Thursday, 17 December 2009

Foucault: Genealogy, Hermeneutics, Ethics, Sexuality

Looking at History of Sexuality II (The Use of Pleasure) and III (The Care of the Self), as I have been over the last few weeks, I need to modify something I posted on 10th December about Foucault’s use of the term ‘hermeneutic’. I said that it is not really correct to label the ’82 to ’83 lectures at the Collège de France, as ‘hermeneutics of the subject, because those lectures deal with the Ancient world, its ethics and sexuality, as does History of Sexuality II & III. The hermeneutics of the self properly speaking belongs to the 19th Century and belongs to the movement from a medicalised-moralised account of sexuality in ‘deviant’ forms to psychoanalysis.

I’m not abandoning that suggestion, but it is also true that in the discussion of the Ancients, Foucault does occasionally refer to hermeneutics, along with ‘subjectivisation’. Both are associated with post-Enlightenment conceptions, but seem to be emerging in the Ancient world, particularly in association with Neo-Stoicism and the Roman Empire. That brings up questions about how Foucault uses ‘hermeneutics’ and ‘subjectivisation’ which I am not ready to address right now, but which I need to at some point.

The ambiguity in the use of the term ‘hermeneutic’ comes from the way that Enpire-Neo-Stoicism are the time of moralised medicalised attitudes to sexuality, foreshadowing the 19th century. At the same time, that era is the time of care of the self, a style of the self which are largely positive terms of Foucault. Though the Empire-Neo Stoicism puts an emphasis on observing monogamy that does not enthuse Foucault, he is positive with regard to an attitude of equality and mutual obligation. This can be traced back to Aristotle as style and care in relation to the self can be traced back to Plato. Ambiguities about distinct periods, what we have is repetition with difference. There may be an attempt to avoid teleology here, but there is teleology inevitably. Foucault cannot avoid a forward looking narrative, but he does disrupt it. This could be part of what he means by genealogy. Of course I could refer to some other Foucault texts on this, but I have not been looking at them recently, and I prefer to leave this post as it is, a reaction at one moment.

Questions remain to be addressed on what genealogy is and what hermeneutics is in Foucault, along with archaeology, the term he put at the centre in the late 60s in Archaeology of Knowledge and Order of Things, and which is still briefly invoked in History of Sexuality.

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