Michel Foucault: Vol. 1, “The History of Sexuality”



Foucault begins with “the story” of history we all know – that of Victorian oppression. To “free ourselves,” though not from what we think, will take “nothing less than a transgression of laws, a lifting of prohibitions, an irruption of speech, a reinstating of pleasure within reality, and a whole new economy in the mechanisms of power” – not just a shift in medical and theoretical discourse 5.

Over and against the narrative of repression that suggests that the later 17th century and the rise of capitalism constituted the beginnings of this “age of oppression,” Foucault suggests that “if sex is repressed… condemned to prohibition, nonexistence, and silence, then the mere fact that one is speaking about it has the appearance of a deliberate transgression,” a benefit to the speaker 6. If we think we are “defying established power” by speaking openly and solemnly about sex, however, we are mistaken 7. It is the new form of preaching, since “the statement of oppression and the form of the sermon refer back to one another; they are mutually reinforcint” 8. The question is not ontological for Foucault (why are we repressed), but epistemological (why do we say we are repressed or think we are repressed?):

“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 the powers it exercises, and promises to liberate itself from the very laws that have made it function… Why do we say… that we are repressed? By what spiral did we come to affirm that sex is negated? What led us to show, ostentatiously, that sex is something we hide, to say it is something we silence?” 8-9

The burden of this guilt we have chosen might be alleviated it we consider Foucault’s “three serious doubts” of the repressive hypothesis.

1. Is sexual repression truly an established historical fact?…
2. Do the workings of power, and in particular those mechanisms that are brought into play in societies such as ours, really belong primarily to the category of repression? (prohibition, censorship, and denial)
3. Did the ctitical discourse that addresses itself to repression come to act as a roadblock to a power mechanism that had operated unchallenged up to that point, or is it not inface part of the same historical network as the thing it denounces… by calling it ‘repression’? Was there really a historical rupture between the age of repression and the critical analysis of repression? 10

Foucault is less interested in disproving repression than “putting it back within a general economy of dsicourses on sex… to account for the fact that it is spoken about, to discover who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said… the way sex is ‘put into discourse'” 11.

“I do not maintain that the prohibition of sex is a ruse, but it is a ruse to make prohibition into the basic and constitutive element from which one would be able to write the history of what has been said concerning sex starting from the modern epoch… far from undergoing a process of restriction, on the contrary has been subjected to a mechanism of increasing incitement… [not a] principle of rigorous selection, but rather one of dissemination and implantation of polymorphous sexualities” 12.



Foucault presents the “censorship” of the 17th century as an interplay of mutually referring prohibitions:

“As if in order to gain mastery over it in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words that rendered it too visibly present… imposed silence. Censorship. Yet when one looks back over these last three centuries with their continual transformations… one sees a veritable discursive explosion” 17.

“It may indeed be true that a whole rhetoric of allusion and metaphor was codified… areas… of tact and discretion… a whole restrictive economy… At the level of discourses and their domains, however, practically the opposite phenomenon occurred… a steady proliferation of discourses… different from one another both by their formand by their object: a discrusive ferment that gathered momentum from the 18th century onward” 17-18.

Foucault is less concerned with “discourses of infraction” than with “the multiplication of discourses concerning sex in the field of exercise of power itself: an institutional incitement to speak about it… and to cause it to speak through explicit articulation and endlessly accumulated detail” 18. (Again, this seems like  a description of the hysterical realist novel?) The confession manuals of the Middle Ages nonetheless managed to determine exactly what acts, positions, and repetitions had occurred in order to exact repentance, and “while the language may have been refined, the scope of the confession – the confession of the flesh – continually increased” 19. Not just language became figurative, but the desire, too – the emphasis was more on the stirrings of desire that prefigured the act than before, the injunction to examine “all the faculties of your soul… with precision all your senses as well” 19-20.

“Discourse, therefore, had to trace the meeting line of the body and the soul, following all its meanderings: beneath the surface of the sins… under  the authority of a language that had been carefully expurgated so that it was no longer directly named, sex was taken charge of” 20.

