Foucault: The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (Vol. 1)

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage Books, 1988.

In order to disrupt and reject the discourse that sex in the western world has undergone a trajectory of repression to liberation Foucault asserts, “for two centuries now, the discourse on sex has been multiplied rather than rarefied; and that if it has carried with it taboos and prohibitions, it has also, in a more fundamental way, ensured the solidification and implantation of an entire sexual mosaic.” (53) Interestingly for me, Foucault discusses the ways legislation of and persecution of bodies “entailed an incorporation of perversions” (42) so that what was once a “forbidden act” is now a “personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology.” (43) (take, for example, act of sodomy turns into the homosexual person).  There is a pleasure and a power in searching out the markers of these taboo personages – perversion is somehow written on their skin. Additionally there is pleasure in confessing to acts (and then to exploring, revealing, discovering sexualities). In describing what he terms the Sciencia sexualis (that was established in the West as opposed to ars erotica) (58), or the Western discourse of sex, that revolves around the wedding of science to the search for truth involved in the convention of the confessional, he suggests that they are all not only linked together, but produce sexuality.  In short, this system worked to produce a “uniform truth” of sex.  The ground on which this truth was created was the family, that he suggests was defined through a series of processes the begin before the 16th century, as a site of the law melded with sexuality.  This is why there is a simultaneous demand that “sex speak the truth” and “sex tells us our truth” but that truth must always be demanded by the medical profession and then interpreted by it.  This “technology of sex”, through pedagogy, medicine, and economics, made “sex not only a secular concern but a concern of the state as well; to be more exact, sex became a matter that required the social body as a whole, and virtually all of its individuals, to place themselves under surveillance.” (116)

 The methodology that is most useful is Foucault’s practice of questioning.  He suggests that to understand the discourses of sex and truth we must ask: “In a specific type of discourse on sex, in a specific form of extortion of truth, appearing historically and in specific places (around the child’s body, apropos of women’s sex, in connection with practices restricting births, and so on), what were the most immediate , the most local power relations at work?” (97)


About kathrynpagel

Working on my PhD in Japanese literature, visual studies, and new media.
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