Society and Sexuality in Waiting for the Barbarians, and The History of Sexuality
Within our modern minds reside two very different ways in which we deal with the subject of sexuality. The conceptual framework of modern society, to some extent, has developed out of past notions about the body. We can see that springing from our historical roots, issues concerning sexuality have been dealt with through mutual feelings of desire and disgust.
The relationship between these two opposed feelings arises from a dual sense of our awareness of our sexuality. One direction we are pointed in, is to view anything sexual in content, as socially digressive. The other crosses to the opposite extreme. Sexuality is something which is talked about constantly, but usually not openly. We are also, in some ways, drawn by our sexuality to feel desire for our "other side"--the side which we do not show to many other people. Both of the poles represent aspects of a spectrum on which all of us lie, at once drawn to both extremes. The fact that we fall somewhere on that scale in the first place, points to another reason outside the reaches of the immediate family. The situation we are placed in as individuals of modernity, is an arena of pre-constructed rules and regulations regarding our sexuality. The doctrine of sex in our world has been determined by the actions and thoughts of past generations. We build upon their conceptual machinery to generate our own meaning within the world. The duality between desire and disgust, in relation to sexuality, is something which has been passed down to us through generations of social learning.
In his book, The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault presents evidence pointing to the connection between modern concepts on sexuality, and past social trends. He says that the Victorian era marked a significant change in the social conceptualization of sexuality. The time line of his book is the chronology of sexuality throughout Western history. Foucault theorizes that the desire to remove a part of the self from the sexual realm grew out of the Victorian aversion against the "dirty", or supposedly unclean parts of the human experience. He says:
The seventeenth century, then, was the beginning of an age of repression emblematic of what we call the bourgeois societies, . . . As if in order to gain mastery over it [sexuality] in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, . . . and extinguish the words that rendered it too visibly present. (17)
Foucault says here that the roots of sexual repression begin to play a major role in Western intellectual formation in the 1600's. The presence of our own sexuality cannot be questioned, so the repressed discourse which arose out of this type of strict social control had to take a different course. The two sides of modern thought represent the course through which sexuality became legitimate both in...