author?" Nevertheles Foucault's "History of Sexuality" was assigned twice over the course of my semester; for one class, our theme is the intersection between queer and race theories; for the other, a strict literary (theory) methods foundation. As such, we discussed the text in two very different ways for each of the classes, with one debate focusing largely on the absence of race in Foucault's history; the other, on conceptions of power in the text, and their relation to Foucault's "What Is an Author?" Nevertheless, I still feel I have only a vague handle on the text, and learned more that one can approach "History" from a number of very different methodologies and find something new in each approach. I think that's positively fabulous, and I'm really looking forward to reading more Foucault soon (god knows, my dept. loves him). That said, Foucault's capillary-style conception of power is perpetually fascinating to me, even if it veers dangerously close to being fatalist or apolitical, and I love his style. He's shockingly accessible, even if the weighty ideas don't hit you at first. But having been drowning in theory all semester, I really appreciate Foucault's ability to articulate intricate and provocative questions without falling into impenetrable language. I have to say, I can't fault his argument in many ways (besides, as I noted, his seemingly normalizing 'ideal' of the sexual (bourgeois, white) person). His position as a historicist is particularly interesting, because he appears allergic to direct references and mostly averse to footnoting his facts; it's very seductive, potentially dangerous, but in any case, not what you're used to when reading something that purports to be in some sense a "history" of the discursive production of sexuality through the last two centuries. Provocative, persuasive, and surprisingly accessible--those would be my final words on this one. UPDATE: Was assigned it. Again. But this time--wait for it--also had to teach it. & it was at that precise moment, as I attempted to clarify Foucault's notion(s) of the mechanisms of power for 30 undergraduates, that I realized I understood hardly anything. Scary & exciting at once, I think.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    A very interesting book, almost an eye-opener when it comes to sexuality. Ever asked yourself what sexuality actually is and when the human behavior regarding sex became a name? Why masturbation is such a hard theme to talk about? when sex other than "marital relation aimed at producing children" became taboo? You will find some answers in this great book. It didn't get 5 full stars because I have to say, the way Foucault expresses his opinions is sometimes so twisted, construction of the sentenc A very interesting book, almost an eye-opener when it comes to sexuality. Ever asked yourself what sexuality actually is and when the human behavior regarding sex became a name? Why masturbation is such a hard theme to talk about? when sex other than "marital relation aimed at producing children" became taboo? You will find some answers in this great book. It didn't get 5 full stars because I have to say, the way Foucault expresses his opinions is sometimes so twisted, construction of the sentence is so strange, that even if you read it four times with a pencil in your hand, you still don't understand where he is getting at. Still a very good book and I can wait to read his other work.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jen Seman

    After reading this, I can't read anything else without seeing his influence. The relationships between power/knowledge and the construction of sexuality...he turns assumptions upside down and offers a different way of interpreting events, especially commonly held ideas about power relationships. For example, he dismisses the idea that victorian values repressed sexuality. He would insist that just the opposite is true - that the Victorian age offered multiple sites and institutions which increas After reading this, I can't read anything else without seeing his influence. The relationships between power/knowledge and the construction of sexuality...he turns assumptions upside down and offers a different way of interpreting events, especially commonly held ideas about power relationships. For example, he dismisses the idea that victorian values repressed sexuality. He would insist that just the opposite is true - that the Victorian age offered multiple sites and institutions which increased our discourse on sex, making it a primary focus, actually creating "sexuality."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    ::::: )))))))) he literally writes like a pretentious douche

