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The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction

(The History of Sexuality #1)

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4.04  ·  Rating details ·  19,071 ratings  ·  864 reviews
Michel Foucault offers an iconoclastic exploration of why we feel compelled to continually analyze and discuss sex, and of the social and mental mechanisms of power that cause us to direct the questions of what we are to what our sexuality is.
Paperback, 176 pages
Published 1990 by Vintage (first published 1976)
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Warwick
Dec 20, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody whatsoever
This is a perfect example of the kind of writing characterised by Clive James as prose that ‘scorns the earth for fear of a puncture’. Foucault may be able to think – it's not easy to tell – but he certainly can't write.

Everywhere there is an apparent desire to render a simple thought impenetrable. When he wants to suggest that the modern world has imposed on us a great variety in the ways we talk about sex, he must refer to ‘a regulated and polymorphous incitement to discourse’. When he advance
...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
‎‭‭La Volonte de Savoir‬ = The Will to Knowledge, Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault's The Will to Knowledge is the first part of his influential trilogy of books on the history of sexuality. He argues that the recent explosion of discussion about sex in the West means that, far from being liberated, we are in the process of making a science of sexuality that is devoted to the analysis of desire rather than the increase of pleasure.

This is a brilliant polemic from a groundbreaking radical intellect
...more
Asam Ahmad
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The History of Sexuality is not really a history of sexuality. It is rather a genealogical study of a specific historical, political & discursive construction called ‘sexuality’ – a construction that has been deployed since its inception to police bodies and to service the social, political & economic exigencies of power.

Foucault begins by questioning why we so ardently believe that our sexuality is repressed – why we think 'confessing our sex' is a liberatory or even revolutionary activity. Un
...more
Michael
Jun 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
Read in full in the wake of finishing Byung-Chul Han’s Psychopolitics, and the whole seems less striking than the parts assigned to undergrads. Foucault’s language is opaque but playfully so and not as hard to understand as his reputation suggests. The work’s main weakness is that the same dozen ideas are repeated again and again, in so many ways, without being nuanced or backed up by empirical evidence. As history it’s paper thin, and as theory it’s dated, full of ideas that by now have been fu ...more
Trevor
Jan 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
A much more difficult Foucault - and not nearly as interesting as his history of madness. He seems to take a long time to get started and does seem to repeat himself an awful lot.

All the same, the ideas around the difference between Western and Eastern notions of sexuality are well with thinking about. Essentially Eastern sexuality is an erotic thing - something understood through experience. Western sexuality is 'scientific' in the sense that it only makes sense once we can talk about it.

Freu
...more
AC
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disappointing, esp. after reading a masterpiece like Discipline and Punish. This book consists of a serious of loosely connected, and individually incomplete meditations on various topics, that are intended to serve (not very successfully, imo) as a prolgomena to a history of sexuality. Indeed, the project was abandoned (what was eventually publishd as vols. 2-3 was part of a newly and differently conceived project begun several years later), proving that the current work was a failure.

It shoul
...more
a.novel.femme
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theorish
um. what can i say about this book that hasnt already been said? i read it my second year of college and it blew my mind, and in a good way, unlike kant, who made me cry actual tears in overwhelming frustration. foucaults ability to trace the burgeoning relationship between science and sexuality, the changes in the ways of perceiving a womans body, the notion of the creation of (a) sexuality, and, of course, the dynamics of power and discourse, are nothing short of brilliant in this classic stud ...more
Stef Rozitis
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction-tbr
I was unsure how many stars to give it, but after reading the critiques of it by some readers I need to give it a lot of stars because the critiques just don't make sense. It does lose a star from this subjective and biased reader for consistantly using terms like "man" and "men" for humans even though there IS an awareness of misogyny in the history. I do think the author could have worded that better (quite probably I have the translator to blame).

