Foucault asserts in his seminal text The History of Sexuality the evolution of sexuality and how carnal pleasures gradually became something to look down upon by the society on grounds of impropriety and being against the work ethic of the Victorian industrialism. The silence for centuries and the inherent hypocrisy involved in the repression is what Foucault is more concerned about (8).
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Foucault’s take on the history of sexuality is more of a discourse rather than the evolution of the same. He primarily focuses on the gradual downplaying of sexuality by society and marvels at those good old days when “bodies made a display of themselves” (4). And that the society has not only downplayed or undermined the significance or right of openness of sexuality but has repressed this aspect of life is his concern in the entire text. Moreover, he launches a vehement attack on the “repressive hypothesis” (15) during the 19th century and gets down to bitter vituperative on the prohibition of any discussion or action related to sexuality in open so shunned by society. That sexuality has been subjected to such extreme marginalization by the society and the power structures working therein to justify these acts and shove aside these carnal desires furthermore has been discussed at length by Foucault. He reveals the processes at work and how this benefits the “bourgeois” to further their view. This presupposes any discourse on sexuality is centered on the confines of marriage. Any other manifestation or discussion on this topic is simply unthinkable and undesired as well. He cites seminal minds like Freud to better elucidate the topic but at the same time mentions the shortcomings of such writings as well.
What seems to crop up from Foucault’s text is that carnal pleasures have indeed taken a backseat after the 17th century and that there is a strong “link between knowledge, power and sexuality” (5). This nexus between the three concepts helps us identify the power structures at work and also how these influence the inhibition of sexuality in our lives. We conform to these structures and subsequently reinforce these archetypes through our words and actions. Anything beyond this or rather something that does not conform to these held beliefs is either termed as a perversion (43) or as lunacy. But the most remarkable part of the text is that Foucault argues for a more open society sans these inhibitions and that we should launch a political revolution to topple these power structures at play.
He censures the censorship imposed on sexuality and argues in favor of its openness (23). This is indeed very significant since it reflects not just its historical evidence (9) but also reveals his views on the same. What comes as more stark a truth is that deployment of sexuality and the definition of “power” by which he refers to “subjugation” and not “subservience” (93). This brings forth the fact that society expects its members to bow down to the mandates laid down and not just do what is told. Subjugation may be read as a further degree of subservience – i.e., the bourgeois is not happy with conforming to rules and regulations but also demands complete submissiveness from its members. This aspect underlines the extent to which sexuality has been repressed and how it needs to be brought out of the closet with an exigent effect.
Foucault, M. (1978). The History of Sexuality, New York: Random House Inc.