According to Foucault, this began the “nearly infinite task of telling” sex in the West, the search to “transform your desire, your every desire, into discourse” 20-1. “One could plot a line going straight from the 17th-century pastoral to what became its projection in literature, ‘scandalous’ literature at that. ‘Tell everything… not only consummated acts, but sensual touchings, all impure gazes, all obscene remarks… all consenting thoughts…'” 21. Sade said, “Your narrations must be decorated with the most numerous and searching details, the precise way and extent” they occurred, and the anonymous author of the English libertine in My Secret Life writes, ” a secret life must not leave out anything; there is nothing to be ashamed of” 21-2. For Foucault, this man was not so much brave as “the most naive representative of a plurisecular injunction to talk about sex” 22.

The erotics of discourse prolong, repeat, and stimulate these desires and acts into “mastery and detachment… this carefully analytical discourse was meant to yield multiple effects of displacement, intensification, reorientation and modification of desire itself” 23 (faceting). Thus it is less about how sex was moralized for Foucault than about how subjects were compelled to speak “despite” that 24. In this way, sex is transformed to numbers, to use value, to the goals of the racist ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries 26.

In the case of childhood sexuality, Foucault acknowledges a loss of “freedom” between children and adults, but it is not characterized by silence – rather, different things were said in a different way by different speakers – the discourse altered 27. Children were told about sex by doctors and educators in specific ways: “the child was not to be simply to mute and unconscious object of attentions prearranged between adults only; a certain reasonable, limited, canonical, and truthful discourse on sex was prescribed for him – a kind of discursive orthopedics” 29.

“All this together enables us to link an intensification of the interventions of power to a multiplication of discourse… First there was medicine, via the ‘nervous disorders’; next psychiatry, when it set out do discover the etiology of mental illnesses, focusing its gaze first on ‘excess,’ then onanism, then frustration, then ‘frauds’ against procreation,’ but especially when it annexed the whole of the sexual perversions as its own province; criminal justice, too, which had long been concerned with sexuality… and lastly, all those social controls… which screened the sexuality of couples, parents and children… intensifying people’s awareness of it as a constant danger” 30-1.

Here is where Foucault offers the supremely bizarre example of the “simple-minded” farm hand who “obtained a few caresses from a little girl, just as he had done before and seen done” in “the familiar game called ‘curdled milk'” 31. For Foucault, who interestingly engages in practices of ellipsis and figuration in his description here, the significant thing about the story is “the pettiness of it all… 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” 31. There is no issue for Foucault with “this village halfwit who would give a few pennies to the little girls for favors the older ones refused him” 32. Whereas we might complicate this view now, it is symptomatic of “generalized discursive erethism” for Foucault – an irritating sensitivity to stimulation in everything concerning sex 32.

The problem with sex being “driven out of hiding and constrained to lead a discursive existence” is at least partly that “what is essential always eludes us, so that we must always start out once again in the search of it” 33. The “multiplicity of discourses” includes “demography, biology, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, ethics, pedagogy, and political criticism,” and in this atomization of discourses, “the secure bond that held together the moral theology of concupiscence and the obligation of confession” loosened,” causing a “dispersion of centers from which discourses emanated, a diversification of their forms, and the complex deployment of the network connecting them… a regulated and polymorphous incitement to discourse” 33-4. Rather than making sex a secret “mirror at the outer limit of every actual discourse,” Foucault argues that institutions “dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret” 35.


Were all these laws and enumerations “anything more than means employed to absorb, for the benefit of a genitally centered sexuality, all the fruitless pleasures?” 36. Whether this was the goal or not, “our epoch has initiated sexual heterogeneities” 37. The three codes through the 18th century were canonical, Christian, and civil law, all focused on marital relations, with little specificity about what “sodomy” and other “perversions and violations” actually entailed 37. Included in this “general unlawfulness” was a kind of ideology even against ontology, wherein hermaphrodites were deemed criminal because “their very being confounded the law that distinguished the sexes and prescribed their union” 38.

