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I’m like Sally, in When Harry Met Sally, faking orgasm, while reading this. Ecstatic elation. YES! Putting my whole life/relationship with sexuality, shame, discretion, confession, and identity into it’s historical and evolutionary perspective. I love it.
The History of Sexuality
Volume I: An Introduction
by Michel Foucault
Translated from the French by Robert Hurley
I suppose that the first two points will be granted me; I imagine that people will accept my saying that, for two cen turies now, the discourse on sex has been multiplied rather than rarefied; and that if it has carried with it taboos and prohibitions, it has also, in a more fundamental way, ensured the solidification and implantation of an entire sexual mo saic. Yet the impression remains that all this has by and large played only a defensive role. By speaking about it so much, by discovering it multiplied, partitioned off, and specified precisely where one had placed it, what one was seeking essentially was simply to conceal sex: a screen-discourse, a dispersion-avoidance. Until Freud at least, the discourse on sex-the discourse of scholars and theoreticians-never ceased to hide the thing it was speaking about. We could take all these things that were said, the painstaking precautions and detailed analyses, as so many procedures meant to evade the unbearable, too hazardous truth of sex. And the mere fact that one claimed to be speaking about it from the rarefied and neutral viewpoint of a science is in itself significant. This was in fact a science made up of evasions since, given its inability or refusal to speak of sex itself, it concerned itself primarily with aberrations, perversions, exceptional oddities, pathological abatements, and morbid aggravations. It was by the same token a science subordinated .in the main to the imperatives of a morality whose divisions it reiterated under the guise of the medical norm. Claiming to speak the truth, it stirred up people’s fears; to the least oscillations of sexual ity, it ascribed an imaginary dynasty of evils destined to be passed on for generations; it declared the furtive customs of the timid, and the moSt solitary of petty manias, dangerous
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for the whole society; strange pleasures, it warned, would eventually result in nothing short of death: that of individu als, generations, the species itself.
It thus became associated with an insistent and indiscreet medical practice, glibly proclaiming its aversions, quick to run to the rescue of law and public opinion, more servile with respect to the powers of order than amenable to the require ments of truth. Involuntarily naive in the best of cases, more often intentionally mendacious, in complicity with what it denounced, haughty and coquettish, it established an entire pornography of the morbid, which was characteristic of the
fin de siecle society. In France, doctors like Garnier, Pouillet, and Ladoucette were its unglorified scribes and Rollinat its poet. But beyond these troubled pleasures, it assumed other powers; it set itself up as the supreme authority in matters of hygienic necessity, taking up the old fears of venereal affliction and combining them with the new themes of asep sis, and the great evolutionist myths with the recent institu tions of public health; it claimed to ensure the physical vigor and the moral cleanliness of the social body; it promised to eliminate defective individuals, degenerate and bastardized populations. In the name of a biological and historical ur gency, it justified the racisms of the state, which at the time were on the horizon. It grounded them in “truth.”
When we compare these discourses on human sexuality · with what was known at the time about the physiology of animal and plant reproduction, we are struck by the incon gruity. Their feeble content from the standpoint of elemen tary rationality, not to mention scientificity, earns them a place apart in the history of knowledge. They form a strangely muddled zone. Throughout the nineteenth cen tury, sex seems to have been incorporated into two very distinct orders of knowledge: a biology of reproduction, which developed continuously according to a general scien tific normativity, and a medicine of sex conforming to quite different rules of formation. From one to the other, there was
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no real exchange, no reciprocal structuration; the role ofthe first with respect to the second was scarcely more than as a distant and quite fictitious guarantee: a blanket guarantee under cover of which moral obstacles, economic or political options, and traditional fears could be recast in a scientific sounding vocabulary. It is as if a fundamental resistance blocked the development of a rationally formed discourse concerning human sex, its correlations, and its effects. A disparity of this sort would indicate that the aim of such a discourse was not to state the truth but to prevent its very emergence. Underlying the difference between the physiol ogy of reproduction and the medical theories of sexuality, we would have to see something other and something more than an uneven scientific development or a disparity in the forms of rationality; the one would partake of that immense will to knowledge which has sustained the establishment of scien tific discourse in the West, whereas the other would derive from a stubborn will to nonknowledge.
