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The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction

af Michel Foucault

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Serier: Histoire de la sexualité (1)

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4,699241,717 (3.94)15
Michel Foucault's 'The History of Sexuality' pioneered queer theory. In it he builds an argument grounded in a historical analysis of the word "sexuality" against the common thesis that sexuality always has been repressed in Western society. Quite the contrary: since the 17th century, there has been a fixation with sexuality creating a discourse around sexuality. It is this discourse that has created sexual minorities. In 'The History of Sexuality', Foucault attempts to disprove the thesis that Western society has seen a repression of sexuality since the 17th century and that sexuality has been unmentionable, something impossible to speak about. In the 70s, when the book was written, the sexual revolution was a fact. The ideas of the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, saying that to conserve your mental health you needed to liberate your sexual energy, were popular. The past was seen as a dark age where sexuality had been something forbidden.… (mere)

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Think a more honest rating would be 3.5 stars. This is interesting to read this after I read Eroticism by Georges Bataille. Bataille's philosophy on eroticism is quite dependent on the repressive hypothesis, I would think, which is the very hypothesis that Foucault attempts to disprove in the book. The repressive hypothesis sees the history of sex as a history of repression, connected to bourgeois values and the rise of capitalism. To him this hypothesis is absurd, since from the 18th century there has been an explosion on the Discourse on sex, albeit within an accepted language or divulged through accepted authorities such as the church or the state. He states that there is in fact a "proliferation of sexualities through the extension of power."

He does repeat himself a lot, although for someone rather difficult to read that might be necessary. It gets better towards the second half when he starts to really tie it together and talk about how "sex" exists within a field of meanings, an economy of discourses. The history of sexuality "must first be written from the viewpoint of a history of discourses." In the West, as opposed to the East (broad strokes here), there is a science of sexuality, as opposed to an ars erotica -- so it's viewed through a scientific instead of a more artistic lens. This science of sexuality of the West thus has completely changed the way sex is talked about, arming "experts" with an array of terminology to use, and configuring the way bodies, behaviours, pleasures, are seen and understood. Putting it under intense consideration and study.

Once he makes the connection of the discourses of sex and its relation to power, or the power that deploys it, the book gets a lot clearer. He identifies 4 areas that power deploys the discourse of sex to -- children, women, the perverse, and married couples. He goes on to explain how the controlling and obsession over sex by the state due to reasons of population control or racist, eugenicist aims also figures into this. It's a regulative method, and we would do well to be able to understand sex in this way, as being caught in a Discourse, as opposed to merely seeing it as simply repressed through law. That would get us closer to understanding and dismantling the power that has put the entire machinery of discourse into being.

I will go on to read the 2nd volume hope it's more interesting. ( )
  verkur | Jan 8, 2021 |
Okay, so now I’ve read two of Foucault’s books in two days, and I get it: power influences everything. I just have to wonder, though—isn’t this obvious? Can’t any person from an oppressed group see that in their own life? I’m not arguing with his main focus. I agree that power relations infect even the most basic of things. But where is the revelation in this? It’s certainly not to be found in Foucault’s endless repetition and fondness for presenting anecdote as fact, nor in the blatant historical inaccuracy that so often mars his texts.

I come away from this book with my own questions about power—power as it relates to the privileging of Foucault’s ideas in the academy. Why the endless focus on impenetrable texts of philosophy and psychoanalysis? Why is the unavoidable academic touchstone the theory of yet another white man? If we force each new generation of undergraduates to read these works of objectively bad writing, are we perpetuating the production of opaque, elitist academic prose?

I leave you with a quote: “We must not look for who has the power in the order of sexuality (men, adults, parents, doctors) and who is deprived of it (women, adolescents, children, patients); nor for who has the right to know and who is forced to remain ignorant. We must seek rather the pattern of the modifications which the relationships of force imply by the very nature of their process.”

I think, ultimately, Foucault and I just have very different goals.
  Tara_Calaby | Jun 22, 2020 |
I have little to say in the way of critique of Foucault's first volume other than it is a lucid analysis of the history of sexuality and power dynamics in society. The role of the family was particularly interesting in maintaining the status quo and challenged a lot of my assumptions.
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
I'm sure I found it somehat interesting at the time, what I could make out of it...but I was never good at Foucault. I used to doodle 不幸 on all of my notes about it because I enjoyed it oh so much.
  theosakakoneko | Feb 15, 2020 |
French Philosophy -- 20th century, Sex, Sex customs -- History -- Collected works, Sexual ethics, Sexual ethics -- History, Sexual Behavior -- history, Michel Foucault, Sex customs, Sex customs -- History, Knowledge, Science and sexuality,
  cyberneticslibrary | Nov 18, 2018 |
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Michel Foucault's 'The History of Sexuality' pioneered queer theory. In it he builds an argument grounded in a historical analysis of the word "sexuality" against the common thesis that sexuality always has been repressed in Western society. Quite the contrary: since the 17th century, there has been a fixation with sexuality creating a discourse around sexuality. It is this discourse that has created sexual minorities. In 'The History of Sexuality', Foucault attempts to disprove the thesis that Western society has seen a repression of sexuality since the 17th century and that sexuality has been unmentionable, something impossible to speak about. In the 70s, when the book was written, the sexual revolution was a fact. The ideas of the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, saying that to conserve your mental health you needed to liberate your sexual energy, were popular. The past was seen as a dark age where sexuality had been something forbidden.

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