Author Archives: Syndicated User

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?

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:

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.

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?

Nietzsche and Phenemenology: Egological vs. Non-Egological

I have never heard Nietzsche mentioned in the context of phenomenology but he says several things in The Genealogy of Morality which seem to be relevant to the phenomenological debate concerning egological versus non-egological conceptions of the self in support of the latter position. To provide some background for anyone who has never encountered the aforementioned concepts, phenomenology, broadly, is the study of the structures of consciousness from the first person perspective. Phenomenologists who support an egological view of the self posit the existence of an ego or an “I” that stands behind or pervades all of conscious experience to account for the unity/continuity of our conscious experiences. Phenomenologists who support a non-egological view of the self, by contrast, suppose the positing of a pervasive ego or “I” to be unnecessary; conscious experiences, they claim, are self-unifying and the ego or “I” only appears reflectively . Subsequently, Nietzsche famously claims that “there is no being behind the doing, effecting, becoming; the doer is simply fabricated into the doing -the doing is everything”. Nietzsche seems to reject the introduction of a pervasive “I”, thus I wonder if, from a phenomenological perspective, he could not be said to be supporting a non-egological account of the self. He says several things in the first section of the preface which also seem to support this idea. He compares conscious experience, for instance, to the toll of a bell which we only hear after the final stroke has fallen; only after the experience has already occurred can the “I” appear in reflection and take possession of the latter, deciding what it was or what it meant: “[like a] self-absorbed person onto whose ear the bell has just boomed its twelve strokes of noon suddenly awakens and wonders “what did it actually toll just now?” so we rub our ears afterwards and ask, completely amazed, completely disconcerted, “what did we actually experience just now?” still more: “who are we actually?” and count up, afterwards, as stated, all twelve quavering bell strokes of our experience, of our life, of our being- alas! and miscount in the process…” In addition, Nietzsche, like proponents of the non-egological perspective, leaves room for the potential of misinterpretation and/or alienation from one’s experiences which can arise in reflection; we remain “unknown to ourselves, we knowers…strangers to ourselves, we do not understand ourselves”. 

What do you think? Would Nietzsche support a non-egological view of consciousness?

The Sovereign Individual in Popular Culture: One Piece and Monkey D. Luffy, the Pirate King

Time for some fun.

There was some discussion in class in the previous week concerning whether or not we thought that Nietzsche’s sovereign individual, as ideal, could ever be realized. I cannot recall whether the class came to any consensus on the matter but the debate led me to ponder whether I could actually think of anyone in my list of family members, friends, and more distant acquaintances who I thought embodied this ideal; alas, I could think of no one. I could, however, think of plenty of fictional characters who I would bestow with this label. One of my primary interests in philosophy is examining new mediums in which philosophy might find or has already found expression; not everyone has the patience or the ability to read through a dry analytic philosophical text to extract those few precious and salient points. Subsequently, I suspect that Nietzsche, who uses a wide variety of rhetorical devices to persuade his audience of his position, would be sympathetic to this interest; as David Owen says, “as a philosophical writer, Nietzsche does not limit his reflective engagement with morality to the provision of good arguments but extends this engagement to considerations of how best to exhibit and mobilize the force of the reasons he offers”. Consequently, I think Nietzsche would be quite pleased to find that the ideal of the sovereign individual, whether he is realizable or not, has become pertinent in popular culture, at least in one particular medium. At the risk to revealing too much about myself I will tell you that the medium I have in mind is animation and the fictional character is a boy named Monkey D. Luffy.

Luffy is the protagonist in a series called One Piece by Eiichiro Oda which is both a comic and an animated television program; Luffy’s ambition is to be the King of the Pirates. Duly, I would be extremely surprised if no one in my seminar had heard of him. With seventy-two volumes and over six hundred episodes, One Piece has been going strong for fifteen years. Hundreds of thousands of people engage with One Piece, many of them children who emulate the characters, especially Luffy upon who the spotlight is generally fixed. Significantly, Luffy, as far as I can tell, is a perfect fictional embodiment of the sovereign individual, which, as I hope most people realize in this day and age, unless they are in the habit of underestimating popular culture, is no small thing

 What makes Luffy a sovereign individual? To start with, Luffy is depicted as a wholly autonomous character, even as a young child. Flashbacks in the series reveal that Luffy and his brothers, Ace and Sabo, grew up among a group of retired mountain bandits, the head of which is their foster mother, Dadan; Dadan is merely a figurehead, however. The boys neither listen to her nor live under the same roof as her; they live on their own in a giant treefort which they built in the forest on the outskirts of town, gathering their own food for survival, and stealing money from local criminals which they are saving to buy a pirate ship.

Besides asserting his financial and comestible autonomy, Luffy also asserts his ambition to become the King of the Pirates despite his grandfather Garp’s threats and relentless insistence that it is imperative for Luffy to join the Marines. Consequently, Luffy goes on to pursue his own ambitions, gathering a ship, a crew, and going on extraordinary adventures.

Like Nietzsche’s sovereign individual, Luffy places a significant amount of importance on his freedom. In one instance, for example, Luffy’s mentor, Silvers Rayleigh, asks him why he wants to be the pirate king; Luffy tells him that “I don’t want to conquer anything; it’s just that the person with the most freedom on the sea is the pirate king”.  Above all else, Luffy values and desires freedom, a sentiment which is expressed in his ultimate ambition to become the pirate king.

