Jen's notes on Foucault, "History of Sexuality," 9/21


Foucault is presenting a theory of identity, sexuality, and power - a perspective we started hashing through in the last class - but let's remember that he is presenting it in the context of a historical argument. 


What is the "story" about modern (19th c. +) sexuality that Foucault is speaking against?


--picture of 17th c. and earlier as time of frankness and lack of anxiety about sex, contrasted with silence about, repression of sex in 19th c./Victorian era

--Victorian repression of sexuality because of labor imperative (capitalism)

--in contemporary west, talking about sex is transgressive and freeing


But he is exploding this story -

"The question I would pose is not, Why are we repressed? But rather, Why do we say, with so much resentment against our recent past, against our present, and against ourselves, that we are repressed?" (8)


Says 3 doubts should be raised:

1) is sexual repression truly an established historical fact?

2) do the workings of power really belong to the category of repression?

3) is the critical discourse about repression a roadblock, or is it part of the same thing it denounces?


His alternative account of the historical shift concerning sexuality:

-- not silence, but discursive explosion

--talk about sex is policed, yes, but we are continually incited to speak

--shift from religious/moral concerns to definitions of the "normal"

--control less through laws, more through pedagogy and therapy

--becomes not just an act, but an identity:

"The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species." (43)



So...Foucault would argue that when we look "inside" in the hopes of expressing a "true" self/sexuality that would transgress hegemonic norms, we are participating in a discourse in which

-- sexuality is part of inner self

-- inner self is knowable and important to know, and to speak


"What is peculiar to modern societies, in fact, is not that they consigned sex to a shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret." (35)


So if the "inside" (like Fuss' "outside") is actually complicit with this system of power/knowledge, where are we to look for anything that really is outside the discourse?   Is there anything? 


One of the trickiest and most fascinating points he makes in this chapter, I think, is Foucault's suggestion that "pleasure" and "power" are not oppositional but intimately linked with one another.  Let's think about this, p. 45.  What are the implications of his thinking here for our understanding of sexualities - including "non-normative" ones - and their relationship to power/society/institutions??


Should we think of the body as prior to/outside of/more "real" than the discourse?? 

This is where Laqueur comes in....