Discursive resistance

Foucault denies the existence of two opposed discourses, one of power and one of resistance, in his book “The History of Sexuality.” Instead, he explains that discourse and silence can serve as both instruments of and hindrances to power. He gives the example of pre-19th century reticence in Western texts on male homosexuality, and how that made sodomy an “utterly confused category,” generally allowed to exist and occasionally severly punished (1632). Foucault further posits that the “the appearance in 19th century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species” of homosexuality “made possible … social controls” of this behavior (1632). He says, curiously, that “homosexuality began to speak on its own behalf… in the same vocabulary,” and it is not clear in which genre this begins to happen or who exactly was speaking on behalf of homosexuality (1632). Literature would provide (and has provided) fertile grounds for this reappropriation of medical terms originally created to explain homosexuality as a perversion. Many strategies could converge to support this resistance through literary depictions of force-relations, for example novels that depict violence and dysfunctionality in patriarchal heterosexuality, as well as homosexuality being shown as a means of liberation.

Langston Hughes uses¬†words created to enable¬†social control in discourses of resistance in his poetry, as in the use of the word “Negro” in his poem “Ballad of the Landlard.” The poem illustrates how the word is obfuscates a reality of oppression in institutional settings, like the printed word of newspapers.

Literature can create ironic reproductions of discourses of power that “undermine” and “expose” those discourses, in order to render the power “fragile” and make it possible to “thwart” it (1632).