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In this sequel to The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, the brilliantly original French thinker who died in 1984 gives an analysis of how the ancient Greeks perceived sexuality. Throughout The Uses of Pleasure Foucault analyzes an irresistible array of ancient Greek texts on eroticism as he tries to answer basic questions: How in the West did sexual experien In this sequel to The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, the brilliantly original French thinker who died in 1984 gives an analysis of how the ancient Greeks perceived sexuality. Throughout The Uses of Pleasure Foucault analyzes an irresistible array of ancient Greek texts on eroticism as he tries to answer basic questions: How in the West did sexual experience become a moral issue? And why were other appetites of the body, such as hunger, and collective concerns, such as civic duty, not subjected to the numberless rules and regulations and judgments that have defined, if not confined, sexual behavior?


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In this sequel to The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, the brilliantly original French thinker who died in 1984 gives an analysis of how the ancient Greeks perceived sexuality. Throughout The Uses of Pleasure Foucault analyzes an irresistible array of ancient Greek texts on eroticism as he tries to answer basic questions: How in the West did sexual experien In this sequel to The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, the brilliantly original French thinker who died in 1984 gives an analysis of how the ancient Greeks perceived sexuality. Throughout The Uses of Pleasure Foucault analyzes an irresistible array of ancient Greek texts on eroticism as he tries to answer basic questions: How in the West did sexual experience become a moral issue? And why were other appetites of the body, such as hunger, and collective concerns, such as civic duty, not subjected to the numberless rules and regulations and judgments that have defined, if not confined, sexual behavior?

30 review for The History of Sexuality, Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marija

    Foucault is GOD

  2. 5 out of 5

    sologdin

    The purpose here is “not to write a history of sexual behaviors and practices,” nor “analyze the scientific, religious, or philosophical ideas” related to them,” but rather to examine “that quite recent and banal notion of ‘sexuality’: to stand detached from it, bracket its familiarity, in order to analyze the theoretical and practical context with which it has been associated” (3). So, a husserlian reduction of sexuality into its archaeological context. Recognizing that purported ‘individuals’ The purpose here is “not to write a history of sexual behaviors and practices,” nor “analyze the scientific, religious, or philosophical ideas” related to them,” but rather to examine “that quite recent and banal notion of ‘sexuality’: to stand detached from it, bracket its familiarity, in order to analyze the theoretical and practical context with which it has been associated” (3). So, a husserlian reduction of sexuality into its archaeological context. Recognizing that purported ‘individuals’ “decipher, recognize, and acknowledge themselves as subjects of desire,” Foucault therefore wants to develop a “hermeneutics of desire” (5). The ultimate object of the inquiry here is the subtitle, ‘the use of pleasure,’ more specifically in its ancient formula, the chresis aphrodision, with attention to how it entered “a domain of moral valuation and choice” as well as how it situates within “modes of subjectivation” such as “the ethical substance, the types of subjection, the forms of elaboration of self, and the moral teleology”—which will summon the details of “themes of austerity” regarding “the relation to one’s body, the relation to one’s wife, the relation to boys, and the relation to truth” (32). Just to set the tone, Foucault observes the ancient complexity of disentangling sex and gender from sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity: Socrates’ first speech in the Phaedrus alludes to it, when he voices disapproval of the love that is given to soft boys, too delicate to be exposed to the sun as they are growing up, and all made up with rouge and decked out in ornaments. And it is with these same traits that Agathon appears in the Thesmophoriazusae: pale complexion, smooth-shaven cheeks, woman’s voice, so much so that his interlocutor wonders if he is in the presence of a man or a woman. It would be completely incorrect to interpret this as a condemnation of love of boys, or of what we generally refer to as homosexual relations; but at the same time, one cannot fail to see in it the effect of strongly negative judgments concerning some possible aspects of relations between men, as well as definite aversion to anything that might denote a deliberate renunciation of the signs and privileges of the masculine role. (19) Another axis of analysis here is the notion of self-discipline, wherein “extreme virtue was the visible mark of the mastery they brought to bear on themselves and hence of the power they were worthy of exercising over others” (20). Indeed, the distinction between “a virile man and an effeminate man did not coincide with our opposition between hetero- and homosexuality” (85), but rather in whether “one who yielded to the pleasures that enticed him: he was under the power of his own appetites and those of others” (id.). The aphrodisia for the Greeks equates to the Roman venerea--our “'pleasures of love,’ ‘sexual relations,’ ‘carnal acts,’ ‘sensual pleasures’—one renders the term as best one can, but the difference between the notional sets, theirs and ours, makes it hard to translate”—noting of course that Foucault writes in French (35). The ancients considered that the intensity of the aphrodisia compelled discipline: “people were induced to overturn the hierarchy, placing these appetites and their satisfaction uppermost, and giving them absolute power over the soul” (49), perhaps what Dante identifies as those condemned for ‘subjugating reason to appetite,’ which is expressly politicized by the Athenians as “the tendency to rebellion and riotousness was the ‘stasiastic’ potential of the sexual appetite” (id.)—we must recall in Agamben’s Stasis that the ancient rules for civil war (i.e., stasis) was the mandatory nature of participation therein for all members of the polis as well as the subsequent amnesia/amnestia. Two key concepts are enkrateia, self-mastery, and sophrosyne, moderation. These are usefully contrasted with two defects, respectively akrasia (incontinent) and akolasia (immoderate) (64 ff); whereas the latter fails to see a vice as an affirmative evil and abandons the self to enjoying it, the former realizes that a particular aphrodisiac course is unprincipled, a bad idea, and in actively attempting to avoid it, succumbs nevertheless. If it sounds as though this line of thinking develops a “polemical attitude toward oneself,” it is entirely because the ancient mind sought to avoid the reduction of the self to “slavery” to excess (66). Sometimes this recommended an “extirpation” of desire (69) (as in Plato’s Laws), whereas at others it is more rigorously developed as epimeleia heautou, the ‘care of the self’ (volume III’s subtitle) (73)—a condition of possibility for a person to enter into politics—and it is a regimen: in Plato’s Republic, desire is always already “apt to invade the soul” (74). Plenty plenty more. The meaning of Greek diaite (regimen) (100 ff). Differential practices in marriage (145 et seq.). The relation of eros to other affects (190 ff). The significance of ephebophilia (230 ff). Overall this is a departure from the plan laid out in volume I, with no attention, that I can see, directly on the notion of a scientia sexualis as distinguished from the ars amatoria. Citations range all across classical Greek sources, with much attention to Plato and Aristotle—it is very serious. Readers of Agamben will see connections everywhere, as this is a mine for an inchoate discipline of biopolitical management. Recommended for all philolagnoi.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Rabas

