Similarity of the Genealogies.

Nietzsche and Foucault’s Genealogies both aim to dispel certain misguided suppositions that we have, which fundamentally shape the point of view that we take upon the subjects of their interest. Nietzsche’s attack on slave morality not only denounces the consequences of our subjugation to Christian/slave morality, but more importantly, it sought to quell the conventional notions associated with morality, such as morality being universal, or its origin being utilitarian (Nietzsche’s refutation of the claim that our high regard for pity has stemmed from a utilitarian consideration). Instead, Nietzsche offers the all-encompassing concept of will to power, which penetrates through all moral phenomena. An example of this is his analysis of philosopher’s penchant for ascetic ideals, which, despite ostensibly having been developed by a selfless contemplation, in fact comes from the philosophers’ pursuit for power and security.  Thus he reveals what he conceives to be the true nature of morality and proceeds in his eradication of the misconceptions.

Similarly Foucault in History of Sexuality Volume 1 targets our belief in the repressive hypothesis. He states that people hold up the repressive hypothesis despite the fact that it does not have direct support from historical evidence. Foucault explains the ready acceptance it receives by pointing out that having placed the beginning of the era of sexual repression in the seventeenth century, which coincides with the beginning of the industrialization of the European economy, we fit the discourse easily into a larger, more broader discourse of economic revolution or Marxist discourse. However, he points out, this is after all a post-hoc interpretation, without support from historical evidence. He also notes that repressive hypothesis is readily accepted due to the fact that the conventional model of power (jurdico-discursive) we seem to rely on in our consideration of power also supports the repressive hypothesis that operates negatively and uniformly. However, Foucault points out the fact that the new mode of operation by power upon sexuality does not really fit the traditional model. Whereas the ancient prohibition (ex. prohibition on incest) operated in a negative and uniform manner, the modern operation of power upon sexuality saw to multiplication of both the power and its object, which can be seen in modern control of child sexuality that saw both on the one hand the dramatic increase in the tools of surveillance, control and correction, and on the other hand the increase in the outbreaks of child sexuality that remained hidden (thus non existent) up until that point.

And also, by going back to the confessionals of the 17th century Foucault demonstrates that modern history of sexuality is that of explosion of discourses, rather than that of sexuality being compelled to silence. Moreover, modern treatment of disparate sexualities that established heterogeneity of sexualities, and saw the incorporation of the disparate sexualities into the discourse, refutes repressive hypothesis of its claim that history of relationship between power and sex is that of repression.

Both misconceptions behind morality and power-sexuality relations dealt by Nietzsche and Foucault are seen by the two to be widely prevalent but rarely come up to surface to be examined. Neither of them, despite launching a wholesale attack against these misconceptions, attempts to demonstrate the truth of their claim that the misconceptions are there, and extremely prevalent. Both seem to be assured that popular contemporary discourses dealing with their subject (morality/sexuality)  sufficiently validate their claim, and they saw the need to eradicate them.

Foucault, Care of the self, Renunciation, Internalization, Fear

I just want to touch on something we discussed in class: the question of renunciation, and how renunciation started appearing noticeably in the Roman notion of the “care of the self”.  I said that I believed that renunciation begins as more people begin to look into themselves much more closely in order to care for themselves at a more thorough degree.  I also said that the Socratic notion of knowing oneself being replaced by a need to care for oneself shows a shift from curiosity about the external world to a kind of preoccupation with the self, and threats that the external world could potentially impose on the self.  I equated this shift to an example of an “internalization of conscience”, a phrase that Nietzsche more or less made famous.  The idea is that one’s attention gets shifted from the external world back into himself because of a fear of damaging himself through instinctual, full-blooded participation in the external world.  Christina rightly pointed out that the “caring of the self” still involved active participation in the world and required one to make decisions, such as the decision to renounce.  But already, before decisions like this are made the internalization has already taken place because one assumes the renouncer or abstainer has made this decision because he is worried about how action to the contrary might affect his “self”.  Thus, monitoring the self for the self’s sake becomes more valuable than monitoring the world for the self’s sake.  The idea that self needs to be taken care of as trumping the idea that the world ought to be explored and that exploration will improve the self suggests a suspicion, a fear of the external world’s influence on the self, which leads to measures to guard against that influence before that influence has even struck!  This careful planning is rooted in fear. Fear and distrust.  When Foucault talks about creating oneself artistically in accounts of his positive ethics, this fear cannot be there because creating oneself involves using what is external to the self for the self’s own growth.  The self cannot grow without an inherent trust and affirmation of the external world.

