Foucault ‘s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, XI.2 & XII

The concluding post

The second half of the lecture of 25th March, 1981

(The last post mistakenly refers to the 18th March instead of the 25th March. This has now been corrected)

I found this part of the lecture to be largely recapitulating material from earlier lecturers, so just a couple of points.

Firstly, an emphasis in Gaius Musonius Rufus (the first century Roman Stoic and member of the Senate) on the idea of the husband of the moral teacher of the wife, her guide to correct living. Foucault emphases the tension with the equality in marriage otherwise emphasised in Musionius Rufus, with regard to adultery and legal status, which in both cases are a departure from earlier antique assumptions. Moral inequality coexists with strict equality in other matters for Musonius Rufus in the ideal marriage, which he also regards as isolated from other social relations, and as the scene of a self-control, self-mastery strong enough to control wayward sexual desire.

Secondly an emphasis in Epictetus (the Greek Stoic educated in Rome by Rufus Musonius) on a self-mastery that goes beyond the Socratic capacity (which Foucault describes with reference to both Xenophon and Plato) to resist desire, calling for a self-mastery that resists the existence of desire, so that no test or Socratic courage is necessary to resist desire for a beautiful boy or woman.

Lecture of 1st April, 1981
This is the concluding lecture in the series. It includes, on a couple of occasions, a definition of one of the terms used by Foucault that has become most famous, ‘governmentality’. How far everyone who brings this terms into their work on social science, history and so on has given much thought to what the term means is unclear to me, and others have commentated on the apparently undefined overuse. Anyway, what Foucault says here, more in the way of a quick definition than a complete elaboration, is that governmentality refers to the government of the self and the government of others.
‘The government of self and others’ is of course the title of Foucault’s 1982-1983 lecture series at the Collège de France and refers to antique ‘governmentality’ there as it does here, so the brief definition does not necessarily cover all of Foucault’s usage. That is a topic I can’t go into right now, but it is at least worth pointing out that here is a definition of governmentality, and it does not seem very connected with the (over)generalised use.

Getting back to to the issues of sexuality, desire, and so on, in this lecture Foucault brings in governmentality, because he is concerned at this point with how the move towards the Stoic understanding of aphrodisias is connected with changes in the nature of antique government. That is the move from republican government in Rome and Greek city states with a en element of democracy and a strong element of competition between aristocrats, to the more imperial, monarchical and despotic forms of government.

Foucault seems mostly concerned with the move from Republic to empire, monarchy despotism in Rome during the first century BCE and for Foucault’s purposes that is conveniently close to a new wave of Graeco-Roman Stoicism, which left more complete texts than the earlier Greek wave, in the first and early second centuries CE, covering Musonius Rufus, Seneca and Epictetus, and which gets another new wind in the second century in the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius even if that is not generally considered one of the most rigorous expressions of Stoic thought. That a Roman Emperor authored a Stoic or Neo-Stoic work, which is a philosophical literary classic is very helpful to Foucault’s argument.
Foucault also refers, much more briefly, to the termination of the full independence of the Greek city-states, as the result of the fourth century BCE expansion of Macedonian power under Philip II confirmed by Alexander the Great. The correlation is very neat in that the first stoic philosopher, Zeno of Citium, was born towards the end of the fourth century BCE, but there are less texts from the first wave of Stoicism, and it is later developments that preoccupy Foucault.

Foucault argues that the republican politics, dominated by competing aristocrats, was suited to the attitude that an active mature man incorporates intimate relations with women and boys, that is with social inferiors, into into his way of living. That activity is very suited to the emphasis on the active political participant who recognises no superior, as all citizens are equal, at least in principle, and is engaged in a constant competition to exercise some power.

