Archive for the Foucault Category

Posted in Foucault, KL, Parrhesia, sophists, Stengers, truth, Zizek on April 15, 2008 by untimelymediations

“Because of its absolute immanence to the symbolic, the Real cannot be positively signified; it can only be shown, in a negative gesture, as the inherent failure of symbolization: ‘if what we are talking about are the limits of a signifying system, it is clear that those limits cannot themselves be signified, but have to show themselves as the interruption or breakdown of the process of signification. […] the real as impossible can be shown (rendered) only as the failure of the process which, precisely, aims at signifying it…” (217).

So, this is where we end up this semester—that the Real is actually not really real.  I guess we were bound to get here, and it seems like the perfect circle back to the Sophists. At a basic level, Sophists are tricksters—they can fool their paying audiences into believing that something that is neither Real nor real. Even though Zizek never makes the connection to Sophistry, (probably because he doesn’t have the balls to…) we do see him make the turn to ethics, rather than the truth.  (Question: is Real the same as truth?)  If Zizek says that the Real can only be shown negatively (within, for example, physical, representational after-effects of loss), then is the ethical the positive gesture (the immediate experience)?

Zizek is concerned with representational effects: what happens to me can be caused by something not actually there, but I can actually feel its a/effects here.  I would go to Zizek’s example of online pornography and orgasm, but since I talk about that in my paper, I’d like to talk about belief instead.  When he defines belief as “the shadowy domain between outright falsity and positive truth,” I immediately think of Stengers’ distinction between “cause and reason” (108, 45).  As a researcher, I find myself wanting to know cause and reason, as well as the truth and the false.  But according to Zizek, if truth and reason occur in a delayed realization, then is the opposite of the Foucaudian notion of parrhesiates in which the truth/Real lies in the immediacy of the telling.

Okay, so I realize that I am making interchanging the words truth and Real, and I’m not sure if that’s the right move to make.  Zizek distinguishes between “objective reality” and “subjective reality” in the following:

The true point of idealism is not the solipsistic one (‘there is not objective reality, merely our subjective representations of it’); idealism claims, on the contrary that the In-itself of ‘objective reality’ is definitely to be distinguished from mere subjective representations – its point is only that it is the synthetic act of the transcendental subject which transforms the multitude of representations into ‘objective reality.’ In short, idealism’s point is not there is no In-itself, but that the ‘objective’ In-itself, in its very opposition to subjective representations, is posited by the subject” (215).

I’m not sure that the above passage explains this distinction, but maybe it helps to think about the divide between the two types of reality if we’re looking to define the Real and truth.  What I think Zizek is saying is that ‘objective reality’ is more (R?)real—its experience is in itself, and that’s where the truth lies.  (This could be where we could employ Foucault’s parrhesiates since the truth lies in the telling, In-itself.)  Comparatively, ‘subjectively reality’ might be the telling that happens after an event—one’s vain survival so that s/he can “tell” her/his story.  The subjective reality of this last situation R/real, but is instead a subjective truth (?).

Hmph.  The more I try to differentiate between truth and real, the more confused I become.  Maybe there isn’t much difference between them.  Or, maybe I’m missing it completely.  Anyway, I would like to talk about how, or if, the truth and R/real are different.

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?

fistful of zizek

Posted in Cost, Deleuze, Foucault, Galloway, MM, Nealon, resistance, theory, Zizek on April 13, 2008 by untimelymediations

I think Žižek presents the most compelling argument thus far for how resistance might be practiced under the regimes of protocol, the control society, and biopower. While Žižek doesn’t offer this theory in terms Galloway, Deleuze, or Foucault and Nealon employ, I think the relationship between Žižek’s work and that of the other theorists I’ve mentioned is fairly clear.

Žižek argues that subversion must take the form of the “empty gesture,” the gesture that is offered only in the expectation that it will be refused. For Žižek, subverting the fantasy of the false choice becomes a real act of subversion and resistance. As he writes, “the truly subversive thing is not to disregard the explicit letter of the Law on behalf of the underlying fantasies, but to stick to this letter against the fantasy which sustains it” (29). That is, to resist means not to avoid the (illusion) of choice in the empty gesture, but to take it at face value; not to deny choice (or argue that it is being denied) but to revel in choice, to exploit the opportunity (falsely) offered as a genuine moment of agency and autonomy. “In other words,” writes Žižek, “the act of taking the empty gesture (the offer to be rejected) literally—to treat the forced choice as a true choice—is, perhaps, one of the ways to put into practice what Lacan calls ‘traversing the fantasy’: in accomplishing this act, the subject suspends the phantasmic frame of unwritten rules which tell him how to choose freely—no wonder the consequences of this act are so catastrophic”. The fantasy of the empty gesture is not the fantasy of having one’s way—if only I could accept the offer!—but rather that of the offer qua offer: it is understood, expected that the offer will be rejected—because that is what one does. One does not say “yes” to the empty gesture without, as Žižek demonstrates, provoking catastrophe.

