top of page

HYPOMNEMATA (ὑπόμνημα, Ancient Greek for a type of 'notebook')



The practice of writing for oneself to curate one’s soul

Not journaling day to day stuff but creating a reference book for oneself, to shape one’s character, through self-control and determination of action and purpose, to establish one’s values.



Hypomnemata, in the technical sense, could be account books, public registers, or individual notebooks serving as memory aids. Their use as books of life, as guides for conduct, seems to have become a common thing for a whole cultivated public. One wrote down quotes in them, extracts from books, examples, and actions that one had witnessed or read about, reflections or reasonings that one had heard or that had come to mind. They constituted a material record of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering them up as a kind of accumulated treasure for subsequent rereading and meditation. They also formed a raw material for the drafting of more systematic treatises, in which one presented arguments and means for struggling against some weakness (such as anger, envy, gossip, flattery) or for overcoming some difficult circumstance (a grief, an exile, ruin, disgrace).




These hypomnemata should not be thought of simply as a memory support, which might be consulted from time to time, as occasion arose; they are not meant to be substituted for a recollection that may fail. They constitute, rather, a material and a framework for exercises to be carried out frequently: reading, rereading, meditating, conversing with oneself and with others.


Writing as a personal exercise done by and for oneself is an art of disparate truth —or, more exactly, a purposeful way of combining the traditional authority of the already-said with the singularity of the truth that is affirmed therein and the particularity of the circumstances that determine its use.

: writing transforms the thing seen or heard “into tissue and blood” (in vires et in sanguinem).


withdrawing into oneself getting in touch with oneself, living with oneself, relying on oneself, benefiting from and enjoying oneself. Such is the aim of the hypomnernata: to make one’s recollection of the fragmentary logos, transmitted through teaching, listening, or reading, a means of establishing a relationship of oneself with oneself, a relationship as adequate and accomplished as possible




In this dual function, correspondence is very close to the hypomnemata, and its form is often very similar. Epicurean literature furnishes examples of this. The text known as the “Letter to Pythocles” begins by acknowledging receipt of a letter in which the student has expressed his affection for the teacher and has made an effort to “recall the [Epicurean] arguments” enabling one to attain happiness; the author of the reply gives his endorsement: the attempt was not bad; and he sends in return a text —a summary of Epicurus’s Peri phuseos—  that should serve Pythocles as material for memorization and as a support for his meditation.


Yet it also happens that the soul service rendered by the writer to his correspondent is handed back to him in the form of “return advice”; as the person being directed progresses, he becomes more capable, in his turn, of giving opinions, exhortations, words of comfort to the one who has undertaken to help him. The direction does not remain one way for long; it serves as a context for exchanges that help it become more egalitarian.

Notes from Self Writing, Michel Foucault

bottom of page