I am interested in the perspectives of Foucault. In his trilogy
“The History of Sexuality”, Penguin Books, London, 1979, he describes
how culture has evolved partly under the impetus of changes in
sexuality, which have happened in fairly unusual ways.
To attempt to summarise 800 (or so) pages in half a page:-
In ancient Greek times, the ‘free man’ could basically do whatever
he wanted (with men, women, slaves or boys). However, there was
a philosophy of moderation, and a practical and economic reality
that the estate must be managed by the man and his wife, and there
was a need to train and raise descendants in a way that was “useful
to the City”, so wives (and sons) began to be protected from the
possible affairs and scandals of the free man.
However, in some of the later Greek philosophisers, there were
the first signs of the moralising which has later developed and
dominated, that is, they began to use ideas of 'right and wrong'.
Foucault has a “dream image” of the middle ages where everything
was fairly free and easy for almost everyone.
Then came a new impetus from the Church, where the rich were
gradually pressed and persuaded to Confess more and more of their
sensations of sexuality, going deeper and deeper in an attempt
to “analyse away” all sexuality except for that needed for the
procreation of children. Foucault seems to suggest that this had
an opposite effect of greatly amplifying sexual feelings and sensitivity.
This increased sensitivity has gradually spread through society
to nearly all classes, and also the idea of confession has similarly
spread, creating the present “confessional society” (which reaches
its summit at Findhorn ??!!).
Foucault also emphasises the shift at the end of the 18th Century
where mental hospitals, prisons, army barracks, hospitals and
factories began to be organised and brought a much greater systematisation
to all areas of life. People began to be ‘standardised’, and ill-treated
until they could fit in ‘the system’. However, this system does
not seem deliberate, it seemed to develop more at the whim of
Army Sergeants and factory foremen.
There was also a point of greatest repression in Victorian times,
where fainting fits, corsets and hysteria were associated with
sex, many people (women) were put in hospital for minor ‘sins’,
and reportedly, many people lived without ever seeing even themselves
naked. How were people persuaded to do this ?
These are some of the basics behind our recent sexual revolution,
and put our new age in a very different perspective too.
The key terms which he uses in his discourse to describe the
evolution of society are power, discipline and organisation, and
it seems that people may have developed sensitivity and self-awareness
through these ‘treatments’, in a way that was never possible before.
I find that he deals with his material in a very fair and open
way – he does not appear to have major pre-conceptions or prejudices
– he lets his source material speak for itself, but watches carefully
for deeper patterns and ideas.
I want to re-read him to develop a greater understanding of his
method. (and apply it to my food study !)