The setting apart of the ‘unnatural’ was to force a confession that would be listened to out of those who would ultimately be condemned – incest, sodomy, and necrophilia took on different dimensions than adultery or rape as “the area covered by the 6th commandment began to fragment” 39. The actual punishments diminished in the 19th century as discourses proliferated 40. The four operations of power employed in lieu of former (corporal) punishments were as follows:

1. Unlike the goal of an asymptotic decrease in incests, the treatment of children’s onanism was treated as an epidemic that would never fully disappear but must be pursued: “lines of penetration were disposed” 42
2. An “incorporation of perversions and a new specification of individuals... the 19th century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology… Nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality… a secret that always gave itself away… a certain way of inverting the masculine and the feminine in oneself… a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species” 43. This was extended to zoophiles, auto-monosexualists, mixo-scopophiles, gynecomasts, presbyophiles, sexoesthetic inverts, and dyspareunist women – ever more categories (faceting) 43.
3. “The medicalization of the sexually peculiar… constant, attentive and curious presences for its exercise” 44. If sex was medical, it would have symptoms – “as a lesion, a dysfunction, or a symptom – in the depths of the organism or on the surface of the skin… the power which thus took charge of sexuality set about contacting bodies, caressing them with its eyes, intensifying areas, electrifying surfaces, dramatizing troubled moments” 44. This meant “a sensualization of power and a gain of pleasure… Pleasure spread to the power that harried it; power anchored the pleasure it uncovered… perpetual spirals of power and pleasure” 44. (Re: Best and surface reading.)
4. Devices of sexual saturation come into play 45. The complicated network of the family “saturated with multiple, fragmentary, and mobile sexualities” that were “multiplied,” since sexuality “attracted its varieties by means of spirals in which pleasure and power reinforced one another… the sexual mosaic” 47 (faceting).

Thus “the growth of perversions is not a moralizing theme that obsessed the scrupulous minds of the Victorians,” but “the real product of the encroachment of a type of power on bodies and their pleasures… the frozen countenance of the perversions is a fixture of this game” 48. “The implantation of perversions is an instrument-effect” that “penetrated modes of conduct,” allowing for “an optimization of the power to which each of these local sexualities gave a surface of intervention… a concatenation” 48. “Pleasure and power do not cancel or turn back against one another; they seek out, overlap, and reinforce one another” in “devices of excitation and incitement” 48.

“Never have there existed more centers of power; never more attention manifested and verbalized; never more circular contacts and linkages; never more sites where the intensity of pleasures and the persistency of power catch hold, only to spread elsewhere” 49.


The discourses of biology and medicine do not match up at this time, one demonstrating the “immense will to knowledge which has sustained the establishment of scientific discourse in the West, whereas the other would derive from a stubborn will to nonknowledge” 55. The problem with medical study of sex, Foucault claims, is that men “constructed around and apropos of sex an immense apparatus for producing truth, even if this truth was to be masked at the last moment” 56. (In a footnote, Foucault describes one of Charcot’s patients who “cries out for the sex-baton in words that are devoid of any metaphor”  – interesting on the topic of linguistic figuration again… 56.)

Foucault separates ars erotica, where “truth is drawn from pleasure itself” in a mode of mastery in and of the thing itself, whereas “on the face of it at least, our civilization… practice[s] a scientia sexualis… a form of knowledge-power strictly opposed to the art of initiations and the masterful secret… the confession” 58. Foucault claims that the confession (tied to torture of old) has led to “a metamorphosis in ltierature: we have passed from a pleasure to be recounted and heard,” like Benjamin’s storyteller, “to a literature ordered according to the infinite task of extracting from the depths of oneself, in between the words, a truth which the very form of the confession holds out like a shimmering image” 59 (re: surface reading, symptomatic reading). Thus the obligation to confess no longer feels like obligation – “it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, ‘demands’ only to surface; that if it fails to do so, this is because a constraint holds it in place” 60. We thus invert our idea of power in a way that serves it, since confession always takes place within an institutional dynamic of power 61. Like the priest, the psychologist “listens and says nothing” – the confession comes up from the base, from the trained individual 62. We now reconstruct not simply the act, but a whole narrative complex around it, for that which “was unmentionable but admitted to nonetheless” 64. This occurs in 5 ways:

