Tekhnema 2 / "Technics and Finitude"/ Spring 1995

Experience as Technique of the Self*

Jean-Philippe Milet

The subject of this paper is to show how it is through the concept of a ‘technics of the self’ that the singularity of experience can be thought.

How can technicity be the mark of experience? This may appear immediately paradoxical, if, on the one hand, one understands by technics transmissible rules, and if, on the other, one understands by the singularity of experience resistance to iterability and to translation into other forms.

I propose rather to argue that the very heterogeneity of experience is to be found in its technical dimension; that is, that there can be no experience without transformation, above all, without transformation of the self, and that there can be no transformation without technics. What do I mean by transformation? As Heidegger attests, to transform oneself is to become other: ‘To undergo an experience with something—be it a thing, a person, or a god—means that this something befalls us, strikes us, comes over us, overwhelms and transforms us.1If there is a ‘subject’ of experience, it is achieved in its ‘arche-passivity’: ‘When we talk of undergoing an experience, we mean specifically that the experience is not of our own making; to undergo here means that we endure it, suffer it, receive it as it strikes us and submit to it.2’ Experience trans-forms in the sense that it acquires form at the end of a crossing, of a trial of endurance, après coup. To become other is to become self. In other words, one can only become (one)self through becoming other (en s’alterant), through alteration. Constitutive of identity, this alteration is not absorbed within identity; it opens it up in a double sense—it both articulates and directs it, and divides and splits it. Through experience an ipseity is attained, falls upon itself, as event, singularity—always retrospectively. For the ‘subject’ of experience, to become is to come to oneself in the incalculability of one’s coming to self.

How can technics (la technique) not intervene in experience understood in this sense of retrospective transformation? What is there technical in this becoming other of experience? If to come to (one)self is to become other, then the relation to self has the character of a relation to another; it is here that technics appears in its constitutive role. The relation to the other can be considered technical on two conditions:

1) Technics is a savoir—a savoir which has the character of ‘knowing how to proceed’, of familiar surety; but, also, technics in the sense of the surety of knowledge which is exposed to the necessity of adjustments and re-adjustments to which the facticity of existence constrains the self, that is, to the possibility of accidents;

2) Given that technics evolves through instruments, then the relation to self is technical if it can be shown that the subject of experience intervenes as a ‘means’, as the instrument of its own transformation. The ‘subject’ of experience is thus agent, work and instrument—three moments of a potential speculative syllogism, which are both extremes and means, with the mediation of the event gathering them into a structure of experience.

With these concerns in mind, I will reconsider the work of Michel Foucault, especially the last two volumes of the History of Sexuality.3 First, I wish to lay out the aim of my reading and the difficulties that it entails.

The aim: throughout the three volumes of the History of Sexuality,4 Foucault focuses on the historicity of experience. By experience one should understand "the correlation, in a given culture, between domains of knowledge, types of normativity and forms of subjectivity."5 One may describe a culture as a "formation", at any rate the a priori ground on which the relation to things is organized, the set of "codes" (Foucault’s expression) according to which they become visible and speakable. Experience articulates knowledge, power (and here practice must be included, insofar as practice implies relations of power) and subjectivity: not the subject of metaphysics, but the modes of identification and submission to the rules organizing the bipolar couple knowledge-power. Is there then an experience of sexuality: how is sexuality determined by historicity, given that sexuality is not a "transcendental", a generality offering its profiles "in" the receptacle of history, in a word given that sexuality is anything but natural? But sexuality can be assigned to an "epoch": the epoch in which the usage of sex is linked to its establishment in discourse,6 in the triple modality of confession, clinical examination, and the constitution of sex as a domain of knowledge. The experience of sexuality, in the singularity of its configuration, takes place at the point of division between the true and the false, and between what is permitted and what is banned. Sexuality ceases to be intelligible from a jurisdiction of a fundamental or transcendental prohibition, that is, a radical interdiction. Prohibitions without modes of submission are just as possible as are modes of submission that are not dependent on prohibitions. Whence the necessity of a history of the modes of constitution of the "moral subject", in which the point is to know how, in a given epoch, an individual acknowledges and admits to being an ethical subject. A counter-proof is offered with the "care of self", characteristic of ancient ethics, in which the valorization of austerity (in particular of sexual austerity), dissociated from juridical and religious systems of prohibition, aims at the aesthetization or the stylization of existence. If there is a history of the constitution of the moral subject—one which is not the historicity of a subject in the sense of the emergence of a substance—then it is because there are problematizations (here moral ones), assigning both morals and the subject with a coefficient of historicity. To configure an experience is to describe what Foucault calls a problematization. This is to be understood as "the pondered and voluntary practices by which men not only set up rules of conduct but also look to transform themselves, to alter their singular nature, and to make their life a work of sustaining certain esthetic values and answering to certain criteria of style."7

In other words, to constitute oneself as a moral subject is to make one’s life a work of art, and that requires something like a technics, referring back to what Foucault, following numerous authors of Antiquity, calls the "arts of existence", tekhnai tou biou. The task is to cast light on the relationship between technique and problematization by studying, in particular, the way in which the rules adjust themselves, and the intrinsic possibilities of adjustment they comprise.

