Bernard E. Harcourt | Epilogue: Continuities, Ideologies, Archives, Power, and Contemporary Resonances

By Bernard E. Harcourt

The Foucault 9/13 seminar On the Government of the Living with Jean Cohen, Daniele Lorenzini, and Achille Mbembe stimulated a number of interesting conversations revolving around five principal themes concerning (1) continuities and new objects, (2) ideology critique and its relation to regimes of truth, (3) Foucault’s archive, (4) the question of power and imposition, and (5) the contemporary resonances of Foucault’s work on subjectivity.

Continuities and New Vistas

A number of questions were raised about the very title of the 1980 lectures, on how the title relates to the central object of study, namely subjectivity, and on what it entails for the question of the continuity of Foucault’s research project at the Collège de France.

The title is indeed a bit puzzling given what follows in the lectures (as was the case the year before with the title of the 1979 lectures The Birth of Biopolitics), but this ambiguity turned out to be extremely helpful to understand the threads that weave through and connect the work on subjectivity to the prior investigation of neoliberalism.

The way the Collège de France worked at the time, Foucault had to give a title to these 1980 lectures almost one year before he would deliver them, in the Spring of 1979, after having completed his lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics (1978-1979). It is clear from the title he chose at the time that Foucault fully intended to continue where he had left off the year before and return to biopolitics—in other words, to resume the investigation he had initially set for himself for the 1978-1979 term, but that he had finally not yet gotten to. As he indicated the previous year, on January 10 1979, he had intended to focus his 1979 lectures on the core question of the government of “populations,” but before getting there, needed to first understand neoliberalism:

“I thought I could do a course on biopolitics this year,” Foucault said in January 1979. “But it seems to me that the analysis of biopolitics can only get under way when we have understood the general regime of this governmental reason I have talked about […] Consequently, it seems to me that it is only when we understand what is at stake in this regime of liberalism opposed to raison d’État … only when we know what this governmental regime called liberalism was, will we be able to grasp what biopolitics is.” (BB, p. 21-22).

It seems clear, then, that the title he gave in Spring 1979 for his next lectures, On the Government of the Living, was intended to continue the work on biopolitics by directly addressing the topic of the government of the living. (GL, course context, p. 327)

Instead, though, Foucault goes back in history to resume his work on the genealogy of the arts of governing, which he had begun in February 1978. This is the “double movement” I referred to earlier: Foucault returns to an earlier archive—namely Sophocles, the Stoics, and the early Christian pastoral—in order to reexamine the genealogy of our contemporary neoliberal forms of rationality, by digging deeper into the forms of truth-telling and manifestations of truth that are inextricably linked to regimes of truth. (GL, p. 7)

The return to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is telling, not only because it is a return to the theme of the “will to know” from the 1970-71 lectures, but also because that was precisely where he had, in some sense, left off in 1978. At the very beginning of his genealogy of the arts of governing on February 8, 1978, in Security, Territory, Population, Foucault explored the different forms of government in ancient Greece—discussing the “metaphor of the rudder, the helmsman, the pilot, and the person who steers the ship” (STP, p. 122)—with a special attention to Oedipus Rex. At that point, right after discussing Oedipus, Foucault declares that “I do not think that the idea that one could govern men, or that one did govern men, was a Greek idea. If I have the time and courage I will come back to this problem, either at the end of these lectures or in the next series of lectures…” (STP, p. 123). At that point in 1978, Foucault then turns to the pre-Christian East and spiritual direction, the pastoral.

But these 1980 lectures pick up right there, in fact. They represent a return to that question and a reexamination—evidently casting doubt on his statement about Greek antiquity, as was his way: to reexamine everything. The first four lectures in 1980, which reinterpret Oedipus Rex through the lens of a manifestation of one’s truth, serve as a corrective that then relaunches an inquiry into the pre-Christian East.

This has the effect of shifting the character of the genealogy somewhat, of opening new vistas, and of reorienting the project toward “the notion of the government of men by the truth.” (GL, p. 11). It produces the shift from power-knowledge to the notion of government by the truth or of “regimes of truth.” And it pushes the inquiry past the market as measure of truth, legal processes, and historical narratives, to the central place of the self, the “I,” the avowal in the “rituals of manifestation of truth” (GL, p. 6)—which will, as we know, lead Foucault toward the avowal, the examination of self, the direction of others, forms of truth telling, and eventually parrhesia.

