Re: A KickOff...

On Thu, 5 Feb 1998 WillyXXX@xxxxxxx wrote:

> Hi, Randall,
> It is my impression what Foucault means in saying "We other Victorians" is
> that the way in which we view human sexuality is rooted firmly in the
> Victorian era, and thus despite the distance we imagine exists between
> ourselves, today, with respect to how "human sexuality" is for us, and how it
> was for those others then, we are close enough to merely separated by the
> passing of time.

I think it's worthwhile to reflect on titles because they're thematic. The
explanation above would work but for the word "other" in the heading. And
maybe the word "we" also.

Who's we? Remember F's comments about creations of "we's" in the
"Polemics" interview at the back of _Foucault Reader_, p. 385.
(Summarizing briefly, F's point is that the task of critical thought is
not to stand on the side of some transcendental agent like the working
class, not to endorse and help clarify the nature of an already-existing
"we," but rather to create conditions for the production of new "we's,"
new communitiees of perspective and action, knowledge and power.)

The "we" that Foucault is referring to in the title is an old and no
longer so useful "we." In the area of sexuality, the antiquated we that
must be attacked to make way for a new one is promoted by those united
around the "repressive hypothesis." And Foucault himself was -- along with
just about everyone else -- a proponent of the repressive hypothesis. This
book was written to reject a school of thought that was less productive
and more misleading all the time.

Foucault frequently uses the self-referential plural in the rest of the
chapter. "Indeed, our very eagerness to speak of sex in terms of
repression is doubtless this opportunity to speak out against the powers
that be--to utter truths and to promise bliss" (7).

Repression and its supposed injustice were a powerful legitimating device
for oppositional discourse. It was often, perhaps primarily, articulated
by intellectual and social elites. But the valuable legitimating function
of the repressive hypothesis was not matched by an accurate account of the
dynamics of contemporary power formations. On that score the repressive
hypothesis was misleading. The purpose of this chapter is to clear the air
by making fun of the repressive hypothesis.

There is a valuable echo of Foucault's point and procedure in Nietzsche's
_Genealogy of Morals._ In the Preface, Nietzsche complains that "we are
unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge." Again, the "we" is an
intellectual "we" that is having trouble freeing itself from a set of
crippling background assumptions. In the rest of the Preface, especially
section 5, Nietzsche presents the case for the view that we need to ask
not, "What is moral?" but rather, "What is value of morality?" Foucault
asks the same thing on pp. 8-9: The real question, he says there, is

Not, then, 'why are we repressed,' but rather why, with so much
passion, do we say that we are repressed? What led us to say that
sex is something we hide? (paraphrase)

Like Nietzsche, Foucault wants, in part, to do a kind of excavation
procedure. Which is not to say there aren't differences in what they're up

Could we also say that there is a link between Foucault's argument about
whether or not sex is repressed and Marcuse's admittedly more jargony talk
about "repressive desublimation" in _One-Dimensional Man_?


> That it was characteristic of this period that human sexuality was emerged as
> an object for study and control; abstracted into an object to be biologized,
> psychologized, socialized, politicized, etc - in ways, that is, in which "we
> other Victorians" are in tacit agreement, our "enlightened", "open-minded",
> "tolerant", views to the contrary notwithstanding.
> At least, that's what I think he means.
> regard,
> willy

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