The take over by despotic rulers deprives the active competing aristocrats of any political role other than that of administering the state in the ruler’s service. In this situation, demonstrating capacity to govern self and others through relations with boys and women becomes irrelevant, and the self-restraint implicit in the idealisation of marriage becomes more appropriate. In the republican time, it is shameful for a man to have been the ‘passive’ partner in a same sex relationship and is enough to exclude citizens in later life (‘passive’ partners are presumed to be boys/young men seeking favours from older men, and therefore close to prostitutes, if not exactly the same) from office and even from any political activity.

The shame of sexual ‘passivity’ continues in the period of despotism in the way Roman historians, particularly Tacitus and Suetonius, represent ‘bad’ emperors who are shown to lack sexual restraint and ‘passivity’ in literal sexual terms (Nero) or in becoming the instrument of their wife (Claudius). They were thought of as connected with the east, seen as irrational (this particularly applies to Elagabalus/Heliogabalus though he came after Tacitus and Suetonius, and has precedent in the scandal caused by Mark Anthony’s liaison with Cleopatra of Egypt). Marcus Aurelius (again after Tacitus and Suetonius) was seen as good and and as sexually restrained, as fitting with Neo-Stoic writing.

Christianity takes up these Stoic attitudes to sex, the idealisation of restraint and equality within marriage, which are in some degree the product of politics acceding to Foucault, and creates an emphasis on desire or concupiscence, as a dominant feature of human life. This goes back to the earlier integration of sexual themes in the republican aristocracy round activity and government, but gives it a less political context, and a context in which the ideas and practices of subjectivity are forming.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

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Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, XI.1

Lecture of 25th March, 1981

Foucault continues  his discussion of the relation between the subjectivity of sexuality, the truth of subjectivity, ad subjectivity in truth. These lectures are concerned with how these themes are illuminated in the shift from pagan Greek thought to Christian thought, which some emphasis on Stoicism and the Christian thought of the third and fourth centuries as the centre of the transition.

In this context, Foucault suggests that while Christianity puts a new emphasis on the value of virginity and chastity, it is less restrictive of aphrodisias in marriage than Stoicism was before it. In the framing of this discussion, Foucault also emphasises that in his view bios has a unity in pre-Christian Greek thought, which is lacking in Christianity, because of the separation Christianity makes between life in this world and life in the next world. There is no such absolute separation in pre-Christian thought. Foucault thinks it is necessary to made this point on the context of discussing tekhne, as it appears in the art of living.

Foucault contrasts the Christian split with Pythagorean remarks that come from the fourth century BCE Black Sea Anatolian philosopher Heraclides Ponticus, and were repeated by later writers, including Diogenes Laertius who seems to be Foucault’s principle source in this matter. What Diogenes Laertius attributed to Heraclides was a three fold division within bios between those born slaves to glory, those who seek wealth, and philosophers who pursue truth. Foucault refers to this as the distinction between a life of politics, a life of wealth, and a life of truth.

We could add to this that the distinction is quite reminiscent of Aristotle’s ethics and politics, where a life of honour in politics is preferable to seeking wealth, but is inferior to a philosophical life. These distinctions are distinctions in self-relation according to Foucault rather than distinctions of status, goal, or activity. They are concerned with the way in which one inserts one’s own liberty, one’s own ends, one’s own project in things themselves, the manner in which one puts them in perspective and uses them. As Heraclides (via Diogenes) suggests all those approaches are part of a panegyric that is a festival where all these approaches can be seen together in relation to the the things that are grasped in common in the world.

There is no Greek equivalent from this time for the modern idea of subjectivity. It is Christianity that provides the framework for what we call subjectivity in three aspects: a relation with the beyond, an operation of conversion, the existence of an authenticity or a deep truth that is the basis of our subjectivity. The idea of bios does not refer to a beyond and does not refer to a conversion, but rather a continuous work on the self by itself. There is no hidden authenticity in bios waiting to be discovered, but rather an unending search.

