The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality (1976 – 1984)


‘Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality explains power and ultimately demonstrates that sexuality is a construct created by discourse. To begin to understand Foucault’s argument, we must start by learning why he believed that our widely held theory on sexuality was erroneous. The repressive hypothesis is a prevalent theory that analyzes how our current notions of sexuality developed. This hypothesis assumes that during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance a free and easy attitude prevailed toward sexuality. Then, in the seventeenth century the bourgeoisie repressed sexuality. The repressive hypothesis holds that the bourgeoisie was concerned with economic productivity and did not want energy wasted on sexual pursuits. Therefore, sex outside of procreative purposes was repressed. Consequently, if we want to liberate ourselves, the theory maintains we need to become free and open about our sexuality.

‘Foucault did not deny that with the rise of the bourgeoisie there was indeed an effort to control sexuality and how people talked about sexuality, but he also pointed out that since the seventeenth century discourse about sexuality has dramatically increased. In fact, discourse on sexuality began to change. Instead of discourse being vulgar or centering on pleasure it turned into a new discourse that centered on science. This insight led Foucault to spend some time examining knowledge and power. Foucault believed that there is an undeniable power dynamic related to knowledge and that people influencing the knowledge had a great deal of power. Power dynamics for Foucault are not “juridicio-discursive”, as the repressive hypothesis assumed. Or stated differently: power is not only present in the negative form in which someone in authority restricts behavior with laws. He also briefly discussed a psychoanalytical approach that states we only have desire once we are restricted from the object we crave. Once again, the psychoanalytical approach only regards power as “juridico- discursive” or as a force of repression. Foucault, however, proposed that power in the form of repression and subjugation is only part of the story. Instead of seeing power as only in the hands of people in authority, power exists in all relationships. Foucault emphasized that even the repressed exercise power, and this power shapes concepts. Importantly, Foucault believed power does not always present itself in a negative, repressive way as the juridicio-discursive view holds. Power is, in fact, often creative. Foucault argued that knowledge and power dynamics in relationships have had great influence on sexuality. He concluded that power is not what repressed sexuality but instead that it is ultimately power that has created the construct of sexuality.

‘Foucault discussed four sources of knowledge and power that have greatly contributed to the construct of sexuality. One of these is the “hysterization of women’s bodies”. It has led us to view women as being highly sexual and as a source for medical knowledge about human reproduction. The next source is the “pedagogization of children’s sex”, which sees children as highly sexual. The heightened sexuality of children is held as something dangerous that needs to be monitored and controlled. Another source of knowledge and power is the “socialization of procreative behavior” which maintains reproduction as an important matter for society. As a result, non-procreative sex is conceptualized as negative and nonproductive. The “psychiatrization of perverse pleasure” is a source of knowledge and power centering on identifying sexual illness. This psychiatrization was done with the stated intent of controlling perversions, but in the study of sexual perversions Foucault argued that the power and pleasure dynamic actually contributes to a higher desire for and higher frequency of sexual perversions. The results of “psychiatrization of perverse pleasure” also illustrate how the multiplicity of relationships contributes to the construct of sexuality.

‘After Foucault showed us how the conception of this construct was shaped, he also explained why this fabrication came to be. There was a shift in focus to a “power-over-life” outlook. The “power-over-life” focus is concerned with governments or ruling authorities preserving life, aiding in increasing population, and improving life for their people. The four areas of power and knowledge are directly related to this power-over-life focus. The power-over-life outlook’s end ensures the flourishing of society and its rulers. Tight regulations are enforced to foster the goal of power maintenance. As a result, the idea of a “healthy sexuality” manifests. A “healthy” sexuality was originally propagated by the bourgeoisie. The idea of a “healthy” sexuality is ingrained in society and contributes to seeing sexuality as integral to a person’s identity. Sexual preferences once held little importance, but today a person’s sexual preference is believed to affect a person’s behavior. Foucault argued that buying into this construct makes people more easily controlled. To Foucault, sexuality must be understood as a bourgeoisie invention that ensures dominance. Even today, its purpose is to maintain power. Indeed, hegemonic powers in our world produce immense pressure for individuals to display heteronormative behavior. It results in widespread oppression of non-heteronormative preconstructions.

