Poiesis and Death: Foucault's Chiastic Undoing of Life in History of Sexuality Volume 1 Open Access

Cucopulos, Alexa Natalya (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/pg15bf06h?locale=en


I seek to read Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality Volume 1 (1976) for its poetic tactics in order to suggest that its poetic sensibility offers a conception of life alternative to bios. Sexuality One claims that the modern understanding of life that arises in the 20th century is rooted in the rise of biological and psychological discourses from which the ideas of "life-itself" and the species body erupt. Foucault claims that modern power, which creates sexualized subjects, has access to both individual bodies and the species at large. The concept of "sex" lends power this dual access, culminating in a eugenic shaping of the population. For its roots in biology, Foucault calls this modern power "biopower." I suggest here, that a poetic reading of the book allows for an alternative and perhaps resistant conception of life, lying in the Greek etymological root of poetry, which is "poiesis" meaning "to make." The rethinking of life that I offer lies in the constant unmaking and remaking of the subject as a mode of bristling against a power that relentlessly tracks and monitors bodies and regulates populations in order to optimize the health and longevity of the entire species. In his essay, "Lives of Infamous Men" (1977), Foucault makes a return to the archives that he uses in his first major work History of Madness (1964). These archives contain documents from those interned in the Classical Age. In this essay Foucault refers to these archival documents as "poem-lives" due to the mixture of intensities that he experiences while reading them. I read History of Sexuality Volume 1 as a poem-life of the modern species body, for it is a document of our own lives wagered on modern tactics of power. The chiasmus is the main poetic device through which Foucault reveals modern power as a fiction that results in mass death. At the end of this thesis I suggest that queer theorist, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick performs this poetic resistance to life as bios in her book The Epistemology of the Closet (1990) and her essay "White Glasses" (1991).

Table of Contents

Preface. 1


A note on poem-lives. 9

Chapter I: Poiesis as a listening for exclusions and elisions. 15

Section I:

A poetic rethinking of life. 15

Section II:

Gestures of exclusion and poetic listening. 21

Section III:

The intensification of life in twentieth century eugenics. 28

Chapter II:

The poetics of undoing Sexuality One. 36

Section I:

Sex as a hollow signifier. 36

Section II:

The chiastic function of power. 40

Section III:

Sexuality One as Mallarmé's "Sonnet en X". 50

Chapter III:

Poetics and mourning. 56

Section I:

Poiesis as keeping vigil. 56

Section II:

Poetic reading and the gesture of mourning in Eve Sedgwick. 61

Conclusion. 69

Bibliography. 73

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files