    First I should note that I am not really concerned with the accuracy of Foucault's interpretations of ancient Greek texts or even with sexuality as a topic of study. I'm not a Classicist so I can't comment on the empirical validity of the work. However, I am interested in understanding the truly original aspects of his work, mainly his theory of power, subjectivity, and the concept of discourse. In The History of Sexuality 1: An Introduction Foucault provides us with a sketch of his notion of po First I should note that I am not really concerned with the accuracy of Foucault's interpretations of ancient Greek texts or even with sexuality as a topic of study. I'm not a Classicist so I can't comment on the empirical validity of the work. However, I am interested in understanding the truly original aspects of his work, mainly his theory of power, subjectivity, and the concept of discourse. In The History of Sexuality 1: An Introduction Foucault provides us with a sketch of his notion of power. In fact, Vol I pages 92-95 contains probably the most straightforward definition of his notoriously "slippery" conception of power that I have read. Foucault's notions of subjectivity, and particularly "discourse" are even more troublesome in this regard. However, in Vol. II Foucault defines by way of demonstration. After reading Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison along with these works on sexuality, one gets a better sense of how his primary theoretical interest in power, discourse, and subjectivity work together and form an integrated whole. We can clearly see this in Vol. 2. Foucault starts Vol. 2 by laying out the "correlation between fields of knowledge, types of normativity, and forms of subjectivity" regarding sexuality in ancient Greek culture (p. 4). Subjectivity is the way in which an individual recognizes the form of power that he has (in this case it is always "he'). Discourses on sexuality and the control of the self provide forms of knowledge that enable the subject to perfect and reproduce his position within an "agonistic" social field. These discourses are instantiated in practice on the self-as-object-of-self in physical regimens ("dietetics") and on others as objects in the management of affairs ("economics"). The relations between free men and women or slaves are less a subject of discourse because the relationships here are assumed to be common knowledge and in little need of moral problematization. This discursive silence with respect to women and slaves speaks volumes (in Foucault's view at least) about their relations with free men. This is a key point, discourse, while a key component of power and part of its reproduction, is also a mechanism of change and transformation. This is why Foucault beings with the moral problematization of sexuality as his first chapter in the volume, it is the beginning of a discourse on sexuality in ancient Greek society. This is also why Foucault sees the increasing volume and diversity of discourse on sexuality in the 19th century as potentially liberating rather than necessarily repressive. This book (read along with Vol. 1) is probably the clearest example of Foucault's entire analytical apparatus in motion. His entire "genealogical period" starting with Discipline and Punish should be read since Foucault assembles many ships that seem weak on their own but form an armada when combined with others.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mr.

    Foucault's continuation of his impressive History of Human Sexuality looks into the sexual mores and practices of the Ancient Greeks, and attempts to understand the development of sexuality as a moral problematic. Contrary to the conventional wisdom which posits a complete epistemic reversal from the Hellenic world to the Christian world, Foucault poses a more complex network of interconnections between the two paradigms, which lie in a valuation of asceticism. Although The Use of Pleasure is on Foucault's continuation of his impressive History of Human Sexuality looks into the sexual mores and practices of the Ancient Greeks, and attempts to understand the development of sexuality as a moral problematic. Contrary to the conventional wisdom which posits a complete epistemic reversal from the Hellenic world to the Christian world, Foucault poses a more complex network of interconnections between the two paradigms, which lie in a valuation of asceticism. Although The Use of Pleasure is only a small piece of a very large story, it is an interesting development in the hermeneutics of sexuality.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Has some important insights, but Foucault's over-reliance on Attic prose substantially weakens his arguments - note that he doesn't even mention Sappho! And he quotes from the tragedians maybe twice? There are many classicists of the past few decades who have done much better work on ancient Greek sexuality. Foucault is more interested in making a point about the world that he lived in than in actually understanding the way the Greeks lived. Has some important insights, but Foucault's over-reliance on Attic prose substantially weakens his arguments - note that he doesn't even mention Sappho! And he quotes from the tragedians maybe twice? There are many classicists of the past few decades who have done much better work on ancient Greek sexuality. Foucault is more interested in making a point about the world that he lived in than in actually understanding the way the Greeks lived.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Atimia Atimia

