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Foucault “The Use of Pleasure”

Foucault, Michel 1992. The Use of Pleasure. The History of Sexuality Volume 2. Penguin Books

Freedom and truth

This individual freedom should not, however, be understood as the independence of a free will. Its polar opposite was not a natural determinism, nor was it the will of an all-powerful agency: it was an enslavement – the enslavement of the self by oneself. To be free in relation to pleasures was to be free of their authority; it was not to be their slave. (79)

In order not to be excessive, not to do violence, in order to avoid the trap of tyrannical authority (over others) coupled with a soul tyrannized by desires, the exercise of political power required, as its own principle of internal regulation, power over oneself. (80-81)

This freedom-power combination that characterized the mode of being of the moderate man could not be conceived without a relation to truth. To rule one’s pleasures and to bring them under the authority of the logos formed one and the same enterprise […] (86)

The relationship to the logos in the practice of pleasures:

1)      There was a structural form: moderation implied that the logos be placed in a position of supremacy in the human being and that it be able to subdue the desires and regulate behavior. (86)

2)      Instrumental form – since one’s domination of the pleasures ensures a use that is adaptable to needs, times, and circumstances, a practical reason is necessary in order to determine, as Aristotle says, “the things he ought, as he ought, and when he ought.” (87)

3)      The ontological recognition of the self by the self (88)

[…] be it in the form of a hierarchical structure of the human being, in the form of a practice of prudence or of the soul’s recognition of its own being, the relation to truth constituted an essential element of moderation. […] this relation to truth never took the form of a decipherment of the self by the self, never that of a hermeneutics of a desire. It was a factor constituting the mode of being of the moderate subject; it was not equivalent to an obligation for the subject to speak truthfully concerning himself; it never opened up the soul as a domain of potential knowledge where barely discernible traces of desire needed to be read and interpreted. The relation to truth was a structural, instrumental, and ontological condition for establishing the individual as a moderate subject leading a life of moderation; it was not an epistemological condition enabling the individual to recognize himself in his singularity as a desiring subject and to purify himself of the desire that was thus brought to light. (89)

Now, while this relation to truth, constitutive of the moderate subject, did not lead to a hermeneutics of desire, it did on the other hand open onto an aesthetics of existence. And what I mean by this is a way of life whose moral value did not depend either on one’s being in conformity with a code of behavior, or on effort of purification, but on certain formal principles in the use of pleasures, in the way one distributed them, in the limits one observed, in the hierarchy one respected. (89)

The principle according to which this activity was meant to be regulated, the “mode of subjection”, was not defined by a universal legislation determining permitted and forbidden acts; but rather by a savoir-faire, an art that prescribed the modalities of a use that depended on different variables (need, time, status). (91)

In the Christian morality of sexual behavior, the ethical substance was to be defined not by the aphrodisiac, but by a domain of desires that lie hidden among the mysteries of the heart, and by a set of acts that are carefully specified as to their form and their conditions. Subjection was to take the form not of a savoir-faire, but of a recognition of the law and an obedience to pastoral authority. Hence the ethical subject was to be characterized not so much by the perfect rule of the self by the self in the exercise of a virile type of activity, as by self-renunciation and a purity whose model was to be sought in virginity. (92)

Putting it schematically, we could say that classical antiquity’s moral reflection concerning the pleasures was not directed toward a codification of acts, nor toward a hermeneutics of the subject, but toward a stylization of attitudes and an aesthetics of existence. (92)

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