Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, III.2

Lecture of 21st January, 1981 continued

For Foucault the questioning of the reality of the truth of the truth comes from looking at the role of dream and illusion in the origin of truth. The text he brings up in relation to the role of dreams is a book on the interpretation of dreams by Artemidorus, a second century Greek writer from western Anatolia, continuing the engagement Foucault emphasises in the previous lecture the era in which Hellenistic and Roman Paganism overlaps with early Christianity. His Oneirocritica is usually known as The Interpretation of Dreams, and Foucault presumably welcomes the sharing of the title with Freud’s famous book, and the chance to comment in some way on the status of psychoanalytic work on dreams.

Foucault says that oneirocriticism is not an art of living or conduct, but does refer to what one should do with oneself on awakening, how to use that part of oneself in the dream, as well as decode it and find the truth inside it. The ancient dream book refers to the manner of living in as much as one is the subject dreaming some part of the night. Another reason Foucault gives for staying the text is that has four chapters devoted to sex, which fits with what he says before this lecture about the connection between sexuality and subjectivity, the pure subjectivity of desire. It is the only complete account of sexuality from Greek and Roman antiquity.

Artemidorus relates sexual activities in dreams of a positive sort with a positive events in the future. The sexuality which is positive is what Artemidorus regards as natural, as in accordance with law, and with naming (as opposed to what is too shameful to be named?).  Sexual and social economies are strongly connected, so that benefits in social life have the same status as sexual acts, the same relation with the self. Liberation from debt has the same economy as the expenditure of sperm that has been stored too long. The attitude towards sex is not moralising but resting on assumption about nature in the sense of a natural economy.

There is no distinction between the social and the sexual, as in Freud, there is continuity with no need to decode the dream to find the sexual meaning. Artemidorus does not make a complete union of what sexuality in accordance with nature and in accordance with law. There are acts which are in accordance with nature, but not law. Presumably Foucault sees here the beginning of the possibility of Christian morality. What is against law, but not nature, are acts which do not threaten social relations in the strongest way, incest between males is included here. There is no negative sense at all attached to master having sexual relations with a slave of either sex, even a married master just after sex with his wife. The slaves belong to him as does the wife, so this is n accordance with the economy of staying within what is your own in legitimate or positive sexual acts.

The sexual acts with the wife are the most positive, because that is an important kind of ownership or social tie, relating to legitimate children, but that does not makes adultery by the male illegitimate. Visiting a brothel in dreams is negative according to Artemidorus, because it is like going to the graveyard, an idea he gets from a resemblance between brothel cubicles and tombstones. The underlying point for Foucault is that the brothel is a place outside the ownership and control of the patron. Sex should be penetrative for Artemidorus so lesbian sex is against nature as well as law, and masturbation is an act of little value, though not completely prohibited.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

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One thought on “Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, III.2

  1. Pingback: Barry Stocker on Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth | Progressive Geographies

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