Thoughts on Take Care of Yourself

In the last lectures that Michel Foucault gave at the Collège de France, from 1982 to 1984, he addressed the history, the practices, and the disciplines concerning the care of the self. In these lectures, given while Foucault himself was dying of AIDS, he ponders Socrates's last utterance to his disciple Crito: Take care of yourself. From that statement, Foucault embarks on a heart-wrenching, philosophically trenchant inquiry into what the concept of care meant, from the ancient world to the modern: care of the body, care of the spirit, care of the other, and care of speech, that is, of the freedom to speak freely, with openness, and from a place of truth.

These drawings are comprised of the single phrase, the last one, apparently, which Socrates uttered: Take care of yourself.

Language, Foucault suggests, can be thought of as a large opening through which we advance, in the interest of uncovering or discovering areas where we stray, where meaning will begin to unravel or be dissembled, become ambiguous, or dissolve. My interest in how graphic disturbances in writing can push beyond our discursive boundaries is the inspiration for much of my drawing/writing practice. I continue to be intrigued by the idea that we may labor within language to lift ourselves out of it, that we may write to approach the disruption of writing itself.

On the drawing page, particularly with Foucault in mind, the ink traces the frisson or trembling where I extol the intimacy between writing and drawing.

I embrace repetition; the lure of repeating a phrase, over and over, is an effort to further comprehend it but also to transfigure it. In these arenas of the spoken, written, or imagined, we, in Foucault's words, “light fires” and, in so doing, we explore ideas and movements that signal or provoke the transformative. The drawings urge a kind of aesthetic disequilibrium, a wavering of legibility; while they disrupt the capacity to decipher their composite words on one level, they offer a contemplative space on another. The simple phrase Take Care of Yourself has prompted this project.

Thoughts on Class Notes

Class Notes is a series of drawings made in physics and philosophy seminars at Columbia University over a period of several years. The project continues. Each drawing is completed within the frame of a single class session. As I listen to lectures, I take notes; I reinscribed what I hear, creating visual analogues to the intellectual adventures. At the heart of the project has been an ongoing fascination with subjects that are both challenging and extraordinary to me. While a language may be inaccessible on one level, it may be captivating and inspiring as it is refigured and embraced on another. The tenuous distinction between drawing and writing has always been a fascination.

Philosophy lectures (on Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, the philosophy of Islam) inspire drawings that suggest some of the very dilemmas that the philosophy addresses. There is a play between the tangible and the intangible, the physical and the metaphysical, the minuscule and the grand. The tangling and untangling of strands, the movements between what is legible and what is illegible, are what enthrall me. As I engage that tension, the drawings become wondrous explorations of ambiguity and interpretive possibility.

I think of these drawings as part of the ongoing trespass that insures that the imagination and the intellect are contiguous. The literal is suspended in the abstract; a concept that garners meaning in one context is urged to inspire very different readings when re-mapped in another.

While reading Jean-Luc Nancy's writings on Hegel's philosophy, I came across an observation that seems appropriate to much of our experience but, in this case, to the act of drawing: “We could register a whole series of tremblings—religious or aesthetic, for instance. It is always the trembling of the finite seized by the infinite: it is the sensibility of the infinite in the finite. We also realize that Hegel does not have a definitive concept of this image. It comes to him in those places where categories fail and themselves tremble.”1


Work Cited

Nancy, Jean-Luc.
The Restlessness of the Negative
, translated by Smith, Jason and Miller, Steven.
University of Minnesota Press
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