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The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: The Will…

The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: The Will to Knowledge (An… (1976)

by Michel Foucault

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The History of Sexuality (1)

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
I read this as an undergrad, and probably got nothing out of it- nothing I can remember, anyway. Coming back to it now, I was pleasantly surprised. The bad news is that the most interesting stuff in the book is exactly *not* to do with sexuality, but that most of the book is, in fact, about the history of (the discourse of) sexuality. That history is kind of tiresome: in the nineteenth century, people came up with new and inventive ways to talk about sex. Rinse and repeat for hundreds of examples of people you've never heard of.
The interesting bits are more general and more abstract: in 'objective' and 'method,' Foucault comes as close as he ever did to actually defining what he means by power, with a nice discussion of how it relates to other political theories of sovereignty. In 'Right of Death' you get some tentative steps towards the concept of bio-politics or bio-power, which people are making such a big deal about these days, and, it must be said, it's pretty intriguing.

The major and unavoidable flaw, as you may already know, is that Foucault is deeply ambivalent when it comes to the function 'power' plays in his own thought. On the one hand, he wants it to be an almost universal analytic tool: power can be productive, power is used just as much by the resistance as it is by the oppressors and so on. On the other, power is something to be negotiated around and, if not avoided, at least confronted and undermined. It's just possible that the concept is meant to split the difference between these two hands, but if so, I'm not sure how- he certainly doesn't spell out a case for it here, or in anything else of his I've read. My preference would be to give up the 'let's subvert power' aspects of his work, take him as a descriptive theorist of modernity, and look for values elsewhere: which aspects of power need to be criticized and, if possible eliminated? Which should we support? The other option leads, both in my personal experience and in theory, to a pretty silly politics of opposing Them and The Man and The Law... ad infinitum.

A special plus, as always, is that Foucault is far and away the best writer of his generation, so you can read this in a day and get pretty much everything he says; and that, despite (because of?) this, his thought is just as complex and fruitful as Deleuze or Derrida or any of the Heideggerians. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Kind of a downer, isn't it?
  LizaHa | Apr 1, 2013 |
Mr. Foucault traces how sexuality is seen in our culture is shaped by different power groups. The groups, government, medical community, the church what to have sexuality seen in a way that promates there agenda. very interesting ( )
  michaelbartley | Sep 15, 2012 |
No doubt this is an amazing achievement, but Foucault's elision of gender from his discussions of power makes his 'history' problematic at best. ( )
  knownforms | Aug 4, 2010 |
An important book for anyone studying sexuality, but also formations of power within society in general. Very powerful, well thought through and well elucidated. The arguments build on each other and Foucault doesn't get lost in technicalities or over-simplify.

This is not to say that there are no faults, his reverence of Freud is perhaps a little overbearing, but then you will find that in most literature of that time and genre, psycho-analysis was the fashion of the time; even theorists get caught up in such things. There are one or two other neuances I would question, such as the huge jup from the family being the nexus of power, straight to incest. However that shouldn't detract from the fact that this is a book packed with stunningly clear ideas on power which have influenced many within social theory since. ( )
  BeeQuiet | Jun 2, 2010 |
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Michel Foucaultprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hurley, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For a long time, the story goes, we supported a Victorian regime, and we continue to be dominated by it even today.
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Questo volume apre una serie di studi che non pretendono essere continui, né esaustivi; si tratterà di qualche sondaggio in un territorio complesso. I volumi successivi sono indicati solo a titolo provvisorio. Il mio sogno sarebbe un lavoro di lungo respiro, capace di correggersi man mano che si sviluppa, aperto alle reazioni che suscita, alle congiunture che gli toccherà d'incontrare, e forse ad ipotesi nuove. Lo vorrei un lavoro disperso e mutevole.
I lettori che si aspettassero di apprendere in che modo per secoli la gente ha fatto l'amore, o come le è stato vietato di farlo - problema serio, importante, difficile - rischiano di restare delusi. Non ho voluto fare una storia dei comportamenti sessuali nelle società occidentali, ma trattare un problema molto piú austero e circoscritto: in che modo questi comportamenti sono diventati oggetti di sapere? Come, cioè per quali vie e per quali ragioni, si è organizzato questo campo di conoscenza che, con una parola recente chiamiamo la "sessualità"? Quel che i lettori troveranno qui è la genesi di un sapere - un sapere che vorrei riafferrare alla radice, nelle istituzioni religiose, nelle forme pedagogiche, nelle pratiche mediche, nelle strutture familiari, là dove si è formato, ma anche negli effetti di coercizione che ha potuto avere sugl'individui, una volta che li aveva persuasi del compito di scoprire in se stessi la forza segreta e pericolosa di una "sessualità".
So bene che è imprudente spedire cosí, in esplorazione, un libro che fa incessantemente allusione a degli studi a venire. Ci sono grandi possibilità che appaia arbitrario e dogmatico. Le ipotesi rischiano di farvi figura di affermazioni perentorie, e le griglie di analisi proposte possono prendere l'aspetto di una nuova dottrina. Ne ho avuto d'altronde un esempio in Francia: dei critici, bruscamente convertiti ai benefici della lotta anti-repressiva, in cui non avevano finora manifestato grande ardore, mi hanno rimproverato di negare che la sessualità sia repressa. Cosa che, evidentemente, non ho mai preteso. Mi sono soltanto chiesto se, per decifrare i rapporti fra potere, sapere e sesso, si dovesse davvero centrare tutta l'analisi sulla nozione di repressione; e se non si rendesse meglio conto delle cose iscrivendo i divieti, le proibizioni, i rífiuti, le occultazioni in una strategia piú complessa, piú globale, non orientata verso la rimozione come obiettivo maggiore e principale.
I termini di "sesso" e di "sessualità" sono intensamente caricati e scottano. Mettono in ombra facilmente quelli che accompagnano. Per questo vorrei sottolineare che la sessualità è qui solo un esempio per un problema generale che inseguo - o che m'insegue - da ormai piú di quindici anni, e che guida d'altronde la maggior parte dei miei libri: in che modo, nelle società occidentali moderne, la produzione di discorsi cui si è attribuito (almeno per un certo periodo di tempo) un valore di verità è legata ai vari meccanismi ed istituzioni di potere?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679724699, Paperback)

The author turns his attention to sex and the reasons why we are driven constantly to analyze and discuss it. An iconoclastic explanation of modern sexual history.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:16 -0400)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140268685, 0141037644

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