Ideology Critique and Regimes of Truth

This shift from power-knowledge to regimes of truth, naturally, raises the prior question of the earlier shift from ideology to power-knowledge, and the larger relationship between ideology critique and Foucault’s project on regimes of truth, as Jean Cohen flagged in her post.

On this question, Jeremy Kessler drew an important distinction between two different criticisms of ideology critique—namely, first, that ideology critique does not go sufficiently deep into questions of subjectivity, does not go “close enough to the bone,” as Ann Stoler suggested; and second, that ideology critique fundamentally rests on a conception of class struggle that posits a dominant and a dominated class. Kessler argued that there were far too many Marxist writings from the 1960-70s that deepened the analysis of the subject and subjectivity—especially, Fanon, Althusser, Tronti, Dalla Costa—such that the regimes of truth approach may not add that much to those later forms of ideology critique; but, Kessler suggested, Foucault’s critiques of class conflict, especially in his early 1970s lectures, remain an important element of differentiation that gives the regimes of truth approach a distinct quality. Regarding the later Marxist writings on ideology, Kessler notes, in a subsequent email:

I referenced Althusser, Tronti, de Brunhoff, but especially the former two. Franco Fortini would be another important figure, though much less read, I imagine, at the time. And then there is a whole Gramsci reception in Britain and the USA in the 70s. And the Frankfurt School and environs. But I think the deepest approaches to ideology critique in the 1970s—those approaches which cut closest to the bone and deal with the question of individual v. collective subjectivity most directly—probably come out of the Sartre/Althusser nexus in France (which is, in turn, trying to incorporate Freud and Lacan) and the Italian scene, which is utterly riven between the PCI’s interpretation of Gramsci on the one hand, and operaismo and autonomism on the other. It is among the latter—Tronti, Negri, Della Costa & Selma James, Virno, Berardi, Fortini, and later Fortunati and Frederici—that you find a Marxist theory of ideology that cuts utterly to the bone. I would also say the Sartre’s Questions de méthode (1957) is an important precursor.

Kessler certainly makes an important distinction. But I would maintain, nevertheless, that there remains a third element differentiating the two approaches, having to do with the different epistemological sensibilities of ideology critique and regimes of truth. Even the most careful practitioners of ideology critique, in its various different forms, I would argue, retain at the end of the day a notion that the ideology interferes in some way with the interests of those who are affected by the ideology. Even when ideology is not represented as “false” or a “delusion,” the notion that ideologies may go against our interests still lingers in a more tangible way than the regime of truths approach permits. In the end, the relationship to truth is different in the different approaches.

Naturally, this calls for a lot of careful analysis and many caveats.

First, it is important to note that Foucault himself recognized that a lot can be lost by the proximity of his approach and that of the Frankfurt School. In an interview in Telos in 1983, Foucault remarked, referring specifically to the Frankfurt School, that “[n]othing is better at hiding the common nature of a problem than two relatively close ways of approaching it.” Foucault also suggested, in 1978 in What Is Critique? that shifting political circumstances in France might have brought his critical enterprise in closer intellectual proximity to the Frankfurt School.

Second, these 1980 lectures may not be the best locus to explore the relationship between power-knowledge and ideology, and it would probably be wiser to focus both on the actual work Foucault does methodologically in the 1973 to 1976 lectures, and on the more explicit discussions in “Society Must Be Defended,” Birth of Biopolitics, and What is critique? Here, in 1980, he is more interested in the transition from his theory of power-knowledge to regimes of truth, than he is in the earlier methodological shift.

Third, some critical theorists may well want to sever from ideology critique those forms of critique that are tied to a notion of false consciousness, but not all would agree—not all contemporary Marxist or leftist critical thinkers do that. I have had this debate with Steven Lukes, who maintains and continues to defend the notion of “false consciousness”—which has led to a very productive back and forth. And other scholars identify a stickier relationship to delusion. So, for instance, Raymond Geuss in his concise and careful monograph, The Idea of a Critical Theory, distills the kernel of ideology critique as follows: first, a form of knowledge that, second, produces enlightenment and emancipation, in a manner, third, that is reflective as opposed to objectifying. To use Geuss’s own words, ideology critique represents “a reflective theory which gives agents a kind of knowledge inherently productive of enlightenment and emancipation.”(p. 2) On this view, Geuss writes, “an ideological form of consciousness is … criticized for … being false, for being a form of delusion.” Some of our seminar participants may not agree with Geuss’s analysis, but that does not eliminate the fact that, still today for some, perhaps many, some forms of ideology critique are linked to shades of falsity.

