- Paperback: 168 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (April 14, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679724699
- ISBN-13: 978-0679724698
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 92 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction Reissue Edition
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"The Care of the Self shares with the writings on which it draws the characteristic of being carefully constructed, exquisitely reasoned and internally cogent." -- The New York Times Book Review
"Foucault is a thinker from whose writing one can infer lessons for our modern lives and dilemmas."-- Boston Globe
From the Inside Flap
The author turns his attention to sex and the reasons why we are driven constantly to analyze and discuss it. An iconoclastic explanation of modern sexual history.
Top customer reviews
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I love and hate Foucault more than just about any other philosopher. He is probably the pre-eminent French philosopher of his generation. The problem is that he is probably also the worst French historian of all time.
Foucault certainly has his moments and he's consistently entertaining (he's a very good writer and judging from his lectures, a great lecturer), but underneath it all, he's fundamentally lazy - he never does research studies or clinical work, he never looks outside France, he uses translations and secondary sources when he should be using original texts, he cites literature as if it is representative of the masses in the society in which it was written. Yet his writing is so confident, and his ideas so interesting and self-assured people believe him without checking his sources or his historical assertions.
He reminds me of the student I always have in my class who comes up with the best ideas but is unwilling to follow them through. The B student that should be an A+ student. He doesn't do homework, he doesn't show his work. I have to give them split grades. I'd give Foucault a split grade if I could - Ideas 5/5. Reasoning and Research 2/5.
In Foucault's case, he didn't do research outside France, he didn't reference or respond to contemporary History of Ideas works on Sexuality (e.g. Otto Kiefer's Sexuality in Rome and Greece, Van Gulick's Sexuality in Ancient China), he failed to develop a basic understanding of medicine, he cherrypicked texts that suited his arguments and failed to consider opposing arguments, and his Greek and Latin leave something to be desired.
His concept of the "repressive hypothesis" in this book is extremely interesting and well-reasoned (apart from the historical examples). His notion of biopower is also fairly intriguing, though not fleshed out in sufficient detail here (Psychiatric Power has more on it), and seems to be a kind of extension of the Hegelian for-itself (which is conceived in terms of relationships). He also very briefly, mentions third sex/intersexed individuals, which became a jumping off point for a lot of queer theory. Buyer beware - if you're looking for queer theory, it's only about a page or two, so you'll probably be disappointed.
Here's the real problem with this book - the examples, the historical scholarship. Foucault, determined as he is to prove (like Nietzsche did quite a bit more convinvingly in Beyond Good and Evil) the lack of foundation of contemporary morality bends the truth and fails to see things that are very obvious to medical professionals and more objective historians.
Case in point:
In a passage (31) and elsewhere in references to Ancient Greece, Foucault more or less writes an apologia for pedophilia. There is a problem though with all this - the unstated biological injunction. As someone who was an EMT - I can tell you something that should be obvious to someone as smart as Foucault, but wasn't - apart from normative moral concerns (which wouldn't concern an anti-foundationalist) - sexual intercourse with children physically and biologically injures them. I won't go into the gory details. If they're young enough, it could kill them. There's also the way young people respond to STD's. Sometimes, that's different, too.
Even if you completely dispense with normative morality and enact purely utilitarian laws based upon simply minimizing biological damage or instead engage in a minarchical system with protective services, this would still be largely prohibited either by law or contracted mutual assent.
In addition, Foucault does not understand biology very well and often uses outdated medical references like Pinel to represent current medical practice. The thing is Foucault is clever about it. It's a straw man, but it's a clever straw man, because he cites Pinel in a historical context and later as a means of (falsely) explaining the contemporary. Either that, or he just doesn't get medicine all that well.
Then there's Christianity. Oh, God, is Foucault ever wrong on this frontier. He even claims (117) the first treatise on sin was written in the 15th century. Off the top of my head, there are writings on sin as early as Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century (and perhaps earlier). You're ten centuries off, Foucault! That kind of oversight borders on ridiculous. How no one else has picked up on that baffles me.
I'd definitely read this book, but read it critically. It's not as inept in the scholastic sense as Madness and Civilization (which famously contains references to the non-existent Ship of Fools) but some of the scholarship is abysmal.
The French/Greco-Roman focus is a tad trying too, especially considering the wealth of available laws of quite a number of other major civilizations, which Foucault overlooks, presumably because they have male to male sodomy prohibitions which problematize his central arguments, or because of his obvious ignorance of other languages.
If this sounds overly negative, bear in mind - I like this book, and wholeheartedly recommend purchasing it. Just take it with a grain of salt. It has some extraordinarily interesting ideas, but alas, when I see it, I see what could have been if the author was more disciplined in his approach. If there wasn't so much there that was good, I wouldn't be nearly as upset by Foucault's sloppy scholarship.
Foucault actually asks what's the big deal.
This book made me sick to my stomach. It is mortifying that such a predatory madman should be revered in the halls of academe. Can anybody in a university English department think?
I suggest "The 91% Factor," Why Women Initiate 91% of Divorce. It is clear, simple, logically consistent, about the most important aspect of sex, and was not written by a "French" intellectual more taken with his use of language than the quality of his thought.