This much is undeniable: the learned discourse on sex that was pronounced in the nineteenth century was imbued with age-old delusions, but also with systematic blindnesses: a refusal to see and to understand; but further-and this is the crucial point-a refusal concerning the very thing that was brought to light and whose formulation was urgently solic ited. For there can be no misunderstanding that is not based on a fundamental relation to truth. Evading this truth, bar ring access to it, masking it: these were so many local tactics which, as if by superimposition and through a last-minute detour, gave a paradoxical form to a fundamental petition to know. Choosing not to recognize was yet another vagary of the will to truth. Let Charcot’s Salpetriere serve as an exam ple in this regard: it was an enormous apparatus for observa tion, with its examinations, interrogations, and experiments, but it was also a machinery for incitement, with its public presentations, its theater of ritual crises, carefully staged with the help of ether or amyl nitrate, its interplay of dia-
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logues, palpations, laying on of hands, postures which the doctors elicited or obliterated with a gesture or a word, its hierarchy of personnel who kept watch, organized, pro voked, monitored, and reported, and who accumulated an immense pyramid of observations and dossiers. It is in the context of this continuous incitement to discourse and to truth that the real mechanisms ofmisunderstanding (mecon naissance) operated: thus Charcot’s gesture interrupting a public consultation where it began to be too manifestly a question of “that”; and the more frequent practice of delet ing from the succession of dossiers what had been said and demonstrated by the patients regarding sex, but also what had been seen, provoked, solicited by the doctors themselves, things that were almost entirely omitted from the published observations.l The important thing, in this affair, is not that these men shut their eyes or stopped their ears, or that they were mistaken; it is rather that they constructed around and apropos of sex an immense apparatus for producing truth, even if this truth was to be masked at the last moment. The essential point is that sex was not only a matter of sensation and pleasure, of law and taboo, but also of truth and false hood, that the truth of sex became something fundamental, useful, or dangerous, precious or formidable: in short, that sex was constituted as a problem of truth. What needs to be situated, therefore, is not the threshold of a new rationality whose discovery was marked by Freud-or someone else but the progressive formation (and also the transformations)
lCf. . for example, Desire Bourneville, lconographie photographique de fa Safperriere (1878-1881), pp. 110 If. The unpublished documents dealing with the lessons of Charcot, which can still be found at the Salpetriere, are again more explicit on this point than the published texts. The interplay of incitement and elision is clearly evident in them. A handwritten note gives an account of the session of November 25, 1877. The subject exhibits hysterical spasms; Charcot suspends an attack by placing first his hand, then the end of a baton, on the woman’s ovaries. He with draws the baton, and there is a fresh attack, which he accelerates by administering inhalations of amyl nitrate. The afflicted woman then cries out for the sex-baton in words that are devoid of any metaphor: “G. is taken away and her delirium continues. ”
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of that “interplay of truth and sex” which was bequeathed to us by the nineteenth century, and which we may have modified, but, lacking evidence to the contrary, have not rid ourselves of. Misunderstandings, avoidances, and evasions were only possible, and only had their effects, against the background of this strange endeavor: to tell the truth of sex. An endeavor that does not date from the nineteenth century, even if it was then that a nascent science lent it a singular form. It was the basis of all the aberrant, naive, and cunning discourses where knowledge of sex seems to have strayed for such a long time.
Historically, there have been two great procedures for producing the truth of sex.
On the one hand, the societies-and they are numerous: China, Japan, India, Rome, the Arabo-Moslem societies which endowed themselves with an ars erotica. In the erotic art, truth is drawn from pleasure itself, understood as a practice and accumulated as experience; pleasure is not con sidered in relation to an absolute law of the permitted and the forbidden, nor by reference to a criterion of utility, but first and foremost in relation to itself; it is experienced as pleasure, evaluated in terms of its intensity, its specific qual ity, its duration, its reverberations in the body and the soul. Moreover, this knowledge must be deflected back into the sexual practice itself, in order to shape it as though from within and amplify its effects. In this way, there is formed a knowledge that must remain secret, not because of an ele ment of infamy that might attach to its object, but because of the need to hold it in the greatest reserve, since, according to tradition, it would lose its effectiveness and its virtue by being divulged. Consequently, the relationship to the master who holds the secrets is of paramount importance; only he, working alone, can transmit this art in an esoteric manner and as the culmination of an initiation in which he guides the disciple’s progress with unfailing skill and sev�rity. The
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effects of this masterful art, which are considerably more generous than the spareness of its prescriptions would lead one to imagine, are said to transfigure the one fortunate enough to receive its privileges: an absolute mastery of the body, a singular bliss, obliviousness to time and limits, the elixir of life, the exile of death and its threats.
