They Only Love You When You’re 17

Donatello's David
… when you’re 21, you’re no fun — “Seventeen” by Ladytron.

Rather than go ahead and type up notes for the entire The Use of Pleasure, I think my time would be better spent just typing notes for the “Erotics” chapter since it was the most interesting and the only one I really took anything away from. “Erotics” is the chapter in which Foucault discusses the problematic “relations to one’s own sex” (23). Foucault’s analysis of ancient Greek sexuality involves three aspects: dietetics (regime, diet, risks & dangers), economics (marriage, household), and erotics (sex with boys, the boy’s honor, objects of pleasure).

Erotics/A Problematic Relation

  • “The use of pleasures in the relationship with boys was a theme of anxiety for Greek thought” (187)
  • “the notion of homosexuality is plainly inadequate as a means of referring to an experience, forms of valuation, and a system of categorization so different from ours” (187)
  • “To have loose morals was to be incapable of resisting either women of boys, without it being any more serious than that” (187)
  • bisexual? “simultaneously or in turn, be enamored of a boy of girl” (188)
  • “they did not recognize two kinds of ‘desire,’ two different or competing ‘drives,’ each claiming a share of men’s hearts or appetites” (188)
  • “this option was not referred to a dual, ambivalent, and ‘bisexual’ structure of desire” (188)
  • “what made it possible to desire a man or woman was simply the appetite that nature had implanted in man’s heart for ‘beautiful’ human beings, whatever their sex may be” (188)
  • “the preference for boys or girls was easily recognized as a character trait” (190)
  • “it was not only permitted by the laws (except in particular circumstances), it was accepted by opinion” (190)
  • “a contempt for young men who were too ‘easy,’ or too self-interested; a disqualification of effeminate men…; a disallowance of certain shameful behaviors” (190)
  • “there was a clear awareness of this complexity” (191)
  • “the care fathers took to protect their sons from love affairs” (191)
  • “we affirm that this type [gay] of relation should not be assigned a lesser value, nor given a special status… the Greeks thought very differently about these things: they believed that the same desire attached to anything that was desirable — boy or girl — subject to the condition that the appetite was nobler that included toward what was more beautiful and honorable” (192)
  • “relationship that implied an age difference and, connected with it, a certain difference of status” (193)
  • “very young men were both represented and recognized as highly desirable erotic objects” (194)
  • “passivity was always disliked, and for an adult to be suspected of it was especially serious” (194)
  • disparity of relationship: “made it valuable and conceivable” (195)
  • “a male relationship gave rise to a theoretical and moral interest when it was based on rather pronounced difference on either side of the threshold separating adolescence from manhood” (195)
  • “the other partner, the one who was loved and courted, had to be careful not to yield too easily; he also had to keep from accepting too many tokens of love, and from granting his favors heedlessly and out of self-interest, without testing the worth of his partner; he must also show gratitude for what the lover had done for him” (196)
  • “a whole game of delays and obstacles designed to put off the moment of closure, and to integrate it into a series of subsidiary activities and relations” (197)
  • “in the case of relations between men and boys, we are dealing with a game that was ‘open'” (197)
  • “one could not exercise any statutory authority over the boy… he was free in his choices” (198)
  • “the decision was the boy’s alone to make… one was never sure of winning” (198)
  • “question of timing was important” (199)
  • “it was expressed in different ways — as a problem of ‘limit’ first of all: what was the age limit after which a boy ought to be considered too old to be an honorable partner in a love relation” (199)
  • “this involved the familiar casuistry of the signs of manhood. these were supposed to mark a threshold” (199)
  • “the first beard was believed to be that fateful mark, and it was said that the razor that shaved it must sever the ties of love” (199)
  • “helped to increase people’s sensitivity to the juvenile body, to its special beauty and to the different signs of its development; the adolescent physique became the object of a kind of cultural valorization that was quite pronounced” (200)
  • “in the sphere is sexual ethics, it was the juvenile body with its peculiar charm that was regularly suggested as the ‘right object’ of pleasure” (200)
  • “the double fear so often expressed in the lover, of seeing his beloved lose his charm, and in the beloved, of seeing his lover turn away from him” (201)
  • “it was not good to love a boy who was past a certain age, just as it was not good for him to allow himself to be loved” (201)
  • “on a very general level, this inquiry concerning relationships with boys took the form of a reflection on love” (201)
  • “Eros could unite human beings no matter what their sex happened to be” (202)
  • “the problematization of their relationship belonged to an ‘erotics'” (202)
  • “but in the case of a man or boy who were in a position of reciprocal independence and between whom there was no institutional constraint, but rather an open game (with preferences, choices, freedom of movement, uncertain outcome), the principle of regulation of behaviors was to be sought in the relation itself, in the nature of attraction… carried out in the form of a reflection on the relation itself” (202)
  • “in erotics, the game was more complicated; it implied self-mastery on the part of the lover; it also implied an ability on the part of the beloved to establish a relation of dominion over himself; and lastly, it implied a relationship between their two moderations, expressed in their deliberate choice of one another” (203)

