Part One: We "Other Victorians"
Text begins with section dedicated to outlining a taken for granted understanding of sexuality as a thing which has been represeed by modern developments. An understanding of sexuality as an object of manipulation and operation, and prohibition is contrasted with repression. Prohibition serves to stop actions from taking place, while repression indicates that there are a series of charges and obsessions which are simply redirected. And about this Foucault asks:
"Could things have been otherwise? We are informed that if repression has indeed been the fundamental link between power, knowledge, and sexuality since the classical age, it stands to reason that we will not be able to free ourselves from it except at a considerable cost: nothing less than a transgression of laws, a lifting of prohibitions, an irruption of speech, a reinstating of pleasure with reality, and a whole new economy in the mechanisms of power will be required. For the least glimmer of truth is conditioned by politics. Hence, one cannot hope to obtain the desired results simply from a medical practice, nor from a theoretical discourse, however rigorously pursued" (5).
This to me reads as a mortar lobbed at those reading the fallout of a post-68 politics as a call to arms for a more universal and powerful rebellion against instituted powers. The result of a repressive thesis is an understanding of the source of repression must have been appropriately strong to suppress something inimical about human being, and, moreover, that the proper solution is to enable conditions for this human spirit of some sort to rise up in all its glory and power.
And this repressive hypothesis has the effect of turning an ordinary and everyday behavior into something transgressive--if power has operated by repressing sexuality, merely talking about sexuality is enough to constitute a trangression of sorts. Thus all the criticism of psychoanalysis--a means of "transgressively" disclosing the secrets that speak a deep and infinite validation of the existence of some notion of sexuality within, repressed and quashed by a nasty apparatus. This hushed speaking of sex hints at a future utopia wherein "liberation and manifold pleasures" will be free for all. What seems important throughout is that sexuality is a sort of object which much be liberated from the chains in which it is embedded. As this is the sedimented common sense of the matter, Foucault argues, his whole book might read as somewhat mad.
Foucault is out to trace the history of how we have come to believe in this repression. Why has sex been made into a sin? And what of repression, if its explanatory power is of such magnitude that it becomes an all encompassing tautology we are incapable of opposing on the basis of fact and argument?
Thus three meta doubts about repression: Is this repression a historically established fact? Is power always repressive, or at least primarily repressive? And finally, is critical analysis of repression itself a break or a continuation of the set of power relations that enabled repression's supposed effects to continue to reproduce themselves? And by connection, Foucault plans to investigate the ways in which sex comes to be an object which is said to have forces exerted upon it, even as it as a notion colonizes the individual in an internalized and controlling fashion, mutually constituting itself through a series of discourses and practices marked and mapped by discourse.
He is not out to say that the history of prohibition does not contain truths--rather, we should not take that one story as the only and proper one, for granted. Historical facts will be used to reduce the monolithic force of the repressive hypothesis.