Friday, December 16, 2011

The Late Foucault, the One Who Got Away: Post/medieval Ascesis

by EILEEN JOY

By spirituality, I understand -- but I am sure that it is a definition which we cannot hold for very long -- that which precisely refers to a subject acceding to a certain mode of being and to the transformations which the subject must make of himself in order to accede to this mode of being. I believe that, in ancient spirituality there was identity, or almost so, between spirituality and philosophy.
—Michel Foucault, Interview, 20 January 1984

The subject of ascesis, especially in relation to "techniques" of the self that Foucault believed might help us to invent "a new mode of being that is still improbable," occupied much of Foucault's thought and writing toward the end of his life, especially as he was working on his multivolume History of Sexuality project, never finished. I have long been fascinated by Foucault's late writings and commentary (typically found in the many interviews he gave) on the technologies and hermeneutics of the subject, especially his formulations on that by way of texts culled from the early Church, such as Gregory of Nyssa's fourth-century treatise On Virginity. In several very different, yet related, projects -- having to do with biopolitics, sovereignty, territorialization, affect, and post/human subjectivities -- I have been attempting to bring Foucault's late thought on ascesis into contact with medieval spiritual texts [such as hagiographic narratives] but also with contemporary queer work that draws upon certain premodern spiritual modes. This [my ongoing work in this area] is partly a cautionary tale [what happens when Foucault's late thought as well as contemporary queer theory goes "spiritual?] and also a "device" for more engagements with post/humanist thinking [what happens when Foucault's writings on ascesis and "a new mode of being that is still improbable" are approached from the angle of, say, object-oriented philosophy?].

I want to share with everyone here two recent fruits of these projects -- a book chapter-in-progress and a seminar syllabus recently proposed, with Anna Klosowska, to the Newberry Library's Center for Renaissance Studies -- both of which have grown out of my readings of Foucault's late writings, but which are tending in very different directions. The first is a draft of the talk I recently gave at the University of Western Australia, at a 2-day conference on "International Medievalism and Popular Culture," organized by Louise D'Arcens, John Ganim, Andrew Lynch, and Stephanie Trigg. This talk, "An Improbable Manner of Being: Medieval Hagiography, Queer Studies, and Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves," partly builds on my essay recently published in postmedieval's special issue on New Critical Modes, edited by Jeffrey and Cary Howie, "Like Two Autistic Moonbeams Entering the Window of My Asylum: Chaucer's Griselda and Lars von Trier's Bess McNeill," but plans to also delve [as the postmedieval essay did not] into the theological biopolitics negotiated, in similar ways, in medieval hagiography and von Trier's film [and for those interested in such a subject, I want to acknowledge my debt here to Emma Campbell's article "Homo Sacer: Power, Life, and the Sexual Body in Old French Saints' Lives, Exemplaria 18.2: 2006, as one initial starting point for my thinking in this vein].

This talk is offered to you pretty much as I delivered it in Australia [I plan to add another section, in the final version, relative to ascesis, bare life, and the Old English Mary of Egypt, and for those of you with any interest in the background to where this talk ends up, vis-a-vis its concluding commentary on new, speculatively-inflected reading modes, you can go HERE and HERE for informal talks I gave relative to that]. I'd love to have any comments and suggestions for revisions and/or additions to my bibliography; follow the link below to the text of the talk:

An Improbable Manner of Being: Medieval Hagiography, Queer Studies, and Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves
And here, also, is the graduate seminar course syllabus that Anna Klosowska and I recently submitted as a possible offering in Winter/Spring 2013 at the Newberry Library in Chicago; we would be extremely grateful for any suggestions for our readings and/or extended bibliography:

Graduate Seminar Proposal
Center for Renaissance Studies
The Newberry Library

Ascesis, Eroticism, and the Premodern Foucault: Revisiting Foucault's History of Sexuality through Medieval and Early Modern Sources