I think this is a promising mode of resistance. In some ways, it echoes the work done by groups like the Yes Men. The name here is intriguing: rather than resisting through negation (“No!”), the Yes Men have used satire and irony to show up the hypocrisy of governments and NGOs alike. However, their actions are not done through protesting as such, but through infiltrating these bodies and using their own logic against them. In the link above, for example, a Yes Men operative proposes to the WTO that private ownership of labor—i.e., slavery—would benefit African nations in the same way that private ownership and industrialization has already benefited them. Plainly, the plan is abhorrent, but what is abhorrent about it is not the implication of slavery qua slavery, but that the promotion of slavery is made according to the rules of free-market capitalism; the argument of an enslaved workforce is derived from the same logic that urges private investment in African industry and resources. In Žižek’s terms, the Yes Men are “sticking to the letter” of the Law, but the Law in this case is flawed; the forced choice here—privatization of all parts of production, including labor—is made under the empty gesture that no body or organization would accept this choice because it is (ostensibly) so plainly a violation of human/humane ethics and international standards.

What complicates this as a form of resistance, to my eyes, is that it requires an audience or observer who is capable of recognizing the logic of the satire and irony. That is, it demands an audience who is engaged enough with the issues at hand and the modes of resistance being deployed to see these acts as resistance and not simply just a “prank” or, worse yet, as a viable proposal for resolving economic crises in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m not saying that people are dumb, though I have serious questions about whether such acts could work on a large enough scale to be politically productive when many people might not recognize them as being political acts of resistance. Rather, I am more concerned about the second consequence, that tactics like those of the Yes Men will be taken at face value and that, for example, privatized labor will be enacted by overeager capitalism. In this case, Žižek’s qualms about the ethics of such forms of resistance are of utmost importance. The question that needs to be asked, then, is not just one of how to resist power and capital, but rather how can we use the empty gesture effectively—without allowing for the empty gesture to be taken at face value in ways that would be counterproductive to progressive causes?

On one hand, it is tempting to say that no organization, body, or company would be so daft as to accept such a proposal as privatized labor. But . . . it is not a contention I have much faith in. I think it is far more likely that without making plain the emptiness of such empty gestures such proposals as privatized labor could become a reality. What, then, is the cost of such an outcome? If it ultimately leads to greater outcry, resistance, and protest to such practices, can we accept a few thousand (or million) people being enslaved? Or is the cost in human dignity too great?

Ethics, hacking, and AIDS oh my!

Posted in AIDS, Foucault, Galloway, KL, Tech, Why/how on April 7, 2008 by untimelymediations

While I found the entirety of Galloway’s Protocol pleasurable, I found my interest most peaked in one of the final chapters on hacking and viruses.  Even more specifically, when Galloway discusses the ethics of hacking and relates the upsurge of computer viruses to the AIDS epidemic, I was intrigued because I had never read anything like that (sure, my knowledge of hacking is a bit slim and that could account for the oversight).  For this week’s post, then, I want to discuss how ethics, control, and biopower are interrelated.

After reading Jill’s post, I, too, am impressed that Galloway spends significant time laying out the why/how intricacies of the internet as we know it today.  Impressively, he wrote for an audience like myself (some techy knowledge under my belt), and also those with extreme fluency in the matter.  Before Protocol, I didn’t know there was a “hackers code of ethics.”  Following a lengthy discussion of code of ethics, Galloway mentions that, “hackers don’t care about rules, feelings, or opinions. They care about what is true and what is possible.  And in the logical world of computers, if it is possible then it is real.  Can you break into a computer, not should you” (168).  While hacking could be seen as a point of non-resistance, from a Foucauldian standpoint, I’d have to agree with Galloway that we’re simply seeing a different/another form of control.  However, what is most interesting about hacking and control is that the hackers seem to relinquish their bodily control to the machine.  Even though they write the code that wreaks havoc, it is the transference of power from the individual (hacker) to the machine (i.e. damaging code replicating itself in other computers) in which we clearly see the moment of control being illustrated.  Further, rather than trying to push through the control of the protocol, “hackers are created by protocol […] hackers are protocological actors par excellence” (158).  Hacking cannot and would not exist without protocol.

AIDS/Computer Viruses:

“Computer viruses appeared in a moment in history where the integrity and security of bodies, both human and technological, was considered extremely important.  Social anxieties surrounding both AIDS and the war on drugs testify to this” (179).

