Hupomnēmata, in the technical sense, could be account books, public registers, or individual notebooks serving as memory aids. Their use as books of life, as guides for conduct, seems to have become a common thing for a whole cultivated public. One wrote down quotes in them, extracts from books, examples, and actions that one had witnessed or read about, reflections or reasonings that one had heard or that had come to mind. They constituted a material record of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering them up as a kind of accumulated treasure for subsequent rereading and meditation. They also formed a raw material for the drafting of more systematic treatises, in which one presented arguments and means for struggling against some weakness (such as anger, envy, gossip, flattery) or for overcoming some difficult circumstance (a grief, an exile, ruin, disgrace). (209-10)
These hupomnēmata should not be thought of simply as a memory support, which might be consulted from time to time, as occasion arose; they are not meant to be substituted for a recollection that may fail. They constitute, rather, a material and a framework for exercises to be carried out frequently: reading, rereading, meditating, conversing with oneself and with others. And this was in order to have them, according to the expression that recurs often, prokheiron, ad manum, in promptu. “Near at hand,” then, not just in the sense that one would be able to recall them into consciousness, but that one should be able to use them, whenever the need was felt, in action. It is a matter of constituting a logos bioēthikos for oneself, an equipment of helpful discourses, capable - as Plutarch says - of elevating the voice and silencing the passions like a master who with one word hushes the growling of dogs. And for that they must not simply be placed in a sort of memory cabinet but deeply lodged in the soul, “planted in it,” says Seneca, and they must form part of ourselves: in short, the soul must make them not merely its own but itself. The writing of the hupomnēmata is an important relay in this subjectivation of discourse.
However personal they may be, these hupomnēmata ought not to be understood as intimate journals or as those accounts of spiritual experience (temptations, struggles, downfalls, and victories) that will be found in later Christian literature. They do not constitute a “narrative of oneself”; they do not have the aim of bringing to the light of day the arcana conscientiae, the oral or written confession of which has a purificatory value. The movement they seek to bring about is the reverse of that: the intent is not to pursue the unspeakable, nor to reveal the hidden, nor to say the unsaid, but on the contrary to capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self. (210-11)
Foucault, Michel. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994.
Works and Days
Tags: Michel Foucault