The History of Sexuality – Knowledge & Power
Foucault mentions in his article that “the implantation of perversions is an instrument-effect; it is through the isolation, intensification, and consolidation of peripheral sexualities that the relations of power to sex and pleasure branched out and multiplied, measured the body, and penetrated modes of conduct” (690). Foucault sees that power, discourse, and knowledge are linked: in coming to know new things, we make use of what already know, and so learning is an exercise of power. Discourse works in such a way that what we know and how we know is directly related to how we can talk about it.
The scrutiny placed on “sexual perversions” leads to the clinical study of ways different people find sexual pleasure and how different sexualities are manifested: “It did not set boundaries for sexuality; it extended the various forms of sexuality, pursuing them according to lines of indefinite penetration” (689). We have learned about different sexual identities such as “transsexual,” “transvestite,” and “transgender.” The term and concept of “homosexuality” exhibits the discourse on sexuality and has deepened over time. Through these studies they may find the source to unlocking these characters. It is the scrutiny of non-marital sexual practices that leads to the discovery of this whole array of different habits.
Foucault connects these results to the exercise of power, because it is not simply just a desire to study about sexuality. He sees that in everyday life, each action and project carried out has an agenda and reason. The handicapped, racial minorities, physically deformed, and in this case, those with unusual sexual preferences are the people that do not conform to conventional social values. The emphasis on knowledge/power leads Foucault against himself to a totalistic view of the history of sexuality: “A proliferation of sexualities through the extension of power, an optimization of the power to which each of these local sexualities gave a surface of intervention: this concatenation, particularly since the nineteenth century, had been ensured and relayed by the countless economic interests which, with the help of medicine, psychiatry, prostitution, and pornography, have tapped into both this analytical multiplication of pleasure and this optimization of the power that controls it: Pleasure and power do not cancel or turn back against on another” (690). Foucault describes the relationship between pleasure and power as a spiral in a circular motion, that pursues one another and the power of seeking pleasure, with the pleasure drawn to power.