I will consider the singularity of experience as the result of the technicity of rules—linked to the idea of a modulation of the rules—working on modulation as a schematism of the rule.

Doing that requires facing up to a grave difficulty: that of thinking the historicity of experience, both against and within a metaphysical tradition culminating in the determination of experience as the very dimension of history: can a history be elaborated of that which engages the possibility of history? This is the aporia which Derrida, in other terms, set in objection to a history of madness,8 to that huge division between reason and unreason that, opening the possibility of history, could only, as Foucault acknowledged and Derrida showed, escape history.

And if we remain within the horizon of metaphysics—which is to say, perhaps without a horizon—we will not be able to avoid this impossibility. And yet experience, perhaps metaphysics’ major aim, would have us problematize its own historicity. We will take theoretical advantage of the resources and paradoxes presented by the Rule, gaining access to these paradoxes via the question of technics.


In thinking experience as a "problematization" I now wish to show in what respect the essentially technical element of this problematization defines its conditions of singularization, that is to say permits its determination as "historical". At this first stage let me bring out the main traits of this historicity. But one should ask if the relation to self, if the elaboration of oneself may be in all rigor thought as "technics", if it would not be more precise to speak of a "practice of self", since it is true that the division issuing out of Aristotle reserves the term praxis for an activity corresponding to a self-accomplishment, and the term techne for the reasoned implementation of the matter that I am not. Foucault, in conformity to usage that, however unfaithful to Aristotle is nonetheless Greek, makes interchangeable use of the two terms. They should be distinguished, and articulated, and the affinity of practice and technics in the ethical elaboration of self will have to be shown, in order to concentrate the analysis on the specifically technical element of this "experience" that is the "culture of self".

Now, the project of thinking experience in its historicity—in this example moral problematization—seems immediately to run smack into the lines of continuity that the documents propose. Thus, between Ancient and Christian ethics, common themes will be found: whether it be in the use of pleasure, the fear conjured up by sexual dispenditure (the "loss of semen" theme can be found in the 18th century as well as in late antiquity), or the value attributed to conjugal faithfulness, the disqualification associated with the image of the homosexual (or the "invert"), or even abstinence as a model of virtue.9

This persistence of the "sites" of ethical literature marks the historicity of moral experience as long as the modes of elaboration of self associated with these sites are not taken into account; that is to say as long as one does not consider the implementation that engages a double relation matter-form, act-potential,10 from which results, in Foucault’s terminology, the "moral subject". This expression is strange in Foucault’s style: what can a "subject" be if not the substantial support of an ‘I think", if it is not conceived as the instance for the establishment of meaning? Why, in what respect does a "subject" sustain experience? Why is there a history of the subject, why must the risk be run of suppressing historicity in attributing a "subjectity" to it? Foucault has the subject intervene with the arrival of the question of a multiplicity of possible relations in ethical prescriptions: "Given a code of action for a given type of actions [...] there are different ways of "behaving morally", different ways for the acting individual to operate not only as an agent, but as the moral subject of this action.’’11 The difference lies in the way in which the individual or the "agent" recognizes himself in the system of prescriptions. The constitution of a subject must be understood as a process of recognition. It is of course true that there is no experience without recognition: no experience without its being mine, in which ‘I’ recognize myself. But who is this ‘I’? ‘I’ is the effect of identification resulting from recognition. It is the subject of recognition. Nevertheless, there is no ‘present’ in experience: I defined in the introduction to this paper the transformation which is experience as the retrospective nature (l’après coup) of a formation. This après coup in the course of a life, can only be anticipated, and arrives only in the future perfect. This is a pure image, offering itself, however—to the extent that the ethical agent identifies with it, recognizes himself there—as a model or a paradigm. Foucault says exactly that: there can be a history of "models" of the relation to self, "models proposed for the establishment and the development of a relation to self, for reflection on self, the transformation that one seeks to obtain for one-self.12 Writing the history of "processes of subjectivation", means writing the history of "paradigms of experience". The paradigm defines the "subjectity" of experience. What remains to be understood is in which respect one can speak of the historicity of paradigms.

