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Lecture

HREQ 1900 Lecture Notes - Sexual Intercourse, Heredity, Queer Theory


Department
Human Rights and Equity Studies
Course Code
HREQ 1900
Professor
Nadiah Habib

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Lecture # 7: Unpacking Notions of Sexuality I
-discussion of Sarah Baartman
We saw how Sigmund Freud theorized how infants develop into particularly gendered
sexual beings; we looked at his notion of the subject which is split between the conscious
self and unconscious motive and desires; we followed how polymorphous sensuousness
becomes organized into genitally oriented pleasure; we saw how at each developmental
stage, we are induced to give up certain pleasures and how these become repressed and
lodged in our unconscious.
Michel Foucault’s book The History of Sexuality broke new ground. Foucault argues that
sexuality has not always been repressed. He tells us, that it is only with the advent of the
Enlightenment and the rise of Capitalism, that sexuality has become organized in a
particular way.
In The History of Sexuality, Foucault attempts to disprove that Western society has seen a
repression of sexuality since the 17th century. Foucault, on the other hand, states that
Western culture has long been fixated on sexuality. We call it a repression. Rather, the
social convention, not to mention sexuality, has created a discourse around it, thereby
making sexuality ever-present. This would not have been the case, had it been thought of
as something quite natural. The concept "sexuality" itself is a result of this discourse. And
the interdictions also have productive power: they have created sexual identities and a
multiplicity of sexualities that would not have existed otherwise or not been named and
analyzed as such.
For Foucault, historically, there have been two ways of viewing sexuality. In China,
Japan, India and the Roman Empire have seen it as an "Ars erotica", "erotic art", where
sex is seen as an art and a special experience and not something dirty and shameful. It is
something to be kept secret, but only because of the view that it would lose its power and
its pleasure if spoken about.
In Western society, on the other hand, something completely different has been created,
what Foucault calls "scientia sexualis", the science of sexuality. It is originally (17th
century) based on a phenomenon diametrically opposed to Ars erotica: the confession.
By confession, Foucault does not just mean the Christian notion of the confessional, but
that the Christian notion of the confessional becomes (in a secular society) transposed
and retained through the relationship between the therapist and his/her patient. A fixation
with finding out the "truth" about sexuality arises, a truth that is to be confessed. For
Foucault, one of the problems with this, is that it reduces us to our sexuality. Foucault
writes:
"We have since become an extraordinarily confessing society. Confession has spread its
effects far and wide: in the judicial system, in medicine, in pedagogy, in familial
relations, in amorous relationships, in everyday life and in the most solemn rituals;
crimes are confessed, sins are confessed, thoughts and desires are confessed, one's past
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