It is, of course, particularly difficult and dangerous to discuss an entire tradition of critical theory because it is so easy to be accused of simplifying or not being sufficiently subtle in one’s reading. This is especially true of ideology critique, where, as Jean Cohen reminds us, “the modes of ideology critique to be found in Marxian critical theory are numerous including at the very least unmasking critiques, de-fetishizing critiques, immanent critique, transcendent critique…and so on.” But at the end of the day, even if one sets aside those readings that are tied to illusions or delusions, I would still maintain that there remains a subtle difference in epistemological sensibilities. On Foucault’s view, it is not possible to speak of someone having a set of beliefs that go against their interests. Instead, those interests and conceptions of ourselves as subjects are so shaped by relations of power and historically situated that they cannot be shown up. It is possible to study how they are shaped, maintained and evolve, and to what effect—this is the work Foucault continues in these 1980 lectures with this genealogy of the subject; but not compared, as it were, to real interests.

In any event, for our purposes today, our reading of these 1980 lectures, rather than debate these issues at such abstract levels, it might be more useful to look at passages from Foucault’s 1980 lectures and see how Foucault’s analysis works—in order to ask ourselves how it functions in contrast to unmasking or defetichizing or imminent critique. We could turn, for instance, to this passage on page 241 of the lectures (p. 236 French edition), where Foucault analyzes the Stoic examination of conscience, in particular the essay On Anger by Seneca. There, Seneca is discussing his evening practice, before sleep, of reviewing his every action and passing them through the filter of his mind.

“When the light is lowered and my [partner], familiar with my habit, has become silent, I examine with myself my whole day […] and I take the meaure again of my words and deeds, I measure them anew. […] I leave nothing out. […]” Thus, in that discussion, Seneca says, “you spoke too aggressively, you reproached someone with too little reserve and you did not correct him. On the contrary, instead of correcting him, you offended him. See to it that in the future what you say is not only true, but that the person whom you speak can bear the truth you tell him.” (GL, p. 241)

In this Stoic examination of conscience, Foucault suggests, Seneca is not searching inside himself for a deeper truth, he is not revealing a secret of the self, he is not exposing something about himself. He is reviewing his daily actions against rules of conduct of which he is essentially reminding himself, in order, prospectively not to make the same mistakes again. Not to hurt, rather than guide his interlocutor. The examination incorporates a form of recognition and a telling truth about one’s actions in a very particular and unique way.

If we move forward two centuries to Clement of Alexandria, in the Instructor, circa. 200 CE, on page 253 of Foucault’s text, we see a very different relation to the self: “One knows oneself so that one can have access to knowledge of God, that is to say so that one can recognize what is divine in oneself, so that one can recognize the part or element in the soul that is of divine form, principle, origin, or at any rate in contact with God.” (GL, p. 253).

If we move forward, even further, another two centuries, to early spiritual direction at the time of John Cassian, the examination of conscience takes on a different character. We can look at a passage on pages 300-301, from Cassian’s writings when he was in Palestine. A different set of metaphors accompany the practice: that of the miller, of the centurion, or of the money-changer. Here, the examination is intended to weed the good from the bad thoughts, to test the purity of one’s thoughts. To determine whether the thoughts one is having are honest and faithful, or the product of deceit:

“What in fact does the money-changer do?” Foucault asks. “Cassian says the money-changer is someone who checks the metal of the coin, who checks its nature, its purity, and also the image stamped on it, someone who questions the coin’s origin. […] [First possibility: an idea comes to mind with all the brilliance of philosophical language], one thinks it pure gold—and God knows how philosophers can gild their ideas—but they are only the ideas of philosophers and not truly Christian. So they must be rejected. False metal.” (GL, p. 301).

The contrast between the these passages is sharp. We have moved from “an inspection afterwards” with Seneca (p. 300), to a determination of the authenticity of my metal, to “the question of the truth of I who thinks.” (p. 303) It is these subtle transformations in the way in which we speak truth about ourselves, reveal our truths, manifest ourselves, and in the process link our subjectivity to truth, that Foucault studies, in their most minute details, in this approach focused on regimes of truth. And how they differ from baptism and penance—which, as Foucault writes, “is not a question of grasping the subject as he is, deep down, in his identity and continuity, but rather of making the manifestation of the truth a sort of de-identification of the subject, since it involves turning someone who was a sinner into someone who is no longer a sinner.” (GL, p. 226). Or how they differ from Tertullian, who essentially says “Go to the truth, but, on the way, don’t forget to tell me who you are, because if, on the way, you do not tell me who you are, you will never arrive at the truth.” (GL, p. 146).

