on 26 June 2000
This, the first volume of French philosopher Michel Foucault's tripartite study of sexuality is as idiosyncratic as the man himself. Unlike the works of a number of his colleages, this book is highly accessible and of interest to any broadminded reader, although it would be of particular interest to students of philosophy, sociology, gender, politics, religion, history etc etc.. I personally have recommended H.O.S.1 to a number of friends and have yet to receive a negative response. While more of an intellectual curiosity than a full blown philosophy, Foucault's concepts reverberate far beyond the parameters of the book's subject.
on 9 February 2001
Readable and digestable is very much what can characterise the style of the book. In content, Foucault explores the creation of sexual categories and their relevance to the power structures of the capitalist society. It is a clear treatise on sexual fascism and how it is used to the ends of the power structure. Inherent within the book, and it is this which makes it different from other attempts, is the manner in which Foucault views the conditioning of sexuality as part of our Western scientific tradition. In certain respects, he is unscathed by that same tradition in the way he comments on sexuality and its deployment as a tool for power. In this way, the book does not reflect a critique of the capitalist economy more than a realisation of the way power is ingrained within the structures of the political economy and the psyche of the people.
on 5 October 2014
This book was originally published in French in 1976, and rapidly translated in English in 1978, which in itself gives a good indication of the cultural impact of French philosopher Michel Foucault on contemporary thought and scholarship.
It might prove difficult to read at times as the translation is quite close to the original French text.
It is a very dense text, with lots of ideas, and also Foucault trying his best to reinforce his line of argument with imagining contradictory points of view and refuting these in turn along the line of argument.
Part One: We "Other Victorians" 1
Part Two: The Repressive Hypothesis 15
Chapter 1: The Incitement to Discourse 17
Chapter 2: The Perverse Implantation 36
Part Three: Scientia Sexualis 51
Part Four: The Deployment of Sexuality 75
Chapter 1: Objective 81
Chapter 2: Method 92
Chapter 3: Domain 103
Chapter 4: Periodization 115
Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life 133
on 4 January 2015
What else is there to say about this trailblazing work that has not already been said? An immensely theoretically complex work crammed into relatively few pages, Foucault moves on from his thesis in 'Discipline and Punish', wherein he introduced the notion of disciplinary power. In 'HoS Vol 1', Foucault further develops the concept of biopower, constituted by two poles - discipline, directed at the individual body, and biopolitics, directed at the population. He further develops the concepts introduced in 'Abnormal' and 'Society Must Be Defended', and the final chapter (The Right to Death and the Power Over Life) is particularly mind-blowing. He argues that although biopower seeks to invest in life and incite to live, wars have never been more murderous and bloody than in the contemporary era of biopower. The paradoxical situation is brought about as although wars were previously conducted in the name of the sovereign, contemporary wars are conducted in the name of genetic hygiene, in the name of race - and that the elimination of the 'Other' is thought to make the Self stronger. In other words, wars have become genocidal.
A fantastic work that must be read for anyone seriously confronting the topic of power.
First published in 1976, this is the first volume of Foucault's great analysis and theorisation of `sexuality', a concept, he argues, which emerges in the nineteenth century.
With his characteristic iconoclasm, his verbal and mental fireworks, Foucault forges links between power, knowledge and sexuality, tying them together through analyses of discourse and its functionality.
Taking his starting point as the so-called `repression' of the Victorians, he shows how rather than being silenced about sex, Victorian culture centralised it, creating a science of sex (Freud, Krafft-Ebbing, Charcot) that supported ideologies which were economically useful to and supportive of capitalism, and which were essentially conservative.
Of course, being Foucault, these are never going to be straightforward, uncomplicated or transparent arguments. So don't read this if you want to passively agree with what you're being told - Foucault is deliberately combative, striving to stimulate us into arguing back to refine his insights but also to build on them - as scholars have been doing since the 1970s.
