Re: [Foucault-L] history of sexuality liberation

On Sun, Mar 02, 2008 at 04:46:01PM +0000, ??? jad wrote:
> I am writing to ask for your advise on an independent essay I have
> assigned to do for my comparative literature course. The question I've
> set myself is " 'theory has the capacity to liberate' discuss with
> reference to Foucault's History of Sexuality 1 and Marx's Communist
> Manifesto".

This strikes me as a strictly empirical question.

> For Foucault I'd suggest that his work is rather dubious about
> the very notion of liberation. For me, HS1 is a coded critique of
> the supposed liberatory force of self-disclosure in relation to
> confession and speaking desire -- basically psychoanalysis. As such
> Foucault's work is sceptical about the extent to which we can free
> ourselves -- if we can't stand outside of the nexus of relations of
> power-knowledge-subjectivity then for him liberation takes on a small
> scale, local and tactical notion of resistance from within. In that
> sense he'd be quite contrary to Marx, I'd have thought. Moreover, his
> repressive hypothesis bears an uncanny resemblance to Marxist and
> early feminist modes of thought that impose a repressor/repressed
> dichotomy and a more simplified view of power. But how could I relate
> Foucault and Marx further? I've also written a bit of how Marx's
> theory had been appropriated by Lenin and abused by Stalin. How can I
> like the abuse of theory to Foucault?

Here is part of the interview titled "The ethics of the concern of the
self as a practice of freedom":

q. A work of the self on the self that may be understood as a certain
liberation, as a process of liberation?

m.f. I would be more careful on that score. I have always been
somewhat suspicious of the notion of liberation, because if it is
not treated with precautions and within certain limits, one runs the
risk of falling back on the idea that there exists a human nature
or base that, as a consequence of certain historical, economic, and
social processes, has been concealed, alienated, or imprisoned in
and by mechanisms of repression. According to this hypothesis, all
that is required is to break these repressive deadlocks and man will
be reconciled with himself, rediscover his nature or regain contact
with his origin, and reestablish a full and positive relationship
with himself. I think this idea should not be accepted without
scrutiny. I am not trying to say that liberation as such, or this
or that form of liberation, does not exist: when a colonized people
attempts to liberate itself from its colonizers, this is indeed a
practice of liberation in the strict sense. But we know very well,
and moreover in this specific case, that this practice of liberation
is not in itself sufficient to define the practices of freedom
that will still be needed if this people, this society, and these
individuals are to define admissible and acceptable forms of existence
or political society. This is why I emphasize practices of freedom
over processes of liberation; again, the latter indeed have their
place, but they do not seem to me to be capable by themselves of
defining all the practical forms of freedom. This is precisely the
problem I encountered with regard to sexuality: does it make any sense
to say, "Let's liberate our sexuality"? Isn't the problem rather that
of defining the practices of freedom by which one could define what
is sexual pleasure and erotic, amorous and passionate relationships
with others? This ethical problem of the definition of practices
of freedom, it seems to me, is much more important than the rather
repetitive affirmation that sexuality or desire must be liberated.

q. But doesn't the exercise of practices of freedom require a certain
degree of liberation?

m.f. Yes, absolutely. And this is where we must introduce the concept
of domination. The analyses I am trying to make bear essentially
on relations of power. By this I mean something different from
states of domination. Power relations are extremely widespread in
human relationships. Now, this means not that political power is
everywhere, but that there is in human relationships a whole range
of power relations that may come into play among individuals, within
families, in pedagogical relationships, political life, and so
on. The analysis of power relations is an extremely complex area;
one sometimes encounters what may be called situations or states of
domination in which the power relations, instead of being mobile,
allowing the various participants to adopt strategies modifying
them, remain blocked, frozen. When an individual or social group
succeeds in blocking a field of power relations, immobilizing them
and preventing any reversibility of movement by economic, political,
or military means, one is faced with what may be called a state of
domination. In such a state, it is certain that practices of freedom
do not exist or exist only unilaterally or are extremely constrained
and limited. Thus, I agree with you that liberation is sometimes the
political or historical condition for a practice of freedom. Taking
sexuality as an example, it is clear that a number of liberations
were required vis-a`-vis male power, that liberation was necessary
from an oppressive morality concerning heterosexuality as well as
homosexuality. But this liberation does not give rise to the happy
human being imbued with a sexuality to which the subject could achieve
a complete and satisfying relationship. Liberation paves the way for
new power relationships, which must be controlled by practices of

q. Can't liberation itself be a mode or form of practice of the

m.f. Yes, in some cases. You have situations where liberation and
the struggle for liberation are indispensable for the practice
of freedom. With respect to sexuality, for example--and I am not
indulging in polemics, because I don't like polemics, I think they
are usually futile--there is a Reichian model derived from a certain
reading of Freud. Now, in Reich's view the problem was entirely one of
liberation. To put it somewhat schematically, according to him there
is desire, drive, prohibition, repression, internalization, and it is
by getting rid of these prohibitions, in other words, by liberating
oneself, that the problem gets resolved. I think--and I know I am
vastly oversimplifying much more interesting and refined positions
of many authors--this completely misses the ethical problem of the
practice of freedom: How can one practice freedom? With regard to
sexuality, it is obvious that it is by liberating our desire that we
will learn to conduct ourselves ethically in pleasure relationships
with others.

[Foucault-L] history of sexuality liberation, جاد jad
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