Polarity of the Self

We’ve considered in class what Foucault could have meant by “one’s relationship to itself.” Several interpretations were given, those were of a Public in relation to a Private Self – or a Conscious in relation to an Unconscious Self. In these paragraphs, I forward my interpretation of Foucault: an Intuitive Self in relation to an Ideal Self.

The Intuitive Self will sound familiar, because you’ve come across it along the lines of Nietzsche’s writing. And Foucault alludes to its nature as he discusses the Greek and Roman’s understanding of the self. Hold on to your ideas, as I will define this intuitive man after having elaborated on the Ideal self. 

Beginning with Lacan, and the Mirror Stage. At the age of 15 to 18 months old, the child looks at himself in the mirror, and will for the first time recognize itself. At this instant, the child forms the basis for the concept of an I. The “I” is born. This “I” isn’t the individual, but how he sees himself, and how he perceives himself as viewed by others. The polarity thus arises; who I am in relation to who I see myself as.

As Foucault stresses in Vol. 1 of History of Sexuality: the many truths that are promulgated through discourses are but a manipulative device fabricated by the Authority, and serve to orient the conscience of the people in the light of favoring a political and economic agenda. The concept of Homosexuality, for instance, is one among many fully socially constructed truths which certain individuals must unfavorably associate their identities with.

The trajectory of Foucault’s Volumes on the History of Sexuality map the conceptualization of a polarity between an identity that is imposed upon him by the many discourses and apparatuses, and himself, that which I have labeled the intuitive self. This intuitive nature is alluded to by Foucault’s reference to the Greek and Romans in the later volumes. He stresses a will to shape oneself through acsesis. And elaborates his ethics in relation to morality, and how one’s way of governing itself comes prior to the moral code inflicted upon him.

The points is this: The ideal version of the self is a concept that one has of him or herself that is deceivingly contrived by the power mechanisms. Consequently, without a choice, one bases its identity on this ideal, and in doing so entertains the truths forwarded by the Authority, and contributes to the apparatuses that serve to forward them.

The Ideal self is thus a socially constructed agent that has grown to oppose itself to the Intuitive self – this struggle has been termed by Freud as Neurosis. Indeed, as forwarded by Nietzsche, we have an innate nature which has been denied for centuries – an intuitive self that has been repressed in the case of Foucault, by the authoritative agent. The mechanisms of power have contrived a knowledge of sexuality, of morality that has been promulgated as Truth, and which through time and repetition, has become self-evident. What both philosophers forward is not to confuse this self-evidence with intuition. More specifically, the two stress a return to our intuitive self, while criticizing this imposed ideal version.


4 thoughts on “Polarity of the Self

  1. hollyonclin

    Admittedly, I didn’t actually remember Nietzsche’s discussion of the intuitive self and am not sure that I understand your description as such. Perhaps you could elaborate a bit more? That being said I found your description of the formation of the “I” in Lacan’s Mirror Stage, quite interesting. It’s always fun to postulate, when it comes to the continental philosophers, whom influenced whom. Lacan’s description of the birth of the ego seems to me, for instance, heavily related to Hegel’s description of self-consciousness. According to Hegel, self-consciousness is not an independent entity but a dependant one that can only exist when it is “acknowledged by another [self-consciousness]”. To expand this upon this initial delineation, we might say that Hegel views self-consciousness as a dynamic entity that can only truly exist as a socially acknowledged being, that is, one becomes aware of oneself by seeing oneself through the eyes of another. In order for an agent to be self-conscious, they must evaluate themself by comparing themself to other agents and the conception which those agents formulate of them. But then again, what continental philosopher wasn’t influenced by Hegel?

  2. xavierfb Post author

    Indeed, loool, how could we not. And what I find truly fascinating is how they ALL seem to be talking about the same thing: this alienation from the self, from our nature and towards an inhuman, rather conceptual representation “that give rise to empty desires.” (HS, Vol.3, p.137)

    To clarify, Nietzsche brings about the Intuitive Self in his article On Truth and Lie in an Extra Moral Sense. He goes: “There are ages in which the rational man and the intuitive man stand side by side, the one in fear of intuition, the other with scorn for abstraction.” In it, he suggests how this intuitive-creative force has been forgotten and since: denied. This intuitive nature is one that forwards the individuality and that accepts, and more over face the difference that exists among people. It is one that faces our nature, and in that view; strive for its progression in a right direction, aka not against ourselves.

    As it comes to your point, I haven’t read any Hegel, though what you’ve forwarded is very interesting. This notion of a self-consciousness as only possible through the eyes of other – this phenomenon is indeed very present in today’s societies. Its even been termed in psychology as the spot light effect, but… Anyhow, this self-consciousness binds in well with the notion that, we prefer to see ourselves through the eyes of other, perhaps because it’s easier to do so? than face who we truly are. I guess, as Hegel seems to have put forth, is that its a way to confirm who we think we are, our identity. I run of the risk of repeating myself, but to be clear: Where my point comes in play, is that from this angle, this notion of self-consciousness, of who we think we are, or we would like to be, or seen as, all are cultural and social versions of the self that serve an ideal fabricated by institutions, those which once went by the names of religion and science, and now of companies, countries and governments.