On the face of it at least, our civilization possesses no ars erotica. In return, it is undoubtedly the only civilization to practice a scientia sexualis; or rather, the only civilization to have developed over the centuries procedures for telling the truth of sex which are geared to a form of knowledge-power strictly opposed to the art of initiations and the masterful secret: I have in mind the confession.
Since the Middle Ages at least, Western societies have established the confession as one of the main rituals we rely on for the production of truth: the codification of the sacra ment of penance by the Lateran Council in 1215, with the resulting development of confessional techniques, the declin ing importance of accusatory procedures in criminal justice, the abandonment of tests of guilt (sworn statements, duels,
judgments of God) and the development of methods of inter rogation and inquest, the increased participation of the royal administration in the prosecution of infractions, at the ex pense of proceedings leading to private settlements, the set ting up of tribunals of Inquisition: all this helped to give the confession a central role in the order of civil and religious powers. The evolution of the word avowal and of the legal function it designated is itself emblematic of this develop ment: from being a guarantee of the status, identity, and value granted to one person by another, it came to signify someone’s acknowledgment of his own actions and thoughts. For a long time, the individual was vouched for by the refer ence of others and the demonstration of his ties to the com monweal (family, allegiance, protection); then he was authenticated by the discourse of truth he was able or obliged to pronounce concerning himself. The truthful confession
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was inscribed at the heart of the procedures of individualiza tion by power.
In any case, next to the testing rituals, next to the testi mony of witnesses, and the learned methods of observation and demonstration, the confession became one of the West’s most highly valued techniques for producing truth. We have since become a singularly confessing society. The confession has spread its effects far and wide. It plays a part in justice, medicine, education, family relationships, and love relations, in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, and in the most solemn rites; one confesses one’s crimes, one’s sins, one’s thoughts and desires, one’s illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling, with the greatest precision, whatever is most difficult to tell. One confesses in public and in private, to one’s parents, one’s educators, one’s doctor, to those one loves; one admits to oneself, in pleasure and in pain, things it would be impossible to tell to anyone else, the things people write books about. One confesses-or is forced to confess. When it is not spontaneous or dictated by some internal imperative, the confession is wrung from a person by vio lence or threat; it is driven from its hiding place in the soul, or extracted from the body. Since the Middle Ages, torture has accompanied it like a shadow, and supported it when it could go no further: the dark twins.2 The most defenseless tenderness ‘and the bloodiest of powers have a similar need of confession. Western man has become a confessing animal.
Whence a metamorphosis in literature: we have passed from a pleasure to be recounted and heard, centering on the heroic or marvelous narration of “trials” of bravery or saint hood, to a literature ordered according to the infinite task of extracting from the depths of oneself, in between the words, a truth which the very form of the confession holds out like a shimmering mirage. Whence too this new way of philo sophizing: seeking the fundamental relation to the true, not
'Greek law had already coupled torture and confession, at least where slaves were concerned, and Imperial Roman law had widened the practice.
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simply in oneself-in some forgotten knowledge, or in a certain primal trace-but in the self-examination that yields, through a multitude of fleeting impressions, the basic cer tainties of consciousness. The obligation to confess is now relayed through so many different points, ‘is so deeply in grained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us; on the contrary, it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, “demands” only to surface; that if it fails to do so, this is because a constraint holds it in place, the violence of a power weighs it down, and it can finally be articulated only at the price of a kind of liberation. Confession frees, but power reduces one to si lence; truth does not belong to the order of power, but shares an original affinity with freedom: traditional themes in phi losophy, which a “political history of truth” would have to overturn by showing that truth is not by nature free-nor error servile-but that its production is thoroughly imbued with relations of power. The confession is an example of this.