‘Michel Foucault uncovered sexuality as a construct. His analysis helps us to reflect on our own experiences of sexuality and to question our beliefs about sexuality. The constant inundation of what both religion and secular society holds as truth bombards our minds and puts many of us through numerous sleepless nights. Foucault’s work has encouraged me to ask honest questions and to trust my judgment about the construction of sexuality. The question is how we use our new-found knowledge to influence others and bring clarity to so many confused minds.’ — Queer Bible Hermeneutics




Michel Foucault @ Wikipedia
Welcome to the World of Michel Foucault
Michael Foucault @ goodreads
The perversions of M. Foucault
Explainer: the ideas of Foucault
Foucault: power is everywhere
Michel Foucault – The School Of Life
Today, the self is the battlefield of politics. Blame Michel Foucault
In defence of Michel Foucault
Book: ‘The Lives of Michel Foucault’
Michel Foucault on the Panopticon Effect
Michel Foucault’s guide to living
The Influence of Michel Foucault on Accounting Research
The True Foucault
Michel Foucault in America: In the Heart of Death Valley
A conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze



Foucault—The Lost Interview

Michel Foucault On ‘Pleasure Vs. Desire’

Michel Foucault and “the problem of war”, 1981

Michel Foucault Beyond Good and Evil 1993




Frank Mort (FM) and Roy Peters (RP) Firstly, could we turn to your work on sexuality. Is the overall project which you outline in La Volonté de Savoir still underway?

Michel Foucault (MF) Well, you see, I don’t want to write those five or six books. Just now I am writing the second one about the Catholic Christian confessional, and also the third one on hermaphroditism.

FM & RP How do you conceive of those subsequent volumes – particularly in relation to the question of historical analysis? One felt very much on reading the first volume that it contained a series of theoretical hypotheses on the nature and organisation of discursive sexuality, which would be constructed through more detailed historical work in the subsequent volumes – as in the manner perhaps of Surveiller et Punir. The question relates to the particular way in which you envisage the writing of a discursive history. Is the moment of empirical analysis highly important in your approach; and what place does it occupy in relation to your broader hypotheses and conclusions, which are pitched at a higher level of abstraction?

MF The first book is not one of theory. It is a series of hypotheses, methods, or, if you like, rules of the game for a future analysis. In other words, in this book, I wished to point out that my object would be the historical study of the way in which both domains we call sexuality – that is analyses and experiences – have been formed. In other words, it is a history of a notion of sexuality, which is a fairly recent notion. There were earlier notions of sexuality, for example like that of concupiscence, and that of the flesh, but not of sexuality proper. Secondly, it is a history of other notions, other concepts which are related (apparenté) to this notion of sexuality, such as perversion, for example.

On the other hand, it is also the history of the way in which these notions themselves have intervened (interféré) in the experience of everyone, and, to a certain extent, shaped the experience we have of our desires and sexual relations. And it is in this way that it is a book of history. But it is not in any way concerned with sexual behaviours, nor is it a history of the prohibitive legislation of religion or morality. The analysis is a relationship of knowledge which is in the process of being developed, and of the experiential which is in the process of being transformed. From the moment I define this object it implies a certain number of rules of the game. That is to say, to study the way in which, not sexual behaviour is regulated, but the discourse of sexuality: the manner in which one has formed the consciousness of choice of sexuality. Thus, in the first volume I studied the Christian Catholic confession as ritual and code; an examination of oneself, and of the formulation of the consciousness which one has of one’s own sexuality. It is because of this that the primary element in my analysis is discourse. Not because I believe that discourse exists on its own and floats around in the air. But it is in, or within, discourse that we see appear concretely the ways and forms in which one becomes conscious of one’s sexuality, and the ways in which a certain grid is imposed on each person – a grid of analysis of one’s own sexuality.

So the second rule of the game is that I don’t admit, in any case I don’t postulate, that it is repression which is the sole mechanism regulating the discursive practice of sexuality. I don’t mean that there is no repression, but I think that there are many other mechanisms which come into play. In particular, when one sees how intensely the Christian west has concentrated on sexuality – when one sees with what profusion it is spoken about, what obligations it makes on each person to admit or confess his/her sexuality to his/her confessor or director of conscience, etc – one is led to postulate that repression is not the principal mechanism regulating sexuality.

FM and RP Do you think, though, that the incitement to discourse in the domain of sexuality always necessarily implies new strategies of regulation? Take the case of male homosexuality and homosexual law reform. For example, the period of the 1950s and 1960s in Britain sees a proliferation of discourses around deviant sexuality – legal, religious, medical and psychiatric discourses – but also a simultaneous, and related, relaxation or liberalisation of strategies governing the regulation of homosexual practices. Such examples reveal a different and less uniform relation between the history of discourse around sexuality and strategies of regulation.

MF My approach does not imply a strategy or control over sexuality which is increasingly strict. Discursive practices are the site of struggle. In this respect what happens at the end of the nineteenth century is significant. You have both a growth and a multiplication of books of medicine, psychology, psychiatry, of books of sexual perversion. And also, at the same time, or at least just afterwards, you have a proliferation, an appearance, of discourses in the first person on sexual perversion. The sort of thing like Gide, for example, who says ‘I’m a homosexual’. That sort of mechanism appropriates in some way the discourse of psychology, even that of medicine, and gives it back. What is formed is a principle of affirmation against the mechanisms of regulation, which is related, in the first place, to these discourses.

