The American Scholar: Saving the Self in the Age of the Selfie – James McWilliams

Daily life offers endless opportunities to cultivate character-building behaviors that, once they become habitual, can nurture our weapons of resistance rather than exchange them for the conveniences of the Internet. Four of these habits stand out as essential to the preservation of an anchored identity: spending time alone, engaging in meaningful conversations, forming friendships, and pursuing an activity within a community. Imagine, if you can, an identity that’s permitted to develop with minimal interference from digital culture and you’ll begin to grasp the benefits that these four kinds of stresses can have on a self hoping to develop a healthier relationship with digitized life.

Source: The American Scholar: Saving the Self in the Age of the Selfie – James McWilliams

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Hypomnemata

From an Interview with Michel Foucault in The Foucault Reader; Paul Rabinow, editor (New York) Pantheon, 1984, p 363-5.

First, to bring out a certain number of historical facts which are often glossed over when posing this problem of writing, we must look into the famous question of the hypomnemata. Current interpreters see in the critique of the hypomnemata in the Phaedrus a critique of writing as a material support for memory. Now, in fact, hypomnemata has a very precise meaning. It is a copybook, a notebook. Precisely this type of notebook was coming into vogue in Plato’s time for personal and administrative use. This new technology was as disrupting as the introduction of the computer into private life today. It seems to me the question of writing and the self must be posed in terms of the technical and material framework in which it arose.[…]

What seems remarkable to me is that these new instruments were immediately used for the constitution of a permanent relationship to oneself — one must manage oneself as a governor manages the governed, as a head of an enterprise manages his enterprise, a head of household manages his household…So, if you will, the point at which the question of the hypomnemata and the culture of the self comes together in a remarkable fashion is the point at which the culture of the self takes as its goal the perfect government of the self — a sort of permanent political relationship between self and self. The ancients carried on this politics of themselves with these notebooks just as governments and those who manage enterprises administered by keeping registers. This is how writing seems to me to be linked to the problem of the culture of the self.[…]

In the technical sense, the hypomnemata could be account books, public registers, individual notebooks serving as memoranda. Their use as books of life, guides for conduct, seems to have become a current thing among a whole cultivated public. Into them one entered quotations, fragments of works, examples, and actions to which one had been witness or of which one had read the account, reflections or reasonings which one had heard or which had come to mind. They constituted a material memory of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering these as an accumulated treasure for rereading and later meditation. They also formed a raw material for the writing of more systematic treatises in which were given arguments and means by which to struggle against some defect (such as anger, envy, gossip, flattery) or to overcome some difficult circumstance (a mourning, an exile, downfall, disgrace).[…]

As personal as they were, the hypomnemata must nevertheless not be taken for intimate diaries or for those accounts of spiritual experience (temptations, struggles, falls, and victories) which can be found in later Christian literature. They do not constitute an “account of oneself”; their objective is not to bring the arcana conscientiae to light, the confession of which — be it oral or written — has a purifying value. The movement that they seek to effect is the inverse of this last one. The point is not to pursue the indescribable, not to reveal the hidden, not to say the nonsaid, but, on the contrary, to collect the already-said, to reassemble that which one could hear or read, and this to an end which is nothing less than the constitution of oneself.

The hypomnemata are to be resituated in the context of a very sensitive tension of that period. Whithin a culture very affected by traditionality, by the recognized value of the already-said, by the recurrence of discourse, by the ‘citational” practice under the seal of age and authority, an ethic was developing which was very explicitly oriented to the care of oneself, toward definite objectives such as retiring into oneself, reaching oneself, living with oneself, being sufficient to oneself, profiting by and enjoying oneself. Such is the objective of the hypomnemata: to make of the recollection of the fragmentary logos transmitted by teaching, listening, or reading a means to establish as adequate and as perfect a relationship of oneself to oneself as possible.

Source: 30 JULY 1997 OUTSIDE

The Liberal Arts vs. Neoliberalism | Commonweal Magazine

As Deresiewicz writes, the liberal arts curriculum remains “the best training you can give yourself in how to talk and think”—“to reflect…for the sake of citizenship, for the sake of living well with others, above all, for the sake of building a self that is strong and creative and free.” You read literature, philosophy, and history because “you don’t build a self out of thin air, by gazing at your navel. You build it, in part, by encountering the ways that others have done so themselves.” And the wider and more varied the definition of the canon, the better—the more examples you have of alternative ways of thinking and being in the world. As Bloom wrote (and Deresiewicz quotes): “The most successful tyranny…is the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities.” It was as if the conservative curmudgeon had foreseen the techno-determinists of our own time, for whom the train has always left the station and (in Maggie Thatcher’s words) “there is no alternative” to the neoliberal system. The prerequisite for independence is the realization that there are indeed other possibilities than the ones handed down by conventional wisdom.

