Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Take Care of Yourself MA/MFA reading responses

This is for MA/MFA students in "Take Care of Yourself (On Biotechnics)" only: please post your responses as comments to this message. One of you pointed out to me that posting your responses on the home page will push back some of the other vital information related to the cluster that is available here--by posting responses as comments, we can avoid this problem.

Thanks, and see you in class tomorrow.


  1. Janice Yu
    Week 1 Response
    The care of the self becomes most complicated and interesting within Foucault’s lecture when it is not merely an egoism, but a process which will require external encounters. Ultimately, the care of the self becomes about more than the self. Foucault links the “care of the self” along with “know yourself,” tracing the connection between the two back to Antiquity. In other words, knowledge and access to truth are inextricably tied to the practice of spirituality (17). Foucault characterizes Western spirituality as one in which the subject must undergo a certain transformation in order to reach the truth (15).
    What is curious in this concentration on the self, is how such a transformation takes place. The subject must “become, to some extent and up to a certain point, other than himself” (15). This encounter is one that alters the structure of the self by removing the subject from her specific status and condition. Foucault labels this movement as erōs. Is then the passage to knowledge or truth one in which a subject must know an other in relation to herself before she can fully know the nature of her own subjectivity? Could it be possible that the transformation Foucault speaks of necessitates another subject outside one’s own to bring about the awakening that he also characterizes as care of the self?
    He gives the example of Socrates as one who is not able to care for himself because he is concerned with the care of others (e.g. stopping people in the street and telling them to take care of themselves). Yet, is it not precisely his knowledge of the need to care for one’s self that allows him to be in a position to alert others and therefore enact the three points which Foucault lays out as epimeleia heautou? Socrates’ role as the horsefly can be seen as this practice of subjectivity, which is the care of himself through the care of others.

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  3. Miriam Nouri
    Week 1 Response
    Focusing on Foucault’s narration of Socrates' trail in defense of his function as a person in society reminding the citizens of Athens to take care of themselves, I will examine the sentence “to care for themselves and their own virtue” through Aristotle’s writings on Nichomachean Ethics (Foucault, 6). Aristotle writes that the virtue of man is that “which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well” (37). Therefore, man by doing his own work well is being virtuous, and hereby taking care of himself. He is striving to maintain a balance relative to a state of excellence; that which is “noble, advantageous, and pleasant” is good for man’s character and ultimately results in the care of the self (Aristotle, 33). These virtues are not to be confused with passions such as appetite, confidence, and joy. Though they stem from the same soul of man, a virtue is a “state of character” whereas passions are a state of being (Aristotle, 36). This state of character is related to Foucault’s concept of moral rationality. Taking care of oneself is based on a “principle of all rational conduct [that exists] in all forms of active life" (Foucault, 6). Socrates’ defense of his role as a philosopher is advising the general public to re-evaluate their rational conduct to include virtues rather than passions of “increasing…wealth, reputation and honors while not caring for or even considering…reason, truth and the constant improvement of your soul” (Foucault, 9). By doing ones work well through moral rationality as acquired by the act of repetition, oneself may achieve a state of virtuousness and, thus, take care of the self.

  4. Jayson Lantz
    Week 1 Response

    For Foucault, the modern relations between subjectivity and truth –i.e. “access to truth, whose sole condition is henceforth knowledge” (18) –eliminate to possibility of the subject’s enlightenment or fulfillment through truth; to put it as Foucault did in the closing words of the lecture, “truth cannot save the subject”. As the subject “as such” becomes capable of truth there can no longer be any “crowning” or “reward”, no transformation of this subject. There remains simply knowledge “open[ing] out onto the indefinite dimension of progress”. All that is left to “realize” the benefits of the subject’s attainment of knowledge is “the course of history”, or, to put it otherwise, death (19).
    This impossibility of enlightenment corresponds with the modern decoupling of “the philosophical theme” and “the question of spirituality”. Tracing the interconnections of philosophy and spirituality through Antiquity, Foucault repeatedly emphasizes that “these two themes were never separate”. In the same breath however, he points to Aristotle as “the major and fundamental exception” to this coupling, suggesting that Aristotle’s thinking may not be inherently contradictory to the modern relations of subjectivity and truth (17).
    Parallels can, in fact, be traced between what Foucault deems the impossibility of the subject’s fulfillment and the paradox of “happiness” to which Aristotle points while considering the question, “Should no man be called happy while he lives?” (19). Drawing upon Solon, Aristotle asks if one must “see the end” in order to be called “happy” and answers affirmatively, stating that “when he is happy, the attribute that belongs to him is not to be truly predicated of him because we do not wish to call living men happy” (19-20). Finally for Aristotle, “happiness” can only be attributed to the subject who is “destined to live thus and die as befits his life”. So, as Aristotle says is the case for “boys”, one can only be called “happy” according to hopes of what is to be “fulfilled” (22). “Happiness” then, like the enlightenment of the subject by truth, can only be achieved through death, or, to put it otherwise, through “the course of history”.