One can observe another phenomenon of the same type, but slightly different in its form. For example, in the mystical literature of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries one can identify an intensification of techniques and methods for directing conscience, together with a gradual insistence on the dangers of concupiscence – a growing concern with the sins of the flesh, and with all the internal experiences within which sins of the flesh can become concretely embedded. In response to this, there is the emergence of certain mystics who are completely traversed by these sexual ecstasies – for example St Thérèse of Vila. This, in some sort of way, is a taking up and giving back, yet in the first person, and as an experience from within, of that which has been imposed as a rule of observance for oneself and as self- control by the directors of conscience. All this precipitates many of the characteristic epidemics of hysteria in the Catholic convents in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

FM and RP What seems a particularly significant development in La Volonté de Savoir is your analysis of the part played by anatomy, biology and population – centring on the body – in constructing and regulating modern forms of sexuality? From your remarks, one can, perhaps, begin to speculate that it is only in the modern period, that is the period post-seventeenth century, that biology and anatomy begin to occupy a privileged place in the organisation and construction of sexual difference, and sexual deviance. Do you think that ‘gender’, as we understand it, is a distinctly modern concept; that in earlier periods the organisation of sexuality across biological sexual difference did not occupy so central a place? In that context, you yourself have stressed the significant and changing position of the hermaphrodite, and attitudes to hermaphroditism, in your work on the history of the figure of Herculine Barbin.

MF Yes, indeed, that is very important. I don’t know how to answer you now in a way which would be both detailed and precise. If we take the case of hermraphoditism for the moment, it is interesting to note how, until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the term refers to someone who has inside her/himself two sexes – rather like having two heads or four paws. It is seen as a mixture, it is monstrous and disturbing, but hermaphrodites are not considered condemned for their hermaphroditism, they are, quite simply, allowed to choose one sex, and to decide which one it would be before marriage. From then on the hermaphrodite had to remain as this particular sex; otherwise s/he would be condemned for sodomy. It is from the period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries onwards that individuals begin to be conceptualised as having one particular sex. From then on, hermaphrodites are not considered as people in whom two sexes are juxtaposed, but rather, as people in whom their true sex is hidden by a superficial, or apparent, or seeming sex. Hermaphrodites are not now a mixture of two sexes, but are seen as individuals whose true sex is hidden by an apparent one.

One can see that the law of masculine and feminine becomes a law of absolute difference (partage), and that one cannot be both at the same time. Thus it is in this context that the homosexual appears at the end of the nineteenth century as someone in whom the anatomically and biologically genuine sex is in some way masked or screened, perverted, deviated, spoilt, warped, by a psychological sex, by a sex which does not correspond in any way to its anatomy. Certainly, one has only to look at psychoanalysis, where homosexuality is always defined through the identification with a sex which is not one’s own. It is still a case of the play of a libidinal relationship to one’s sex, through the perturbing or disquieting presence of the other sex. It is maintained that the impossibility of the homosexual having access to the other sex as object arises from the fact that the other sex is invested with a mode other than that of object. So really, that type of analysis does not take in any more than current public opinion: namely, that homosexuals are people who are OK among themselves, but it is supposed that they get on badly with the opposite sex. More generally, I think that all these elaborations of an apparently purely scientific order – effected, in fact, through a whole series of institutions, beliefs, discourses – have impregnated the experience that each person has of his/her sexuality.

FM and RP In La Volonté de Savoir, and in the proposed subsequent volumes, you do not appear to consider romance, and romantic love, as a determining influence in structuring modern sexuality. It would seem that romance has occupied a prominent position in determining the forms of appearance of heterosexual relations in the modern period. Moreover, its own particular history carries with it nuances and influences which reach back to the Catholic or medieval organisation of sexuality across the spirit/flesh divide.

MF Yes, I quite agree. In fact in the romantic period, the problematics of sexuality in literature, as well as in both the natural sciences and in natural philosophy, have played a considerable role. I can’t be more precise on that point, but it is certainly interesting.

FM and RP Perhaps we could now turn to a discussion of discourse and discursive practices more generally, in the light of what you have already said. The question centrally concerns the relationship between the realm of discourse and the field of the non-discursive, and the implications that an examination of that relation may have for concrete empirical work which attempts to construct the history of particular discursive formations. What many of us have taken from your work is your general insistence on the specificity of particular discursive practices; the internal rules of their construction, the particular forms of power which are immanent to them, and the specific subject positions which are offered. The complexity of the organisation of the regulative disciplines is preserved, and many of the dangers characteristic of certain forms of Marxism, of reducing all forms of regulation to a single external principle or cause, are avoided.

