Michel Foucault: The History
of Sexuality, Vol. 1
The History of Sexuality analyzes power.
Sexuality is a primary technology of power, and Foucault is interested
in the geneology of that power.› The idea of the philosophical geneology
comes out of the work of Nietzsche, on whom Foucault relies for key conceptual
rubrics and modes of analysis. So, before we get started, here's a thought
for the day:
"Feminism encourages women to
leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy
capitalism, and become lesbians" - Pat Robertson at the GOP Convention.
Consider what these things have to do
with each other.› Was Robertson just ranting (or perhaps we should say
merely ranting) or is there a logic to this list? How might one begin to
talk about the connections in this list?
Key Ideas for The History of Sexuality,
Foucault tells the story that most people in the west have told themselves
about the history of sexuality: that once upon a time, sex was free and
easy, but with the advent of modern disciplines (particularly the Victorian
era in England) sex became repressed.› Foucault doesn't believe this is
the true story.
It is a ruse to make repression into the truth of sex.
Foucault uses Nietzsche's model of geneology (a philosophical telling of
history) to try to get behind this story.
Foucault finds that sex actually proliferates in this same period,
and suggests a powerful link between discourse and the production (rather
than repression) of sexuality.
Passages to examine from The History
of Sexuality, vol. 1:
The homosexual as a personage, p. 43.
Sex implanted in bodies, p. 44.
The spirals of power and pleasure, p. 45.
The paradox of proliferation and prudishness, p. 49.
Sex constituted as a problem of truth produces the labor of confession
and the interplay between subject and confessor (scientia sexualis vs.
ars erotica), p. 56.
These energies are not negative but productive, p. 72.
Repression (?) and Power:
The law constitutes desire and the lack on which it is predicated, pp.
Power must mask itself, p. 86.
Power comes from everywhere, p. 93.
Power incorporates the resistance to power, p. 95.
The production of persons is an effect of power, p. 105-6.
The Classed Body:
Hereditary problems are part of the discursive construction of class vis
sex, p. 118.
Consider how feminist theory might add to this spin on class, pp. 121-4.
Primary Text examples:
From Nymphomania, or a Dissertation Concerning the Furor
Uterinus, by M. D. T. de Bienville, Trans. Edward Sloane Wilmot, printed
by J. Bev., London 1775
In defense of TissotŪs Onanism, London 1766:
"÷How many thousands more have extricated themselves from
it, through his assistance, in the moment, when they were yielding up a
miserable life to that disorder which, in his work, is described with all
the powers and truth of language? Can that book be considered as
dangerous, the sole design of which is to prevent illicit pleasure; to
intimidate those young persons who may be subject to this unhappy madness;
and to restrain the vicious transports of the constitution, by striking
lessons, and by principles and consequences drawn from nature which must
Should this work fall into the hands of young persons,
whether from the inattention of their parents, whether from the negligence
of those who may have been designed to superintend their education, or
whether from the seductions of some libertines, who are never at a loss
for an artiface, whereby they gain a footing in a decent family; if, in
a word, by any accident whatsoever, a young girl should find an opportunity
to read this book, what must be the consequence? Nothing."