So this may be dense, sometimes frustrating, sometimes, even, a bit bonkers - but for all that, it's still central to the way in which we construct, analyse and deconstruct ideas of the politics of sex and sexuality today.
on 16 January 2011
So much of Michel Faucault's studies on sexuality have become part of our contemporary consciousness on the issue that it is difficult for someone like myself who is not a specialist in the field to add much of value. My only serious question concerning these three volumes is why Faucault sees Hellenic and Roman culture being the exclusive precursors and sources for Christian and therefore modern concepts of sexuality. Little or no mention is made of Hebraic sources. It is, of course, possible that Hebraic sources plaid no significant role in this specific discourse, but given that they did, in fact, contribute to many other areas of Christian thought, at very least a discussion of the reasons for their putative lack of significance to this discourse is warranted.
on 20 August 2012
This book and the second volume are worth looking at for most social science students and students in related disciplines. Foucault's deconstructionist perspective is incredibly well written and logically mapped out in this text. I'm not going to go into the content but this will open your eyes to the historical narratives that have led us to this point in time concerning sex, sexuality and gender roles in society.
on 9 April 2016
I wonder what makes you such an expert on sexuality that you think you can write a history of it. Personally I would not employ an electrician whose installations had killed a large number of people, or a gas engineer whose contracts had resulted in explosions and fatalities. I would not regard someone as a great architect if their buildings fell down and killed people. I wouldn't buy a cookery book written by a chef whose recipes were notorious for poisoning people.
The same goes for Michel Foucault. Like so many other homosexuals in the 1980s, he found he had AIDS. He was diagnosed in a hospital in Paris and told it was incurable. The doctors advised him not to have any more sexual partners and to warn people of his condition. Instead, he returned to the USA and hit the bathhouses where he deliberately transmitted the disease to a couple of hundred other men before he died. There are no words to describe what a vile specimen of a human being he was, or if there are, they are words of a sort I would prefer not to use.
Whilst Communists following Marx concentrated on the felt effects of power in alienation and the industrial production. There were also other places where power operated, other than the factory floor. Foucault with his internal dialogue with Marx, sought out the crannies where power cascaded. Sex and science were two spheres used to categorise the soul
Drawing on a Nietzschean geneological method, he dug under the layers of the modern world to find out how it had been constructed. This took him to asylums, prisons and the bordello.
Here he aims to uncover how sex went from a form of "innocence" into the dis-curses of science. Krafft Ebing, Havelock Ellis and William Stekel were the pioneers of sexology. Science was discussed endlessly in the Victorian era but not in the Daily Smut or Vorgasm but by science.
All undertaken as the modern age dawned, sexual perversion, paraphilia, became a secret word and its workings spoken in hush tones. Meanwhile a legion of professions emerged to measure and quantify whatever was normal. Secret sexual histories were written and privately discussed in hushed tones. The normal taboos placed upon sex led to it being colonised by the new disciplines; psychology, psychiatry, biology.
Foucault touches upon the reasons for these changes. He creates a signpost for rethinking the rationale for the suppression of sex. The arguments are thought provoking but also stilted. They lack a jouissance, he ignores the places where sex was left unsullied- the black African shacks were rock and roll was born, the blues musician being the midwife for a new aesthetic.
Foucault aims to reproduce the dynamics, he aims to uncover that which has been masked. The "negative review" on Amazon is correct in this perception. He take a detached non relational observation of the world as if the word is both enthralling and dangerous. The language is also obtuse and he could have been much clearer in stating his thesis,at the beginning. Whilst most people see the Victorians as an age of repression, in reality people spoke about sex incessantly, except as an object, rather than as an experience. This would have led to other openings such as; Why was a human activity objectified?
What were the psychological reasons- a reaction to trauma? The constant death in childbirth, infancy, war, disease, loss of community? Foucault opens the door, it becomes a crack, he peers into the vast netherworld beyond and reports back with a certain myopic view. It is correct in its perception, but fails to see the panorama as it focuses on the microscopic.
However without Foucault and Nietzsche before him, perhaps this realm would have been ignored altogether. Therefore it is difficult to castigate, but it is important not to lionise. This is just a starting point in changing perception and not the end. Wilhelm Reich's book on Character Analysis, equally flawed offers another viewpoint on sex and the psychological impact of its clampdown and objectification. Reading the fragments of the jigsaw can help to build the whole picture.
This book is just a fragment. The pieces are waiting to be arranged for those have the inner perception to see the outward horizon.
on 16 January 2014
I needed this for my philosophy course, it came in good time and in good condition, it is a very useful book for my course.