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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



The Emergence of Sexuality: Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts by Arnold I. Davidson (Harvard University Press) In a book that moves between philosophy and history, and with lasting significance for both, Arnold Davidson elaborates a powerful new method for considering the history of concepts and the nature of scientific knowledge, a method he calls "historical epistemology." He applies this method to the history of sexuality, with important consequences for our understanding of desire, abnormality, and sexuality itself. In Davidson's view, it was the emergence of a science of sexuality that made it possible, even inevitable, for us to become preoccupied with our true sexuality. Historical epistemology attempts to reveal how this new form of experience that we call "sexuality" is linked to the emergence of new structures of knowledge, and especially to a new style of reasoning and the concepts employed within it. Thus Davidson shows how, starting in the second half of the nineteenth century, a new psychiatric style of reasoning about diseases emerges that makes possible, among other things, statements about sexual perversion that quickly become commonplace in discussions of sexuality. Considering a wide range of examples, from Thomas Aquinas to Freud, Davidson develops the methodological lessons of Georges Canguilhem and Michel Foucault in order to analyze the history of our experience of normativity and its deviations.

Excerpt:  If I were forced to summarize my approach to the history of sexuality (questions of horror and monsters aside) and if I had to say how I made use of historical epistemology in this approach (questions of evidence aside), I suppose I would say something like the following. It is not because we became preoccupied with our true sexuality that a science of sexuality arose in the nineteenth century; it is rather the emergence of a science of sexuality that made it possible, even inevitable, for us to become preoccupied with our true sexuality. Thus our existence became a sexistence, saturated with the promises and threats of sexuality. Historical epistemology attempts to show how this new form of experience that we call "sexuality" is linked to the emergence of new structures of knowledge, and especially to a new style of reasoning and the concepts employed within it.

If this book as a whole sometimes seems to fall between various disciplines, then it may have achieved one of its goals. The idea that academic disciplines need to be kept pure seems to me to have produced an enor­mous amount of wasted energy‑and even more bad work. Even though I always undertake my work from within philosophy, the writings and criti­cisms of colleagues outside of philosophy have certainly made this a better book…

In each part of this book, there is one essay that, at first glance, seems quite removed from the others‑"The Horror of Monsters" in the first part and "The Epistemology of Distorted Evidence" in the second part. If the first three essays of this book primarily take up the history of concepts and scientific reasoning, the kind of history of the emotions outlined in "The Horror of Monsters" seems to me to begin to fill in a gap in the overall ambition of this first part‑namely, to understand the constitution of our experience of normativity and its deviations. In "The Horror of Monsters" I shift my focus from the history of scientific reasoning about the normal and the pathological to the relationship between scientific explanation and moral and theological evaluation. Our experience of normativity, structured by both scientific concepts and moral judgments, must be located in more than a single dimension.

A second issue raised by the essays in the first part of this book concerns my claims about psychoanalysis and, more specifically, whether they are compatible with Michel Foucault's seemingly very different attitude toward psychoanalysis. I agree with Georges Canguilhem that we do not yet have a convincing and detailed account of Foucault's relation to psychoanalysis, and, indeed, I believe that it is only now, with the publication of Dits et ecrits and its gathering together of the many short but crucial discussions concerning psychiatry and psychoanalysis, that we are in a position to be able to write such an account. In La Volonte de savoir, where Foucault seems to insist on the continuity of psychoanalysis with the techniques of the Christian confession of the flesh, his main focus is on the effects of power produced by psychoanalysis and on the way in which psychoanalysis fits into the long history of the relations of power exhibited by the will to know. He is hardly concerned with the conceptual structure or the structure of discursive practices peculiar to psychoanalysis. Archeological interests have ceded primary place to genealogical ones.' But even given this background, within the space of this preface, I want to point to one passage in La Volonte de savoir that complicates one's interpretation of Foucault and that should also help to specify further one source of the differences between my claims and those of Foucault, while indicating that our ap

