The History of Sexuality, Vol 3 | The Care of the Self by Michel Foucault

The History of Sexuality, Vol 3 | The Care of the Self by Michel Foucault

The "art of oneirocriticism" is the method of studying dreams as an oracle, to "decipher the signs that foretell the future" (Pg 14, 7). Dreams in general were considered important messages that the average person in antiquity would use to view their waking state in a new light and through analysis to prepare themselves for impending events. That being said, the scholar we have the fullest access to regarding the process is Artemidorus, and as the importance of interpreting dreams was largely the domain of men regarding their social status, his book on the subject is written almost entirely for and about men in particular, and more succinctly, middle class men.

Dreams are a tool

It turns out that "virtuous" men don't need much help with dreams. Because they have sufficiently mastered their waking life, their "virtue is marked by the disappearance of dreams" that reflect their current state, and since the "gods spoke directly to souls that were pure," when they did dream they received clear and concise messages. Virtuous men were often upper class men because they'd been rewarded and favored by the gods. (Pg 12-14)

"Ordinary men," on the other hand, are at risk for both present "state" and allegorical "event" dreams: since their waking state is filled with the stresses of "fear and desire", "deficiency or excess", their dreams will reflect this; and their dreams of what is to come are fraught with ambiguity and room for interpretation. And because they are ordinary men, they are less likely to be able to correctly interpret the message. Thus, a guidebook. (Pg 10-14)

The theory behind the interpretation is further based on class distinction, as the determination of whether or not the dream is favorable depends entirely on the social status of the dreamer and participants. The dreamer is always present in his dreams (Pg 26), and all interactions will be judged from there.

Sex dreams and their meanings

Sex dreams are an important subset of "nocturnal visions" and they are primarily concerned with the penis. Whose penis is doing what to whom? What is meant by 'sex' is penetration. Anything other than 'natural' penetration is likely to be "contrary to nature" and does not bode well for the dreamer.

Symbolism in itself is limited to the presence of women as dream characters; women "as a general rule" are "symbols of things that will happen to the dreamer, so that the character and disposition of the woman" determines the real life outcome of the dream allegory. The type of sex act is not what determines the 'goodness' of the dream; i.e., you can have a 'bad' dream that spells good fortune. The important thing is whether or not the penis is acting passively or actively, which is directly related to whether or not it is acting naturally and lawfully.

Although incest is "contrary to the law", it can render a favorable reading in a dream depending on circumstances. Incest in this context only refers to parents and children. Generally speaking, men don't want to dream about having sex with their children, whether sons or daughters. If the child is "less than five years old" then the penetration would indicate the child's portending death. If the child is between five and ten years old, then they will still suffer "sickness", and even if the child is older than ten the dream would likely foretell "disastrous relations". Also, since having sex with your own son or daughter would be a waste of semen, (and in the case of the daughter, can deliver the seed of the father to the son in law, current or future), it "portends a considerable loss of money". On the contrary, a healthy man having sex with his mother can represent a "man's trade" and therefore "prosperity in one's profession"; or his home, property, harvest (earth) and place in the world (politically). Foucault does not comment on whether the inclusion of an entire chapter on incest (there were four chapters on sex dreams in total) in Artemidorus's guide indicates a prevalence of such dreams.

Unnatural penetration includes fucking a god, an animal, or a corpse; dreaming of taking your own genitals into your mouth; or dreaming of a woman using "artificial means" to penetrate another woman (which would "usurp" the man's natural role). Likewise, oral sex is unnaturally wasteful, and because it prevents further kissing or eating a meal together (!) it "portends a rift, enmity, and sometimes death". The idea behind this is that the only sex position considered natural is the one where the man is "extended full length on top of the woman. In this form, sexual intercourse is an act of complete possession", and the "man is master 'of the whole body of his mate'", in compliance with proper social hierarchy.