Foucault brings the historicity of paradigms to light through the modalities of the elaboration of self, insofar as this historicity calls into play the double relation matter-form, act-potential. It appears through the technicity of experience—understanding "technics" in the large sense of "implementation". Thus, the different ways of conducting one’s life apply to several points—four exactly: 1) on the elaboration of the ethical substance (this would be the pole of matter) ‘that is to say the way in which an individual has to constitute such and such a part of himself as the principle matter of his moral conduct’.13 The practice of faithfulness can apply to the respect of prohibitions and obligations in the accomplishment of acts. It can also consist in the mastery of desire, in vigilance with oneself, in the combat of self against self.2) This difference lies in the mode of submission: faithfulness can comply simply with social constraint, but can also find its vocation in the rescue of a spiritual tradition.14 Here we have the moment of identification, of recognition. The fiction of the paradigm dictates the process of elaboration, which is 3) the difference in forms of ethical work for which sexual austerity offers examples: the acquisition of a group of precepts and regular control of conduct or sudden and definitive renunciation of pleasure, combat with drives, governed by demand for efficiency, or once again combat, with the intervention of careful decoding of the forms of desire or their origins. As a whole, a hermeneutics of the flesh, characteristic of Christian pastoral, and opposed to ancient temperance, especially the Greek variety, in which the motive of shaping one’s desire sprung less from obsessive fear of evil than out of the demand that pleasure be stylized. And 4) the "teleology" of the moral subject: an action is not moral in itself, but its morality depends on the design formed by the unity of conduct in which it is situated—design or "final form", one might say. Thus, conjugal faithfulness can aim at mastery, detachment, tranquillity of soul, or an effect of purification.15

There is a historicity to experience because there is a historicity in the forms of the agent’s submission to systems of prescriptions. Since there is a historicity in the relation to self, which is to say a re-cognition of self, the identification of the self-sameness (ipséité) not as self-sameness "as such" but "such and such self-sameness". Not only ipse, but ego. Thus, whereas the Christian world is saturated with prescriptions fully governing the modes of submission, in correlation with a domain of knowledge named the flesh, ethics of Antiquity gave more importance to the procedures and techniques of elaboration. The mastery of desire does not so much follow a code as a concern with moderation and right measure, which enhances the value of the limit as limit.

But this creates a formidable problem. For, briefly, there would be only ethics of the code (those grouped under the title of "Christian pastoral", of a hermeneutics of the flesh), and ethics of the "culture of self", with technics defining only an epoch of history, and not the historicity of experience as such. There are still techniques for the control of self, the examination of self in the Christian pastoral; and sexuality, from the nineteenth century onwards, still makes use of technics. But the essence of Classical ethics is in the association of techniques with a concern with "stylization", the concern with self as with an individual who will have to offer himself a form of existence. Technics is therefore discriminating in two respects: firstly, in marking the whole of history, which is to say the whole of experience—a subject will be the result of a process of mediation through form and matter, secondly, in specifying an epoch, the epoch of Classical ethics, in diachronic as well as synchronic terms. Technics appears as a part, but at the same time, as the whole of experience. A formidable paradox, which requires a refining of its concept. This will involve, as was announced above, the de-sedimentation of the notions of praxis and techne.

To this end, we must of course refer to Aristotle, especially to Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics, particularly the chapters devoted to art and to prudence. Quite succinctly, production and action are differentiated in terms of a two-fold relation. Firstly, if they have in common the fact of being reasoned operations upon the contingent, they are opposed to each other in respect of the work and of the agent. In the case of action we are dealing with immanence and in the case of production with exteriority. Secondly, action, the domain of phronesis (prudence or practical wisdom) aims at the good, while production aims at efficiency. As Aubenque insists, prudence is therefore not skill (habilité), indifferent to the quality of the end.16 So inextricable is prudence from technics that it must be understood as the ‘skill’ of the virtuous. However, skill can also be imprudent—a distinction is therefore called for.

Foucault, although he conceives the processes of subjectivation under the categories of matter and form, is obviously not an Aristotelian. But perhaps the Aristotelian de-sedimentation will not lead to a technical-practical dualism but rather to their coupling. I therefore believe that Aubenque and Granger can help us to bring this aspect of Foucault’s work to light. Aubenque stresses that in the case of phronesis, for virtue to be accomplished, kairos must be taken into account.17 The agent’s pertinent appreciation, his discernment relative to "circumstances", that is to say to the accidental, hazy and revocable configuration of "what happens" (ce qui arrive), is a "technical problem’’.18 This is not a simple metaphor, weak analogy or shaky comparison: firstly because action, in distinction to production, must after all take the world into account. There is no action where there are no horizons based on the availability of things. But secondly, and above all, the experience of kairos, the experience, if I may use the expression, of the "time of experience",19 understood as phronesis, if it is true that phronimos is the most exemplary figure of experience, is at the beginning technical. Hippocratic medicine, Gorgias’ rhetoric, are arts which essentially concern kairos, without being for that matter arts of kairos.20 These are arts which are concerned with making deliberations more fluid by exposing them to the incalculability of the contingent. Technical is the action which, without upsetting the coherence of the set of rules, knows how to modify or weaken it —to use the logician’s term—relative to the situation. In one sense, action and production, insofar as they are accompanied by right rules, can be considered non-theoretical and non-formal axiomatics. The kairos gives force or weakness to the axiomatics. In action as well as in production, technicity is nothing but the responsibility of kairos: adding or removing a rule, inventing rules, choosing instantly to do without them. That is no doubt what is outstanding about technics. The capacity for deciding without a rule in a particular case is considered by Aristotle, curiously, to be a minor intellectual virtue. But the name which it is given is intelligence.