proaches are not, all things considered, incompatible. As Canguilhem himself noticed, Chapter 4 of Part IV of La Volonte de savoir contains an important passage in which Foucault distinguishes psychoanalysis from nineteenth­century medical psychiatry as it had been developing. At the beginning of this chapter Foucault discusses the perversion‑heredity‑degeneracy ensemble that he says constituted the "solid nucleus of the new technologies of sex" in the nineteenth century, and that already represented an important transformation of the methods practiced by Christianity, without being entirely independent of those methods. He then proceeds to describe what he calls the "singular position of psychoanalysis" (la position singuliere de la psychanalyse), but his remarks will be unintelligible to any English reader of the text, since the translation refers to "the strange position of psychiatry."' Foucault's whole point here is to distinguish psychoanalysis from psychiatry, and to claim that psychoanalysis effected a "rupture" with respect to the "great system of degeneracy."' Whatever criticisms one should make of psychoanalysis, with regard to those nineteenth-century technologies that undertook the medicalization of sex, it was the one that was "rigorously opposed to the political and institutional effects of the perversion‑heredity‑degeneracy system." Consistent with Foucault's genealogical interests, one sees unambiguously in this discussion his focus on the political and institutional dimensions of the problem, on the technologies of power that are part of the regime of biopower. However, even at this level of analysis, psychoanalysis, according to Foucault, marks a "rupture" with respect to existing political technologies. Although Foucault is not interested, as I am, in the specificity of the psychoanalytic conceptual space, it is remarkable that he chooses the perversion‑heredity‑degeneracy system as the point of rupture between psychoanalysis and psychiatry. For not only at the level of technologies of power, but also at the level of discursive practices per se, this same system of perversion‑heredity‑degeneracy represents a fundamental discontinuity between psychiatry and psychoanalysis. My argument in Essay 3, prepared at length in the first essay, is that the psychiatric concept of the sexual instinct is a fundamental component of the perversion‑heredity‑degeneracy system, and that Freud's overturning of this concept, not just politically but conceptually, constituted, from the perspective of something like Foucault's archeological analysis, what one should think of as a revolution in a style of reasoning. Foucault himself does not make any such claim, since this was not the dimension of analysis that interested him in La volonte de savoir, But he says nothing incompatible with this argument, and indeed leaves more than enough room for its articulation and defense.

In the second half of this book, my essay "The Epistemology of Distorted Evidence," centered on Carlo Ginzburg's historiography, raises questions about the use of evidence that no historical epistemology can afford to ignore. There may be an initial tension felt between this essay and those in which I write from the standpoint of the French tradition of historical epistemology, as if I am caught between two irreconcilable conceptions of evidence, historical proof and even truth, one of which, to put it in the crudest possible terms, is more or less absolutist, the other one being thoroughly relativist. I myself feel no insuperable conflict, as some people have, between my admiration for Ginzburg's work and the continuous invocation of Foucault, and I do not think that the absolutist/relativist distinction marks out any stakes of ultimate significance in what others have made into an almost Manichean battle. I believe that the relevant distinction here, between conditions of validity and conditions of possibility, is of crucial help in resolving the initially felt tension.

 The questions about evidence, proof, and truth claims in the essay on Ginzburg concern the problem of conditions of validity, of how one deter­mines that a given statement is true or false. The questions about truth, concepts, and reasoning in the more Foucault‑inspired chapters concern the problem of conditions of possibility, of how a statement becomes a possi­ble candidate for either truth or falsehood.' One must distinguish between these two levels of conditions in order to see how to reconcile historical epistemology with the kinds of historiographical claims made by Ginzburg. Briefly stated, within the conceptual space articulated by a style of reason­ing, which will allow a large range of statements that can be either true or false, the conditions of validity for a particular statement may be quite ob­jective. Indeed, I think that although the psychiatric style of reasoning did create new categories of true and false statements, within these new condi­tions of possibility, there were agreed‑on criteria, and widespread agree­ment, about how to determine, for example, that the claim that someone suffered from a sexual perversion was true. Conditions of validity for a par­ticular statement can be objective, independent from political and ideolog­ical changes, even while one maintains, at another level, that styles of rea­soning and associated conceptual spaces may (even if relatively rarely) undergo radical transformation. Ginzburg wants to combat the view that truth is a merely ideological notion, based on specific political interests and reducible to relations of power, as though historical proof were a surface expression of relations of force. I see nothing in the version of historical epistemology that I have advanced that is ultimately contrary to the kinds of arguments developed in "The Epistemology of Distorted Evidence." Neither styles of reasoning nor conceptual spaces are simple expressions of social interests, and, as one should thus expect, my historical accounts contain virtually no social history. That is the reason why I find the label "social construction" utterly inappropriate as a description of my work. Once some such distinction as that between conditions of validity and conditions of possibility is made, the assumed unbridgeable dichotomy will be seen to have been badly located, a function of overly crude as well as misplaced divisions.

Of course it is true that many people seem to believe that the use of Foucault's work requires the rejection of what might be thought to be a more traditional practice of history, a view that continues to strike me as bizarre and that is contrary to anything I ever heard Foucault say. Some historians have rejected Foucault, Foucault did reject the work of some historians, but the philosophical motivations of his work coexisted with a vital interest in the writing of history as practiced by historians.

Contents: Preface 1. Closing up the Corpses 2. Sex and the Emergence of Sexuality 3. How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality 4. The Horror of Monsters 5. Styles of Reasoning: From the History of Art to the Epistemology of Science 6. The Epistemology of Distorted Evidence: Problems around Carlo Ginzburg's Historiography 7. Foucault and the Analysis of Concepts 8. On Epistemology and Archeology: From Canguilhem to Foucault, Appendix: Foucault, Psychoanalysis, and Pleasure, Notes, Credits, Index

Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America by Andrea Tone (Hill & Wang) A down-and-out sausage-casing worker by day who turned surplus animal intestines into a million-dollar condom enterprise at night; inventors who fashioned cervical caps out of watch springs, and a mother of six who kissed photographs of the inventor of the Pill -- these are just a few of the fascinating individuals who make up the history of contraceptives in America. Scholars of birth control typically frame this history as one of physicians, lawyers, and political activists. But in Devices and Desires,  Tone breaks new ground by showing what it was really like to produce, buy, and use contraceptives during a century of profound social and technological change.
Tone begins with the passage of the 1873 Comstock Act, which criminalized the birth control business, and ends with the inventions of today (including Depo-Provera and Norplant). Along the way she assesses the social and economical effects of chemical prophylaxes kits for World War I soldiers, condoms, the Lysol antiseptic douche, and the 1973 Dalkon Shield disaster (among others). In lively and engaging prose, her book illuminates the industry's trails from an illicit trade located in basement workshops and pornography outlets to one of the most successful legitimate businesses in American history.