A dissection of the multiple ways—in the Roman period and early Christianity, and into the monastic period—that the subject tied him or herself to the manifestation of truth. An examination of the many different rituals surrounding the truth of the self—rituals or liturgies of alethurgies—to play on that second meaning of alethurgie that Jesús Velasco insightfully discusses. Foucault borrowed the term alethurgy expressly, as he notes, from the Greek grammarian Héraclite, who used it once to describe “someone who speaks the truth;” but as Velasco notes, the word “cannot hide a second genealogy… the combination of alétheia and liturgy.” We have here different liturgical manifestations of truths. Practices, habits that shape how we tell truth about ourselves, a process inevitably linked to the exercise of power.

So how then does this work differ from ideology critique? Does it function differently? I would suggest that it might, by offering us models or forms of self-examination and relations to subjectivity that we can then interrogate and deploy in our own critiques of neoliberal rationality or our carceral state. It offers a habitus of techniques of the self, as well as a panoply of illustrations, that not only shows how subjectivity was in part shaped, but also allows us to identify mirrored reflections in the present. This raises, though, important questions about the archive that Foucault assembled and used, which I turn to in a moment.

As an aside, Jean Cohen also raised the question of the lack of Weber in these 1980 lectures. The silence is indeed noticeable, especially given that Foucault had engaged Weber earlier and would again later. There is no doubt that Foucault was in conversation with Weber as early as 1973 in The Punitive Society. As I suggested in the course context there, at p. 279, those lectures propose an analysis of the relationship between morality and economy that builds on, but at the same time challenges Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Foucault’s challenge was to try to unearth all of the moralization of the popular classes and workers, through the notion of punishing illégalismes, that was necessary to make capitalism possible. And, just the year before, in 1979, Foucault certainly was in dialogue with Weber in The Birth of Biopolitics (Naissance de la biopolitique, p. 86, 109, 124, 152, 153, 168, 173, 182, 184, 238) and would return to Weber in 1981 in Subjectivité et vérité (p. 44). Weber also appears throughout the interviews and articles in Dits & Écrits (see D&E, vol. 4, p. 853-854 of the index for references). As Daniele Lorenzini noted during the seminar, there is also an engagement with Weber in the cycle de conferences that Foucault delivered at the University Victoria, in Toronto, in June 1982, under the title “Dire vrai sur soi-même” that Lorenzini is editing and that will come out at Vrin in early 2017. One might then ask, as Jean Cohen does, whether a productive exchange could have enriched Foucault’s analysis of subjectivity? For those interested in pursuing this further, I would recommend the work of Márcio Alves da Fonseca, professor of philosophy at the Université Catholique de São Paulo in Brazil, who has delivered a couple of papers and book chapters on the convergence between Foucault and Weber, especially concerning their ontologies of the present, and is writing a book on the topic. See da Fonseca, “Max Weber, Michel Foucault e a história” [Max Weber, Michel Foucault and Histoire], in RAGO, M., VEIGA NETO, A. Para uma vida não facista. São Paulo, Autêntica, 2009. A French version of this will be published soon in the Cahiers critiques, under the title: “Usages de l’histoire chez Weber et Foucault: entre la compréhension et l’attitude”.

Foucault’s Archive

Several participants, especially Achille Mbembe and Seyla Benhabib, challenged the limited nature of Foucault’s archive and the focus on Christian texts. Similar concerns had been raised during earlier seminars by Ann Stoler, Linda Zerrilli, and Alondra Nelson, about the failure to develop a colonial archive.

There was a shared sentiment, among the participants at Foucault 9/13, that there is too often, in these 1980 lectures, an elision of Christianity and Western culture. I think this is evident in a number of passages in the text, as, for instance, when Foucault says “Telling all about oneself, hiding nothing, willing nothing by oneself, obeying in everything ; the junction between these two principles is, I think, at the very heart of […] a whole series of practices, of dispositifs that will inform what constitutes Christian and, as a result, Western subjectivity” (GL, p. 266) This and other passages too easily elide Christian and Western culture.

