Τετάρτη 25 Μαΐου 1994

Foucault  on Sex and Power,


What really struck me when I read Foucault’s writings, especially “History of Sexuality”, was the same nature of the notion of sex that has developed in the West and the notion of power that Foucault so masterly has arrayed in front of me. Both notions are ubiquitous. They both have to deal with the body. What I want to explore in this paper is the idea that in fact his new power that has been emerged since the middle nineteenth century was nothing else but a distortion, better a perversion, of the sex. Namely, I am going to keep Foucault’s path of argumentation by keeping on the other hand Reich’s conception of sex. It is clear to me that only by keeping the binary “nature” of sex we can remain within Foucault’s framework and explain better the connection of sex and power.

That, from 18nth century on, power acquires new characteristics is not a new remark. Tocqueville, 150 years before remarked: “The authority of a king is physical and controls the actions of the men without subduing their will. But th majority possesses a power that is physical and moral at the same time, which acts upon the will as much upon the actions… Under the absolute sway of one man the body was attacked in order to subdue the soul… Such is not the course adopted by tyranny in
democratic republics; there the body left free, and the soul is enslaved…” (Tocqueville, 1990, p. 263-264) Power has changed its characteristics. It is not only this repressive and underproductive power of the old days. A power with immense discontinuities, spaces of freedom –the role of those spaces of freedom to the outbreak of the French revolution is analyzed by Tocqueville in “The Old Regime”.
It seems to me that the productivist characteristic that Foucault attribute to power is already existing in Moore’s analysis. Mooore stresses the point that “at the bottom all forms of industrialization there have been revolutions from above, a work of minority.” (Moore, 1984, 581). Foucault rejects vehemently the idea of power as a force that can only cease, constrain, repress, subjugate. On the contrary, he argues that power produces, constructs, transforms, constitutes.

Power is the type of a new discipline which “requires enclosure,” “partitioning.” “Discipline organizes an analytical place,” “functional sites.” “Standardization and a new quality of social relationships, the shift toward impersonal instrumental relations” are the main characteristics of the urbanization process, argues Tilly in “The Vendee.” It is the homogeneous organization of the space and of the bodies that this new kind of power sought in order to keep up an “uninterrupted, constant coercion, supervising the processes of activity rather than its result…” (Foucault, 1979, 137) Visibility was thus an indispensable trait of it. The Panopticon was a “generalizable model of functioning; a way of defining power relations in terms of everyday life of men.” (ibid, 205) The benefits of Panopticon were obvious: “morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused, public burdens lightened.” (ibid, 207) Yet, a pivotal consequence of Panopticon was that “my own fate [master’s] had been bound up by me with theirs.” (ibid, 204)

Let me pause here for a minute and put the question: Has this process of power taken place according to a strategic intentionality? Foucault would have answered vaguely. Or he would have different answers. For instance in ”Space, Knowledge, Power” the question is clearly no. That’s how he puts it: “I was not really attempting to describe figures of domination when I was referred to doctors and people like that, but rather to describe people through whom power passed or who are important in the field of power relations.” (Foucault Reader, 1984, 247) But let’s go further. “Power relations are both intentional and non subjective… the logic is perfectly clear, the aims decipherable, and yet it is often the case that no one is there to have invented them, the few who can be said to have formulating them…” (Foucault, 1990, 94-95) As we have already seen, the inventor if the Panopticon was quite aware of his device and the functions of it. In addition to that, doesn’t Foucault attribute intentionality when he speaks about “the Christian pastoral [who] also sought to produce specific effects on desire, by the mere fact  of transforming it – fully and deliberately into discourse?” (ibid, 23) He is trying the idea of intetionallity by saying that bourgeoisie was imposing the new morality first and foremost upon itself. I have two remarks on it. First that bourgeoisie was well aware of the increasing results of this morality. For this morality had been already tried into the monasteries. Thus, in addition to the fact that bourgeoisie used this new morality for the consolidation of its class identity, the reasons were also economical. Secondly, this new morality was not needed for the enforcement of the new discipline upon the workers. Ten hours of work in the factory were enough, and in difficult situations there was always available the “old” :repressive’ power of the state apparatus.

But elements of “intentionality” we can discern even in the definition of power that Foucault provides us. Power is “the moving substrate of force relations [force means that someone, as Weber would say, imposes his/her will upon someone else] which, by virtue of their inequality [in terms of class, civil rights etc], constantly engenders states of power…” (ibid, 93) and again in the same page, “this multiplicity of force relations can be coded… either in the form of ‘war’ or in the form of ‘politics’.” War and politics without intentionality are inconceivable. Fraser argues that the problem with the definition of power in Foucault’s writings is that “he calls too many different sorts of things power and simply leaves it like that.” (Fraser, 1989, 32) For me the explanation lies in the stubborn negation of Foucault to accept any “bipolar schema” (Fraser, 32) And because I tend to believe that people say what they say always on purpose, and most of the times they are not mistaken but deliberately avoid some points that are hard for them [It is obvious that I am not a devotee of the intentionality], for the next part of the paper I will attempt to show how the “bipolar” conception of sex that Reich has developed, and Foucault many times accepts implicitly, first perfectly with the Foucaultian theory of power but puts also in question his personal stance.

