Telos reaches back

But not that far back

Each Tuesday in the TELOSscope blog, we reach back into the archives and highlight an article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Marcus Michelson looks at Jean-Michel Landry’s ” Confession, Obedience, and Subjectivity: Michel Foucault’s Unpublished Lectures On the Government of the Living,” from Telos 146 (Spring 2009).

Why do we obey? Even when people rebel, it seems they simply reconstitute a form of obedience. We all know the old cliché “they aren’t rebels, they’re just following a ‘rebellious’ social code.” The way people dress, their hairstyle, tattoos, earrings, piercings, etc., only seem to reinforce our belief in their obedience to well-defined social practices. Even if we aren’t all playing by the same rules, we are all playing by rules. Do we even know what it would mean anymore to rebel? In the meantime, cultural critics admonish our decline, criticizing us for adhering to more philistine, insipid, or self-defeating values. But doesn’t this criticism amount to saying that we are just obeying the wrong thing, whereas obedience itself is simply presupposed? Could obedience really be ubiquitous, and if so, how did we get this way? On the other hand, how can we describe a legitimate form of autonomy?

If you want to know the answers to these questions, it’ll cost you $5 for a day’s access (cheap).

Telos offers a free taster. Landry:

Behind the doors of the first monasteries, Foucault sees a major displacement: the act of confession became linked to a requirement of permanent obedience. “Obeying in all things” and “keeping no secret thoughts”: from that point on, these two principles would form a single requirement. Furthermore, this dual imperative introduced a fundamental break between the direction of Christian conscience and its ancestor, ancient philosophical direction. Unlike Christian direction, ancient direction remained provisional. Its role was limited to accompanying the person being directed until he became independent. The obedience required from the subject in the ancient world was instrumental: it was limited in time and subordinated to the objective of autonomy. In Foucault’s view, monasticism inverted in every respect the ways in which ancient techniques of direction functioned. The Christian direction of conscience would be ongoing and would consider obedience no longer as a means, but as an end in itself (obedience generated obedience). Obedience, within monasticism, sought only to root obedience ever more deeply within the subject.

Emotional Cartography: technologies of the self

New book for psychogeographers, critical cartographers and those interested in applications of technologies of the self:

The book is the outcome of a research process which aimed to reach a deeper understanding of a project called ‘Bio Mapping’, which since 2004, has involved thousands of participants in over 16 different countries. Bio Mapping emerged as a critical reaction towards the currently dominant concept of pervasive technology, which aims for computer ‘intelligence’ to be integrated everywhere, including our everyday lives and even bodies. The Bio Mapping project investigates the implications of creating technologies that can record, visualise and share with each other our intimate body-states.

To practically explore this subject, I invented and built the Bio Mapping device, which is a portable and wearable tool recording data from two technologies: a simple biometric sensor measuring Galvanic Skin Response and a Global Positioning System (GPS). The bio-sensor, which is based on a lie-detector, measures changes in the sweat level of the
wearers’ fingers…

The whole book is available for free.


Stress levels on a walkabout.


The equipment. Finger cuffs, GPS and data logger.

Notes on Foucault’s last lectures

Andy at Ad Absurdam has been posting his notes on Le Courage de la Vérité, Le gouvernement de soi et des autres II (Government of the self and others), the last (1984) lectures that Foucault gave.

The first one is here and from there you can access the others. He has included a number of translations, since this has only come out in French for now.

Self writing

Jodi examines some practices of self writing here, including my favorite, hupomnemata which could be said to be akin to blogging.

Foucault claims that the hupomnemata contributed to the formation of the self for three main reasons:

the limiting effects of the coupling of reading with writing; the regular practice of the disparate that determines choices, and the appropriation which that practices brings about.

Gouvernement de soi et des autres published

Le gouvernement de soi et des autres (Volume 1) is supposedly published today in French.

These are the lectures from 1983.

Update: Now looks like January  24 (see listing at Seuil).

