This message should take about five minutes to read.
To begin, I propose that we finish "We Other Victorians" by Sunday
night, which gives most of us plenty of time, but is, believe it or not,
a pressure on me because I have so much to do this weekend. Anyway,
must we subscribe to a rushed schedule; can't we relax and savor the
reading? Now, on to another matter.
The following is a preface to our discussion of the reading as a whole
and our conception of sexuality, as well as Foucault's. To be clear, I
write as plainly as possible and use everyday examples. My hopes are to
perhaps help answer a few basic questions for others and to have my own
possible misconceptions corrected by some good soul. Whatever the case,
a preface to our discussion will help massage all our brains and prime
us for the reading.
First, I want to respond to Edy's concern: "I'm not really sure about my
understanding on the distinction between *sex* and *sexuality*."
Well, Edy, the distinction is between biology and culture. (Please note
that the title of Foucault's book is NOT: The History of "Sex.") Sex is
a physical phenomenon, and sexuality is a cultural one. Sex covers all
the physical aspects: the act(s) and fundamental appetites. Sex is the
physical hunger to have intercourse, etc. And sexuality is the desire
of whom one has intercourse, etc. with. All most everyone hungers for
sex, but we're not all heterosexual. So there's a distinction between
an appetite and a desire. Think of this distinction is terms of food.
For example, I'm hungry--I have an "appetitie"--and I want broccoli--I
have a "desire" for broccoli. So to compare food with sex, in this
example hunger is an appetite for sex and taste for broccoli is a desire
for a particular sex partner.
Now, to continue with the example from the previous paragraph, I chose
broccoli and not steak because I'm vegetarian. So my desire--for a
particular type of food(sex partner)--and an appetite for food(sex) in
general. For Foucault, the distinction between the concepts of appetite
and desire is important. The reason is because sexuality is defined by
one's desire. In other words, your desires(heterosexual, etc.) define
your sexuality(heterosexuality, etc.), and so desire is key to identity
Now I will, for the moment, abandon Foucault and return directly to
Edy's concern. Sexuality is an individual's personal expression--which,
by the way, is a function of behavior--as a sexual being, and this is
why sexuality is seen as being a marker of identity. In other words,
the manners in which you behave and express yourself is supposed to be
an expression of your identity, even if that identity is in the closet.
This means that your sexuality is a component of your identity.
And back to Foucault: What Foucault does is to show that sexuality, and
hence identity, is culturally written into individuals, or defined for
individuals, by society. And one of Foucault's points is that with the
the movement of the responsibility to oversee human sexual virtue from
the church to the medical comunity, we have seen an increase in the
number of types of sexualities.
And this theme of an increase in the number of sexualities leads me to a
closing remark. Please, indulge me; I need to make one comment on the
title question raised by Joanna. "The History of Sexuality" does indeed
sound definitive, as if Foucault has presented us with "THE" history of
sexuality. Also, I thought the singularity of that title was strange,
given Foucault's insistence on a history of a multiplicity of
sexualities. So why not "The History of Sexualities" or "The Histories
of Sexuality"? I mean, with a multiplicity of sexualities comes a
multiplicity of identities, which means a multiplicity of perspectives,
and--to bring this to my point--a multiplicity of histories.