The best bet is for a man to dream about having active, penetrative sex with his real-life wife, mistress or slave. This means all is in order as it should be, and pleasure and financial success are sure to be in store for him. He can dream of having sex with a prostitute, too, of course, since that is also "in conformity with the law", although there are some pitfalls since she can vary from designating a brothel ("shop or workshop") to a common and lower class cemetery. She can also represent the waste of semen which is without benefit. If he were to dream of being "beneath" (penetrated by) anyone who in real life has equal or lower social status, then the dream is "ominous" and disruptive (ie, a brother or slave).

There is also the case of dreaming of unknown women. Here her value is based on her wealth, youth, beauty, and her willingness to give herself. Friends and acquaintances of either sex are judged on similar social status attributes and availability. For a man, for good fortune, he should dream of either penetrating a man of lower relative status or of being penetrated by a man of higher status. In both scenarios he is promised gifts.

"One of the rare passages in the text where women's dreams are taken into account" says that for a woman to dream of sex with any man is favorable. Although not explicitly stated, this reader's understanding is that in conformity with the law and nature then, this would indicate by default that a woman should only dream of being penetrated by a man, and all other sex dreams would likely be contrary to law or nature. By omission, we are left with no advice on the interpretation of the situation where a high status woman dreams of being penetrated by a male slave; would it be more favorable if she were to lay under the man (in accordance with nature), or if she were to lay on top (in accordance with law/status)? (Pg 17-36)

The original 'me generation'

There were marked changes in society that were evident by the third century B.C. "The decline of city-states" was both a force and a result; the changes were a feedback loop that reinforced each other from many angles. As political power began to centralize towards an empire, there was a corresponding decrease in the numbers of men involved in public politics. These men of influence began to believe in a philosophy that more and more called for their "voluntary retirement", marking a man's diligence in seeking out his own "self-respect" through the cultivation of the soul (Pg 81, 41).

Each man acquires his character for himself, but accident assigns his duties. (Pg 93)

The idea that your role in life is predetermined by your birth begins to lose footing as both men and women embrace personal choice and self-refinement. The soul and the self become almost interchangeable as the "dominant classes" of "aristocracy" turn inward in a vigilant approach to "individualism." Just as the very real politics of monarchy and empire are reducing the numbers of men in politics, men start to believe that just because their status and family name would have guaranteed not only their participation, but their obligation to politics, these men embrace a philosophy that gives young men the right and option to choose their occupation, and therefore, to choose not to become a politician (Pg 87). Wise men (older men) begin to counsel their peers and understudies to "disengage" from politics "gradually and at the right time" (Pg 93).

Since identity had been largely based on a man's public and political status and this system was changing and declining, men needed a new form of pride and identity. Whereas the gods may have rewarded men for their virtue in becoming warranted masters, it was also true (now) that a man could become greedy, pushing success beyond its intended limits. "Fortune" could actually work against you since "too much success provokes the jealousy of the gods" and could result in disaster (Pg 92-93). The excesses of the city-state system ultimately led to negative consequences and a calling into question of authority through caste. It was disparaging to be called "Ceasarian" or "Caesarized" and men were counseled to "practice self-restraint" (Pg 90). Where once men were educated to become masters, now they were also taught to be subservient. To be a master without being mastered was now considered a bit quaint and naive, for there is always a master to the master. Plutarch teaches that "one will not be able to rule if one is not oneself ruled" (Pg 89).

The earlier concepts of ruling oneself develop beyond actions and seep deeper into the self, into the soul. Freedom itself is redefined and focused on the interior. Much akin to Buddhist teachings, the emphasis is on reaching a "well being" within oneself where one is free from "fear of loss" and the "force of desire", and could find enjoyment without desire" (Pg 41, 66, 68). The "bearers of culture" who suffer a "real loss of authority" turn to (Pg 45, 81) moderating the soul with as much passion as they had moderated their bodies and appetites through action. The medical lingo was co-opted by the philosophy of the soul. Well-being was a state of "no commotion in [the] soul or pain in [the] body" (Pg 46) and men were to present themselves as "patients" for the therapy and cure of the ailments of the soul (Pg 55).

