Hacking x Mysticism x History of Science

Sorry for the late post, still working on my essay rewrite, which has proved to be more challenging than I originally thought it would be. Nice to see how certain techniques and stylistic features of the non-fiction works we’ve been reading the past couple of weeks have permeated into my writing though. For one, I find myself making clearer distinctions (especially though negation – Fanon and Hacking both used a lot of this i.e. “Freud is not trying to say ____ nor _____.”) in my writing, and words that bring a lot more texture to relationships (“network” “operates as” etc.).

The Hacking text was a pleasant read, although I found the discussion of statistics and quantitative methods quite challenging. I really dug his discussion of trances and other discussions regarding mysticism and mystical elements. Thee discussions were focused on the place of mysticism in society (i.e. the trance as an “eastern” phenomenon), and I believe that at several points he was suggesting that the mystical explanation was used in order to make sense of multiple personality disorder before it became a “condition”. Disclaimer here though, havent been able to finish the book yet.

The way he clarified schizophrenia and separated it from multiple personality disorder was also really interesting for me, because I have long held the misconception that schizophrenia was characterized by multiple personalities.

Found the way that Hacking deals with philosophy and history of science very engaging. Always easier to work with science when its in a narrative and historically contextualized form. I’ve read a few other works in the similar vain (Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything might be familiar to some of you). The only thing I can of find funny about reading about history of sci is that it tends not to stick with me the same way as fiction does. Bryson’s work especially, is a blur to me. History of science is mildly interesting while you read it, but it lacks the emotional grasp to burn an imprint on the brain. It’s a narrative, and its science, but it’s not much more. Wondering if Hacking’s little science stories will go the same way. We’ll have to see I guess.

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I’m beginning to believe the hardest part of any book is the last ten pages.

One of the most important issues that the book raised (for me), was the question – if you’re treating somebody with multiple personality disorder, who exactly are you treating? Who/which personalities are called alters? Which, now that I’ve typed it out, I realize is probably the point that Hacking’s trying to make (in part).

More Freud, because why not:

“[Freud's] patients had to face up the truth- as he saw it. We can have no doubt, in retrospect, that Freud very often deluded himself, thanks to his resolute dedication to theory. Half a century of Freud scholarship has taught that Freud got patients to believe things about themselves that were false, things that were often so bizarre that only the most devout theorizer could propose them in the first place. But there is no evidence that Freud systematically, as a method of therapy, got his patients to believe what he himself knew to be lies.” (196)

I’m in agreement with this passage.

At the beginning Hacking calls Alzheimer’s disease “a disease of memory” (3). I tagged that with “how else can Alzheimer’s symptoms be defined?”, but now I realize (once again) – that’s probably his point. Here are some other symptoms (and therefore, other possible ways of defining) of Alzheimer’s:

“As the disease advances, symptoms can include confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings, trouble with language, and long-term memory loss. As the sufferer declines they often withdraw from family and society.[5][7] Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death.[8]” (Wikipedia)

In chapter 18 Hacking also describes what he calls “wrong-forgetting” – “the suppression of central items from one’s past that are integral to one’s character or nature” (259). I had to ask how something you don’t remember consciously can affect you (ruling out events that happened farther back than you can remember things). Hacking does provide an explanation, but it’s psychoanalytic, and he discredits it in the same breath anyway. I’m probably missing something obvious here, but what exactly does Hacking mean?

Thanks for reading, everyone.

define me

Apologies for the lateness!

Sexuality is a fickle thing. Honestly, I’ve got a blog on tumblr and I see daily posts speaking of sexuality, cisgendered and transgendered people, rights and needs for proper health care and the end of discrimination – the list goes on and it never goes away. Society has changed so much since Foucault’s time and I have to agree with the observation that we are once again talking about sex and sexuality all the time. But are we doing it in the right ways?

Sexuality for Foucault seems to be related to and centered around several societal factors. Admittedly less societal than Fanon and more influenced by the scientific community. These external influences, how we shape each other, are important in the progressions of our cultures. I remember reading a quote once that said that we love to measure everything, things always have to be categorized, a value must be placed, etc. From what Foucault is saying it is quite obvious that sexuality has become a sort of slave to this human practice.

I noticed that the word “bourgeois” comes up as Foucault talks of the Victorian age of repression. I remember “bourgeois” also being mentioned in Fanon (read: I’m too tired to look up the page) and it reminded me of the similarities between the presences of sexuality and racism and their prominence (or lack thereof) in society. The Victorian age of repression and silence made me think of a sort of “sleep” mode on a computer. Foucault speaks of sexuality being an open and accepted before the Victorian era and then it became taboo and controlled. It changed as history moved on after that, but it didn’t exactly return to the way it was before.

Although, perhaps I’ve confused sexual acts and sexuality here? Are they separate to Foucault? Should they be? I should probably keep an eye out for that since some of the things Foucault talks about concern sex or sexual acts as part of a type of sexuality, but not as an interchangeable term for sexuality.

I think I just confused myself. What just happened there?

Defining sexuality is such a complicated thing. I give Foucault an A+ for effort. I’ll let you know if I understood him after I finish the book.

I’m confused

As with most weeks, I read Charlotte’s blog post before I wrote mine and I agree with everything she said. Big surprise. I also saw a lot of things that echoed Trouillot and Freud (the latter more obviously, as his name is mentioned in the text), which was interesting.

