Claire Fanger, Inscription on the Heart: Medieval Monastic Practices for Writing Self in God and God in Self, The Side View, October 2018
Michel Foucault’s 1984 essay, “What is enlightenment?” requires readers to keep in view how epistemology and ontology—knowing and being—converge in the subject. Knowledge is the being of the self; knowledge constitutes the self as a knowable entity. To say of myself “I am a writer” or “I am a medievalist” is to describe who I am by indicating knowledge and knowledge practices that have importantly informed my own view of me. Likewise for someone to say “I am a singer,” or “a licensed mechanic,” or “a monk” is to represent a self through types of expertise, modes of practice suggesting certain possible roles in certain possible communities, certain ideas of virtue. The self is surely more than the sum of its parts, but summing the parts is a way of beginning to think about who or what a self is.
Towards the end of his essay, casting forward a description of “historical ontology” as a potential field of inquiry, Foucault lays out three questions that must be addressed:
How are we constituted as subjects of our own knowledge? How are we constituted as subjects who exercise or submit to power relations? How are we constituted as moral subjects of our own actions? (48)