From here there must be an affinity between praxis and techne. The affinity between art and praxis is analogous to the affinity between science—episteme—and art. This affinity has been magnificently analyzed by G. Granger in his book on the Aristotelian theory of science.21 In production, there is thus a "science of production" which knows generality. Between this level and the level of actual operations, which concern the particular outside the ken of science, the intermediary level of technics is necessary. The technai are cases of applied knowledge, adjusting means to ends and producing intermediary effects which prepare the movement extending from the second substance with its own attributes to the individual.22 There is medical science, composed of rules valid for man. There is the experience which knows the particularities of Socrates or Callias. There is medical art which adjusts the episteme to experience.

This function of mediation of phronesis is assured by art, which establishes the conditions of realization, as Aubenque has shown.

The opposition between technics and practice is thus not at all simple. Fundamentally, one could say that experience, as transformation/alteration of oneself, implies the unity of the two: the elaboration of self is not the unveiling of self-sameness or of a pre-existing nature, but the constitution of a paradigm, of a fiction. Self-elaboration changes the self, it acts on self as on another: that is the technicity of this praxis. From this ensues the de-sedimentation of technics, the plurality of its levels of determination, including the relation praxis-techne. Technics, as techne, is knowledge in general, involving a relation to things, to the being (l’étant) that I am not; and this being can in a certain sense be myself—whence the technicity of praxis. Lastly, technics constitutes this knowledge relay, this ‘supplementarity’, or schematism that adjusts universal rules for particularities when these constitute ‘cases’. In this respect, technics produces singularity. But outside of that, technics includes a temporality.

To conclude this first part of my analysis, I would like to make several further remarks on what has not yet been treated in the technicity of experience, specifically on the relation to things; the adjustment of the rules, and the question of time. First, the relation to things. Initially, the relation to the body: beyond the traditional aporia tied to the question of whether or not I have a body or whether I am my body, the culture of self—implying attention to the body, and relying on an open and mobile set of procedures—is first encountered as a culture of the body. Next to conjugal relations, man-boy relationships, Foucault is particularly interested in dietetics, insofar as its based on medicine.23 What, then, is the status of the body in the elaboration of self? The body appears as both work and instrument of the relation to self. In another terminology—with which Foucault sometimes maintains a troubling and assuredly clandestine proximity—the body is in one sense the being that I am, but also the being that I am not. It testifies to the fact that I am the being that I am not. Revealing the quoddity (quoddité), the irreducible and unsurpassable accidentality of my existence—that existence which in one sense is mine, in another not—the body irrevocably tears apart the having-to-be, and forbids or puts off its being gathered in the form of a promised presence (parousia), exposing me to the permanent renegotiation of my identity, or of my ‘paradigm’, at each and every accident during my life. My body is responsible for the fact that my image—my identity—will have been nothing but the constancy of my own deformation, the sometimes broken line of its own variation. There can be no concern for self, for the culture of self, without a technics of the body. This technics is not a means, but is the self’s very truth.

This becomes manifest in the use of dietetics. In this corpus—especially in Hippocrates—diet appears as a category regulating an art of life and a mode of ‘problematizing’ behavior.24 The elaboration of oneself confronts medically established rules of dieting with the kairos: in all domains of dieting (beverages, food, sleep, sexual relations), the exercises must take conditions into account: besides absorbed nourishment, the hour of the day, the moment in the year, the age of the subject. Even architecture must deal with the kairos. In Antyllos’ residence (in late Antiquity) each room, writes Foucault, is given for this reason a dietetic or therapeutic value. ‘The rooms on the ground floor are excellent for acute illnesses, homoptysias and headaches; the rooms on higher floors are good for catarrh and related illnesses; rooms exposed to the sun at midday are excellent, except for those which need to be kept cool; those facing west are bad, too gloomy in the morning and equally so in the evening, provoking headaches.’25 The technicity of existence—this experience that is the culture of self as a specific moral problematization appears with three variables: the relation to available things (besides my body, food, the environment etc.), rule modulation, the use of time and its correlation with space.