One has to be completely taken in by this internal ruse of confession in order to attribute a fundamental role to censor ship, to taboos regarding speaking and thinking; one has to have an inverted image of power in order to believe that all these voices which have spoken so long in our civilization repeating the formidable injunction to tell what one is and what one does, what one recollects and what one has forgot ten, what one is thinking and what one thinks he is not thinking-are speaking to us of freedom. An immense labor to which the West has submitted generations in order to produce-while other forms of work ensured the accumula tion of capital-men’s subjection: their constitution as sub
jects in both senses of the word. Imagine how exorbitant must have seemed the order given to all Christians at the beginning of the thirteenth century, to kneel at least once a year and confess to all their transgressions, without omitting a single one. And think of that obscure partisan, seven centu ries later, who had come to rejoin the Serbian resistance deep
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in the mountains; his superiors asked him to write his life story; and when he brought them a few miserable pages, scribbled in the night, they did not look at them but only said to him, “Start over, and tell the truth.” Should those much discussed language taboos make us forget this millennial yoke of confession?
From the Christian penance to the present day, sex was a privileged theme of confession. A thing that was hidden, we are told. But what if, on the contrary, it was what, in a quite particular way, one confessed? Suppose the obligation to conceal it was but another aspect of the duty to admit to it (concealing it all the more and with greater care as the confession of it was more important, requiring a stricter ritual and promising more decisive effects)? What if sex in our society, on a scale of several centuries, was something that was placed within an unrelenting system of confession? The transformation of sex into discourse, which I spoke of earlier, the dissemination and reinforcement of heterogene ous sexualities, are perhaps two elements of the same deploy ment: they are linked together with the help of the central element of a confession that compels individuals to articulate their sexual peculiarity-no matter how extreme. In Greece, truth and sex were linked, in the form of pedagogy, by the transmission of a precious knowledge from one body to an other; sex served as a medium for initiations into learning. For us, it is in the confession that truth and sex are joined, through the obligatory and exhaustive expression of an indi vidual secret. But this time it is truth that serves as a medium for sex and its manifestations.
The confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speak ing subject is also the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship, for one does not confess without the presence (or virtual presence) of a partner who is not simply the interlocutor but the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console,
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and reconcile; a ritual in which the truth is corroborated by the obstacles and resistances it has had to surmount in order to be formulated; and finally, a ritual in which the expression alone, independently of its external consequences, produces intrinsic modifications in the person who articulates it: it exonerates, redeems, and purifies him; it unburdens him of his wrongs, liberates him, and promises him salvation. For centuries, the truth of sex was, at least for the most part, caught up in this discursive form. Moreover, this form was not the same as that of education (sexual education confined itself to general principles and rules of prudence); nor was it that of initiation (which remained essentially a silent prac tice, which the act of sexual enlightenment or deflowering merely rendered laughable or violent). As we have seen, it is a form that is far removed from the one governing the “erotic art.” By virtue of the power structure immanent in it, the confessional discourse cannot come from above, as in the ars erotica, through the sovereign will of a master, but rather from below, as an obligatory act of speech which, under some imperious compulsion, breaks the bonds of discretion or for getfulness. What secrecy it presupposes is not owing to the high price of what it has to say and the small number of those who are worthy of its benefits, but to its obscure familiarity and it§ general baseness. Its veracity is not guaranteed by the lofty authority of the magistery, nor by the tradition it trans mits, but by the bond, the basic intimacy in discourse, be tween the dne who speaks and what he is speaking about. On the other hand, the agency of domination does not reside in the one who speaks (for it is he who is constrained), but in the one who listens and says nothing; not in the one who knows and answers, but in the one who questions and is not supposed to know. And this discourse of truth finally takes effect, not in the one who receives it, but in the one from whom it is wrested. With these confessed truths, we are a long way from the learned initiations into pleasure, with their technique and their mystery. On the other hand, we
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belong to a society which has ordered sex’s difficult knowl edge, not according to the transmission of secrets, but around the slow surfacing of confidential statements.
