The History of Sexuality, Vol 2 | The Use of Pleasure by Michel Foucault

Foucault Vol 2 Use of Pleasure

Again, Foucault can be a difficult read, although I've found that if you're willing to bull through the parts that would put you to sleep if you were to force yourself to fully understand each and every sentence, you can still get a huge amount from it without that effort, and just force it to be a smooth read.

Aphrodisia, the natural philosophy

Basically, Foucault is continuing his study of sexuality and his assertion in Vol I that the concept of 'sexuality' is a new one and is specific to Christian westernism; as is the concept of 'morality'. He goes back to the Greeks and Greco-Roman societies to investigate the origin of the concept and describes aphrodisia: "that is, [...] acts intended by nature, associated by nature with an intense pleasure, and naturally motivated by a force that was always liable to excess and rebellion" [Pg 91].

The Greeks saw sex as part of a group of behaviors that is associated with a natural system of needs, primarily: food, drink and sex and sleep. The needs are irrevocably tied to desire: hunger, thirst, lust and desire for sleep. Need and desire are tied to pleasure: eating, drinking, sexual pleasure and rest. Because needs are natural, so are desire and pleasure; so there's nothing good or bad per se about any of it in its basic format.

An apple a day makes a moderate master

At issue in terms of ethics and proscriptive behavior is moderation, mastery and use. For the Greek philosophers, they were enamored with their city and with their government. They had a belief system of power that was hierarchical and they saw it as natural. Men were in charge, and they were in charge of slaves, boys, women and (depending), other men. In order to earn and maintain the right to exert power over others, a man must be masculine. To be masculine is to exemplify the virtues. The virtues of power and masculine men were moderation, piety, wisdom, courage and justice, and they created status. Status both evolved from the practice of virtue as well as assigned the expectation of virtue in that the higher status a man attained through his action, the higher the standard he was hoped and encouraged to maintain and exceed. This ethical status was directly linked to his social status in government and business and society.

Although needs, desire and pleasure were all considered natural, a man's response to them were not necessarily. In the natural order, the desire and pleasure were limited to fulfilling the need. The danger then was one of excess (as complete deprivation was very rare and not considered problematic). A virtuous man achieved moderation, limiting his pleasure to his needs. He overcame his desires if they were beyond his needs. This process was considered a power struggle. A man was to defeat, master, rule and control his excessive impulses. The more he did this, the more power he achieved. The more power he achieved, the easier it would be for him to abuse others and exploit those people he ruled, thus if he maintains control and mastery over himself even as he gains more power, he also gains more esteem.

For those who are ruled, the slaves, boys and women, they practice virtue in obedience. Thus each man has within himself a feminine side that obeys the masculine within himself. A man becomes a man by conquering himself. An incontinent man is therefore feminine and he is expected to face ruin by the subsequent disobedience of his household.

(Sometime later, the virtues of women would be developed and extolled along these lines of combat. Rather than the paragon of virtue being a man who conquers his own passions, the woman who successfully resists man's passions becomes the exemplary figure.)

Need was defined loosely by time and timing. It would be inappropriate for a free man to have sex with a boy under the age of 21. For girls, they generally were expected to be eligible for marriage by the age of 16. If a suitor were to infringe on those guidelines, he would be frowned upon. Incest was covered by this precept by default. Adults no longer capable of reproducing were considered beyond need and sexual activity into too late an age would be considered immoderate. Some seasons were more or less timely, and the evening was preferred over the day.

Still, these guidelines were not law and they were to be considered by considerate men according to each situation within common sense and personal context. Individuals were expected to train in the practice of virtues, just as they would for sport and endurance. They were counseled by their elders that even when status was attained, they must take care to continue to practice and train in the virtues lest they slide back into excess (and lose status).

When a man allowed his passions to rule over him, he became a slave. True freedom is not the ability to do what you want to whomever, but rather, to be free from desire's addiction and only seek out pleasures according to need and status.

In this sense, the Greeks had no sense of morality as we know it in terms of purity. For a man to sleep with a slave or a boy, the issue is not that he wanted it and liked it, the issue is whether or not he over indulged by doing so. It really doesn't matter if you like things in your butt or like putting things in other people's butts or if you like sex in the day with the curtains open. What matters is whether or not the timing, frequency and status of those involved were all accounted for. And acting moderately doesn't even mean dispelling the desire. It's quite natural for a man to desire sex with boys and slaves and women in a variety of ways and manners. But a masculine man will evaluate the desire against the standard of moderation and act accordingly.

Legalized breeding

When the wise men sat around and discussed and orated on these things, the paradigm was often the city government with the assumed goal of perpetuation. This included the perpetuation of the city, the society, and also family lineage.

The wise men referenced in this book include such memorable names as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and other Western 'greats' as well as the less quoted Pausanias, Phaedrus, Xenophon, Demosthenes, etc.

