Foucault's Response to Freud: Sado-Masochism and the Aestheticization of Power

By Gearhart, Suzanne | Style, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Foucault's Response to Freud: Sado-Masochism and the Aestheticization of Power


Gearhart, Suzanne, Style


Among the numerous modern theorists who have attempted to bring the insights of psychoanalysis to bear on political and social theory, Michel Foucault is one of the names that certainly comes readily to mind. But while few would see one critic as doing more than stating the obvious when he wrote that Foucault, like other leading French theorists of his generation, was "deeply affected by Marx and . . . Freud" (Said 2), most of Foucault's interpreters have had little to say about his relation to psychoanalysis and have focused almost exclusively on his contributions to historiography and social theory. The relative lack of interest in the psychoanalytic dimension and implications of Foucault's work can be explained and even justified in various ways. First, there is the fact that Foucault wrote very little that explicitly concerned Freud. Second, the little he did write on psychoanalysis was principally focused on its status as an institution and its contributions to the creation of what Foucault called "disciplinary society." In addition, Foucault's critique of the central psychoanalytic concept of repression in volume one of The History of Sexuality could be evoked to justify the view that Foucault was only peripherally or even negatively involved in a discussion of psychoanalysis.(1)

Factors such as these, however, even if they help explain the relative neglect of the psychoanalytic dimension of Foucault's work, are perhaps ultimately less important than the nature of the psychoanalytic concept that represented for Foucault the central contribution of psychoanalysis to the theory of power and of the socio-political: sado-masochism. It is true that the term sado-masochism was rarely, if ever, used by Foucault in his discussion of political power. But even if it remains implicit in his work, a concept of sado-masochism is nonetheless central to both the social and psychological dimension of Foucault's theory. In neglecting the psychoanalytic dimension of Foucault's works, his interpreters may unwittingly have confirmed the truth of what Foucault in his histories and genealogies often claimed: that the "dirty secret" of power has long been hidden from us by a form of repression or censorship as strong as or stronger than the one that relates to sexuality per se and that the deepest critical implications of his own work lie in a transgression of this other, deeper form of censorship.(2)

One aim of this essay is to bring to light and analyze critically Foucault's implicit "dialogue" with Freud, in particular that part of the dialogue that has to do with the concept of sado-masochism. In the process I shall explore the critical implications for psychoanalysis of an approach to sado-masochism that does not limit its significance by treating it as characteristic only of a particular stage of development or form of neurosis, as Freud most frequently did. What I shall try to show is the force and implications of Foucault's critique of one of the central components of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, but I do not seek to test the rigor of Foucault's critique of Freud through an extended discussion and analysis of Freud's work as a whole. It may be worth noting at the start, however, that a fuller discussion of Foucault's dialogue with Freud would reveal the problematical dimension of a number of Foucault's assertions when they are confronted with the entirety of the Freudian corpus.

A second aim of this analysis relates more narrowly to Foucault's work and the psycho-social model it proposes. As I have already suggested, my approach to Foucault stems from a sense that both his critics and defenders have failed to recognize the critical impact of Foucault's concept of sado-masochism and in the process missed one of the most significant elements of his work in relation both to psychoanalytical and social theory. But I will argue as well that these same defenders and critics may have also missed what is one of the most serious limitations of his work, a limitation that becomes fully evident in Foucault's History of Sexuality. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Foucault's Response to Freud: Sado-Masochism and the Aestheticization of Power
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.