(4) Sexuality and resistance

La Volonté de savoir Vol. 1 of Histoire de la sexualité (1976). Trans. Robert Hurley as The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction (NY: Pantheon, 1978).

Translation of the French title is "the will to know."[2] This is probably Foucaults most popular English translation. Argues against the Freudian/Reichian repression hypothesis, with implications for the discourses of sexual liberation. Portrays psychoanalysis not as a major break in knowledge but rather as one of many instances of the putting into discourse of sex. Interprets sexual liberation (through talking openly about sex) as actually an extension of systems of power and domination that have infiltrated our most private activities.

The question I would like to pose is not, Why are we repressed? but rather, Why do we say with so much passion and so much resentment against our most recent past, against our present, and against ourselves, that we are repressed? (8-9). The object, in short, is to define the regime of power-knowledge-pleasure that sustains the discourse on human sexuality in our part of the world. The central issue, then, is not to determine whether one says yes or no to sex, whether one formulates prohibitions or permissions; but 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 which are said. What is at issue, briefly, is the over-all discursive fact, the way in which sex is put into discourse. (11).

Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. Should it be said that one is always inside power, there is no escaping it, there is no absolute outside where it is concerned, because one is subject to the law in any case? This would be to misunderstand the strictly relational character of power relationships. Their existence depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance: these play the role of adversary, target, support, or handle in power relations. These points of resistance are present everywhere in the power network. Hence there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case. But this does not mean that they are only a reaction or a rebound, forming with respect to the basic domination an underside that is in the end always passive, doomed to perpetual defeat. Resistances do not derive from a few heterogeneous principles; but neither are they a lure or a promise that is of necessity betrayed. They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in power as an irreducible opposite, (96-7).

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. The rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexualtiy ought not to be sex-desire, but bodies and pleasures, (157).

Le jeu de Michel Foucault (1977). Trans. Alain Grosrichard as "The Confession of the Flesh", in Colin Gordon, ed., Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (NY: Pantheon, 1980).

Interview/conversation piece with psychoanalysts. Of particular interest is a question from Lacans pupil, Jacques-Alain Miller: "I can see you are looking for the devices that will enable you to erase the break that is located with Freud. You recall how at the time when Althusser was proclaiming the Marxian break, you were already there with your eraser. And now Freud is going to go the same way, at any rate I think that's your objective, no doubt within a complex strategy, as you would say," (211). The hostility Jacques-Alain Miller shows toward Foucault in this interview marks a fundamental tension between Foucault and psychoanalysis that continued at least until Foucault published L'Usage des plaisirs. During the interview, Foucault locates Freud, as Miller predicts, as a moment or "episode" (211) in the apparatus (dispositif) of the confession and, more generally, the "putting into discourse of sex." Psychoanalysis, at least in La Volent de savoir, is simply one form among others of talking about sex. Yet even in this interview, a certain ambivalence is prefigured which will be useful in understanding the shift in the project which takes place in the second volume of the History of Sexuality. "The strength of psychoanalysis," he tells Miller, is not the putting into "truth" of sex, which occurs with Tertullian, nor is it the medicalization of sex, which occurs with Charcot; no, the strength of psychoanalysis "consists in its having opened out on to something quite different, namely the logic of the unconscious," (213). Miller points out that this formulation is "very Lacanian" and that it implies that "sexuality isn't historical in the sense that everything else is There isn't a history of sexuality in the way that there is a history of bread," (213). This exchange is intriguing not only in that it marks the fundamental differences between Foucault and the psychoanalytic project, but more significantly in that it marks one of their similarities; Foucault indicates, for example, "I'm not saying that psychoanalysis is already there with the directors of conscience. That would be an absurdity," (219), to which Miller replies, "Yes, yes, you aren't saying that, but all the same, you are!" Foucault's retort is to magnify the significance of psychoanalysis in the present -- it is important here to keep in mind the diagnostic function served by Foucault's interviews.[3] This diagnostic function is especially significant in light of this confrontation with psychoanalysis; what Miller misses in this interview (or, if you like, refuses to acknowledge) is that what is important for Foucault is not whether Freud constitutes a break but what has been done with Freud -- precisely the construction of a sexual subjectivity that is the continuation of the effects of the truths Christianity produced when it produced sexuality. Freud's mark on history was to take the apparatus of sexuality that had been codified by the church literally, "and then erecting on its basis the Interpretation of Dreams... If I were to be very pretentious, I would say that I'm doing something a bit similar to that," (218). Foucault tells Miller that his problem is the very problem of the construction of subjectivity which occupied Freud (207), and, when asked who struggles in Foucault's view, and he answers, "individuals, or even sub-individuals," (208). This thread of conversation is especially significant in light of the second volume of History of Sexuality, which did not lead where he said that it would during this interview (see below).[4]

Colloqui con Foucault (1978). Interview with Duccio Trombadori (Italian). Trans. R. James Goldstein and James Cascaito as Remarks on Marx (NY: Semiotext(e), 1991).