So generally, the only occasion that warranted thought about these things was the contract and institution of marriage. Men were expected to pursue sexual gratification among the slaves, concubines and boys, however they were to marry (a woman) between the age of 25 and 35. This was considered the optimum age for a man to establish his household.

The household, or estate, was very important not only to the man himself, but to the group of free men who considered themselves the city elite. Running a household was directly correlated to running a city, and a man proved himself through his effective leadership of his household. His effectiveness was largely evaluated within the scope of economics.

Sex and gender are accepted assumptions wherein the man is to work outdoors (public) and bring home resources which the wife (private) will then care for in terms of storage and expenditure. They will likely have slaves and servants. A man of esteem will train, direct and supervise his wife as a sort of Assistant Manager. His ability to do so will be noted by others in his public domain. The exchange is one wherein the wife, if obedient and disciplined, will be accorded privileges against other women (such as slaves in the house, or mistresses outside of the house). A man of esteem will accurately balance his power to do as he chooses with the respect for his wife's privileged status that she deserves.

It goes without saying that the point of all this is to bear children. And not only children, but legitimate children who can then add to the city's esteem and success.

Foucault goes to pains to explain the difference in the two gender roles when it comes to fidelity. For women, they are to be sexually loyal to their husbands, and the implication is a big 'or else'. A woman who is sexually active with anyone but her husband brings into question the entire economic point of the household, the legitimate child. For men, they are to moderate their sexual activity to match the status of their position in society and to reward (and to some extent, earn) their wife's good behavior. They may still have sex with others (women or boys), but they are expected to maintain the wife's status in the household. It was therefore considered much more problematic for a man to seduce another woman than to rape her, as seduction implies respect, which should only be shown to the wife. So although mutual fidelity in marriage was considered ideal, the reasons behind the man's and the woman's fidelity were very different.

The only real limitation by law on a man was that he could not enter into more than one marriage at a time. Adultery didn't exist yet in the law because sexual fidelity was not yet part of the marriage contract. The wife though, did belong to the husband, so the infraction of a woman's infidelity would be against him, not the law.

In general, men were much more concerned with what they ate or how much exercise they got than they were the ideas of sexuality within marriage.

Courtship, schportship

Boys on the other hand, incited a great deal of concern and anxiety and discourse on the proper methods of acquiring sex with them. Women and slaves were a given, free men will have sex with them basically as they see fit. Boys on the other hand, are problematic because their honor is at stake. For a woman or a slave to submit to sex with a man is a non-issue, because obviously nature intended for them to be penetrated. Boys however, are going to be men, and men must be the penetrators, so we have to figure out when does a boy become a man, and how much boyhood submission is too much.

Desire here is not at stake, at least not on the part of the older male. Obviously everyone (meaning, all free men) will want to have sex with boys. And even pleasure is taken for granted, in terms of it being pleasurable to have sex with boys. But since a boy must submit in order to fulfill that desire and grant that pleasure, he is taking a very real and permanent risk. To be penetrated is to be ruled. So the boy has to balance this power dynamic by creating demands, or acknowledging compensation for allowing the submission to take place.

A good and right example of a boy maintaining his honor and integrity in the game of male love is one where the boy only grants his "favors" to an older male who offers him (lasting) connections, education and/or friendship.

Friendship is a key element in the acceptance of male love. Since the boy will be forced to give up the sexual relationship in order to become a man, the romance is doomed. Therefore, philia or friendship is what should bind the two after the boy's manhood commences, and provides a basis for an "egalitarian" relationship despite the man/boy dynamic (Pg 233). The friendship will bear witness of sorts to the honesty of the original sexual relationship. For if there is no lasting friendship, then it's quite likely the sexual union was based solely on pleasure, which would incriminate the boy as a submissive not only in boyhood, but potentially into his manhood.

The desire and pleasure that is so easily accepted and granted to the older male is actually prohibited to the boy. If it is rumored or evidenced that he takes pleasure in being an "object" then he may prove unfit to fully bear the mantle of manhood. The only pleasure involved, and tentatively so, for the boy is one where he has successfully maneuvered a just exchange of his "gift" with that of the "offerings" of the older male. If the boy can manage these exchanges, he is passing social tests which will prepare him for, and prove him ready for, the power that he will wield as an adult male.

A lack of balance and management could lead to accusations of prostitution. Prostitution was providing sexual pleasures for money (only), but it was also seen in a more general context of taking pleasure in being the object and seeking out opportunities to be that object. There were legal limitations placed on (male) prostitutes essentially limiting their visibility and function in the city.

On the other hand, it wasn't considered safe or advisable to be chaste either, or ignore all suitors. For a boy was expected to wisely "use" his beauty and desirability as one among other blessings. A certain decorum was used when talking about the boy's role in sex when he was in a legitimate exchange, often with the word "thing" being purposely used as a neutered substitute for actually naming the penetration that occurs, obscuring the "feminine" image of the boy.