In addition, although never explicitly stated, it is no stretch to say that Luffy, like Nietzsche’s sovereign individual has a “proud consciousness of power and freedom.” Luffy lives his life in the manner that he desires without regret indicative of his awareness of his freedom. He frequently proclaims that in setting himself upon becoming that King of the Pirates, he does not care if he dies trying: “if I die trying then at least I tried!” In addition, Luffy overcomes nearly every enemy he intends to defeat. Notably, one of his favourite catch phrases is “I’m going to kick your ass,” and when Luffy asserts this, the audience can be assured that he will do just that. Consequently, in only a short amount of time, Luffy becomes one of the most wanted pirates on the seas owing to the immense havoc that his abilities create. Among the enemies who Luffy takes down are included a group of elite government agents who threatened his crew and two of the seven warlords of the seas, very powerful pirates associated with the government. Despite his wanted status, however, Luffy is utterly fearless and when not confronting an enemy, more or less carefree suggesting that he is also aware of his strength.

Like the sovereign individual, Luffy is not bound by moral rules as customary constraints but as the freely endorsed commitments through which he gives expression in his own character. While the world government and the Marines often call pirates “bad” and “evil” these customary classifications have no import for Luffy. While on Fishman Island, for instance, the mermaid princess Shirahoshi asks Luffy if being a pirate makes him a bad person: “Luffy, since you’re a pirate, does that make you a bad person?” Luffy merely responds by saying “Dunno. Decide that for yourself”. Later on in the story arc, the citizens of Fishman Island, confused as to where the allegiances of the Luffy and his crew lie pose a similar question; they ask “are you friends or foes of Fishman Island?” Luffy simply responds by telling them “whether we’re friend or foe is up to you to decide”. For Luffy, actions speak louder than words or rather, the doing is the being, and it is through his actions that he defines himself and creates his own moral values, suggesting that other people do the same.

In another incident, Luffy encounters a powerful enemy on the sky island, Skypiea, named Eneru who insists that he is a God. Eneru wantonly causes destruction, however, leading Luffy to scoff, “quit calling yourself a God! What kind of God destroys everything and saves nothing?” Although Eneru insists that he is a God, Luffy argues that his actions attest otherwise; it is actions for Luffy which have real import, not words.


Finally, Luffy, like the sovereign individual, is a man who keeps his promises: “one’s deeds are criterial of one’s intentions thus for the sovereign individual it is essential to a promise’s being made in good faith that the agent intend to act on it and that he does indeed do so”. Luffy makes several important promises in the series. One of the promises that he makes is a promise to save his brother, Ace, from execution after Ace was captured by the World Government. Consequently, Luffy goes to extraordinary lengths to keep this promise, breaking into the allegedly impenetrable prison, Impel Down, and engaging in a dangerous war at the Navy base, Marineford; in both of these incidents, Luffy comes very close to dying. Luffy does not save his brother, however, his actions, according to Owen’s criteria, are excusable. Owen admits two excuses for a promise being broken; in the first case, honouring one’s commitment is causally impossible due to circumstances beyond one’s control hence one cannot physically do what is required. In the second case, keeping a promise is normatively impossible due to circumstances beyond one’s control so one must not ethically do what is required. The circumstances that lead up to Ace’s death are causally out of Luffy’s control, thus, he is excused viz the first case. Luffy intended to keep his promise but despite his best efforts, it was simply impossible. Ace is killed by an Akainu, a navy Admiral who overpowers him.

Furthermore, like Nietzsche’s sovereign individual, Luffy, in failing to keep a promise, “acknowledges a debt to addressee of [his] commitment and that reparations be due”. When Luffy made a promise to save his brother Ace, he made a promise both to his brother and to himself. Luffy could not repay Ace for his failure so instead inflicts physical and emotional punishment on himself as reparation. Luffy “willingly bears [the] responsibility for[the] damage when his commitment could not be kept”. In addition, he makes a further promise to himself that he will “protect everything”. Owen mentions that what counts as keeping a promise for a sovereign individual “cannot be fully specified in advance and independently of a particular way of keeping it” and indeed, the specifications of Luffy’s promise are vague and only realized later in the series.  Regardless, it is clear that actions, for Luffy, have ethical purchase and salience.


In contrast, the enemies who Luffy faces are often deceitful, dishonest, and do not keep their promises. As Owen states, “the sovereign individual, as the positive role of Nietzsche’s contrast refers to the condition of self-mastery or full competence to represent oneself to the rest of the world. At the negative pole…is the liar who breaks his words the moment he utters it”.  The fishman pirate Arlong, for example, promised Luffy’s navigator, Nami, that he would let her friends and family go free if she collected 100 000 000 berries, which are the currency used in Luffy’s world. Arlong, while insisting that “fishmen always keep their promises when it comes to money” pays a corrupt marine captain, Nezumi, to confiscate all of the money Nami had been saving. Arlong is too powerful for Nami or any of the other Straw Hat pirates to beat so Luffy comes to the rescue and demands reparation from Arlong.


Consequently, there is a sense in which Luffy’s position as Captain of the Straw Hat Pirates could be said to be symbolic of his characterization as a sovereign individual. As Nietzsche says, the sovereign individual has the “the prerogative to promise..[which is the] privilege of responsibility”. Luffy, as Captain, has sworn to protect the all the other members of his crew, a responsibility which he alone has the privilege to bear.

In conclusion, whether Nietzsche’s ideal of the sovereign individual is realizable is questionable, however, it seems clear to the ideal is alive and well in popular culture which I think says something important about the ideal itself. Namely, that it is an ideal, not just for Nietzsche, but for many people, of many different ages, in many different countries. The demographics for One Piece attest to this; Monkey D. Luffy is a likeable protagonist, inspiring people to define themselves through their actions and re-evaluate their moral values. What are good and bad? “I dunno, you decide”.

Perhaps the immense presence of the sovereign individual in popular culture means that it is an ideal that can be realized in the future or one that has already been realized. What do you think? Can you think of any other fictional characters or real people who embody Nietzsche’s ideal of the sovereign individual?