    I'll attempt to recap the whole thing in a few hundred words, without looking anything up. If you find something wrong, please let me know, it'll help me remember better. DISCLAIMER: Foucault mentions multiple times that there are plenty of philosophers whose works have not been preserved, and so he bases his book mostly on Platonic-Socratic notions of sexuality. First of, there was no notion of proper ''sexuality'' back in Ancient Greece. Of course there were ideas of homo and heterosexuality, bu I'll attempt to recap the whole thing in a few hundred words, without looking anything up. If you find something wrong, please let me know, it'll help me remember better. DISCLAIMER: Foucault mentions multiple times that there are plenty of philosophers whose works have not been preserved, and so he bases his book mostly on Platonic-Socratic notions of sexuality. First of, there was no notion of proper ''sexuality'' back in Ancient Greece. Of course there were ideas of homo and heterosexuality, but they weren't defined as that. Whatever notions of what we would now call sexuality were mixed together with other bodily desires, such as eating and drinking (named the Aphrodisia) created to sustain a principle of an ''ethical subject'', which, simply put, means that there needed to be a system of rules so you could see how noble of a being you actually were. There were ethical guidelines to conform yourself to, and esteem your (but probably more importantly so) other's worth as ''ethical subjects''. So we have the bodily desire catalog, the aphrodisia being the sexual one. Sex was believed to have certain effects on the body, such as cooling it (through ejaculation - they supposed that something heated up and then left your body, which makes sense in the 4 temperaments theory). Because it cooled you, it would be appropriate to have sex when ''overheated'' (for example) this form of theorizing is named ''dietetics'' by Foucault. It's the logical approach to bodily changes through sex, analyzed to fit the circumstances and overall state of the body. This was important because they also believed sperm was some of the most important content in your body (how else could it create a person? it must take something important from you to create a mini you), stemming from the brain, through your marrow, into your balls, etc. Because sex was so vital and dangerous (you can't tap your brain for babies forever, you'd suppose), proper care was taken to ensure that the circumstances were just right to create the right baby at the right time. Age of marriage was 30-35 for men, around 20-25 for women, sex was to be had in the right state of mind, with the right intentions, etc. This had to ensure that Athens would receive an honorable citizen. These rules were there for the Polis, not for the couple themselves. Then there's the economics: This was a question of honor, self control, and rightfully enjoying what is yours. Foucault writes that because of the loss of vital fluids, sex was prescribed to be had as little as possible. To give in to sexual desires was a loss of self-mastery, and showed that one was incapable of ruling himself, which would raise doubt about his capability of ruling the city (all this moralizing obviously only applies to free men of Athens). Moreover, a lack of sexual fidelity was disrespectful to your wife, whom you trusted to run your household and your possessions. This is also a major thing in homosexual relations, because you couldn't be greedy for boy butt, you just kind of had to let it happen, but only for the right reasons. Basically, homosexuality was a thing, but nobody really liked to say it was. A ton of moralizing surrounded it, and both approval of natural beauty regardless of gender as straight up gay bashing seem to have been the ruling opinions. Some interesting other stuff outside of the main theories: - A woman/girl being raped is not as punishable as a woman being seduced, because rape is damage of property, while seducing is putting into question who's property the woman/girl actually is. - A woman wearing make-up for her man was (in one story at least) frowned upon, because it concealed the true nature of the woman, and so it masked the product, which is false advertising. - Some ''boys'' were 28 years old. - One of the problems with homosexuality was the duality of sex. One was dominant (male), the other submissive (female). If you had sex with a man, one of you was the bitch, with all the contemporary connotations applied. This is why it was hard to just give up your bum to any friendly old man, but why it could be very rewarding for you if you appropriately chose the right man of status to give your bum to, because that meant you completely surrendered to be his object of pleasure, without you having the right to enjoy it. That's basically it. Once again, feel free to comment whatever important thing you think I missed.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is some deep genealogy, something that is a far cry from the more wild, theoretical-level writings of the young Foucault. He turns his attentions to the Greeks, arguing that they viewed sexuality more in terms of dietetic regimen, one to be conformed with for maximum health. A point which he repeats ad nauseam. Now, I enjoyed the examples given but -- and this shouldn’t be a surprise given Foucault's rather androcentric view of sex -- he seems to leave female desire almost completely out of This is some deep genealogy, something that is a far cry from the more wild, theoretical-level writings of the young Foucault. He turns his attentions to the Greeks, arguing that they viewed sexuality more in terms of dietetic regimen, one to be conformed with for maximum health. A point which he repeats ad nauseam. Now, I enjoyed the examples given but -- and this shouldn’t be a surprise given Foucault's rather androcentric view of sex -- he seems to leave female desire almost completely out of the equation. One could argue that the heavily patriarchal nature of Greek society made this an inevitability in terms of the available sources, but that's no excuse for a researcher of Foucault's caliber. Onward, a bit more cautiously this time, to Volume 3.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    I met this guy at a party who wanted to do nothing but talk about Foucault (I didn't like him very much). HIS opinion was that Foucault was awful. I wouldn't say awful, but he is not easy to read. If I met Foucault at a party, I would probably like him as much as I did that guy who insulted him. But he wrote about interesting things. No rating because I skipped about half the book. Oops! I met this guy at a party who wanted to do nothing but talk about Foucault (I didn't like him very much). HIS opinion was that Foucault was awful. I wouldn't say awful, but he is not easy to read. If I met Foucault at a party, I would probably like him as much as I did that guy who insulted him. But he wrote about interesting things. No rating because I skipped about half the book. Oops!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sabin