Concerning now rule modulation, Foucault insists that the diet does not stipulate quantities or rhythms: ‘the diet has to negotiate, in relations which can only be characterized as a whole, qualitative modifications and adjustments.’26 We have suggested that the rule was ‘technical’ in this that it includes its own conditions of modulation: now what are they? What can be said of these ‘qualitative’ adjustments? These conditions are precisely not rules. If there is a schematism of the rule, then it is without a schema. The modulation of the rule does not follow any rule of modulation. The adjustment of the rules is therefore never guaranteed in advance. But it is this fundamental uncertainty over the right moment which assures, providing the subject exposes himself uncertain, the coherence of exercises and prescriptions. This exposition is what Foucault calls ‘problematization’: which we can now understand to be the determination of kairos as the condition for the application of the rule. In one sense, it is correct to say that the only rule that rule modulation follows is kairos: a rule tapered to an empty condition of time, time then being only the pure form of the rule. If it is true that problematization is inseparable from an axiomatics, the modulation of kairos consists in the addition or subtraction of rules, dictated by the criteria of the right moment, criteria’s empty form. But what guarantees the validity of a transformation which can only engage a singular aptitude for discernment? Precisely nothing assures or guarantees the accuracy of the evaluating glance, nothing but the capacity to remain without assurance. This is perhaps what phronesis is all about. It is a ‘technics of the self’ to the extent that it presupposes re-adjustable rules in given ‘circumstances’. Phronesis invests these rules in a relation to being that I am not, through the implementation of a division which should be named ontological, although the division cuts through me, crosses through me, both constituting my selfhood and irrevocably splitting it.

The last variable is the schedule, the use of time. Foucault points out the importance of the calendar, ‘strategic principle which one must know how to adapt to circumstances.’27 The fact of the calendar, and that of the schedule, attests to the ‘technicity’ of the relation to self, implied in ‘pragmatic’ time, the time in which to do things. The calendar reveals time, sets it into phases, and dates it by organizing it and by associating it to the prescribed tasks of the diet. This time is the time of the elaboration of the self, the time of the process of subjectivation, the time of the work. And to put it much too succinctly, since time is tied to the constraints of the environment, it implies orientation on the earth with respect to the signs in the sky. A space; undoubtedly a medicine as well; but also, as we have seen, an architecture.

This is the time of the work which is self-elaboration. The time of a work however, is on the one hand me, and on the other hand, not me. This time is that of what will have been me, of what, as a subject, I will have been; this time is that also of what will have never been me. This time of a ‘hecceity’ (héccéité), of a form or of a ‘craggy eidos’,28 this time of an unsurpassable ‘quoddity’ of an essence, that is, of a life. This time is that, therefore, of experience as technics of the self.


The concept—if the term can still be used—of an experience which would be historical through and through, or of the historicity of experience—runs into the objection referred to in the introduction. Does not the difficulty, let us say the aporia, opposed by Derrida to the possibility of a history of madness, also apply to a history of the relation to self?

To recall briefly Derrida’s objection: the project of a history of madness may well presuppose the traditional unity of logos as total presence. Indeed, Foucault makes a double move: 1) he assigns the division reason/madness to the figure of Descartes (see here the first Meditation opposing the argument of madness to the necessity of doubt); and 2) he accuses the ‘already reassuring’ dialectic of Socrates29 of being the harbinger of the great division (the situating of reason through the exclusion of its other). Derrida writes that it is impossible to save both moves. But what is more, in misunderstanding the strength of metaphysical constraint, Foucault homogenizes reason’s ‘other’. Thus, when he links hubris to madness, can he be sure, asks Derrida, that in both cases we are dealing with the same thing?30 The project of a history of reason seems doubly jeopardized: on the one hand, it re-establishes, and this remains unthought, the unity of experience that the project’s ambition was to call into question; and on the other, it cannot seize the possibility of undoing the unity of reason while proclaiming the invariance of its other.

Now the question is whether the schema of this critique can be applied to the project of a history of sexuality.

This means questioning the possibility of assigning epochs to experience, of dating its figures—and here Derrida does not hesitate to remind us of the inevitable difficulties inherent in periodization and to Foucault’s move. Has Foucault succeeded in dividing experience, in thinking its figures in another fashion than as the twists and whims of experience’s unique essence? Has he succeeded in escaping the authority of the identical? Has he succeeded in affirming the heterogeneity of the figures of experience?

All these questions must be exposed to the motive of the historicity of experience, in order to assure better its productivity.

Foucault’s approach would seem, on the one hand, to confirm its vulnerability, and on the other, to elude one of the major objections.

Its vulnerability appears confirmed in the move which indicates, at different epochs of the relation to self in the West, the permanence of a concern with the mastery of desire as a shaping of the drive, regulated according to a paradigm or a model, and which would unify history under the schema of a formation (paideia, Bildung) calling into play a mimesis, understood not as an imitation, but as the configuration or installation of a type. Lacoue-Labarthe has thought this schema of unification under the name of ontotypology, or ontomimetology.31 This would go to explain why experience (in Foucault’s sense of the term) requires a technics of the self, understood as this shaping or setting up of a fiction. (Foucault’s originality would however consist in having thought the political dimension of the relation to self without making the state the form of its accomplishment or its implementation.)

