Foucault and the Power of Texts

“Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere…‘Power,’ insofar as it is permanent, repetitious, inert, and self-reproducing, is simply the overall effect that emerges from all these mobilities…[‘Power’] is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” (Foucault).

Because Michel Foucault sees power as something that is present always and in every realm or interaction, we can extend his theories from “History of Sexuality” to understand not just how power relates to sexuality, but also how power relates to literature and texts. To Foucault, power relations of society dictate our discourse, which then perpetuates power. Extending this theory, the ways in which we comprehend, talk about, or even create literature are dependent upon the ways in which power relations operate both within and outside of the text; the text then serves as another source that mobilizes power because it is an interaction between itself and the reader. Thus, Foucault would consider literature and text to be yet another medium through which power is communicated and exerted, as well as something that comes to be and comes to be understood as a result of the power relations surrounding it. However, this is not a process that breeds and rebreeds the same result time and time again. Foucault purports that power relations are not static, and so the process must also not be static. This is why literature and our understanding of literature have both shifted so frequently and so drastically over time.

Foucault, Michel. “The History of Sexuality,” The Critical Tradition. 3rd ed. Richter, H. David. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.