Bios becomes inserted into the code of Christianity and this cannot be described as rationalisation or ideology, but as the constitution of subjectivity or subjectivation. Foucault seems to suggest that the jurisdictional enters at the same time of Christianity, which is consistent with a general tendency to link Christianity and subjectivation with ‘juridification’, the replacement of the art of life with the enforcement of law, which can be found elsewhere, e.g. the Louvain lectures, Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling. The Function of Avowal in Justice which have just been published in English (University of Chicago Press) and the Collège de France lectures On the Government of the Living (Palgrave 2013).

I previously summarised and commented on the French texts of both in posts of Novembers and December 2012. This a is very large topic, but in brief I find Foucault’s exploration illuminating but with typically schematic elements, and I’m inclined to the think of the tension between statute or state enforced law and relatively less formalised and official forms of living as a constant tensions, something that is constantly repeated in history. Famously we can see a version of it in Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. I’m not suggesting that Foucault ignores the constant tension, he does perhaps get into some tension of his own between thinking of a series of epistemes and thinking of the repetition of situations.

Foucault shows some awareness of this kind of tension at this point, since he points out the difficulty of saying when their is a break between Christian flesh and pre-Christian aphordisias. The Christian thinking becomes systematised in the third century, but their is a prolongation of some pre-Christian attitudes, such as the relative tolerance of homosexuality (Foucault’s choice of word) until the twelfth century. Foucault’s solution is that the break comes with the change from technologies of the self to technologies of subjectivity in the third and fourth centuries. That break co-exists with prolongation of some older ideas within the matrix of experience, which Foucault suggests is a more apposite term than code.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, X

Lecture of 18th March, 1981

The same code of prohibitions and permissions in sexual ethics is present in the later Stoics and other Graeco-Roman thinkers of the first and second centuries as in the Christian thought of Augustine, of Christianity as it developed from the the fourth century. However, the philosophical and religious discourse was very different. For Augustine the end of marriage and sexual activity is procreation but not out of hıman solidarity. It is further the perfection, which will bring about the return of Christ and to assist the other marital partner in avoiding sin (presumably the sin of non-martial sexual activity).

We should not see the Graeco-Roman intensification of the ideal of marriage as not just the phenomenon of a small elite, but as part of increasing practices and gradual success in imposing the intensification. This leads Foucault into some discussion of the relation between discourse and the real. He develops a distinction between the things that apparently make up existence to which discourse refers, and the truth in a discourse.

The true is more than real and we must ask why there is a true more than the real. The truth is not the same as the real, it is a supplement not present in the real. This is not the question of the truth or falsity of a proposition but the game of true and false that transforms the real. The supplementary game of the truth is not part of the economy of the domain to which it refers (presumably the domain of those aspects of discourse that do not deal with the true), it has a cost that is economic, political, social, and human that leads to sacrifice and war. It is not a useful game.It is  not unitary, scientific, or fundamental.

The games of truth and falsity, or véridiction/veridiction  (presumably not to b confused with Logical Positivist ideas of verification of the meaning and truth of propositions through observation, ‘veridiction’ comes from discussion of the mode of truth in semiotics and narrative, but with a more than semiotic aspect in Foucault), have effects in the real. There is a connection between the real and the game of truth.

There is a politics of truth in the relations between regimes of veridication and human practices. The experience of the subject is where the game of truth induces real effects with regard to sexual practices. The same applies to madness, illness, crime, and other domains. So Foucault suggests a way of thing about the books History of Madness, Birth of the Clinic, Discipline and Punish.

History should not just be about showing that the discourse of ‘philosophes’ (philosophers and related thinkers) reflects real practice, but also the ways in which discourse has gaps, exclusions, and censorship with regard to the real. With regard to the discourse of marriage in antiquity, the exclusion as the value of marriage is intensified, is the accompanying break down of the social fabric of the city with regard to citizenship, politics, public life and hierarchy, as the Graeco-Roman world moves towards monarchical absolutism. The rational logical unity of arguments about marriage in the Stoics are an evasion of the breakdown of the previous social fabric family structure.