1. Making the confession clinical has legitimized it and translated it from the confession 65. 
2. The most discrete detail could be a ‘key’ to the question, so all must be confessed 66. 
3. Latency is emphasized – the unconscious of the confessor 66. 
4. The doctor’s interpretation is validated in its hermaneutic function
5. Sex and its confession have other effects: “sex appeared as an extremely unstable pathological field: a surface of repercussion for other ailments, but also the focus of a specific nosography, that of instincts, tendencies, images, pleasure, and conduct” 67.

Thus bourgeois capitalist society treats sex as something “harboring a fundamental secret” possible to disclose via confession and discourse 69. This becomes “a fear that never ends” because “we demand that sex speak the truth (but, since it is the secret and is oblivious to its own nature, we reserve for ourselves the function of telling the truth of its truth, revealed and deciphered at last), and we demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness” 69.

The new pleasure this engenders is “the fascination of seeing and telling it, of captivating and capturing others by it, of confiding it in secret, of luring it out in the open… the delights of having one’s words interpreted” – in other words, the delights of reading and of theory and criticism! 71.

“The hypothesis of a power of repression exerted by our society on sex for economic reasons appears to me quite inadequate if we are to explain this whole series of reinforcements and intensifications… the solidification of the sexual mosaic and the construction of devices capable not only of isolating it but of stimulating and provoking it… We are dealing not nearly so much with a negative mechanism of exclusion as with the operation of a subtle network of discourses… At issue is not a movement bent on pushing rude sex back into some obscure and inaccessible region, but on the contrary, a process that spreads it over the surface of things and bodies, arouses it, draws it out and bids it speak, implants it in reality and enjoins it to tell the truth: an entire glittering sexual array, reflected in a myriad of discourses, the obstination of powers, and the interplay of knowledge and pleasure” 72.

This is key for my idea of faceting, as is Foucault’s acknowledgment: “All this is an illusion, it will be said, a hasty impression behind which a more discerning gaze will surely discover the same great machinery of repression” 72. In fact, as Foucault will argue next, the surface is the content here.



For Foucault, we almost relate to sex via paranoia: “we are compelled to know how things are with it, while it is suspected of knowing how things are withus” 78. Sex becomes the ‘master key’ to unlock all doors, all facets of ourselves. Foucault proposes less a ‘theory’ of power than an ‘analytics’ of it in this second half of the text 82. Most representations of power, he acknowledges, either promise liberation (the negative relation, the limit and lack) or confirm that one is always-already trapped within it (the insistence of the rule, in which sex exists in a binary system of licit/illicit, permitted/forbidden) 83. Such views of power also encode a ‘cycle of prohibition’ against pleasure, a ‘logic of censorship,’ and a ‘uniformity of apparatus’ that constitutes “a legislative power on one side, and an obedient subject on the other” 85. The problem with such readings is that they suggest a power that is “poor in resources… incapable of invention, and seemingly doomed always to repeat itself… incapable of doing anything, except to render what it dominates incapable of doing anything either, except what this power allows it to do” 85.

“Power is tolerable only on condition that it mask a substantial part of itself” 86. In the West, power has always been codified by the law 87. The legal system became “merely a way of exerting violence, of appropriating that violence for the benefit of the few” 88. For Foucault, “we must construct an analytics of power that no longer takes law as a model and a code” 90. He will argue for a “technology of sex” – “sex without the law, and power without the king” 91.


