Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Machiel Karskens, Het regime van de bekentenissen. Foucaults Histoire de la sexualité 4: Les aveux de la chair, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, 81, 3, 2019, 559-581

DOI: 10.2143/TVF.81.3.3287040

Article in Dutch. Title and abstract below in English

The Regimen of the Confessions: Critical Review of Foucault’s “History of Sexuality 4: The Confessions of the Flesh”

The Confessions of the Flesh, once announced as the nearly fit to print part IV of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, actually is a set of manuscripts, written in 1980-1981. The main manuscript is composed as a treatise of early Christian truth and life practices; the purport of the argument is that they follow the ‘regimen’ of the existing pagan practices, and constitute within these practices the Christian ‘experience’ of (original) sin, paradise and salvation in living with Christ. In doing so, the practices of telling truth about oneself are turned into avowal (aveu), being a profession of faith, public showing of sins and most of all self-examination and spiritual struggle, under the obliging direction (which is not a command) of a pastor/priest. The crux of avowal is self-transforming self-denial or self-sacrifice, and we argue that this is a continuation of parrhesia, the art of self-transformation by openly speaking the truth. Foucault argues, in the second and third part of the manuscript, that in doing so sexual practices are ‘subjectivated’, turning sex from a partnership relation into the scrutinous examination of one’s own concupiscence. In the end, so is his final point, this will turn the self-examining subject into a legal subject, dominated by Law. We argue that this subjectivation is in line with the self-transforming practices of truth-telling in non-Christian Antiquity.

KEYWORDS: manifestation of truth as self-avowal, spiritual struggle, self-examination, self-transformation, subjectivation, sexual intercourse, concupiscence.

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