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Response 3

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 3 months ago

3  Special Topics


Q 2:   Technologies of the Self


    In a discussion of ethics and the self, Foucault situates the central problematique of Western man as an obligation to truth.  As it relates to mode by which we are constituted as subjects this obligation to truth is constitutive of us as moral subjects of our own actions.  Thus, where the Greek’s sought an aesthetics of existence of existence in their care of the self, contemporary human beings seek self fulfillment on the basis of what science and the twin aspect of medico-juridico regimes can tell us about the self and its obligation to truth.


Where once, under the sign of care of the self, knowledge of the self was a secondary means for achieving the primary end of a beautiful and good life, Western culture continues to renounce the self and thereby know it through a submission to the higher authority of science.  This path is a somewhat convoluted one.  Foucault discusses the way in which spiritual and ethical concerns and tied together in Socrates.  Knowing oneself becomes the privileged mode of care of the self.  Furthermore, this knowing is not of the body or the world, but of true which is one’s immortal soul.  The next shift is to a preeminence of caring for the self and aesthetics of existence.  The hupomnemata or writing of Plato’s Phaedrus is a collection of the already said which is compiled and reactivated through remembering.  We are not yet in the Christian mode of a search for purity and the disclosure of bad intentions.  However, the groundwork of this shift to Christian morality is laid by the Stoics who universalize ethics by making it a matter of what any reasonable being should do.


    Foucault describes four primary aspects to ethical activity, that is, activity performed on and constitutive of our relations to ourselves.  Under Christian morality, the ethical substance (1st aspect) shifts from the Greek aphrodisia (pleasure) to the flesh (desire).  Whereas as the Greek concern had always been with acts, Christian morality seeks to uncover the (im)purity of desire through a deciphering of the intent of the soul.  Here, we might recognize what Nietzsche characterizes as a classic reactive move in which force is separated from what it can do.  The Greek obligation to create a beautiful existence has been replaced with an obligation to truth as the mode of subjectivation (2nd aspect).  Furthermore, the means of work on the self or mode of asceticism is one in which the self is known through renunciation.  What a body can do and its actions are deemed irrelevant questions, we are rather incited to discover the truth of our motivations and examination of conscience.  By these means, Christian morality seeks a telos (4th aspect) of purity rather than the Greek immortality of the self as art.


    In Foucault’s version of the triumph the ascetic ideal over Christian morality (its culmination and triumph) begins with Descartes.  In his Mediations, Descartes overthrows this tradition of ethical work by making askesis no longer necessary for truth.  Instead, one may be immoral and still know truth.  Through Descartes, the possibility of modern science that makes us subjects of knowledge is discovered.  Kant fulfills this shift by reuniting ethics and science/rationality by positing a universal ethical subject.  Thus, we are subjects of the knowledge developed about us (through science) and obligated to discover the truth of our intentions and submit them to the rule of reason.  As the critique of metaphysics moves forward and Kantian universality is challenged (as it challenged theology before it), thinkers like Sartre begin to posit the self as something no longer given to us.  However, for Foucault, Sartre’s emphasis on authenticity as an ethical substance and/or telos for ethical behavior is suspect. 


As with Kantian critique before it, it leaves the obligation to truth unchallenged and merely eliminates one mode of authority by which it ought be judged.  Sartrean authenticity is like the Californian cult of self which derives its value from knowledge of the “what the self is” from science.  In a certain sense, we are no longer concerned with actions or intentions, but rather with medico-juridical interventions into health and normativity defined through and by scientific knowledge. 

For thinkers like Foucault and Deleuze, the creation of new pleasures becomes one possible avenue of resistance—a way of becoming other than we are.  If the Western tradition has been indifferent to pleasure, obliged us to renounce acts of pleasure in favor of deciphering our desire through first religious and later scientific means, then perhaps an affirmation of pleasure as activity is something we can take away from the Greeks.  Necessarily, such an ethics would be comprised of strategies gleaned from our culture and could not be inaugurated from some chimerical place outside of power.  Rather, technologies of the self could regain their affirmativity by focusing on acts and pleasure, by no longer renouncing the self in favor of some higher power, but rather developing the self on the basis of an aesthetics of creativity.


