The powers of the false are what cause the science of governmentality and the philosophy of abstraction to part ways. Deleuze, following Nietzsche, argues that “the ‘true world’ does not exist, and even if it did, it would be inaccessible, impossible to describe, and, if it could be described, would be useless, superfluous.” This critique is in part historical, much like Hardt and Negri’s depiction of colonial dialectics, as time “puts truth in crisis.” Derrida explicates how time can subvert truth, whereby the legal order is founded through a violence that is illegitimate under the law. Denouncing states, nations, or races as fictions does little to dislodge their power, however untrue the historical or scientific justifications for them might be. Deleuze is intrigued by these “not-necessarily true pasts,” and in particular, the founding mythologies that fictionalize the origin of states and nations of people. Recognizing power in the indistinguishability between the true and false does not mean the loss of value or that the world is a sham – in place of the model of truth, Deleuze poses the real. Put in these terms: disputing the truthfulness of an abstraction does not limit its power but in fact reiterates the real capacities of even false abstractions (to name two: that illegal violence can and has been used to found new legal orders, and that now-debunked science once justified eugenics and that new scientific paradigms will necessarily invalidate those currently used in social policy). To draw a sharp boundary between the state as a historical set of practices and “a mythicized abstraction,” as Governmentality Studies does, then turns a blind eye to the reality of the state. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘foucault’
Posted in papers, tagged abstraction, anarchism, archive, colonialism, D&G, deleuze, diagram, foucault, governmentality, hardt and negri, incorporeal transformation, marxism, philosophy, power, rethinking marxism, science, the state, the virtual, violence, what is philosophy? on September 23, 2013 | 4 Comments »
The State as a Virtual Object [[or how Max Stirner can get you hanged]]
Rethinking Marxism 2013
Japanese director Nagisa Oshima’s 1968 film “Death by Hanging” begins with the execution of an ethnic Korean man, R. Miraculously, the hanging does not kill him; in fact, its only effect is that it erases his memory (08:23). Taken by surprise, officials debate the law and decide that execution is only just if a person realizes the guilt for which they are being punished (10:55). In an effort to make R admit guilt for a crime that he has no memory of committing, the officials simulate his crimes, which only leads to an absurd comedy of errors that exposes the racist, violent dimension of the nationalist law and history. R finally admits to the crimes but he maintains his innocence, which motivates him to debate the officials (49:30). “Is it wrong to kill?” R asks. “Yes,” they respond, “it is wrong to kill.” “Then, killing me is wrong, isn’t it?” R replies and then extends his argument “… A fine idea. First we kill the murderer… …then, being murderers, we’ll be killed, and so on and so on.” The official rejoinder is a predictable one: “Don’t say such things! We’re legal executioners! It’s the nation that does not permit you to live.” To which R responds: “I don’t accept that. What is a nation? Show me one! I don’t want to be killed by an abstraction” (52:52).
Less than a decade later, French historian Michel Foucault aired similar frustrations to R, though in the context of the genealogical study of power. Intellectually dissatisfied that “the representation of power has remained under the spell of monarchy,” he claims that long after the rise of the Republic, “we still have not cut off the head of the king” (Foucault, History of Sexuality, 88-89). (more…)
Marxists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have a useful illustration of a similar abstraction in their 2000 book Empire. According to Hardt and Negri, colonialism works as an abstract machine, a term synonymous with abstraction or virtual object. The abstract machine of colonialism, they say, creates a dialectic of identity and alterity that imposes binaries divisions on the colonial world (Empire, 128-129). And while differences and identities are created by colonialism “as if they were absolute, essential, and natural,” they in fact function “only in relation to each other and (despite appearances) have no real necessary basis in nature, biology, or rationality” (129). Hardt and Negri do not go as far as to call Empire an abstract machine, but perhaps we should. Customary definitions of Empire usually focus on a polycentric sovereignty of global governance as it intersects with the postmodern production of informatized, immaterial, and biopolitical products. In contrast, I contend that Empire arrives as an entirely incorporeal entity that lacks its own body and is deprived of a material existence to call its own. However devoid of existence, Empire persists as the force behind a concept for organizing and directing the capitalist world market. As a result, Empire operates through management and circulation, but it is not extensive with its products. Perhaps the most powerful example of the incorporeal transformation is the transformation that occurs when a judge declares the accused to be guilty of their crimes – transforming an alleged criminal into a real one (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 80-81).
We can now return to the interrupted scene of Oshima’s film, knowing more about the abstraction that wants to kill R. (more…)
Posted in papers, tagged abstract machine, anarchism, archeology of knowledge, archive, D&G, deleuze, diagram, discipline and punish, empiricism, foucault, governmentality, logic of sense, marxism, philosophy, science, the state, the virtual, what is philosophy? on September 19, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
Returning to Foucault’s critique nearly thirty years later, we can reassess whether or not Marxist and Anarchist scholarship should remain condemned to hanging. Should Foucault’s arguments against state phobia be repeated, that it enables neo-liberalism and lacks singularity, or can Marxist and Anarchist state theory be rescued? Of course there are already numerous scholars who have squared Foucault with Marxist and Anarchist thought, and that such scholarship offers exemplary critiques of actually existing neoliberalism (one being our respondent today). Already in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Foucault’s work was incorporated into Structuralist Marxim and Italian Autonomist Marxisms, and more recently, Foucault’s theory of power has inspired the creation of Post-Anarchism. In fact, Foucaultian scholarship is so thoroughly disseminated today that among Marxists and Anarchists, perhaps Fredric Jameson is the last holdout.
Instead of saving Marxism and Anarchism, then, what may be called for is a renewed defense of two things: state phobia, and non-empiricism. My defense of state phobia is political. While governmentality studies describe power well, they lack external grounds for critiquing that power. A study of governmentality can of course analyze power according to its own self-professed aims, but without something like Derridean deconstruction or Adornian immanent critique, the study is not political but descriptive. Leading scholars says this themselves, expressing that studies of government “are not hardwired to any political perspective” but “are compatible with other methods” (Rose, O’Malley, Valverde, “Governmentality,” 101). Marxism, anarchism, or another other critique of power thus offers the external ground to challenge actually existing governmentalization, and state phobia provides the point of condensation for common struggles that share an anti-authoritarian critique of power. My defense of non-empiricism, which is less commensurate with the study of governmentality and is the focus of the rest of this paper, is methodological. Methodologically, I disagree with those scholars within governmentality studies who argue for a shallow definition of the state, which they justify through ‘brute’ empiricism. For these scholars, governmentality is a strictly “an empirical mapping of governmental rationalities and techniques” that “turn away from grand theory, the state, globalization, reﬂexive individualization, and the like” (99; 101). I contend that this empiricism leaves no place for the state as an abstraction, and the project of amending the study of governmentality to include abstraction requires revising its methodology.
Contrary to Foucault’s shallow definition of the state, French Marxists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari treat the state as a ‘virtual object’ that is neither an ideological effect nor solely repressive – thus avoiding the crude terms of Foucault’s brief argument from the classic governmentality lecture. (more…)
There are two targets to Foucault’s criticism: the classic state theories of Marxism and Anarchism, the first of which he charges with functionalism whereby the state is an epiphenomenal effect of a model of production, while the second he accuses of treating the state as a ‘cold monster’ to be universally feared (Security, Territory, Population, 109; 114fn39). In turn, Foucault suggests that political analysis should minimize the importance of the state, because perhaps “the state is only composite reality and a mythicized abstraction whose importance is much less than we think. What is important for our modernity, that is to say, for our present, is not the state’s takeover (éstatisation) of society, so much as what I would call the ‘governmentalization’ of the state” (Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 109).
Anglo-American social sciences have taken up Foucault’s approach in earnest. Interestingly, they took their initial inspiration from a single lecture on governmentality that comes from the much longer lecture series entitled Security, Territory, Population – the lecture I quoted from above. Even without the associated three-year lecture series where Foucault completed a genealogy of the liberal rule, Anglo-Americans were still able to developed a highly original methodology for Foucaultian state theory that took seriously Foucault’s enjoinment to study ‘the governmentalization of the state.’ (more…)
Posted in papers, tagged abstraction, death by hanging, deleuze, ethnicityt, foucault, japan, korea, nagisa oshima, oshima, rethinking marxism, the state, violence on September 17, 2013 | 3 Comments »
This is the introduction to my paper, “The State as a Virtual Object,” which I will be presenting on Sunday at the Rethinking Marxism conference. Rather than posting the paper in full, I’ll release easily-readable excerpts now and the full paper next week.
Japanese director Nagisa Oshima’s 1968 film “Death by Hanging” begins with the execution of an ethnic Korean man, R. Miraculously, the hanging does not kill him; in fact, its only effect is that it erases his memory (08:23). Taken by surprise, officials debate the law and decide that execution is only just if a person realizes the guilt for which they are being punished (10:55). In an effort to make R admit his guilt for a crime he has no memory of committing, the officials simulate his crimes, which only leads to an absurd comedy of errors that exposes the racist, violent dimension of the nationalist law and history.
Posted in dissertation, tagged anarchism, D&G, deleuze, empire, empiricism, escape, foucault, governance, hardt & negri, idealism, james c scott, line of flight, marx, marxism, materialism, metropolis, politics on August 12, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
Escape is the oldest story of freedom, and it is among the simplest.
Half a century ago, an anarchist scholar decided to write a heroic story of peasants.When bodies started piling up in Vietnam, he was intrigued that people actually cared about peasants for once. Even then, his task was not easy, given that peasants usually serve as the stage upon which more dramatic disputes between nationalists and colonizers are performed. However, in the archives he uncovered books and records that he wielded against those who had dismissed his humble peasants.
The heroic peasants were a good start for the scholar. While national liberation struggles claimed that the heart of the nation beat within the peasant, the scholar focused an even more elusive class of people: hill peoples, those who buck authorities with a run to the hills. Through diligent scholarship, he was able to bring together an impressive array of theories and terms to describe why certain peoples are poor materials for state-making.
What the scholar loved most about the hill people was their slash-and-burn culture. Dismissed by others as hillbilly backwardness, he knew that their whole way of life was an elaborate trick that they used to be left alone. But everything is different now, he reluctantly admitted; it had all changed after World War II. Most States developed technologies, both mechanical and human, that eliminated their ‘dark twins’ hiding in the mountains. Space was spanned and the hill sanctuaries were found, he said. The few peoples still in the hills were the last ones to escape; but even they are on the verge on disappearing, he lamented.
Not far away, a similar discovery was made.
A young college student was tired of the usual posturing of campus activism. The daily barrage of manufactured urgency and its politics of guilt did not interest him. What he did have was a plan to fight Reagan’s imperialist interventions in Latin America. So after gaining a little know-how in engineering with a focus on alternative energy, he headed south to make a real contribution to ‘the people who could use help.’
But the student felt out of place after he got there and was nagged by the feeling that this struggle was not his. The projects he worked on were practical, no doubt – computer donations from the States were not hurting the people of El Salvador – but they were not really helping that much either. When he looked for guidance, the El Salvadorians were kind but blunt. Their war torn country did not need engineering solutions to political problems, they said. So the student went back home to ponder.
Look, just go to the mountains, a comrade said while visiting the student. The student shot back an incredulous glance. Look, you have mountains here. Just go to the mountains. That’s what we do. Get some guns, go to the mountains, and wage a revolution. The student responded thoughtfully, agreeing that, yes, there were mountains in Seattle, but he was not sure about the rest of the suggestion. A few moments later, with an embarrassed grin, he admitted that it simply did not correspond to his reality at all.
Though quite different, the two stories agree on a basic point: today, there is no sense in running to the hills. The hills may have previously been a non-place, a u-topia, where a people existed without a history. And while it is said that the history of people is the history of class struggle, it would be at least as truthful to say that the history of the peoples without history is the history of those who escape. But with the great latticework of surveillance and control that now spans most of the developed world, the veil of spatial isolation has been pierced. So today, the hills cannot help make class struggle or freedom a reality.
Even with hill peoples now under State control, however, is it not obvious that escape still does and always will exist? Of course it all depends on context – but there is a political danger in the desire to always want more context. The greatest risk is that providing context becomes a purely academic exercise that defers judgment or action. This deferral is an expression of postmodern relativism, most commonly voiced as the desire for complexity (“well, it’s complicated…” or “let me complicate this a bit first…”). Such an incessant demand for context is to be expected, however, as protesting simplicity is a critical move in today’s dominant ideology. So I will begin there. Yet it is my ultimate aim to demonstrate how a reworked concept of escape is essential to understanding contemporary power. Therefore, after I finish examining the demolition of the distinction between the valley and the hill or the town and the country, I shift to the new paths of escape that have opened up under the towering figure of the Metropolis. Because to escape today, one does not run to the hills but burrows deeper into the dark underside of the Metropolis. (more…)
Unlike the mythic State, governance today is no longer a question of divinity or even mastery. Empire is instead the force of prevention. What Empire prevents is the future, which it claims is only full of horror, chaos, and disappointment – where apocalyptic monsters or dystopian nightmares come true. The present, we are told, is in crisis. Paradoxically, Empire’s solution is to deepen the crisis in order to save the present. The experience of this drawn-out present is a combination of the profusion of difference paired with the vague notion that nothing is really changing. To achieve this confusing state – where the more that things change, the more they stay the same – Empire undertakes two abstract processes: circulation and management. These two processes are its essential modes of operation. (more…)
Posted in dissertation, tagged affect, capitalism, confession, feminism, feminist killjoys, foucault, negation, negativity, patriarchy, power, queer feminism, queer theory, subjectivity, the subject on August 12, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
“Everybody Talks About the Weather, but Nobody Does Anything About It”
Interiority, Dark Appetites and the Desire to Confess
The noises of a public place set the scene as the shot fades from black. Wobbly, droning music overtakes the din of the crowd, capturing the suffocating alienation of the Metropolis where mutual presence is characterized more by mutual separation than social connection.
A floor cuts the frame in half, the low shot focusing on people’s feet as they hurry from one side of the frame to another. Some disappear, their presence reduced to nothing before we know anything about them. Others appear, but not as complex characters in a drama but as anonymous subjects, either to be ignored or simply forgotten. In big red text, the words “NADIE ES INOCENTE” are emblazoned on the screen.
A pair of skinny legs appears, and the film quickly cuts to a backlit character walking up stairs with the same placid determination it takes to safely walk big city streets.
In the next shot, we finally catch a glimpse the character as he moves in and out of the shadows. A young punk in a red cut-off shirt and wild hair boards a train and finds a seat. While the train picks up speed, the disorienting music stops and is replaced by the mechanical clanks of locomotion. The punk stares out the window. His thoughts are broadcast through voice-over.
In a meandering tone, the punk gives a wry farewell to Neza City, a slum outside Mexico City. His excitement builds as he says goodbye to pickpockets, the police, and a no-good government. But even in escape, he returns his thoughts to his gang of Shit Punks (Mierdas Punks). Later, he mentions what he thinks makes them unique. Los Mierdas, unlike other gangs, hold no territory and therefore go anywhere they want to go – ”We have no turf, we go from one place to another. Gangs with turfs chase us or we chase them. It’s all the same.”
This journey provides a loose arc for the otherwise haphazard everyday life of his gang. At times, the dull emptiness of description almost finds meaning. The young punk may have a name: Kara? Yet as he travels, he changes his name to Juanillo, which casts a darker shade of doubt. The train itself offers tempting certainty, as its fixed path seems more determined than the rest of the scene. But dizzying jump-cuts and a disorienting trip through the train after the punk huffs something intoxicating undermine his veracity.
Truth would be wasted in this instance, anyway; Los Mierdas are the children of “No Future.” No one is there to mourn their death, only curse their existence. Perhaps the only bit of truth is found in a phrase said in a moment of indifferent reflection on the train. “Yo no quiero ser nadie. Yo no quiero ser nada.”
A decade earlier, Foucault declared that he was driven by the same motivation: “to get free of oneself” (Foucault, The Uses of Pleasure, 94-5). Yet he did not imagine such an escape to occur when someone leaves it all behind by skipping town. For Foucault, one does not shed oneself by shaking whatever authorities may be after you, joining a different gang, adopting a new name, or taking up a completely different lifestyle. Unlike the ancients who are nothing but their visible public acts, we moderns are tied to something much deeper than mere practices: a private self stricken with the poisoned gift of a deep interior. The product of Publicity and the Spectacle, the deep interiority of the self opens like a crack for Empire to plunge into. Escape is only partial as long as it is haunted by a specific desire – confession. (more…)