    I have to get this out before I forget too much. Not the concept or the implications, or the parallels to the current gender gap in most of the western or westernized world, or the status hierarchies and power struggles that come to mind and to which I could easily draw parallels; even though I am sure that monsieur Foucault could see so many finer and more pertinent distinctions that my comparisons would sound puerile. I don’t think I’ll forget that. But I’ll forget the book and its structure. I have to get this out before I forget too much. Not the concept or the implications, or the parallels to the current gender gap in most of the western or westernized world, or the status hierarchies and power struggles that come to mind and to which I could easily draw parallels; even though I am sure that monsieur Foucault could see so many finer and more pertinent distinctions that my comparisons would sound puerile. I don’t think I’ll forget that. But I’ll forget the book and its structure. It will dissolve in my memory, the ideas blurring and merging with others that I am going to come across, so I just want to write a few thoughts down. In this book, the author is trying to reconstruct the sexuality of the ancient Greeks of the 4th century (B.C.E) using what remained of their writings on domestic life, health and erotics. To this end, the author splits the book by theme: Dietetics, Economics and Erotics and circumscribes them with a discussion on morality and one on truth. The subject of Ancient Greek written thought, is, of course, the free man. Specifically, the works address the land owner, the master of a domain. The Greek man is taught how to keep his body healthy, how to exercise, eat and have sex, and the best time of year to engage in specific activities. He is taught how to manage his domain, how to keep a household organized and how to transform his wife into his partner. Then Foucault’s attention turns to the erotics and the power relations which run through the erotic encounters between men and teenage boys, how each of the partners (erastes and eromenos) is to behave in their courting rituals and their relationship. The thread which runs through each of the themes is moderation. Mostly, this boils down to not too much sex, not too many extra-marital affairs, not too many lovers. Women play a marginal role since their status in Ancient Greek culture was always inferior to a man’s, and Foucault always stresses that the wife’s faithfulness is considered absolute in the texts which detail domestic affairs, while the husband’s faithfulness is described as a matter of politics. It mostly means that the husband should not commit adultery because of the risk of unwanted pregnancy and thus progeny who would muddle their heritage. However, since the texts refer only to men, I wonder how women were taught this way of life by their elders, and exactly what they were being taught. I’m guessing that it was some kind of oral culture that is now lost, where the young girl’s mother or a mistress of sorts would have explained to her daughter based on her experience and what she had heard and had been taught. And how these two points of view over marriage would overlap and in which attitudes they would differ. The final chapters discuss the relationship between older men and teenage boys, which is, in fact, the centre of attention in most texts discussing “the use of pleasures” and the one most dominated by politics. I could try to explain it by saying that the loved one, the eromenos, is a kind of apprentice in the affairs of civic life and duty to the lover, and is being taught how to behave in a manner which would increase his status and retain his honour and prepare him for the functions of a statesman which he is expected to hold when he reaches maturity. But he isn’t an apprentice, because this is first and foremost a relationship based on sexual attraction, it does not put the learning of a skill first, nor is it supposed to produce physical artefacts. Of course there are some skills to be learned, because what is supposed to happen could be loosely defined as a courtship ritual, so that the loved one can reciprocate the advances of a lover that he finds worthy and who would help him by introducing him to the right people and increasing his status. However, the loved one in this relationship is to be weaned off this dependence so that he will take his role as a citizen with full standing. Foucault briefly summarises the dangers that such a loved one would face with examples like this one: “When one played the role of subordinate partner in the game of pleasure relations, one could not be truly dominant in the game of civic and political activity.” Now extrapolate this way of thinking to the current day relationship between men and women and the historic role of women, of which you will find traces to varying degrees in today’s cultures around the world, and you get a different understanding of the current gender gap. At the end of his analysis he describes how a relationship to truth emerges out of this erotics, meaning the way in which the young eromenos begins to understand himself and the world and glimpse the truths hidden behind what he sees, something like Plato’s world of perfect forms. Here he describes something akin to asceticism as the Ancient Greeks’ ultimate virtue. This is the one which, when practiced by a prospective lover, the erastes, would create a desire in the younger partner which, in turn, would allow the latter access to this truth. And, finally, this truth, Foucault seems to concede, is the ultimate ideal of love for the Ancient Greeks. The book ends with a lead-in to the following phases of the development of eroticism, when the focus will shift from boys to women, and the relation between men and women will become the focus of future reflections on sexual pleasures. But, for me, the book was the beginning of a few trains of thought which gave me quite a few insights into how human relationships work, how they develop and what drives us. It managed to put into words thoughts which I could not comprehend clearly beforehand. So yeah, good job monsieur.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joeri

    This book contains interesting reflections on how subjectivity was formed in ancient Greek culture around (sexual) pleasure as a result of relations men had with oneself in terms of moderation, selfmastery, selfstylization and domination. As such, Foucault shows, the Greeks developed an ethics of the self through selfcare. A criticical note: the book contains alot of redundancy and repetition, which usually isn't the case with Foucault. What further strikes me is that Foucault doesn't give women a This book contains interesting reflections on how subjectivity was formed in ancient Greek culture around (sexual) pleasure as a result of relations men had with oneself in terms of moderation, selfmastery, selfstylization and domination. As such, Foucault shows, the Greeks developed an ethics of the self through selfcare. A criticical note: the book contains alot of redundancy and repetition, which usually isn't the case with Foucault. What further strikes me is that Foucault doesn't give women a voice in his book, while a history of female (sexual) pleasure can also certainly be written, or at least be given a place in a book such as this. Think for example about works and reflections on female (lesbian) pleasure in poems of Sappho and Alcaeus to name just two examples from ancient Greece. He calls his book 'The History of Sexuality', yet in my opinion he only offers a very selective and limited reading of this history, making this book as masculine as the culture and its practices that it's trying to describe.