Of course, this “way out” of the present age, the difference that today introduces with respect to yesterday has its own dangers.  After all, we have moved past the Adornian critique of the individual as consumer.  In late capitalism, we are all producers of ourselves—through our consumption choices and participation in culture we are called upon to produce ourselves and clamor for attention in an already crowded market place.  Here, I cannot help but think of reality TV consciousness gradually infiltrating our consciousness.  In these postmodern simulacra, truth and/or reality is that to which we are becoming indifferent, we are just characters who clamor for attention, give the audience what it wants, and hope for favorable editing.  Perhaps, we have already shifted somewhat from an obligation to truth.  Haven’t we already developed an aesthetics of creativity as the ethical mode of today?  However, instead of an aesthetics of existence, we may have substituted an aesthetics of marketability, identity, and self-fulfillment. 


It seems clear that Foucault has proved prescient in asking this question of practices of freedom and of the care of the self for the present day.  It is a problematique that ties together a host of incongruous details of our life: “… what must be understood is what makes them simultaneously possible: it is the point in which their simultaneity is rooted; it is the soil that can nourish them all in their diversity and sometimes in spite of their contradictions” (“Polemic, Politics …”).  For some, Foucault’s late work represents a retreat from questions of power, a sign that he “mellowed.”  However, I would agree with Deleuze that if Foucault had to go back to the Greeks, it was in order to move sufficiently far back in the past to seize the question of the subject at its origins in discontinuity.  That is, in his work with problematique of subjectivation Foucault returns to the Greek models of a technology of self that continue to influence and configure the questions of possibility for today.



Q 2:     a Dionysian technology – a discipline of Health:


    What does it mean to “become what one is?”  Certainly, it does not lie in securing, purifying or establishing an inviolable identity grounded in an economy of the self and other, based on the negative movement of the dialectic.  Rather, it is an affirmation of force and the will to power—the Yes to life.  Nietzsche’s declaration that “no new idols are erected by me” that he is the enemy of “the lie of the ideal,” which has been a “curse on reality” is of a piece with his refusal of believers (“Ecce Homo”).  In Ecce Homo, one part of Nietzsche’s first task is to refuse and thwart any attempt to monumentalize his thought and work as an ideal to be followed, even though he clearly longs to be heard.


The ascetic, the priest, the historian, and the philosopher are all figures that lay claim to interpreting the will of the ideal, thereby gaining authority through an essential fiction.  Rather than becoming what one is, such an individual divides their own force against itself.  In denying their own forces, turning them inwards, they participate and reap the “benefits” of ressentiment.  Or to contextualize this refusal otherwise, we may consider it as of a piece with Nietzsche’s critique of Kant.  Following Deleuze’s analysis in Nietzsche and Philosophy, the fatal flaw of Kant’s critical project, the place where it fails, is in its inception where it “carefully avoids asking the preliminary question: “Who must undertake critique, who is fit to undertake it?” 


While Kant critiques the proper deployment or operation of various faculties, he never questions the value of his categories in the first place.  In other words, while Kant undertakes a critique of “what can I know? What should I do?  What can I hope for?,” he never questions the value of “true knowledge, true morality, and true tradition.”  In doing so, Kant makes himself the servant of these “superior wills” to which he becomes a “guide.”  Thus, the idol and reactionary forces operate by dividing force against itself and submitting or subjecting oneself to ressentiment in order to gain an imagined victory.  The ascetic ideal and its “humble” laborers represent the triumph of these forces of sickness.


    However, thus far, we have merely explored the project of Ecce Homo in its negative or more aptly critical function or context.  What then, does Nietzsche offer in place of himself as idol?  In contrast to the demagogue and the historian, Nietzsche practices the genealogical method.  It is a method that utilizes history to challenge and critique the ideal in a positive manner.  Thus, in approaching his own life Nietzsche places the initial emphasis on the “little” things of his own life: “nutrition, place, climate, recreation, the whole casuistry of selfishness.”  In this sense, Nietzsche characterizes his sense of “taste,” that is, his instinct of self preservation.  In his description of these matters, Nietzsche explores the ways in which he “chooses” and affirms the vital forces of life. 