Everyone must discover that he is in a state of need, that he needs to receive medication and assistance. (Pg 57)

These men of the me generation aspire to take on the roles of "professor, guide, advisor, and personal confidant" (Pg 52). In order to achieve these roles they use techniques of "meditation" in the morning and evening, reflecting on the "recollection of truths that one knows already but that need to be more fully adapted to one's own life" (Pg 51). They practice "speaking and writing" and examine the day, their own soul's progress and failures, and through this examination they will hopefully not get caught in guilt, but instead use their acknowledged shortcomings to strengthen "wise behavior" (Pg 51, 62).

The practice of cultivating the soul was based on having high or good status, but seemed to need to prepare for both a physical and therefore spiritual reality of impoverishment. Continuing with the well established theme of the "measured satisfaction of needs" was a new angle of practicing "exercises in abstinence" (Pg 51, 59). This was a practice meant to help differentiate, for the man of status, what was truly "indispensable and essential" from the privileges of his class. These "reductive tests" provided a marker for the "threshold where privation could start to make one suffer" and makes a man "familiar with the minimum". A man who is on the path of the soul will both endure and proscribe "poverty treatments" based on the control of reason and logic over the passions of excess. (Pg 59-63) And this was all done culturally, without any incitement to involve laws; there was "no attempt to organize systems of prohibition," it was simply seen as good advice (Pg 67). So even as anecdotally "one may leap to heaven from a slum", it is clear that the authors and followers of this philosophy are not in a state of privation or poverty in 'real' life; instead they are still men of distinction who are philosophically preparing themselves for an identity among the "withdrawal behaviors" induced by the "political transformations that took place in the Hellenistic and Roman world" in the third century B.C. (Pg 86). Ultimately, there had to come a way of separating the power over oneself and the previously assumed power over others that would result from that, since that correlation was becoming more and more tenuous. Likewise, the interest in and focus on the 'self' became predominant.

The birth of the Husband

In alignment with the me generations' predilection for individuality came an (ahem), focus on the family. As men were less frequently 'head of the castle' they became more interested in their role in the home. Particularly with their wives. In short, the dissolution of the city-state correlated with the creation of the couple.

Husbands and fathers had been of primary interest because of their role as master of the household, as "citizen-husband" (Pg 75). This was an upper class, economic enterprise closely intertwined with public status and political position (see Vol II); concerned with "handing down a name, instituting heirs, organizing a system of alliances, [and] joining fortunes." In other words, it was an endeavor of "dynastic, political, and economic" aspirations (Pg 74). But, as politics as a career waned, as philosophy pointed to an inner life, and as caste systems lost their predictive social value, the relationship between man-and-wife became more and more one of husband-and-wife. That is, the definition of husband came under scrutiny in a very new way.

While men voluntarily gave up their political status and garnered their self-respect more and more through personal relationships, it was the marital relationship that became more and more institutionalized and maintained through public domain. In both Greece and Rome, marriage (or "regular concubinage") was primarily a celebratory, economic, and private event between families. Although it had "legal effects", it was not yet a "juridical act". As an intermediary between a previously private act and a forthcoming public one, marriage became institutionalized through religious ceremonies.

The couple concept

Although love had been around, and pagans and poor people still married without fortunes to join, the concept of the couple was not really cast into a public ideal. Marriages were usually arranged, and love was gained through obedience and mastery, through the roles assigned and the performance of them. Passions were to be moderated because they were often displayed outside the home and could threaten the stability of the household.

But over time, people married by their own individual choice, and in particular, women gained the right by law (Athenian, Roman and Egyptian) to reject their father's choices for partners. The marriage pledge changed somewhat radically, and the pledge was made on behalf of each partner (rather than the family). Since they as individuals were ultimately without authority, an outside entity was called in - the public ceremony as witness. The marriage contract began to have protections for women's dowries, enabling them to spend their own dowry or to have it restituted in case of divorce, and providing for an inheritance upon widowhood.