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Bird

    This book broke the spell of Foucault for me. In works like he wove a net from works that were unknown to me. Who was I to question his readings? Here I finally saw him at work on an author and text I knew, and when I looked at what he did with Xenophon, I found his reading of the Oeconomicus was bizarre and tendentious. Fully escaping from Foucault would take me until but this was the start. This book broke the spell of Foucault for me. In works like he wove a net from works that were unknown to me. Who was I to question his readings? Here I finally saw him at work on an author and text I knew, and when I looked at what he did with Xenophon, I found his reading of the Oeconomicus was bizarre and tendentious. Fully escaping from Foucault would take me until but this was the start.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    It does indeed seem to be the case that many of the ancient Greeks and Romans were oblivious to what we see as the ethical issues pertaining to human sexuality. Of course, given our limited sources, it is difficult to generalize with a high degree of certainty. What we have was written by elites and filtered through elites over centuries when women were regarded as inferior, adulthood started earlier, marriages were frequently arranged and various forms of slavery (often including a sexual compo It does indeed seem to be the case that many of the ancient Greeks and Romans were oblivious to what we see as the ethical issues pertaining to human sexuality. Of course, given our limited sources, it is difficult to generalize with a high degree of certainty. What we have was written by elites and filtered through elites over centuries when women were regarded as inferior, adulthood started earlier, marriages were frequently arranged and various forms of slavery (often including a sexual component) were taken for granted. Yet within this milieu existed Judaism and arose Christianity, both of which did promulgate ethics of sexuality.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mason

    A meditation on the problematization of desire in Ancient Greece. Foucault presents the era's ethics of pleasure in stark contrast to the hermeneutics of desire that emerged with early Christian doctrine. A meditation on the problematization of desire in Ancient Greece. Foucault presents the era's ethics of pleasure in stark contrast to the hermeneutics of desire that emerged with early Christian doctrine.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    Anybody have opinions on whether I should read these in order? Because I kinda want to read the one about the Greeks asap.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Stein

    While I really loved Volume 1, Volume 2 was exceedingly repetitive. I lost count of the number of times that I had to double-check that I hadn't inadvertently skipped back four or five pages. While I really loved Volume 1, Volume 2 was exceedingly repetitive. I lost count of the number of times that I had to double-check that I hadn't inadvertently skipped back four or five pages.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rui Coelho

    In this book Foucault shows how Ancient Greek sexual norms were technologies of the self, exercices to create oneself as a free, healthy and happy subject, and not laws or proibitions.

