"Precepts are not given for the sake of being practised, but practice is prescribed in order that precepts may be understood. They are scales. One does not play Bach without having done scales. But neither does one play a scale merely for the sake of the scale", Simone Weil, 'Training' in Gravity and Grace, pp.123 - 124.
I am currently working on a number of conference papers that take as their point of departure the boy scout motto, be prepared; interrogating what it might mean to be prepared or to prepare oneself as a critical - rather than obedient and acquiescent - citizen or subject. For example, my paper, Be Prepared - Practices for Performing the Self Differently has been selected as part of the forthcoming PSi 18 conference on Performance, Culture, Industry, taking place at the University of Leeds from 27 June – 1 July. I will be presenting as part of a strand exploring training, labour and innovation.
Be Prepared - Practices for Performing the Self Differently
Short abstract: This paper considers the relation of training, labour and innovation against Michel Foucault’s imperative to ‘make life into a work of art’. It explores how various art and literary examples might present as a set of guidelines or principles for producing the self differently, as possible ‘techniques of the self’.
Full Abstract: Various philosophers have advocated the necessity of viewing life as a kind of project or mode of invention, suggesting that one’s ‘style of life’ or ‘ways of existing’ might be produced differently to habitual expectation. Positioned as a speculative proposition (drawing on my practice-based involvement in various art projects), this paper considers the relation of training, labour and innovation against Michel Foucault’s philosophical imperative towards the ‘making of life into a work of art’. In the Hermeneutics of the Subject and The Care of the Self Foucault turns to Ancient Greece to excavate and elaborate a programme of practices related to the precept ‘care of the self’ (epimelesthai sautou). For Foucault, the ‘techniques of the self’ or ‘arts of existence’ take the form of ‘those reflective and voluntary practices by which men not only set themselves rules of conduct, but seek to transform themselves, to change themselves’.1 In Ancient Greek culture, such techniques formed a training manual or programme (for mind and body) through which a more critical, ethical formulation of subjectivity and citizenship could be prepared, practiced, performed. In the absence of the necessary cultural, ethical, even civic framework for resurrecting the specificity of this Ancient training, this paper (perhaps playfully) turns to various art, performance and literary examples, exploring how they might present as a set of guidelines or principles for producing the self differently, as possible techniques of the self. The paper purposefully travels an errant line, drawing the direct encounters of my own practice-based enquiry and collaborations into dialogue with diverse references (the art of techné, Montaigne’s Essays; Fluxus scores; Georges Perec’s guides; Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys). I explore how the act of transforming oneself as a critical subject requires the cultivation of self-initiated tests, trials and ‘tactics’ that encourage transition away from repressive social norms; where to produce or construct oneself differently involves performing one’s life in the subjunctive key of as if, the practicing or rehearsal of a life as otherwise.
1. Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure. The History of Sexuality: Volume Two. Tr. R. Hurley. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1992/1984), pp. 10 — 11.