I also liked Trouillot, and yet I find this a bit … unrewarding. I’m reading the words, and I’m processing, but I’m not getting anything from it. And it’s not the usual “hmm I wonder what this means” feeling that I have after reading a particularly mind-boggling text. It’s more of a perpetual “hmmmmmmmmm” and not much else.

This is about sex. Okay. I find that a lot of the things Foucault addresses as phenomena, or something like phenomena, are rather obvious. For example, parents sleep in different bedrooms from their children because sex and children do not mix. The issues of masturbation and puberty are part of the so-called ‘sexual experiences’ of children. A lot of times sex is considered a taboo subject and is kind of skirted around rather than being tackled head-on. This seems very simpleminded to me, rather like a mediocre essay. Almost there, but not quite that last step that would make it an A.

Also, being the OCD/petty details person that I am, I find the text in this book impossible to look at. It literally looks like a chunk of words on every page. Oh, and the sentences are ridiculously long.

A few quotes I found interesting:

“Everything that might concern the interplay of innumerable pleasures, sensations, and thoughts which, through the body and the soul, had some affinity with sex.” (Foucault 20) –> so everything to do with pleasure/sensation has to do with sex?

On page 27, he describes sex as being “a constant preoccupation”. I feel like by this point he’s said it a few other ways already. I get it. Everyone is thinking about sex, all the time, every day.

Once again, it’s late (not even Sunday anymore, but Monday…) and I’m looking forward to hearing Christina’s thoughts on this puzzling text in lecture tomorrow.

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Foucault x Relations x Lists

Going to skip pleasantries and preambles this time around, hope no one takes offence.

Perhaps not the most central to the text, I’d like to suggest that Foucault’s History of Sexality vol. 1 aims to cast power as essentially a matter of relation. So much of Foucault’s description involves mechanism and economy. Like sex, there is always relation and interplay in Foucault’s understanding of the world. Uncovering the relations (power-knowledge and the like), therefore becomes the method through which one can find meaning.I find this idea provocative, although I suspect I’m drastically over-simplifying things here.

Foucault’s has a surprisingly enjoyable writing style considering the density of his ideas. He doesn’t attempt any fancy techniques, and he comes across as a very honest writer, which is endearing. Would also like to mention his use of lists and tendency to connect multiple independent clauses with colons and semicolons. His stupendously long sentences generally flow really nicely, and I have a hunch that this stylistic feature is characteristic of the french language.


I made some outrageously bold claims in original post. The whole book is not about relations. But I think that understanding the relations for Foucault are a lot more important than describing the essence of sex and sexuality.

This book is not about sex. It is not hoping to find the essence of sex through the evolution of sexual practices through history, nor is it trying to find some absolute truth about sexuality. This work, I believe, is set on finding the way that sexuality operates as a function of power.

Even what could be considered the more “bodily” depictions of sex in this book, that is, the discussion of perversions, are less concerned with the perversion or fetishes themselves than with the way that they played a part in supporting the norm, the “incorporation of perversions and a new specification of individuals” (42-43).

This is a quote I feel that is essential to this book and to the vague blur I’m trying to get at here:

“By creating the imaginary element that is “sex,” the deployment of sexuality established one of its most essential operating principles: the desire for sex – the desire to have it, to have access to it, to discover it, to liberate it, to articulate it in discourse, to formulate it in truth. It constituted “sex” itself as something desirable” (156-157)

Sex is only “sex” insofar as it is part of a network, part of a system. That, if anything, is the essence of sex.

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Gathered up

I put off this post because I haven’t found anything to say about the book.

Well, I guess I can start with Freud.

“Examine diligently, therefore, all the faculties of your soul: memory, understanding, and will. Examine with precision all your senses as well. . . . Examine, moreover, all your thoughts, every word you speak, and all your actions. Examine even unto your dreams, to know if, once awakened, you did not give them your consent. And finally, do not think that in so sensitive and perilous a matter as this, there is anything trivial or insignificant.” (20)

I tagged it with Freud mostly because the dream-analysis part caught my attention, but in typing out the full quote, I realized it was closer to a description of introspection. Which is weird now, because when I was actually taking PSYC 101 I never really thought about the similarities between Freud and introspection. Probably because I hadn’t read Dora then.

I like how the first part of the book is called “We “Other Victorians”". As in, even though their opinions regarding sexuality are different, they’re still Victorians. The question of what defines an era goes back to what Miranda said about how eras are made sense of in retrospect in the Lyrical Ballads lecture and the ensuing discussion in seminar.

Foucault concerns himself a lot with what I tagged in my notes as a “legislation” of sex (37) – literally, but I was also referring to how he seems to dislike comprehensive descriptions/explanations of sex. He also draws a line between sexuality and sex in his discussion, which I found interesting (54, 114).

I also like that he didn’t use, as I said in my last blog post, the random justification (at least, not to the extent that Rousseau uses it). Maybe just because his discussion is more limited, with a focus on history like the Industrial Revolution, and not Rousseau’s brand of pre-history. Checking against my seminar notes now, we discussed Foucault in our Silencing the Past seminars and how Foucault doesn’t discuss the “provenance of power” and talks about history without being a historian (just like Trouillot). Again, now that I’ve remembered this, it’s weird that the books that have something to do with Silencing the Past are the ones I really am “decidedly neutral” (again) about. Maybe because I haven’t really considered in the past whether or not I’ve liked most of the books, and only recently have I started to do that.

See? Not much to say. Thanks for reading, everyone.


[Edited for spacing.]