The confession was, and still remains, the general standard governing the production of the true discourse on sex. It has undergone a considerable transformation, however. For a long time, it remained firmly entrenched in the practice of penance. But with the rise of Protestantism, the Counter Reformation, eighteenth-century pedagogy, and nineteenth century medicine, it gradually lost its ritualistic and exclu sive localization; it spread; it has been employed in a whole series of relationships: children and parents, students and educators, patients and psychiatrists, delinquents and ex perts. The motivations and effects it is expected to produce have varied, as have the forms it has taken: interrogations, consultations, autobiographical narratives, letters; they have been recorded, transcribed, assembled into dossiers, pub lished, and commented on. But more important, the confes sion lends itself, if not to other domains, at least to new ways of exploring the existing ones. It is no longer a question simply of saying what was done-the sexual act-and how it was done; but of reconstructing, in and around the act, the thoughts that recapitulated it, the obsessions that accom panied it, the images, desires, modulations, and quality of the pleasure that animated it. For the first time no doubt, a society has taken upon itself to solicit and hear the imparting of individual pleasures.
A dissemination, then, of procedures of confession, a mul tiple localization of their constraint, a widening of their do main: a great archive of the pleasures of sex was gradually constituted. For a long time this archive dematerialized as it was formed. It regularly disappeared without a trace (thus suiting the purposes of the Christian pastoral) until medi cine, psychiatry, and pedagogy began to solidify it: Campe, Salzmann, and especially Kaan, Krafft-Ebing, Tardieu, Molle, and Havelock Ellis carefully assembled this whole
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pitiful, lyrical outpouring from the sexual mosaic. Western societies thus began to keep an indefinite record of these people’s pleasures. They made up a herbal of them and estab lished a system of classification. They described their every day deficiencies as well as their oddities or exasperations. This was an important time. It is easy to make light of these nineteenth-century psychiatrists, who made a point of apolo gizing for the horrors they were about to let speak, evoking “immoral behavior” or “aberrations of the genetic senses,” but I a m more inclined t o applaud their seriousness: they had a feeling for momentous events. It was a time when the most singular pleasures were called upon to pronounce a discourse of truth concerning themselves, a discourse which had to model itself after that which spoke, not of sin and salvation, but of bodies and life processes-the discourse of science. It was enough to make one’s voice tremble, for an improbable thing was then taking shape: a confessional science, a science which relied on a many-sided extortion, and took for its object what was unmentionable but admitted to nonetheless. The scientific discourse was scandalized, or in any case re pelled, w�en it had to take charge of this whole discourse from below. It was also faced with a theoretical and method ological paradox: the long discussions concerning the possi bility of constituting a science of the subject, the validity of introspection, lived experience as evidence, or the presence of consciousness to itself were responses to this problem that is inherent in the functioning of truth in our society: can one articulate the production oftruth according to the oldjuridi co-religious model of confession, and the extortion of confi dential evidence according to the rules of scientific discourse? Those who believe that sex was more rigorously elided in the nineteenth century than ever before, through a formidable mechanism of blockage and a deficiency of discourse, can say what they please. There was no deficiency, but rather an excess, a redoubling, too much rather than not enough dis course, in any case an interference between two modes of
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production of truth: procedures of confession, and scientific discursivity.
And instead of adding up the errors, naivetes, and moral isms that plagued the nineteenth-century discourse of truth concerning sex, we would do better to locate the procedures by which that will to knowledge regarding sex, which cha racterizes the modern Occident, caused the rituals of confes sion to function within the norms ofscientific regularity: how did this immense and traditional extortion of the sexual con fession come to be constituted in scientific terms?
1 . Through a clinical codification of the inducement to speak. Combining confession with examination, the personal history with the deployment of a set of decipherable signs and symptoms; the interrogation, the exacting questionnaire, and hypnosis, with the recollection of memories and free association: all were ways of reinscribing the procedure of confession in a field of scientifically acceptable observations.