Le cours que Michel Foucault prononce en 1983 au Collège de France inaugure une recherche sur la notion de parrêsia. Ce faisant, Michel Foucault poursuit son travail de relecture de la philosophie antique. A travers l’étude de cette notion (le dire-vrai, le franc-parler), Foucault réinterroge la citoyenneté grecque, en montrant comment le courage de la vérité constitue le fondement éthique oublié de la démocratie athénienne. Il décrit encore la manière dont, avec la décadence des cités, le courage de la vérité se transforme et devient une adresse personnelle à l’âme du Prince, donnant de la septième lettre de Platon une lecture neuve. De nombreux topoi de la philosophie antique se trouvent revisités: la figure platonicienne du philosophe-roi, la condamnation de l’écriture, le refus par Socrate de l’engagement.

Dans ce cours, Foucault construit une figure du philosophe, en laquelle il se reconnaît: en relisant les penseurs grecs, c’est sa propre inscription dans la modernité philosophique qu’il assure, c’est sa propre fonction qu’il problématise, c’est son mode de penser et d’être qu’il définit.

« La philosophie moderne, c’est une pratique qui fait, dans son rapport à la politique, l’épreuve de sa réalité. C’est une pratique qui trouve, dans la critique de l’illusion, du leurre, de la tromperie, de la flatterie, sa fonction de vérité. C’est enfin une pratique qui trouve dans la transformation du sujet par lui-même et du sujet par l’autre [son objet d’]exercice de sa pratique. La philosophie comme extériorité par rapport àune politique qui en constitue l’épreuve de réalité, la philosophie comme critique par rapport à un domaine d’illusion qui la met au défi de se constituer comme discours vrai, la philosophie comme ascèse, c’est-à-dire comme constitution du sujet par lui-même, c’est cela qui constitue l’être moderne de la philosophie.»

Why we blog

Jay Rosen:

As I was walking around the conference Thursday, ducking into panels and training sessions that started even before the official opening, I kept thinking about a famous passage from Christopher Lasch, the great social critic and historian who died in 1994— before the rise of the Web. In the Revolt of the Elites, he said we learn more from argument than from information, not because opinions are weighter than facts, but because to argue for your ideas (in public) puts those ideas at risk. And that is how we learn.

Well, there you have it. If blogging can be anything, it is an arena for putting things at risk, for destabilizing oneself as much as anybody or anything else. Blogging, as a form of public writing, should be something like a journey without a map, but which is in the process of making the map as you go.

When I started this blog I stated that it was an experiment to see if a sustainable space could be made that began from a position of empty-handedness, even confusion, with no predetermined positionality (certainly not that Foucault was infallible).

This puts me and anybody who cares to join in, at immediate risk, due to the fact that expertise and authority are more highly valued than critical enquiry and asking.

There’s a dead funny scene in one of David Lodge’s novels where he describes a group of academics at a dinner party playing a game called “humiliation.” The object of this game is to name a book that you haven’t read that everybody else has read (not, as the braggy Americans in the group first assume, to name a book you’ve read that nobody else has). Since these are Eng. Lit. profs, the only way to win is to humiliate yourself by naming some major book or Shakespeare play such as Hamlet and admitting you haven’t read it. The eventual winner in the novel in fact names such an important book that he shocks his colleagues and eventually is fired! Talk about putting yourself at risk.

But this blog is like that game. The only way to win is to fail… the standard system of arbitration and to make space for a different set of rules.

I will tag this under “technology of the self” and hope that’s not too pretentious!

Larval subjects

This blog says what I’ve been trying to say about blogging, but says it better:

Larval subjects. Larvae are creatures in a process of becoming or development that have not yet actualized themselves in a specific form. This space is a space for the incubation of philosophical larvae that are yet without determinate positions or commitments but which are in a process of unfolding.

This captures the spirit of not knowing where you’re going when you set out, a kind of lostness. The other day a fellow blogger said to me that she didn’t know where her blog was going and I replied that it sounded like it was a success. (I don’t think I convinced her though.)

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