However, though you retain a place for relations and practices which exist outside discourse, these are not fully elaborated in your work. The problem here is that a history of discursive practices could turn into the construction of a type of history from above. That is to say, the knowledges that are examined always tend to be the most dominant and the most formalised. Discursive practices are located within and deployed on a ground of non-discursive relations and practices which possess their own codes and rules of formation. Take, for example, the whole complex tissue of relations which constitute certain of the practices within popular culture. At certain points these extra-discursive relations may have pertinent effects on the development and the transformation of specific discursive practices – in providing resistance, for example. The field of the extra-discursive, as much as the inter-discursive, may be effective not only in determining the conditions of possibility for the emergence of a particular discursive practice, but also may be influential in the subsequent history of its development. It is a question, then, which centres on the ‘purity’ of the type of history that a discursive analysis may produce and its possible limitations.

MF My problem lay in trying to bring together the areas of history, knowledge and desire. It seemed to me that Marxism, or at least a certain practice of Marxism, was founded on a philosophy of consciousness which was not satisfactory. The notion, for example, that received ideas and representations about the world are a reflection, or are destined to serve the interests, of a class. These two aspects seem, on the one hand, to be inadequate in shaping an understanding of fairly complex phenomena, such as the elaboration of a science, and, more generally, the development of those great domains of knowledge such as sexuality. On the other hand, it pre-supposes the human subject to be a constant entity which acts in accordance with the same mechanisms and structures across time; similarly, of wanting to satisfy its interests, or of having the same way of reflecting an image of the world. It seemed to me, to address the first part of your question, that the analysis of discourses was the first thing to be done. In other words, an analysis of that which is revealed – effectively the consciousness that people have about things. So this is the first point; to analyse discourses without relying on a universalist conception of consciousness.

Secondly, I always study these discursive practices in liaison with non-discursive practices, in the attempt to show how they are formed within an ensemble of practices which are non-discursive. In the case of madness, for example, I attempted to study the discursive practices involved in the context constituted by the practices of imprisonment, exclusion, exemption from employment, forced labour, etc. The same goes for discursive practices such as medicine, pathological anatomy, which were linked to a wide range of other practices concerning the mentally ill. Similarly, discourses around delinquency were related to penal practice. In the same way, the discursive practice of sexuality is allied to certain other practices such as confession and the Christian government of souls. That is the second point.

The final point is that these discursive practices are neither exclusively, nor necessarily, a way of merely prefiguring from above. As was stated earlier, these discursive practices are ever the site of confrontation and contestation. One could even say that it is always through discourse that rebellion begins. The English, American, French and Russian revolutions all had, as their points of departure, reversals in mechanisms of discourse within discursive practices. To that extent, focusing on discursive practices is in no way a case of taking things at the level of static and intangible regulation.

FM and RP A question which relates to your understanding of the operation of power; particularly as you discuss it in the latter part of La Volonté de Savoir. You insist that relations of power are not in a position of exteriority to economic relations, knowledge relations, sexual relations, but are immanent to them, and that they are not reducible to any mono-causal, single source. Yet you go on to specify what you term ‘major dominations’, which form general lines of force that traverse the local oppositions, and that link them together in a general strategy of power. This seems to raise a difficulty in your specification, and the problem is also present as far as one can understand in Donzelot’s characterisation of the generalised strategies of intervention in the family in La Police des Familles. Namely, what gives these non-localisable strategies the coherence which they are assumed to have? Are you referring generally here to the growth of a disciplinary and regulatory society over a broad historical period, differing qualitatively from older forms of regulation characterised by the rule of law, or are you attempting to specify something more particular: the fact that specific power relations which are immanent to particular discourses and institutions may be linked historically through a series of strategic correspondences?

MF The first thing to observe is that, for me, when I use the word power, essentially, I am identifying a complex of problems. Power for me is not a substance, nor a fluid which may emanate from somewhere – from God or the Sovereign or from the popular will. By power I mean the ensemble of those phenomena by which men can have the possibility of acting upon the behaviour of others. And the relationship of power is precisely the interactions that comprise the relations of determination that exist between the behaviour of one person and the behaviour of another; the way in which the behaviour of one person determines that of another.