Jackson Lears, in The Liberal Arts vs. Neoliberalism | Commonweal Magazine.

I’ve never consciously, as an adult, practiced Scientology principles, but it is positively eerie to glance over Scientology materials and find how obvious they seem: Of course your unconscious fears and memories hold you back (reactive mind) — you must triumph over them! For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like there’s a war going on in my head and that I have to fight my way to victory, and I was well into my 20s before I discovered that not everyone thought the self was, or should be, perfectable. Can you unlearn a language you spoke fluently as a child? Once your relationships with others and yourself have been defined so comprehensively, can you ever see them any other way?

Scientology and Me, Part Five: Hubbard, Mao, and Me | The Hairpin

I’ve never consciously, as an adult, practiced Scientology principles, but it is positively eerie to glance over Scientology materials and find how obvious they seem: Of course your unconscious fears and memories hold you back (reactive mind) — you must triumph over them! For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like there’s a war going on in my head and that I have to fight my way to victory, and I was well into my 20s before I discovered that not everyone thought the self was, or should be, perfectable. Can you unlearn a language you spoke fluently as a child? Once your relationships with others and yourself have been defined so comprehensively, can you ever see them any other way?

Scientology and Me, Part Five: Hubbard, Mao, and Me | The Hairpin

Unless we have faith in the persistence of our self, our feeling of identity is threatened and we become dependent on other people whose approval then becomes the basis for our feeling of identity with ourselves.

Erich Fromm, Man for Himself

Unless we have faith in the persistence of our self, our feeling of identity is threatened and we become dependent on other people whose approval then becomes the basis for our feeling of identity with ourselves.

Erich Fromm, Man for Himself

One of the things that Whitman insists on is that everything is true for “I”—for the person speaking—is true for any other person also. So that the celebration of self is also the celebration, by extension, of all other human beings. That would imply respect. And it would imply reverence. It would imply real, fair-minded attention to the beliefs of others. I think all of those things are more and more conspicuously absent from the way that things are done in this country. And it’s a terrible loss.

There is no sacred “We” but one that acknowledges that sanctity of any “I.” And I think that one of the things that’s destroying this is the impulse to draw battle lines. This is certainly coming from the culture that identifies itself as “religious” as much as it’s coming from anywhere (perhaps more, at this point). People simply have an impulse to standardize themselves to one model or another that’s presented to them as desirable.

But another thing is the therapeutic culture that built up around the self, and made people consider themselves frighteningly prone to illness or invalidism, afraid of their own thoughts, afraid of their own emotions. Afraid to let idiosyncrasy develop in themselves. I think when you’re afraid of your mind, afraid of your thoughts, it’s more likely to become something to be afraid of. And then the best part of it, the amazing part of the mind, is basically suppressed. I don’t want to over-generalize, but I think that often happens.

Marilynne Robinson, Marilynne Robinson on Democracy, Reading, and Religion in America

One of the things that Whitman insists on is that everything is true for “I”—for the person speaking—is true for any other person also. So that the celebration of self is also the celebration, by extension, of all other human beings. That would imply respect. And it would imply reverence. It would imply real, fair-minded attention to the beliefs of others. I think all of those things are more and more conspicuously absent from the way that things are done in this country. And it’s a terrible loss.

There is no sacred “We” but one that acknowledges that sanctity of any “I.” And I think that one of the things that’s destroying this is the impulse to draw battle lines. This is certainly coming from the culture that identifies itself as “religious” as much as it’s coming from anywhere (perhaps more, at this point). People simply have an impulse to standardize themselves to one model or another that’s presented to them as desirable.

But another thing is the therapeutic culture that built up around the self, and made people consider themselves frighteningly prone to illness or invalidism, afraid of their own thoughts, afraid of their own emotions. Afraid to let idiosyncrasy develop in themselves. I think when you’re afraid of your mind, afraid of your thoughts, it’s more likely to become something to be afraid of. And then the best part of it, the amazing part of the mind, is basically suppressed. I don’t want to over-generalize, but I think that often happens.

Marilynne Robinson, Marilynne Robinson on Democracy, Reading, and Religion in America