The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

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This essay seeks to reconcile two apparently competing aspects of Michel Foucault's ideas about sexuality and the self with reference to medical self-help writings from France around 1900. Inspired by Foucault's work on the proliferation of expert discourses about sexuality as a means of approaching modern subjectivities, historians of sexuality have often conceptualized sexual knowledge in terms of power, discipline, and normalization. Yet there has been considerably less interest in the later Foucault's work on "techniques of the self", where the role of the individual comes to the fore, particularly in the dissemination of advice about health that includes, but is not restricted to, sexual matters. In The Use of Pleasure, for instance, Foucault observes that sexuality counted as an aspect of "dietetics" among the ancient Greeks only to be slowly considered a separate biological drive in subsequent centuries. However much this detachment of sex from diet is evident in the rise of sexual science, it is equally clear that traditional notions of hygiene have continued to function as "techniques of the self" throughout the modern era, even after "sexuality" emerged as a fundamental way of thinking about identity. This paper inquires into the persistence of dietetically-oriented techniques of the self by analyzing the numerous French self-help manuals that circulated at the end of the nineteenth century. It argues that, far from being represented as a "stubborn drive" in these works, by the early twentieth century desire continued to be conceptualized as an element of an individual's overall lifestyle, and therefore as capable of being inflected by other aspects of traditional hygiene, especially dietetic choices. If there is space this essay will also try to reconcile these traditional views of a "diet of pleasures" with some of the key sexological texts of the day.

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