I’ve recently finished reading Foucault’s History of Sexuality in which he proposes impressive dimensions of thinking on relations between sexuality, power and repression. I’m pretty sure that throughout this blog I’ll talk much of Foucault, and for the sake of this first entry, let me briefly present a chronological picture of him that I perceived since I’ve been really into his philosophy. It will be appropriate to characterize the interests of his thoughts in three ways: Archeology (60’s), Genealogy (70’s) and Ethics (80’s).
On the other hand, during 70’s he is interested in explaining the relation between power and discourse. He tries to understand the ways discourses produce subjects, how objects are constituted, rules of truth in particular discourses. It is a way of trying to specify and historicize materials of discourses, how certain institutions and disciplines are built upon that discourses. While doing this, he describes the events as transformations of other events in a particular period, where all kinds of seemingly separate events are taking place and new forms of knowledge are born which don’t store kinds of common cores. However they do have family resemblance, in Wittgenstein‘s terms. Wittgenstein was suggesting in particular that thoughts which seem to be similar and connected to one another is not because they share one common, essential element. The fact is that “similar” thoughts were connected with the overlapping similarities. Related to this notion, Foucault mentions birth of statistics, military discipline in mass armies, methods of punishment from torture to rehabilitation. Additionally, the idea of body as a space where psyche is located, emphasis of social work, teaching, medicine are all related to each other through “family resemblance”. According to Foucault, with these new conceptions, there occur new forms of “governability”. Besides, it happens to be like you produce a new conception or way of life or something and you also produce ways of governing, punishing them. In modern times, the idea of division between body and soul is elaborated. It’s like you now have a mental patient. And you have ways of dealing with it. You have new forms of treatments or isolating it. These kinds of emphasis in Foucault’s works are clearly observed in especially “Discipline and Punish” and “History of Sexuality”. History of Sexuality is certainly the typical example of Foucault’s genealogical approach. It is interested in genealogy of establishment of sexuality as “deep truth” of person. Well, how does this happen in modern societies? What kinds of constitutions handle this? This kind of newly developed approach on sex beginning with 19th century is related with power which makes them grow and classify them as well. He proposes the idea of Bio-Power for example: Whole system of regulating bodies through several power networks. In History of Sexuality Foucault says that we can’t understand this sphere, modern phenomenon of sexuality through the idea of “repression”. He is against the “juridico-discursive paradigm”, which he describes as follows: It establishes a negative relation between sex and power: sex is always something that power constrains. Power acts as a law that determines how sex should be treated and understood. Power acts only to prohibit and suppress sex. At this point, I think Foucault is anti-Freudian surely, and does not agree his ideas regarding repression is the foremost important element in sexual withdrawal. Foucault does not deny repression; but if you consider that something like a form where power is exercised, imprisoning, and as primary manifest of power, then you fail to see most effective, modern, developed forms of power which are productive in ways of making new possibilities. Freud was talking particularly about the existence of libido which is forced later by power which represses it, leads it to postpone desires. For Foucault, at least for my interpretation of his writings, desire itself is created by the law which also prohibits it. In Freudian understanding, there is a more “natural” sexuality which is repressed. Similarly for Lacan, forms of sexuality which is generated by the symbolic order is what prohibits desire.
Foucault in 80’s was mostly interested in “ethics” that was full of principle concerns. He was citing classical Greeks and Romans in his articles about the body. He was emphasising that new forms of pleasures may be created by inventing yourself subjectively, turning yourself into “aesthetics”, a work of art: Re-inventing your body through self mastery, creativity, stylization, constituting yourself as autonomous subject of yourself. Foucault in this period partially seems contradicting his previous ideas especially in the discussion of relation between self and constitution and existing power.