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sabin

    Not about sex. Ok, you’re gonna get a bit of sex towards the end, but it’s not really something to fap to. Unless you have a thing for long sentences and elaborate syntax, in which case you’ve hit the jackpot. Rather, the book is about power and knowledge and how they relate to and influence the human body. Basically sexuality is the means by which the powers that be know about and control your body. And the powers that be which developed this “scientia sexualis” are not, at least in the modern a Not about sex. Ok, you’re gonna get a bit of sex towards the end, but it’s not really something to fap to. Unless you have a thing for long sentences and elaborate syntax, in which case you’ve hit the jackpot. Rather, the book is about power and knowledge and how they relate to and influence the human body. Basically sexuality is the means by which the powers that be know about and control your body. And the powers that be which developed this “scientia sexualis” are not, at least in the modern age, all-powerful “sovereign” powers, but a lattice of power-relations, of statistics and controls, that aim to normalize rather than prohibit sexual practices. In order to achieve this normalization, they employed four techniques to develop this science of sex, whose primary purpose is to know the truth about our bodies and the mecahnisms of sex and by which sex becomes a medical subject of investigation, as oppposed to the “ars erotica” of other cultures, where the primary purpose of sex is pleasure. They are the hysterization of women, the transformation of child sexuality into a pathology, birth-control, and the pathology of perversion. And then sex, which is clearly a quantifyable physical act, is, at the same time and because of its ubiquity, the base on which sexuality rests its analysis and speculations. So yeah, a distinctly satisfying intellectual endeavour, but definitely not fap material here.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    Reading this for my Materialist Workshop/Reading Group. We've delved into Birth of the Clinic, a few of his Lectures, and the three volumes of History of Sexuality. Foucault said that History of Sexuality was supposed to be his magnum opus. It took him nearly a decade to complete, and it is comprised mainly of 'Big Ideas,' in the sense that Foucault often forgets to flesh out the details of his work. He paints in broad brush strokes, and I attribute this lack of detail to his burgeoning status a Reading this for my Materialist Workshop/Reading Group. We've delved into Birth of the Clinic, a few of his Lectures, and the three volumes of History of Sexuality. Foucault said that History of Sexuality was supposed to be his magnum opus. It took him nearly a decade to complete, and it is comprised mainly of 'Big Ideas,' in the sense that Foucault often forgets to flesh out the details of his work. He paints in broad brush strokes, and I attribute this lack of detail to his burgeoning status at the time. By the 1980's he was no longer a young-hot-shot intellectual on the make, he was a middle-aged, established titan of critical theory, renowned the world over. He did not need to put down every footnote (in fact there are no footnotes in the Intro.). He no longer has to really show his work, because everybody can predict the conclusions he will reach based on his previous published texts. While Birth of the Clinic ends with a beautiful set of surrealistic images related to the immutability of death, and the frailty of human existence, History of Sexuality is less prosaic. The last chapter of this Introductory text consists of Foucault clinging to the idealism of the Sexual Revolution. While the sixties were about the "plenitude of the possible," as he says, it is less important to cast the radicalism of the sixties as demanding unobtainable Utopian fantasies, it is more important to keep the discourses of radical change alive. This series of books were written on the cusp of the Swinging 70's and the Moral Majority Paranoia of the 80's (Reagan and Thatcher, Pat Robertson, and co.) and Foucault is a kind of soothsayer predicting hard times to come for the New Left. He was right! It is only fitting that he wrote this while he was dying of AIDS. His death signified everything that went wrong with the Sexual Revolution, and everything that had been co-opted by "The Powers that Be," in lieu of that dying Idealism. When I read this book I remember something my professor said was written on the city walls of Paris by the radical students in May '68... "Let us be realists and demand the impossible."

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I was actually interested in reading about a history of sexuality, but what this is is... something else. It's quite difficult to tell what the hell Foucault is talking about because it's presented in dense language that makes a lot of assumptions about what the reader may or may not know about the state of society's relationship to sexuality. In addition to not totally know what context Foucault is coming from - I don't really know what assumptions people made about the state of sexuality in th I was actually interested in reading about a history of sexuality, but what this is is... something else. It's quite difficult to tell what the hell Foucault is talking about because it's presented in dense language that makes a lot of assumptions about what the reader may or may not know about the state of society's relationship to sexuality. In addition to not totally know what context Foucault is coming from - I don't really know what assumptions people made about the state of sexuality in the 1970s... in France, he doesn't really set out to explain what it is he's refuting. It reminds me of some ancient latin texts where poets were able to make oblique references to something popular at the time that has since become lost. As for his actual arguments, he doesn't seem to do a great job setting them out. To the extent that I understand what he's talking about, I find that he generally states his claims about history without providing the reasons why he thinks this is true, then goes on to argue that attitudes towards sexuality are all tied up in the use of power in society, I guess? If this is just the introduction, I can't imagine that the main body of the argument is at all cogent. 1.5 stars

