On Michel Foucault’s The Hermeneutic of the Subject

This undergraduate philosophical paper was originally written as a two-page reflection paper in partial fulfillment of the requirements for PHIL 1043.

     A Reflection Paper in PHIL 1043

On Michel Foucault’s The Hermeneutic of the Subject

Plato never speaks of the examination of the conscience—never.1

With the whole weight of historical fragments already been made available upon his milieu, as objects of deciphering, analyzing, rumination, of study, it may thus be anachronistic to compare or contrast ages and races, i.e. a particular century on the one hand and a Hellenistic epoch on the other, only to render something the best among the rest. But an empty history is different from a poignant genealogy.

In the Hermeneutic of the Subject, Michel Foucault draws technology from the Greco-Roman literature, particularly from those of the Stoics and Epicureans. Without contending that such materials are immortal in the service of the soul, Foucault rather points out that it is the reflecting subject and not the materials utilized for whom the archive of knowledge is due. Knowledge for knowledge’ sake was thereat set aside. Foucault emphasized on the “progressive exercises of memorization” by the creative self and not on static mnemonics of sheer recollection ala Theory of Forms:

 “. . .we see a movement very different from the one prescribed by Plato when he asks the soul to turn back on itself to rediscover its true nature. What Plutarch and Seneca suggest instead is the absorption of a truth imparted by a teaching, a reading, or a piece of advice; and one assimilates it so thoroughly that it becomes a part of oneself, an abiding, always-active, inner principle of action. In a practice such as this, one does not rediscover a truth hidden deep within oneself through an impulse of recollection; one internalizes accepted texts through a more and more thorough appropriation.” 

The world is not ‘merely’ out there for the grasping as what history has long inscribed in our passive culture. It is not something we see only through the aid of the Divine intervention. There is beside such an ‘out there’—within us—a rich dimension whose axes may be re-oriented 360 degrees at will, a fertile ground ready for spiritual germination and cultivation, a soul for the conquest. As the self has hitherto been neglected, forsaken, set aside, Foucault, without making a religion of the ancient way of life, had adapted instead a habitat of which humanity may rediscover a vastness, a motley of unchartered labyrinth:

 “Of course, the theme of the epistrophe is a typically Platonic one. But as one may have already seen in the Alcibiades, the impulse by which the soul turns to itself is an impulse by which one’s gaze is thrown “aloft”—toward the divine element, toward the essences and the supracelestial world where they are visible. The turning that Seneca, Plutarch, and Epictetus urge people to accomplish is a kind of turning in place: it has no other end or outcome than to settle into oneself, to ‘take up residence in oneself’ and to remain there…”

The self is thus the true repository of the self, and no idyll neverlands afar, nor other cozy sanctuaries apart from the self, may be dwelt in less the corollary activity and action, labor and upkeep—in sovereignty— by the subject as much as that inherent-recesses in one which she herself had ever long deserted.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) never did engaged into waging a pompous enterprise in which antiquity could be held always superior, he had not culled mere prolific literatures which was perfect in measure, in order that an incisive criticism may be cast against the modern life in liberty; what the Hermeneutic of the Subject had attempted rather was to provoke the voluntary retaliation of the self against the self, by means of the self, through passionate activity, rigorous discipline, rationality and relentless self-reorientation.

In the attempts at reflection and in the midst of an era where intellectual forces tend to pluralize than unite, where wireless gadgetries plummet down the mainstream arena not as precious jewels behind which one is donned, but as caltrops burdening the journey of the earthly soul being serialized and scientifically cogged into the sophisticated apparatuses and intricate panopticon’s, the lone intellectual has to take turns between being in and being out of the pond of narcissistic technological culture. To preclude being lost in the present systemic void, it is but timely to finally acknowledge which particular object to attack, and approach.

Foucault as he aims at the self, beckons the intellectual with tools readily utilizable, tools not to be commercially purchased over the counter but rather located “at our disposal within us.” The self therefore, in the Hermeneutic of the Subject, clearly assumes the role of the active subject, while at the same time incarnates the role of the passive object: the constant focus of review, incessant cultivation, assiduous examination. The very core or the soul (albeit fluid) is thus brought to the fore; not as a stagnant invariable truth, but as a genealogical object of care.

1 Foucault, Michel. (1983). On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress. In The Foucault Reader (p. 368). The University of Chicago Press.


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