Category Archives: philosophy

Polarity of Self – CONT’D

(CONT’D of : http://blogs.ubc.ca/phil449/2014/03/27/polarity-of-the-self/#comments )

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 Taste of Medicine

Foucault opens Part 4: “The Body” with a brief history of the taste of medicine. While Foucault refers to the period of the Flavians and the Antonines (approximately 69AD-192AD), I couldn’t help but think how this period is much like today. For example, Foucault suggests that the practice and use of medicine was a “high form of culture, on the same level as rhetoric and philosophy” (p. 99). It’s interesting to think of our modern culture and how medicine is practised and used in society, and how it exists amongst class divisions. Not to mention, referring to Foucault’s quote just mentioned, how modern medicine and its entire industry is very much an empire of rhetoric and philosophy, which when combined I suppose creates a distinct ideology that is very much political.

However, what sparks my interest is this following quote: “[Medicine] was also supposed to define, in the form of a corpus of knowledge and rules, a way of living, a reflective mode of relation to oneself, to one’s body, to food, to wakefulness and sleep, to the various activities, and to the environment” (p. 100).

For me, reading this quote somehow puts health and medicine at the centre of all human activity as we know it. I understand this may seem like a superfluous claim, but right now i’m thinking of the many categories and modes of relations we create and affirm in regards to health and medicine. We basically model our personal communities around health and medicine. If we don’t like smokers or those who do drugs, we distance ourselves from them or even educate them on the health risks. If we like smoking and taking drugs we attract people who do as well, thus, together there is a community created based on health and medicine (drugs being a form of medicine; health its opposite). This can be applied to so many aspects of our lives: Running groups, yoga, tea parties, skiing clubs, mountaineer groups, etc, etc. We create our identities based on our bodies relationship to external practices. It can extend far further from just forms of exercise, as we may belong to the Organic Club, the non-GMO group, whatever. I mean, of course there is an element of sociability that is inherently human, but much of today’s world, this utopian meditative escape from the perils of capitalism and consumption: of existence! …is very much part of health and medicine. For me personally, I take vitamins, utilize the sun when I can for vitamin D (which comes from the authority of the medical community and the belief my body will appreciate it), try drinking fruit smoothies when I can, try to buy organic when possible, get at least 6-7 hours of sleep a night…all this seems so trivial and part of everyday life, yet it is all embedded in this notion of health and medicine: doing the body good. Again, it can extend to religious practices (prayer and meditation), sports and fitness, food and nutrition, even sex and pleasure. It’s all based on relieving stress, etc, etc. All of which become the grounds on which we shape our community, class, and identity.

Haha.I better stop here and keep reading Foucault. I probably sound absurd and am saying stuff I’ll look back on and say: “where the hell was I going with that!”

Panopticon: Tyranny and surveillance

What I wanted to discuss in this blog post is the Panopticon, the cage which “makes it possible to perfect the exercise of power” (206). There were various issues surrounding this ideal cage which caught my attention and I will attempt to briefly examine each of them.

First is the conception of ‘perfecting the exercise of power’ while simultaneously having no risk that the power “may degenerate into tyranny” (207). The Panopticon allows one person to have absolute power over a large number of others, yet it cannot be tyrannical as it is democratically controlled. This seems problematic in my mind. The fact that the person in power has his/her power in check but some outside power does not necessarily make it impossible for there to be a tyranny. This would normally be the case where there is an effective democracy to act as a check on the source of power, yet in this case those present in the democracy are not the same as those who are being controlled by the source of the power. Those within the cage who have power exercised upon them, have no power, while the ‘person in the tower’ has absolute power. The fact that some outside observers could control the ‘tyrant’ if they so desired does not mean that the ‘tyrant’ cannot be a tyrant. It seems to me that to prevent power from becoming tyrannical, those on who the power is exercised must have some way of controlling the source of power if things get out of hand.

