No technique, no professional skill can be acquired without exercise; nor can the art of living, the tekhnē tou biou, be learned without an askēsis that should be understood as a training of the self by oneself. This was one of the traditional principles to which the Pythagoreans, the Socratics, the Cynics had long attached a great importance. It seems that, among all the forms taken by this training (which included abstinences, memorizations, self-examinations, meditations, silence, and listening to others), writing - the act of writing for oneself and for others - came, rather late, to play a considerable role. In any case, the texts from the imperial epoch relating to practices of the self placed a good deal of stress on writing. It is necessary to read, Seneca said, but also to write.1 And Epictetus, who offered an exclusively oral teaching, nonetheless emphasizes several times the role of writing as a personal exercise: one should “meditate” (meletan), write (graphein), train one-self (gumnazein): “May these be my thoughts, these my studies, writing or reading, when death comes upon me.”2 Or further: “Let these thoughts be at your command [prokheiron] by night and day: write them, read them, talk of them, to yourself and to your neighbor ... if some so-called undesirable even should befall you, the first immediate relief to you will be that it was not unexpected.”3 In these texts by Epictetus, writing appears regularly associated with “meditation,” with that exercise of thought on itself that reactivates what it knows, calls to mind a principle, a rule, or an example, reflects on them, assimilates them, and in this manner prepares itself to face reality. Yet one also sees that writing is associated with the exercise of thought in two different ways. One takes the form of a linear “series”: it goes from meditation to the activity of writing and from there to gumnazein, that is, to training and trial in a real situation - a labor of thought, a labor though writing, a labor in reality. The other is circular: the meditation precedes the notes which enable the rereading which in turn reinitiates the meditation. In any case, whatever the cycle of exercise in which it takes place, writing constitutes an essential stage in the process to which the whole askēsis leads: namely, the fashioning of accepted discourses, recognized as true, into rational principles of action. As an elements of self-training, writing has, to use an expression that one finds in Plutarch, an ethopoietic function: it is an agent of the transformation of truth into ēthos. (208 - 209)
 Seneca, Lettres à Lucilius, trans. H. Nublot (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1945-64), vol. 3 (1957), bk. 11, let. 84, §1, p. 121 [Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, with an English translation by Richard M. Gummere (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), vol. 2, let. 84, p. 277]
 Epictetus, Entretiens, trans. J. Souilhé (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1963), vol. 3, bk. 3, ch. 5: “A ceux qui quittent l’école pour raisons de santé,” §11, p. 23 [The Discourses and Manual, trans. P.E. Matheson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1916), vol. 2, bk. 3: “Against those who make illness an excuse for leaving the lecture-room,” p. 20.]
 Ibid., bk. 3, ch. 24: “Qu’il ne faut pas s’émouvoir pour ce qui ne depend pas de nous,” §103, p. 109 [ch. 24: “That We Ought Not Spend Our Feelings on Things Beyond Our Power,” p. 99].
Foucault, Michel. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994.
For in Many Ways Human Nature is in Bondage
Ours / Not Ours
Quest for the Invariant
Take Care of Yourself
The Individual Myth
The Shamans and Sorcerers. The Psychoanalysts. The Artists.
This Permanent Dissonance
What I Am
Introduces Presence, Hollows Out Absence
Works and Days
A snobbish idiot goes to an expensive restaurant and, when asked by the waiter: “Hors d’oeuvre?,” he replies: “No, I am not out of work, I earn enough to be able to afford to eat here!” The waiter then explains he means the appetizer and proposes raw ham: “Du jambon cru?” The idiot replies: “No, I don’t believe it was ham I had the last time here. But OK, let’s have it now - and quickly, please!” The waiter reassures him: “J’ai hâte de vous servir!” to which the idiot snaps back: “Why should you hate to serve me? I will give you a good tip!” And so on, till finally the idiot gets the point that his knowledge of French is limited; to repair his reputation and prove that he is a man of culture, he decides, upon his departure late in the evening, to wish the waiter good night not in French - “Bonne nuit!” afraid that something might go wrong again, but in Latin: “Nota bene!”
Do most of the dialogues in philosophy not function in a similar way, especially when a philosopher endeavors to criticize another philosopher? Is not Aristotle’s critique of Plato a series of “Nota bene!” not to mention Marx’s critique of Hegel, etc., etc.? (7)
Žižek, Slavoj. Žižek's jokes: (did you hear the one about Hegel and negation?). Ed. Audun Mortensen. The MIT Press. 2014.
Standing Toe to Toe; The 'Claro, Pero' Paradox
Works and Days
That it is not a science of production [first philosophy] is clear even from the history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another’s, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake.
Hence also the possession of it might be justly regarded as beyond human power; for in many ways human nature is in bondage, so that according to Simonides ‘God alone can have this privilege’, and it is unfitting that man should not be content to seek the knowledge that is suited to him. If, then, there is something in what the poets say, and jealousy is natural to the divine power, it would probably occur in this case above all, and all who excelled in this knowledge would be unfortunate. But the divine power cannot be jealous (nay, according to the proverb, ‘bards tell many a lie’), nor should any other science be thought more honourable than one of this sort. For the most divine science is also the most honourable; and this science alone must be, in two ways, most divine. For the science which it would be most meet for God to have is a divine science, and so is any science that deals with divine objects; and this science alone has both these qualities; for (1) God is thought to be among the causes of all things and to be a first principle, and (2) such a science either God alone can have, or God above all others. All the sciences, indeed, are more necessary than this, but none is better. (982b-983a)
Aristotle. "Metaphysics." Introduction to Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. Random House, 1947. 247 - 48.
Training of the Self By Oneself; Pursuit of the Examined Life
Works and Days