Power is not a stable source, but an unstable, “moving substrate of force relations” 93:

“Power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization; as the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them; as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions an contradictions which isolate them from one another… as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatues, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies” 92-3.

Power is not something seized, but something disparate, permeating economic, knowledge, and sexual relationships, which “comes from below; that is, there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between the rulers and ruled… no such duality extending from the top down” 94. Power relations are “intentional” and “nonsubjective” – they have a goal, but not necessarily one originated by an individual 95. There is no exteriority to power – no

“locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case: resistances that are possible, necessary, improbable… they can only exist in the strategic field of power relations” 96 (think of faceting and narrative structure).

“More often [than binaries], one is dealing with mobile and transitory points of resistance, producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting regroupings, furrowing across individuals themselves, cutting them up and remolding them, marking off irreducible regions in them, in their bodies and minds. Just as the network of power relations ends by forming a dense web that passes through apparatuses and institutions, without being exactly localized in them, so too the swarm of points of resistance traverses social stratifications and individual unities” 96 (resistance will mirror power).

“It is in this sphere of force relations that we must try to analyze the mechanisms of power… we must immerse the expanding production of discourses on sex in the field of multiple and mobile power relations” 97-8.

Foucault delineates ‘local centers’ of power (rule of immanence), ‘matrices of [power] transformations’ (ruels of continual variations), ‘non-mirroring of micro and macro institutions’ (rule of double conditioning – the family is not made as a mirror to patriarchy but used by it), and how ‘discourse can be both an instrument and effect of power, but also a hindrance’ (rule of the tactical polyvalence of discourses’) 98-101.

“What is said about sex must not be analyzed simply as the surface of projection of these power mechanisms. Indeed, it is in discourse that power and knowledge are joined together… we must conceive discourse as a series of discontinuous segments whose tactical function is neither uniform nor stable” 100.

(How can Jameson decry the form the postmodern novel has taken when it seems Foucault calls for this very form as the one of ideal resistance? A multi-surfaced, expanding network that mirrors the power structures it seeks to resist?)

“To be more precise, we must not imagine a world of discourse divided between accepted discourse and excluded discourse, or between the dominant discourse and the dominated one; but as a multiplicity of discursive elements that can come into play in various strategies. It is this distribution that we must reconstruct… with the shifts and reutilizations of identical formulas for contrary objectives that it also includes” 100.

As an example, Foucault points out how the discourse around sodomy “made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of ‘perversity’; but it also made possible the formation of a ‘reverse’ discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf” 101. (Again, think about how this could work with sexuality, objects, consumerism in the postmodern novel, and not just through irony, but talking back.) We must replace

“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. The strategical model, rather than the model based on the law… not out of speculative choice or theoretical preference, but because in fact… war… became invested in the order of political power” 102.

(Isn’t this also what the postmodern fiction does? It questions narrative power, subjective centrality, makes us aware of the problems of “realism” that were there all along?)


Sex is “an especially dense transfer point for relations of power: between men and women, young people and old people, parents and offspring, teachers and students, priests and laity, an administration and a population” 103. If we reduce sex to heterosexual marital monogamy, we ignore the manifold dimensions of different sexual politics, namely 4 figures:

1. The hysterical woman’s body – saturated with sexuality, necessitating regulated fecundity 104.
2. The unnatural sexual child – must be pedagogized out of onanism and other sexual encounters 104.
3. The Malthusian couple – must be socialized to produce in accordance with ideological strictures 105.
4. The perverse adult – especially the homosexual, necessitating correction 105.

What is involved here is “the very production of sexuality… not… a kind of natural given which power tries to hold n check, or… an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover,” but “a historical construct… 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” 106.

If the deployment of alliance in the West is a system of kinship ties and family, the deployment of sexuality is “superimposed on the previous one,” reducing the former’s importance without supplanting it. It has “as one of its chief objectives to reproduce the interplay of relations and maintain the law that governs them; the deployment of sexuality, on the other hand, engeners a continual extension of areas and forms of control” 106. The latter “has its reason for being, not in reproducing itself, but in proliferating, innovating, annexing, creating, and penetrating bodies in an increasingly detailed way, and in controlling populations in an increasingly comprehensive way (biopower) 107.

