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Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.3&4 (2001) 357-374

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Foucault's The History of Sexuality:
The Fourth Volume, or, A Field Left Fallow for Others to Till

Daniel Boyarin and Elizabeth A. Castelli
University of California, Berkeley, and Barnard College

THE UNTIMELY DEATH of Michel Foucault in 1984 left unfinished his influential and controversial multivolume The History of Sexuality. Indeed, volumes 2 and 3 appeared on bookshop shelves in Paris only a few days before his death. The fourth volume, entitled Les Aveux de la chair (Confessions of the flesh) and devoted to the discourse of sexuality in late ancient Christianity, remains at Foucault's request unpublished. 1 In the intervening years since the publication of volumes 2 and 3, The History of Sexuality has been the object of intense engagement and critique, and it has left its imprint on a wide body of scholarship and inquiry. Whether one greets Foucault's History with enthusiasm or suspicion, its impact is undeniable. This special issue of the Journal of the History of Sexuality is devoted to exploring some of the Jewish and Christian sources from the period Foucault sought to explore in his fourth volume and thereby to engaging imaginatively in a continuation of Foucault's work--a continuation that, at important moments, necessarily includes some measure of critique. This introduction attempts to articulate a theoretical response to Foucault and his critics as a framework for reading the essays included in this issue. [End Page 357]

Numerous readers of Foucault's writing after 1976 (by which is generally meant the final two published volumes of The History of Sexuality) have described it as departing from or even reneging on the promise of his earlier work. 2 Nevertheless, we argue here that this body of work can also be read as a substantive continuation of the same intellectual, ethical, and political project that energized "the early Foucault." 3 "Sexuality" constitutes for Foucault the modern hermeneutics of the self and as such is as much a "modern" institution as the prison and the asylum. If we provisionally accept this seemingly paradoxical notion, we are led to imagine a time "before sexuality." 4 For Foucault, the history of sexuality is not the narrative reconstruction of the changing forms of a transhistorical essence but rather the history of a discourse and culture within which a certain modern institution came into existence. It is, in short, a genealogy. 5 Foucault defined the history of sexuality as an integral part of his general archaeology of the subject: "And now, I wish to study those forms of understanding which the subject creates about himself. Those forms of self-understanding are important I think to analyse the modern experience of sexuality." 6 This formulation of [End Page 358] "forms of the understanding which the subject creates about himself" is crucial to the framing of Foucault's object of analysis. The history of sexuality is not a history of bodies, practices, attitudes, and positions but a history of the formation of a "himself." 7 The history of sexuality documents a critical dimension of the broader modern project of subjectivication. Foucault's earlier histories of the prison, the hospital, and the asylum showed how these institutions produce the prisoner, the patient, and the insane through discourses and practices of power/knowledge. The history of sexuality, meanwhile, locates the process of subjectivication in the activity of the subject himself on himself--in the practices of self-knowledge and self-control--and via the institutional disciplines of sexology (the site of categorization) and psychoanalysis (the site of confession). The history of sexuality, or perhaps more exactly put at this juncture, its prehistory, 8 is part of a history of the present, the present within which one now experiences oneself as possessing a sexuality or embodying a sexuality with all of the regulatory and productive force--productive of shame, productive of desire, productive of pleasure, productive of love--of that experience. 9...