Having said that, it is quite clear that there are relations of power of quite different types and levels, which are always invested in practices which are at once economic, sexual, political, etc. As far as the phenomena of cohesion are concerned, which enable these relations of power to be organised into strategies, this coagulation, this coherence is perhaps due to different things. For example, the political and economic organisation of domination by the bourgeoisie in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries enabled this class to impose relatively coherent systems of power on society, systems which answered to the demands of certain objectives of the whole social organisation. The bourgeoisie practised a politics of population, for example, which took its support from a certain number of practices, sexual or moral. From another perspective, we can see that this class also restricted and prohibited certain other practices and attitudes. What we have here is an example of the relations of power being organised and becoming coherent through an economic and political determination.

But, one can have generalisations and cohesions which are produced out of quite different phenomena. Take what has just happened in Iran, for example, with regard to the relations of power which hitherto existed in the society between the religious mullahs and the civil population – men and women, parents and children. Those relations have now been mobilised in reverse in the struggle against the economic and political domination and power of the Shah and a small oligarchy. In this way, you see, the big strategic unifications can have origins, forms and objectives which are different.

FM and RP That clarifies something. In the sense that there is a way in which certain tendencies in England are attempting to graft on your theory of discursive practices to provide a more complex form of Marxism. Particularly when you use the word hegemony, and hegemonic effects, in La Volonté de Savoir, some people turn to Gramsci in attempting to justify the use of your mode of analysis within a Marxist framework.

MF I do not really want to bring up the question of Marxism. I never reply to the question: ‘Are you a Marxist and committed to Marxism?’ I carry out my work, and I utilise concepts and methods among which are some that are borrowed from existing theories. But, since Marxists claim that Marxism is scientific, it is up to them to say in the light of my work whether it is authentic or not. I don’t wish to protect my work by a visa which would validate it as Marxist. I think that freedom, frankness and honesty consist in saying: this is what I have done. It’s up to you to decide whether it is Marxist or not and whether or not that is relevant.

FM and RP Finally, to raise the question of politics and more specifically, to how you understand the type of relationship that could be developed between a theory of discursive practices and forms of political struggle. In a text published in the journal Esprit in 1968, entitled ‘Réponse à une question’, you put forward several hypotheses for the definition of a progressive politics, among which included an insistence on the recognition of the historic conditions and specified rules of a given practice, together with a deconstruction of the notion of the effectivity of the ‘subject in general’ as the universal operator of all transformations. In what ways do you think that an understanding of the history and development of discursive practices, together with knowledge of their conditions of existence, can provide conditions for more effective forms of political intervention?

MF Two things. Firstly, my historical analyses of discursive practices have neither the function nor the goal of demonstrating that we are imprisoned (pris) within history, with no means of escape. Far from it, the aim is to demonstrate how things which appear most evident are in fact fragile, and that they rest upon particular circumstances, and are often attributable to historical conjunctures which have absolutely nothing necessary or definitive about them. For example, one can demonstrate that madness is not a universal category. Supposedly, it had been misrecognised for a long time, and then suddenly could be recognised thanks to psychiatric science. However, one can demonstrate that psychiatric science forms part of a discursive practice, and that this discursive practice is part of other practices which are themselves integrated in a situation which is historical. In the same way, one can take the manner in which theorists of sexuality oppose male against female, classify perversion, and define the word and terms of sexuality. My task is to show how all of that is related to a historical conjuncture. Thus, these historical analyses do not in any way have the goal of imprisoning us within determinations. On the contrary, the goal is to render us free to effect possible transformations.

The second point is that I do not believe that the function of an intellectual is to prophesy, prescribe or lay down the law. In other words, it is not up to an intellectual to say: ‘Rebel, go and make a revolution!’ The intellectual work which I carry out consists in showing in some way how fragile those things are which we take as evidence. Consequently, my work, or if you like my activity as a militant, is to be part of a movement or a group which can operate from within this space – a space which I believe is free and from which we can liberate. The role of this movement is to invent forms of action, and actually to practice transformations. So I have a political activity which very much derives from internal analyses, but that is not to transform my analyses into a law for others.

FM and RP A question now which relates specifically to sexual politics, and to struggles around definitions of sexuality. La Volonté de Savoir presents a complex and convincing set of arguments which deconstruct notions of any essential sexuality, and libertarian approaches to sexual politics. The problem remains however that, politically, many people who become involved in sexual politics – whether they are women or gay people – do so precisely because they are often impressed by the suggestive power of arguments which stress a libertarian position, or which emphasise the declaration of some essential or innate sexuality. That is to say, they remain powerful political motives for people who are oppressed. Is it in fact at all possible to abandon those approaches within the political arena, and if we do, what type of political positions can be adopted, which both mobilise and attract popular support, and which are more adequately informed theoretically?

