requiem for certainty

Archive for the ‘pleasure’ Category

Michel Foucault’s Ethics of Pleasure

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Today a group of us in the Foucault Research Cluster were discussing some of Foucault’s late interviews and writings on sexuality and pleasure.  Foucault seems to be offering (recommending?) an ethics involving (centered around?) the work of pleasure, the use of pleasure, and the activity of living in and through pleasure.

This prompts in me (and prompted in all of us) a question or series of questions surrounding Foucault’s conception of pleasure and how it is supposed to work in such a fashion as to open us up to the possibilities of transformation.  All I am really left with at this point, though, is a question, rather than any sort of answer.

Michel FoucaultThe main problem we found ourselves facing was conceptualizing the relation between pleasure and transformation in Foucault.  Foucault sometimes seems to present a picture of pleasure as an ‘ethical technique’ which facilitates the ‘ethical telos’ of transformation.  Foucault is interested in pleasure because it helps bring about the transformation of the self (and self relations seem to be the ‘ethical substance’ in these interviews).

Okay, so that sounds great.  But how exactly do pleasures facilitate transformation?  I am, to just put it rather simply, puzzled.

What I definitely like is Foucault’s contrastive conception of pleasure as an alternative to desire.  Desire would be a control-freakish mechanism by which we attempt to fulfill a lack that we find in ourselves.  Pleasure would be a transformative (but how?) mechanism by which we attempt to work on the self in such a way as to open it up to the possibility of taking pleasure in acts and events which would otherwise not strike the self.  Pleasure for Foucault seems to function as a kind of process of receptivity.  It is through pleasure that we are able to receive another into the self.  And this, it seems, is supposed to facilitate transformation.


Written by Colin Koopman

April 14, 2010 at 1:41 am