I’m finally reading some of Foucault’s stuff – Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. I have to admit I’m enjoying it. 🙂 It’s also kind of embarrassing, because I can’t help but recognize myself in various configurations of the technique’s of the self. Foucault identifies changes in the ways people used to write about the self, tracking several phases from the Greeks, through Christianity and the Renaissance. It’s sad he died in his 50s, one imagines he could have still accomplished a lot.
Not that what he did accomplish isn’t enough! 🙂 (I read somewhere that using capital letters and emoticons is rather adolescently girlish. Hmmm.) Many statements/explanations in the reading brought blogging to mind, particularly in terms of the conflicts (?) (controversies?) that have sporadically (and briefly), swirled around this (my) site.
Foucault tells his “genealogy of ethics” (266) from his own culturally-situated perspective. It centers the trajectory of what we achronicitly (anachronistically) identify as racially-white men as the most significant historical trend. The Chinese eventually get a few mentions, mostly in comparison to the Christians.
The hupomnemata caught my attention (as it already has Jeremy Crampton). Foucault’s focus on technologies of the self through its written expression means he could identify and distinguish some crucial distinctions between the reasons for writing about the self then and now. (Actually, he focuses on ‘then’ and the next several stages in history. I’m making the leap to ‘now’.)
The hupomnemata had “a very precise meaning: it is a copybook, a notebook” (272). Their intent was to record what others said in order to reassemble the information; it is the act of this reconstruction that Foucault pinpoints “the constitution of oneself” (273). While it has not been clear to me that “rearranging” would be so possible (a point several of my colleagues have taken issue with); I definitely have wanted to “store” a range of material stemming from a multitude of interactions.
Foucault states, explicitly and repeatedly, that there is absolutely no confessional quality to the Greek practice. (No wonder Stephen was apoplectic about Uncle Sam! I wager as a foil for being outraged with learning more about my non-academic life in a presentation form other than he wished.) Which leads to the influence of Christianity (carefully singled out but not totally disconnected from other factors of industry and governance) upon written performances of techniques of the self, a shift from the ontological to the psychological (275).
I think Foucault wants to rescue the ontological with his endorsement of ascesis as the best tekne for the care of the self. At any rate, he’s skeptical of the Christian paradox of caring for the self through self-renunciation. He is at pains not to condemn Christianity as uncaring (in its other-reflecting ethos) by keeping the focus of his analysis on the emergent technique of confession and its configuring influence upon the writing subject. This Christian practice has also been evident in my blog from the beginning – breaking from the strict form of hupomnemata – which in no way shape or form revisits or reflects upon the past but focuses (in writing) on the present guided by a concern for the future (its potential usefulness in later re-reading or rearranging).