Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

Foucault has this to say about “self-expression”:

I don’t believe in the virtue of using language for “self-expression”. The language that interests me is the one that can actually destroy all the circular, enclosed, narcissistic forms of the subject and of oneself. And what I mean by ‘the end of man’ is, deep down, the end of all these forms of individuality, of subjectivity, of consciousness, of the ego, on which we have built and from which we have tried to build and to constitute knowledge. …The West has tried to build the figure of man in this way, and this image is in the process of disappearing. And so I don’t say the things I say because they are what I think, but rather I say them with the end in mind of self-destruction, precisely to make sure they are no longer what I think. To be really certain that from now on, outside of me, they are going to live a life or die in such a way that I will not have to recognize myself in them.

This passage transcribed from the subtitled The Lost Interview video by Sebastian Edin is rendered in Michel Foucault, Freedom and Knowledge, Interview by Fons Elders. Translated by Lionel Claris, Elders Special Productions BV, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2012, p,33 as follows:

I don’t believe there is virtue in using language that is intended only to express various forms of subjectivity to others. That is a language that does not interest me. The language that interests me is the one that can actually destroy all the circular, enclosed, narcissistic forms of the subject and of oneself. And so I don’t say the things I say because they are what I think, but rather I say them with the end in mind of self-destruction, precisely to make sure they are no longer what I think. To be really certain that from now on, outside of me, they are going to live a life or die in such a way that I will not have to recognize myself in them.

It is not about trying to find, then expressing an “authentic self” to the world. Rather, we could see our personal existence as an ongoing experiment with non static practices of the self, of manifesting a self to others through various kinds of external and internal practices. These practices are borrowed and modified from the practices invented by others and plugged into a general social and cultural network. It is not a question of finding, then externalising with anguished difficulty some authentic individual and unique interior.

A definitional discussion on “self-expression” on the Positive Psychology.com site notes the following:

self-expression is, at its core, the action of expressing yourself, and it can take a wide variety of forms. You can use your words, your facial expressions, your body, your movements, clothing, actions, and possessions to express your authentic inner self.

and refers to a definition drawn from Kim, H. S., & Ko, D. (2007). Culture and self-expression. In C. Sedikides & S. J. Spencer (Eds.), Frontiers of social psychology. The self (pp. 325-342). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.

that self-expression is one of the most highly-regarded and venerated values in Western civilization due to the near-deification of “the individual” in our society. Not only is self-expression a vital practice of Western culture, it is also baked into the very roots of psychology. After all, psychology is all about the study of the mind, including the self, others, and groups of people.

Of course, the idea of an “authentic inner self” is something that Foucault famously challenges, also noting that the “free and unique individual” that people think they are expressing is far more constrained and illusory than they think.

 

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