Pages 1-32


  • the term “sexuality” did not appear until the nineteenth century (3)
  • “experience that caused individuals to recognize themselves as subjects of a ‘sexuality'” (4)
  • experience = “the correlations between fields of knowledge, types of normativity, and forms of subjectivity in a particular culture” (4)
  • desire and the subject of desire were withdrawn from the historical field, and interdiction as the general form was made to account for anything historical in sexuality” (4)
  • three axes that constitute sexuality:
    1. science
    2. systems of power that regulate it
    3. recognition of self as a subject of it
  • Christian tradition and psychology turn people into the “desiring subject” — “both appear nonetheless to be dominated by the principle of ‘desiring man.'” (5)
  • Foucault wants to: “analyze the practices by which individuals were led to focus their attention on themselves, to decipher, recognize, and acknowledge themselves as subjects of desire” (5); to find “a hermeneutics of desire” (5)
  • “why is sexual conduct, why are the activities and pleasures that attach to it, an object of moral solicitude? why this ethical concern?” (10)
  • “‘techniques of the self,’ no doubt lost some of their importance and autonomy when they were assimilated into the exercise of priestly power in early Christianity, and later, into educative, medical, and psychological types of practices” (11)
  • “and now i would like to show how, in classical antiquity, sexuality activity and sexual and sexual pleasures were problematized through practices of the self, bringing into play the criteria of an ‘aesthetics of existence.'” (12)
  • “this volume, The Use of Pleasure, is devoted to the manner in which sexual activity was problematized by philosophers and doctors in classical Greek culture of the fourth century B.C.” (12)

Introduction/Forms of Problematization

  • “the meaning of the sexual act itself: it will be said that Christianity associated it with evil, sin, the Fall, and death, whereas antiquity invested it with positive symbolic values” (14)
  • relations between individuals of the same sex
  • fear and sex:
    • “obsessive worries that medicine and pedagogy nurtured on the subject of pure sexual expenditure” (16)
    • gonorrhea
    • “some even advised to indulge only ‘if one wants to do harm to oneself.’ a very ancient fear, therefore” (17)
  • ideal and conduct:
    • elephants have good morals (!??!?!): saint francis of sales: “recommending the example of the elephant and the good morals it manifested with its mate. it was ‘only a large beast, but the most worth of all the animals on earth, and the one with the most intelligence… it is tenderly loving with the one it has chosen, mating only every three years, and then only for five days, and so secretly that is is never seen in the act; but it can be seen again on the sixth day, when the first thing it does is go straight to the river and bathe its whole body, being unwilling to return to the herd before it is purified'” (17)
    • mutual faithfulness i.e. monogamy is valued
  • homosexuality
    • nineteenth century stereotypical image of a “homosexual or introvert”: “the way he gets dolled up, his coquetry, but also his facial expressions, his anatomy, the feminine morphology of his whole body” (18)
    • “the theme of role reversal and the principle of a natural stigma attached to this offense against nature” (18) — i.e. what is really wrong is that the man isn’t acting manly, and therefore “god” or whoever makes it known that this person isn’t a real man
    • soft boys: :”seneca the elder notices around him, with great repugnance: ‘Libidinous delight in song and dance transfixes these effeminates. braiding the hair, refining the voice till it is as caressing as a woman’s, competing in bodily softness with women, beautifying themselves with filthy fineries'” (19)
    • “socrates’ first speech in the Phaedrus alludes to it, when he voices disapproval of the love that is given to soft boys” (19)
    • “it would be completely incorrect to interpret this as a condemnation of love of boys, or what we generally refer to as homosexual relations” (19) — it is more about gender inversion
    • “definite aversion to anything that might denote a deliberate renunciation of the signs and privileges of the masculine role” (19)
  • abstention from sex
    • “the virtuous hero who is able to turn aside from pleasure” (20)
    • “renunciation can give access to a spiritual experience of truth and love that sexual activity excludes” (20)
    • “the thematics of a relationship between sexual abstinence and access to truth was already quite prominent” (20)
  • “one must also not lose sight of the fact that the Church and the pastoral ministry stressed the principle of morality whose precepts were compulsory and whose scope was universal… in classical thought, on the other hand, the demands of austerity were not organized into a unified, coherent, authoritarian moral system that was imposed on everyone in the same manner” (21) — i.e. in Christianity people had to follow the rules or they were punished, in classical times, people were expected to follow the rules for their own good and in order to become better
  • in classical times: “the proposed–more than they imposed–different styles of moderation or strictness” (21)
  • “it should not be concluded that the Christian mortality of sex was somehow ‘pre-formed’ in ancient thought” (21)
  • Foucault doing a quick feminist critique:
    • “it was an ethics for men: an ethics thought, written, and taught by men, and addressed to men–to free men, obviously. a male ethics, consequently, in which women figured only as objects, or at most, partners that one had best train, educate, and watch over…” (22)
    • “it was an elaboration of masculine conduct carried out from the viewpoint of men in order to give them their behavior” (23)
  • axis of experience/domains (23)
    1. relations to the body
    2. relation to the other sex
    3. relation to one’s own sex
    4. relation to the truth
  • “locate the areas of experience and the forms in which sexual behavior was problematized” (23)
  • “why was it in those areas–apropos of the body, of the wife, of boys, and of truth–that the practice of pleasures became a matter for debate?” (24)
  • “how did sexual behavior, insofar as it implied these different types of relations, come to be conceived as a domain of moral experience?” (24)

Introduction/Morality and Practice of the Self

  • definition of morality: “one means a set of values and rules of action that are recommended to individuals through the intermediary of various prescriptive agencies such as the family (in one of its roles), educational institutions, churches, and so forth” (25)
  • “they form a complex interplay of elements that counterbalance and correct one another, and cancel each other out on certain points, thus providing for compromises or loopholes” (25)
  • ethical work: “bring one’s conduct into compliance with a given rule, but attempt to transform oneself into the ethical subject of one’s behavior” (27)
  • telos of the ethical subject: an action is not only moral in itself, in its singularity; it is also moral in its circumstantial integration and by virtue of the place it occupies in a patter of conduct” (27-28)
  • “in short, for an action to be ‘moral,’ it must not be reducible to an act or series of acts conforming to a rule, a law, or a value” … “but self-formation as an ‘ethical subject'” (28)
  • “decides on a certain mode of being that will serve as his moral goal” (28)
  • “in certain moralities the main emphasis is placed on the code, on its systematicity, its richness, its area of behavior… the important thing is to focus on the instances of authority that enforce the code, that require it to be learned and observed, that penalize infractions” (29)
  • “the subjectivation occurs basically in a quasi-juridical form” (29)
  • “moral conceptions in Greek and Greco-Roman antiquity were much more oriented toward practices of the self and the question of askesis than toward codifications of conducts and the strict definition of what is permitted and what is forbidden” (30)
  • “to remain free from interior bondage to the passions, and to achieve a mode of being that could be defined by the full enjoyment of oneself, or the perfect supremacy of oneself over oneself” (31)

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