foucault culture of self

Listen to Foucault Lecture in English: The Culture of the Self

In the following audio recording, Michel Foucault lectures at UC Berkeley in 1983, a year before his death, on the subject “The Culture of the Self.”

Foucault starts with a story written by Greek satirist Lucian. In the story, Hermotimus, a Greek philosopher, walks mumbling in the street.  A friend sees Hermotimus, approaches him, and asks him what he is mumbling about. “I’m trying to remember what I have to tell my master,” Hermotimus tells his friend.

Foucault explains that we learn that Hermotimus, to the point of financial ruin, has been paying for lessons with his master for 20 years. Hermotimus explains that he needs another 20 years of lessons before he can arrive at the end of his training. The point of these lessons, we learn, is for Hermotimus to learn how to best take care of himself.

“I am sure none of you is a modern Hermotimus,” Foucault continues, “but I hold a bet that most of you have met at least one of those guys who now-a-days regularly visit a kind of master who takes their money from them in order to teach them how to take care of themselves.” The crowd laughs. The name of these modern masters, Foucault continues, were called “philosophers” in antiquity.

Watch below. The lecture is broken up into 7 10-minute clips.

  • George Khoury

    I’m just gonna post this quick summary as I see it. Would like to hear anyones comments to it if you so care: The techniques and practices of considering oneself have been vacated of their original orientation as it was found in the greco-roman era, which was explicitly the Self. These techniques and practices are still valued and encouraged as we see in the widespread use of writing i.e., note taking, journal keeping, reflective writing assignments we receive through out schooling. They can be seen in sports where athletes are encouraged to to attend to potentially damaging thoughts and ultimately to attention itself, in order to identify and enhance performance. These techniques among others Foucault identifies, which at one time had been unified in a type of learning institution found throughout ancient Greece and Rome, taught to those who were curious as to how to care for the selves, are now oriented towards extrinsic rewards. The Self has been reduced solely as a recipient of rewards and punishments. Foucault finds several reasons for this mainly having to do with the Christian faith, which deems the Self as overrated in the eyes of a higher power. These techniques are no longer explained as methods of taking Care of oneself but are rationalized outwardly. Thats not to say that people of careful wit wouldn’t begin to realize glacial changes as a result using those techniques, and finally coming to sympathize with the greco-roman project of taking care of oneself. What is of interest is that we do not present it as such, we don’t learn about the Self, instead we learn how to be rewarded extrinsically.