An Introduction: Volume 1

This volume is the extended prolegomena to Michel Foucault's last application of a peculiarly systematic thought that spans from insanity (Madness and Civilization) to architecture (the panopticon of Discipline and Punish). And here I am reading it in English and its import is slipping through the cracks however adept the translation by Robert Hurley (1990). And to boot the genius of Foucault is slipping through the cracks as it translates into my soft and fissured brain, but no matter! Is there any beast to capture that is not already mythological? So here I fill in a blank, a lacuna riddled with lacunae, to mention some of the terms set forth in this work that were not covered in the biographical node.

As the cover suggests: a history of sexuality. Prime fodder for preverts and the choosier sensibilities that would leaf through The Joy of Sex, but a disappointing lead in that both might let drop to the coffee table when no mention was made of coitus or cunnilingus. In the introduction (and two volumes follow, but are as rarely pursued as the second tome of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities) we are treated only to Victorian sexuality, as its myth of repression is debunked by our fabulous Frenchman, in order that the presentation of a more complex notion of power be established (see excellent node on "power", esp. Cletus the Foetus). And here's why: most analyses of late nineteenth century sexuality claim that sex was repressed. Censorship was the obvious evidence.

Foucault's contention is that sexuality suffers, rather, a "veritable discursive explosion": a proliferation of scientific extrapolations, a spurious burst of sex education and an all too familiar archiving of its varieties. Why? Did modern societies find the simplistic "kill what opposes you" display inadequate to the population growth? More effective were new methods that were not always exclusionary. For this purpose new types of surveillance were distributed, new taxonomies for sexual peculiarity were developed, a new "technology of health and pathology" was admitted and finally each of these things was implemented within the field of social action by what Foucault calls "devices of sexual saturation". On his word as an archaeologist of knowledge we must admit that this appears rather different than a repression.

Now this whole paragraph, rotting with jargon, finishes off sounding like a fetish bondage nightmare and does no justice to the relative clarity of the master's work, but the issue at large will not escape us yet! Michel Foucault is not one to merely counter some minor academic misconception and thus, here, "sex", that (minor?) demon, appears as to the Titanic deck-hand: "Is that an iceberg?" For what he really wants to do is point to an overall shift in the movements of power as they modernize alongside society and its lusts and lives, and trace this metamorphosis through the seeming banalities that are most effected by the shift. As a social historian he has merely chosen a particular social practice through which to follow a genealogy of organizing principles.

The final chapter, entitled "Right of Death and Power Over Life", introduces us, as a true introduction would, to Foucault's conception of this continuing emergence. Where before power was invested in and exercised by the sovereign ruler through his "right" to kill those who opposed him, power took on a new tone over the last few centuries, one that was also "affirmative" or characterized by the way in which it regulated life processes. The two categories of "affirmative" power Foucault articulates are worthy of their own nodes, but my meager treatment will have to suffice for a time. These terms are the whole reason I risk incurring the gaze of anthropod, they are as valuable and deadly as plutonium, and I wish I could clarify them myself, but let us let this creature speak, already penned here in this node, before we kill him with the point of a last period:

"In concrete terms, starting in the seventeenth century, this power over life evolved in two basic forms. . . the first, it seems, centered on the body as machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls, all this was ensured by the procedures of power that characterized the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body. The second form, somewhat later, focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and longevity, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of population."

So. Bio-politics and its less pronounceable but equally pronounced sibling anatomo-politics. Hardly lascivious terms, although lubricious maybe, but not what one would expect to emerge out of a book you were hoping to find illustrations in. Just try not to call them out during sex. . .

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