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Foucault, Michel. Politics, philosophy, culture: interviews and other writings 1977-1984 Routledge, 1988
If there’s an intellectual patron saint of BDSM, it’s Foucault. Looking back thirty years, it’s interesting to question how accurate Foucault was.
It’d be interesting to see Foucault’s views on recent gay struggles for acceptance in the military and equal marriage rights. I think he would see this as somewhat a defeat, or at least a wrong path, that gays invest in mainstreaming into established institutions instead of embracing the transformative potential of alternative sexuality. “… Foucault supported… the imperatives of the gay movement which, like other experiences such as drugs and communes, situated the individual on the threshold of other forms of consciousness and inscribed him in the ‘culture of the self’.” (Pg. xxii)
Sexual behaviour has become more diverse and visible, Foucault agrees:
In a civilization that for centuries considered the essence of the relation between two people to reside in the knowledge of whether one of the two parties was going to surrender to the other, all the interest and curiosity, the cunning and manipulation of people was aimed at getting the other to give in, to go to bed with them. Now when sexual encounters become extremely easy and numerous, as is the case with homosexuality nowadays, complications are only introduced after the fact. In this type of casual encounter it is only after making love that one becomes curious about the other person. Once the sexual act has been consummated you find yourself asking your partner, “By the way, what was your name?”
What you have, then, is a situation where all the energy and imagination, which in the heterosexual relationship were channelled into courtship, now become devoted to intensifying the act of sex itself. A whole new art of sexual practice develops which tries to explore all the internal possibilities of sexual conduct. You find emerging in places like San Francisco and New York what might be called laboratories of sexual experimentation. You might look upon this as the counterpart of the medieval courts where strict rules of proprietary courtship were defined.
This mixture of rules and openness [in an S/M master-slave relationship] has the effect of intensifying sexual relations by introducing a perpetual novelty, a perpetual tension and a perpetual uncertainty which the simple consummation of the act lacks. The idea is also to make use of every part of the body as a sexual instrument.
In other words, as sex becomes more game-like, a sphere of activity with no consequences outside it, it becomes more diverse and experimental to maintain interest. It’s not “will they or won’t they?” but “how will they?”