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Foucault at work...
on January 10, 2004
This book can be seen as a perfect example of a brilliant mind at work. Foucault surely considered this book as an introductory piece, a draft of brilliantly posed ideas and problems about sexuality as a dispositive, not in the traditional sense of the word that we have all become so acquainted with. This book works in many respects: Foucault succesfully makes his case for an open refusal of the "repressive hypothesis", explaining in a very precise manner why the discourse on sexuality in the XVIII and XIX centuries, far from being shy about it, positively promoted discussion... what he calls a "discoursive explosion". Foucault quite brilliantly introduces the two ways in which sexuality has come to be assumed by the human race: as an art (in ancient Greece) and as a science (in our present era). He also develops his own ideas (ideas that also appear in his courses at the Collège de France, particularly "Society Must Be Defended") about bio-power, disciplinary societies and biopolitical regimes. He successfully questions the fact that we have come to place sex under a veil of secrecy which must be undone... how sex has become the key to our personality, our "identity".
The last verses of the book are revealing: how is it that we still consider sex to be liberating when in reality we are always under its gaze, when it really has become a burden to be dealt with?
This book is astounding. Maybe not as brilliant as "Discipline and Punish" (which says a LOT about Foucault's creative nature)but certainly a key text toward understanding the problems Foucault tackled in final years of his life.
Note: the last two volumes of the History of Sexuality display a shift of focus and a leap back in "history"... you'll have to read the introduction to volume 2, "The Use Of Pleasure", to see what I mean. Still, it all makes sense if you dig deeper into the final developments of Foucault's work.