2. Through the postulate ofa general and difuf se causality.
Having to tell everything, being able to pose questions about everything, found their justification in the principle that en dowed sex with an inexhaustible and polymorphous causal power. The most discrete event in one’s sexual behavior whether an accident or a deviation, a deficit or an excess was deemed capable of entailing the most varied conse quences throughout one’s existence; there was scarcely a malady or physical disturbance to which the nineteenth cen tury did not impute at least some degree of sexual etiology. From the bad habits of children to the phthises of adults, the apoplexies of old people, nervous maladies, and the degener ations of the race, the medicine of that era wove an entire network of sexual causality to explain them. This may well appear fantastic to us, but the principle of sex as a “cause of any and everything” was the theoretical underside of a con fession that had to be thorough, meticulous, and constant,
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and at the same time operate within a scientific type of practice. The limitless dangers that sex carried with it jus tified the exhaustive character of the inquisition to which it was subjected.
3. Through the principle ofa latency intrinsic to sexuality.
If it was necessary to extract the truth of sex through the technique of confession, this was not simply because it was difficult to tell, or stricken by the taboos of decency, but because the ways of sex were obscure; it was elusive by nature; its energy and its mechanisms escaped observation, and its causal power was partly clandestine. By integrating it into the beginnings of a scientific discourse, the nineteenth century altered the scope of the confession; it tended no longer to be concerned solely with what the subject wished to hide, but with what was hidden from himself, being inca pable of coming to light except gradually and through the labor of a confession in which the questioner and the ques tioned each had a part to play. The principle of a latency essential to sexuality made it possible to link the forcing of a difficult confession to a scientific practice. It had to be exacted, by force, since it involved something that tried to stay hidden.
4. Through the method of interpretation. If one had to confess, this was not merely because the person to whom one confessed had the power to forgive, console, and direct, but because the work of producing the truth was obliged to pass through this relationship if it was to be scientifically vali dated. The truth did not reside solely in the subject who, by confessing, would reveal it wholly formed. It was constituted in two stages: present but incomplete, blind to itself, in the one who spoke, it could only reach completion in the one who assimilated and recorded it. It was the latter’s function to verify this obscure truth: the revelation of confession had to be coupled with the decipherment of what it said. The one
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who listened was not simply the forgiving master, the judge who condemned or acquitted; he was the master of truth. His was a hermaneutic function. With regard to the confession, his power was not only to demand it before it was made, or decide what was to follow after it, but also to constitute a discourse of truth on the basis of its decipherment. By no longer making the confession a test, but rather a sign, and by making sexuality something to be interpreted, the nineteenth century gave itself the possibility of causing the procedures of confession to operate within the regular formation of a scientific discourse.
5. Through the medicalization of the effects of confession. The obtaining ofthe confession and its effects were recodified as therapeutic operations. Which meant first of all that the sexual domain was no longer accounted for simply by the notions of error or sin, excess or transgression, but was placed under the rule of the normal and the pathological (which, for that matter, were the transposition of the former categories); a characteristic sexual morbidity was defined for the first time; sex appeared as an extremely unstable patho logical field: a surface of repercussion for other ailments, but also the focus of a specific nosography, that of instincts, tendencies, images, pleasure, and conduct. This implied fur thermore that sex would derive its meaning and its necessity from medical interventions: it would be required by the doc tor, necessary for diagnosis, and effective by nature in the cure. Spoken in time, to the proper party, and by the person who was both the bearer of it and the one responsible for it, the truth healed.
Let us consider things in broad historical perspective: breaking with the traditions of the ars erotica, our society has equipped itself with. a scientia sexualis. To be more precise, it has pursued the task of producing true discourses concern ing sex, and this by adapting-not without difficulty-the
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ancient procedure of confession to the rules of scientific dis course. Paradoxically, the scientia sexualis that emerged in the nineteenth century kept as its nucleus the singular ritual of obligatory and exhaustive confession, which in the Chris tian West was the first technique for producing the truth of sex. Beginning in the sixteenth century, this rite gradually detached itself from the sacrament of penance, and via the guidance of souls and the direction of conscience-the ars artium-emigrated toward pedagogy, relationships between adults and children, family relations, medicine, and psychia try. In any case, nearly one hundred and fifty years have gone into the making of a complex machinery for producing true discourses on sex: a deployment that spans a wide segment ofhistory in that it connects the ancient injunction ofconfes sion to clinical listening methods. It is this deployment that enables something called “sexuality” to embody the truth of sex and its pleasures.