The pledge of the wife remained consistent with her role over the past few centuries: "obedience to the husband; prohibition from leaving the house, day or night, without the husband's permission; exclusion of any sexual relations with another man; and the obligation not to ruin the household and not to dishonor her husband." For the man, his pledge moved from supporting his wife, refraining from establishing a concubine in the same house, not mistreating his wife, and the promise to not procreate outside the marriage (at least not in a way that he would provide for financially); to a more restrictive accounting to the wife that included the "obligation to provide for the needs of his wife" and a felicity that was previously unheard of: he was to have no mistress, even outside the house. Even if he could afford it, he was to promise not to establish a second house with a concubine.

Men began to express passions towards their wives, and a "personal bond" was being formed between the husband and wife. Whereas an excess of passion or emotion would have been immoderate and thus evidence of a lack of self-mastery, now that the husband was focusing this passion on his wife it became more acceptable. Pliny wrote his wife lovelorn letters during a period of her absence, with such aggrandized language as:

This land bore me for you, and bound me to you in partnership forever (Pg 80).

This new "reciprocal dependence" was a marked social change, and although Foucault warns against confusing the "ideal of conjugality" with reality, it was nevertheless a major step in a new direction.

Nature is our first mistress

The appropriateness of sex was largely considered a medical question. In light of the general feeling that, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', there was still a prevailing dialogue about routine and health. Sex was certainly considered essential and normal (natural), and there was no shame in sex itself, but it was possible for people to engage in sex outside of what nature intended, and that was to be avoided.

Nature herself was considered to be remarkably capable of overcoming human error, but people were still expected to attempt best practices. This boiled down to concepts of procreation and survival of the species. Lust, desire and pleasure are all natural, they are Nature's ingenious way of making sure we procreate. Men are to be careful though of lust that is excessive.

Sex, according to Galen and his contemporaries, was nearly akin to epilepsy. Although natural and necessary, sex depleted men of their life force carried in the sperm. They therefore need to be as physically healthy as possible to survive it on a regular basis. Women also spurted sperm, albeit with less efficacy. To hold the sperm in too long is dangerous, and to release it too often is perilous. Gonorrhea is a disease of shame because it is "induced by a quantitative excess of sexual activity" and the price paid for this is an "emasculation" that leads to death (Pg 116).

On the other hand, if one suffers from "melancholy and misanthropy" and their "humors" are out of alignment, then sex might be just what the doctor orders. It is a great way to aid those with too much phlegm, and it will help alleviate "nocturnal emissions". It makes boys into men, quite literally, by giving them hair and physical bulk.

Abstinence is considered an ideal, however it must be pursued as a regimen. Sudden changes in sexual activity are bad for the body. Athletes especially, to become stronger and better, are counseled to keep their life force sperm to themselves. Women have to be careful of this; they should exercise and keep fit, but "in such a manner that they remain women and do not take on a masculine character" (Pg 130).

Nature dictates the best times for sex through fertility. The baby will be affected directly by the parental states at the time of conception. For procreation, people should seek purity of body and soul to produce the best offspring. Sex should be avoided when drunk and people should be careful to have sex in between meals to avoid indigestion at the moment of conception. Philosophers in medicine place the best time for sex relative to women's cycles to be just after her menses, and this was determined by the moistness level of the uterus. Emotional stability and a sense of calm and peace is important. A ripe age is also of consequence; not too young and not too old. This is where desire can be tricky, as young people can be incited to desire (through education or culture) before nature is ready. It is good for young people who are waiting for their sexual prime to engage in abstinence through focusing on physical exercise. And lastly, the spring and winter are the best times of the year for sex, largely because of the accompanying diet and digestion.

