Tag Archives: Seneca

Foucault—Technologies of the Self

Technologies of the Self

by Michel Foucault

[Foucault, Michel. 1988. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Edited by Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.]

I

  • “Max Weber posed the question: If one wants to behave rationally and regulate one’s action according to true principles, what part of one’s self should one renounce? What is the ascetic price of reason? To what kind of asceticism should one submit? […]
  • I posed the opposite question: How have certain kinds of interdictions required the price of certain kinds of knowledge about oneself? What must one know about oneself in order to be willing to renounce anything?” […]
  • “Thus I arrived at the hermeneutics of technologies of the self in pagan and early Christian practice” (17).

Four major types of “technologies” (truth games)

  1. technologies of production—manipulation of things
  2. technologies of sign systems—signs, symbols
  3. technologies of power—policing individuals, politics
  4. technologies of the self—transformative operations on bodies, thoughts, souls
    • tech of power + tech of self = domination
    • “This contact between the technologies of domination of others and those of the self I call governmentality” (19).

THE DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGIES OF THE SELF

“I wish to sketch out the development of the hermeneutics of the self in two different contexts which are historically contiguous:

  1. Greco-Roman philosophy in the first two centuries A.D. of the early Roman Empire and
  2. Christian spirituality and the monastic principles developed in the fourth and fifth centuries of the late Roman Empire” (19, bullets added).

epimelesthai sautou

  • to take care of yourself
    • the concern with self
    • to be concerned, to take care of yourself
  • “When one is asked “What is the most important moral principle in ancient philosophy?” the immediate answer is not “Take care of oneself” but the Delphic principle, gnothi sauton (“Know yourself”)” (19).
  • “In Greek and Roman texts, the injunction of having to know yourself was always associated with the other principle of having to take care of yourself” (20).
    • you have to deal with your self before you can know yourself (go to an oracle)

“To summarize: There has been an inversion between the hierarchy of the two principles of antiquity, “Take care of yourself” and “Know thyself.” In Greco-Roman culture knowledge of oneself appeared as the consequence of taking care of yourself. In the modern world, knowledge of oneself constitutes the fundamental principle” (22).

II

ALCIBIADES 

Analyzing care of the self in three aspects:

  1. “How is this question introduced into the dialogue? What are the reasons Alcibiades and Socrates are brought to the notion of taking care of one’s self? (23).
    • They make a pact-Alcibiades will submit to his lover, Socrates, not in a physical but in a spiritual sense. The intersection of political ambition and philosophical love is “taking care of oneself” (24).
      • I’m honestly not sure I get this leap
  2. “In that relationship, why should Alcibiades be concerned with himself, and why is Socrates concerned with that concern of Alcibiades?”
    • “Concern for self always refers to an active political and erotic state.”
      • Again, not sure
  3. “The rest of the text is devoted to an analysis of this notion of epimelesthai, “taking pains with oneself.” It is divided into two questions:
    1. What is this self of which one has to take care, and of what docs that care consist?” [para]
      1.  “First, what is the self? Self is a reflexive pronoun, and it has two meanings. Auto means “the same,” but it also conveys the notion of identity. The latter meaning shifts the question from “What is this self?” to “What is the plateau on which I shall find my identity?” […]
      2. ” When you take care of the body, you don’t take care of the self. The selfis not clothing, tools, or possessions. It is to be found in the principle which uses these tools, a principle not of the body but of the soul” […]
    2. “The second question is: How must we take care of this principle of activity, the soul? Of what does this care consist? One must know of what the soul consists.” […]
      1. “The effort of the soul to know itself is the principle on which just political action can be founded, and Alcibiades will be a good politician insofar as he contemplates his soul in the divine element” (25).
  • Plato’s text sets out eternal problems:
    1. “First, there is the problem of the relation between being occupied with oneself and political activity.” […]
    2. “Second, there is the problem of the relationship between being occupied with oneself and pedagogy.” […]
    3. “Third, there is the problem of the relationship between concern for oneself and the knowledge of oneself.” […]
    4. “Fourth, there is the problem of the relationship between the care of self and philosophical love, or the relation to a master” (26).
  • “This theme of taking care of oneself was not abstract advice but a widespread activity, a network of obligations and services to the soul” (26-27).
    • oral culture—Socrates letters
    • written culture—Augustin’s Confessions
      • also Marcus Aurelius’s letter to his lover, Fronto (about what he did that day)
    • The letter is the transcription of that examination of conscience. It stresses what you did, not what you thought. That is the difference between practice in the Hellenistic and imperial periods and later monastic practice. In Seneca too there are only deeds, not thoughts. But it does prefigure Christian confession” (30).