The family is “the interpenetration of the deployment of alliance and that of sexuality… an obligatory locus of affects, feelings, love… sexuality has as its privileged point of development in the family… sexuality is ‘incestuous’ from the start” 109. Incest is then “constantly being solicited and refused; it is an object of obsession and attraction, a dreadful secret and an indispensable pivot” 109. It is forbidden, but is also required as an ongoing incitement of sexuality 109. If “the threshold of all culture is prohibited incest,” it becomes the basis of sexual law 109. “New personages” emerged within the family –

“the nervous woman, the frigid wife, the indifferent mother – or worse, the mother beset by murderous obsessions – the impotent, sadistic, perverse husband, the hysterical or neurasthenic girl, the precocious and already exhausted child, and the young homosexual who rejects marriage or neglects his wife… combined figures of an alliance gone bad… an opportunity for the alliance system to assert its prerogatives in the order of sexuality” 111.

As the family located incest, it “wrenched” from its breast the most painful confessions in an effort to root out sexuality 111. “The family was the crystal in the deployment of sexuality: it seemed to be the source of a sexuality which it actually only reflected and diffracted” 111 (again, hysterical realism, etc.) If Christianity induced sexual law, psychology saturated these laws with desire 113. The same 4 types – the child, woman, pervert, and regulated couple – must be viewed vis a vis the family as a sexualizing factor 114. Foucault names just 2 phases of capitalism – the first concerned with “fabricating children” for a labor force, the second with “a multiple channeling into the controlled circuits of the economy… a hyperrepresive desublimation” 114.


Instead of the 2 ruptures of repression theory (17th century law and 20th century loosening), Foucault examines the new technology of sex, which “required the social body as a whole, and virtually all its individuals, to place themselves under surveillance” (pedagogy, medicine, demography) 116. Foucault addresses eugenics for sterilization and racial control 119. The bourgeois family “was the first to commit itself to sexual erethism” 120. This was due to “an intensification of the body, a problematization of health and its operational terms: it was a question of techniques for maximizing life… the body, vigor, longevity, perogeniture, and descent of the classes that ‘ruled'” 123. (Re: Silko – tech turning on maker?) Body and soul were subordinated to sex as the bourgeoisie “creat[ed] its own sexuality and form[ed] a specific body based on it, a ‘class’ body with its health, hygiene, descent, and race: the autosexualization of tis body, the incarnation of sex in its body, the endogamy of sex and the body” 124. (Think of Derrida and auto- in Truth in Painting.. endogamy, a compulsion within.)

If aristocracy was a question of blood, bourgeois life was one of health and vigor, and bound to “a racism of expansion” 124-5. Later, the bourgeoisie would “safely import the deployment of sexuality into the exploited class,” but only later, when it developed concern for and awareness of the bodily and sexual nature of the exploited classes 126. Sexuality is “garrulous” and originary in the bourgeoisie, but it was unevenly and somewhat unsuccessfully exported, Foucault claims 127. One irony of the system was to repress incest, encourage its discourse in psychiatric arenas, and control its practice in rural areas 129. In the lower classes, incest and other ‘inciting’ practices were quashed. The “sexual revolution” is nothing more than “a tactical shift and reversal in the great deployment of sexuality” 131.


Back in the day, the sovereign (sword) had the right to “take life or let live” 136. Now wars are waged ‘on behalf’ of entire populations – “the atomic situation is now at the end point of this process: the power to expose a whole population to death is the underside of the power to guarantee an individual’s continued existence” 137. Genocide is not the return of ancient killing ritual, but the regulation of population on a large scale 137. Capital punishment became less a remonstrance for crime and more the destruction of the criminal as monster who endangered others – to “foster life or disallow it” 138. Supervision “was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population” 139. The explosion of institutions instantiated techniques for subjugating bodies: “an era of biopower” 140. This biopower served capitalism’s development through “the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes… the growth of both these factors” like growth necessary everywhere in capitalism 141. Knowledge and power could intervene “amid the randomness of death” 142.

