Foucault and Discourse
>----------------------------------------<00(O)00> ----------------------------------------<

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 !)

>----------------------------------------<00(O)00> ----------------------------------------<

Start Again ? Previous New Age Intro Whatever Will Be Home Page