Nov 20

Foucault on Self-Care as Self-Bildung

Been reading Foucault’s Hermeneutics of the Subject, Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France from 1981-1982. In this text, Foucault articulates further his notions of “care of the self” and “pastoral power” (about which I posted this item a couple of weeks ago). In the passage quoted below, Foucault explicitly links these ideas to education and Bildung, while also linking these back to classical tradition, to the Alcibiades:

Socrates shows Alcibiades [in his dialogue of the same name ] that he does not know what harmony is and that he is not even aware of his ignorance of what it is to govern well. So Socrates demonstrates this to Alcibiades, and Alcibiades immediately despairs. Socrates then consoles him, saying: But this is not serious, do not panic, after all you are not fifty, you are young and so you have time. But time for what? At this point we could say that the answer that could come, the answer we would expect—the answer Protagoras would no doubt give—would be this: Okay, you are ignorant, but you are young and not fifty, so you have time to learn how to govern the city, to prevail over your adversaries, to convince the people and learn the rhetoric needed to exercise this power,  etcetera.

But it is precisely this that Socrates does not say. Socrates says: You are ignorant; but you are young and so you have time, not to learn, but to take care of yourself. It is here, I think, in the gap between “learning,” which would be the usual result expected from this kind of reasoning, and the necessity to “take care of the self,” between pedagogy understood as apprenticeship and this other form of culture, of paideia (we will return at length to this later), which revolves around what could be called the culture of the self, the formation of the sell, the Selbstbildung as the Germans would say, it is in this gap, this interplay, this proximity that a number of problems rush in which concern, it seems to me, the whole interplay between philosophy and spirituality in the ancient world.