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The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction Reissue Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679724698
ISBN-10: 0679724699
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (April 14, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679724699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679724698
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Daniel A. Soler on October 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
This text is perhaps Foucault's most well-known, although it might not be his best. It is an important work, so if you are at all interested in sex as an abstract and organizing principle, this is a must-read. (Note: it is not a history in the proper sense of the term). While not a terribly confusing book, it is WIDELY misunderstood, including by many of the reviewers. First off, do not make the mistake of reading the first section as Foucault's thesis (it may seem that way)--he is presenting the common approach to the issue, one that he will eventually CHALLENGE. "Sex" was never repressed--on the contrary, there has been an explosion of discourses, a productive manifestation of power. Foucault admits that this was partially organized through technologies of confession, normalization, etc.-BUT THAT IS NOT THE MAIN THRUST. The main idea of the text is that there is no commanding, Platonic principle "sex" that we must uncover or saturate ourselves with, and hence, while prudery seems suspect, liberation through "sex" or "sex-desire" is entirely nonsensical, since sex is subordinate to sexuality and not vica-versa. Foucault, with much uncertainty, thereby envisions a different economy of bodies and pleasures, more like the ars erotica, that focuses on the local and individual, with all their multiple possibilities for deeper value and communication. Hence, depite what people make of Foucault's life, this book is more "conservative" that one would imagine... It is ideal for anyone who wants to free themselves from either a deep-rooted fear of sex or the incessant demands sex makes from on high (from the media, etc.) To Foucault, the idea that sex is seen as a requirement for one's deepest sense of being is absurd (and almost comical).Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Foucault's three-part History of Sexuality begins here with an examination of the ways in which our contemporary interpretation of sexuality has been shaped by historical trends. Foucault makes a compelling case for the construction of sexual identity as a function of political and economic forces. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in sexuality, psychoanalysis, gender studies, queer theory, or feminisms, or indeed anyone who wishes to confront his or her own personal assumptions about gender and sexuality. Think you know what normal is? After Foucault, you may not be so sure. (One more thing: while this book is a fascinating read which can stand alone, I strongly advise anyone interested in this subject to go on to read the second and third volumes)
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More like a 3.5 if that was an option. Part of me hates rating this book so low, but I really have to. Here's why.

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.
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Format: Paperback
This book can be seen as a perfect example of a brilliant mind at work. Foucault surely considered this book as an introductory piece, a draft of brilliantly posed ideas and problems about sexuality as a dispositive, not in the traditional sense of the word that we have all become so acquainted with. This book works in many respects: Foucault succesfully makes his case for an open refusal of the "repressive hypothesis", explaining in a very precise manner why the discourse on sexuality in the XVIII and XIX centuries, far from being shy about it, positively promoted discussion... what he calls a "discoursive explosion". Foucault quite brilliantly introduces the two ways in which sexuality has come to be assumed by the human race: as an art (in ancient Greece) and as a science (in our present era). He also develops his own ideas (ideas that also appear in his courses at the Collège de France, particularly "Society Must Be Defended") about bio-power, disciplinary societies and biopolitical regimes. He successfully questions the fact that we have come to place sex under a veil of secrecy which must be undone... how sex has become the key to our personality, our "identity".
The last verses of the book are revealing: how is it that we still consider sex to be liberating when in reality we are always under its gaze, when it really has become a burden to be dealt with?
This book is astounding. Maybe not as brilliant as "Discipline and Punish" (which says a LOT about Foucault's creative nature)but certainly a key text toward understanding the problems Foucault tackled in final years of his life.
Note: the last two volumes of the History of Sexuality display a shift of focus and a leap back in "history"... you'll have to read the introduction to volume 2, "The Use Of Pleasure", to see what I mean. Still, it all makes sense if you dig deeper into the final developments of Foucault's work.
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