To be sure, there may well have been some personal limitations. Foucault was well versed in Latin and Greek, but he does not seem to have an equivalent knowledge of other languages like Arabic, or Hebrew, or Turkish—indeed crucial philosophical and religious languages for the historical periods and regions he is studying. He did not know other indigenous languages from the Americas—even though Christian paradigms of conversion and confession in the period he studies changed dramatically with the Dominican, Franciscan, or Jesuitic missions and their interest in presenting Christian doctrine in the indigenous languages (Náhuatl, Maya, Yucatec, etc.)—this too can be perceived as a shortcoming in Foucault’s approach. Rightly, Foucault’s method was very concerned with philological accuracy, with conceptual research dealing with the original languages. Indeed, he rarely used translations, and he was very careful about his method of finding concepts from other languages, eras, and regions, and injecting them in the theoretical discussions he was interested in. But there were clearly some personal limitations, as well as larger social and institutional political histories that made the Greek and Latin texts so much more accessible to researchers—a clear reflection of a larger Christian bias. So for instance, the Greek and Latin texts were available in early and more modern editions. The Budé collection, published by Les Belles Lettres, or the two Migne sets of the Greek and Latin Patrology, as well as the Christian growing collection of Éditions du Cerf. Whereas these and others—including Vrin, for instance—published accurate modern editions of Latin and Greek texts, access to other collections were not easily available. Plus, Foucault began working around 1979 at the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir in a Dominican convent in the 14th arrondissement in Paris—rather than at the BnF—and was getting access there to a set of primary materials there that were unique.

None of this justifies or diminishes in any way the problems of the elision of the Christian and Western subject. This is a clear shortcoming. It is something that, hopefully, other scholars will be able to fill with complementary studies of the place of truth-telling, avowal and subjectivity in Judaic and Muslim writings and in other traditions and movements (Buddhist, Gnostic traditions, etc.)—or completely reframe the categories from inside those other traditions to contest or challenge the very premises of this research. In part, we may want to turn to other scholars, some of whom were working with Foucault on similar problematics and animating his seminars, who were exploring for instance the Colonial archive (Gruzinski, Stoler), Muslim philosophies (de Libera, Imbach), Hebrew and Arabic philologies (Dahan), and so on.

Impositions of Power

This shortcoming does, however, raise another important question concerning the institutional influence of the Church in France during the Middle Ages and into the modern period. Why Christianity might be so important, in part, is surely related to its dominant place in organizing social life during several centuries and excluding and exiling Jews and Muslims during lengthy periods of the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries at least. As Jesús R. Velasco reminds me in correspondence after our seminar:

There is little occasion to look at the paradigms of confession outside a complex system of imposition and expansion—from 1215 and the imposition of the yearly individual confession, heavily linked with the beginning of the inquisition, of global preaching, and of the war against heresies, to the processes of reformation and counterreformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (that diverge in confessional practices). We would also want to consider as well the global expansion and missions in the Americas (Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits), in China and Japan (Jesuits), or in India, Africa, etc. (same religious orders). All these entail the expansion of confession and the imposition of its practices, among other reasons because confession became, since the Summa Penitentialis to Raymond of Penyafort in the 13th century, a privileged instrument to investigate beliefs,religious practices, intimate storytelling, etc.—handbooks and instructions for confessors and preachers are also archives of this “ethnographic” drive. Likewise, the confessional booth was an extraordinary place to disseminate the truth of doctrine, and to engage in modifications of conduct among the members of the church.

In other words, the study of confession, especially between the 13th and the 17th centuries, is an important way of studying the colonization of subjects across the globe. It does, however, entail a fine analysis of the notion of “imposition” related, naturally, to Foucault’s earlier work on relations of power.
In his comments, Daniele Lorenzini raised a related question about the “imposition” of confession by the Church. While recognizing that “Confession is of course, according to Foucault, a technique of power,” Lorenzini emphasized that “we should be careful and avoid the idea that confession is just a technique imposed on individuals from the outside and whose effects are limited to the production of a certain discourse of truth about a fixed and pre-existing subject.” On the latter point, we are all in agreement: there is no pre-existing subject. But on the first point, the question of imposition, things may be a bit more complicated. It raises at least the key challenge of understanding the relationship between our manifestations of truth and the structures, institutions, and practices that may well “impose” these on us.

One could lift any page from these 1980 lectures, almost at random, and interrogate this question of the “imposition” of power. So, for instance, take page 103, and look at the use of the action verbs that function in the text: “Christianity, from the origin, or at any rate from the second century, imposed on individuals the obligation to manifest in truth what they are…”; “since the origin Christianity established a certain relation between the obligation of the individual manifestation of truth and the debt of evil”; “How were the obligation to individually manifest one’s truth and the extinction of the debt of evil articulated in Christianity?”; “This connection between the manifestation of individual truth and the remission of sins was organized in three ways, at three levels, around three important practices…”

On a single page: imposed, established, articulated, organized. These are powerful terms to talk about the way that this set of practices and institutions, the way Christianity worked on subjects. And they demand that we interrogate them more deeply to draw out the connection between this work on subjectivity and the earlier work on power.