Foucault attributes the idea of the Panopticon to Bentham who is also the founder of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism looks to maximize utility and as a result virtually anything would be acceptable if it maximized utility. The Panopticon seems to follow the same concept in that no matter who is under its control, whether it be students, madmen or criminals, the goal is to maximize efficiency. Efficiency in the sense that those who are under the control of the ‘watchman’ will do as they are supposed to, in the way they are supposed to, to the greatest degree that they are able to achieve. The question then becomes, is the efficiency worth the cost of freedom? I imagine that most people would say it is not. I for one would not prefer to have my schooling conducted in such a way. This caused me to consider the state of privacy and technology in general. As what we have access to increases, so too does the ability of others to be aware of what we are accessing. The (somewhat) recent information that has come to light about NSA monitoring raises the question ‘how different is this from the Panopticon’? The Panopticon functions on the basis that one feels as though they are being watched, even if they aren’t. This forces the prisoner to always act as though they are being watched. To return to the NSA someone said to me in a conversation I had “Why do you care if you are being monitored if you aren’t doing anything illegal?” Modern surveillance is creating the same sort of system as the Panopticon as the pressure acts even before the offence has been committed. The possibility for action which those conducting the surveillance would not approve of is removed.

My final question is that most people would have a problem with the Panopticon, but far fewer would have a problem with surveillance for ‘anti-terrorism’ reasons. Is this inconsistent, or are the two totally different?

Examples of Foucault’s Project of Problematization: the written and spoken word

(Although it was not assigned I ended up reading the final twelve pages of chapter two of Discipline and Punish, and thought it might be interesting/useful to make a blog post about some aspect of it as I found it very interesting).

I think that Foucault’s project of problematization becomes especially salient in his descriptions of how one or another method of communication, construed in the broadest sense of the term, can both be used to promote and undermine a given institution. One exemplary example which Foucault uses to illustrate the multiplicitous nature of methods of communication is the operation of the written or spoken word in promoting or undermining the penal system viz. the last words of the condemned or “gallows speeches”. At the moment of the execution, the condemned was given another opportunity to speak, not to proclaim his innocence but to acknowledge the crime and justice of his conviction. The victim was made to legitimate the torture he had undergone, consecrating his own punishment by proclaiming the heinousness of his crimes. Whether the speeches were actually delivered or merely fictional, (in many cases, Foucault suggests, the latter was likely), the speeches were circulated and served as exhortation against crime. Sometimes, accounts of crimes and the lives of infamous criminals were even published as propaganda before the advent of a trial, to “force the hand of a court that was expected of being too tolerant”. Just as the written and spoken word could help to enforce the penal system, however, these methods of communication could also help to harm it. The condemned man was sometimes transformed into a kind of hero by the sheer extent of his widely advertised crimes and subsequent repentance; if the condemned man was shown to be repentant, is was as if he had come through some process of purification. In addition, Foucault argues, the struggle of the condemned man against the law and the powerful titles associated with the latter was a struggle with which the common man could easily identify; it was viewed as a magnified version of the tiny struggles “that passed unperceived in everyday life” (67). In this way the criminal was almost entirely transformed into a positive hero. Thus, the written or spoken word justified justice but also glorified the criminal. Just to provide a present day example of the latter, one might mention the particular fascination which contemporary American culture seems to take in the lives and notorious deeds of serial killers and other notable criminals. Whether or not these criminals are portrayed in a positive or negative light, there seems to be a blatant fetishism of the condemned man which suggests that the common individual finds something in the latter to perhaps relate to. Notably, musical artist Sufjan Stevens wrote a song about John Wayne Gacy Junior, an especially publicized serial killer, in which I believe he tries to alleviate some of the confusion surrounding the sympathy and attention offered to such a criminal and which compliments Foucault’s genealogical analysis:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otx49Ko3fxw

Subsequently, Foucault suggests, the literature of crime is a paradigmatic locus in which the multiplicitous natures of the written word can be seen to do battle through two pure minds belonging to the criminal and the detective. While the detective generally triumphs, crime literature also glorifies the criminal for his crime is portrayed much like a fine art that can only be the work of an exceptional nature; the criminal was wicked but also intelligent and subsequently powerful. One needn’t search very far for an example; the struggle between the genius detective Sherlock Holmes and his equally intelligent adversary, the criminal mastermind, Professor James Moriarty, has experienced a cultural resurgence in the past ten years with two movies and two separate television series.