While men and women both are considered a bit fragile in all of this, women are particularly vulnerable. The point of all the advice and regimens is to preserve balance and moderation according to Nature. In their world, Nature was good and right, and it was the soul that might cause deviation. The soul needs to listen to Nature in order to keep its passions and imaginings from guiding it beyond what Nature prescribes.

Desire here is actually a moderator.

One must not have sexual relations without feeling desire. (Pg 134)

To find true desire, a person should try for an exact correlation between the body and soul; you need to constantly adjust and correct your soul to match Nature. Especially dangerous to this calibration is images. Erotic images in the mind and memory can be just as deceptive as ones manifested into production. It is best to have sex in the dark, so you don't take on the risk of vivid erotic memories that might lead to excess or "extraneous desire". If you have sex only according to the needs of the body and Nature, you are safe. But if you come to believe in desire and pleasure, to see it as an end in itself, you are in peril. You can be led astray into the realm of "empty" desire. For the same reason, it is good to be wary of the theatre, dance, music, reading or singing.

You can harness images as an antidote as well, though. If you find yourself driven in excess towards a woman, then you can make sure to see her in a bad light and keep that memory in mind as a means of warding off desire. Concentrate on her faults and defects to rid yourself of a mistress.

Aphrodisia cannot be avoided or eliminated, but it can be harnessed by practice and technique. To be "chaste" then doesn't mean that you don't have sex, it means that you only have sex when it is necessary to relieve the natural urge. The pleasure that accompanies natural sex is good. Seeking out sex in order to get that pleasure is bad. Masturbation is considered in this light.

The Art of Marriage and the Confines of Pleasure

Mastery transformed into marriage. The idea of reciprocity based on a personal bond of affection became common and idealized. With the advent of the husband role, and the acceptance of symmetry in sexual fidelity, emerged a style of living as a couple.

With the "naturalness" of marriage proclaimed and established, philosophers started to focus on the primacy of procreation. Animals might separate after sex, but humans have a duty to prolong the union as a building block of community. Families (more so now than 'households') are the essential components of society.

The idea that two become one replaced the traditional view that one subsumed one. Marriage partners were to complement one another, "bound together by love". Sexual union through marriage was to be a total "fusion".

Married dialogue progressed from the wife reporting her actions and requesting guidance to a mutual reporting. Men were to share their day and actions with their wives, and wives were increasingly relied upon for support and understanding. It also started to matter how the wife felt. If a man sought out sexual pleasure outside of marriage, he risked offending her social status but he also now risked his bond. Part of the way this evolved, in terms of making it easier to swallow, was that promiscuity began to be cast as a "frivolous" pleasure for men in comparison with the "vexation" it caused their wives. Therefore, a strong man, a superior man, will be able to give up such superfluous sex.

So the wife was no longer simply expected to tolerate sexual philandering; she was allowed to express hurt, and the damage done to the relationship was a responsibility of the husband. Pleasure and desire, now seen only as a means to a procreative end, were still valued, however they were to be regulated within the married couple's relationship. In fact, rather than a wife conceding to a husband's sexual adventures based on his status as Master, women were counseled now to "refrain from all complaint" due to the obvious "sickness or ignorance" of her husband in such circumstances. Infidelity became a weakness rather than a right. The husband, for his part, would be obligated to express his gratitude for the wife's "modesty and tact" in return.

The Stoics, in particular, believed that women and men could be equally virtuous. Aristotle on the other hand, held the belief that men were always the more morally developed. Musonius counsels that a man must be careful not to "defile" himself, even if he doesn't 'hurt' anyone in the process. Despite the doctrine of Archedemus on "women as common property," a husband having sex with a courtesan, prostitute, or even a slave, which technically causes no offense since the man has legal access to these pleasures, prevents a man from proving himself more virtuous than his wife. If she is completely faithful, then any pleasure outside of procreative sex brings the man down in a way that is unacceptable, for he must always strive to be morally superior. (Musonius also criticized contraception, which I would love to find further research on.)