This book is hard to understand, densely and c
...more
Kristen Shaw
In the words of my professor, "we're living in a post-Foucauldian world, so this will seem really self-evident, but that doesn't mean its right." Coming from that angle, I've been reading from a very critical position. I like Foucault's thesis and his examination seems pretty exhaustive, at least historically. I'm really caught on the discussion of the bourgeoisie and proletariat 'sexual bodies.' Foucault's statement that the technology of sexuality and proliferation of sexual power discourses w ...more
Caterina
Nov 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Caterina by: Patrick
"The aim of this series of studies? To transcribe into history the fable of Les Bijoux indiscrets. Among its many emblems, our society wears that of the talking sex. In the space of a few centuries, a certain inclination has led us to direct the question of who we are, to sex … The West has managed … to bring us almost entirely—our bodies, our minds, our individuality, our history—under the sway of a logic of concupiscence and desire. . . . Sex, the explanation for everything.” (pp. 77-78)

In the
...more
sologdin
Jun 10, 2011 rated it liked it
Reassessed, in light of re-reading Gender Trouble: Author lays down the gauntlet against received wisdom that sexual liberty was destroyed by “the monotonous nights of the Victorian bourgeoisie” (3), wherein “silence became the rule,” “a single locus of sexuality was acknowledged in social space,” and “proper demeanor avoided contact with other bodies and verbal decency sanitized one’s speech” (id.). In this system of “taboo, nonexistence, and silence” (5), there was surreptitious transfer of “ ...more
Ali Ben
May 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Why one more review?

Reading our comrades' review, one is very surprised. First of all, many seem to think this book "outdated", which is quite surprising - towards Foucault's writings, the question probably is if we failed the test of time, rather than if he did...

More interesting, most seem to be deceived by the title, and assume this is a book about "sexuality".

Indeed, the discourse on sexuality (Victorian Era, confession, psychoanalysis, etc.) forms its background. The real subject, however,
...more
Spyros Passas
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A popular quote goes by: "everything is about sex, except sex; sex is about power". While this can be interpreted in many ways, one of the most interesting approaches is the one presented in this book.

Foucault investigates not so much the history (if you're looking for a historiographical view of sex, this is not the book for you) but a -post- structuralist genealogy of sex; a study of the lineage and evolution of sexuality the last four centuries, examined under the dominant notion of Power.

In
...more
Ellen
Apr 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
::::: )))))))) he literally writes like a pretentious douche
Alex
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
Update 10.2020 - after starting reading de Beauvoir's book, I realised what a pretentious and superficial book this one is.
The guy just wanted to justify his "hidden" gay-ness and sadomasochistic behaviour.

A very interesting book, almost an eye-opener when it comes to sexuality. Ever asked yourself what sexuality actually is and when the human behavior regarding sex became a name? Why masturbation is such a hard theme to talk about? when sex other than "marital relation aimed at producing chil
...more
James Klagge
Jan 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, psychology
I am a philosopher, and (analytic) philosophers do not consider Foucault to be a philosopher. I read this b/c I was part of an interdisciplinary class in which it was assigned. I'm glad I have now read something by Foucault, but I did not find him to be very interesting, and his confusions were a constant bother to me. His favorite method of argument is to find an example or an anecdote and treat it as though it shows something. Generalizations are constantly being made from mere illustrations. ...more
David M
This is maybe one of the most misused, if not misunderstood, books ever.
Anna
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nathan
After enjoying The Seventh Function of Language so much, it seemed like the right time to read some more Foucault. I radically underestimated how long ‘The Will to Knowledge’ would take me, having previously only read Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Being based on a lecture series, the latter is presumably as a consequence rather less dense. The paragraphs in ‘The Will to Knowledge’ are unnecessarily long. Nonetheless, I got into it eventually and found so ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Foucault fans
Recommended to Erik by: Karen Engdahl
Shelves: history
I read this while visiting friends in Springfield, Vermont, mostly on their porch and outside the town's sole cafe. The reading occurred after the completion of Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death, another book concerned with the liberatory and repressive potentials of sexuality.

My intellectual interest in sex stems in part from the recognition of how references to it are used to manipulate. Advertising is a conspicuous example, but the manipulatory sexualization of society is far broader and m
...more
Jamie
May 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Foucault's "History of Sexuality" was assigned twice over the course of my semester; for one class, our theme is the intersection between queer and race theories; for the other, a strict literary (theory) methods foundation. As such, we discussed the text in two very different ways for each of the classes, with one debate focusing largely on the absence of race in Foucault's history; the other, on conceptions of power in the text, and their relation to Foucault's "What Is an Author?" Nevertheles ...more
Sabin
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Not about sex. Ok, you’re gonna get a bit of sex towards the end, but it’s not really something to fap to. Unless you have a thing for long sentences and elaborate syntax, in which case you’ve hit the jackpot.

