"Foucault is a thinker from whose writing one can infer lessons for our modern lives and dilemmas."-- Boston Globe
The History of Sexuality: The Care of the Selfby Michel Foucault
The Care of the Self is the third and possibly final volume of Michel Foucault's widely acclaimed examination of "the experience of sexuality in Western society." Foucault takes us into the first two centuries of our own era, into the Golden Age of Rome, to reveal a subtle but decisive break from the classical Greek vision of sexual pleasure. He skillfully explores the whole corpus of moral reflection among philosophers (Plutarch, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca) and physicians of the era, and uncovers an increasing mistrust of pleasure and growing anxiety over sexual activity and its consequences.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- 5.13(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.74(d)
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I have to disagree with the first reviewer's assesment. This volume is an introduction to a historical survey of "sexuality"; a good introduction in that it is sweeping, and magnanimous in it's theoretical implications. I'll just say the books premise turned me on; and I think Foucault adequately explains how the repressive hypothesis cannot account for the implosion of discourse on the subject of sexuality since its 18th, 19th century emergence in the fields of medicine, demography, and psychoanalysis. The deployment of sexuality, as Foucault points out, goes hand in hand with this "will to knowledge." If I may respond to the previous reviewer on one point: the idea is that power did not acknowledged the "masturbating child," before the 18th, an 19th centuries when a score of literature was published on how to curb his "unnatural" behavior. As a result it became increasingly "naturalized," and propelled a proliferation of discourse on the "masturbating child," so that we may now safely say we are at the point when power itself acknowledges the "masturbating child," without disavowing his behavior; this signals a significant shift in the strategy of power that Foucault is talking about in this brilliant, thought provoking introduction. But please read this book and not my lame account. His writing is very accessible, and his enthusiasm for the subject is infectious.
Since no one else has reviewed this, I figured I owed it to any other college and grad students to provide an overview in case they have to read it. This book started out with potential. After reading the title, I hoped he'd provide a comprehensive study of legal cases, medical practices, and average Victorian sex lives. Unfortunately, "history" is a misnomer, because Foucault never specifies when particular events occurred. Instead, he makes general statements such as, "Religious confessions became part of medical treatment for patients with sexual disorders in the nineteenth century." But he never provides dates or specific examples. Where is the documentation, the medical records, the testimony? Nonexistent. I really wondered if he'd actually bothered to read any books prior to writing his, because there are no references or footnotes in the text to show that he did research. If I practiced this kind of "scholarship" as a grad student, I would receive an F and a citation for plagiarism. Does becoming a professional scholar mean that one can disregard the rules of proper citations? Apparently so.
Furthermore, Foucault's ideas were unclear. I know, it's theory; it's supposed to be confusing. But he failed to fully convince me that Victorians did not want to repress sex. He claims that parents, doctors, and schoolteachers tried to repress children from masturbating because they knew their efforts would fail, and they wanted this to happen. How does that make any sense? Foucault explains that it's because they wanted the children's sexual urges to drive them towards marriage, but a young child can't get married, at least not for several years.
Overall, I was disappointed in this book. It was poorly researched and the very subject, "sex", is rarely named within the text (I guess this was a trick to show that sex couldn't be spoken about in direct terms in Victorian society. Cute). One reviewer said that Foucault on sex was as erotic as a discarded Coke can. If I have to read a scholarly book, it should be interesting and display good methods of scholarship. This book didn't.
Foucault doesnt need to cite sources. Foucault is the source.