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  • The Private and Public Appeal of Self-Fashioning
  • Ted Preston

Self-creation, or self-fashioning, already with a long and impressive pedigree running from the "medical" models of the Ancient Greeks and Romans through the "aesthetic" models of Nietzsche, Foucault, and Rorty (among others), has made its way into both pop-philosophy and pop-psychology, with the assumption that such terms are meaningful, that such actions are possible, and that (with insight and effort) a blueprint for an original, self-created-work-of-art-self can be drafted and implemented. What's more, there is an assumption that self-fashioning is something good, that it is something that we ought to (or at least do) value.

Nietzsche is occasionally invoked to lend some philosophical weight to programs of self-creation. This is not without some support. "We, however, want to become those we are—human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give himself or herself laws, who create himself or herself" (GS, 335).1 In a comment on Goethe, Nietzsche says that he sought "totality" and to that end "he disciplined himself to wholeness, he created himself (TI, "Skirmishes," 49)."2

Nehamas complicates such a picture by denying that Nietzsche's discussion of self-creation can be attributed to him as "a positive view of human conduct, consisting perhaps of a description of the right kind of life or of a set of principles for becoming the sort of person he admires."3 Instead, Nehamas describes how Nietzsche exemplifies, through his own writings, "one way in which one individual may have succeeded in fashioning itself. . . . This individual is none other than Nietzsche himself, who is a creature of his own texts."4 That is, through his writings and his self-interpretation in such works as Ecce Homo, Friedrich Nietzsche (the writer) created "Nietzsche" (the Philosopher/Author of such texts as Ecce Homo). "Nietzsche" consists "essentially of the specific actions—that is, of the specific writings—that make him up and that only he could write" (ibid.). The artwork that Nietzsche created out of himself was "Nietzsche," the literary character who is a philosopher. Nietzsche's texts exemplify his ideal character—"none other than the character these very texts constitute: Nietzsche himself" (ibid., 233). Nietzsche himself alludes to such an interpretation when he writes, "The 'work,' whether of the artist or the philosopher, invents the man who has created it, who is supposed to have created it; great men, as they are venerated, are subsequent pieces of wretched minor fiction" (ibid.).5 [End Page 10]

Nehamas's "literary" interpretation of Nietzsche is not alone in placing such emphasis on the role of writing in self-fashioning. Both Foucault and Cavell stress the role of writing as well. Foucault refers to the "asceticism of the dandy who makes of his body, his behavior, his feelings and passions, his very existence, a work of art. Modern man, . . . is not the man who goes off to discover himself, his secrets and his hidden truth; he is the man who tries to invent himself."6 Elsewhere he writes, "We have to create ourselves as a work of art."7 This is certainly in harmony with Nietzsche's famous claim that it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that life is justified (BT, 5).8 "To 'give style' to one's character—a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye" (GS, 290).

One of the ways this self-creation (or "giving style") occurs is through writing. Foucault discusses a type of notebook called a hypomnemata that came into vogue in Plato's time. Technically, they could be account books, registers, or individual notebooks serving as memoranda.9 They took on the use of a "book of life," or "guides for conduct," when some began to write into them quotations heard, fragments of written works, examples and witnessed actions, and reflections and arguments heard or that had come to mind.10 Hypomnemata constituted material and framework for exercises that were to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4594
Print ISSN
0968-8005
Pages
pp. 10-19
Launched on MUSE
2006-06-14
Open Access
No
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