Greek Nostalgia

On “The Genealogy of Ethics” interview that I presented on, Foucault made two interesting statements that I would like to discuss here.  The first is when the interviewer presses him about whether he possibly shows a lack of respect for the improvements that modern science, institutions (things that Foucault is critical of in his works), etc. have had for the prolonging and quality of human life in general, and Foucault replies that his philosophical project is not to see modernity (or any human era in fact) as bad but to see it as posing potential problems.  The second thing Foucault says that interests me here is, when asked about a seemingly implicit fondness for the fecundity of free creativity that was characteristic of Classical Greece and whether or not Foucault thinks we should aim to “get back” to that culture, Foucault replies that a past period is nothing to get back to because the problems, and the contexts of the problems, they were trying to solve are so different from our own that it is inconcievable and fruitless to put ourselves in their shoes so to speak.

I am fascinated by the role that the ancient Greeks play in the thought of Foucault (and Nietzsche for that matter).  If prior historical periods are nothing to get back to, if they offer know exemplary value in relation to our period, then why undertake, in meticulous detail, an exhaustive account of how these periods dealt with certain problems. Some might say that it is done merely to show the malleability of what we perceive as the human condition and, therefore, the exciting possibilities for us to shape our own conditions.  This view for me counts for a lot, but I do think that the Greeks play an extra special role for both these genealogical thinkers.  I am oftentimes inclined to think that Foucault and Nietzsche, despite their articulation of an obviously deeply flawed society, use Classical Greece nostalgiacally as a place of myth.  A place where people were not imposed on by the same plethora of authorities that have hold of us today, a place where people did not cripple themselves with their own self-consciousness.  Though they are very different, I often see parallels in the way Nietzsche and Foucault see Ancient Greeks with the Biblical notion of a pre-fallen state.  It seems to me me that Nietzsche especially, but also Foucault, put too much significance on the “Greek way” for the purposed of what they think was done beautifully for Greece not to be seen with mythological characteristics.

Still on Power

While doing research I came across this passage from Delueze’s Foucault.

Deleuze’s explication of Foucault’s power offers some insights into what Foucault saw power to be. Deleuze notes that for Foucault, “power is a relation between forces, or rather every relation between forces is a ‘power relation’. In the first place we must understand that power is not a form, such as the state-form; and that the power relation does not lie between two forms, as does knowledge. In the second place, force is never singular but essentially exists in relation with other forces, such that any force is already a relation, that is to say power; force has no other object or subject than force… Foucault is closer to Nietzsche (and to Marx), for whom the relation between forces greatly exceeds violence and cannot be defined by the latter. Violence acts on specific bodies, objects or beings whose form it destroys or changes, while force has no object other than that of other forces.”

According to Deleuze, Foucault’s conception of power is not a form or something that exists between two forms, as knowledge might between a subject and an object. Also for Foucault, force never exists in singular but only in relation with other forces, with relation constituting power. I found this explication really helpful for my research.  As I was reading the last chapter of History of Sexuality Volume 1 in preparation for my paper, reading this passage helped me get a clearer picture of how power works in the Foucault’s narrative.

Foucault talks about “ Power used to speak through blood: the honor of war, the fear of famine, the triumph of death, the sovereign with his sword, executions and tortures; blood was a reality with a symbolic function. We, on the other hand, are in a society of “sex,” or rather a society. “

Despite having discussed this dimension of Foucault’s power extensively in class, it becomes clearer now that this fixation with sexuality is a way to generate more relations, in other words, power. The emergence of new relation induced by sexuality, the in-between of patient-doctor, degenerate-normal relations are examples of power being generated. Foucault notes that, “through the themes of health, progeny, race, the future of the species, the vitality of the social body, power spoke of sexuality and to sexuality.”