“If one can apply the term biohistory to the pressures through which the movements of life and the processes of history interfere with one another, one would have to speak of biopower to designate what brought life and its mechanisms into the realm of explicit calculations and made knowledge-power an agent of transformation of human life… society’s ‘threshold of modernity’ has been reached when the life of the species is wagered on its own political strategies… modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question”143.

“Life as a political object was in a sense taken at face value and turned back against the system that was bent on controlling it… enables us to understand the importance assumed by sex as a political issue… disciplines of the body… the regulation of populations… infinitesimal surveillances, permanent controls, extremely meticulous orderings of space, indeterminate medical or psychological examinations” 145.

If sex represented the life of the body and the species, it had to be tracked down as “the stamp of individuality” within a society 146. The body was the actual object and target for the bourgeoisie, “an effect with a meaning-value,” where the blood of aristocracy had been “a reality with a symbolic function” 147-8. Foucault ultimately considers whether he evades sex to talk about sexuality, whether for him, far from the old means of localizing sex, “there are only groundless effects, ramifications without roots, a sexuality without a sex,” a social body which itself has ‘erotic zones’ 151. “It is precisely this idea of sex in itself that we cannot accept without examination,” for sex is perhaps less the root of sexuality than the deployment of sexuality is 152.

When women are hysterized, sex is common between men and woman, lacking in women, but also woman’s body itself, and hysteria is the conflict between these discourses of whole, lack, and part 153.  Sex is “function and instinct, finality and signification… the notion of ‘sex’ made it possible to group together, in an artifical unity, anatomical elements, biological functions, conducts, sensations, and pleasures, and it enabled one to make use of this fictitious unity as a causal principle, an omnipresent meaning, a secret to be discovered everywhere” 154.

“By creating the imaginary element that is ‘sex,’ the deployment of sexuality established as one of its most essential internal operating principles: the desire for sex – the desire to have it, to have access to it, to discover it, to liberate it, to articulate it in discourse, to formulate it in truth… it is this desirability that makes us think we are affirming the rights of our sex against all power, when in fact we are fastened to the deployment of sexuality that has lifted up from deep within us a sort of mirage in which we think we see ourselves reflected – the dark shimmer of sex” 157.

“We must not place sex on the side of reality, and sexuality on that of confused ideas and illusions; sexuality is a very real historical formation; it is what gave rise to the notion of sex, as a speculative element necessary to its operation. We must not think that by saying yest to sex, one says no to power… it is the agency of sex that we must break away from, if we aim – through a tactical reversal of the various mechanisms of sexuality – to counter the grips of power with the claims of bodies, pleasures, and knowledges, in their multiplicity and their possibility of resistance… [not] sex-desire, but bodies and pleasures” 157.

Foucault quotes D.H. Lawrence on the importance of “the full conscious realization of sex” as being “even more important than the act itself” 157. “Perhaps one day people will wonder at this… [at men] who believed that therein resided a truth every bit as precious as the one they had already demanded from the earth, the stars, and the pure forms of their thought” 158. What we thought was a loosening and an uncovering was but “the centuries-long rise of a complex deployment for compelling sex to speak, for fastening our attention and concern upon sex… when in fact we were moved by the power mechanisms of sexuality” 158. Freud is part of the machine, for Foucault: “the good genius of Freud had placed [sex] at one of the critical points marked out for it since the 18th century by the strategies of knowledge and power, howe wonderfully effective he was – worth of the greatest spiritual fathers and directors of the classical period – in giving a new impetus to the secular injunction to study sex and transform it into discourse” 159. If Christianity made us hate the body, psychoanalytic discourse has made us love sex: “the irony of this deployment is in having us believe that our ‘liberation’ is in the balance” 159.

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