Indeed, if Foucault has insisted on going back to the Greeks, it was to uncover the schema of a non-repressive sexual austerity, allowing him to conceive of sexuality as a strategy for the maximization of pleasure.

There is an objection to this which cannot affect, however, Foucault’s approach. If madness in the History of Madness, is an invariant, this is no longer the case with sexuality. The project of a ‘history of sexuality’ is precisely transformed into a history of the relation to self, and this history is one of problematizations and moral practices.

These problematizations and practices are not seen as essences, but as rules—and the rule is never defined as such.

One must go back, then, to our guiding thread, the capacity for rule modulation, which allows one to think the ‘technicity’ of experience, in order to shed more light on the possibility of a historicity of experience.

And one must stop at the question of the formation or the shaping of the drives: to what extent does the schema of shaping, as it can be seen operating in Foucault, permit the unity of experience to be seriously called into question?

There is no doubt that as for the question of the drive one must analyze at length the relationship of Foucault to psychoanalysis—and his very complex position with respect to Lacan. However, when he speaks of the elaboration of self and of the stylization of existence, Foucault is thinking above all of Nietzsche.

I aim to show how Nietzsche can be mobilized to reach the heterogeneity of the figures of experience.

A fragment of The Will to Power reads as follows: ‘Not "to know" but to schematize—to impose upon chaos as much regularity and as many forms as our practical needs require.’32

What is of interest in this fragment is the relation of chaos to the rule. Knowledge, as an operation of the will to power, opposes rules to chaos. These rules are schema—they configure chaos by setting out in advance the horizons for the activity of the living (horizons of life or of praxis) that is to say for the conservation and increase of power. We know that Nietzsche names ‘values’ these vital conditions.

In what respect does the relation of the rule to chaos allow the heterogeneity of configurations or structures of experience to be thought?

Heidegger must be called upon here for two lines of thought.

1) Chaos is not material or sensible turbulence—even though chaos helps to think these phenomena, through which it is indicated. Chaos is not strictly speaking anything that is (rien d’étant), but is a condition of possibility to undergo being as such. It is chaos which is experienced and experimented upon, it is chaos which is engaged in all experience, in this sense, it ‘is’ experience.

2) Chaos is not contained from the outside by living beings who would impose their rules or perspectives upon it, but chaos calls up the schema—the rule—as a mode of its presentation. This must be made clear on two levels.

On the level of the drive: chaos is the infinite, irrepressible and incommensurable rush (afflux). In the context of the thought of will to power, the problem for living beings is to maintain themselves in this rush. The essence of chaotic living being is the drive. Life as such is driven. Chaos exposed the drive to a threat of annihilation, but the drive is drive only in maintaining itself: ‘consequently, in the essence of this excessive urge lies a kind of urge that is suited to its nature, that urges life not to submit to the urgent onslaught [rush] but to stand fast in it, if only in order to be able to be urged and to urge beyond itself.’33

Being concerned with shaping one’s existence must be understood from this ‘something’ which lies in the urge and in which it is susceptible of sustaining its own excess. Something is prescribed by this excess, which is perhaps the very law of this excess—and from there, the being of chaos.

Chaos prescribes stability, regularity—which is a way of saying: there is a regularity in chaos, in the excess, and which manifests itself as the schematism. Now, is not regularly the essence of the rule—that is to say of the schema? Must one not say that it is as rule that the urge is able to expose itself to its own excess, to shape and be shaped?

However the sameness of the rule and of chaos appear also at the level of chaos, considered in itself. It indeed belongs to the essence of chaos to expose itself ‘as such’34 —which means that chaos figures and configures itself—through schemas and through rules, whatever the heterogeneity of their domains or of their planes of consistency. One must therefore say: chaos ‘is’ the rule, not such and such a determined rule, but the rule as such, the possibility of the rule, the pure form of the rule. And inversely, the rule is ‘chaotic’: chaos thus affects the structures of experience. It is from this chaotic nature of the rules that an insight can be gained into the historicity of experience.


The following remarks on the ‘becoming chaotic’ of the rule aim to shed light on the possibility of passing from one configuration of experience to another. This passage can be conceived at several levels: first at the level at which Foucault situates the historicity of experience, at the level then of the great historical formations. But also, let us not exclude the level of individual experience. The configurations have been defined as linked to problematizations, and these in turn articulated with prescriptions, that is, to rules, which we know to be essentially capable of modulation. A configuration is thus indissociable from a finite series of rules. Thinking the passage from one configuration to another leads to the question of the configuration’s stability. We’ve seen that all configurations are weakened from the inside by the modular potential of the rules. The passage from one configuration to another presupposes that the rules are able to be altered and that what has to be thought is a modification engaging the transformation of the configuration.