Let’s try to outline Reich’s conception of sexuality. Sex can take two distinct forms. “Sexuality and anxiety are opposite directions of excitation in the biological organism (Reich, 1940, XXV) The former has the characteristic, the romantic aspect of sexuality as Foucault puts it, of reinforcing one’s person character, make it more flexible, autonomous, fulfilled, self-esteemed and simultaneously it enables the character to be more open to the world.

Foucault argues that
The notion of “sex’ made it possible to group together, in an artificial unity, anatomical elements, biological functions, conducts, sensations, and pleasures, and it enabled one to make use of this fictitious unity as a causal principle, an omnipresent meaning, a secret to be discovered everywhere: sex was thus able to function as a unique signifier and as a universal signified.” (Foucault, 1990, 154)

And that is how Reich responses:

In studying the function of orgasm, I had learned that, in the somatic realm, it is not admissible to think in terms derived fro the psychic realm. Every psychic occurrence has in addition to its causal determination, a meaning in terms of a relation to the environment. To this corresponded the psychoanalytic interpretation. However, in the psychological realm, there is no such “meaning,” and its existence cannot be assumed without re-introducing a supernatural power. The living simply functions, it has no “meaning.” (Reich, 1940, 235)

Another important point is that Reich is not talking about “instincts.” “according to Freud, the drive was determined by the quantity of excitation, i.e, the amount of libido. Yet I had found pleasure to be the nature of drives…” His argument becomes more social when he says that “the sexual drive is nothing but the motor memory of previously experienced pleasure.” (Reich, 1942,33) Thus the problem escapes from the psychoanalytic bed, the discourse that Foucault accuses as a continuation of the deployment of sexuality and points at society per se.

It is interesting that Reich and Foucault conclude to the same point, namely that “modern society is perverse…” (Foucault, 1990, 47) And they describe in the same way the relationship of sex and power. The only difference is that Reich proposes a different sexuality, the orgasmic one as a breakthrough. Foucault is referring to the relationship between power and pleasure as “perpetual spirals of power and pleasure.” (ibid, 45) “There was,” he says, “a sensualization of power and a gain of pleasure.” The perversive nature of this pleasure is analyzed as “the pleasure that comes of exercising a power that questions, monitors, watches, spies, searches out palpates, brings to light;” (ibid) Lets see what Reich has to tell about it:

Figure 1 shows what in forepleasure, gratification is always less than the tension; more than that, it increases the tension. Only in end-pleasure (fig. 2) does the energy discharge equal the tension.” (Reich, 1942, 35) It is precisely this mechanism that fed back power, maintains human beings in a continuous excitement, exhausts them, breaks down them. It is precisely this mechanism that proves the perversity of our societies. And is exactly this analysis that show us that sexuality and power are nothing but a continuum, are nothing but the two faces of the same coin. In order to change the latter, have to change the former.
By incorporating the bipolar model of Reich in his analysis Foucault would have had a powerful tool in his hands. Incorporation of the Reichian model would have forced him to accept a grand intentionality. The imposition of the perversive character was a phenomenon of the end of nineteenth century, when the process of the industrialization, urbanization was full-fledged. Fordism in the factory and bureaucratization of the whole of life were evidences of a perversive sexuality which has been transformed into the power that Foucault has analyzed. Unorgasmic characters cannot afford diversity. They are seeking homogenization. Their character lacks the flexibility of an orgasmic character. This is an explanation why the peripheral sexualities were chased with such a menace.
By giving the foregoing explanations we remain within the framework that Foucault has instructed us to follow. “We must conceptualize the deployment of sexuality on the basis of the technics of power that are contemporary with it.” (Foucault, 1990, 1500 And working with the binary conception of sexuality developed by Reich we are able to have a critical vantage point without diminishing the “dangers” that a naïve perception of sexuality and power has. Foucault constructed a theory which on the one hand enables us to discern the power as cleavages that run trough the social body yet, on the other hand obscures the agency, refusing to accept a bipolar position. Despite his theoretical constructions his work is full of agents and intentionallities. It is himself who Foucault wanted to avoid by not accepting the Reichian concepts.
The masochist, however, persists in pregenital stimulation, he does not elaborate it into neurotic symptoms. This increases the tension, and consequently, along the simultaneously increasing incapacity for discharge, the orgasm anxiety, also. Thus, the masochist finds himself in a vicious circle of the worst kind. The more he tries to work himself out of the tension, the more he gets entangled in it. (Reich, 1940, 225)
The similarities of this description with the relationship and the characteristics of power of our era are more than obvious. Foucault was aware of this fact. It seems to me that this was the reason why Foucault pays so much attention in “On the Genealogy of Ethics” for the epimeleia heautou, techne tou biou, and “askesis which must be taking as a training of oneself by oneself.” (Foucault, 1984, 364) But these technai seem to me as efforts to cease this flood of life, this, as Foucault ironically calls them, “lyricism of orgasm and the good feelings of bio-energy.” (Foucault, 1990, 71) As all the new movements have shown to us the process is double. You have to work onyourself, “kill the cop that you have inside you” were shouting in ’68 the students of Paris, but as the communities for the recovery of the drug addicts claim “You can do it, but not alone.”

Reich Wilhelm, The function of the Orgasm, 1942, Orgone Institute Press
Moore Barrington, The Social origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, 1984, Athens, Kalvos

Fraser Nancy, Unruly Practices, 1989, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press

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