  5. It seems that Aristotle’s teleological notion of ethics which regards the “highest good” as the happiness of the entire polis has the Socratic notion of a master of self-care built into it. The demos are lucky to have such a god-sent master (like Socrates, or Aristotle himself) to govern their care. Does this hierarchical logic which presupposes a wise master and an inept demos continue to structure the political? I’m talking about the justification of power. In Foucault’s history of this justification as something that is transforming, care of the demos figures prominently. Our “elected” officials can no longer rule by force. Now they rule because, as the story goes, they have convinced the people that they are the best care-takers of the nation. Also, our caring government is responsible for encouraging us to take care of ourselves. This morning when I woke up, I drank a beer with a “government warning” label on it. Today in the bathroom, I smoked a cigarette from a pack with a big “smoking kills” label on it. In fact, everywhere I look, I’m reminded of a governing agency who cares about me and wants me to take care of myself. I heard that during WW2, the British government taught people how to eat their toast “upside-down” so as to use less butter but still enjoy the breakfast experience.
    To many of us, Aristotle will seem ridiculously conservative. In Book One, he connects the ethical to the political. The highest good, for Aristotle, is the happiness of the whole community. He excludes the young people (you BFA’s) from the highest ethical project (therefore, the political discussion) because you have not experienced enough to know what’s good. You can’t judge what you don’t know. Is Aristotle suggesting that knowing is the basis of caring, and not the reverse? In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle (like the Socrates of Foucault) relies on seemingly permanent categories of “the wise” (who are the masters of self-care) and, we may construe, the rabble (who are lucky to have these god-sent figures). Since the rabble doesn’t know how to take care of themselves, they need constant reminders, constant “government warning labels” to prevent them from drinking beer when they’re pregnant. The rabble also needs “sin tax” and curfews for the polis to survive. Do you find it infantilizing?
    Back to the question of “knowing what’s good for you.” On pg. 8, Foucault (whose name I sometimes like to pronounce as Fuck-all) says, “[The care of the self] is indeed the justificatory framework, ground, and foundation for the imperative ‘know thyself’” -Or, at least it used to be considered as such before the reversal, hailed by the so-called “Cartesian moment,” established knowledge as the basis of care (implicitly). What I react to in both versions of the relationship between knowledge and care, is the presupposition of an agency who has mastery over the meaning and function of care. –Especially in its most insidious form, the “horse-fly” Socrates and the caring governments of our time who are not only masters of how to take care of the nation, but master of how you should take care of yourself. Because, once the good of the polis and the good of the demos can be defined together, the good can be manipulated and controlled. This is the dangerous transformation of the people into the population, the natives into the nation.

  6. Considering this is the first time I perform an exercise of this sort, the exercise of responding to a text within an academic situation, I choose my preferred and more experienced form of writing; prose which gives me greater pleasure rather than an attempted analytic.
    Aristotle very clearly states that being good in the variety of its categories, is not something we are born with, not an element inherent to our nature, but rather a result of habit (moral virtue) or teaching (intellectual). With time, like the skilled harp player that Aristotle takes as example, I may, or may not, reach the excellence of scholarly writing, if I gain the wisdom through this teaching situation and more importantly the willingness, or care, to do so.
    A response of this sort, incorporates at least two forms in which virtue is exercised. Firstly, the skill and nobility of intellectual training, being good at the act of writing. Secondly, moral virtue, remains in this context within the realm of academic integrity and responsibility, to myself and my community (the two categories in which virtue is practiced). In this situation, the moral virtue lays in steering away from the convenient but unethical choice of forging another author's text (an obstruction of both social and individual virtue). This illegal act may lead to momentary relief, or pleasure, however it will not lead to a durable happiness, acquired skill through effort; rather than fortune or chance which may help complete the task, however is never an end in itself; (unless of course one aims to be a hijacker of specific texts, a potentially interesting project in itself, but requires intellectual training and understanding nonetheless.)
    Am I merely a coward for not putting myself through true pain, but not attempting to learn the art of self control? Or am I remaining virtuous to my character as the non-academic? Will I ever be good enough to be anything else? Do I even care?
    This is my median for today because it feels determined to my goal and surely does not belong to the the category which is external to the median, that of wrong doing or evil. One of the linguistic interpretations of mean, in the sense you mean something is to convey it with a sense of belief and purpose. This is what it is to care, in which ever category the word is used and by following my pathos, or feeling and my attempt to remain true to that.

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