Foucault moves onto criticise theories of ‘ideology’ (I presume that in large part this is a criticism of Marx and various forms of Marxism) for referring to the illusions of discourse instead of its real effects. He then moves onto a criticism of Weberian attitudes (which also seem to be criticisms of Hegel’s assumptions about the rationality of the real, though I suppose Hegelians would deny that Hegel sees ideal rationality in the real) towards rationally, with regard to assumptions about the rationality of the real as if the logos in the real (presumably the possibility of referring to it is discourse) which must be rationality. The real is never perfectly rational, that is practices are never completely in accordance with principles. There is a game in the gap between practices and codes, without which there is no real. Presumably Foucault suggests that the game of truth is connected with this gap, where discourse refers to practices and to codes, and the level of match between them.

The distinctions between the  critiques of Hegel, Marx, Marxism, and Weber are not very fixed. Debates about the relations between these four poles (which is already a simplification) are endless. Clearly Frankfurt School Marxism/Critical Theory contains ideas from Weber and specific ways of thinking about the relation between Hegel and Marxism. This also applies to Lukács, who was  member of a circle round Weber. The comments on discourse as evasion clearly has some reference to Althusser, though Althusser remains with notions of the distinction between science and ideology, which are part of what Foucault criticises. The idea of discourse existing in its effects has some elements of Weber in it, who was very concerned with power, charisma, tradition and related terms in his theory and his understanding of societies, as well as with rationality. One thing worth emphasising is that Hegel and Weber are just as much objects of Foucault’s attentions as Marx and Marxism, and there is no reason to think that Marx or Marxism has a privileged status for Foucault in relation to Hegel, Weber or various other currents of non-Marxist thought, though of course Marxist and non-Marxist thought exist in relation to each other.

The  very purist codification within Stoic thinking is accompanied by a game of truth, veridication, the effects of the code in practice (so presumably a continuation of the idea of a game between the code and practices, which is there is truth/veridication) and it is this which is transformed not by Christianity when it appears, but a process within Christianity over time. Foucault suggests, but I don’t think makes it entirely explicit, that questions of truth in discourse are closely related to moral codification, since the label of moral itself involves an assumption about possible real practices, and the real transformation of practices by codes.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, IX

Lecture of 11th March, 1981

Marriage was institutionalised as a public union by Greeks in pre-Roman Egypt (where there was a considerable Greek influence from Alexander the Great’s conquest and from the Macedonian-Greek dynasty of one of Alexander’s generals that ruled Egypt after the death of Alexander. The Augustan laws against adultery followed on from this practice, reinforcing it (is the implication that it had spread from Egypt to Rome, with Egypt only becoming Roman in Augustus’ time, under the very direct control of the Emperor compared with other provinces, as a result of the defeat of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, or is the implication that there were parallel developments in Rome to those in Egypt?).

In Egypt, Foucault refers to the original public marriage contracts as concerned with establishing that the wife can only leave the home with the husband’s permission and is absolutely forbidden to have extra-martial liaisons, while the husband is obliged to support the wife economically and not abuse her. In matters of extramarital liaisons, the husband is forbidden to bring a partner into the household, as a concubine, or to have children by another partner, which in practice means no legally recognised children. Foucault suggests these amount to a prohibition on bigamy.

As Egypt became more Roman than Hellenic (by way of a digression, it is interesting to be reminded that though Egypt like more western parts of North Africa was part of Eastern Rome/Byzantium, it was more latinised than Greece and Anatolia), the restraints on the husband having a permanent mistress or boyfriend, or maintaining a parallel household increased, but never to the extent that extramarital liaisons were ever completely forbidden to the husband. So the Stoic preference for mutual fidelity was never recognised in law, what was recognised was a fidelity of existence, in which the husband could not undermine the family life he had with his legally recognised wife.

