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The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction (1976)

by Michel Foucault

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The History of Sexuality (1)

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5,048241,708 (3.96)20
Why has there been such an explosion of discussion about sex in the West since the seventeenth century? Here, one of France's greatest intellectuals explores the evolving social, economic, and political forces that have shaped our attitudes toward sex. In a book that is at once controversial and seductive, Michel Foucault describes how we are in the process of making a science of sex which is devoted to the analysis of desire rather than the increase of pleasure.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Just when I thought it wasn't possible for Foucault to broaden the scope of his argument any more, he did just that. The beginning of the final chapter of this work contextualizes his entire argument theretofore. What was already a discussion that dealt in very broad terms-- covering huge expanses of time, encompassing the most elemental aspects of political society-- became but one part of a larger discourse on Power. I sense that this section of the book has the most continuity with Foucault's other works. It is probably the common feature of all his life's work.

Such a generalized discussion did result in some passages that would make Strunk and White shudder in disgust. One sentence stood out:

"It is to the political credit of psychoanalysis--or at least, of what was most coherent in it--that it regarded with suspicion (and this from its inception, that is, from the moment it broke away from the neuropsychiatry of degenerescence) the irrevocably proliferating aspects which might be contained in these power mechanisms aimed at controlling and administering the everyday life of sexuality: whence the Freudian endeavor (out of reaction no doubt to the great surge of racism that was contemporary with it) to ground sexuality in the law-- the law of alliance, tabooed consanguinity, and the Sovereign-Father, in short, to surround desire with all the trappings of the old order of power."

-Pp. 150

Oy.

As common as such near-incomprehensible ramblings were unmistakably original and unique insights. In these, Foucault elicited in me a level of understanding of the macroscopic, often invisible forces that have come to shape life that I have rarely touched. It was a gift.




( )
  trotta | Mar 4, 2021 |
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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michel Foucaultprimary authorall editionscalculated
Auziņa, IrēnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blumbergs, IlmārsCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hurley, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Why has there been such an explosion of discussion about sex in the West since the seventeenth century? Here, one of France's greatest intellectuals explores the evolving social, economic, and political forces that have shaped our attitudes toward sex. In a book that is at once controversial and seductive, Michel Foucault describes how we are in the process of making a science of sex which is devoted to the analysis of desire rather than the increase of pleasure.

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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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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140268685, 0141037644

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An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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