Erotics/A Boy’s Honor

  • “finds expression in a vocabulary that refers constantly to honor and shame” (204)
  • “managed to preserve their honor in the course of their relationship” (205)
  • “especially sensitive to the division between what was shameful and what was proper, between what reflected credit and what brought dishonor” (205)
  • girls now: “their premarital conduct became an important moral and social concern, of itself and for their families” (206)
  • greek boy’s involvement with an older man: “related to his status, his eventual place in the city” (206)
  • trial period: “transitional age, when the young man was so desirable and his honor so fragile” (206)
  • tests as part of greek education: “demeanor of the body”, “one’s gaze”, “one’s way of talking”, “quality of one’s acquaintances” (207)
  • from the symposium: “‘no absolute right and wrong in love, but everything depends upon the circumstances'” (208)
  • “nothing is said concerning what is acceptable or objectionable in physical relations” (208)
  • “everyone must have known what it was honorable or shameful for a boy to consent to” (209)
  • “doubtless to exclude or advise against sexual practices that would be humiliating for the boy, putting him in a position of inferiority” (211) — so are the boys the tops or bottoms?
  • “it was not good (especially in the eyes of public opinion) for a boy to behave ‘passively,’ to let himself be manipulated and dominated, to yield without resistance, to become an obliging partner in the sensual pleasures of the other, to indulge his whims, and to offer his body to whomever it pleased and however it pleased them, out of weakness, lust, or self-interest” (211)
  • “what philosophy can show, in fact, is how to become ‘stronger than oneself’ and when one has become so, it also enables one to prevail over others” (211-212)
  • “where erotics takes the boy’s point of view, the problem is to see how the boy is going to be able to achieve self-mastery in not yielding to others” (212)
  • “later, in european culture, girls or married women, with their behavior, their beauty, and their feelings, were to become themes of special concern” (213)
  • “draw curiosity and desires around them” (213)
  • “there would be accentuation, a valorization, of the ‘problem’ of women. their nature, their conduct, the feelings they inspired or experienced, the permitted or forbidden relationship that one might have with them were to become themes of reflection, knowledge, analysis, and prescription” (213)
  • “in classical greece the problematization was more active in regard to boys, maintaining an intense moral concern around their fragile beauty, their corporal honor, their ethical judgment and the training it required” (213-214)

