Mark D. Jordan, In Search of Foucault’s Last Words, Boston Review, 19 January 2022
Review: Confessions of the Flesh (The History of Sexuality 4)
Michel Foucault, edited by Frederic Gros and translated by Robert Hurley
Vintage, $17 (paper)
When Foucault died from complications of AIDS, he left the series entitled History of Sexuality at least one volume shy of completion. For decades since, ardent readers of Foucault have fantasized that they would receive an “answer” from the sky once they could read the unpublished book, Confessions of the Flesh. Sometimes, I joined them. Now it has been published, in both French and English, and they—we—have in our hands as much as Foucault wrote of what might have been. Is this stitched-together volume an “answer” from the sky? Was shouting Foucault’s name a question?
The book has traveled a winding road to publication. In 1976, on the back cover of The Will to Knowledge, the overture to History of Sexuality, a second volume was promised under the title The Flesh and the Body. Foucault proceeded to collect notes on the practice of confession in early modern Catholicism and drafted manuscript pages. He quickly renamed the project Les aveux de la chair. The meaning of aveu ranges from penitential confession to solemn avowal, while chair is flesh (all theological echoes amplified).
Mark D. Jordan is the Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. His most recent books are Convulsing Bodies: Religion and Resistance in Foucault and Teaching Bodies: Moral Formation in the Summa of Thomas Aquinas.