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Narcissism as ethical practice?: Foucault, askesis and an ethics of becoming
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Professor Elaine Campbell
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An auto/biographical society brings with it fears of a drift towards a culture of narcissism in which the mutuality and ethicality of collective life may be eclipsed in favour of a self-indulgent ‘aesthetics of existence’. This article focuses on auto/biographical practice, regarding it as a quintessential ‘technology of the self ’ in the Foucauldian sense. Paradoxically, this positions auto/biography within a thesis which emphasizes the constitution of the self as a project of aesthetic inscription, posing dangers for ethicality and commitment to public life. Is an aesthetic disposition ethically indispensable? The paper explores this problematic through the lens of Foucauldian ethics. A critical (re-)examination of the aesthetics of reading and writing auto/biography suggests the potential for realizing a different kind of ethical relation to ourselves and others. These issues are explicated by reference to the popular cultural text, Dead Man Walking – an auto/biographical narrative which is explicitly ‘aestheticized’ as entertainment.
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