Erotics/The Object of Pleasure

  • “isomorphism between sexual relations and social relations. what this means is that sexual relations — always conceived in terms of the model act of penetration, assuming a polarity that opposed activity and passivity — were seen as being of the same type as the relationship between a superior and a subordinate, an individual who dominates and one who is dominated, one who commands and one who complies, one who vanquishes and one who is vanquished” (215) — i.e. if someone was penetrated during sex (e.g. women being fucked, men being fucked, anyone giving oral sex to a man) they were assumed to be subordinate and not as superior as the one doing the penetration
  • “this suggests that in sexual behavior there was one role that was intrinsically honorable and valorized without question: the one that consisted in being active, in dominating, in penetrating, in asserting one’s superiority” (215)
  • “as for the woman’s passivity, it did denote an inferiority of nature and condition; but there was no reason to criticize it as behavior, precisely because it was in conformity with what nature intended and with what the law prescribed” (216) — i.e. since women had “no choice” in their role, it wasn’t bad for them to be passive and penetrated… men, on the other hand, had the physical ability to penetrate so being penetrated wasn’t “natural”
  • the boy in a relationship with a man: “his place was not assailable to that of a slave, nor to that of a woman” (216)
  • “in the boy, the deficiency relates to his incomplete development” (217)
  • “among the various legitimate ‘objects,’ the boy occupied a special position. he was definitely not a forbidden object… nothing prevented or prohibited an adolescent from being the openly recognized sexual partner of a man” (217)
  • “an individual who had prostituted himself was disbarred from holding any magistracy in the city” (217-218)
  • “this law made male prostitution an instance of atimia — of public disgrace” (218)
  • “finding certain factors that constitute prostitution (number of partners, indiscriminateness, payment for services)” (218)
  • what made it worse: “placed himself and showed himself to everyone, in the inferior and humiliating position of a pleasure object for others; he wanted this role, he sought it, took pleasure in it, and profited from it” (219)
  • problem with those who were pleasure objects holding public office for other citizens: “they might come under the authority of a leader who once identified with the role of pleasure object for others” (219) — i.e. he wouldn’t be as assertive and superior as they wanted from a leader
  • “when one played the role of subordinate partner in the game of pleasure relations, one could not be truly dominant in the game of civic and political activity” (220)
  • “the difficulty caused, in this society that accepted sexual relations between men, by the juxtaposition of an ethos of male superiority and a conception of all sexual intercourse in the terms of the scheme of penetration and male domination” (220) — i.e. this basically refutes any claims made by people (especially queer theorists/activists) that homosexuality as accepted, practiced, and embraced in classical greek times.
  • “and while this was no problem when it involved a woman or a slave, the case was altered when it involved a man” (220)
  • “one had to keep in mind that the day would come when he would have to be a man, to exercise powers and responsibilities” (220-221)
  • “antinomy of the boy”: “one the one hand, young men were recognized as objects of pleasure — and even as the only honorable and legitimate objects among the possible male partners of men; no one would ever reproach a man for loving a boy, for desiring and enjoying him, provided that the laws and proprieties were respected. but on the other hand, the boy, whose youth must be a training for manhood, could not and must not identify with that role” (221)
  • “but to be an object of pleasure and to acknowledge oneself as such constitute a major difficulty for the boy” (221)
  • “because it feminized one of the partners, whereas the desire that one could have for beauty was nevertheless regarded as natural” (222)
  • “in the phaedrus, the physical form of the relation where a man behaves like a ‘four-footed beast’ is said to be ‘unnatural'” (222) — i.e. doggie style is bad. hehe.
  • “there was a reluctance to evoke directly and in so many words the role of the boy in sexual intercourse” (223) — i.e. the love that dare not speak its name
  • “other times the ‘thing’ is designated by the very impossibility of naming it” (223)
  • “reluctance to concede that the boy might experience pleasure” (223)
  • “affirmation that such a pleasure could not exist and as the prescription that it ought not to be experienced” (223)
  • “and no one was more severely criticized than boys who showed their willingness to yield” (223)
  • “he was only supposed to yield only if he had feelings of admiration, gratitude, or affection for his lover, which made him want to please the latter” (223)
  • “it was not the sharing of a sensation” (224)
  • “he was supposed to feel pleased about giving pleasure to the other” (224)
  • “sexual act… needed to be taken up in a game of refusals, evasions, and escapes that tended to postpone it as long as possible” (224)
  • now: “the viewpoint of the subject of desire: how can it be that a man can desire forms whose object is another man” (225)
  • greeks: “their anxiety focused on the object of pleasure, or more precisely, on that object insofar as he would have to become in turn the master in the pleasure that was enjoyed with others and in the power that was exercised over oneself” (225)
  • point of problemization: “how to make the object of pleasure into a subject who was in control of his pleasures” (225)

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