"Sexuality": the correlative of that slowly developed dis cursive practice which constitutes the scientia sexualis. The essential features of this sexuality are not the expression of a representation that is more or less distorted by ideology, or of a misunderstanding caused by taboos; they correspond to the functional requirements of a discourse that must produce its truth. Situated at the point of intersection of a technique of confession and a scientific discursivity, where certain major mechanisms had to be found for adapting them to one another (the listening technique, the postulate of causality, the principle of latency, the rule of interpretation, the imper ative of medicalization), sexuality was defined as being "by
. nature” : a domain susceptible to pathological processes, and hence one calling for therapeutic or normalizing interven tions; a field of meanings to decipher; the site of processes concealed by specific mechanisms; a focus of indefinite causal relations; and an obscure speech (parole) that had to be ferreted out and listened to. The “economy” of discourses their intrinsic technology, the necessities of their operation,
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the tactics they employ, the effects of power which underlie them and which they transmit-this, and not a system of representations, is what determines the essential features of what they have to say. The history of sexuality-that is, the history of what functioned in the nineteenth century as a specific field of truth-must first be written from the view point of a history of discourses.
Let us put forward a general working hypothesis. The society that emerged in the nineteenth century-bourgeois, capitalist, or industrial society, call it what you will-did not confront sex with a fundamental refusal of recognition. On the contrary, it put into operation an entire machinery for producing true discourses concerning it. Not only did it speak of sex and compel everyone to do so; it also set out to formulate the uniform truth of sex. As if it suspected sex of harboring a fundamental secret. As if it needed this produc tion of truth. As if it was essential that sex be inscribed not only in an economy of pleasure but in an ordered system of knowledge. Thus sex gradually became an object of great suspicion; the general and disquieting meaning that pervades our conduct and our existence, in spite of ourselves; the point of weakness where evil portents reach through to us; the fragment of darkness that we each carry within us: a general signification, a universal secret, an omnipresent cause, a fear that never ends. And so, in this “question” of sex (in both senses: as interrogation and problematization, and as the need for confession and integration into a field of rationality), two processes emerge, the one always conditioning the other: we demand that sex speak the truth (but, since it is the secret and is oblivious to its own nature, we reserve for ourselves the function of telling the truth of its truth, revealed and deciphered at last), and we demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about our selves which we think we possess in our immediate con sciousness. We tell it its truth by deciphering what it tells us about that truth; it tells us our own by delivering up that part
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of it that escaped us. From this interplay there has evolved, over several centuries, a knowledge of the subject; a knowl edge not so much of his form, but of that which divides him, determines him perhaps, but above all causes him to be ignorant of himself. As unlikely as this may seem, it should not surprise us when we think of the long history of the Christian and juridical confession, of the shifts and transfor mations this form of knowledge-power, so important in the West, has undergone: the project of a science of the subject has gravitated, in ever narrowing circles, around the question of sex. Causality in the subject, the unconscious of the sub ject, the truth of the subject in the other who knows, the knowledge he holds unbeknown to him, all this found an opportunity to deploy itself in the discourse of sex. Not, however, by reason of some natural property inherent in sex itself, but by virtue of the tactics of power immanent in this discourse.
Scientia sexualis versus ars erotica, no doubt. But it should be noted that the ars erotica did not disappear altogether from Western civilization; nor has it always been absent from the movement by which one sought to produce a science of sexuality. In the Christian confession, but especially in the direction and examination of conscience, in the search for spiritual union and the love of God, there was a whole series of methods that had much in common with an erotic art: guidance by the master along a path of initiation, the inten sification of experiences extending down to their physical components, the optimization of effects by the discourse that accompanied them. The phenomena of possession and ec stasy, which were quite frequent in the Catholicism of the Counter Reformation, were undoubtedly effects that had got outside the control of the erotic technique immanent in this subtle science of the flesh. And we must ask whether, since the nineteenth century, the scientia sexualis-under the guise of its decent positivism-has not functioned, at least to
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a certain extent, as an ars erotica. Perhaps this production of truth, intimidated though it was by the scientific model, multiplied, intensified, and even created its own intrinsic pleasures. It is often said that we have been incapable of imagining any new pleasures. We have at least invented a different kind of pleasure: pleasure in the truth of pleasure, the pleasure of knowing that truth, of discovering and expos ing it, the fascination of seeing it and telling it, of captivating and capturing others by it, of confiding it in secret, of luring it out in the open-the specific pleasure of the true discourse on pleasure.