Marital law recognised an already existing emphasis in practice on the couple and did not create much new. Roman writers (e.g. letters of Pliny – presumably Pliny the Younger – and the poetry of Stace) , increasingly referred to the value of ‘concordia’ in marriage, an idea that was already in Stoic and other philosophical writings. The idea of marital concord included idealisation of alive together without arguments. Tacitus’ Life of Agricola moves towards the idea of ‘caritas’ in marriage, in which each prefers the other’s welfare to their own. Foucault seems to be saying this is new in non-philosophical writing, but was already part of Stoic writing.

Pliny’s (the Younger) letters to his wife deploy a language of desire previously familiar from writing about non-marital love. Idealised love, the pain of absence and the image of the absent object of love. What really strikes Foucault is that for Pliny (the Younger), the desired one is associated with torture. Foucault suggests this sets up a way of writing about love, which goes up to Marcel Proust’s account of Albertine (that is the love of the narrator for Albertine in In Search of Lost Time, which is to be found in The Captive and The Fugitive). This familiar way of thinking about desire arises in western culture within the family, in relation to the wife, which Foucault implies is in contrast with the way it has often been understood since.

Foucault takes his discussion of changes in practice, changes in law, and changes in discourse about love and marriage, but particularly ‘aphrodisia’ (love and sexual activity) as the opportunity for a discussion about truth and reality. Truth is a game, which is never just a statement of what is real. The game, or language, or truth, arises in the relation between the general facts and the singular situation of saying what is true about them. If we say snow is white, that refers to a reality, but that still leaves the question of why we are making the statement.

Statements do not make anything real, but we have the question of the relations between reality and statements. There is never a complete ontological identity between the reality of discourse, the existence of the discourse, its existence as a discourse that claims to be true, and the real of which it speaks. Foucault begins this discussion of reality, discourse and truth with the question of the status of moral discourse. Saying something should be the case is to suggest that it is not the case, though moral discourse is in some way referring to what is the case, which is very clear with regard to the Pliny the Younger era discussion of marriage, since it refers to real practices and a real intensification of the discourse idealising marriage. The issues about the status of prescriptive discourse parallel those concerning epistemological discourse. There is a necessary ambiguity about the relation between the status of what is said and what is referred to, since the relation both suggests an identity and a difference.

Foucault goes back to the concerns of early work on discourse like the Archaeology of Knowledge and alludes to his later concerns with Enlightenment and ethics, with the way that truthful discourse is variable and is associated with our own relation with our self, what we try to make real in ourselves. The way he interlaces these concerns suggests to me a resistance to any idea of a rupture between an earlier and later Foucault, so that instead there is a process of modulation of concerns there from the beginning.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, VIII

Lecture of 1st March, 1981

Foucault highlights the difference between love for women and love for boys, and the value placed on the man-woman love, particularly man-wife love, in antiquity in the period of Hellentistic-Roman philosophy. He focuses on Plutarch’s discussion of love and sex, in the Dialogue on Love with particular reference to Plutarch’s reactions to Greek texts of the classical period like Plato’s Symposium and Euripides’ tragedy Hyppolitus (I presume that is what Foucault is referring to when he mentions a text called Phèdre, the name of the female character in the play, used to name the plays on the same story by Seneca and Racine) and to Stoic influenced texts of his own time on the art of living. It is the texts of his own time, which are more directed towards marriage as the ideal.

Foucault refers to Christian sexual morality as referring first to pagan sexual morality, of that part of it inside pagan thinking most suitable to Christianity, and then developing its own morality in the fourth and fifth centuries based on the idea of flesh. It is the ‘conjugalisation’ of aphrodisia in later pagan thought, which provides a source for Christianity.