  17. 5 out of 5

    whitten overby

    The introduction to “The Use of Pleasure,” the second volume in Michel Foucault’s “History of Sexuality,” promises a lot. Refocusing from his well worn conception of power networks to “desire and the desiring subject” (5), Michel suggests his study will combine his two previous modes of scholarship--the archaeologies of the 1960s and the genealogies of the 1970s--in a single volume. This is, he says, a work of philosophy that uses fourth-century BCE practical historical texts to construct, again The introduction to “The Use of Pleasure,” the second volume in Michel Foucault’s “History of Sexuality,” promises a lot. Refocusing from his well worn conception of power networks to “desire and the desiring subject” (5), Michel suggests his study will combine his two previous modes of scholarship--the archaeologies of the 1960s and the genealogies of the 1970s--in a single volume. This is, he says, a work of philosophy that uses fourth-century BCE practical historical texts to construct, again, “the genealogy of desiring man,” his “practices of self,” and his “‘aesthetics of existence’” (12). It is refreshing to see Michel move beyond the pure analytics of power and to channel his obsession with discursive nodes, modes, networks, and domains into a different kind of relations, those that exist between people and inside the individual. In fact, while some of Michel’s previous work handled the ways in which power worked on, through, and within the individual, “The Use of Pleasure” seems the first Foucauldian publication to emphasize the ways in which desire (substituting for power) is conditioned by the self for the self. This concern seems to derive, in part, from his definition of contemporary philosophy, which he claims is “the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself” and, more importantly, concerns the ~desire~ “to learn to what extent the effort to think one’s own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently” (9). This denotation feels like the closest admission of subjectivity that Michel is capable of and, if nothing else, suggests that this is his ~passion project~. It also places a burden on the subsequent work that Michel fails to actualize: it’s never very clear--within the text itself, without a biography of the author--how he is bringing these thoughts to bear onto his own history. I couldn't quite overcome this failure. In choosing to focus on classical Greece, Foucault essentially abandons the project he set out on in his “Introduction,” requiring readers to do mental gymnastics to see correlations between modern and contemporary sexualities and the classical sexualities he discusses here. There are, don’t worry, many such connections to make and, very occasionally, Michel will compare some portion of Greek conceptions of the self to more recent Western notions (most often when he is discussing the homosexual; is this his connection to personal history?). On the other hand, Michel’s periodization allows him to focus solely on the nature of desire and pleasure among classical Greece’s “free men,” a category he should have problematized more. Here as everywhere else in his oeuvre, Michel fails to take an intersectional perspective, that is, while he may acknowledge issues of class, he completely neglects a feminist critique of the rampant misogyny of the periods he discusses let alone begins to tackle the flagrant racism that was omnipresent. Yes, he does mention women somewhat extensively in relation to marital fidelity but he literally goes on (and on and on) about how women were submissive and passive to their husbands without once truly ‘problematizing’ (to throw one of his pet words back at him) this relation. The more I think about these omissions, the more I believe they seriously hinder the potency of his arguments about both power and desire. It’s like he has historical amnesia or, perhaps, he is solely concerned with men because they, rather than women or people of color, have been the dominant focus of discourse. (WORST EXCUSE EVER.) Or, perhaps, men just interest him more because he was gay. (Don’t be basic, Michel.) Whatever reason there may be for the neglect of feminist and racialized analyses, it is a complicated, frustrating fact that the “truth” promised by this esteemed author did not include these perspectives. I am ashamed to not have thought of this before but now that I have thought it I can't get over it, despite some otherwise provocative arguments and arresting individual chapters. Running throughout is the proposition that freedom for ancient Greeks possess a doubled nature by which a truthful relation of oneself to oneself, primarily characterized by moderation of pleasures/desires, corresponds to and largely determines one’s position within the city state. Attaching civic responsibility to an ordered, moderate lifestyle means that an enslavement to desire threatens one’s individual freedom as well as the health of one’s government. This critique especially rings true in an era when emotion rather than reason (rationality being the guiding logic of this claim) dominates political discourse and governmental as well as electoral decision-making, a troubling change that risks the health of many nations as well as global political, economic, social, and environmental well-being. In establishing truth through moderation in relation to a self responsible to both a populace and itself, rather than rooting truth in the enlightenment of a singular knowing subject, the ancient Greeks privileged both individual and collective in a way that many contemporary societies do not. Therefore, the troubling, doomed idea of the rugged self reliant individual (hello, America) had no place in Greek society. By tying truth to an aesthetics of existence rooted in “formal principles in the use of pleasures, in the way one distributed them, in the limits one observed, in the hierarchy one respected” (89), Michel suggests that moderating one’s sexuality helped one become a better citizen. Equally powerful are the final two parts of the book, which handle how sex and love played out in relationships between older men and adolescent boys. These chapters have significant ramifications for the queer theory that emerged in the wake of Foucault and suggest there is Foucauldian work yet to be done. There were a whole set of prescribed practices and moral values associated with these kind of affairs that would, ideally, culminate in a loving friendship that one would derive just as much if not more pleasure from than the preceding sexual relationship. In fact, both sections come at the end of the volume, a placement that likely derives from Michel’s belief that these kinds of relations were the most troubled in all of ancient Greece. Restated with more power, he claims that the epoch’s sexual ethics formed around and derived from this love between boys and men (245). Michel suggests, via Plato, (this) love was a spiritual concern, that is, love pertained to the identification of beauty and truth in the soul--rather than the body--of another. Thus, the conception of “true love” came from men looking into the souls of boys and vice versa. While initially suggesting there were passive/active and submissive/dominant relations between boys and men, Michel, again via Platonic discourse, concludes that the boys eventually became the “masters” of these relations because they first knew true love, which was fostered not through sexual pleasure but rather through an alternative pleasure cultivated by knowing one’s partner was satisfied. He uses this claim to restate and generalize the proposition that true love was not a matter of erotics but rather resultant from an open communion between two (male) souls based in the pleasure of knowing one another. This is a liberating theory of the true love and the self rejected by queer pessimism and not fully taken up by queer optimism; it suggests that the original figure for true love in Western culture was that fostered between a man and boy, positing that a proto-homosexuality rather than heterosexuality was the basis for all subsequent notions of love, desire, and pleasure. It is important to note, however, that Michel doesn’t mean to bring about LGBTQ+ liberation with this fact but rather seeks to right a discursive wrong, perhaps limiting the ramifications of his claims. It seems to me that Michel's intention should be separated from the content used to reach said conclusions because these are radical reformulations of Western sexuality and could be harnessed as tools of liberation. Moreover, it would seem that the onus to connect these conclusions to a personal philosophy of history rests with contemporary queer theorists and historians frustrated by Michel’s failure to live up to his own promises. Unfortunately, a bit too often Michel’s infatuation with details that fascinate him but may bore even the specialized reader take center stage: there are very under-theorized chapters about diet and an overlong discussion of semen (ancient Greeks thought it a “foam” generated in the brain!), neither of which are wholly justified, at least in their length, by the overall argument. There’s plenty more such detail to go around, which makes a large portion of this book a slog to get through. When it’s riveting, it’s riveting, but I suspect, depending upon why you’re coming to this book, large swaths will not appeal to you.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ernest

    This was a lot more interesting than volume one. The subtitle should have been "The Use of Pleasure in Ancient Greece" or "Same-sex Sexuality in Ancient Greece" or something along those lines. If Foucault had set a broader scope -- let alone settle with modern, and less-obfuscating terminology -- he would have summarily concluded the following: "It is important to emphasize that people who engage in same-sex sexual practices do not necessarily have a homosexual orientation. The same-sex sexual act This was a lot more interesting than volume one. The subtitle should have been "The Use of Pleasure in Ancient Greece" or "Same-sex Sexuality in Ancient Greece" or something along those lines. If Foucault had set a broader scope -- let alone settle with modern, and less-obfuscating terminology -- he would have summarily concluded the following: "It is important to emphasize that people who engage in same-sex sexual practices do not necessarily have a homosexual orientation. The same-sex sexual act may have different meanings and applications depending on the cultural context in which it occurs. According to different scholars it serves for developing masculinity among the Melanesians, for improving the macho man’s sexual image in South America, for the transmission of knowledge among ancient Greeks, for compensating for the lack of available women among the Azande, for satisfying the adult male lust among the Moroccans, for demonstrating the capacity of deflowering a virgin in the Coast of Oman, for tension release among Pakistani males, for making a living in the Coast of Oman and India, and so on."-- Cardoso, F.L. (2009). Similar Faces of Same-Sex Sexual Behavior..., Journal of Homosexuality Vol. 55, Issue 4 Apparently, in Ancient Greece, pederasty had symbolic significance in that it was also partially about an issue of seniority or power-relations between the 'penetrator' and 'penetratee'. Eck. I know... sounds rather gross. Such relationships had advantages for either party. Along with this seeming institution were complicated rules of etiquette that gradually changed overtime. Personally though, the practice pederasty simply has no place in modern society -- although the book does discuss other things as well..

