Thursday, June 09, 2016

You show me yours.....

My thoughts turn to confession.

Ha! No. Not here, I won't....

I decided to re-read Foucault's Will to Knowledge. He examines the link between power and confession, particularly where this relates to sexuality and its analysis.

The elicitation of confession is a way of gaining power for the listener, as much as empowering the confessor. (And let us not deceive ourselves by claiming the practice of extracting confessions has dwindled alongside the power of the Catholic church.)

In our own relationships, we often try to obtain truth or answers from someone else in a way that gives us power. Question after question fired at an acquaintance whose natural silence makes us edgy. Probing away at a personal crisis we find intriguing. Aggressively insisting someone explain a 'faulty' opinion.

We also run away from others' honest offerings when they are unsettling. Or we decide to tell the truth at moments that win us favour and control. Or we refuse to reveal ourselves in speech altogether as a method of self-protection.

Confession is a cultural practice reliant on speech, of course, in keeping with our Western, Protestant word-obsession. This places at a disadvantage people with less verbal power. Not just the shy but the child, the poorly educated, the foreigner, the uninitiated. Indeed, if we are not careful, we start to assume there is nothing really worth knowing about the severely disabled person, the non-English speaker, etc. Or that it is our right as the 'articulate' to instruct them.


We must be cautious about seeking or giving out personal information. Not just online or to marketeers but in our personal lives. Parents can seek too much honesty from children who need privacy and freedom. Churches can insist on certain kinds of self-revelation, definition and confession that are more about control than love. Friends can play games with others' confession by digging out, circulating, hiding or forcing personal stories down others' throats.

Perhaps there is only one relationship where we are right to aim for full spoken revelation of ourselves and that is marriage. Here, we try to be one not two. We are not in a relationship of power but one of equality. And any confession is accompanied by a lived intimacy that reveals much more of the 'truth' of who we are.

Elsewhere, as I've learned from Foucault, beware those asking you to confess!




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