“We Other Victorians”: The Rejection of Sexuality as Repressed and the Move Toward An Analysis Of Repression As a Production of Discourse Concerning Sexuality

foucault_sexuality_01Here are some notes on part one of Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality vol. 1: An Introduction (although i understand the more accurate translation of the subtitle to be “The Will to Knowledge”). I’ve long had a fascination with this text but rarely felt like i took the time to read it carefully enough. The end goal of these notes – not necessarily where they are right now – are to come to a lucid  understanding distinct from Foucault’s beautiful and clever yet sometimes inscrutable prose. In other words, a critical summary for personal growth and understanding.

  1. Foucault articulates what he calls “the repressive hypothesis,” the notion that human sexuality between the seventeenth to ninetieth centuries can be understood as a movement of from freedom to repression and back to freedom again.
  2. The repressive hypothesis neatly corresponds with the birth of capitalism (5), which necessitated a normative form of sexuality around reproductive sex, heterosexuality, the family, and the economy. Repression was necessary to create a productive and docile labor force which would drive the economy of the future. Anything deviating from this norm (sex for pleasure, sex work, et al) were “reintegrated in the circuits of production, at least in those of profit” (4).
  3. Repression is a form of top-down power exercised by authorities, functioning on the principles of “taboo, nonexistence and silence” (5).
  4. It is tempting for progressives to understand sexuality in this manner, because it offers a clearly laid out path to liberation that involves speaking truth to power: “the mere fact that one is speaking about it has the appearance of a deliberate transgression… we are conscious of defying established power, our tone of voice shows that we know we are being subversive, and we ardently conjure away the present and appeal to the future… something that smacks of revolt, of promised freedom, of the coming age of a different law… tomorrow sex will be good again” (7). (see note)
  5. Foucault rejects the repressive hypothesis and its implied proscription for liberation as an adequate understanding of modern sexuality. His rejection is prone to misunderstanding; it cannot be understood as a simple reversal; i.e. we are not repressed, we are more free than we think – his rejection is grounded in his insistence that repression cannot be a fundamental starting point for understanding sexuality: “I do not maintain that the prohibition of sex is a ruse,” he writes. “But it is a ruse to make prohibition into a basic and a constituent element from which one would be able to write the history of what has been said concerning sex in the modern epoch” (12).
  6. Foucault is more directly interested in understanding how the repressive hypothesis is a constructed as a social fact that “sustains the discourse of human sexuality in our part of the world” (11). “Discourse” is a term so commonly used these days that it’s easy to forget how much meaning it holds in Foucault’s argument. For Foucault, discourse is linked to our understanding of the reality as such, aimed at showing how our understanding of a most intimate subject– our bodies, ourselves – are related to the development of knowledges that are never outside of power relationships. His aim is not to reject the repressive hypothesis outright, but to understand it as a significant strategy of “the way sex is ‘put into discourse.’” (11). For Foucault, speaking will not liberate us from power but is intrinsically related to power itself. This why he suggests the central issue is not to make true or false claims about sex and sexuality, but rather “account the fact that it is spoken about, to discover who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints from which they speak, the instiutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said.” (11). He aims not to understand reality as such, but rather explain the “regime of power-knowledge-pleasure” we live within and come to know ourselves as selves.

Note: While Foucault’s study primarily focuses on the intellectual development of sexuality from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, the publication of the text in the late 1970s clearly implicate modern political liberation movements; feminism/gay rights; when describing the temptation to understand liberation as speaking truth to power, he alludes to “decades” (6) rather than centuries.

Bad poetry

sycamore_trees02(not edited at all, impromptu therefore probably with some cliche parts)


the wind sings
the dry blades
of wild oat stalks

i stare at you
waiting my turn
to speak

i can smell your perfume
drift my way
on the wild
that rustles
the dry scyamore leaves

this day is an awkward miracle
any day we can see beyond a screen

i come here to this place
to ask great questions
like whether to hold on
or let go

i want to kiss you again
but i already know the answer is no



a stillness
is still still.
i approach
and find you sitting on
the bumper of your van

you call me a friend
and i want to believe we are that:

but somehow i hear that word
as an indictment
a condemnation to eternal distance
an insurmountable rift i will
never again cross
when for you it is a choice
and i say i honor your choice
but i am a hypocrite

for i want a moment
–this moment of i have been missing all my 33 years of age
– a moment that
persists from this one
to the next
and the next

i want to drive keen eyes
to a home we create
the home neither of us ever
i want to mend
your schizofrenic heart

i want to make you food
i want to find something
in this life we have
never found

i want to love your wounds
i want to love your wounds

i am not a man

i speak your name and it holds great power

i can barely say your name
to another. something about it feels too personal. 

