The work of the late Foucault, especially the turn to the care of the self and the problem of subjectivity, has often been regarded as a narcissistic withdrawal from politics. This essay argues that such a charge ignores how Foucault was responding to arguments highly critical of individualism developed in the late 1970s, especially Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (1979). Not only was Foucault concerned with rehabilitating a notion of individualism; his historical reconstruction of the care of the self emphasized that this philosophical practice was not a withdrawal from public space but a new way of conceiving ethics and politics. Focusing on the issues of crisis and transition, this essay reconstructs Foucault’s historical reflections on Greek and Roman practices of the care of the self as mediated responses to the crisis of politics in the late 1970s and as reconceptualizations of the practice of philosophy. In particular, Foucault’s late work is read as the attempt to construct or reconstruct a sense of the vocation of philosophy. The philosophical vocation developed by Foucault is one concerned with the intensification of experience within the subject, conceived of as the possibility for a new engagement with the world.

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