Eileen Joy and Anna Klosowska: Asceticism, Eroticism, and the Premodern Foucault

Eileen Joy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Eileen Joy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Anna Klosowska, Miami University
Anna Klosowska, Miami University
Revisiting Foucault’s History of Sexuality through Medieval and Early Modern Sources
Center for Renaissance Studies Programs
Graduate Seminar
Friday, January 11, 2013 to Friday, March 15, 2013

2- 5 pm

Room B-91

Led by Eileen Joy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Anna Klosowska, Miami University (Ohio)

This seminar will focus on rereading Foucault’s History of Sexuality (both the three published volumes as well as additional published materials intended for a fourth volume) in relation to hagiographic narratives from the Late Antique, Old English, and Middle English traditions and to medieval and early modern literary texts on love in French (in translation). The central guiding concept is Foucault’s notion of an “improbable manner of being”—a notion that Foucault sketched, somewhat elliptically, in his late lectures and interviews in relation to his thinking on asceticism and techniques of the “care of the self” that he had explored in classical and early Christian texts, but had no time to more fully develop.

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Participants will explore medieval and early modern texts to imagine what the inclusion of particular representations in these texts of “improbable” modes and techniques of the self would have contributed to Foucault’s history of sexuality, with an eye toward the consequences Foucault’s readings of these texts might have had upon his study of sexuality in the premodern period. The seminar will also interrogate some of the paradoxes inherent in Foucault’s attempts to provide a linear periodization of the development of the history of sexuality from the classical period to the present time—a periodization, moreover, which much work in current medieval and early modern studies of sexuality have called into question. The time is extremely ripe for such a reexamination of the premodern premises of Foucault’s work on sexuality and the care of
the self.

Each of the ten meetings will pair excerpts from Foucault’s works with readings in relevant medieval or early modern texts, as well as in contemporary critical sexuality studies. The seminar dovetails nicely with the recent publication, for the first time in English, of the final volume of Foucault’s last lectures at the Collège de France on the birth of biopolitics, which is a direct outcome of his multivolume history of sexuality project.

Guest Lecturers

Lauren Berlant, University of Chicago

James Bromley, Miami University

Laurie Finke, Kenyon College

C. Stephen Jaeger, Emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

William Junker, University of Saint Thomas

Peggy McCracken, University of Michigan

Eric Ruckh, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Carl Springer, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Judith P. Zinsser, Emerita, Miami University

Learn more about the instructors: Eileen Joy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Anna Klosowska, Miami University (Ohio)

Faculty and graduate students of Center for Renaissance Studies consortium institutions may be eligible to apply for travel funds to attend CRS programs or to do research at the Newberry. Each member university sets its own policies and deadlines; contact your Representative Council member in advance for details.

Learn more about Center for Renaissance Studies programs for graduate students.

Cost and registration information: 


Reading knowledge of French, Latin, Italian, Old English, or Middle English is desirable but not required. Original texts and English translations will be made available. Some background in courses in medieval literature, at the undergraduate or graduate level, is desirable.


Enrollment is limited to 15, with priority to students from Center for Renaissance Studies consortium institutions. Students may take this seminar on a not-for-credit basis or arrange to earn credit at their home campuses. When space permits, consortium faculty members are encouraged to audit Newberry seminars, and graduate students from non-consortium schools may also enroll. The course fee is waived for consortium students.

Registration: The seminar is currently full. Complete this online registration form to be placed on the waitlist.