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lexidreams

    Read for my Queer Studies class. A study of sexuality, bodies, pleasures, institutions, discourse, knowledge, power, 'truth', and all the relations therein. It definitely changed the way I think. He says in the book that the history of Western sexuality is really a history of discourse, and that is what you should be expecting (as he hammers home: sexuality is discursively produced). It can be frustrating because it's a book based around ideas; the abstract and not the material. Somewhere in ther Read for my Queer Studies class. A study of sexuality, bodies, pleasures, institutions, discourse, knowledge, power, 'truth', and all the relations therein. It definitely changed the way I think. He says in the book that the history of Western sexuality is really a history of discourse, and that is what you should be expecting (as he hammers home: sexuality is discursively produced). It can be frustrating because it's a book based around ideas; the abstract and not the material. Somewhere in there you may start to feel like ideas exist separate from us and that they are adapting, surviving, and reproducing all on their own, controlling our minds (and our bodies) through their strange ways. You'll get through it. I didn't find it particularly difficult to read- it wasn't light, you did have to be critically thinking as you went through it, but I don't feel that my skipping a few overly-complicated sentences here and there hurt my understanding of the book as he does repeat. He can make a sentence last a paragraph, which I admire, but it can get irritating if you're trying to understand what he's saying and you have to go back a paragraph to get to the beginning of the point.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Megat Hanis

    Sexuality rather than being one part of ourself, has become an identity that define who we are. Foucault brilliantly using genealogical method aimed at unmasking the complexities of socially constructed power relations that spreads through the discourse on sexuality. He wrote against repressive theory that suggest, sexuality since the 17th century has been repressed and consequently needs to be liberated to achieve true freedom. For Foucault, not only the discourse on sexuality has been prolifer Sexuality rather than being one part of ourself, has become an identity that define who we are. Foucault brilliantly using genealogical method aimed at unmasking the complexities of socially constructed power relations that spreads through the discourse on sexuality. He wrote against repressive theory that suggest, sexuality since the 17th century has been repressed and consequently needs to be liberated to achieve true freedom. For Foucault, not only the discourse on sexuality has been proliferated even more outside the marriage framework through public institutions, but also it is an effort to overturn the absolutist agenda from "the right of death" to "power over life" which focuses on sexual health and controlling population. What we readers can understand rather than the topic of sexuality is that how power is not something we simply posssed or dismiss but it exist through differential structure of multiple power relations.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    the failure of semiotics and semiology is not complete yet. the use of words to replace true symbols points to the inward navel gazing of READERS, who READ into things, not study the biostructure (or rather the biogenetic structures) of form, movement, semiologists seem to be unaware of the myths that suffuse the very words they employ to dissect other more sophisticated structures. indeed cosmopolitan, the craft is wedded to tools born in the lit criticism freud used and called psychoanalysis. the failure of semiotics and semiology is not complete yet. the use of words to replace true symbols points to the inward navel gazing of READERS, who READ into things, not study the biostructure (or rather the biogenetic structures) of form, movement, semiologists seem to be unaware of the myths that suffuse the very words they employ to dissect other more sophisticated structures. indeed cosmopolitan, the craft is wedded to tools born in the lit criticism freud used and called psychoanalysis. lacan, derrida, barthes, bordieu. all victimize the craft they claim to evolve. just go read barthes discuss a parisian wrestling match and look at what he describes. he misses the point entirely. a tragic academic pursuit that laid waste to post 1960's colleges. cronenburg is the real foucault. and I don't even like him anymore. it ended at Dead Ringers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Khadija

    The ideas in this book can be applied to anything, what was in the past a taboo topic could be normalized just by creating a discourse around it. Talking about something simply gives it power. The binary of power/knowledge is what attracted me to this book and it delivered.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cass

    How did it take me so long to read this?