This insidious presence of sexuality kept on multiplying the relation of forces in myriad phenomena created by our fixation with sexuality.

Thus, it is only natural that sexuality was “becoming the theme of political operations, economic interventions (through incitements to our curbs on procreation), and ideological campaigns for raising standards of morality and responsibility“ Foucault explains that sexuality in order to be utilized in this manner of creating force relation, was constantly being aroused, and as it had taken the role once belonged to symbol of blood, it became the chief proponent of norm, knowledge, life, meaning, the discipline and regulations.



Foucault and Neoliberalism


Foucault suggests in his discussion of the ‘care of the self’ that we might be able to counteract the totalising and oppressive techniques employed by modern governments by somehow formulating an authentic discourse about ourselves in order to reclaim our own identity. At the same time he argues that neoliberal and ordoliberal governments specifically make sure that we are able to exercise our subjective preferences and maximise individual autonomy as part of their strategy to make us competitive consumers or ‘sel(ves)as enterprise. I want to argue that Foucault cannot meaningfully claim that the way to resist is to exercise our individuality and subjectivity at the same time as claiming that governments base their methods of control in precisely this same subjectivity.

His claim concerning neoliberal and ordoliberal governments is that we are encouraged to become competitive consumers as well as adhering to the utility/docility model laid out in D&P. Neoliberal governments have a vested interest in having us believe that it is through the consumption of goods according to our personal preferences that we exercise our own freedom and autonomy as well as carving out our own identity.

Foucault wants to have us believe that by reclaiming public discourse and talking about ourselves in a more authentic and truthful way, we can resist the totalising effects of these neoliberal strategies that purport to give us maximum freedom, whilst making sure that the only avenues for us to make choices involve commodities and the commodification of experience. The problem is that Foucault’s strategy is deeply rooted in finding ways to express our individual subjective experience of the world in an authentic and genuine way, but it seems at least plausible that this is simply too close to the strategies employed by neoliberal and ordoliberal governments in order to control us. Even if we can reclaim a more authentic discourse about our own identities and values, the state and corporations may well still be able to limit our ability to exercise this newly reclaimed self within modes of existence that are still inherently tied to ongoing consumption and the buying of experiences.

I plan to explore the plausibility of Foucault’s suggested possible modes of resistance in my research essay in much greater detail, but any comments on what you think about the possibility of reclaiming control of our identities and forging authentic discourses would be really helpful!

Foucault’s conception of power


For my essay I am planning to highlight the difference between conception of power by Nietzsche and Foucault. While doing research for my paper, I found a passage in Knowledge and Power that I found useful in illuminating some insights as to what Foucault conceives as power.

In discussing power and its relations to bodies of individuals in societies, Foucault explicates the ongoing struggle between power and its revolt. When power invests into the body and produces effects such as we have seen throughout History of Sexuality,(one can think of treatment of disparate sexuality, “administering of life” through school and military) according to Foucault, there inevitably comes about revolt of the body against power in such forms as health against the economic system or pleasure against the moral dictums of sexuality of a society. He goes on to explain that power in these instances after producing effects in the body, is then exposed to a revolt from the same body.

He offers an example of child masturbation.“Suddenly panic theme appears: an appalling sickness develops in the Western world. Children masturbate. Via the medium of families, though not at their initiative, a system of control of sexuality, an objectivisation of sexuality allied to corporal persecution, is established over the bodies of children. But sexuality, through thus becoming an object of analysis and concern, surveillance and control, engenders at the same time an intensification of each individual’s desire, for, in and over his body.” (56-7)

“The body thus became the issue of a conflict between parents and children, the child and the instances of control. The revolt of the sexual body is the reverse effect of this encroachment. What is the response on the side of power? An economic (and perhaps ideological) exploitation of eroticization, from sun-tan products to prnographical films.” (57)

He explains that in response to this revolt of the body, power resorts to a new mode of investment into the body which takes a form not that of control by repression but that of control by stimulation. “Get undressed-but be slim, good-looking, tanned!” (57) Foucault claims that for each move by either side, there comes a countermove from the other.