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jas

    I read this for a political philosophy course on sexual ethics as the last work after thinkers from the following categories: Greek, Christian, new natural lawyers, and liberalism. It was part of a combined senior undergraduate and graduate seminar. I really enjoyed how Foucault offers a different way to understand Greek sexual ethics and a different way to understand sexual ethics in our own time. This is one of the last works he wrote before he passed away, so at times it does end up feeling ru I read this for a political philosophy course on sexual ethics as the last work after thinkers from the following categories: Greek, Christian, new natural lawyers, and liberalism. It was part of a combined senior undergraduate and graduate seminar. I really enjoyed how Foucault offers a different way to understand Greek sexual ethics and a different way to understand sexual ethics in our own time. This is one of the last works he wrote before he passed away, so at times it does end up feeling rushed and the writing could be more 'refined.' But it's brilliant, the ideas are fascinating. I do add the proviso that it may not make much sense if you haven't read anything on Greek sexual ethics. I'm not sure as I had read a number of the works he refers to in the class. However, it is worth while to read some of these works and follow up with this work. It's just fantastic and very empowering in how one can self-constitute themselves as an ethical/moral agent. Worth reading.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Bateman

    A fine short survey of classical Greek sexual thinking, yet Michel Foucault's work with these primary sources isn't as impressive as it is with materials from the 17th and 18th centuries. A heavy reliance on two major 1970s-era histories by KJ Dover seems to suggest that Foucault isn't so much breaking new ground as sowing seeds in already-fertilized fields. All in all, though, this was a worthwhile and interesting read, even if it wasn't as provocative as Volume 1. A fine short survey of classical Greek sexual thinking, yet Michel Foucault's work with these primary sources isn't as impressive as it is with materials from the 17th and 18th centuries. A heavy reliance on two major 1970s-era histories by KJ Dover seems to suggest that Foucault isn't so much breaking new ground as sowing seeds in already-fertilized fields. All in all, though, this was a worthwhile and interesting read, even if it wasn't as provocative as Volume 1.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    A short, straightforward work that analyzes the relation of sexuality to social power. Worth reading not only for the good clear writing, but also for Foucault's original take on sexuality as an object of knowledge. A short, straightforward work that analyzes the relation of sexuality to social power. Worth reading not only for the good clear writing, but also for Foucault's original take on sexuality as an object of knowledge.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

    The level of hatred that I have for Foucault and his bullshit really cannot be overstated.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    better than the first one.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Neil Turner

    Again, not one of my favorite topics that Foucault wrote about or critiqued.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    The introduction of this book is a tour de force of Foucault’s methodological brilliance. He spins off structuring distinctions that he then applies to the unfolding of the whole project. The project itself—the tracing of how sex is made into a field for ethical reflection in Ancient Greece—is only of interest for historians of sex or classicists, and it’s executed in a bit of a methodical, repetitive way. (The benefit of this plodding style is that it is an uncharacteristically breezy read by F The introduction of this book is a tour de force of Foucault’s methodological brilliance. He spins off structuring distinctions that he then applies to the unfolding of the whole project. The project itself—the tracing of how sex is made into a field for ethical reflection in Ancient Greece—is only of interest for historians of sex or classicists, and it’s executed in a bit of a methodical, repetitive way. (The benefit of this plodding style is that it is an uncharacteristically breezy read by Foucault’s standards.) If you are interested in this topic, I strongly recommend reading it alongside Martha Nussbaum’s essay in The Sleep of Reason. For those with more general interest, read the intro once or twice and then read the last section, which includes a fascinating interpretation of Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium, identifying how Platonic erotics becomes the point of transition from the Greek popular notions of courtship virtues to the question of truth. Here the forms of Christian morality take shape at least in outline. But Foucault is amazingly sensitive in his treatment, electing not to draw direct lines and instead to focus on contrasting wider shapes between Christian and Greek: moral law vs. ethics as a mode of stylization of the self, hermeneutics (knowledge) of desires vs. the drama of self-mastery and pleasure, other-oriented vs. self-oriented morality. (This latter distinction is of especial interest, and I would love to see it further fleshed out.)((mostly I just wanted to use “especial” in a sentence))

