Barry O’Donnell – Notes on the Greek Expressions in Fragilities of Analysis

The Letter No57 (Autumn 2014) pages 41-45

ἐπιμέλεια ἑαυτοῦ, (epimeleia heautou)

This phrase was brought to prominence in the work of Michel Foucault and is usually translated into English as ‘care of/for the self’. This translation is, arguably, misleading in an age of enthusiasm for predominantly narcissistic practices of ‘self-care’. ἐπιμέλεια (epimeleia) translates as ‘care bestowed upon a thing’ or ‘attention paid to something; it has a sense of ‘attending with diligence’, of ‘employment upon a matter’. ἑαυτοῦ,  (heautou) is a third person reflexive pronoun and is therefore literally ‘of himself, or itself’. A possible translation of the phrase epimeleia heautou can be ‘care of what is of oneself’ or ‘care for what is one’s own’. The Hiberno-English ‘it’s himself’ comes to mind. In light of the discussion in Jean Allouch’s paper of das Ding and the Freudian thing the translation  ‘attending to one’s thing’ suggests itself. Foucault translated the Greek with soucie pour le soi and argued that it referred to practices whereby the subject is engaged in his or her own ques-tion vis-à-vis the Other. He represents it as a development in Plato – a ‘fairly profound reorganisation’ of earlier practices concerned with the self. Foucault finds the phrase in Plato’s Alcibiades, 127e. He proposes that involved in any use of the term are two questions:

‘… what is this thing, this object, this self to which one must attend? Secondly, there is the care in “care of the self”. What form should this care take, in what must it consist, given that what is at stake in the dialogue is that I…

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