Im perfectly aware of having continuously made shifts both in the things that have interested me and in what I have already thought. In addition, the books I write constitute an experience for me that Id like to be as rich as possible. An experience is something you come out of changed. If I had to write a book to communicate what I have already thought, Id never have the courage to begin it. I write precisely because I dont know yet what to think about a subject that attracts my interest. In so doing, the book transforms me, changes what I think. As a consequence, each new work profoundly changes the terms of thinking which I had reached with the previous work. In this sense, I consider myself more of an experimenter than a theorist; I dont develop deductive systems to apply uniformly in different fields of research. When I write, I do it above all to challenge myself and not to think the same thing as before, And no matter how boring and erudite my resulting books have been, this lesson has always allowed me to conceive them as direct experiences to tear me from myself, to prevent me from always being the same, (26-7, 32).
When I use the word knowledge (savoir), I do so in order to distinguish it from a knowledge (connaissance). The former is the process through which the subject finds himself modified by what he knows, or rather by the labor performed in order to know. It is what permits the modification of the subject and the construction of the object. Connaissance, however, is the process which permits the multiplication of knowable objects, the development of their intelligibility, the understanding of their rationality, while the subject doing the investigation always remains the same,
As far as Im concerned, I think that the Frankfurt School set problems that are still being worked on. Among others, the effects of power that are connected to a rationality that has been historically and geographically defined in the West, starting from the sixteenth century on. The West could never have attained the economic and cultural effects that are unique to it without the exercise of that specific form of rationality, (117).

For me, what must be produced is not man identical to himself, exactly as nature would have designed him or according to his essence; on the contrary, we must produce something that doesnt yet exist and about which we cannot know how and what it will be, (121).

Tunisia, for me, represented in some ways the chance to reinsert myself in the political debate. It wasnt May of 68 in France that changed me; it was March of 68, in a third-world country, (136).

I carefully guard against making the law. Rather, I concern myself with determining problems, unleashing them, revealing them within the framework of such complexity as to shut the mouths of prophets and legislators: all those who speak for others and above others. It is at that moment that the complexity of the problem will be able to appear in its connection with peoples lives; and consequently, the legitimacy of a common enterprise will be able to appear through concrete questions, difficult cases, revolutionary movements, reflections, and evidence, (159).

Herculine Barbin, dite Alexina B. (1978). Trans. Richard McDougall as Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Disclosed Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite (NY: Pantheon, 1980).

Introduces the memoirs of a biological hermaphrodite, noting that "the law determined sex, and that we now know that it is sex itself which hides the most secret parts of the individual: the structure of his fantasies, the roots of his ego, the forms of his relationship to reality. At the bottom of sex, there is truth," (xi).

"What is Enlightenment: Was ist Aufklrung?" unpublished ms., trans. Catherine Porter in Paul Rabinow, ed., The Foucault Reader (NY: Pantheon, 1984).

I cite this here only chronologically because it was unpublished until 1984. This is an important text if only to see how seriously Foucault takes Kant (even if he misreads him). Part of the project here is to emphasize "the extent to which a type of philosophical interrogation -- one that simultaneously prolematizes mans relation to the present, mans historical mode of being, and the constitution of the self as an autonomous subject -- is rooted in the Enlightenment. On the other hand, I have been seeking to stress that the thread that may connect us with the Enlightenment is not faithfulness to doctrinal elements, but rather the permanent reactivation of an attitude -- that is, of a philosophical ethos that could be described as a permanent critique of our historical era," (42). He continues: "But that does not mean that one has to be for or against the Enlightenment. It even means precisely that one has to refuse everything that might present itself in the form of a simplistic and authoritarian alternative And we do not break free of this blackmail by introducing dialectical nuances while seeking to determine what good and bad elements there may have been in the Enlightenment. We must try to proceed with the analysis of ourselves as beings who are historically determined, to a certain extent, by the Enlightenment," (43).

(5) The construction of the self

"Afterword: On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress," in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, eds., Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: U Chicago, 1982).

I must confess that I am much more interested in problems about techniques of the self and things like that rather than sex ... sex is boring, (229).

What I want to ask is, Are we able to have an ethics of acts and their pleasures which would be able to take into account the pleasure of the other? Is the pleasure of the other something which can be integrated in our pleasure, without reference either to law, to marriage, to I dont know what? (233).

  • L'Usage des plaisirs. Vol. 2 of Histoire de la sexualité (1984). Trans. Robert Hurley as The Use of Pleasure (NY: Pantheon, 1985).
  • Le Souci de soi. Vol. III of Histoire de la sexualité, (1984). Trans. Robert Hurley as The Care of the Self (NY: Pantheon, 1986).

