Sunday, January 25, 2009

Part Two of the HOS: The Repressive Hypothesis

In the past "one did not speak of sex" and this effect was produced through a prudish series of mutually referential prohibitions. Or at least, this is the conventional account of things according to Foucault. For him it seems the real key is that speaking of sex became somehow a novel and transgressively valenced move. To whisper in the corners about sex could be taken as a form of noble resistance, or at least something which disclosed a particular character of the soul: "Discourse, therefore, had to trace the meeting line of the body and the soul, following all its meanderings: beneath the surfance of the sins, it would lay bare the unbroken nervure of the flesh" (20). I really like his prose here--confession is a spelling out of the excess of desire, but very rarely turns into a discussion of the spilling out of this excess on bodily acts.

Endless and extensive discourses manufacturing of "the interplay of innumerable pleasures, sensations, and thoughts which, through the body and the soul, had some affinity with sex." (20). One can see the workings of the argument here--as a greater and greater number of acts and thoughts became linked to "sex" and this linkage was performed in language, it becomes possible to think of sex as a thing, and not think of each discrete and variable act or thought as something unto itself.

The concern with discussing sex moved into the public under the guise of population discussion Monitoring birth rates, death rates, marital statuses etc. were objects of interest, and as a result sex could be directly articulated to the national interest of a population. Because I am reading this for a Queer Rhetorics class, it seems silly for me to not note that this provides one explanation for homophobia in its early forms- "perverse" sex not aimed at procreation was a direct threat to the health of the nation, because it would not be sex that would increase the size of the population, and thus not make the "body politic" stronger. Certainly this is not limited to what we would call "same-sex" acts: the interesting kernel at the heart of these prohibitions is that way in which it also delimits opportunities for physical activity in the marital bedroom in relation to acts intended for procreation.

I also want to quote at length from Foucault on silence:

"Silence itself--the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers--is less the absolute limit of discourse, the other side from which it is separated by a strict boundary, than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them in relation to them within over-all strategies. There is no binary division to be made between what one says and what one does not say; we must try to determine the different ways of not saying such things, how those who can and those who cannot speak of them are distributed, which type of discourse is authorized, or which form of discretion is required in either case. There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses. " (27)

Central to understanding this passage is importing Foucault's notion of power as productive, not destructive, as outlined in Discipline and Punish. One would mix this critique thoroughly with his criticism of the repressive hypothesis. Traditional notion of silence: it is demanding and waiting to be filled with something, with something that has been neutralized and driven out of its proper space. Critique of this notion: it assumes that there is something which belongs in that natural space, and moreover, assumes some uniform "thing" existed to be driven from that space, as opposed to opening up to the possibility that that very "thing" was created via discourse. "Visibility is a trap" says the Foucault of the prisoners, and here that is clear: sex, made into an object which circulates and both enforces itself and is enforced upon, is controlled owing to the very visibility of it as a sensible notion.

There is another curious moment, where Foucault posits a structural answer to the "Why" question: that sex is an object of manipulation to serve economic and conservative social interests? He says he does not know, but he does know that if this is the case, production, not repression, is the means.

"Modern society is perverse, not in spite of its puritanism or as if from a backlash provoked by its hypocrisy; it is in actual fact, and directly, perverse." (47). "Aberrant" sexual behaviors are not the result of the failed universalization of a program of Puritan regulation, nor from the repression and reemergence of drives and desires. Rather, the behaviors are produced from the discursive regulation and constitution of a notion of "sex". They are products of "the encroachment of a type of power on bodies and their pleasures" (48). They are not "results" but rather, they just are.

1 comment:

  1. I've been wondering what Foucault would make of this, or what you might make of it via Foucault: