Archive for the DR Category

Theory in Everyday Places

Posted in DR on April 13, 2008 by untimelymediations

From the creators of “Name that Critical Theorist,” and “Whose Line of Theory was That Anyway?” comes the new hit that Rolling Stone calls “Philosophy at its best,”Theory in Everyday Places:

Zizek in a boat

“The supreme example of symbolic virtuality, of course, is that of (the psychoanalytic notion of) castration: the feature which distinguishes symbolic castration from the ‘real’ kind is precisely its virtual character” (150).

Zizek in bed

“Poetry the specific poetic jouissance, emerges when the very symbolic articulation of this Loss gives rise to a pleasure of its own” (Zizek 48).

Zizek on the toilet

“This jouissance, of course, always emerges within a certain phantasmic field; the crucial precondition for breaking the chains of servitude is thus to ‘traverse the fantasy’ which structures our jouissance in a way which keeps us attached to the Master – makes us accept the framework of the social relationship of domination” (48). 


Defecate on my shoes and I’ll pretend that I wanted you to: Zizek and the Phantasmic Field

Posted in DR, Foucault, Nietzshce, Zizek on April 13, 2008 by untimelymediations

As will soon become apparent to any reader, The Plague of Fantasies features a nearly endless repertoire of taboo references.  From pubic hair to soot-laden testicles, Zizek demonstrates an ultimately uncanny ability to draw Lacanian and psychoanalytic theory from the depths of banality, for, as can be seen, even the depth of a toilet bowl propels discourse.  And this, it seems, brings me to my next point.  Before I read this text, I considered the fantasy and phantasm as more of an illusory or physically insubstantial presence or entity.  In essence, what Zizek’s text propels, is a dramatic reconsideration of this approximation. 

In order to understand the fantasy as it is clearly substantiated in materiality, one need look no further than the second chapter.  As Mike alluded to in his post, jouissance as it emerges within a certain phantasmic field, seems to be the dominating force within the power relation.  In this chapter, Zizek provides, following in line with Lacan, that contemporary intellectuals can be divided into two sub-groups.  First, the “fool,” the deconstructivist cultural critic, intends to subvert the existing order, but actually serves as its “supplement.”  The fool experiences pleasure in snatching pieces of jouissance from the “master” (emphasis mine – 46).  The “knave,” quite divergently, is a title attributed to the right wing intellectual; the neoconservative advocate of the free market.  The rightwing knave rejects social solidarity as counterproductive sentimentalism, and is continually changing gender and racial specific concerns to issues of fate (46).  Note, even here, that the use of the term pieces is, I think, a deliberately materializing choice on Zizek’s behalf.  The phantasm and fantasy is something other than a spectral presence opposed to the very laws of physical behavior.  Instead, it is, as Zizek implies, a very material reality.  If, as Zizek argues, the phantasmic field, as it is associated with jouissance – loss that gives rise to pleasure – is an oppressing force, tan traversing one such field is an effort in subversion (48).  This, though, propels me to reconsider Foucault’s work on biopower.

Biopower, as Foucault suggests, creates suggestive channels of submission.  These channels guide one through the very physicality of existence without regard for material parameters.  Quite simply, the channel that Foucault describes is both physical and immaterial.  While it guides the physical body, it refuses any association with the physical confines of a particular control apparatus (i.e. school, prison).  Biopower is beyond the institution, the prison, or the control apparatus, more generally.  Interestingly, I feel as though Zizek is describing something very similar.  The choices that we make, as Zizek seems to be suggesting, are based on what he refers to as “fantasy’s transcendental schematism.”   We are taught both how to desire, and what to desire as it relates to intersubjectivity (the second issue that he addresses in the introduction).   Here, it seems that Zizek’s assessment of the controlling force is quite similar to that which Foucault describes in relationship to the channel.  In both descriptions there are immaterial matrices that guide physical action and physical desire.  This comparison is validated furthermore by considering of the issue of jouissance as it relates to the phantasmic field.

If jouissance, as discussed previously, emerges within a phantasmic field that must be traversed or resisted, than it must be considered more thoroughly.  As Zizek’s descriptions progress in the second chapter, it becomes clear that jouissance is that which cannot be integrated into one’s life.  Here another very complicating issue of materiality and immateriality arises.  Although Zizek initially describes jouissance as something very material (i.e. the desire for perverse sexual interaction), as the discourse continues it becomes more immaterial, or, more appropriately, jouissance becomes that which one is unable to materialize.  Jouissance is that which cannot be integrated into one’s life.  It is that which is always separated by a gulf; that which can be desired and not approached.  This, as Zizek explains, is an issue of decentrement (49).  Jouissance cannot be integrated.  Furthermore, it exists as what Zizek suggests is the “non-historical kernel” in the process of historicization.   So, if jouissance is that which refuses integration, it is also that which is immaterial to the individual that desires it, for one cannot approach it in the same way that one approaches other very physical objects (i.e. the toilet).   This though, brings up several complications.

If jouissance is both material and immaterial, both physical affecting and absent/distant, how might one traverse the phantasmic field?  Is this not the same issue that one faces with regard to the channel in Foucault’s work?  And, this brings me back to Mike’s discussion of the means of traversing the phantasmic field.  Here, Zizek’s suggestions seem reminiscent of some of Nietzsche’s work.  If the best means to resist the falsity of choice as a controlling force is to revel in that choice as truth, this presents striking parallels.  Though I haven’t had the opportunity to read much Nietzsche, I am reminded of previous discussions I’ve had with Pruchnic.  Perhaps, it would be appropriate to reference Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  If Zarathustra’s comment to the man outside of town is indicative of a mode of action, than if one is dissatisfied it might be best just to turn away.  I don’t know that this fits in exactly, but I can’t help considering it in relation to the arguments that Zizek presents.   Perhaps, a better reference would be the insistence that the best way to fight capitalism is to call for more capitalism.  If, in Zizek’s text, the best way to resist is to assume the false as true, is not this a similar step?

Reading Form as Opposed to Absenced Meaning

Posted in DR, Galloway on April 8, 2008 by untimelymediations

I said that I would post again, and thus, here I am.

As I am rereading the middle portion of Galloway’s text, I am interested in a rather base distinction that Galloway forwards.  Quite simply, Galloway suggests that protocol, seemingly the preeminent controlling force, remains mostly indifferent to the information within (Galloway 52).  Here, of course, the rather ambigious “within” refers to that which protocol encapsulates; that which is controlled and distributed by means of encapsulation.  Following on this assertion, Galloway provides that we must read possibility as opposed to meaning.  This, I think, is an interesting stipulation.  Following on the comments that I received to the first post I made, I can’t help considering resistance and power as a “meaning” play in much rather idealistic resistance discourse.  So the theory often mistakenly goes, by changing subjectivity or affecting such change, one is able to resist the meanings inherent to certain systems of power.  This, as Galloway seems to be arguing, is called into question in consideration of certain technologies. 

Perhaps, though, there is another way of reading resistance as it relates to the division of rhetoric/composition and literature within English departments.  Here, Galloway’s insistence on reading form as opposed to meaning prompts questions as to the viability of Literature scholarship (read big “L”).  As Galloway suggests, “protocol is a circuit, not a sentence” (Galloway 53).  This seems a difference between reading and interpreting the ringing of the bells in Mrs. Dalloway, and focusing on structure (Note that I picked this text not without rhyme or reason).  Quite provocatively, it seems that Galloway’s text provides a suggestion of how we should read, or rather, prepare ourselves as students and educators.  By limiting meaning, in preference for form, does not technology insist that we pursue the same avenue?  Consider, for a moment, Galloway’s chapter conclusion:

Next, I move beyond the hard science of protocol and begin to consider it from the perspective of form.  That is: How does protocol function, not as a material machine, but as an entire formal apparatus?  What techniques are used by and through protocol to create various cultural objects?  How can one define protocol in its most abstract senese?

Second, and quite divergently, I am troubled by Galloway’s conception of the internet as it relates to commodification.  Following on his spiel that the internet encourages many-to-many communication, as opposed to older technological forms of information distribution, Galloway references Enzensberger, to suggest that the, “very immateriality of the media resists commodification and reification” (Galloway 58).  Though I applaud Galloway’s attempts to call forth the Marxist method, I find this assertion problematic.  As we discussed earlier this semester, it seems that ubiquity and choice are the very methods by which commodification works.  Also, isn’t the internet made material by means of commodification.  This point seems counterintuitive to Galloway’s other arguments.  It seems, at least to this reader, that despite the existence of protocol as a rather immaterial form, there is still a great deal of material transfer, especially as it relates to people and the products that they purchase.


The “Man” and the “Computer”

Posted in DR, Galloway on April 4, 2008 by untimelymediations

Computer A: I’m tired of the protological system

Computer B: The who?

Computer A: Don’t you feel it? Aren’t you tired of being oppressed?  Of laboring under the pressure of these absurd tasks?

Computer B: Well, I guess so…

Computer A: The computer is bringing us down with these IP addresses.  That’s how he’s exerting control. 

Computer B: Well, I never really thought about that.  Anyways, don’t you mean the man?  Aren’t computers absent of sex and gender?

Computer A: Big surprise there…that’s what the computer wants you to think.  He sits up there in his corporate office, with his fancy ass wireless keyboard, and…

Computer B: Alright, alright…but what do you suppose that we do?

Computer A: Well, it’s all about enlightenment man.  If we can get our users to be more active instead of passive and submissive than maybe we’ll get somewhere.

Computer B: I think you’ve been downloading too much Galloway lately.

Computer A: Have you ever thought that maybe that’s what the computer wants you to think?  Perhaps, we need to create vacuoles of noncommunication…

Computer B: Ok.

Computer A: This is how I am resisting.

Computer B: But, aren’t we communicating right now?

“Gallons of Tears” Galloway vs. “Keep em’ Kneelin” Nealon

Posted in Deleuze, DR, Foucault, Galloway with tags , , , on April 4, 2008 by untimelymediations

As I read through the introduction to Protocol, I am reminded of one of the more significant arguments that Nealon makes in Foucault Beyond Foucault.  It seems that both Galloway and Nealon have quite a divergent understanding of the issue of resistance as it relates to biopower.  Here, I believe the contention between their understandings resides in the different interpretations of Foucault’s work that they voice (namely, in regard to Discipline and Punish).   Seemingly, whereas Nealon suggested that reading subjectivity as a means of resistance in Foucault’s later work evidences a misreading of what Foucault intended, Galloway is suggesting quite the opposite. 

Nealon outlines two of the dominant trends in academic work on Foucault.  First, the prevailing attitude is that we are, quite simply, incapable of resisting power and its manifestations.  Second, and more relevant to this particular post, Nealon provides that academics are also too quick to argue that Foucault abandoned his midcareer work on power in favor of the ethico-aesthetics of subjectivity.  In response, Nealon provides that his work will rethink the relationship between disciplinary power, biopower, and subjectivity.  His suggestive counter argument is that Foucault never really abandoned his mid-career work on power (Nealon 5).  According to Nealon, the shifts of Foucaultian emphasis are better, and more productively, understood as intensifications, an argument that he pursues in greater detail in the remainder of his text (see 36-39).  

Interestingly, it seems that Galloway is approaching the issue of resistance from the second understanding that Nealon criticizes.  This becomes apparent in Galloway’s introduction.  Here, he begins by providing that Deleuze recognized that the site of Foucault’s biopower was a site of resistance.  To emphasize the prevalence of this argument in Deleuze’s text, Galloway provides a direct citation of the three times that Deleuze repeats this realization.  To this argument, the third quote seems to be of particular relevance: “When power becomes bio-power resistance becomes the power of life, a vital power that cannot be confined within species, environment or the paths of a particular diagram” (Deleuze, Foucault, p. 92).  Now, I realize that by drawing Deleuze’s commentary on biopower into discussion, I am maneuvering my argument in one of two directions:  First, I might hold Deleuze’s argument in direct contention to that which Nealon provides.  Second, and more importantly, I might add, I could approach Galloway’s understanding as it is twice removed; Galloway’s understanding of Deleuze as the latter understands Foucault.  Here, I will pursue the second path.