MF In what I have said there was not any criticism in relation to say, the gay movement nor to the women’s movement. I think that those strategies were, and are, very important in the struggle to affirm oneself, since people were saying: ‘You’re only homosexuals’, or ‘You’re only women’. In reply to this it was extremely important to say: ‘Why, of course, we are homosexuals, or women’. But now, thinking ahead to the next step, we must consider that the labelling (épinglage) of individuals to a sexual identity – men, women, lesbians, homosexuals, paedophiles, no matter what, it doesn’t matter – is something which can become dangerous. And that, if it is true that homosexuality for example, in its specificity, was only coined (découpé) and distributed within a culture and society such as ours, then we must not give unlimited currency to this homosexuality. We must be convinced, deep down, that ‘homosexuality’ does not exist.

I think that the direction we must move towards – at least where I would like to move towards – is not to official recognition by the law, the authorities, or society of the right to be homosexual. What I would like to assert is the fact that the authorities and the law have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the sexual behaviour of individuals. Terms such as ‘sex’, ‘sexuality’, ‘customs’, ‘morality’, ‘good manners’, ‘decency’, etc, figure in French law, I don’t know whether it is the same in English law. And these words ought not to figure there in any way. It is perfectly understandable that people are prevented from exercising physical violence upon others; whether it is for robbery, or just the pleasure of it – violence should be outlawed. But sexuality has nothing to do with either the law or social control. And that is the political thesis, if you like, which you find implicitly present in my book La Volonté de Savoir.

I don’t know whether you read it, but the other day, in an English newspaper called The Observer there was a review of La Volonté de Savoir. The reviewer said the book was obviously worthless, and since I am a homosexual, it comes as no great surprise to the reviewer that there was nothing of interest in it. The character who said that is of no real significance. In any case, I am not about to complain. I can’t see how I could say that it is an insult to call me a homosexual. But the mere fact that there is someone affirming that you are a homosexual – who responds by pinning the discourse taking place all on the fact that one has a particular sexual practice – is something which is inadmissible. That is just an anecdote, but it highlights the fact that the affirmation of a sexual identity does not necessarily always carry a positive value. I have a perfect right to say what I like without being asked how I make love. I believe that sometimes it is tactically important to affirm one’s sexuality, but one must not give the authorities, or those who hold power, the right to interrogate one’s sexuality, and to ask one’s sexual identity.

FM and RP At the conclusion to La Volonté de Savoir you indicate possible lines of development – political development – in the field of sexuality. You speak of the necessity of breaking away from the agency of sex, through what you term a tactical reversal of the various mechanisms of sexuality. You indicate that we should counter the grips of power with the claims of bodies, pleasures and knowledges, and that the point of focus for the counter-attack against the deployment of sexuality ought to be a stress on bodies and pleasures. Could you elaborate and expand on what you see as a possible strategy here?

MF On that point, unfortunately, I do not have the time, and I’m not sure whether I would be capable of further comment. But what appears to me to be among the most constant and persistent features in the regulation of sexuality in the west, is that we have always privileged desires as opposed to pleasures, which have been neglected or discounted. After all, Christianity did take possession of sexuality, and I have attempted to take account of that fact and to analyse it through the notion of desire and concupiscence. This notion of desire, which becomes the organising principle of sexuality from the Christianity of the fifteenth century, seems to be one which is completely charged with relations of power and relations of knowledge. After all, psychoanalysis is an analysis of desire.

FM and RP What distinction do you observe between connaissance and savoir? Is there an epistemological distinction?

MF Well, yes. When I say savoir there is no English equivalent, so I don’t know how to explain it.

FM and RP For both terms we say ‘knowledge’.

MF By connaissance I understand an act of savoir; a set of relations between subject and object which are recognised and validated in systems of connaissances, such as science, for example, or the discipline of law, or casuistry. What I call savoir is quite simply the ensemble – whatever that includes – of processes used in order to gain knowledge (prendre connaissance) of something. The act of connaissance is regulated, whilst that of savoir designates the whole procedure – whatever it consists of.

FM and RP Would you counter pose some non-western, or oriental, forms of sexuality as a possible means of breaking the dominance of desire?

MF Certainly there are other knowledges and discourses on sexuality. There is what I call an ars erotica, such as you find in Japan or China. There you have a very long and extensive discourse on sexuality, or, to be exact, on pleasures, which did not have the function of analysing the domain which we call sexuality. Rather, the concern there is with the techniques by which one attempted to increase sexual pleasure, to intensify it. The ars erotica intervened in an economy of pleasure, and formed part of the technique of pleasure. It was not an instrument of knowledge (connaissance), turning sexual practice into an object and looking inside it for something other than sexuality – whether they be pleasures or desires.



Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality
Pantheon Books

‘The History of Sexuality is a three-volume series of books written between 1976 and 1984 by French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. The first volume of the book is titled An Introduction while the second volume is titled The Use of Pleasure, and the third volume is titled The Care of the Self.