Still on Nietzsche

So as I am finishing my non-conventional artifact; which is on Nietzsche, I have come across many concepts and ideas and theories and things that we haven’t truly discussed in class. So I wanted to take the opportunity to maybe talk about it over this blog.

The first is, as I’m reading Beyond Good and Evil (indeed, I couldn’t get enough of this Nietzsche) I’m realizing more and more the extent to which he forwards a collective subjectivity. Now, that sounds utterly paradoxical, but I sense some truth in it. I see in Nietzsche’s texts, a disdain for the universal, the objective and unconditional, obviously – secondly, I sense an allusion to a common reason, maybe an intuition that we all share. Something that doesn’t appeal to an external, objective truth, but rather a purely subjective one, which everybody can hear. I believe that everybody has their own way of thinking and of formulating meaning for instance, but I also believe that at the root of it all – we experience the same intuition, or satori, or furor poeticus, or bursts of creativity- here’s the tricky part: the metaphysical process of formulating meaning from the intuition is a process of individualization. This is a big theory I’m most definitely working on. So, like Nietzsche, I think that to truly engage in an epistemological enquiry is to deceive one self. However, there is not knowledge “out there,” in the noumena. Therefore, we must use our imagination and fantasies as a tool to fuel our nature; that of creators. So to come back to “my theory,” I sense a common access to a collective subjectivity, what perhaps Jung phrased: Collective Unconscious, that we subsequently formulate into earthly meaning. This access is thus purely subjective to the individual, but the place, or essence that is accessed is common to all… So i’m not talking about Jung, but my own take on this intuition, and which I’m currently in the process of formulating. Now the examples: I suppose the theory could explain why certain pieces of creation such as Arvo Paart’s “Tabula Rasa”, or Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis”, or even Pythagoras’ theorems are formulations that evoke such a similitude to the intuition under which they came, that everybody has access to the truth in them – this collective subjectivity. I believe this collective subjectivity is experienced in the mind’s eye. Bon, this is quite all over the place – but I find it fascinating however, how every thinker I’ve been reading so far discusses this access to a collective subjectivity, whether it’d be Plato, Freud, Kant (transcendental philosophy), and Nietzsche with his sovereign individual, that which he attempts to provoke inside each of his devoted readers.

Secondly… Actually I’d rather keep this as it is. And I’ll submit the rest under another post. Thank you.

On the Body Condemned: pain

There are so many interesting elements in the first chapter of Discipline and Punish that I have had a difficult time deciding what to write about. I find Foucault’s description of “the slackening of the hold on the body,” through the “double process [of] the disappearance of the spectacle and the elimination of pain” (11), an especially interesting topic, however, with some potentially intriguing and strange implications. As Foucault reports, “one no longer touches the body…physical pain…is no longer the constituent element of the penalty. From being an art of unbearable sensations punishment has become an economy of suspended rights” (11). In addition, punishment has gained a certain degree of anonymity; while people were once executed in public, “the condemned man is no longer to be seen…capital punishment is fundamentally a spectacle that must actually be forbidden” (15). Subsequently, the law “is not directed so much to a real body capable of feeling pain as to a juridical subject, the possessor, among other rights, of the right to exist” (13).

People often hail the current systems of discipline and punishment as a monumental improvement on the systems of the past in which people often endured excruciating physical pain for their crimes and, personally, I don’t disagree with them; I can’t say that I would like to be draw and quartered or have any of my limbs hacked off in public in case of any future misgivings.  Pain is generally unpleasant and to have one’s pain exhibited, is demeaning and, as most people would probably agree, anti-humanistic. I think there is also, however, a very strange way in which, based on Foucault’s descriptions, current systems for discipline and punishment also have an unexpectedly anti-humanistic element which actually appears in virtue of the disappearance of pain and the elimination of spectacle. When we intentionally inflict pain upon another human being in public, we are forced and force others to acknowledge a human subject who feels pain. But when the condemned man is no longer observable, the human body/subject starts to disappear. Discipline and punishment become impersonal, as Foucault describes, they are directed towards “a juridical subject…not so much a real body capable of feeling pain”. Wow! How strange! (And, potentially problematic?) I don’t know! What do you think?