  3. Christina Hendricks

    I think your discussion of the Ideal self is a very good one–I can definitely see that in Foucault; he discusses it in both Discipline and Punish and <History of Sexuality Volume I. And the intuitive self I can see with Nietzsche, given your reference to the “On Truth and Lies in an Extramoral Sense” essay. What I’m wondering about is whether Foucault appeals to something like an intuitive self in his last two volumes of The History of Sexuality, including Volume 3. The main reason I’m not so sure is that when he talks about shaping the self by the self for the ancient Greeks and Romans he is not necessarily talking about doing so in a kind of social, political, or moral vacuum, or from a kind of notion of the self that comes before these social forces. It’s not as clear as one might like in Volume 3, so I can see why one might not see it, but Foucault is talking about caring for oneself according to particular moral and philosophical precepts, such as Epicureanism or Stoicism. One shapes the self to live up to one of these philosophical ways of life, to take in its principles, memorize them, have them sink so deeply into the self that one acts on them without (much) struggle, if possible. This book is a bit frustrating because he doesn’t spell out that crucial bit as well as I’d like; he just assumes you know what he’s talking about when he mentions Seneca, Rufus, Marcus Aurelius, for example–these are all Stoics. And the discussion of sexual activity in Part 4 Chapter 4 where he talks about making sure the desire of the soul doesn’t go beyond that of the body, but rather that our sexual desires (in the soul) should adhere to the rational order in the natural makeup of the body, is a Stoic notion.

    The point is, that when he’s talking about the ancient Greeks and Romans, he’s not talking about them creating the self how they choose, or being uninfluenced by (or not much influenced, or going beyond the influence of) principles and practices that one finds in one’s social milieu.

    Of course, Foucault might be saying the Greeks and Romans did this, but we could do otherwise. Maybe, but I just don’t find much in Foucault about some notion of the self as untouched by, or underlying, social forces. Even when we create the self according to ideas/values that may be different from dominant ones, these are likely influenced by social forces in some way. Does this mean we’re completely trapped by power? Foucault insists not. He claims that we are free insofar as there is the possibility of changing the power relations we find ourselves in, but we can’t jump outside of all power relations altogether (unless we lived entirely alone and without any social setting with other people, perhaps!). He also doesn’t suggest that we are doomed to repeat the same things we’ve been shaped by. There is some possibility for altering power relations in a deep way over time–we see that over history! How it works, exactly, I don’t think he’s very clear on, unfortunately.

  4. xavierfb Post author

    Indeed, I must get to the core of what it is that I mean by Intuitive Self.

    Foucault alludes to the Greek and Roman’s shaping of the self by the self through philosophical precepts such as Epicureanism and Stoicism.

    Now, I sense that today’s Ideal Self (that I’ve elaborated earlier) has grown into an equivalent for the Stoicism and Epicureanism of the time – except first; there isn’t a choice to be made (such as; which philosophies speaks to me the most), and second – the self ideal isn’t fortuitous for the human specie, in that it suppresses our nature and uses it to serve external purposes. Therefore, my argument comes in play, as perhaps optimistic – but questions how Stoicism and Epicureanism came to be in the first place.

    Naturally, I must be seeing something in Foucault that does allude to the “Intuitive self,” and what eventually supported my intuition was on page p.136 of HS Vol.3: “… a sort of animalization […] that is, a subordination, as strict as possible, of the soul’s desire to the body’s needs…” Here Foucault aims at the precepts of Stoicism.

    So perhaps there is a more accurate term for the “intuitive self” – at least one that doesn’t allude to the same light as the G & R one, because first: we aren’t Greek or Roman, second: we live in B.C. and third: 2000 years or so later. Along that line, there is an acceptance, a certain “facing of” that both F. and N. emphasize in regards to our current situation. They both support the idea that one, we can’t deny our history, nor what has happened, and where it has lead us. And two; everything that’s happen since the G & R isn’t all bad.

    Thus, I clarify that the “Intuitive Self” could be, and is better contemporarily defined as a return to the individual. Indeed, Foucault’s ethics for instance, does not consists of a “Walden” adventure (Thoreau) – that is; we should not (nor can we) be independent from the cultural and social ideals inflicted upon the individual through discourses, but simply conscious of them. As he develops on page 142: “ He must address a discourse of Truth to himself.” These discourses of Truth I call Ideals, Nietzsche calls them Abstractions and Metaphors in “On Truth and Lies […]”.

    Foucault elucidates how the mechanisms of power have learned to target our most vulnerable sensibilities with such discourses: Sex and morality are examples. And that’s all the more the case today; as the process of socialization occurs at an even earlier age. (Lacan’s Mirror stage)

    As a consequence, the ideal self is intensified, and required to be held upon all the more. In this light, I sense that something is being hidden from us, and that could truly be: our intuitive nature. That is, I sense we are entering an age of consciousness in which we realize how far away we’ve been brought, or lead to believe, and a return to our nature is more than necessary, therefore all the more repressed by the authoritative agency. Occurrences of revolts against the ideal are such as the 60’s sexual liberation movement, or today’s mistrust in regards to governments with the whole Edward Snowden scenario.

    So if Foucault claims that we are free insofar as there is the possibility of changing the power relations we find ourselves in; could it be that this possibility is this intuitive nature? By such I don’t mean that of animalistic nature, but rather of a human one; a “natural philosophy.”

    The point is, Foucault goes on with his metaphor of the “night watchman” and stresses how we must constantly inspect what is, and what is of no value to me. This makes me think of Nietzsche’s “self-criticism” in the light of stripping ourselves down to our true self. So could it be, that without being normative, Foucault’s philosophy supports the qualities of the specie.

    What those qualities might be: Subjectivity.

    As for how Stoicism and Epicureanism came about? They did so through a single individual who, because what was available did not suffice his personal agenda, consequently had to rely on and trust his subjectivity. With time, certain philosophies became a collectively shared subjectivity; such as Stoicism and Epicurianism.

    So without being explicit, could it be that Foucault asks for “a return to the individual.” Because as I’ve understood from N.’s GM – that’s what he seems to be targeting in his viewer, his or her individuality in the light of claiming it sovereign. Could that be the case in Foucault? A return to the individual, a need for a new philosophy, a new subjectivity – and a forsaking of the objective ideals?

Comments are closed.