Sunday, October 03, 2004

Kpunk on Foucault. I remember when The History of Sexuality came out for the first time in English, must have been 1981 or so, and there was this BBC 2 books programme. Terry Jones, of Python fame, was the guest presenter on one episode. He prefaced a section of the programme thus: "I love sex. And if there's one thing I like almost as much as sex, it's reading books about sex." He enthused about a bunch of sex-related books and then his face darkened. "I really disliked this book ". He was talking of course about The History of Sexuality. As a Sixties sort of person, it must have fucked with all his basic core beliefs, rubbed him up the wrong way good and proper, been a real turn-off.

As Mark writes, The History of Sexuality is the kind of revelatory reading experience from which you don't recover; you can never go back to how you thought about things before. I had quite a bit of interest in the Sixties before then (and still do) but that's one aspect of the era--sex-as-liberation, as harbinger/agent/etc of revolution, Eros Vs Thanatos, desire versus the military-industrial-death-complex--that was forever dismantled for me by the force of Foucault's critique--especially those passages quoted by Mark. All those 60s sex-radical thinkers in the Wilhelm Reich lineage suddenly became historical curios at best. (Although Marcuse, to be fair, did invent the concept of "repressive desublimation", right?). One of the things that seemed most radical to me about rave was its asexuality--the fact that it was a youth movement in which sex-as-subversive/naughty/transgressive/forbidden was simply not part of its agenda. (Ed from the Chemical Bros recalling his rave days in an interview with me, enthused about "the sexless uniformity of it". Everyone lost in music, no sexual display or predation or role-play. A sort of chaste orgiastic frenzy, a Dionysianism of agape not eros).

And of course E was crucial to that. I didn't really understand the concept of the body-without-organs until I thought of it in terms of the Ecstasy experience. E turns on the BwO by turning off all the basic appetites and drives of the organism -- hunger, the need for sleep, and the sexual drive. In it, on it, you become angelic.

Then again, E is nothing if not a sensual/sensuous experience; what it does is unshackle erotic energy from the couple-manacle and generalise it towards the group of people you're out with, the crowd you're dancing in (ooh the knowing illicit flash between eyes, the pursed lips of shared almost-unbearable pleasure), and the music itself (congress with the sound system, the DJ caressing the crowd-body, taking it on a tantric journey).

Disagreeing slightly with Mark though, the "bodies and pleasures" in History of Sexuality seems crucial to me, liberating it from the apparatus and discourse of sexuality as truth/resistance/subversion etc etc. Foucault wasn't talking about dispensing with or putting to one side the ways of the flesh, in fact in his later years he rather energetically pursued the body's capacity for pleasure, using sex, drugs, etc. (I love the idea of Foucault going to discos in San Francisco, i wonder what the "yellow pills" he refers to were -- Quaaludes? MDA? Or even Ecstasy, which was probably beginning to circulate in clubland by then? I wonder what he wore....).

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