Instructors: Eileen Joy and Anna Klosowska

Short Course Description:
The course is focused on re-reading Foucault’s History of Sexuality (both the three published volumes as well as additional published materials intended for a fourth volume) in relation to hagiographic narratives from the Late Antique, Old English, and Middle English traditions (Eileen Joy) and to medieval and early modern literary texts on love in French (in translation) (Anna Klosowska). The central guiding concept for the course is Foucault’s notion of an “improbable manner of being” -- a notion that Foucault sketched, somewhat elliptically, in his late lectures and interviews in relation to his thinking on asceticism and techniques of the “care of the self” that he had explored in classical and early Christian texts, but had no time to more fully develop. This course will explore medieval and early modern texts to imagine what the inclusion of particular representations in these texts of “improbable” modes and techniques of the self would have contributed to Foucault’s history of sexuality, with an eye toward the consequences Foucault’s readings of these texts might have had upon his study of sexuality in the premodern period. This course will also interrogate some of the paradoxes inherent in Foucault’s attempts to provide a linear periodization of the development of the history of sexuality from the classical period to the present time—a periodization, moreover, which much work in current medieval and early modern studies of sexuality have called into question. The time is extremely ripe for such a re-examination of the premodern premises of Foucault’s work on sexuality and the care of the self.

Each of the 10 meetings pairs excerpts from Foucault’s works with readings in relevant medieval or early modern texts as well as in contemporary critical sexuality studies. The course dovetails nicely with the recent publication, for the first time in English, of the final volume of Foucault’s last lectures at the Collège de France on the birth of biopolitics, which is a direct outcome of his multivolume history of sexuality project (publication of these last lectures: hardback, April 2011, paperback, 2012).

Expanded Course Description:
One of the most important works undertaken in sexuality studies is Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, published in three volumes between 1976 and 1984. Part of Foucault’s project in volume 3, The Care of the Self, was to demonstrate the ways in which a certain aesthetics of sexual pleasure, developed in Greek antiquity, eventually gave way, in Roman moral philosophy and in an emerging scientia sexualis (“science of sexuality”), to a technology of self-regulation in which the sexual became “dangerous.” A fourth volume, never finished, was to take up the ways in which early Christian confessional modes intensified this self-regulation and also helped to produce sexualities as “truths” about selves that could then be disciplined and governed (and even punished). At the same time, in some of the texts of the early Church dealing with monks and saints’ lives and their extreme forms of self-discipline, Foucault saw a way out of this oppressive regime of disciplined sexuality and a way in to what he called “a manner of being that is still improbable”—a manner of being, moreover, that would offer us “an historic occasion to re-open affective and relational virtualities” that he believed would be emancipatory.

Revisiting Foucault’s thinking on early Christian saints’ lives is particularly timely in view of recent scholarship on what some scholars portray as the “exuberant erotics” of ancient and medieval saints’ lives—lives, moreover, that portray what one scholar has called the pleasurably “violent seduction of sacrifice.” In Virginia Burrus’s The Sex Lives of Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), Robert Mills’s Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure, and Punishment in Medieval Culture (Reaktion Books, 2005), and Karmen Mackendrick’s Counterpleasures (State University of New York Press, 1999), just to name a few studies, the legends of desert hermits, militant martyrs, and self-mutilating mystics are held up as models of a sexualized asceticism and as sublime sites of freedom and sexual liberation. Most important is a common theme that runs throughout these studies—that the asceticism and self-mutilations dramatized in the lives of early saints and martyrs opens a possibility of a radical form of “love” that allows the protagonists of these narratives to give themselves over to the joy of various “divine” pleasures and abandonments.

Alongside this work on the (possibly emancipatory and politically subversive) erotics of asceticism, pain, and self-renuniciation in the hagiography of late antiquity and the Middle Ages, there has also been some recent work in queer theory that valorizes (if even unconsciously) certain forms of Christian and ‘saintly’ abjections, such as David Halperin’s proposal in his book What Do Gay Men Want? for a queerly “upbeat and sentimental” abjection that might help to “capture and make sense of the antisocial, transgressive” behavior of gay men without recourse to the language of psychoanalytic pathology or the death drive, and which relies for some of its inspiration on medieval Christianity’s rhetoric of humiliation and martyrdom. Drawing, especially, on the fiction of Genet, but also upon Foucault’s interest, late in his life, in technologies and care of the self, Halperin puts forward a model of queer solidarity built upon an embrace of one’s own social humiliation and abjection as an “inverted sainthood”—a ‘sainthood,’ moreover, that becomes an “existential survival strategy.” Most importantly, Halperin reminds us that Genet’s abjection was “an ‘ascesis,’ a spiritual labor, which blazes the path to sainthood. And, like sainthood, abjection is both martyrdom and triumph at once: it elevates even as it humiliates.”

