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Note On Sexuality In The Work Of Michel Foucault

The Letter, Issue 20, Autumn 2000, Pages 210 - 218


NOTE ON SEXUALITY IN THE WORK OF MICHEL FOUCAULT*

Frederic Gros**


I would like to tell you, by way of introduction, about a debate I once had with some judges, about an experience which is of course a major one in our culture: that of crime. I recall that we were perpetually confronted with the hard and sombre heart of the criminal act, and that many saw, in the perplexity that took hold of us on each occasion, the sign of a radical lack of understanding which finally sent us back to the mystery of Evil itself. At that point I tried to defend the thesis which maintains that the difficulty, the complication of the criminal act, comes less from a fundamental obscurity which is thought to be essential to crime, from a hidden and as it were impenetrable identity, than from the historic entanglements, the complex sedimentation of discourses about crime, which meant that when we spoke about it we always stumbled, less because of an essential difficulty, than because of, I believe, a historical confusion of discourses.

It is this consideration that I would like to put as an exergue, or at least as a preface to our discussions: the idea that the opacity of the sexual also comes perhaps less from a difficulty belonging to the very nature of sexuality, than from the confused intermingling of discourses which, for thousands of years, have been woven around the sexual act. It is the idea that the foundation of the hesitancy that comes over us when we try to speak, this confession of ignorance about what is at the basis of the sexual, derives more from a re-sifting of discourses, from a tight knit accumulation of words, than from an essential astonishment. This opacity in short, also comes from the historic saturation of discourses.

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