This week for Arts One we read Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality.
Now I have not completely finished the book, therefore I have not yet formed a strong opinion on the overall text. But it definitely was not what I was expecting.
I went into this novel with no clue what would be inside. We recently read Freud and Fanon, who had quite a bit to say on the subject of sexuality. What would Foucault bring to the table?
So far I have had many mixed feelings about the text, and a lot of them stem from my uncertainty of what Foucault’s stance was on many of the issues brought forward. Christina talked about this in her lecture, which made it easier to understand. Foucault poses the questions, but not the answers (how frustrating!).
One part that really interested me was the portions where Foucault spoke of various sexualities. He speaks of “zoophiles and zooerasts, Rohleder’s auto-monosexualists”, as well as “mixoscopophiles, gynecomasts, presbyophiles, sexoesthetic inverts, and dyspareunist women” (43). Later on he goes on a broader spectrum, speaking of “(sexualities of the infant or child), those which become fixated on particular tastes or practices (the sexuality of the invert, the gerontophile, the fetishist)” (47) and many more.
What threw me on these passages is that many of these preferences were unheard of for me, especially under these terms. I don’t seem to be the only one. A quick google search into some of the terms led me to other Foucault readers who have made educated guesses to what some of these sexualities mean. These terms seem to be very much out there only due to Foucault himself.
Another thing that threw me was that many of these sexual acts were not under the umbrella term of “fetishes”. Fetishes had its very own category, which made me wonder what Foucault considers a fetish. And, looking at this from a larger perspective, how are some of these actions considered a sexuality? Something like dyspareunia, which in modern day is often called S & M or BDSM, is not considered a fetish. But in our current society, at least in my opinion, most see it as a fetish. I don’t see BDSM as a sexuality, per se. But, as was discussed in the lecture, Foucault’s ideas of a sexuality are extremely broad.
I questions where Foucault draws the line on what is a fetish, and what is a sexuality. Could fetishes be sexualities? Could sexualities be fetishes? Did he go by any sort of scale or compass in making these distinctions?
Overall, I find Foucault quite confusing. Christina warned us he is, but this is not the confusion I was expecting. The language of the novel, although tricky, is maneuverable. The real confusion comes from the very idea Foucault is trying to explain: sexuality.
I do understand the confusion! Foucault’s text is difficult, though I think not completely impenetrable, especially with some help and discussion! As for the names on pp. 43 and 47, he actually gets those from older texts, some from the 19th century, some possibly earlier. Some of those terms may not be around anymore, or there may be new terms for them. That’s why I gave translations of them in lecture, but I know that went by pretty quickly! He’s trying to point out, actually, that entirely new categories were made up in the last couple centuries, classifications that people were put into that were unheard of before. They are entirely constructed, he’s saying.
As for what counts as a fetish, I think Foucault is sticking here to the official designation of fetishes in some of these books that classified sexualities, which is to take a sexual interest in an object (like shoes) or in a non-sexual part of the body (like feet). And just for future reference, dyspareunia means painful sexual intercourse, and is still a term used today!
Yes the translations were very helpful, as I was so confused when I first encountered them!
Ah thats interesting! I assumed that he got a lot of them from other sources, but when I was looking some of them up, all the articles were referring to Foucault and his work, so I started questioning if he maybe created some of them.
This explanation of fetishes makes sense, but I still find it hard to consider many of the ideas he brings up as “sexualtites”, and not just a part of a person’s sexuality, if that makes sense.
Yes, I remember dyspareunia from the lecture! I wasn’t aware it was still used today! When looking it up a lot of people compared it to such concepts as BDSM, so I thought that may be what he had meant. I, of course, may totally be wrong though!
Hopefully the discussion will help with clearing a lot of this up! Thanks Christina!
I think that Foucault wants to demonstrate that there ar no “facts about sexuality” but rather that it is created in discourses. I see him being critical of the idea of categorising sexualities, so I don’t think he would categorise anything as “sexuality” or “fetish”, because it would mean creating a new discourse; or at least accepting one of the existing discourses as “the right one”.
I like his example of homosexuality – its transformation from one of the acts of sodomy to sexuality at the core of a person’s being. There is no “one truth” about sexuality and, for me, it is demonstated skillfully by the deliberate confusion created by Foulcault.