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The practice of the self involves reading, for one could not draw everything from one’s own stock or arm oneself by oneself with the principles of reason that are indispensable for self-conduct: guide or example, the help of others is necessary. But reading and writing must not be dissociated; one ought to “have alternate recourse” to these two pursuits and “blend one with the other.” If too much writing is exhausting (Seneca is thinking of the demands of style), excessive reading has a scattering effect: “In reading of many books is distraction.”1 By going constantly from book to book, without ever stopping, without returning to the hive now and then with one’s supply of nectar - hence without taking notes or constituting a treasure store of reading - one is liable to retain nothing, to spread oneself across different thoughts, and to forget oneself. Writing, as a way of gathering in the reading that was done and of collecting one’s thoughts about it, is an exercise of reason that counters the great deficiency of stultitia, which endless reading may favor. Stultitia is defined by mental agitation, distraction, change of opinions and wishes, and consequently weakness in the face of all the events that may occur; it is also characterized by the fact that it turns the mind toward the future, makes it interested in novel ideas, and prevents it from providing a fixed point for itself in the possession of an acquired truth.2 (211-12)

[1] Seneca, Lettres, vol. 1 (1945), bk. 1, let. 2, §3, p. 6 {vol. 1, let. 2, §3, p. 7}.
[2] Ibid., vol. 2 (1947), bk. 5, let. 52, §§1-2, pp. 41-42 {vol. 1, let. 52, p. 345}. 


Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994 

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