Foucault: History o' Sexuality v1
Ahem most of the time I won't blog books in such detail, but I already had these notes written up from a class last semester :)
UPDATE: Thanks to FoucaultBlog for the link, but it made me realize I should clarify these notes were collectively written as a class project and are not my sole work, but also include contributions from Steve Rafferty, Kristen Barber, and Bradly Nabors.
Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (Vol. 1)
Some Key Terms & Concepts:
- Foucault reading tip: The “money quote” is usually at the end of the paragraph or section, and often in contradiction to much of what he has said previously.
- Discourse: More than talking. Includes all the institutions, technologies, experts, and systems of knowledge. Not merely what is said, but what, under specific historical conditions, is capable of being said, known, or comprehended. For example: village idiot -> court jester -> criminally insane -> neurotic -> mentally ill -> biochemical imbalance in the brain. Although historical analysis can reveal discourses, they are not linear but multiple, simultaneous, and competing (p. 34-35).
- The Moral Mission of Science: To exercise moral authority on the body; includes authority on hygiene, moral cleanliness of the body, and identifying, weeding out and eliminating the degenerate and sexually “perverse.”
- Systematic Blindness: discourse intentionally imbued with delusions and evasions of truth.
- Scientia Sexualis: The production of the truth of sex through the confession. “The task of productive true discourses concerning sex, and this by adopting – not without difficulty – the ancient procedure of confession to the rules of scientific discourse” (67).
- Ars Erotica: The production of truth through pleasure, through personal sexual desires, fantasies and experiences.
- Truth: Sex seen as a problem of truth. That is, truth supposedly can be found through the most intimate confessions of one’s sexual desires, fantasies and experiences.
Part. 1: We “Other Victorians”
An introduction to this, his introductory volume of a three-volume work. Lays out the traditional concept of a bucolic, pastoral earlier age up until the beginning of the 17th century, in which sexuality was freer and more naturally expressed. With the rise of capitalism, industrialism, and the bourgeoisie, sexuality is restricted and repressed, most famously in the Victorian era. [Think of the common anecdote of tablecloths being used to cover table legs, the shape of which was thought to be too similar to that of a female leg and therefore to exciting to men.] In contrast, today we are sexually liberated. Sex and sexuality, then, are tied into a modernist progress narrative. [Think: The Age of Innocence, Room With a View]
Foucault says, “I don’t think so,” laying out his plan for a revisionist history of sexuality, which aims not only to dispute this narrative, but explore how it relates to issues of power in society. “My aim is to examine the case of a society which has been loudly castigating itself for its hypocrisy for more than a century, which speaks verbosely of its own silence, takes great pains to relate in detail the things it does not say, denounces powers it exercises, and promises to liberate itself from the very laws that have made it function” (p. 8.). He plans to show that power does not repress sexuality but rather produces it through an incitement to discourse.
Part II; The Repressive Hypothesis
Ch. 1 -- The Incitement to Discourse: Typically, Foucault starts with his antithesis: Censorship. While acknowledging that, yes, in certain spheres things became improper to talk about, in other areas a veritable explosion occurs around sex: that institutions urge sex to be spoken of, articulated, mapped, defined, named, categorized. Indeed, even silences are a part of discourse. He traces the incitement to discourse through Christian confessional, 17th c. scandalous literature such as de Sade, and 18th century demographics and social administration. [Think: Quills, Last week’s reading on the emergence of “the population” as the subject of government.] Policing sex -- birth rates, disease, etc. -- requires talking about it, analyzing it, naming it, capturing it, etc. using the new tools of medicine, psychiatry, criminology, etc. The “curdled milk” episode illustrates “The pettiness of it all; the fact that this everyday occurrence in the life of village sexuality, these inconsequential bucolic pleasures, could become, from a certain time, the object not only of a collective intolerance but of a judicial action, a medical intervention, a careful clinical examination, and an entire theoretical elaboration” p. 32. Ultimately Foucault identifies something of a paradox with sex as the secret you’re endless urged to speak of: “Modern societies ... dedicated themselves to speaking of [sex] ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret.” p. 35.
Ch. 2 -- The Perverse Implantation: Foucault identifies a twofold process related to the transformation of sex into discourse: a move away from studying or interrogating heterosexual monogamy and toward “unnatural” sex as the focus of scientific study. The normal and abnormal are mutually constitutive. he sees power exerted in four ways:
1. Lines of penetration -- rather than ignore the sexuality of children (onanism), power fixates on it, names it, reaches in, grabs it and produces it.
2. Incorporation of perversions and specification of individuals -- one of MF’s most famous concepts: “The sodomite had been a temporary aberration, the homosexual was now a species” p. 43. [Think Psychopathia Sexualis - more on this later].