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jobe Moakes

    Vol 1 of the 'History of Sexuality' was written just before a significant shift in Foucault's thought: the 'ethical turn' of his later work. As such this is his last book covering the complex machinations of (bio)power and discourse, this time considering their operations on the body within the sphere of sexuality. It's a particularly erudite book and is fairly readable,due not only to its brevity but also its clear prose; no mean feat for a work often labeled 'post-structuralist'! I would sugges Vol 1 of the 'History of Sexuality' was written just before a significant shift in Foucault's thought: the 'ethical turn' of his later work. As such this is his last book covering the complex machinations of (bio)power and discourse, this time considering their operations on the body within the sphere of sexuality. It's a particularly erudite book and is fairly readable,due not only to its brevity but also its clear prose; no mean feat for a work often labeled 'post-structuralist'! I would suggest then that it is a suitable starting point for a foray into Foucauldian thinking as alongside its relative pedagogical clarity it also contains a number of tropes indicative of Foucault's style and approach; a fairly lax approach to historiography (don't expect a historian's rigor); a tendency to reveal commonplace assumptions as fallacies; and a unique approach to theory in which his idea's and concepts are generated throughout the work via an analysis of 'history'. The later point means that it is often difficult to see what Foucault is getting at theoretically speaking, leaving one to feel that they have missed some crucial point along the way, an issue compounded by the lack of a modern 'signposted' academic introduction. It's therefore appropriate to provide a short summary of the work: ***please note I am no expert so what follow is merely an interpretation, hope it helps!*** Foucault begins by challenging the 'Repressive Hypothesis', the notion that the during the Victorian ages discourse on sexuality was silenced, unless that sexuality was of the heterosexual, reproductive variety. This narrative posits the construction of a boundary surrounding the monogamous, married bedroom, a boundary which demarcates the sphere of legitimate discourse, confining it to utilitarian role aimed at maintaining the fertility and thus reproductive potentials of hetronormative, state sanctioned relationships. Foucault demonstrates that this notion, although historically unfounded, became widespread (particularly within leftwing circles: see Marcuse's Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud) since it allowed sexual repression to be linked to capitalism and its associated societal repression. This link was made via the establishment of a narrative which saw discourse on sexuality as being purely aimed at establishing a reproductive imperative that operationalized sexuality towards the reproduction of societies labor capacity. This logic extended to the repression of abnormal (non-reproductive) sexualities, since they represented a wasteful expenditure of vital libidinal energy, energy better used to drive industrial development and economic expansion. Underlying this perspective is what Foucault terms a 'Judicio-discursive' conception of power, a notion that holds power as a purely negative phenomena that only relates to its object in a oppressive capacity; preventing rather than producing. For Foucault this a far too reductive view of power, a position unable to illuminate the myriad dispersion of power across the sexual sphere. Foucault challenges the Repressive Hypothesis and its underlying assumptions on the nature of power; demonstrating that contrary to this repressive narrative, Victorian society actually witnessed a veritable explosion of discourses relating to sex that incorporated the most diverse sexualities, seeking to understand, classify and ultimately discover the 'truth' of sex. This 'Will to Knowledge' entailed the deployment of what Foucault terms a ‘Scientia Sexualis’ which functions via an incitement to speak of ones sex, in order that it can be understood and ultimately pathologized. This process sutures sexuality to identity in that it considers ones sexual activity as central to ones very nature; for example this process was integral to the codification of the homosexual as a static identity (prior to which same sex relations were considered a momentary transgression, understood under the broad rubric of 'sodomy'). It is here that Foucault outlines what in my mind is the central theoretical argument of the book; his analysis of power. For Foucault, contrary to liberal and Marxist conceptions, power is not something exercised or even possessed by a hegemonic social entity. Rather it is a relation, immanent to the social field and exercised from a variety of junctions, that acts in a productive capacity. In respect to sexuality power functions to multiply sexualities by trapping them in discourse, codifying them as identities and defining their conduct. There is no exterior of power, everything, including resistance, is caught up in the intricacy of its complex networks. If we return to the example of homosexuality, it can be seen that power functioned to link a sexual act (same-sex relations) to an identity, producing not only regressive instances of homophobia and marginalization, but also resistance to that marginalization and the production of communities, centered around an identity, that give meaning, a sense of belonging and purpose to many. This point illuminates a key perspective of Foucault's that has led many detractors to consider him nihilistic and amoral; power is not good, or bad it merely 'is'. What Vol 1 provides then is a reappraisal of our historical understanding of sexuality, demonstrating that it has not been repressed, but has rather been discussed endlessly. Furthermore, and arguably most significantly, it provides a novel and radical understanding of power, an understanding that challenges and provokes more traditionalist understandings of power (Marxism and Liberalism!) and the praxis they inspire. What troubles me about Foucault's view of power is that, in its immanence, it seems to rob the individual of agency, rendering us all passive subjects of an inescapable totality. In some respects I wonder if it is this loss of agency that caused the 'ethical turn' in Foucault's work, demonstrated in the latter two books of The History of Sexuality (The History of Sexuality 2: The Use of Pleasure and The History of Sexuality 3: The Care of the Self) in which Foucault turns to an analysis of Greek and Roman sexual ethics and the methods by which they related to and integrated the power relations structuring their society? I have yet to study these volumes carefully, but I sincerely hope that Foucault is able to provide some respite from the all encompassing power relations that define us and our society; I imagine so, since the practice of ethics hints at the construction of an interiority (subjectivity) that perhaps offers the only means of escape from the complex exteriority this volume traverses.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Luchian Flofoftei