The question is finally raised: What kind of “spiritual” work are all of these studies doing with regard to asceticism, saintliness, the sacred, queer relational modes, and love? And, as a scholars who work in both medieval and early modern studies, as well as in contemporary queer studies, should we be cautious about the supposedly emancipatory relational modes that some scholars, following Foucault, have argued are opened within the creative conjunctions between premodern religious practices, asceticism, self-sacrifice, and queer sexuality? In the first part of this course, we will read hagiographic and pseudo-hagiographic narratives in Old and Middle English alongside excerpts from Foucault’s and contemporary scholars’ writings on sexuality and queer studies in order to revisit Foucault’s thinking via the charged pathways and “sites” of extreme asceticism, self-sacrifice, and psycho-corporal-sexual transformations undergone in these narratives.

In the second part of the course, this revision and extension of Foucault’s narrative of scientia sexualis will further suggest modifications applicable not only to Old and Middle English hagiography but also to medieval and early modern French literary texts on the subject of love. As we continue to re-read Foucault’s final lectures and interviews, we will also reexamine medieval and early French contexts that constitute an exception to the field’s prevalent narratives about early modern modes of authorship and literary production. Among them, we will focus on some paradigm-altering cases where the woman author stages explicitly erotic, hybrid personae (human-animal, human-fairy, bisexual, and other unorthodox combinations), as well as on more conventionally covert same-sex erotic circuits, such as passionate friendship. Recent work on early modern sexuality by Gary Ferguson, Marc Schachter, Carla Freccero, Anna Klosowska (on France), and Will Stockton, Vin Nardizzi, Julie Crawford, Will Fisher, Laurie Shannon, and James Bromley (on England), will help us go beyond the “sex before sexuality” formula to arrive at a new Foucauldian optic on early modern texts.
Syllabus.
Week 1.
Michel Foucault, excerpts from The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction.
Michel Foucault, “On the Government of the Living (1980)” and “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self,” in Religion and Culture, ed. Jeremy R. Carrette.
Anonymous, the Old English “Death of St. Mary of Egypt,” in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, Vol. 2.
Clare Lees and Gillian Overing, “Figuring the Body: Gender, Performance, Hagiography,” in Double Agents: Women and Clerical Culture in Anglo-Saxon England.
Week 2.
Michel Foucault, excerpts from The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure.
Michel Foucault, “Sex, Power, and the Politics of Identity” and “The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom” (interviews).
Ælfric, the Old English “St. Martin, Bishop and Confessor,” in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, Vol. 2.
Virginia Burrus, “Hybrid Desire: Empire, Sadism, and the Soldier Saint,” in The Sex Lives of Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography.
Week 3.
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3: The Care of the Self.
Michel Foucault, “Sexuality and Solitude” and “The Battle for Chastity,” in Religion and Culture, ed. Jeremy R. Carrette.
Felix, Life of Saint Guthlac (Bertram Colgrave edition and translation in Anglo-Latin and modern English).
Robert Mills, “Of Martyrs and Men,” in Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture.
Week 4.
Michel Foucault, excerpts from Security, Territory, Population (lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78).
Michel Foucault, excerpts from The Hermeneutics of the Subject (lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-82).
Chaucer, “The Man of Law’s Tale.”
Robert Mills, “Invincible Virgins,” in Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture.
Week 5.
Michel Foucault, excerpts from The Birth of Biopolitics (lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79).
Anonymous, the Old English Andreas (online translation).
Leo Bersani, “Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject,” Critical Inquiry 32 (2006): 161-74.
Leo Bersani, “The Power of Evil and the Power of Love,” in Intimacies.
Week 6.
Michel Foucault, excerpts from The Government of Self and Others (lectures at the Collège de France, 1982-83).
Marie de France, Lais: Prologue, Guigemar, Equitan (ed. and trans. Glynn S. Burgess and Keith Busby, pp. 41-60).
Heather Love, “Feminist Criticism and Queer Theory,” in A History of Feminist Literary Criticism.
Heather Love, “Compulsory Happiness and Queer Existence,” new formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics 63 (2008): 52-64.
Heather Love, “Emotional Rescue,” in Gay Shame, eds. David Halperin and Valerie Traub.
Week 7.
Michel Foucault, excerpts from The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II) (lectures at the Collège de France, 1984).
Marie de France, Lais: Le Fresne, Bisclavret (ed. and trans. Glynn S. Burgess and Keith Busby, pp. 61-72).
Gary Ferguson, “Introduction: pre-modern (homo)sexuality: historical and theoretical issues,” “Homosexuality and gender: historical (trans)formations,” and “Mourning/scorning the mignons: represenations of heroism and favouritism at the court of Henry III,” in Queer (Re)Readings in the French Renaissance: Homosexuality, Gender, Culture.
Week 8.
Michel Foucault, excerpts from Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporality and Political Spirituality, ed. Jeremy Carrette.
Marie de France, Lais: Lanval, Les Deux Amanz, Yonec, Laustic, Milun, Chaitivel (ed. and trans. Glynn S. Burgess and Keith Busby, pp. 73-108).
