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“More or Less Raped”: Foucault, Causality, and Feminist Critiques of Sexual Violence
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I say “freedom of sexual choice” and not “freedom of sexual acts” because there are sexual acts like rape which should not be permitted.… I don’t think we should have as our objective some sort of absolute freedom or total liberty of sexual action.

—Michel Foucault, Ethics, Subjectivity, and Truth

Causality in the subject, the unconscious of the subject, the truth of the subject in the other who knows, the knowledge he holds unbeknown to him, all this found an opportunity to deploy itself in the discourse of sex.

—Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: AnIntroduction

Most Feminist Readers Of Foucault are familiar with the case of the “simple farmhand,” Charles Jouy, whom Foucault briefly mentions in The History of Sexuality, Volume I (henceforth Sexuality One). The case of Charles Jouy and Sophie Adam (the relatively unknown name of the “little girl” from whom Jouy “obtained a few caresses”) is instructive for Foucault, as it illustrates both the epistemic shifts and changing technologies of power—specifically the emergence of sexuality—during the late nineteenth century (Foucault 1990, 31). By the time Foucault published Sexuality One in 1976 (translated and published in English in 1978), he had already spent considerable time analyzing the Jouy-Adam case. In his 1974-75 lectures at the College de France, Les Anormaux, Foucault delivered an extended analysis of the case resulting from archival research he undertook at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. The infamously brief 1978 appearance of the case in Sexuality One, then, is only a distilled version of the case that references Foucault’s earlier argument in Les Anormaux about the expansion of sexuality as a productive technology of power-knowledge-pleasure.

Much of the feminist response to Foucault’s use of the Jouy-Adam case in Sexuality One is bound up with obstacles of time and translation. While Sexuality One was published in English in 1978, Foucault’s 1974–75 lectures, Les Anormaux, were not published in French until 1999, and the English translation, Abnormal, only appeared in 2003. Clearly, this translation and publishing timeline complicates the reception of Foucault’s thinking about the production and regulation of sexuality for many American readers. The relatively late appearance of Abnormal has limited Anglophone feminist theorists’ ability to engage Foucault’s theories about sexuality and violence more extensively.

With few exceptions, feminists have been overwhelmingly critical of what they view as Foucault’s reductive presentation of the Jouy-Adam case and his blindness to sexual violence in Sexuality One. Linda Martín Alcoff’s 1996 essay “Dangerous Pleasures: The Politics of Pedophilia” is representative of this trend. The feminist concerns Alcoff raises regarding Foucault and the Jouy-Adam case both precede her essay and persist in more recent feminist analyses. Still, the essay remains symptomatic of how feminist theorists have responded generally to Foucault’s comments on sexual violence and specifically to his comments regarding the desexualization of rape. Alcoff buttresses her critique of Foucault’s presentation of the Jouy-Adam case in Sexuality One by referring to his comments on children, sexual violence, and pedophilia in a transcript of a collective interview with Jean Danet and Guy Hocquenghem, “Sexual Morality and the Law” (Alcoff 1996, 102-106). Her critique in “Dangerous Pleasures” centers on preserving a feminist capacity to determine what counts as violence and make judgments accordingly. The fact that this discussion has endured for more than thirty years (beginning with Monique Plaza’s 1981 response to Sexuality One) speaks to the persistence of sexual violence against women and children as a feminist concern. That concern is somewhat at odds with Foucault’s conception of sexuality as a productive mode of modern biopower.

Reading athwart Alcoff and the feminist tradition she represents, I argue here that the practice of making judgments about sexual violence relies upon a concept of causality that is an extension of the modern framework of power-knowledge-pleasure. I do so by focusing on Foucault’s more detailed account of the Jouy-Adam case In Abnormal. Indeed, reading Abnormal alongside Sexuality One provides an extensive account of Foucault’s thesis on the emergence of sexuality as a regulatory system. An attentive reading of both...



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