“The obligation to confess is now relayed to us through so many points, is so deeply ingrained in us that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us.” (Foucault)
Intriguing in the rest of the Foucault’s discussion of confession, these sentences are also particularly pertinent to the larger theme of queer studies. In this work, Foucault debates the role of confession and how, in his view, the “Western man has become a confessing animal.” The choice of wording of this observation that confession has become an “obligation” only serves to highlight how that, even if we see confession as an act of sharing between those who we chose to confide in, it is ultimately expected of us. After all, are our confidants really our confidants if there is no obligation of confession? Without the norm of confession, there is not a sense of being a confidant and this obligation we are expected to uphold is “so deeply ingrained in us” that we willing continue to cater the norm.
On that note, it is interesting to consider that society at large has created a norm of confession that is looming over us as a monolith—a constraining power in essence. This can relate to Foucault’s wording of “points.” Earlier in the essay, he discusses how one confesses or “is forced to confess” to a myriad of figures, usually of authority. He cites examples such as parents, doctors, educators, “to those one loves.” This is interesting because these examples are a demonstration of how these “points” have taught, or “relayed,” this sense of obligation to confess as a method of both control and of intimacy. From a young age, our parents and educators, some of the most influential people in shaping thought processes, have introduced the theme of confession into our lives, perhaps to a detrimental effect. Because we are obligated to uphold these norms in our own spheres, we may place those same expectations on others as well, creating a cycle of constraining power.
Expanding into the wider sphere of queer studies, confession is reminiscent of the idea of coming “out.” There may be a perceived obligation of the need to “confess” to the world about who one truly is. The thought that we are “constrained” by an outer power—perhaps in this context the encompassing idea of heteronormativity—forces the idea that one is obligated to throw off these confines and come out and that if we do not do so, we are somehow hiding our true selves. Worse, perhaps this perceived sense translates into feeling like we have betrayed the trust or assumptions of the other “points” from whom we have learned the mechanisms of confession.