The Shaping of the Self

Yesterday I alluded to Foucault’s Self Writing [PDF: Technologies of the Self/Self Writing], one of a series of studies on “the arts of oneself” that draws heavily on Greco-Roman thought, particularly that of Seneca.

Woodcut illustration of the suicide of Seneca and the attempted suicide of his wife Pompeia Paulina

Woodcut illustration of the suicide of Seneca and the attempted suicide of his wife Pompeia Paulina

The illustration above depicts Seneca’s suicide (his wife was spared by Nero) who chose the traditional Roman suicide of cutting multiple veins to bleed to death. For some reason the illustration brings to mind the procedure enacted in Kafka’s In the Penal Colony. In Kafka’s story a device is constructed that very slowly, minutely inscribes a condemned man’s sentence on his flesh. It is Kafka’s most chilling and unforgettable short story. Judith Butler, in an early essay, draws an analogy between Kafka’s device and Foucault’s concept that the body is figured as a blank page available for inscription, awaiting the “imprint” of history and knowledge.

In Self Writing Foucault quotes Seneca’s phrase, “It is necessary to read, but also to write” as an exercise in self-inscription, what Plutarch termed ethopoietic, a procedure for transforming truth into essence. My own framework is not dissimilar to that described by Foucault, whereby I read, make notes reflecting on what I’ve read, spend time contemplating my notes, often reread, and converse about reading with others. This desire for conversation about literature is what drew me to blogging. As Foucault describes, “to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self”.

3 thoughts on “The Shaping of the Self

  1. Pingback: Foucault and Rousseau. « E-Learning

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