Bradley's Reviews > The History of Sexuality 1: An Introduction

The History of Sexuality 1 by Michel Foucault
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May 30, 09


Reading this for my Materialist Workshop/Reading Group. We've delved into Birth of the Clinic, a few of his Lectures, and the three volumes of History of Sexuality. Foucault said that History of Sexuality was supposed to be his magnum opus. It took him nearly a decade to complete, and it is comprised mainly of 'Big Ideas,' in the sense that Foucault often forgets to flesh out the details of his work. He paints in broad brush strokes, and I attribute this lack of detail to his burgeoning status at the time.
By the 1980's he was no longer a young-hot-shot intellectual on the make, he was a middle-aged, established titan of critical theory, renowned the world over. He did not need to put down every footnote (in fact there are no footnotes in the Intro.). He no longer has to really show his work, because everybody can predict the conclusions he will reach based on his previous published texts.
While Birth of the Clinic ends with a beautiful set of surrealistic images related to the immutability of death, and the frailty of human existence, History of Sexuality is less prosaic. The last chapter of this Introductory text consists of Foucault clinging to the idealism of the Sexual Revolution. While the sixties were about the "plenitude of the possible," as he says, it is less important to cast the radicalism of the sixties as demanding unobtainable Utopian fantasies, it is more important to keep the discourses of radical change alive.

This series of books were written on the cusp of the Swinging 70's and the Moral Majority Paranoia of the 80's (Reagan and Thatcher, Pat Robertson, and co.) and Foucault is a kind of soothsayer predicting hard times to come for the New Left. He was right! It is only fitting that he wrote this while he was dying of AIDS. His death signified everything that went wrong with the Sexual Revolution, and everything that had been co-opted by "The Powers that Be," in lieu of that dying Idealism. When I read this book I remember something my professor said was written on the city walls of Paris by the radical students in May '68... "Let us be realists and demand the impossible."
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