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Foucault and the Writing of the Self in Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

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Foucault and the Writing of the Self in Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

Kerklaan, Nicholas (2018) Foucault and the Writing of the Self in Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. [Graduate Projects (Non-thesis)] (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This paper explores Michel Foucault’s conception of the role of writing in what he calls the “arts of the self,” ancient Greek and Roman practices of self-transformation, understood as the modification of one’s thoughts and conduct in light of some particular ethical ideal. I proceed by first explicating Foucault’s 1983 text “Self Writing,” in which he analyses two such practices, the keeping of hupomnēmata, personal notebooks of quotations and reflections; and the writing of correspondence to others, in which one both offers advice and guidance and recounts the details of one’s daily life. I then move on to apply Foucault’s analyses to a text about which they are curiously silent: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

My broad goal is to offer a preliminary sketch of a Foucauldian genealogy of writing as an art of the self. I argue that, for Foucault, the role of writing in the arts of the self is primarily confessional, where “confession” is understood as a sub-category of the arts of the self whereby self-transformation is achieved through an enunciation that relates oneself to the truth. In the case of hupomnēmata and correspondence, this truth is that of a discourse which one gathers close at hand through the writing of hupomnēmata and enunciates through correspondence; in both cases, true discourse is “subjectivated,” i.e. becomes the truth of the individual who writes.

The Meditations is crucial to a genealogy of these practices, because the text finds Marcus Aurelius engaged in both hupomnēmata and correspondence, and thereby shows them to be distinct but related aspects of the confessional process Foucault describes. I illustrate this through a close reading of select chapters that best evidence either practice. In the case of hupomnēmata, these are Marcus’ numerous direct citations of other texts; in the case of correspondence, these are chapters where Marcus directly addresses himself in regard to his particular life circumstances, i.e. establishes a correspondence of himself with himself.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Philosophy
Item Type:Graduate Projects (Non-thesis)
Authors:Kerklaan, Nicholas
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Program:Philosophy
Date:July 2018
ID Code:984108
Deposited By: Nicholas Kerklaan
Deposited On:07 Aug 2018 13:10
Last Modified:07 Aug 2018 13:10

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