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Haines

    In this book, Foucault seeks to show how sexual acts and sexual pleasures were problematized in classical Greek thought, specifically by the doctors and philosophers of the time period beginning with the Pre-Socratics, and continuing until shortly after Aristotle. Foucault begins with an extended discussion of how the Greeks talked about sexuality, and how they viewed morality in relation to sexual relations. He then goes on to discuss what he sees to be the three primary areas of problematizati In this book, Foucault seeks to show how sexual acts and sexual pleasures were problematized in classical Greek thought, specifically by the doctors and philosophers of the time period beginning with the Pre-Socratics, and continuing until shortly after Aristotle. Foucault begins with an extended discussion of how the Greeks talked about sexuality, and how they viewed morality in relation to sexual relations. He then goes on to discuss what he sees to be the three primary areas of problematization in Greek thought about Sexuality: Dietetics (how one should pursue the sexual pleasures--timing, amount, etc.), Economics (the sexual pleasures in the Household), and Erotics (which he characterizes primarily as the love for adolescent boys that men expressed). He then looks at how the Platonic tradition developed the notion of a true love which is a pursuit and desire for truth--bringing about the idea that true love eschews the physical, preferring the spiritual. In his conclusion, Foucault argues that contemporary occidental (and even Christian) views on sexuality, found in occidental moralities, find their roots not in Christianity, but in early Greek reflections on dietetics, economics, and boy-love (erotics); and, in how they problematized the various times, places, and uses of sex acts, desires, and pleasures. It is here, thinks Foucault, that we see the development, in occidental thought, of freedom as a "power game".

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jayden Davidson

    As is standard, Foucault's work here is insightful and unique. Though the direction of the work has changed substantially between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 & 3, the analysis remains worthwhile. Foucault is able to make sexuality a case study for a history of the 'subject' and deftly shows how sexuality in Greek philosophy was a subject around which prescriptions could be made which ultimately concern the individual's relationship with and knowledge of themselves. Across themes of moderation and mastery, As is standard, Foucault's work here is insightful and unique. Though the direction of the work has changed substantially between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 & 3, the analysis remains worthwhile. Foucault is able to make sexuality a case study for a history of the 'subject' and deftly shows how sexuality in Greek philosophy was a subject around which prescriptions could be made which ultimately concern the individual's relationship with and knowledge of themselves. Across themes of moderation and mastery, Foucault demonstrates the complexity of Greek thought but simultaneously draws out the themes and questions that the periods writers were focused on. It is these themes and questions which make up the bulk of the books analysis as, rather than focus on tangible prescriptions, Foucault opts for discussions how problematising certain behaviours and relationships creates an impetus for self-knowledge and self-mastery. A must-read if one is to understand Foucault's broader philosophical project.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Regina Barona

    In this, it is proved that sexuality (or rather the frequency of its practice, and between whom) was not considered to be a moral sin as it is indicated in Judeo-Christian (and even current) mores. But sexuality was so closely intertwined with asceticism within Greek culture that to practice a sort of dietetics was necessary in order to be considered a capable man; to know when, how, how often, who to practice one’s sexuality on was indicative of one’s ability to be a functioning political actor In this, it is proved that sexuality (or rather the frequency of its practice, and between whom) was not considered to be a moral sin as it is indicated in Judeo-Christian (and even current) mores. But sexuality was so closely intertwined with asceticism within Greek culture that to practice a sort of dietetics was necessary in order to be considered a capable man; to know when, how, how often, who to practice one’s sexuality on was indicative of one’s ability to be a functioning political actor. Put simply, they didn’t give a fuck who you fucked just as long as you used your drive to perform society’s functions which so demanded self-mastery. Asked simply, the Judeo-Christian ideals of sexuality (between married men and women) have so been embedded in our current society but has so fucked up in many ways, how did it come to dominate over the Greek’s ideas on sexuality? Gotta keep reading Foucault’s next instalment in order to answer that question. BRB.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Edmond

    Foucault answers questions I had about sex and sexuality. Conservative Christians do not want to think about the question of sexual pleasure, they are afraid of their sexuality, in particular, they are afraid of female sexuality. Conservative Christians attack Foucault for being a homosexual, they are afraid of his ideas. The best way to describe Foucault, the western world before Foucault, the western world after Foucault. Foucault’s thought has heavily influence feminism. He is the most import Foucault answers questions I had about sex and sexuality. Conservative Christians do not want to think about the question of sexual pleasure, they are afraid of their sexuality, in particular, they are afraid of female sexuality. Conservative Christians attack Foucault for being a homosexual, they are afraid of his ideas. The best way to describe Foucault, the western world before Foucault, the western world after Foucault. Foucault’s thought has heavily influence feminism. He is the most important philosopher of the 20th century. I keep thinking about the abortion issue while reading Foucault, “History of Sexuality. He makes the argument in “Discipline and Punish” that the modern western world is more concern with punishing the soul rather than the body. I would agree with Foucault on that point in regards to the abortion issue. The conservatives are using fear, and the threat of violence or death to punish women for their sexual behaviour.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    Foucault cautions the reader of this volume right in the beginning that he is not a classicist and neither trained in the classical Greek nor Latin canon; unfortunately, this also seems quite apparent through larger parts of his textual analysis. Often times, the sources consulted for his argument seem rather random, and he gives little to no contextualization. To be fair, Foucault was never known as an acute historian but rather as an influential philosopher. Conceptually then, the volume at ha Foucault cautions the reader of this volume right in the beginning that he is not a classicist and neither trained in the classical Greek nor Latin canon; unfortunately, this also seems quite apparent through larger parts of his textual analysis. Often times, the sources consulted for his argument seem rather random, and he gives little to no contextualization. To be fair, Foucault was never known as an acute historian but rather as an influential philosopher. Conceptually then, the volume at hand is again highly valuable and well laid out: Foucault here traces the emergence of morality, moral codes, and ethics governing sexual behavior in ancient Greece. He then investigates the interrelationship between those ethics and certain modes of subjection and subject creation. All in all a sometimes a bit tiring yet interesting read, not Foucault at his best, yet still conceptually widely relevant.

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