3. Perpetual spirals of power and pleasure that are also mutually reinforcing. The thrill of observing behavior and eliciting confession, the thrill of subverting these same forces. parent and child, psychoanalyst and patient, warden and prisoner.
4. Devices of sexual saturation - Institutions and systems call out, map, segregate based on, delineate sex -- all of which calls it into being. [Think of the naming of perversions in John Waters’ A Dirty Shame, or how plushies and furries are constituted by Rick Castro, Real Sex, and other documentaries on them. Talk shows, reality shows.] Power is productive, not repressive. “Modern society is perverse, not in spite of its puritanism or as if from a backlash provoked by its hypocrisy; it is in actual fact, and directly, perverse.” p. 47
Foucault concludes with a summary on pp. 48-49, all eminently quotable. “This concatenation, particularly since the eighteenth century, has been ensured and relayed by the countless economic interests which, with the help of medicine, psychiatry, prostitution, and pornography, have tapped into both this analytical multiplication of pleasure and this optimization of the power that controls it.”
Part III: Scientia Sexualis
In this chapter, Foucault outlines the way in which discourse on sex or sexual truth is produced. He notes that the supposed truth of sex is produced in two ways: through Ars Erotica and Scientia Sexualis. He suggests the latter is the way in which the truth of sex is produced today. Significant to this is the confession, which includes the telling and listening of sex that consequently forms hierarchical power relationships between people. These relationships can take the form of parent/child, teacher/student and doctor/teacher, among others. Truth is thus produced, and pleasure experienced, from a multitude of axes. Foucault notes that science and medicine began to take up discourse on sex, situating itself as the authority on sex, both physically and morally. Medicine creates ways to identify “perversities,” leading to the labeling and marginalizing of the “aberrant.” In this way, Biopower is exercised, the need to “kill” (the “perverse”) in order to retain the lives of a group (here the “normal”). However, Foucault notes that with such constraint and power also emerge new freedoms, freedom through new pleasures that are derived from the confession of sex.
“The essential point is that sex was not only a matter of sensation and pleasure, of law and taboo, but also of truth and falsehood, that the truth of sex became something fundamental, useful, or dangerous, precious a formidable: in short, that sex was constituted as a problem of truth” (56).
Part IV: The Deployment of Sexuality
Sex is a “petition to know” . . . “A double petition, in that we are compelled to know how things are with it, while it is suspected of knowing how things are with us.” (p. 78)
This conception of sex as containing knowledge leads Foucault to ask what it has been and what it is, that we expect to learn from sex that leads to such persistent attention.
“In order to situate the investigations what will follow [In v. II and v. III, I presume], let me put forward so me general propositions concerning the objective, the method, the domain to be covered, and the periodizations that one can accept in a provisory way” (p. 80).
Ch. 1-- Objective: Foucault states his desire to “move less toward a ‘theory’ of power than toward an ‘analytics’ of power” (p. 82): To do so, he notes, it will be necessary to step outside of “juridico-discursive” models of power in favor of the “domain formed by relations of power”. This seems to fit with his notion of power as “everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (p. 93).
Foucault discusses five “principal features” of conclusions reached through the juridico-discursive representation of power, which he notes can lead to either a “promise of a ‘liberation’” if it presumes power is repressive of desire, or “affirmation” if it presumes power is constitutive of desire (p. 83):
− The Negative Relation: In these frameworks, “power can ‘do’ nothing but say no” to sex and pleasure
− The Insistence of the Rule: First, “sex is placed . . . in a binary system” (i.e., licit and illicit). Second, power orders sex and thus makes it intelligible – “deciphered on the basis of its relation to the law” (p. 83). Lastly, power exercises or maintains its hold through discourse (i.e., the naming of rules)
− The Cycle of Prohibition: Don’t show yer face around here or yer gonna get repressed . . .
− The Logic of Censorship: Three forms are recognized by Foucault – “affirming that such a thing is not permitted, preventing it from being said, denying that it exists” (p. 84)
− The Uniformity of the Apparatus: From particular to general, from elite to common, “power over sex is exercised in the same way at all levels” (p. 84).
Either a reason behind or a benefit of a discursive deployment of power behind the screen of a law of interdiction – “power is tolerable only on condition that it mask a substantial part of itself” (p. 86)?
Ch. 2 -- Method: First, Foucault tells us, it is important to recognize that the “terminal forms power takes” are predetermined.
The connections or disjunctions between force relations come from everywhere.
