Sex: A power play?


The majority of the second half of the History of Sexuality, when not discussing sexuality and alliance, deals with the relationship between power and sex. While I think the two can be mutually exclusive - you can have sex without a struggle and you can have power without sex - Foucault seems to intertwine them to the point where there is relatively no difference. By the end of his introduction to sex, power=sex. "Sex is without any norm or intrinsic rule... it is subject to the unrestricted law of a power which itself knows no other law but its own." (149) Sex derives power from sex; therefore, sex is power. I buy this in certain situations, but as an overarching idea of power, I see this hypothesis on shaky ground. I feel one runs a muck when one attempts to sexualize everything; not everything is sexual by nature. The origin of this power is the ability to create and destroy.

"Sex is worth dying for." (156) True. Therefore sex=absolute power? Not so fast. I don't believe I have ever made the "Faustian pact" that Foucault refers to, but if I did it would be over love, not sex. The two are completely separate ideas that happen to converge in a happy place, but Foucault wants to call them the same thing. I want to say that the most power sex has is when some greater power, namely love, is involved. Sex can be bought, love has to be found. Something as fleeting and trivial can never have the power Foucault associates with it. There is some fundamental flaw in Foucault's argument that just does not sit well with me. The Foucaultian sex/power relationship just does not come easy to me and I, therefore, can't give it a legitimate value.

Yeah, of course love and sex are two very different concepts. But sex definitely is power especially in our society. It is something that I think everybody has created as powerful. It is everywhere in our media; it holds people's attention because it has the sinful connotation behind it. Everyone wants to know and see more of things that is looked upon as bad. Even though we technically live in post-sexual revolution days where supposedly we do not look at sexuality as forbidden any longer, I think the old perspective still affects us a lot and it still is something that is pretending to be repressed. This reminds me of our Baudrillard reading. Except this time we can understand it by the media twisting things, and repressing sexuality in other circumstances, to make it seem that sexuality only exists in certain areas when in fact it is everywhere, like Foucault believes.

I think that part of Foucault's project is to problematize clean distinctions like sex v. love - both in that the meaning of one term is inextricably bound up with the meaning of the other term, and in that many social practices, systems of respresentation, discursive interventions, etc. that purport to implicate love actually have more to do with basic libidinal drives than authenticity, Socratic-style transcendence, or any other pleasently mainstream conceptualization of "love" we might invoke. The point of Foucault's entire historiographic method, archaeological/genealogical analysis, is to complicate easy historical schematics (e.g., history = the unfolding of Truth or Spirit, history = the continual development of human society, or even on the more critical end, history = the refinement of exploitative processes) by searching for fissures, tears, and ruptures. What, Foucault wants to ask, should we make of contemporary, "enlightened" procedures that, when it comes down to it, actually resemble older, "barbaric" quite closely, even identically? And similarly, apropos of the sex/love question, what happens when the crude, animalistic underside of supposedly "civil" processes such as partying, courting, dating, etc. come to light?

I think part of your queasiness regarding Foucault's project results from your reading with a different understanding of power, one restricted to violence and domination perpetrated by one individual or group on another. The power Foucault equates with sexuality is fundamentally different - it is a regulating, disciplinary power that is exercised in control over life rather than the threat of death.
The passage on 149 you object to is actually a quote from Sade, whom Foucault positions at the point of transition from the former, death-threatening, sovereign power and the new, normative form Foucault traces in the discourse on sexuality. Consequently, it is not enough to point to instances of non-violent, non-domination based sex and say that sex can be free of power. The new form of power manifests itself in the normalizing, regulating techniques that constitute the discourse about sex. This discourse determines how we view sex - that we view it as the key to our identity, of interpersonal relationships, that we desire it in a certain way, etc. In light of this, the actual act of sex are pretty incidental compared to the discourses that form around it.