‘Foucault’s main goal in the books is to disprove the idea that Western society had repressed sexuality since the 17th century and that sexuality had been something that society did not talk about. The books were written during the sexual revolution in the United States. Thus it was a popular belief that up until this point in time, sexuality was something that was forbidden and unmentionable. That is, throughout history, sex had been treated as a private and practical matter that should only take place between a husband and a wife. Sex outside of these boundaries was not only prohibited, but it had also been repressed.

‘Foucault asks three questions about this repressive hypothesis: Is it historically accurate to trace what we think of sexual repression today to the rise of the bourgeois in the 17th century? Is power in our society really expressed primarily in terms of regression? Is our modern-day discourse on sexuality really a break from this history of repression or is it a part of the same history?’ — Pantheon



p.s. Hey. ** Steve Erickson, I hope you’re feeling a lot better now. ** David Ehrenstein, It would be hard to skywrite in a buttermilk sky. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Thanks. Dude, you have been the unluckiest guy I know for way too long now. I’m so sorry. Seriously, your karma is being such a scaredy cat. Cool about the gig though, and the Atlanta tour date. Very nice. I didn’t know ‘The Flanders Road’ was reissued. That’s, I think, his most famous novel. Hm, yeah, I haven’t done a Simon post in a long time. Will do. Thanks a bunch. Simon does seem to be way off the radar these days, even over here. Odd. I have seen that Barbara Rubin doc, and, yeah it’s very interesting. Man, I hope and trust you are now entering an infinitely extended period of enacting your great artistry and being physically coddled by this thing we call life. ** Misanthrope, If you don’t feel out of the woods, trust the feel, man. At least until you turn into a weird recluse or something. Wait, today’s your birthday? You should do something to mark the auspicious occasion even it involves some flagrant act of ignoring it. Happy b’day, G! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Nice Italo. I just took a little p.s. break to indulge. Very nice. This week! So, when will you actually and physically move in. Whoop, buddy! ** Dominik, Hi!!! Well, it’s a bit of a long flight, but you should spend this Halloween — actually more like the buildup to Halloween — in LA going to haunts with Zac and me and crew. You’ll become a Halloween junkie (like me) for life, I swear. That’s what I’ve heard: about AHS. I wonder why it declined so precipitously? Theoretically, it’s pretty open ended, right? So it could have become almost anything horror-related, and yet with all that freedom, it zizzed out? Strange. Well, Lady Gaga can just go back to concentrating on her recording career. Although, hm, maybe love should make record companies not return her agent’s calls too. Nah, she’d just do everything on TikTok or somewhere. There’s no escaping her. Ha ha, thank your love for me for turning that conventional skywriter into an experimental skywriter even if it was an accident. Love making everyone think whatever the woman seen briefly in the gif at the top of today’s post was thinking, G. ** Robert, Hi, Robert. Thanks! Yeah, I remember when people thought the sky could be the ultimate canvas. “Airpwane”, ha ha ha, that’s fantastic. I want to name a novel that, or at least a poem. I’m doing all right. We’re starting a 4 day heatwave today, so that part really sucks, but, otherwise, things proceed. And you? What are your recent and/or ongoing highlights? ** Bill, Me too. High five. Very high five. That’s true about Paris too: Mondays as entertainment voids. I guess it must be a universal problem. I don’t know what okonomiyaki pancakes are, but I want one very badly. I’m sure you saw that they just reduced the hotel quarantine time in Hong Kong to 3 days. Is that fast enough to make a trip worthwhile? Your friend’s fave anime sounds very narratively complicated. I did have Miwa Yanagi’s stuff here in some other context a while back, yes. Good eye. No, I haven’t seen ‘The Bones’. I’ll look for it. Thank you, bud. ** Right. I realised the other day that I’ve never done a Foucault post, so I thought I would rectify that absence by spotlighting his possibly most controversial book? Make sense, knowing this blog? See you tomorrow.


  1. _Black_Acrylic

    The butterfly meme can teach us all some good Foucault.

    RIP Raymond Briggs, creator of such classic kid’s lit as The Snowman, Father Christmas, anti-nuke masterpiece When the Wind Blows and my own favourite Fungus the Bogeyman. I think maybe if I did a Fungus the Bogeyman Day for this blog, it might be a suitable tribute?

  2. David Ehrenstein

    The Marie Curie of fist-fucking

  3. Steve Erickson

    Thanks. I am feeling much better now and got a decent night’s sleep. Tomorrow, I have to go to a hospital to get my ears tested.

    I tried watching EARWIG on my laptop, but the cinematography’s so dark that I found it unwatchable and gave up. I wish I’d gone out to see in the theater, but it only played here for a week.

