THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY, Vol. I: An Introduction by Michel Foucault


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Fascinating but ferociously abstract speculations on the modern obsession with sex by the redoubtable author of Madness and Civilization. Foucault claims that the past three centuries have witnessed a ""great process of transforming sex into discourse""--an explosion of medical, moral, psychiatric, and literary talk about sexuality, In the wake of the Sexual Revolution much of this discourse seems repressive and morbid, but Foucault sees the policies of doctors, parents, educators, and pastors of, say, the late 19th century, as strategies for creating zones of pleasure and power (and hence akin to our quest for a sexual Utopia). In defining the realm of the forbidden and the abnormal they gave it a new, substantive existence, which they attempted to control and exploit. Foucault lists four key mechanisms of this approach: the ""hysterization of women's bodies""--treating women as mere functions of an all-powerful and often pathological sexual energy; the ""pedagogization of children's sex""--the war against masturbation and other efforts to suppress sexual activity in the young; the ""socialization of procreative behavior""--state interference in human fertility, attacks on contraception, etc.; and the ""psychiatrization of perverse pleasure""--diagnosing and curing sexual ""anomalies."" One can quarrel with Foucault on many grounds: his uncouth neologisms (bravely handled in a fine translation); his refusal to annotate or give examples, except here and there, for his vast generalizations; his sometimes maddening flight from the obvious (as when he says that sex must not be described as a stubborn drive). But the provocative brilliance of his thought remains. Whether or not subsequent volumes clear up its rarefied complexities, this is a book that philosophers and social scientists are going to have to read--whether they like it or not.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1978
Publisher: Pantheon