Rather, the book is about power and knowledge and how they relate to and influence the human body. Basically sexuality is the means by which the powers that be know about and control your body. And the powers that be which developed this “scientia sexualis” are not, at least in the modern a
...more
Paul Ataua
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Having finished all the books I had to read, I finally got around to reading “the History of Sexuality”, a book I have been meaning to read for years. Quite frankly, I was totally knocked out by it. Foucault begins by describing the way most of us have understood the history of sexuality over the last three hundred years, as a period of growing repression finally leading to liberation from the second half of the twentieth century onward, and then he starts to reassess this view and reinterpret t ...more
Jen Seman
Sep 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
After reading this, I can't read anything else without seeing his influence. The relationships between power/knowledge and the construction of sexuality...he turns assumptions upside down and offers a different way of interpreting events, especially commonly held ideas about power relationships. For example, he dismisses the idea that victorian values repressed sexuality. He would insist that just the opposite is true - that the Victorian age offered multiple sites and institutions which increas ...more
Filip
Nov 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review was originally published over at my blog, The Grimoire Reliquary.

The notion of Victorian bourgeois society as sexually repressed weighs heavy on the general understanding modern society has of that by-gone time. Michel Foucault, in his History of Sexuality, seeks to dispell this unimaginative notion. Rather, he envisions the very notion of sexuality as a bourgeois invention, meant to negotiate between “power and knowledge,” between “truth and pleasures” in a way which eludes as simpl
...more
Bradley
May 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 a ...more
Paul
Sep 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
I was actually interested in reading about a history of sexuality, but what this is is... something else. It's quite difficult to tell what the hell Foucault is talking about because it's presented in dense language that makes a lot of assumptions about what the reader may or may not know about the state of society's relationship to sexuality. In addition to not totally know what context Foucault is coming from - I don't really know what assumptions people made about the state of sexuality in th ...more
Lexidreams
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Read for my Queer Studies class. A study of sexuality, bodies, pleasures, institutions, discourse, knowledge, power, 'truth', and all the relations therein. It definitely changed the way I think. He says in the book that the history of Western sexuality is really a history of discourse, and that is what you should be expecting (as he hammers home: sexuality is discursively produced).
It can be frustrating because it's a book based around ideas; the abstract and not the material. Somewhere in ther
...more
Megat Hanis
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Sexuality rather than being one part of ourself, has become an identity that define who we are. Foucault brilliantly using genealogical method aimed at unmasking the complexities of socially constructed power relations that spreads through the discourse on sexuality. He wrote against repressive theory that suggest, sexuality since the 17th century has been repressed and consequently needs to be liberated to achieve true freedom. For Foucault, not only the discourse on sexuality has been prolifer ...more
Kevin
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
the failure of semiotics and semiology is not complete yet. the use of words to replace true symbols points to the inward navel gazing of READERS, who READ into things, not study the biostructure (or rather the biogenetic structures) of form, movement, semiologists seem to be unaware of the myths that suffuse the very words they employ to dissect other more sophisticated structures. indeed cosmopolitan, the craft is wedded to tools born in the lit criticism freud used and called psychoanalysis. ...more
Khadija
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
The ideas in this book can be applied to anything, what was in the past a taboo topic could be normalized just by creating a discourse around it. Talking about something simply gives it power. The binary of power/knowledge is what attracted me to this book and it delivered.
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Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," but before he was Professor at University of Tunis, Tunisia, and then Professor at University Paris VIII. He lectured at several different Universities over the world as at the University at Buffalo, the University of California, ...more

Other books in the series

The History of Sexuality (4 books)
  • The History of Sexuality, Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure
  • The History of Sexuality, Volume 3: The Care of the Self
  • Histoire de la sexualité IV: Les aveux de la chair

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