excerpts from Vin Nardizzi, Stephen Guy-Bray, and Will Stockton, eds., Queer Renaissance Historiography: Backward Gaze (Ashgate, 2009): Nardizzi, Guy-Bray and Stockton, “Queer Renaissance historiography: backward gaze,” Will Fisher, “A hundred years of queering the Renaissance,” Julie Crawford, “Women's secretaries,” and Madhavi Menon, “Period cramps.”
Week 9.
Michel Foucault, “Sexual Choice, Sexual Act” and “Power and Sex” (interviews).
Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson.
Marie de France, Lais: Chervrefoil, Eliduc (ed. and trans. Glynn S. Burgess and Keith Busby, pp. 109-128).
Week 10.
Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life” and “The Concern for Truth” (interviews).
Madeleine l’Aubespine, Selected Poems, ed. Anna Klosowska (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007).
Ann Rosalind Jones, “Prostitution in cinquecento Venice: prevention and protest” and Will Fisher, “Peaches and Figs: bisexual eroticism in the paintings and burlesque poetry of Bronzino,” in Levy, Allison, ed., Sex Acts in Early Modern Italy: Practice, Performance, Perversion, Punishment.
Marc Schachter, “Introduction: Voluntary servitude, governmentality and the care of the self,” in Voluntary Servitude and the Erotics of Friendship: From Classical Antiquity to Early Modern France.
Extended Bibliography.
Ahmed, Sarah. The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
l’Aubespine, Madeleine de. Selected Poems, ed. Anna Klosowska. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Bersani, Leo. “Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject,” Critical Inquiry 32 (2006): 161-174.
Bersani, Leo and Adam Phillips. Intimacies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Burrus, Virginia. The Sex Lives of Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
Carrette, Jeremy. Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporality and Political Spirituality. London: Routledge, 2000.
Cassidy-Welch, Megan. Imprisonment in the Medieval Religious Imagination. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Ferguson, Gary. Queer (Re)Readings in the French Renaissance: Homosexuality, Gender, Culture. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.
Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics. (lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Foucault, Michel. The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II). (lectures at the Collège de France, 1984) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Foucault, Michel. Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2001.
Foucault, Michel. Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984), ed. Sylvère Lotringer. New York: Semiotext(e), 1989.
Foucault, Michel. The Government of Self and Others. (lectures at the Collège de France, 1982-83) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Foucault, Michel. The Hermeneutics of the Subject. (lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-82) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vols. 1-3. New York: Random House, 1980-88.
Foucault, Michel. Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman. New York: Routledge, 1988.
Foucault, Michel. Religion and Culture, ed. Jeremy Carrette. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.
Foucault, Michel. Security, Territory, Population. (lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Freccero, Carla. Queer/Early/Modern. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.
Freccero, Carla and Louise Olga Fradenburg, eds. Premodern Sexualities. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Halperin, David. How to Do the History of Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Halperin, David. One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love. New York: Routledge, 1990.
Halperin, David. Saint=Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Halperin, David. What Do Gay Men Want? An Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.
Levy, Allison, ed. Sex Acts in Early Modern Italy: Practice, Performance, Perversion, Punishment. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010.
Lochire, Karma, Peggy McCracken, and James A. Schultz, eds. Constructing Medieval Sexuality. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Love, Heather. “Feminist Criticism and Queer Theory.” In A History of Feminist Literary Criticism, eds. Gill Plain and Susan Sellers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Love, Heather. “Compulsory Happiness and Queer Existence,” new formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics 63 (Spring 2008): 52-64 (special issue, “Happiness,” ed. Sara Ahmed).
Love, Heather. “Emotional Rescue.” In Gay Shame, eds. David Halperin and Valerie Traub. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Mackendrick, Karmen. Counterpleasures. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
Marie de France, The Lais of Marie de France, ed. and trans. Glynn S. Burgess and Keith Busby. London: Penguin Books, 2003 (2nd edition).
Marie de France, Les lais de Marie de France, trans. and notes Laurence Harf-Lancner, ed. Karl Warnke, Lettres Gothiques. Paris: Livre de poche, 1990.
Martin, Luther H., Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton, eds. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.
Mills, Robert. Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure, and Punishment in Medieval Culture. London: Reaktion Books, 2005.
Nardizzi, Vin, Stephen Guy-Bray and Will Sotckton, eds. Queer Renaissance Historiography: Backward Gaze. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009.
Schachter, Marc. Voluntary Servitude and the Erotics of Friendship: From Classical Antiquity to Early Modern France. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.