Foucault sets up an investigation of the move towards the ideal of the marital couple with thee parts of the Plutarch dialogue. A part devoted towards the debate between love of boys and love of women, including the marriage of young man Bacchon, a song/elegy to love, and a Platonic debate. Bacchon is pursued by men and by a relatively young widow who is nevertheless older than Bacchon. The pursuit by the woman is comic, but refers to a situation in ancient Greece in which infanticide was more directed at female babies than make babies. In consequence there were less women than men making it necessary for some men to ignore social preferences about marrying a younger woman in order to get get married.

Plutarch plays on the way that the widow’s pursuit of the young man imitates the standard pederastic (it is Foucault who refers to ‘pederasty’ here in acknowledgement of the young, beardless, status of the younger man in the socially expected same sex relations of ancient Greece) situation in which the older more experienced and knowledgeable man pursues the younger less educated and less experienced boy. The widow brings the advantages of experience to the marriage, so that advantage the older man offers the boy. So the ideal of marriage grows out of transferring the same advantages for the younger person of associated with an older person as to be found in the pederastic situation. The pederastic-educational situation of the mature man’s relationship with the boy itself, as Foucault discusses in previous lectures, becomes separated from sexual activity over time so that an ideal pedagogical situation emerges in parallel with the ideal marriage that incorporates some part of the pederastic-pedagogical situation.

The man-boy love itself was always defined as against nature (phusis) in the first place, eros was defined as outside nature so that the pederastic relationship is part of a general interest in being apart from nature in some adventurous and even dangerous place. Being outside nature was not always defined as negative in ancient Greece (Foucault is perhaps thinking of the status of gods, heroes, and divine law here. He is also presumably thinking of late 19th century/fin de siècle ‘decadence’ here, just as elsewhere he compare the antique ‘techne’ of the self with Baudelaire, anarchism, and the like).
The attitudes to love and sex revealed in Plutarch also suggest that the value of homogeneity of marriage between man and woman, according to an antique value given to isomorphism, was compared with the adventurousness of heterogeneity in man-boy relations as a competing ideal. The boy love leads to an attitude of surveillance, care and so on, in a care for the other (something like the care for the self, which is the subject matter of the third volume of the History of Sexuality), so an emphasis on virtue rather than pleasure.

Another concern mentioned in Plutarch is that love for women leads to feminisation. This possible critique of man-woman love is answered by the proponents of man-woman love with the suggestion of hypocrisy by the the proponents of man-boy love who pretend to a non-sexual form of community when clearly there is something sexual, and furthermore that sexual love for women is compatible with the less sexual aspects of man-woman conjugal community emphasised by the proponents of man-boy love. This includes discussion of the opposition or rapport between ‘philia’ (non-sexual love/friendship) and sexual relationships. As the beauty of the boy is emphasised by the man-boy love proponents, they are admitting to a desire which is at the base the same as sexual desire for women.

Plutarch brings in Epicurean materialist- corpuscularianism explanations to emphasise the common physical reaction to beauty. If a non-physical love for boys can come out of this, leading us onto pure ideas (as in Plato) then the same must be case for girls. Plutarch emphasises the sameness of love for boys and girls. Love must feature the same end, sexuality referred to as the goddess Aphrodite, as well as eros, the love that does not necessarily include sexual acts. However, that shared telos, and end goal, of love, does not put boy love and girl love on the same level.
Plutarch uses what Foucault refers to as mythical-historical origin to argue that boy love came later in history, because of the appearance of gymnasia and public places of exercise where naked boys could be observed. Foucault adds something he has already referred to, which is that the boy cannot consent to sexual advances in the same way as a girl in ancient Greece, since the boy is going to be a free citizen, which is not compatible with being an object of love.
Plutarch expresses a dominant view in antiquity, which is that even at periods of relative acceptance of boy love, it was considered unnatural, and that over time this became the same as lacking in virtue, and in the possibilities of care. These was transferred to marriage, in which the male-female relation was put on a more egalitarian basis, signified by the positive view of the widow marrying the younger man, while the man-boy relation was condemned as governed by pleasure rather than virtue.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014