Propositions advanced regarding power (p. 94):
− “Power is not something that is acquired, seized or shared . . . [it is] exercised from innumerable points”
− “Relations of power are not in a position of exteriority with respect to other types of relationships”
− “Power comes from below”
− “Power relations are both intentional and nonsubjective . . . there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives”
− “Where there is power there is resistance”
To those about to embark with him, as he “immerse[s] the expanding production of discourses on sex in the field of multiple and mobile power relations,” Foucault offers the following four “cautionary prescriptions”:
− Rule of immanence: There is no sphere of sexuality that exists as it would if it were not for ideological or economically derived prohibitions.
− Rules of continual variations: Don’t look at power in relationships synchronically, look at patterns of power diachronically.
− Rule of double conditioning: The subordinate can’t be irreconcilable with the overarching – at the same time the overarching couldn’t have any effect without reconcilable but subordinate relations of power.
− Rule of tactical polyvalence of discourses: Discourse and silence, resistance and subservience – these should be thought of as spectrums or spheres of motion not fixed positions for power mechanisms.
“In short, it is a question of orienting ourselves to a conception of power which replaces the privilege of the law with the viewpoint of the objective, the privilege of prohibition with the viewpoint of tactical efficacy, the privilege of sovereignty with the analysis of a multiple and mobile field of force relations, wherein far-reaching, but never completely stable, effects of domination are produced” (p. 102).
Ch. 3 -- Domain: Sexuality is a “transfer point for relations of power” between sexes, generations, “an administration and a population”, etc . . .
“In a first approach to the problem, it seems that we can distinguish four great strategic unities which, beginning in the eighteenth century, formed specific mechanisms of knowledge and power centering on sex” (p. 103).
1. A hysterization of women’s bodies
2. A pedagogization of children’s sex
3. A socialization of procreative behavior
4. A psychiatrization of perverse pleasure
Sexuality “is the name that can be given to a historical construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special knowledges, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another, in accordance with a few major strategies of knowledge and power” (p. 106).
Ch. 4 -- Periodization: Degenerescence and the heredity-perversion system posit that any perversion or transgression will have residual effects through offspring or those the transgressor comes in contact with and thus effect the future of the entire society/human race.
Two major ruptures – the advent of prohibitions in the 17th century and the loosening of prohibitions – the chronology of this curve of “repressions” is the focus of this section.
Bourgeoisie “deployment of sexuality” was about affirmation of their social/economic class at first – only later were they extended to lower classes as “a means of social control and political subjugation” (p. 123).
“If it is true that sexuality is the set of effects produced in bodies, behaviors, and social relations by a certain deployment deriving from a complex political technology, one has to admit that this deployment does not operate in symmetrical fashion with respect to the social classes, and consequently, that it does not produce the same effects in them” (p. 127).
Part V: “Right of Death and Power Over Life”
In this chapter, Foucault distinguishes between two manifestations of power: the “right to death” and the “power over life,” and outlines their relative weakening and emergence. “Power over life,” or “bio-power,” appears in both disciplinary and regulatory forms which fixate on the usefulness of the body (ex: the workplace, military, education) and the reproductive capacity of the body (ex: demography, wealth distribution), respectively. Along with the emergence of “bio-power” came a focus on the human life itself, and brought it into the realm of politics. Foucault even indirectly references Weber, and states that the rise of capitalism coincided with an increased ease of life relatively uninterrupted by famine or disease. This newfound “control” over life provided a new perspective on life, resulting in an effort to optimize it (enter “bio-power”).
“Right to Death” Power expressed in monarchies by the right to kill or “let live”: “Power in this instance was essentially a right of seizure: of things, time, bodies, and ultimately life itself; it culminated in the privilege to seize hold of life in order to suppress it.” (136)
“Power Over Life” Power expressed in modern capitalist society by prescriptive rules of behavior. Foucault notes two forms present in this era of “bio-power”:
1) Discipline / anatomo-politics of the body
a. A focus on realization of the human body’s capabilities, usefulness, and integration into systems of economic controls
b. Manifestations (“lines of attack,” ostensibly to safeguard society):
- Sexualization of children
- Hysterization of women
2) Regulatory controls / bio-politics of the population
a. A focus on the human body itself (physiology, procreation, heath, life-expectancy)
b. Manifestations (“lines of attack” focused on self-discipline of body, constraints):
- Birth control
- Sexual perversion
“Broadly speaking, at the juncture of the “body” and the “population,” sex became a crucial target of a power organized around the management of life rather than the menace of death.” (147)
Shift from a “symbolics of blood to an analytics of sexuality”
1) “Symbolics of blood”/blood speaking through power: a reality that also served as symbol.
a. “blood lines”
b. “spilled blood”
c. “mixed blood”
- Not necessarily “extinct”; echoes seen in Nazi regime
2) “Analytics of sexuality”
a. Rather than power speaking through sexuality, it is addressed of and to sexuality (or its proxies: the body, its use-value, and reproduction)