Unmarried men can still seek pleasure wherever they see fit, however there are some rumblings of distaste. Prostitution comes under attack as a "loveless love" and importantly for the time period, as an affront to Aphrodite and Eros. Former excesses include what is now criticized as a "life of debauchery" and the focus is more and more on a "lawful" and "legitimate" sexual contract.

Marriage was accorded a respect that even carried over to slave unions. A master of a household was assumed to take advantage of his slaves sexually, however, it was a point of consideration if the slave was married.

For the men who continue to carry on licentious behavior, Plutarch recommends that women can see this in a positive light by assuming that it saves them from the disrespect of excessive behavior. As in, if a man cannot control his aphrodisia, then at the very least he won't inflict his weakness on his wife; he'll use a courtesan for that sort of debauchery.

This is a firm grounding for the upcoming madonna/whore divide, and it is expanded up through the procreation argument and based on the moderation precept carried over from the past few hundred years of philosophy. Since intense pleasure was previously associated with extra-marital affairs, it posed some conundrum's when pleasure was relegated to marriage.

One must not treat one's wife as a mistress and one should behave as a husband rather than as a lover.

It was still dangerous to acknowledge a wife's desire. If she were to experience ardent passion, she might put such experience to "bad use." According to Plutarch, wives should refrain from making sexual advances towards her husband, and she should never obstruct her husband's. The moderation of desire was considered advantageous for long-term marriages of mutual fidelity. It was assumed that passion would decline, so in order to avoid the disappointment, married couples were better off to avoid it as much as possible in order to prevent future temptations.

When in Rome, have sex with women

As Roman culture supplanted Greek, the issue of sex with boys took on less significance. The problem of having sex with boys was partly solved by focusing it on slaves, who posed no social complications. Whereas pederasty had come from a background of mentor to mentee, this relationship increasing changed from one styled on friendship to one styled on the parental role.

As the move towards 'true love' took over, pleasure became suspect. Philosophers had maintained that sex between men and boys had been a high spiritual endeavor based on friendship of the highest order. This argument became hard to defend. There was a contest going on, and over and over two binary choices were compared and contrasted, with one declared the winner. True love was considered above and beyond the vulgarities of aphrodisia. Since sex with boys did not contribute to procreation, the pleasure begotten from it was increasingly demerited.

Though women could be seen as artifice itself (and thus deceptive), with their makeup and adornments, the 'naturalness' of procreation held considerable sway in the end. Some attempted to elevate sex with boys based on their innocence, truth, and 'natural' character. Still, this only elevated the lover, not the boy. "Pederastic hypocrisy" was a common phrase of contempt and it all hinged on pleasure. An either/or scenario evolved where you either believed in love, pure and chaste, or in pleasure. And to take pleasure in penetrating a boy was not embraced. The boy was between a rock and hard place; he could either resist and be subject to violence (rape), or he could submit and be effeminate. Only women can consent to penetration wholeheartedly without debasing themselves, because they are made to be penetrated.

Pleasure can be bought. Love, however, was beyond money. Sex within heterosexual marriage could be based on reciprocal moderation and maintain its sanctity. Plutarch argues for a love without desire. Sexual pleasure within marriage served as a covenant; a foundation for what was really important. A man getting pleasure from a boy is behaving selfishly. Men are to display knowledge and technique in how to "use" a woman. To "use" a boy would be to damage his future manhood.

Ultimately, since philosophy had decided upon reciprocity of pleasure, and boys could not admit to pleasure in being penetrated, it doomed pederasty. Marriage was never allowed for men, only for heterosexual unions. Sex between women was so "scandalous" as not even warrant discussion. Marriage became the ideal norm, so again, pederasty was doomed.

Sex outside of marriage also began to take on negative tones. A man who mastered himself was now ideally a virgin. As opposed to self-moderation, self-renunciation became a hallmark of virtue.

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