The boy was to "yield only if he had feelings of admiration, gratitude, or affection for his lover, which made him want to please the latter" (Pg 223).

And Socrates elaborates that, "A youth does not share in the pleasure of the intercourse as a woman does, but looks on, sober, at another in loves's intoxication" (Pg 223).

The heart of the paradox is that the boy must not only surrender, but grant his favors freely, as an attestation to his freedom to choose, his freedom to say no, which women and slaves were unable to do. The boy must judiciously exercise his freedom by wisely choosing when to say both yes and no.

It is this paradox of honor that eventually makes its way into the relations of men and women; first through the concept of purity, and perhaps in our modern era, in step with the development of women's freedom and rights as a free person.

Platonic with benefits

"[...] an art of give and take between the one who courts and the one who is courted" (Pg 231); "the sufficiently long resistance of the beloved would counter balance the sufficiently valuable services of the lover" (Pg 243).

Plato transforms the arguments over courtship and proprieties and introduces a concept of mutual truth. The seeds of division between the body and soul are nourished not only in their differences, but in their value. The 'love' of pleasure found in the body is not bad per se, but is certainly less than a "noble" love associated with the soul. Some go as far as to suggest the 'love' of the soul is the "true" love, and that 'love' of the body will inevitably "wither away" (Pg 233-234). The concept of renunciation is certainly not far behind.

A list of problems associated with loving boys (eerily familiar to women of the last few centuries on into today) shows the dangers of pleasure that must be addressed:

[...] transitory loves that disintegrate when the beloved comes of age, leaving him stranded; that of dishonorable relations that place the boy under the domination of the lover, compromise him in the eyes of everyone, and alienate him from his family or from honorable relations from which he could benefit; that of the feelings of disgust and contempt the lover might have for the boy due to the satisfactions the latter grants him, or the feelings of hatred the young man might experience for the aging man who imposes disagreeable relations on him; that of the feminine role the boy is led to assume, and the effects of physical and moral deterioration that this kind of relation invites; that of the often burdensome compensations, benefits, and services that the lover must impose on himself, obligations that he tries to escape by abandoning his erstwhile companion to shame and solitude." (Pg 232)

For the time being, to save eros through philia, philosophers counseled that friendship is "a life in common, reciprocal attention, kindness to one another, and shared feelings" (Pg 234). Plato asserts that 'the law of love' is "where there is mutual consent" (Pg 235) and the perfection which may or may not be attained during courtship can nonetheless be found through dedication, and love itself can purify the impure lovers. Socrates invites a subtle shift in focus from conventional discussions on erotics when he contends that it is not the beauty and purity of the boy (the 'object') that lends love its responsibilities, but rather it is love that is pure and beautiful, reflecting the heavens.

Convention held that love stemmed from the lover, ie, the active partner, the penetrator, the older male. The beloved, the boy, the passive partner, could never totally reciprocate symmetrically. The lover instead responded with attachment and tenderness, always waiting for time to move the two from lovers to friends. The boy waits, he receives, he adheres to the "terms of the exchange" (Pg 240). The lover holds title, the beloved is entitled.

Plato though, transforms the beloved into a lover. The beloved may not be the initiator, but he may reach a moment of desire and excitement that equals that of 'lover'. It is assumed though, that the boy remains penetrated, and the initiator and man remains the penetrator. By moving the dialogue from one of the body to one of the soul, philosophers could circumvent the problem of who put their penis in who. In this new concept, it is the "one who is better versed in love [who] will also be the master of truth" (Pg 241). Here the older male is supposed to hold wisdom and truth through experience and self-control. It is his truth-seeking that will protect the boy, rather than the boy's wise adherence to honor. Strangely, it is a way of reinforcing the master/mastered dichotomy, but in a socially acceptable format. For now the boy does not submit to pleasure and the penis - he submits to a wise master of truth. Now boys can pursue men, because they pursue the "treasure of [...] wisdom" (Pg 241).

Plato was known to have a collection of young suitors, and his theory of love is certainly based on his own experience as a lover. Plato turns this pursuit into the honor of the lover resisting, rather than the beloved resisting. The more Plato resists the courtship of boys, the more desirable he becomes because he is proving his wisdom and therefore his desirability. Thus resistance gains footing with purity and wisdom. "True love" and "truth" itself ends up in the hands of the master, and he is charged with administering it appropriately, which is to say, to hoard it. The more a master controls himself in the face of the seduction of boys, the more power he accumulates, which he eventually can choose to divest to a specially chosen 'lover of truth'. He is the lover and the beloved all in the same motion.

Foucault makes the point here that what is often referred to as a Christian attention to prudishness was already in the works in the fourth century among Greek scholars. The ground is laid for an inquiry into desire, into the motivations of man, beyond his actions and their effects. A master will not only moderate his lifestyle, but his inner soul.

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