13 comments:

Karl Steel said...

very rich material, and no surprise EJ! wondering if you'll see your seminar as engaging with the kind of nostalgia or 'starting over' of MF's implied call for a return to preXian sexual/ethical philosophy? Obviously you're planning to linger--perversely--in the later period, the moment when discourses of sex start to proliferate along with new desires of pain, so you're already shortcircuiting Foucault a bit so far as I can tell; but I wonder if his nostalgia (can we call it that?) can be investigated too?

Eileen Joy said...

I/we will definitely explore the "nostalgia" angle, but Foucault's interest in classical sources vis-a-vis care of the self and ascesis was never entirely *just* pre-Xian: if you looks at his last lectures and seminars, especially [such as one he gave at the Univ. of Vermont in 1982, published in 1988 as "Technologies of the Self," UMass. Press], he always discusses the classical sources alongside Christian sources from late antiquity [esp. 4th-5th centuries]. Foucault saw a real "connect" between classical writings on care of the self [such as Plato's "Alcibiades I"] and early Christian monasticism/asceticism. But Foucault never looked at medieval sources, of course, and so one of my questions is: what happens when we do turn to those sources, especially the more -- I would say -- *fictional* realm of hagiography, and read Foucault on technologies of the self *again* through those sources and through the lenses of more recent work [by Burrus, Mackendrick, Mills, and others] on the erotics/queerness of early saints' lives, etc.

i said...

So what, exactly, do I have to do to be in that seminar if it's offered? (Oh wait, it's just for grad students right? Argh.)

This comes at a gorgeously perfect time for me -- teaching done, and I'm sitting down with the outline of my radically-revised Mary of Egypt chapter. There is *so* much to say about this text -- the challenge is what to cut out -- that I'm amazed more hasn't been written on it.

Eileen Joy said...

Irina: the OE Mary of Egypt, especially, is one of those great under-commented-upon texts; there should be MUCH more on it, but there isn't. Burrus addresses it in her book [but earlier versions], and Cary Howie also looks at [a French?] version in his "Claustrophilia" book. Both of those are worth reading. I think Ruth Mazo Karras also deals with Mary in “Holy Harlots: Prostitute Saints in Medieval Legend.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1.1 (July 1990): 3-32.

i said...

Thanks Eileen -- I read all of those for my diss chapter a few year ago. My sense is that the French versions are more commented, partly because they vary more. And of course there are multiple versions in German and Spanish. But the OE, being such a close translation, has seen little commentary, aside from that Old English Newsletter Subsidia volume and the Poppe and Ross edited collection. (And a chapter in Linda Coon's Sacred Fictions that I remember finding useful.)

The more I work with the OE version though, the more I find myself turning to a very detailed and precise reading of the text. It's where I come from methodologically, but it's also the case that the translator does some really interesting things. But, you know, stay tuned...

Anonymous said...

maria aegyptiaca:
http://www.brynmawr.edu/visualculture/archive/KPeters.html

anna klosowska said...