The apparatus that Foucault is working within in the second volume is no longer simply the "history of sexuality," but more specifically, "that general history of the 'techniques of the self'." The break, then, is located neither with Tertullian nor Freud, but sometime before antiquity. "Considered from the standpoint of their pragmatics" Foucault writes in introducing these two volumes, "they are the record of a long and tentative exercise that needed to be revised and corrected again and again. It was a philosophical exercise. The object was to learn to what extent the effort to think ones own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently," (9).

In a rejoinder to the interview with Miller above, published after Foucault's death, Miller is less hostile to Foucaultian genealogy, preferring instead to highlight the archaeology of psychoanalysis performed by Foucault. "Psychoanalysis does, after all, contain within it the knowledge of its own mortality. Freud knew this and said it."[5] He continues: "... what occupied Foucault during his last years was an explication which runs parallel to the work of Lacan. Foucault never quotes him, and professed not to understand him. I still recall his saying to me in 1972, One of these days you'll have to explain Lacan to me. This makes no difference, however, to the fact that one has not grasped L'Histoire de la sexualité unless one recognizes in Foucault, not an explication of Lacan at all, but an explication which runs alongside Lacan," (62). The shift toward the construction of the self in volume 2 indicates that Foucault was now dealing with a subject who makes h/erself without h/er knowledge rather than a subject who recognizes h/erself as a subject. Miller is much less hostile to Foucault in this essay (if only because he knows he does not need to worry about his opponent responding), but his point is still ultimately to revive psychoanalysis as more accurate or appropriate than archaeology. He rhetorically asks, "Would it not be true to say that his counterattack against the apparatus of sexuality, with psychoanalysis at its heart, has as its point of leverage no discipline, no practice, other than the utopia of a body outside sex, whose various pleasures depend on nothing but the unifying rule of castration?" (63). "Point of leverage" here, which Miller will use again below refers to the French phrase which is translated in HOS v.1 as "rallying point." Miller continues: "This point of leverage is, of course, very slender. It is nothing more than a subdivision of perversion which, in La Volent de savior, Foucault saw only as a utopian viewpoint necessary in order to think in terms other than those of psychoanalysis. And it was precisely the need for this initial point of leverage which precipitated archaeology rapidly backwards in a movement which was unstoppable and limitless," (63). Miller's argument may yet hold; however, his construction of "the unifying rule of castration" as a more material construct than a "body capable of multiple pleasures" seems as utopian as the perspective he criticizes in Foucault. The point is that Foucault never attempted an archaeology of castration anxiety but archaeologies of the institution of psychoanalysis on the one hand (in The Order of Things) and of the apparatus of sexuality and the self on the other. It is his work on the construction of the self that not only parallels the psychoanalytic project but, I would argue, may be usefully integrated with it.

As Miller has pointed out, "the notion that sexuality is historical is by no means shocking to a psychoanalyst." (64) A productive reading of Lacan's phallocentrism would view psychoanalysis as a historically situated practice; while the phallus cannot not be read as male privilege, the force of Lacan's discourse is in the description of the ways in which we are written as subjects into patriarchal discourse. Resistance to patriarchal culture is potentially localizable in the excesses of desire: in every action (prompted by desire) something invariably other takes place. Desire is thus seen as that which outstrips structure in language -- the unconscious always threatens to outstrip the culture that attempts to suppress it. Thus while the subject is inaugurated through language, the subject is an effect of historically and materially situated rhetorical articulations rather than of language per se. Foucault's point of leverage for this counterattack, then, could be located in the Lacanian unconscious if it is given that the unconscious is a construction of the Freudian repressive hypothesis. Foucault's oversimplification of the Freudian notion of repression should be re-read through the lens of Lacanian desire. Desire, in Lacan, is both a lack and an excess; in the very move of repression is an accompanying move of excess that is fundamental to the very process of signification. That excess can be mobilized in a Foucaultian move of resistance.

Of course, I am perhaps reading Foucault against Foucault in proposing such an interpretation of resistance. If this reading makes Foucault groan and strain (Im referring to MF's passage about appropriations of Nietzsche which I cant seem to find right now), Foucault offers his work for just such an appropriation. (We must keep in mind of course that this is not an excuse for not getting Foucault right, for ultimately not reading him, but rather a reason to read him meticulously and take him places where he did not lead us). Ultimately, however, it is at this moment that I find Foucaults most recent influences, Deleuze and Guattari, to be much more enabling than Foucault. Whereas both Foucault and D/G end up with similar (Nietzschean) positions concerning the discourses of Marxism and psychoanalysis, D&G will ultimately read Freud and Marx much more carefully than will Foucault. While I find Foucaults situating of Freud and Marx to be powerful and persuasive, I find D/G much more willing to take Freud and Marx seriously even while accepting a similar notion of the apparatuses at work in the practices which operate under the signs Marx and Freud.

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