    "In political thought and analysis, we still have not cut off the head of the king."

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paul Ataua

    Having finished all the books I had to read, I finally got around to reading “the History of Sexuality”, a book I have been meaning to read for years. Quite frankly, I was totally knocked out by it. Foucault begins by describing the way most of us have understood the history of sexuality over the last three hundred years, as a period of growing repression finally leading to liberation from the second half of the twentieth century onward, and then he starts to reassess this view and reinterpret t Having finished all the books I had to read, I finally got around to reading “the History of Sexuality”, a book I have been meaning to read for years. Quite frankly, I was totally knocked out by it. Foucault begins by describing the way most of us have understood the history of sexuality over the last three hundred years, as a period of growing repression finally leading to liberation from the second half of the twentieth century onward, and then he starts to reassess this view and reinterpret the period from a completely different position. A really good intro that gave me a clearer picture of what he meant by biopower and had me re-evaluating my own thoughts in so many areas, from psychoanalysis to racism. It may seem to be easy to read, but it is not an easy read, and I needed a couple of commentaries to help clear up parts of it. The gain was certainly worth the pain.

  30. 5 out of 5

    James Klagge

    I am a philosopher, and (analytic) philosophers do not consider Foucault to be a philosopher. I read this b/c I was part of an interdisciplinary class in which it was assigned. I'm glad I have now read something by Foucault, but I did not find him to be very interesting, and his confusions were a constant bother to me. His favorite method of argument is to find an example or an anecdote and treat it as though it shows something. Generalizations are constantly being made from mere illustrations. I am a philosopher, and (analytic) philosophers do not consider Foucault to be a philosopher. I read this b/c I was part of an interdisciplinary class in which it was assigned. I'm glad I have now read something by Foucault, but I did not find him to be very interesting, and his confusions were a constant bother to me. His favorite method of argument is to find an example or an anecdote and treat it as though it shows something. Generalizations are constantly being made from mere illustrations. I'm not sure what all his fans see in him. I guess he stokes in people a sense of suspicion or cynicism that things are not what they seem. Some people have a temperament for thinking like that. You can't prove it or disprove it. It's not to my taste, I guess.

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