On the other hand, Nietzsche also characterizes himself through the notion of descent or Herkunft.  Not a search for the individual, but as Foucault would have it: “it seeks the subtle, singular, and subindividual marks that might possibly intersect them to form a network that is difficult to unravel” (“Nietzsche …”).  In is this aspect of his self-genealogy that he presents his dual nature in the riddle of his Father/Mother nature.  He presents himself as both decadent and a beginning (but also destiny).  His experience of the full scope of health and sickness provides him with “the know-how, to reverse perspectives” and is “the first reason why a “revaluation of values” is perhaps possible for me alone” (“Ecce Homo”).  If these forces, these “little” things are the concrete body of Nietzsche, then his works are the multiple expression of the will to power realized through them.


In other words, the first part of Ecce Homo works through a genealogy of the forces and legacies that are the descent of Nietzsche as a concrete body.  They are complemented by his “taste” and the realization and development of his powers of self-preservation—of health and self-discipline.  Together, they are analyzed as the conditions of Nietzsche’s emergence as a thinker.  The latter part of Ecce Homo, which deals with individual works, explores the expressions that this health, this affirmation of the will to power manifests itself through.  Thus, the self-genealogy performed in this text is both a pedagogy on recognizing and embracing health, while at the same time an effort to thwart or ward off (this is Nietzsche’s initial reluctance) the attempt to invade his positive affirmation with the reactionary forces, that is, the attempt of monumental history to idolize him.


Affinity, Instinct, Will …


    We might re-begin with Nietzsche’s notion of affinity.  That is, the capacity of a body acted upon and through by forces to provide resistance to some forces and to “go with” others.  The more rigorous description of this idea is the will to power.  Though in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche does not speak at any length about this concept, it is clear that in the first half of the book Nietzsche is providing a pedagogy for a great Health that lies in realizing, to the full extent of affirmation, the will to power.  In this emphasis, I agree with Deleuze’s vision of, as Foucault might say, a “certain Nietzsche.”


    The evidence or substance of these early chapters is the explication of Nietzsche’s decent (Herkunft), a genealogy of himself.  Most basically, it traces his history as the marks of life and force upon his body, its fits, false starts, and affinities: “a whole casuistry of selfishness.”  However, it also begins to trace the origins of its value both as legacy (his dual nature as decadent and beginning) but also as complement to relations of forces—an internal principle of selection (affinity/resistance).  At times, this latter element is highly anthropomorphized.  Nietzsche has an “instinct” for health which leads him to make diagnostic assessments and take meliorating action.  His health comes to stand as the product and proof of this instinct. 


In this description, we are led to an uncomfortable place in which Nietzsche seems to suture together a radical empiricism of force with a mythic and individualistic soul.  Here, we must go slowly: “At this point the real answer to the question, how one becomes what one is, can no longer be avoided.  And thus I touch on the masterpiece of the art of self-preservation—of selfishness” (“Ecce Homo”).  As it becomes clear, selfishness is an essential wisdom for health.  It is first and foremost the embrace of all affinities which increases vitality.  This vitality is on the one hand a genetic principle, but is also a measure of the resources one can draw on to ward off or resistant negative forces.  However, as Nietzsche cautions one should say “No as rarely as possible.”  Saying “no” requires an expenditure of energy “wasted on negative ends.” 


While health might be negatively measured as the capacity or largess to “say No,” this characterization teeters at the edge of sickness.  For such expenditures, when they become too great attack not so much our health as a property, buts as a principle.  Thus, if the art of preservation is selfishness, then sickness its loss: ”If anything at all must be adduced against being sick and being weak, it is that man’s really remedial instinct, his fighting instinct wears out.  Health depends on the vitality of this “fighting instinct” which directs us to affirm our affinities to act both our actions and reactions.  The triumph of ressentiment and reactive forces is that forces are turned against themselves taken up in the “no” raised to the level of negation and ultimately a will to nothingness.


