ABSTRACT

On the very first page of the important preface to Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, a bulky 1983 anthology bringing together some of the most significant recent texts on feminism and the discourses of sexuality, the three editors pay hom(m)age-or is it femmage-to Michel Foucault, historian of sexuality. Briefly summarizing Foucault's paradoxical reading of so-called sexual liberation as in fact a further turn of the screw of repression or oppression, the editors praise Foucault for his, "subtle rendering of the general argument that sex and capitalism have gone hand-in-hand too long for sex to be interpreted at face value as a radical force."1 On the very next page, however, Foucault is summarily dismissed as just another purveyor of "the obsessive male sexual discourse that runs through the centuries from St. Augustine to Philip Roth."2 The editors point out that if for men who have regulated the discourse of sexuality throughout the history of Western civilization, silence is an option, for women whose relationship to sex has traditionally been aphasic, "it is too soon . . . for silence."3 Setting aside for the moment the question of Foucault's phallogocentrism, of the inscription of his discourse on sexuality in the order of male discursive practices, I want to make another point. The mention of Foucault at the very beginning of this lengthy preface is striking in two ways: it is the only mention both of a French and a male theoretician in this otherwise indigenous, not to say ethnocentric overview of the burgeoning field of feminist discourse on sexuality. One could imagine a homologous anthology which would represent the French point of view and while I will not speculate here on its table of contents, I think it is safe to assume that though most likely equally ethnocentric, it would be less gynocentric, because as historians of French Feminisms have often pointed out, in France recent feminist thought has always functioned in dialogue with the reigning male maîtres à penser,

notably Lacan and Derrick. One figure is almost never mentioned in this context and that is Roland Barthes. And yet, I will want to argue here that it is perhaps in Barthes, who was in his own words a sort of "echo chamber"4 of contemporary French thought, that we can most easily grasp the dominant male discourse on sexuality in post-structuralist France, what I will call the discourse of in-difference or of pure difference, for they are in fact one and the same.