    Has anyone you know in Paris tried to get the monkeypox vaccine? I looked into it, and you need to be a man who sex with men with multiple partners in the last 2 weeks. Even so, all the appointments in NYC are already booked. I hope that by September or October, the vaccine’s far more widely available.

  4. Bill

    Wow, haven’t thought of this for years. Dense, mind-blowing reading when I was in my 20s. Let’s see if I still have my old paperback. That ’81 video of hippy Foucault is pretty mind-blowing too, since I mostly think of his later bald look.

    Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake piled with vegetables (and meat if you choose), with a tasty sauce binding the stir fry. A casual, hearty meal, mostly associated with Osaka. Yeah the anime series is a pretty detailed narrative. There’s also a strong gay subtext, that I’m told stays below the surface for the whole series, even though it’s obviously there. I’m surprised there would be anime (and manga) focused on something as old-fashioned and specific as rakugo storytelling. But this is the kind of obsessiveness that attracts me to a lot of Japanese culture, haha.

    I did see the change in Hong Kong’s quarantine rules. I was ready to make travel plans when it was 7 days, so this is better. Soon.


  5. Misanthrope

    Thanks, Big D! Just cake and dinner (at home) and all that.

    I’m mainly just more tired feeling than anything with this infection. That’s how it’s been generally. I mean, I was able to work last week (from home) and was okay. Just lingering tiredness, which isn’t uncommon with a lot of viral infections.

    But yes, gonna do a little b’day stuff here and be 51 (I was 35 when we first met…eek!).

  6. Dominik


    I never understood why we didn’t learn about Foucault in depth at uni.

    Yes, I’m 100% sure that if I ever get to spend a Halloween with you, I’ll be hooked for life, haha.

    Yeah, “AHS” is an anthology series; each new season is an individual story, mostly or fully unrelated to other seasons. So, really, they have all the freedom in the world. And yet. In my experience, almost everything Ryan Murphy does has a great initial concept and then just… gets fucked at some point. That’s his brand, haha.

    It’s hard to decide whether love is deeply impressed and trying her hardest not to lose the plot or thinks, “I’m not buying this bullshit.” Love spotting a huge spider in the middle of his room and sweating at least 6 liters while catching and transporting it to his balcony, Od.

  7. Billy

    MF is much demonised in Britain rn as a pedo (the right wing crowd who defend Churchill’s genocides are very keen to insist that Foucault’s utterances on the subject are entirely disqualifying, ironically enough) and as Mr. Woke himself and while I’ve never had time for critical or continental theory I resent their wild denunciations. I cannot judge as I’ve never found the time to read him but it’s very irritating that brexit Britain has found its emmanuel goldstein. Nothing to say about the man himself, but I’m a hopeless student of philosophy.


  8. Robert

    Good luck, the heat always makes me feel really slow and crazy. Four days sounds brutal. Not much is going on for me, just work and the usual twentysomething agonizing about what I’m gonna do with my life. I finally managed to pump out a very very shoddy first draft of a book (someday, hopefully) which is sort of a relief, now that there’s at least something to look back at and work off of.

    How much philosophy do you read/have you read? I’m sort of curious. Although your books have the feel of a writer who’s read a good deal of philosophy. I majored in it but did a godawful job of making the most of that opportunity while I had it. haven’t read any Foucault but I had a big thing for Kantian ethics when I was a freshman (and still do in all honesty). I’m hoping to go back this year and read a bunch of the big famous philosophy books I never got around to, although it’s been slow going on that so far. (The critique of pure reason is brutal without a teacher.)

  9. Russ Healy

    Hi Dennis, and other readers. I’m late to the Foucault post. I read his work during my doctoral studies. Although I agree with much of his thoughts on bio-power, and the role of medicine/psychiatry in taking away autonomy from persons, I also have to say that my work helping transgender youth and adults access the bio-power held by surgeons and endocrinologists they need could have troubled him back in his days. We live in complicated, post-modern times.
    Dennis, I started reading “I Wished.” I’m reading slowly; many of your sentences are very artful and deserve close reading. Early on you reveal that you saw a therapist in hopes of processing George Miles. I groaned and shook my head. Read it twice. Still had the same response. I have been a therapist for Queer persons for 35 years (wish there was better language). I believe therapists should let the persons with whom they are working to set the agenda. That is one reason why I consider myself to be an anarcho-therapist. It’s a balance of listening deeply, showing curiosity and empathy. A therapeutic relationship is just that – not a service. I saw a gifted therapist for 10 years – she helped me to change my perspective and resolve (enough) of my past. Thanks for reading this, and thanks for the Foucault posts!

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