chapter  8
28 Pages

Sexual restraint and male identity in rabbinic ethics and Maharal’s further elaborations: applying Foucault’s idea of subjectivation to Jewish legal and ethical texts DAVID BIERNOT

Despite the criticism to which Foucault’s philosophy has been subjected, reading texts through the lens of his critical studies of social institutions, power and knowledge, as well as his work on the history of human sexuality, may still be an intriguing enterprise.1 This chapter attempts to make use of the Foucauldian idea of subjectivation which relates to the question of how we constitute ourselves as ethical subjects. Foucault introduced this concept towards the end of his life in the early 1980s, after having already employed the term ‘subjection’ in his earlier studies. That latter concept pertains to how one is produced as a subject through the exercise of power, including the modalities of resistance through which that exercise can be modified or attenuated. Subjectivation, on the other hand, pertains to the relation of the individual to her or himself, embracing multiple ways in which a self can be constructed on the basis of what one takes to be the truth.2 Foucault juxtaposed two different relations of a subject to the truth, corresponding to very different ways by which that subject constitutes her or himself. A subject may ‘objectify himself in a true discourse’3 by submitting oneself to the law, the moral code or the sanctioned text. In Foucault’s view, such objectification of a subject in a true discourse had been first instantiated in the Catholic Church, and later in the subject-object relation of modern philosophy. But an individual can also embark upon the venture of ‘self-fashioning’, ‘rejoining oneself as the end and object of a technique of life, an art of living, involving coming together with oneself, the essential moment of which is not the objectification of the self in a true discourse, but the subjectivation of a true discourse in a practice and exercise of oneself on oneself ’.4 The Foucauldian subjectivation has nothing to do with the ‘conscience’ of phenomenologists. It is, rather, a functional concept filled with moral and aesthetic predicates and valuational practices called by Foucault ‘technologies of the self ’.5 Foucault abandoned the philosophy of the transcendental

meaning-bestowing subject embarking on the Nietzschean project of ‘historizing the subject’.6