THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY: Vol. II, The Use of Pleasure Sexuality by Michel Foucault

THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY: Vol. II, The Use of Pleasure Sexuality

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Second of four volumes (the last two have been published in France and are forthcoming here) by the late Michel Foucault, a man of ubiquitous prolixity in creating a genealogy of sexual desire; translated as well as possible by Hurley. Foucault proposed, he said, not ""to write a history of the successive conceptions of desire, of concupiscence, or of libido, but rather to analyze the practices by which individuals were led to focus their attention on themselves, to decipher, recognize, and acknowledge themselves as subjects of desire, bringing into play between themselves and themselves a certain relationship that allows them to discover, in desire, the truth of their being, be it natural or fallen. In short, with this genealogy the idea was to investigate how individuals were led to practice, on themselves and on others, a hermeneutics of desire, a hermeneutics of which their sexual behavior was doubtless the occasion, but certainly not the exclusive domain."" Generally, in The Use of Pleasure, Foucault asks why human beings--since antiquity--have ""problematized"" desire and sexuality in a way they have not done with other normal bodily appetites, such as hunger and the pleasures and sensations; why has man created ""the experience of sexuality""? As it stands in volume two, Christianity--which at first appears to be a new statement of sexual inhibitions--only carries on what had already appeared and been long enforced among the Greeks, though a Christian continuity is not absolute. Like the Christians, the Greeks honored chastity and abstention; feared masturbation; valued, if not exhorted, conjugal virtue; and disdained effeminacy and renunciation of the signs and privileges of the masculine role. Thus, pagan sexuality is misrepresented when called un-Christian and when ""an individual is summoned to recognize himself as an ethical subject of sexual conduct."" Starting from ""the practice of health regimen, that of household management, that of courtship,"" Foucault studies the way ""in which medical and philosophical thought worked out this 'use of the pleasures.' formulating several recurrent themes of austerity that would center on four great axes of experience: the relation to one's body, the relation to one's wife, the relation to boys, and the relation to truth."" Out of the uses of pleasure the Greeks sought an ethics of sexual behavior, sought to moderate it, and produced a new notion of freedom and desire at the core of existence. Many choice raisins in this study of Greek Eros, all embedded in an austere academicism.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1985
Publisher: Pantheon