The most important elements of an erotic art linked to our knowledge about sexuality are not to be sought in the ideal, promised to us by medicine, of a healthy sexuality, nor in the humanist dream of a complete and flourishing sexuality, and certainly not in the lyricism of orgasm and the good feelings of bio-energy (these are but aspects of its normalizing utiliza tion), but in this multiplication and intensification of pleas ures connected to the production of the truth about sex. The learned volumes, written and read; the consultations and examinations; the anguish of answering questions and the delights of having one’s words interpreted; all the stories told to oneself and to others, so much curiosity, so many confi dences offered in the face of scandal, sustained-but not without trembling a little-by the obligation of truth; the profusion of secret fantasies and the dearly paid right to whisper them to whoever is able to hear them; in short, the formidable “pleasure of analysis” (in the widest sense of the latter term) which the West has cleverly been fostering for several centuries: all this constitutes something like the er rant fragments of an erotic art that is secretly transmitted by confession and the science of sex. Must we conclude that our scientia sexualis is but an extraordinarily subtle form of ars erotica, and that it is the Western, sublimated version of that seemingly lost tradition? Or must we suppose that all these pleasures are only the by-products of a sexual science, a
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bonus that compensates for its many stresses and strains? In any case, the hypothesis of a power of repression ex erted by our society on sex for economic reasons appears to
me quite inadequate if we are to explain this whole series of reinforcements and intensifications that our preliminary in quiry has discovered: a proliferation of discourses, carefully tailored to the requirements of power; the solidification of the sexual mosaic and the construction of devices capable not only of isolating it but of stimulating and provoking it, of forming it into focuses of attention, discourse, and pleasure; the mandatory production of confessions and the subsequent establishment of a system of legitimate knowledge and of an economy ofmanifold pleasures. We are dealing not nearly so much with a negative mechanism of exclusion as with the operation of a subtle network of discourses, special knowl edges, pleasures, and powers. At issue is not a movement bent on pushing rude sex back into some obscure and inac cessible region;but on the contrary, a process that spreads it over the surface of things and bodies, arouses it, draws it out and bids it speak, implants it in reality and enjoins it to tell the truth: an entire glittering sexual array, reflected in a myriad of discourses, the obstination of powers, and the interplay of knowledge and pleasure.
All this is an illusion, it will be said, a hasty impression behind which a more discerning gaze will surely discover the same great machinery of repression. Beyond these few phos phorescences, are we not sure to find once more the somber law that always says no? The answer will have to come out of a historical inquiry. An inquiry concerning the manner in which a knowledge of sex has been forming over the last three centuries; the manner in which the discourses that take it as their object have multiplied, and the reasons for which we have come to attach a nearly fabulous price to the truth they claimed to produce. Perhaps these historical analyses will end by dissipating what this cursory survey seems to suggest. But the postulate I started out with, and would like
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to hold to as long as possible, is that these deployments of power and knowledge, of truth and pleasures, so unlike those of repression, are not necessarily secondary and derivative; and further, that repression is not in any case fundamental and overriding. We need to take these mechanisms seriously, therefore, and reverse the direction of our analysis: rather than assuming a generally acknowledged repression, and an ignorance measured against what we are supposed to know, we must begin with these positive mechanisms, insofar as they produce knowledge, multiply discourse, induce pleas ure, and generate power; we must investigate the conditions of their emergence and operation, and try to discover how the related facts of interdiction or concealment are dis tributed with respect to them. In short, we must define the strategies of power that are immanent in this will to knowl edge. As far as sexuality is concerned, we shall attempt to constitute the “political economy” of a will to knowledge.
Maybe he’ll let me kiss him into morning consciousness.