I also found it interesting that for Foucault, this investment of power into the body is precisely what brings about a social body, as he explains that “the great fantasy is the idea of a social body constituted by the universality of wills. Now the phenomenon of the social body is the effect not of a consensus but of the materiality of power operating on the very bodies of individuals.” (55)

Furthermore, Foucault claims that this struggle between power and the revolt it generates is of such complexity that eludes or is not encapsulated by Hegelian dialectic. I wonder how he would justify the statement. Perhaps he considers the myriad ways in which power invests into the body is not properly reflected if one were to consider it in terms of strict dialectical opposition working off of each other coming to an awareness of a synthesis.

Polarity of Self – CONT’D

(CONT’D of : )

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 Epicureanism.

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?

The ethics of sexuality in Foucault and in our times

The ethics of sexuality, or what is meant by the ethics of sexuality is elaborated on furthermore in Part 2 of Foucault’s History of sexuality: the care of the self.


In this section Foucault asks how a “whole attitude of severity” in the form of “ a mistrust of the pleasures, an emphasis on the consequences of their abuse on the body and the soul, a valorization of marriage and  marital obligations, etc…” managed to arise historically. It was not because the public demanded more rigorous prohibitions that such values came to be embroidered into the fabric of society. According to Foucault, “demands for sexual austerity during imperial times” occurred as the result of the historical development of the cultivation of the self, a practice very much associated and influenced by thinkers of the era such as Marcus Aurelius, Plutarch, Seneca, etc… Foucault remarks how the philosophy that influenced that era concerned the ‘art of existence’ characterized by a special interest in the ‘cultivation of the self’. This cultivation, as is remarked, focuses not simply on the cultivation of the singular self, but on helping others cultivate themselves as well, a practice that emphasizes, as the stoics put it, man’s obligation to humankind. The focus of man’s relation to himself through a relation with others helped to create social forms of attitude, modes of behavior and practices that came to constitute a social practice. As Foucault puts it “Around the care of the self, there developed an entire activity of speaking and writing in which the work of oneself on oneself and communication with others were linked together”(51). In this sense the care of the self – and a focus on the care that others have to themselves – intensifies social relations by strengthening their preexisting relations. The social reality(political, ethical) that is produced from the ‘self practices’ belong to what Foucault calls ‘the ethics of control’. It is in this sense that I believe, as I think Foucault does, that sexuality belongs to the realm of social construction and for that reason to the realm of ethics. Ethics influence the way in which we socially interact and for that reason the way we interact sexually. It is in this ways that sexuality reflects an ‘ethics of control’. Sexuality and its acts reflect more about the political and ethical consciousness of the historical time than they do the nature of the self. So I ask, as Foucault does at the end of the chapter “For what reasons the cultivation of the self developed this way?” Only I ask to consider it in our contemporary times. I believe that sexuality as an ethics of control persists to this day, but in what form? I believe, as Foucault notes early on in Volume 1, that this ethics of control amalgamated into the repressive hypothesis. This repression only lead to a resistance, which helped to spur a sexual undercurrent that, to this day, has only flourished. In our current times, sexuality is at its most expressive, constantly searching for more ways in which to manifest. I would even go as far a labeling it a hyper age of sexuality. So why this development? In short, I believe that it had to do with social accommodations. I believe that the sexual austerity that characterized the imperial times, which Foucault focuses on, resulted from a growing social belief and demand in the particular attitudes that characterized the time. Perhaps it was instilled into the public through monarchic belief (belief that was to be revered) in order to protect what the nobles valued (an effort to maintain power). I believe that if such is true, than the same can be said of our times. The age of hyper sexuality is one that was born out of the repression. The resistance to the sexual norms that characterized the Victorian era could only be accommodated by heightened sense of acceptance to new forms of sexuality that emerged as a result. Without the allowance of a new sexual culture society may very well have dissipated under the rigidity of its own norms. After all, liberalism itself emerged historically from the need for the state to accommodate new ideologies. I believe the same could be said for sexuality and the way it’s developed since the repressive hypothesis. The emergence of a heightened sexual culture in our modern time, has its roots in the same ethics of control that Foucault mentions. In short, it is the need to maintain social control by accommodating people’s demands.

