Concept of Confession
In his work called “History of Sexuality”, Foucault discusses one of the fundamental differences between the two approaches to sex, truth and confession; these differences are marked by him as “two great procedures for producing the truth of sex” (p.66). He claims that the triad of sex-truth-confession is handled differently in the civilizations of the world. Foucault distinguishes traditional Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Muslim societies (i.e. the so-called orient communities), accompanied by ancient Rome that uphold the concept of ars erotica (p.67). The opposing societies, virtually, the Western ones, have undertaken another paradigm called scientia sexualis that is supposed to rationalize the information flow related to sexual relationships and make it a means, not an end. This principle is, actually, forms the insurmountable gap or even a chasm between the two approaches: ars erotica perceives relationship as a single-standing experience (preferably a pleasuring one) that does not need to be caused by something, preceded by some phenomenon or event and then followed by some other happening. For this concept, experience of a relationship is, if we use the terminology of German classical philosophers, a Ding an sich, a “thing in itself”, that is critically independent and separate. Unlike it, scientia sexualis is a classic Ding fuer sich that is closely and tightly related to the preceding and following trends. According to this perception pattern, a relationship in all senses of this word is an instrument, a tool for obtaining or winning, securing, preserving, using and regulating power. This attitude makes the relationship not the one and only final stop, it rather points at the ways the situation can be used in order to achieve one’s ends.
This dualistic approach brought forth by Foucault naturally expands the rigid sex-truth-confession mentioned before. Obviously, some element is missing here. This element is supposed to tie all these notions together and make a theorem gain some consistency via the proof and run smoothly like clockwork. In my opinion, this element is power. This is why Foucault studies the history of sexuality as both history of truth and history of power. In fact, one could put an equality mark between these two words: in scientia sexualis paradigm, truth equals power. In older traditional proverbs and quotes, they say that knowledge (information) equals power. For the purposes of this paper, the notions of knowledge, information and truth will be interchangeable and similar in sense. The struggle for power shall inevitably lie at the fundament of any relationship, whether sexually involved or not. It is important to mention that Foucault does not hold illusions as to the Western, confession-centered type of relationship, he even calls this paradigm a “millennium yoke of confession” (p.71). He also explains why he considers it so.
According to Foucault, confession is a universal an ever-present thing; also, the very understanding of a confession is an exercise of power of one society’s actor over another one. These are the two primary characteristics of a confession-obsessed cultural environment: universality and power struggle. Everybody has to make some sort of confession throughout his or her life, voluntarily or forced, realizing this or not. Members of congregate church confess their sins to their minister, children confess their wrongdoings to their parents, men and women acknowledge love for each other, friends pronounce fidelity and loyalty to each other, employers and employees sign a contract to ensure their commitment and outline the playing field. Many more situations can be brought as an example which proves once more that the notion of confession in this context is multi-faceted and does not carry only a negative connotation with it. In fact, a confession is every act of sharing a certain piece of truth with somebody and thus empowering that person or those people.
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This symbolic and meaningful act of sharing information is far more complex than it seems at first glance. Granting another person an insight into one’s thoughts and feelings is a powerful influence booster. By carrying out a ritual of confession, one delegates the other party a certain amount of power over himself and the situation. After the delegation is finished, the other party will gain more resource, more influence and more control over the events. It is impossible to guarantee that this person or these people won’t abuse this power; they might as well employ these opportunities for harmful and damaging purposes. Also, responsibility comes in the package with power, and, therefore, the other party would be at least partly accountable for future events, whatever those may be. The person who received the confession holds the power to judge, to forgive or to despise and exercise influence via his personal attitude. If that person is socially and morally entitled and authorized respectively, he or she might even impose penalty over the confessor. Thus the culture of confession spawns the tendency towards hierarchy and total control. Perhaps, such attitude might remind one of dystopian society concepts.
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Another aspect of the forced and imposed confession culture is increasing exposure the general community. The rise of social networking and digitalization of the community is encouraging this process greatly. Nowadays it is no wonder to be excessively exposed to public attention and general knowledge via the social networks, especially for celebrities. Moreover, people, young people also, are supposed to be broadcasting their lives on the web, thus demonstrating that their lives are going the normal way and they can “fit in”. Gradually this norm becomes backed up with an internal desire of a person to remain over-exposed. With time, this can lead to anxiety, excessive centeredness on the outside judgment instead of developing one’s own, self-assessment problems and attention disorders. Eventually, public “confessions” revealing the persona moments of people’s lives can leave one feeling dangerously open and defenseless against the world. As Foucault puts it, “confession is a ritual of discourse where the speaking subject is also the subject of statement” (p.76). Marshall McLuhan phrased the same concept differently, saying that the medium is the message.