Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth II.2

Lecture of 14th January, 1981 continued 

The older art of living included discussion of tranquillity as a quality of being, a quality of existence, a modality of experience, which modifies being itself. Tranquility is a mode that promotes minimisation of the effect produced  by events on the self, so as to enable the autonomy and independence of the individual with regard to events. These arts of living, beatitude is another, change the ontological status of the individual in the areas of relations with others, the relation to truth, the relation with the self. The relations with others includes the learning from others in that art and the relation of master and disciple.

The authority and presence of the other is necessary to learning an art of life. The relation with truth appears in the internalisation of that art of living. The truth becomes an inner truth, something belonging to oneself, absorbed and reinforced through self-examination, meditation, tests, and an ascesis of the self in relation with itself. The Discourses of  Epictetus (the Stoic thinker) are given as an example of ascesis on the road to knowledge. With reference to Epictetus, Foucault defines three essential elements of antique art of living: teaching, which is a relation with the other; meditation, which is relation with truth; exercise/ascesis, which is a relation with the self.

For the Greeks, the arts of living could all be united with reference to bios, which comprises the state of being alive and the manners of possible living. We can expand on this as the techniques of the self in the art of living, which are biotechniques. The arts of living are part of truth, because the relation between subjectivity and truth comes out of arts of living in which we learn what is true, speak what is true, and search for what is true. The importance of the fable of the elephant is that is deals with the difficult place of marriage and sexual relations in arts of living, which put the relation with truth, and then with God at the centre.

We have difficulty in establishing concepts of Paganism and Christianity now, because of the diversity of Paganism, the emergence of Christianity in reaction to the diversity of Paganism partly expressed through frequent debates about heresy, the understanding of Christianity in association with Judaism in Judaeo-Christianity creates a paradox, and a complication in the understanding of Christianity when the Jewish aspect is often treated negatively

Foucault mentions Hegel and Nietzsche here, though I would have to say that their attitude to Judaism is rather more than ‘anti-Semitism’, particularly in Nietzsche’s work after Birth of Tragedy. There is an attitude in Hegel that Judaism is formal and legalistic compared with Christianity, though no denial of rights to Jews, and at in the major discussion of Judaism in Nietzsche, the Judea versus Rome theme in Genealogy of Morality I, Judea was ‘Roman’ before it became a conquered nation, and in general the opposition if shifting, contextual and pragmatic rather than an issue of race or deep identity.

Returning to Foucault’s account, anti-Semitism was a widespread nineteenth century phenomenon that strongly influenced the French socialist movement, or at least an understanding of capitalism conditioned by the understanding of Judaeo-Christianity (presumably the point is that the critique of capitalism continues themes in anti-Semitism). Capitalism and Judaeo-Christianity both tend to be the auto-analysis of consciousness, with the  Marxist critique of capitalism continuing the Hegelian and post-Hegelian critique of Judaeo-Christian consciousness (presumably referring in particular to Marx’s On the Jewish Question, which certainly suggests that Jewish consciousness is capitalist, or certainly bourgeois-egotistical, and therefor in some way always formatively capitalist), as self critique of consciousness.

This is continued in the totalising synthesising ambitions of Weber, which examine how far religious and capitalist consciousness go together. For Foucault, the necessity of understanding Christianity with reference both to Judaism and the reaction to Paganism are part of the reason that there cannot be the total grasp of consciousness, the Christian consciousness exists in relation to what is outside it, and similar remarks presumably apply to the relation between Christianity and capitalism. This is the complicating context for discussing the history of the arts of living. Another complication is the status of Stoicism, which is at the centre of Foucault’s analysis of antique ways of living. The sexual morality is not very much present in the beginnings of Stoicism in Zeno of Citium and Chryssipus, it appears in later Stoic texts, and Foucault announces that he will bring in texts by non-Stoics, even anti-Stoics, with similar ideas.

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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