From Sexuality to Governmentality: The Oedipus Complex of Michel Foucault

Author: Konoval, Brandon

Publications details: Modern Intellectual History 16, no. 1 (2019): 217-49.

Weblink: https://cambridge.org

Abstract: The figure of Oedipus haunted the thought of Michel Foucault from the outset of his tenure at the Collège de France, in association with several key philosophical and historical projects, and enduring until the conclusion of his career. However, it was with Foucault's account of an “Oedipus complex”—one that operated “not at the individual level but at the collective level; not in connection with desire and the unconscious but in connection with power and knowledge” (“Truth and Juridical Forms,” 1973)—that Foucault was able to enlist Oedipus for a genealogy of “sexuality” and, furthermore, of “governmentality,” such as would increasingly preoccupy him through the mid- to late 1970s. Foucault's attention to classical texts—in particular the Oedipus Tyrannos of Sophocles and the Republic of Plato—thereby helped to clear a critical pathway through the conventional Marxism embraced by the “repressive hypothesis,” and to arrive at a Nietzschean genealogy of sexuality and power.