In Diderot's 'Les Bijoux Indiscrets', a man acquires a ring which has the power to make sexual organs speak. Michel Foucault says that he wants to make that ring speak for itself. (He sketched part of his project in this paper last summer: Vol. 3, No 9.) Sexuality 'traces that line of foam which shows just how far speech may advance on the sands of silence'. To speak of it, to ourselves, to each other, to those who hire out their ears, is, we think (or Foucault thinks we think), to reach the root of our subjectivity. That is his interest in it. Speaking of sexuality is the present limit of that 'immense labour to which the West has submitted generations in order to produce ... men's subjection: their constitution as "subjects" in both senses of the word'. It is the present limit of confession in a confessional civilisation. And in its pretended disillusion, it is the present limit of illusion. For 'the subject' is a construction, something that is produced in 'discourse', something which itself presents a question; something which cannot thus be taken, as it has so long been taken, in much Christian theology and in the secular philosophy which followed, as the touchstone of any answer to some other question.
LRB 21 October 1982 | PDF Download