As Galloway proceeds, he questions whether life resistance is a way of engaging with protocological management, which is reminiscent of biopower.  Then, Galloway provides what seems to be his interpretation of the means by which one might resist:

To refuse protocol, then, is not so much to reject today’s technologies as did Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber), but to direct these protological technologies, whose distributed structure is empowering indeed, toward what Hans Magnus Enzensberger calls an “emancipated media” created by active social actors rather than passive users (Galloway 16)

I think that this requires some unpacking, because as Galloway gets from Deleuze to this proposition, it seems as though a contention arises.  Returning to Deleuze’s discourse, as referenced by Galloway, Deleuze argues that resistance is the power of life.  Now, although Galloway seems to follow in this line of discourse, I think that he is forgetting the second part of Deleuze’s statement.  Here, Deleuze provides that a “vital power” cannot be confined within species, environment, etc.  Here, the vital power that he seems to be referring to is that of the power to resist; the power of life.  This power, seemingly, is as dispersed and ubiquitous as what Nealon suggests about power in Foucault Beyond Foucault.  Instead of following the argument, Galloway limits the power of resistance to the individual body; the “active social actors,” and in this, I believe he is reading something into the quote that Deleuze provides that isn’t there.  This, also, is where the contention between Galloway and Nealon’s arguments seems to arise.  Whereas Nealon denigrates subjectivity, Galloway seems to be insisting on the importance of a conscious subjectivity, as he differentiates between active social actors and passive users.

More on Galloway’s text in the near future…

Nealon at the Alter of the Foucaultian Legacy

Posted in Deleuze, DR, Marx, Nealon on March 31, 2008 by untimelymediations

I must admit, that initially I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Nealon’s text. Though I am slightly familiar with Nealon’s reputation, and I have faith in Pruchnic’s reading selections, I was concerned that Nealon might, quite simply, fail to go “beyond Foucault.” I think this was a reasonable assumption, on my behalf, considering the rather devastating use of Foucault in contemporary “scholarly contexts,” and the rather ambitious theoretical plan of work that Nealon sets forth in his introduction. Fortunately, my fears were soon assuaged, for Nealon, himself, criticizes the very texts that I initially feared he might emulate.

First, concerning the content, the repertoire of examples from which Nealon draws is quite provocative. In many ways, I find that the title is indicative of another move that Nealon prompts. Although Nealon is successful in his attempt to bring Foucault into more contemporary contexts, where vastly different situations have emerged since the time of his death, I feel that Nealon’s method of discourse encourages another significant move or shift. In the course of his work, Nealon takes Foucault beyond what might be considered the limiting confines of the academic or scholarly spheres. It seems that the examples Nealon draws on are more accessible than those invoked by others. It is this very Chuck Klosterman – esque, pop cultural awareness that becomes so entirely provocative in the course of Nealon’s work. Here, if one is to assume that this method of discourse is intentional, it is interesting to consider what the import of such a method might be? Or, perhaps, what is the inherent “cost” of speaking in this manner; of addressing such an important issue in this capacity? These questions stem from my understanding of a very purposeful decision on Nealon’s behalf. To go beyond Foucault, means not only to go beyond the limitations imposed by death, but to go beyond the very method of discussing Foucault that is so entirely prevalent in current academic discourse. This entails not only a different understanding of Foucault, but a different means of discussing that very understanding. And, it seems that here I might insist that this is the very means by which Nealon goes beyond simply revising a tradition of short sighted discourse.

On another note, it seems that Nealon’s recovery of Foucault, is driven by the same word-centered progression that Deleuze and Guattari pursue in A Thousand Plateaus. Here, I take the same interpretative strategy that I use to approach Barthes, Deleuze, and Guattari. I introduce this interpretative method in an attempt to outline an effective means of approaching the major issues that Nealon addresses.

As a point of departure, I begin with the terms “intensity” and “subjectivity.” For Nealon, much of Foucault’s significance in contemporary contexts stems from his theories on intensity. This is the term that links his middle career to his later work; the concept that allows Nealon to bridge the theoretical gap that many academics continue to reinstate. Instead of relegating Foucault’s theoretical dispositions to some rather inadequate model of linearity, Nealon’s argument evidences the importance of a more Deleuzian conception of progression. Instead of (mis)understanding Foucault’s theories of the varying systems or regimes of power as being segmented, separable, or defined by temporal limitations, Nealon argues the importance of a more integrated understanding. The power shift from the body to the soul, and from the soul to the action (tortured -> reformed -> docile bodies), must be understood, as Nealon suggests, in terms of overlap or bleeding. This, of course, is a matter of the increasing intensity of power (32). And, it seems reasonable to assert that Nealon takes this emphasis on intensity one step further. For Nealon, not only is it fruitful to consider intensity in Foucault’s work, but it seems important to consider history as a whole in terms of intensities. History, in Nealon’s terms, can only be read as slow accumulations as opposed to the predominant discourse of radical shifts (38-39). This is an issue of thresholds, phase transitions, or tipping points:

With the rise of governmentality in the historical linkage between discipline and biopower, Foucaultian “intensification” becomes both the useful tool and the desired end of power relations (53)

Second, the other term that seems of extreme pertinence to Nealon’s discussion is subjectivity or the subjective. Nealon spends a good portion of his text refuting the more general assumption that Foucault is focusing on subjectivity as a means of liberation in his later work. Here, Nealon is quick to suggest that not only is this not really what Foucault is addressing, but that, the subjective is really the worst way to approach the questions that Foucault introduces or propels. For Nealon, Massumi and others that approach affective subjective experience, fail to consider that this is really the least effective or productive way of approaching the question of intensity; they fail to consider the implications of such an individualized perspective. As Nealon outlines earlier in his text, Foucault’s theories are predicated on more complicated relationships; relationships which negate theories of individual significance.

Take for example, Nealon’s emphasis on the power that is incurred by dispersement. Power, as is associated with the individual sovereign is quite weak, whereas that which is more dispersed or more ubiquitious becomes more powerful. Dispersement, then, is an intensifying process.

Or, one should consider Nealon’s emphasis on the premise that punishment rarely targets the individual. Instead, punishment operates in direct relationship to the virtual field surrounding the individual (36). Punishment, in effect, is only effectual when it moves beyond the individual. Although the individual might be considered a starting point, there must be something more.

Here, I return to Foucault’s insistence on “channels” for further clarification. It is not the individual institution that is most powerful, but the channels that guide us as “living” bodies (Discipline and Punish). Most specifically, as Nealon argues, Biopower is applied not to man as body, but man as living being (45).

Finally, I really enjoy Nealon’s suggestion that some theoretical alignment exists between Foucault and Marx. Here, though this argument is present throughout much of the first half of the book I reference Nealon’s discussion of wealth, commodity, and profit. Again, it is Nealon’s very ability to draw on contemporary examples that benefits his argument. Here, Nealon notes that it is no longer a shift from wealth to commodity to profit, but rather a more direct relationship between wealth and profit. The fourth and most intense wave is that of finance. The problem is no longer that we are all made into consumers, but that we are all made into producers (67).

For now, that is enough. Rest assured, I will be returning to Nealon soon.

I leave you with a complimentary picture of Foucault…who says I can’t compete in this picture game?

foucault is a pimp
Myspace Glitter Graphics

Australopithecus Afarens-who?

Posted in 746, DR, stiegler on March 24, 2008 by untimelymediations

Well, for your reading pleasure (possibly plezure?), I post a second time this week.  Unfortunately, I haven’t quite finished the text.  Despite this impediment, I am quite satisfied with the progress that has been made thus far. 

First, it seems necessary to consider the rather insightful comment I received in relationship to my first post this week (Thanks Jeff for the clarification).  I guess, in many ways, I was a little misguided concerning Stiegler’s conception of control and the issue of control as it relates to technocracy and invention.  Perhaps, I still am.  Considering that I initially missed the mark, I post again, in part, to revise certain grievous errors.  If technocracy, or the power of the state in relationship to technical systems, is enforced or bolstered by means of invention, as is diametrically opposed to the model as I original understood it, this raises several concerns.  First, I still question whether technocracy is a force that one must work against.  If invention is to be applauded, as I suppose it is in certain contexts, does this not suggest that the technocracy, as it is fueled by invention or spontaneity, must also be supported?  Second, if the technocracy is problematic, what is the most effective means of combating such a system?  Is there a means of responding to this issue, if it is considered as such?  Though, I must mention in brief, that this becomes even more complicated in light of the third issue I address.  I guess, the problem that I run into is in many ways the same problem that one experiences concerning capitalism.  Quite simply, there seems to be very little means of deviating effectively.  Though, I must admit, this seems quite a different scenario, I still can not help considering it in regard to Jeff’s use of Foucault and Deleuze as an explanatory system.  Perhaps, as Jeff has suggested before, the best way of considering this entire scenario, is similar to the way that one might best consider Capitalism.  If it is ineffective to respond typically, then why not consider using such a system for its inherent benefits.  Again, as we discussed in relationship to the Sophists, we might draw on something similar to a certain selfishness to forward selfless agendas.  I’m not quite sure how this would pan out in relationship to invention and the technocracy.