Any narrow sense of a “self,” that seeks a stable identity to bind time in a self-narrative is acting out a reactive force that attempts to seize and freeze the relations of forces of which it is the nexus.  Thus, health is an affectivity or responsiveness to change, transformation, and overcoming.  Psychologies of depth are entrenchments that express a will to weakness.  Nietzsche postulates consciousness differently:  "The whole surface of consciousness—consciousness is a surface—must be kept clear of all great imperatives.  Beware even of every great word, every great pose! So many dangers that the instinct comes too soon to 'understand itself.'"  Yet, the crucial point lingers.  Is understanding health as the cultivation of vitality through affirmation some sort of cosmic principle?  In which instinct is an “ultimate” life force through which the pious individuals can realize themselves?  Or, does it take a lesson of empiricist physiology and elevate it to the level of a principle?


    To answer these questions, we must further explore the will to power.  Of itself, the will to power has no definitive value.  As with force, it corresponds to a typology of active/reactive.  Deleuze describes the will to power as the will/principle/expression of a variety of becoming-actives and becoming-reactives. These are modes of its expression.  More directly, if we continue with Deleuze’s explication “the essence of each force in its quantitative difference from other forces and this difference … as the force’s quality,” then this difference “necessarily reflects a differential element of related forces—which is also the genetic element of the qualities of these forces” (Nietzsche …).  The will to power is the “sense” or “quality” of this calculus of forces.


As a creative principle, the will to power is healthy by affirming its affinities and transformations.  Value is placed in affirmation and genetic principle as such.  Selfishness is Nietzsche’s figure for careful attention to this becoming with out being distracted, seduced, or invaded by reactionary forces—forces of ressentiment which are not a will to health, but a will to nihilism.


    Thus, the Nietzsche presented in Ecce Homo is the story of relations of forces, of their marks upon his body, of the qualities and senses in their permutation.  Insofar, as Nietzsche develops his affinities, he develops his health and comes nearer this healthful instinct “understanding itself.”  What must be remembered is the contingency of this development of the particularity of this will to power.  It is the reason that Nietzsche regularly marvels at his good fortune and his destiny.  The will to power is neither cosmic principle in the sense of law, nor a mechanistic description of force/nature:

If, on the contrary, the will to power is a good principle, if it reconciles empiricism with principles, if it constitutes a superior empiricism, this because it is an essentially plastic principle that is no wider than what it conditions, that changes itself with the conditioned and determines itself in each case along with what it determines (Nietzsche …).


Ecce Homo is an attempt to describe the will to power expressed as the differential principle or quality of a particular history of relations of forces, of a particular history of marks on the body of “Nietzsche.”  Thus, Nietzsche is not offering some esoteric recuperation of something like “free will,” but rejecting ego consciousness, identity, and the dialectic as modes of understanding. 


    While “becoming what one is” entails a radical material situatedness of its expression, these relations of forces (i.e., historical circumstances) are not a causal agent (determinant) but rather a dynamism of series of forces operation on and through a body.  In addition, the will to power, as both differential and genetic, is something like trajectory, but primarily responsiveness (both affinity and affirmation and resistance or negation).  Or, in a Foucauldian formulation, the will to power is a shared principle of intelligibility of a network of forces (its sense or quality; contingent but strategic).


    Thus, the stammer of the personal in Ecce Homo—Nietzsche’s taste in music, for example—though ludicrous as products or proofs of his health should rather be recast as contingent expressions of his particular will to power.  They are signposts to the sense of his particular becoming what one is.  In this sense, the will to power is terrifyingly “posthuman” concept that makes the idiom of philosophy stammer and speaks most clearly through the indirect route of the aphorism.  In his overcoming, Nietzsche speaks to the threat of reactive forces that “’unself’ man” while simultaneously characterizing this danger as the selflessness of ego-logic.  In the embrace of the will to power, which is properly a sort of immortality, we relinquish our grasp on the human.


    It is this sense that Zarathrustra is a devil to all last men.  His truth is heretic and immoral.  As it slices through the folds of ressentiment, produces the gong of the hammer on hollow idols, it postulates health as the vitality and transformations expressed through an affirmation of the contingent, differential, genetic, synthetic principle of the will to power.


becoming destiny …


    As we have discussed, the will to power describes a relation to a complex of forces.  Nietzsche’s difference from previous philosophers is that this will is itself understood as a force, though one inheres as the differential element of a quantity of forces.  Thus, the will to power, as differential element, is the effect of or quality expressed in a particular, contingent, material relation of forces.  Yet, as differential element it also introduces hierarchy—high/low, noble/base—which is its genetic power.  For Nietzsche, the error of philosophy and science is that it is blind to this will.  Its narrow focus recognizes only the reactions to this will as the whole of phenomenon.  Instead, Nietzsche seeks to affirm and recognize the active, genetic, creative aspect of the will to power.