it only reminds me of every moment we had and lost and how
when you first prayed i turned a weary eye
and that is
probably the moment that indicted me

we sit in this sacred place
that i have shown to
no one else
i nervously pick my lips
somehow trying to think my way out of this

you said that something else
was alreasdy happening
before i claim along again
and i want to respond
that i was the first
and i was before all

i still see you as you were on
that very first day
in your black dress – timeless
how you took a chance
with me
and saw what no one else saw

Baltimore is burning

sunflower_corn_rows01Baltimore is burning
And so is Ojai.

This place.
I can’t even stand the name.
How many years in denial that I even live here. Still to this day.
And yet like a well in the midst of drought it somehow flows.
As i point to the mountainside that reminds me of cornrows
You talk about the ex who moved to Portland
The hairstyle, I say, not the rows of corn we planted where I live.

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my dear ronja
the lover forever lost–
forgive me
for not being there
forgive me
i stopped believing

i once imagined
you were resurrected
as this lean black cat
feral and roaming the fields
hunting mice
my charm
reminding me there was something
i didn’t lose.

one day those of us who are left
will be smiling
we will smile at what we didn’t lose
and what we have will weigh heavier than grief
and we will sleep soundly

what we have will weigh heavier
than what might have been
than what we could have had

yesterday didn’t feel
this way
nor today
nor tomorrow
but someday

i have read your books
i wear your unwashed sweater
i hold my half heart locket
and i am home

but not at home
i am here

and not here waiting
spires of smoke drift upward

the sky is where i will
end up
where i dissipate
the sky is home
the air smells of lavender and tobacco
and i am here but not here

a metaphysics of the heart

What is this place i find myself in? It feels like a no-place, a void, yet familiar. An exile, yet at home. I feel comfort, a longing to bring a gray cat home from the humane society; to buy a couch, to bring the strange and wonderful plants i have cultivated a bit closer to my dwelling; to surround myself in thickets of green foliage to stave off the pattern of desiccation that has befallen this region. I feel discomfort, a longing to purge every unnecessary possession, to winnow down my life to make my existence as light as a feather.

How many mornings have i woken up comfortable and alone, ambled out of bed and rolled a cigarette, smoked it outside on the stoop of my yurt and watched and listened to the sound of birds. I’ve lost count. They are not just any cigarettes. They are composed of things i grew and nourished and tender. People ask if i will ever sell this blend. I always say no. It feels half masturbatory and alchemical to have created my source of comfort.

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Make Your Transition (author unknown)

QuinJournal - 13 3-21-15, 9.55.20 PMThere will come a time in your life when you will ask yourself a series of questions:

“Am I happy with who I am?”
“Am I happy with the people around me?”
“Am I happy with what I’m doing?”
“Am I happy with the way my life is going?”
Do I have a life or am I just living?
Do not let these questions strain or trouble you just point yourself in the direction of your dreams
Find your strength in the sound and make your transition.

Do not spend too much time thinking and not enough doing.
Did I try the hardest at any of my dreams?
Did I purposely let others discourage me when I knew I could?
Will I die never knowing what I could have been or could of done?
Do not let these doubts restrain of trouble you
Just point yourself in the direction of your dreams.
Find your strength in the sound and make your transition.

There will be people who say “you can’t” – you will.
There will be people who say “you don’t mix this with that” and you will say “watch me”
There will be people who will say “play it safe, that’s to risky”
– you will take that chance and have no fear.
You won’t let these questions restrain or trouble you.
You will point yourself in the direction of your dreams.
You will find the strength in the sound and make your transition.

For those who know its time to leave the house and go back to the field.
Find your strength in the sound and make your transition.