Second, I turn to a latter portion of the text in order to propose some possible parallels to Leroi-Gourhan.  I think a point of similarity between the two, even though I haven’t yet read Gourhan, is the issue of exteriorization.  From what I understood of the discussion last week, Gourhan proposes that in many ways our evolution has halted, or has slowed down.  In effect, we have exteriorized our very human capacity for development or progress.  We exteriorize it in the form of the technical progress that we have made.  This holds especially true in relationship to human memory (and, as is perhaps suggested later, the memory of the animal as well).  In the section entitled “Skeleton, Equipment, and the Brain,” it seems that both Gourhan and Stiegler’s texts converge on this matter.  Stiegler is quick to reference a similar dependence on the exteriorized body; the technical extension of the body:

With the advent of exteriorization, the body of the living individual is no longer a body: it can only function with its tools.  An understanding of the archaic anthropological system will only become possible with the simultaneous examination of the skeleton, the central nervous system, and equipment (148)

Directly aftertwards, Stiegler suggests that this set of hypotheses retraces the possibility of passage between three stages of archaic humanity.  Both the argument and the framework of the argument are provocative revisions.  Stiegler effectively provides a revision of the very history of the body.  In his consideration of the anthropology of human development, Stiegler inserts the technical system.  He places the human on a type of continuum where the technical becomes extremely relevant, in effect, proposing a revision of human developmental understanding.  As is noted in the following, the technical is intimately connected to the very biology of the human, and thus, is necessary to a newly invisioned anthropology; a techno-logy

As Stiegler’s argument continues, it takes on new significance.  Although earlier I stated that Stiegler references a certain dependence on the exteriorized body, it seems that the term dependence needs to be considered more carefully.  What Stiegler is proposing is an infinite dependence on the technical, specifically “technical consciousness,” as a means of overcoming the very limitations of the biological.  Basically, Stiegler equates “technical consciousness” with anticipation.  It is anticipation which is the deciding factor in human evolution: “Anticipation means the realization of a possibility that is not determined by a biological program” (151).  Yet, despite the technical as a means of development, Stiegler still maintains that the technical must be considered under a zoological framework, for the technical is still determined by, “the neurophysiological chracteristics of the individual.”

Third, this brings us to Stiegler’s argument, as he references Leroi-Gourhan, against the common theoretical disposition to provide a means of differentiating between man and animal.  Perhaps, in a way, this brings us back to the numerous distinctions that we discussed previously this semester, such as the theory that our ability to decide whether we are man or animal is the very means of differentiating humans from animals.  In what appears to be another congruency between the two texts, Stiegler suggests that the dynamism of technical objects is collapsed onto the cortex.  Thus, the distinction between man and animal becomes a little more grey (grey matter that is).  Yet, at the same time, this seems kind of contradictory.  What does it mean to develop outside of the limitations of the biological, if these developments, in the form of the technical, are still intimately tied to certain biological capacities, such as consciousness as defined by the cortext?

All together, the techno-logical, as opposed to the anthropological, is concerned with what unites humans and the technical systems that they are surrounded with.  Though I don’t claim to have a very good understanding of Heidegger, the issue of the “supreme danger” of technology comes to mind.  For Heidegger, the danger that exists in relationship to the technical is not the technical itself, but the means by which the human interacts with the technical.  The greatest danger for Heidegger is that technology becoms determinant of truth, as opposed to humans becoming cognizant of concealed truth.  If I understand this correctly, it seems that Stiegler and Heidegger are divergent on this point.  For Stiegler it seems that the technical frees us from the bounds of the biological, whereas for Heidegger it seems that the technical imprisons the body as a resource; as a form of human stockpile (Matrix what?).

For now, though, I can’t wait until we have the technological capability of inseminating robots.  I can only imagine the sexual positions that will have to be added to the lexicon.  This would be an opportune time to reconsider Stiegler’s text.  Perhaps, though, something similar is already happening with artificial insemination.