The Multi-Orgasmic Couple: Sexual Secrets Every Couple Should Know by Mantak Chia, Maneewan Chia, Douglas Abrams, Rachel Carlton Abrams (Harper San Francisco) From the bestselling authors of The Multi-Orgasmic Man comes an extraordinary new book for couples. You and your partner will discover how to have multiple whole-body orgasms and how to reach ever more fulfilling levels of intimacy and ecstasy together.

Men and women have different sexual energies--and too often this leads to disharmony in the bedroom, preventing us from fully exploring our sexual potential. The Multi-Orgasmic Couple shows how to create the ultimate sexual harmony between partners, so you can make your bedroom a place for totally fulfilling passion and intimacy.
By harnessing the power of an ancient tradition of sexual wisdom, you and your partner can learn to use simple physical and psychological techniques to experience the bliss of a whole-body sexual experience, orgasm after orgasm.
Profoundly satisfying sex is here for us all-long-term couples, new partners, young adults, and mature lovers. And if you've ever had a sexual problem, this book will help you to see it in a new light-and deal with it for good.
There are no complicated theories--The Multi-Orgasmic Couple is for real couples everywhere. With tips for fine-tuning your sexual skills that are guaranteed to drive your partner wild, this is quite simply the best ever straight-talking guide for couples you'll ever read.

Exerpt: Introduction

Shocking as it is for most people to hear, both women and men can have multiple orgasms. In this book, both you and your partner will learn how to experience multiple whole-body orgasms. However, this is just the beginning of the sexual knowledge that we present. When you and your partner are both multi-orgasmic, you will each experience far greater individual pleasure. You will also be able to harmonize your sexual needs and to reach ever more fulfilling levels of intimacy and ecstasy together.

Multiple Orgasms for All Men

Few people know that men can have multiple orgasms. While this fact has been known for several thousand years in the East and has been confirmed in the West by Alfred Kinsey and other sex researchers since the 1940s, it still remains a surprise to most men and women.

In our earlier book, The Multi-Orgasmic Man, we reviewed the most recent scientific evidence and presented ancient techniques for helping men become multi-orgasmic. We tried to give men a manual for a healthier and more satisfying experience of male sexuality. In this new book, we have tried to give couples a guidebook, or what the Taoists called "a pillow book," to deepen both partners' ability to experience pleasure, health, and intimacy.

Multiple Orgasms for All Women

While the fact that women can have multiple orgasms is well known, more than 50 percent of women have never had multiple orgasms or are not regularly multiply orgasmic. In this book, we will show all women how they can become consistently multi-orgasmic, and for those who are already multi-orgasmic we will show them how to expand and intensify their orgasms.

Harmonizing Sexual Desire

Lovemaking in which both partners arc multi-orgasmic allows couples to reach many peaks of orgasmic pleasure together. Equally important, it allows men and women to harmonize their often different sexual rhythms and desires so that they can have a deeply satisfying and profoundly intimate love life.

But sensual pleasure, as exquisite and enjoyable as it can be, is only the beginning.

Physical Health, Emotional Intimacy, and Spiritual Growth

This book draws on thousands of years of sexual knowledge to show couples how sexual energy can be used to cultivate all other aspects of their relationship, including their physical health, emotional intimacy, and even spiritual growth. In the modern world, we have torn ourselves apart: we have separated our genitals from the rest of our body and our body from our spirit. In this book we show couples how to put the pieces together again for a level of health, intimacy, and spiritual union that many may never have known was possible.

The Loss of Sexual Wisdom

In the modern world, we have lost most of our sexual wisdom. We live in a time of great sexual freedom but also great sexual confusion. Sexuality is everywhere used to titillate us, but there remains an enormous amount of shame. Many readers may feel embarrassed about simply picking up a book on sexuality (multiple orgasms, no less!) in the bookstore. This is understandable since most of our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples view sex through a narrow lens of fear and moralism. Most of us are left feeling profoundly anxious if not downright ashamed of our sexual needs and desires.

Even people with "healthy" attitudes toward sex still find it difficult to talk with their partner about what they want sexually. We may have little problem telling our partner where to rub our shoulders, but most of us are much more reticent to tell our partner where to rub our "privates." A major part of overcoming the shame that restricts our sexuality is learning that it is natural and discovering a more holistic and healthier view of human sexuality.


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