Friday, April 24, 2009

the regime of power-knowledge-pleasure

What does Foucault mean when he talks about “the regime of power-knowledge-pleasure?”

Upon first reading this term, I of course attempted to work my way through what exactly he is meaning here, adding another hyphen and term to “power-knowledge,” which I have already encountered in his other work. I know that by power-knowledge, Foucault is referring to the manner in which both knowledge constitutes and informs power whilst also being reproduced by it, shaped if you will according to its operative needs. As such, power and knowledge cannot be separated. Power-knowledge entails the combined “deployment of force and the establishment of truth” within a single whole. In addition, I know that according to Foucault, knowledge is never neutral or objective, such as the tenets of positivism hold, even if it presents itself as such under the guise of science or the like.

Now in bringing in a new term and creating what he calls “power-knowledge-pleasure” one can gather that he is, once again, suggesting that the terms not be viewed in isolation but rather be understood as operating through, within and because of one another, each term capable of influencing the other through variance in force. As both knowledge and power are understood as dynamic, relativistic and decentralized occurrences of a larger system or structure, so too might pleasure be categorized.

In the first half of The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, Foucault discusses what he calls “the repressive hypothesis” regarding the manner in which we tend to view those living within the Victorian era as sexually repressed in a way which identifies them as rather non-sexual. He challenges this notion, however, arguing that the very existance of “repression” itself did not operate in erasing or negating sexuality as topic of conversation, but rather produced "a veritable discursive explosion, (17)" "a steady proliferation of discourses concerned with sex—specific discourses, different from one another both by their form and by their object: a discursive ferment that gathered momentum from the eighteenth century onward.(18)" With the increased presence of sexuality as topic in discourse, there emerged with it (in its interrelated nature) an increased interest on the part of institutions to not only provoke further articulations of sexuality, in doing so, shaping the manner in which it is spoken about, but also to create knowledge about it through discursive practices.

Such practices enable the operation of power in a way that repression does not, through the discursive production of sexuality and subjects who possess a ‘sexual nature.’ The discourses on sex increased not in separation or opposition to power, but within its jurisdiction and as a means of its own exercise. Sex and sexuality was something “to be not simply condemned or tolerated but managed, inserted into systems of utility, regulated for the greater good of all, made to function according to an optimum. Sex was not something one simply judged; it was a thing one administered.(24)" This administration is made possible through the production of knowledge about sex made possible through the encouragement of discourse proliferation with sex as its central theme. It is interesting to note that even the practice of silence becomes part of the larger sex discourse, through which power-knowledge operates. While the regulation of sex discourse can be viewed much like the control of criminality, as objects subject to the simultaneous knowledge production and domination enabled by scientific examination, it differs in that with the topic of sex, there emerges a larger sense of not only self-regulating but self-creating subjects as control exercised through internalized knowledge of the self.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Trans. Robert Hurley. 2 vols. New York: Viintage, 1990.

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