The intensification of Foucault’s focus on themes related to subjectivity starting in 1980 and running through 1984 has to be understood as complementing, filling out, and completing Foucault’s political project, rather than undermining or offering an alternative to it. One need only read closely the first lecture to see how Foucault is continuing his political project from The Birth of Biopolitics, or turn to the last, in fact to the last point on the penultimate page, on page 312, to realize the importance of the political question:

Third and final point: this institutionalization of truth/subjectivity relationships through the obligation to tell the truth about oneself, the organization of this linkage cannot be conceived without the existence and functioning of a form of power

Hopefully our future discussions on the final four lectures will take on these questions and explore in more depth the relation between subjectivity and power.

Contemporary Resonances

Finally, Achille Mbembe focused our attention on the question of the “contemporary resonances between salvation and the truth,” and Kendall Thomas as well urged us to think about contemporary forms of avowal, especially those informed by Baptist traditions in the United States.

It is here, I would suggest, that these pistes de recherche that Foucault left us can be so productive. I would suggest at least two promising avenues: first, to pursue these questions in the context of the acts of avowal associated with the massive practice of guilty pleas and plea deals in our criminal justice system in this country; and second, in the context of the acts of avowal that pervade our new digital exposure—both of which I will elaborate on in future seminars. Briefly here.

First, it would be fascinating to explore the practice of plea bargaining and admissions of guilt in the United States—where, at a national aggregated level, guilty pleas represent 90% to 95% of criminal adjudications in federal and state courts. These are practices about truth telling about oneself, imposed by a criminal justice system that gives defendants the choice to either languish at Rikers Island for years (three years as we saw in the case of Kalief Browder, many of those in solitary confinement) or to cop a plea—to go to court and say, “yes, I plead guilty.” “Yes, I did it,” even if you did not, even if you are unsure, even if you would prefer not to say anything. To tell or to wait—and to wait in one of Dante’s circles of hell. And by doing so, by pleading guilty and avowing, one assumes responsibility for a system that will transform that particular truth-telling—no more “truthful,” necessarily, than a confession, of course the truth of the matter hardly interests the criminal justice system—into a record, a criminal history that is entirely detached from the subject himself, made into a trace, a mark, a brand from which one cannot separate oneself. Today, it might be extremely productive to reexamine these manifestations of truth in our jails and prisons. [Incidentally, if you are interested in educational programming at the women’s unit at Rikers Island and would like to participate, you can learn more about it by scrolling to the bottom of the Practical Engagements page at the CCCCT].

Second, it would be equally important to explore the confessional dimensions of what I call our “expository society.” [Coincidentally, Dennis Tennen makes the link between our digital exposure and Rikers Island here]. We inhabit an increasingly confessional digital world, with our selfies, our quantified selves, our Facebook publicity, and our reality-lives. Our digital acts of self-revelation betray our desire for attention and publicity. The urge may not be new, but the medium changes it, creating a potential audience that could never have been imagined before. The confessional dimensions of this digital age involve, first, a more public, exposed confession. These are no longer purely internal—like the stoic examination of conscience at nighttime—nor limited to a lover or minister. They are logged for others to see, and watch, and hear. They have, second, an element of permanence. They will be cached somewhere, preserved forever. Even if we erase them or delete them, someone will be able to find them in an unknown part of our drive or cloud. They are not fleeting or defined by their phenomenal presence. They are burned on the digital in the same way that a permanent mark of penitence might last forever, tattooed on our selves. Third, they are lighter and more malleable than the face-to-face confession: there is no risk of blushing, no bodily language, no visual cues to absorb. The relationship to authenticity and fiction is looser, more supple. We are not forced to avow in the digital era, we are not required to perform at regular intervals—there is no rule, nor cold showers. We embrace avowal more entrepreneurially, made possible and magnified by the publicity and reach of the new mediums—Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Snapchat, Facebook, Vime.

These are but two examples that I hope to elaborate elsewhere. The question that they raise—for these 1980 lectures, but also for many of the remaining lectures—is how to relate back and integrate the work on subjectivity into the three-dimensional method. This was a task that was, I believe, cut short by Foucault’s untimely death. But it is, for us I think, for me I know, the greatest challenge that I face reading these 1980 lectures.

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