People have been noticing this phrase of Foucault that Eileen uses, "the improbable manners of being," so I just wanted to add that Eileen has been working on that particular phrase, in relation to his late writings on asceticism and medieval
hagiography, for a number of years.
Karl: the whole passage may be of interest to you: "L'ascétisme comme renonciation au plaisir a mauvaise réputation. Mais l'ascèse est autre chose : c'est le travail que l'on fait soi-même sur soi-même pour se transformer ou pour faire apparaître ce soi qu'heureusement on n'atteint jamais. Est-ce que ce ne serait pas ça notre problème aujourd'hui ? Congé a été donné à l'ascétisme. À nous d'avancer dans une ascèse homosexuelle qui nous ferait travailler sur nous-mêmes et inventer, je ne dis pas découvrir, une manière d'être encore improbable."
It's in the interview he gave entitled Friendship as a way of Life, transl.
by John Johnston, French version: Le Gai pied, April 25, 1981, original
title de l'amitié comme mode de vie, p. 38-39, interview with René de
Coccatty, Jean Danet et Jean Le Bitoux , and it's published in Michel
Foucault, ed. By Sylvère Lotringer, English in Foucault Live: Collected
Interviews, 1961-1984, Semiotext(e)1986, 1996.
There is a link to the full French text here:
http://1libertaire.free.fr/MFoucault174.html
xoxoox Anna

Karl Steel said...

Eileen and Anna, let me say with Irina that I wish I could take this class! I'm definitely stealing the reading list and, I hope, getting through that.

Anna, thanks for that (and thanks for your faith in my French!). I'm reminded of a conversation I had with Dinshaw last year or the year before, where I compared the fun and creativity of the kind of pleasure-oriented scholarship we've been championing to the old and (apparently) (merely) ascetic scholarship of textual editors and old philologists. Dinshaw wisely said that this too could be a site of pleasure for them. I'm suggesting then that, say, "une ascèse philologique" could be as rich a site for self-transformation and new happinesses as anything else.

Eileen Joy said...

And Karl, that's a very insightful comment, indeed, from you [and by way of Dinshaw], when we consider what I have mapped out [with help from David Halperin and Jeremy Carrette] as Foucault's TRI-fold definition of ascesis, which he saw only positively [see, esp. in relation to your comment, #2:

first, relative to its articulation as a stylistics of the self in ancient Greek and Roman thought, ascesis offers a way of mapping and experiencing bodily pleasures that cannot be captured under disciplinary regimes of desire, and therefore, the human self becomes, through ascesis, ‘the site of a radical alterity: it is the space within each human being where she or he encounters the not-self, the beyond’;

second, and still related to its expression in ancient thought, ascesis names an austere practice of philosophy or ‘thought on thought’—in Foucault’s words, ‘an exercise of the self in the activity of thought,’ where we consider how our ‘own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently’;

and finally, following from its expression within a distinctly Christian hermeneutics of the self, especially as expressed in certain texts from late antiquity, ascesis also refers to various techniques of ‘mastery’ over one’s body and sufferings, through which the self surpasses itself, and homosexuality, as a spiritual exercise, might serve as ‘an historic occasion to re-open affective and relational virtualities.’

i said...

This conversation seems to be missing something -- Niklaus Largier's essay "Praying by Numbers" in Representations (2008). I found it a stimulating approach to the relationship between asceticism, imagination, and pleasure.

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks for that tip, Irina; I just ordered the article through my library,

Aranye Nin, Ph.D. said...

I've always been puzzled by the way Volume I seemed to eclipse vols. 2 and 3 so thoroughly, so I'm delighted by these developments. Also wondering what you and Karl would say about the historical persistence of regimens and dream treatises.

Eileen Joy said...

Aranye: your question got me thinking about how dream & regimen come together in medieval hagiographic narratives, such as the life of Saint Guthlac [Anglo-Latin version], where Guthlac's visitations by demons, who scourge him, etc., happens after he falls asleep. So now I'm also thinking, how are "regimen"/ascesis and dreams entwined? As to the persistence of regimen and dream treatises, that is a wonderful question, and one I have to think on further [your cousin A.F.'s chapter in The Post-Historical Middle Ages is obviously helpful on this question.

As to Vols. 2 & 3 of Foucault's Hist. of Sexuality having been eclipsed [in scholarship on Foucault, regimes/history of sexuality, biopolitics, etc.] by Vol. 1: very much agreed. Now that Palgrave has been publishing Foucault's last lectures at the College de France, and given the copius number of late interviews and smaller pieces we have [and which we can happily read in French as well], we have a LOT to ruminate on Foucault's thinking on non-sexualized ascesis and care of the self. One hopes something like a new politics of friendship and affectivities [whether auto- or other affective] might also arise from a return to this material, which is also in needs of a cautionary, historized-by-way-of-the-Middle-Ages approach.