    The active sense of this force can not be derived as a cause of phenomenon (empiricism) nor can it be deduced through telos of an object or final outcome it seeks to attain (idealism).  Rather, it is a line of becoming.  When one focuses on the historical march of forces from a mechanistic fashion one is blind to the active principle of forces and the whole of the world is seen as only reactive.


    This will, force, or shared intelligibility of strategy is a will.  And, as such, is a figure for a subjectivity that is no longer one of identity or ego consciousness but is rather a cosmic subjectivity.  The affirmation of this cosmic subjectivity is the embrace of a non-personal will, differential and genetic, inhering in singularities as the nexus of an immanent quantity of forces.  Thus, to “become what one is,” does not mean to discover the truth of some metaphysical property of our “self,” nor is it to discover one’s self in the telos or mechanism of an ideal law or material mechanism. 


The affirmation of the will to power is an overcoming an embrace of the active, genetic aspect of a cosmic subjectivity or will.  To “become what one is” is not to discover it as a predicate, but to affirm it as a verb.  Properly, then overcoming is to be overtaken: “-- It was on these two walks that the whole of Zarathrustra I occurred to me, and especially Zarathrustra himself as a type: rather, he overtook me” (“Ecce Homo”).  Is it any surprise that this health, this well-being, this inspiration will “appear inhuman?”  To affirm this inspiration, this becoming overtaken that “shakes one to the last depths and throws one down,” is to say “Yes to the point of justifying of redeeming even all of the past.”  It is in this affirmation, this redeeming of the past, that we must seek the particular sense of how “becoming what one is” may mean to become a “destiny.”


  More specifically, to grasp the perhaps obscurely titled final section, “Why I am a Destiny?,” we would do well to consider the rather unique inflection and special resonance of  the terms(s) necessity/destiny in Nietzsche’s work: “What Nietzsche calls necessity (destiny) is thus never the abolition but rather the combination of chance itself.  Necessity is affirmed of chance in as much as chance itself affirmed” (Nietzsche …).  Chance is the multiplicity of forces and phenomenon; thus, it is chaos.  Necessity is the “one fatal number which reunites all the fragments of chance.”  Or to put it otherwise, chance is the quantities of forces that comprise reality. 


Though necessarily contingent, these quantities, these “fragments of chance” are reunited by necessity which is the will to power.  It is the differential element of the dice-throw (and thus in a sense its effect), but also through its introduction of hierarchy is a genetic principle of overcoming and transformation.  To affirm necessity and chance is then to affirm the will to power which actively reunites the “fragments of chance” and redeems the past: “to turn every ‘it was’ into a ‘thus I willed it’—that alone should I call redemption” (“Ecce Homo”). 


When Nietzsche diagnoses decadence as “’rationality’ against instinct,” he historicizes consciousness as a reaction to a superior, active will that turns against itself to create interiority, as a means of warding off life.  It condemns existence (chance) as blameworthy and unjust, making suffering its proof and in a second move (by turning force against itself) makes suffering a means of divine justification of life.  This is the perversion, the triumph of reactive forces, which Nietzsche attacks as Christian morality.  Opposed to Christian morality, Nietzsche offers the Dionysian affirmation, the affirmation of chance as such, but also the affirmation of its necessity, that is, its will.


Nietzsche in “Why I am a Destiny,” describes an affirmation of the active, genetic sense of the relation to a complex of forces that constitutes the individual or an event.  It is an affirmation of a “becoming what one is …”  Thus, destiny and “becoming what one is” are no longer properties, states, predicates, but rather verbs.  Nietzsche immortality is his affirmation of a cosmic-multiple subjectivity.  He is a destiny by virtue of his affirmation of a unique and world-historical event.  It is a calamity which his philosophy recognizes or anticipates, and which, as active will, it precipitates:

“Have I been understood? – Dionysus versus the Crucified. –”




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