III

“In my discussion of Plato’s Alcibiades, I have isolated three major themes:

  1. first, the relation between care for oneself and care for the political life;
  2. second, the relation between taking care of the self and defective education; and
  3. third, the relation between taking care of oneself and knowing oneself” (30, bullets added).
  • in the Imperial Period, end of dialogue—beginning of silent listening
  • For Plato—”themes of contemplation of self and self care are related dialectically through dialogue” […]
  • “in the imperial period we have the themes of, on one side, the obligation of listening to truth and, on the other side, of looking and listening to the self for the truth within” (32-33).
    • “For Seneca it isn’t a question of discovering truth in the subject but of remembering truth, recovering a truth which has been forgotten. […]
    • The subject constitutes the intersection between acts which have to be regulated and rules for what ought to be done. This is quite different from the Platonic conception and from the Christian conception of conscience” (34).

IV

STOIC TECHNIQUES OF SELF

  1. “letters to friends and disclosure of self;
  2. examination of self and conscience, including a review of what was done, of what should have been done, and comparison of the two.
  3. Now I want to consider the third Stoic technique, askesis, not a disclosure of the secret self but a remembering.”
    1. “For Plato, one must discover the truth that is within one. For the Stoics, truth is not in oneself but in the logoi, the teaching of the teachers. One memorizes what one has heard, converting the statements one hears into rules of conduct. The subjectivization of truth is the aim of these techniques” (34-35, bullets and bold added)
    2. we assimilate truth, we do not master it.
  • Melete (premeditatio mallorum)—imagining the worst case scenario and experiencing it (virtually!)
  • Gymnasia—making up a challenge to actually experience (abstinence, fasting, etc).

V

EARLY CHRISTIANITY

  • In transition form pagan to Christian belief, the church cooked up Illumination—the disclosure of the self.
  • exomologesis – recognition of fact – public recognition of faith
    • Penitance was at first a status – not an act or a ritual
    • “To prove suffering, to show shame, to make visible humility and exhibit modesty—these are the main features of punishment. Penitence in early Christianity is a way of life acted out at all times by accepting the obligation to disclose oneself” (42).
    • rub out sin and restore purity – show sinner as he is – revealing while rubbing out
    • how did early Christians explain this paradox to themselves:
      • medical: show one’s wounds in order to be cured
      • trinbunal: judgement – confession of faults
      • death: martyrdom, preference for death over abandonment of faith – refusal of the self – a break with one’s past identity, a new self.  revelation = destruction
  • “The difference between the Stoic and Christian traditions is that in the Stoic tradition examination of self, judgment, and discipline show the way to self-knowledge by superimposing truthabout self through memory, that is, by memorizing the rules. In exomologesis, the penitent superimposes truth about self by violent rupture and dissociation. It is important to emphasize that this exomologesis is not verbal. It is symbolic, ritual, and theatrical” (43).

VI

“During the fourth century we find a very different technology for the disclosure of the self, exagoreusis, much less famous than exomologesis but more important” (44).

  • “The well-developed and elaborated practice of the self-examination in monastic Christianity is different from the Senecan self-examination and […] must be understood from the point of view of two principles of Christian spirituality: obedience and contemplation” (44).
    • Obedience—”John Cassian repeats an old principle from the oriental tradition: “Everything the monk does without permission of his master constitutes a theft.” Here obedience is complete control of behavior by the master, not a final autonomous state. It is a sacrifice of the self, of the subject’s own will. This is the new technology of the self” (44-45, bold added)
    • Contemplation—considered the supreme good, with the goal of permanent contemplation of God. “Seneca had placed his stress on action. With Cassian the object is not past actions of the day; it’s the present thoughts. Since the monk must continuously turn his thoughts toward God, he must scrutinize the actual course of this thought” (45).
  • three analogies:
    1. mill—thoughts are like grains, sort the bad from good
    2. military—we must be officers ordering good soldiers to the right, bad to the left
    3. money—conscience is the money changer degree of purity, effigy, origin

BIG FINISH!

  • “In conclusion, in the Christianity of the first centuries, there are two main forms of disclosing self, of showing the truth about oneself. The first is exomologesis, or a dramatic expression of the situation of the penitent as sinner which makes manifest his status as sinner. The second is what was called in the spiritual literature exagoreusis. This is an analytical and continual verbalization of thoughts carried on in the relation of complete obedience to someone else. This relation is modeled on the renunciation of one’s own will and of one’s own self” [para]
  • “There is a great difference between exomologesis and exagoreusis; yet we have to underscore the fact that there is one important element in common: You cannot disclose without renouncing.”
  • “This theme of self-renunciation is very important. Throughout Christianity there is a correlation between disclosure of the self, dramatic or verbalized, and the renunciation of self. My hypothesis from looking at these two techniques is that it’s the second one, verbalization, which becomes the more important.  From the eighteenth century to the present, the techniques of verbalization have been reinserted in a different context by the so­ called human sciences in order to use them without renunciation of the self but to constitute, positively, a new self. To use these techniques without renouncing oneself constitutes a decisive break” (48-49).

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