Nietzsche’s Cultivation of the Self

In the second chapter of The Care of the Self, “The Cultivation of Self,” Foucault describes the emergence of  an attitude of severity concerning sexual pleasure manifested in the thinking of philosophers and physicians in the first two centuries: “there was greater apprehension concerning sexual pleasures and more attention was given to the relation one might have with them” (39). There was, however, no proposal for general or coercive legislation of sexual behaviour but rather austere self-regimentation of sexual pleasure spurred by anxiety concerning disturbances of the body and the mind. Subsequently, Foucault attributes the severity concerning sexual practices in the first two centuries not, as typically thought, to raising of moral standards or a preoccupation with moralization, but the rise of individualism and preoccupation with the self. Austere regimentation of sexual pleasure was seen as self-respect for one’s nature.

While reading this chapter I made a funny connection to the third essay is Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality. In Nietzsche’s description of “the philosopher” he paints a picture of the latter as celibate, neither marrying nor engaging in extra-marital pleasures with women. Nietzsche insists, however, that his depiction of the philosopher is not moral or intended to be “virtuous” (76) but merely “the truest and most natural conditions of [the philosopher’s] best existence, of his most beautiful fruitfulness” (76). Consequently, this seems to fit exceptionally well with Foucault’s description of the austere sexual regimens in the first two centuries as a kind of self-respect for one’s nature. Considering Nietzsche’s use of words such as “Dionysian” and “Apollonian” and reference to Diongenes the Cynic in the story of The Mad Man which suggest the Nietzsche was at least in some respects, influenced by ancient Greek figures, I wonder if his description of the philosopher was  not influenced by the ancient Greeks as well?


In the second chapter of The History of Sexuality, Foucault argues that the power exerted in the 18th century in distinguishing and classifying non-marital practices was not directed towards repressing these practices but rather a proliferation of “sexual perversions” (42)             . Subsequently, Foucault identifies four operations involved in this exertion of power quite different from simple prohibition which resulted in the latter. Among these operations of power, Foucault includes the specification of individuals, using “the homosexual” (43), as an example. In ancient, civil, and canonical codes, Foucault explains, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts and the perpetrator “nothing more than the juridical subject of them” (43). In the 19th century, however, the proliferation of discourse, transformed the homosexual into a personage: “the 19th century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology” (43). In short, sexuality became intimately associated with or constitutive of a person’s identity, and one’s sexuality became a key to interpreting one’s personality and one’s behavior: “nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality…it was everywhere present in him: at the root of all his actions because it was their insidious and indefinitely active principle” (43).

Foucault only discusses the homosexual personage, however, I found Foucault’s description of the latter particularly interesting as I think that he has given as a format to say something much more general about the construction of personages that exist beyond the realm of sexuality. Broadly, on Foucault’s account, the personage seems to be constructed when the “the other” is distinguished, classified, and organized. I believe that evidence can be gathered for this view in virtue of the way in which individuals in minority groups come to define themselves. I spend a lot of time on the social media site, tumblr. Over a short period of time, tumblr has come to be distinguished, as a social media website, by its highly diverse and politically aware community; subsequently, I have had the opportunity to get to know a wide variety of people with different sexualities, genders, and ethnic backgrounds; those individuals who are typically labelled as “others”. While I cannot speak for them, one of the overwhelming feelings I get from these “othered” individuals is a struggle to escape being wholly defined in virtue of their differences. There is not only homosexual personage, but a transgendered personage, a Muslim personage, a Chinese personage.

It seems that we could easily extend the construction of personage to gender, religion, and ethnicity. Are there any other more subtle personages which you might distinguish?