We’ll take our lead from an aphorism in the Philosophical Investigations of Wittgenstein:

We can easily imagine people amusing themselves in a field by playing with a ball so as to start various existing games, but playing many without finishing them and in between throwing the ball aimlessly into the air, chasing one another with the ball and bombarding one another for a joke and so on. And now someone says: The whole time they are playing a ball-game and following definite rules at every throw. And is there not also the case where we play and—make up the rules as we go along? And there is even one where we alter them—as we go along.35

Many precautions are in order here. I’ll retain three. Firstly, the analogy of language to a game does not enable one to conclude that language is a game. Secondly, this conclusion is all the more impossible for experience (although language and experience can be contaminated by the game, and the game, by the seriousness of experience). And thirdly—to sum up systematically Wittgenstein’s problematic—situations (‘cases’) can be conceived in which the players (speakers) modify the rules of the game while playing (given that the game is an analogy). ‘To make up’ can mean: to complete, to stop up, to make up for (a deficit). Among the multiple meanings there are also: to invent, to come up with (a story, an excuse). It seems relatively easy to bring these meanings into play in the phrase ‘to make up the rules’.

If we consider the game situation imagined by Wittgenstein, we see that the transformation of the rules of the game belongs to the game, that is to say that the moves are connected according to rules. But it also appears that the transformation of the rules does not follow any rule of transformation .

This is absolutely necessary. For it is possible to imagine the rule changing with each move, in such a way that it would not be possible to register the changes except retrospectively. This is hinted at in the quotation: there is a figure (a player or outside observer) who announces that the game has changed, who announces the future perfect of another game, and this discourse is addressed to the virtual figure of an addressee who could not have anticipated the discourse, who was not dans le coup (‘to be with it’). One cannot even be sure that the figure announcing the new form of game has been dans le coup: for his statement can be proffered in surprise. One cannot exclude that the players themselves are not surprised by the new content of the game, by the event of a new form of game, that is, simply, by another game.

In this imaginary game, playing is inventing rules—nonstop, thus without a rule of intervention. It is this initial absence of a rule of transformation which makes the game as a transformation of rules possible. The chaotization of the rules would be the initial default, the initial absence as ‘the work of the supplement’36 in the rule, interrupting the game by the connection of a new move according to another rule (always (an)other), thus opening another configuration—another gaming space. The work of the supplement in the rule appears, in other words, as the transfer or the iteration of the absence of rules: but a transfer which is marked by the connection, in the game, of a new move according to a new rule.

Yet again: the invention of the rule has its possibility in anomie, not as the pure and simple absence of rules, of any rules, but as the very truth of nomos: the pure form of the rule, the pure rule, which is not a determined rule, but the transformability of rules, their capacity to be modulated, as the transfer of the absence of rules.

There follow three consequences for the question concerning the historicity of experience:

1) One can ask if the ‘ruled’ or regulated character of the urge is not opposed to the thesis of the historicity of experience, if it is true that we have here a powerful ontological constraint, and that the rule is characterized by its regularity. But it is also this constraint which permits the historicity of experience to be thought. The rule is regular, but the work of the supplement permits or obliges the conception of systematically singular configurations. However, the possibility of going from one configuration to another does not allow the interval to be adequately described—that is, that which determined the connections, and the rules they followed. It could not be said, for example, in what way the passage from the culture of self to the pastoral of the flesh transpired, neither the passage of the latter to sexuality. But the ‘paradoxology’ of the rule allows these configurations to be determined, and their principal plurality conceived.

2) Precautions must nevertheless be taken—for how can a configuration be isolated? On what grounds can the possibility be ruled out that Christian rules cannot be pre-inscribed in the Greek problematization, so that they do not have a Greek meaning, and inversely? It is impossible not to bring forth determined forms of experience, to escape the question of the convertibility or the conversion of the accident into an essence, form or eidos of experience. At stake is the productivity of thought. But the essentially chaotic character of the rule implies that the stability of a configuration never be given in advance; and from there, that the rules can circulate from one historical formation to another, without the context being able to reduce or neutralize their singularity. Put differently, there is perhaps no ‘singular context’, no singularity of experience, without these grafts, whether they work or not. For example, an oriental cult lost in the Greece of Apollo and Homer, that is, an errant god. Or an anticipation within the Stoic idea of the culture of self, of the modern, Cartesian experience of freedom. And the modernity (through the aesthetic concern with the self) that Foucault attributes to the Greeks in a superb and violent move; and, in his concern with the modern culture of self, the future that in his own way, which is not exactly Nietzsche’s, he promised to our modernity, as an echo or a replay of Greek style.

