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Notes on the Greek Expressions in Fragilities of Analysis

The Letter, Issue 57, Autumn 2014, Pages 41 - 45


Barry O’Donnell

επιμελεια εαυτου (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’. επιμελεια (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’. εαυτου (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 tomind. 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 subjectis engaged in his or her own ques- tion vis-a-vis the Other. He represents it as adevelopment in Plato - a 'fairly profound reorganisation’ of earlier practices concernedwith the self. Foucault finds the phrase in Plato's Alcibiades, 127e. He proposes thatinvolved in any use of the term are two questions:

‘… what is this thing, this object, this self to which one must attend? Secondly, there isthe 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 must be concerned about myself so as to be able to govern others and the city-state?’[2]

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