It is at these intersections that the possibility of a singularity of experience occurs. Just how far will Foucault have helped us in thinking this possibility? At the beginning of The Usage of Pleasure, Foucault finds himself in exactly the opposite position as Leibniz, questioning the relations between the soul and the body. Thinking himself to be out at sea, he discovered that he had not yet left port. Whence the revisions imposed on the project of a history of sexuality: to be accessible to history, sexuality needs to become an experience, a singular configuration. The relation between technics and problematization, which we have inscribed in the history of the relation to self, is one way of thinking such an experience—providing of course that experience is apprehended as the chaotic game in which the Wittgensteinian player excels. It is always the transformation of rules that, in advance, will have decided which connections are made. In this sense it is indeed true that there are ‘cases in which we play and make up the rules as we go along; and even cases in which we modify them as we go along.’


* The original version of this article "L'expérience comme technique de soi" is to be found in De l'Expérience, Les Papiers du Collège International, No. 22, 135-50. 'Technologies of the self' is, for the moment, the standard translation of Foucault's 'technique de soi' (Technologies of the Self: a Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. L.M. Martin, H. Gutman and P. Hutton (Amherst: University of Mass, 1988)). Such an option, which also informs the English translation of Heidegger's 'Die Frage nach der Technik' (on this see note 2 of Richard Beardsworth's contribution to this issue of Tekhnema) runs contrary to the choices of the journal, one of whose concerns lies in a re-thinking of technology which takes into account and recasts the English distinctions between 'technics' and 'technique(s)', 'technology' and the 'technical'. Therefore, since we choose to consider technology as the particular conjunction of technics and science in the modern period, technology will not be found in this translation of Milet's paper. In those occurrences in which his French substantive 'technique' refers to a particular region of practice or thought, it will be translated as 'a technique', whereas, as in the title of this paper, when technique indicates the constitutive domain of practice and thought, I have used the rare English term 'technics'.
Martin Heidegger, "The Nature of Language" in On the Way to Language, trans. P.D. Hertz (Harper Collins, 1982), 57.
2 Ibid.
3 M. Foucault, L'Usage des plaisirs et Le souci de soi (Paris: Gallimard, 1984). (All English translations from these works are my own-G.C.)
4 The first volume is entitled La Volonté de savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1976). The titles in English are as follows: Vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge, Vol. 2: The Usage of Pleasure, Vol. 3: The Care of Self.
5 L'Usage des plaisirs, op. cit., 10.
6 The expression, "its establishment in discourse" (sa mise en discours) is J.A. Miller's, see "Michel Foucault et la psychanalyse", in Michel Foucault philosophe (Paris: Seuil, 1989).
7 L'Usage des plaisirs, 16.
8 J. Derrida, "Cogito and the History of Madness", in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago University Press, 1978).
9 Cf. L'Usage des plaisirs, especially the part of the introduction devoted to forms of problematization.
10 Op.cit., the third section of the introduction, "Ethics and the practice of self".
11 L'Usage des plaisirs, 33.
12 Ibid., 36.
13 Ibid., 33.
14 Ibid., 34.
15 For form and teleology, compare the third part of the introduction to L'Usage des plaisirs.
16 P. Aubenque, La Prudence chez Aristote (Paris: PUF, 1963), especially 56-63.
17 Especially the pages devoted to kairos, ibid., 95-106.
18 Ibid., 98.
19 I have borrowed this term from Catherine Malabou, in her fine paper "The Times of Experience" for a seminar on experience at the Collège International de Philosophie, Paris, 1991-1993.
20 Aubenque, op. cit., 98, note 4.
21 G.G. Granger, La theorie aristotélicienne de la science (Paris: Aubier, 1976).
22 Ibid., 338.
23 Cf. the second chapter of L'Usage des plaisirs.
24 Ibid., 115.
25 Le souci de soi, 124.
26 Op. cit., 131.
27 Ibid., 126.
28 Cf. Catherine Malabou, "The Times of Experience", op. cit.
29 J. Derrida, "Cogito and the History of Madness", op. cit., 39-40.
30 Ibid., 41. "...if madness has an invariable meaning, what is the relation of this meaning to the a posteriori events which govern Foucault's analysis?"
31 P. Lacoue-Labarthe, L'imitation des modernes (Paris: Galilée, 1986), especially the two conferences devoted to Heidegger, "La transcendance finie/t dans la politique" and "Poétique et politique".
32 Quoted by Heidegger (whose interpretation we follow here) in Nietzsche, Vol. 3, trans. Stambaugh, Krell and Capuzzi (Harper Collins, 1991), 70.
33 Heidegger, ibid., 85.
34 Chaos appears as such through the schemas structuring the horizon: "The horizon first lets chaos appear as chaos through its transparent stability". Heidegger, Ibid., 88.
35 L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, aphorism 83, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1963), 39.
36 I am of course indebted to the work of J. Derrida for the 'schema' of the supplement.