This quote suggests that bodies and computers are certainly interconnected through disease, subject to the same type of collapse.  (Again, I had never seen these connections before, so I might sound n00b-ish.)  During the AIDS epidemic and confusion, no one had [much] knowledge on its origins, treatment, or prevention, and we can see the same parallels to computer viruses.  At the time, hacking hadn’t “hit it big” yet, and just like AIDS, the population that it infected was unaware of its powers.  That is what’s most fascinating to me about this moment is that both the technological and the biological were experiencing the same sorts of attacks on their “bodies.”  Further, “bodies,” and ultimately biopower, has become even misconstrued (i.e. selling bodies on eBay).

“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…

Maurice Schmorice

Posted in Cost, Foucault, KL, Nealon, Parrhesia on April 1, 2008 by untimelymediations



Although I was slightly tempted to write this post under a pseudonym as clever as Maurice Florence, but I couldn’t come up with anything.  Kim Lacey will have to suffice…ah well… Since there is a ton of material to cover for this week, I’ll only touch on one my favorite – and indeed most relevant – terms used in Foucault Beyond Foucault. 

To quote “Maurice Florence” at length: 

In sum, the critical history of thought is neither a history of acquisitions nor a history of concealments of truth; it is the history of ‘verdictions,’ understood as the forms according to which discourses capable of being declared true or false are articulated concerning a domain or thing.  What the condition of this emergence were, the price that was paid for it, so to speak, its effects on reality and the way in which, linking a certain type of object to certain modalities of the subject, it constituted the historical a priori of possible experience for a period of time, an area, and for given individuals (18). 

Nealon’s discussion of Foucault and cost obviously reminds me of Fearless Speech, but I am most interested in the part that mentions the ‘discourses capable of being declared true or false.’  If my memory serves me, to be labeled a parrhesiastes, this assumed that the individual was truthful—there was no ‘being declared’ to be sought.  The cost, here, is the individual coming forth to speak.  The cost was not in the discourse itself since it was assumed to be true because it could cost the individual everything.  Cost would also be found on the side of the King—by listening to he parrhesiastes, he was creating the possibility for his own downfall (well, at minimum he might be proven wrong).  Therefore, cost is an interesting spin on power in general—the one who has the most to lose is the one currently with all the power.   

I think this goes against Foucault’s argument in Fearless Speech – or at least my earlier response to it.  In Fearless Speech, Foucault argues that the king, who essentially has nothing to lose, cannot have parrhesia. However, if we look at this from a cost perspective, it doesn’t cost the individual (who speaks the truth to the King) anything—he is only risking what little street cred he might have.  If the individual points out something against the King (a flaw, perhaps), and according to “rules of parrhesia” what is spoken by the individual must be true), then it might cost the King everything simply to listen. An individual, under his power nonetheless, can uproot it.     

To summarize, after reading Nealon, I believe that there is a critical difference between “risk” and “cost” that would be interesting to discuss.  I should point out that I do not think these terms are separable; however “risk” does seem to evade the consequential nature of “cost” i.e. “he risked his reputation” = he still has it, compared with “that move cost him his reputation” = he risked and lost.  Anyway, maybe those are bad examples, but my question this week is “what’s the diff or the connections between “risk” and “cost”?” 



win, truth, or draw

Posted in Foucault, MM, Nealon, Parrhesia, truth on March 31, 2008 by untimelymediations

Since Plato and the sophists, as we’ve seen, one question that has been problematic either in terms of rhetorical practice or within social bodies as a whole is the nature of truth.  Plato (via Socrates) argued for an absolute truth immanent to material bodies, while (some have argued) the sophists taught that truth was contingent, situated, and subjective—this, as we’ve seen, has been the party line of such texts as the Dissoi Logoi which is either a) a training text for arguing both sides of a given argument, or b) a tract on the unstable and unknowable nature of “truth.”  In Foucault’s own Fearless Speech, we’ve seen how to speak truth—to power, to friends, to one’s self, and the risks that come from acts of parrhesia; these practices stand in contrast to Detienne’s Masters of Truth, the kings, poets, and prophets who presumably spoke with the revealed truths of the gods.


In Nealon’s reading of Foucault, however, we are offered another form of truth-practice.  For Nealon, Foucault’s work destabilizes the category of truth as the ground or foundation of interaction between subjects or subjects and power; rather, truth is the product of “a hazardous and discontinuous series of practices, a series of interactions with something or someone else” (20).  It is not that “truth” disappears from these exchanges, Nealon notes, but that “‘saying the truth’ is only possible (or not) as the outcome of a process, rather as the subtending ground of that process”.  In Nealon’s use, these exchanges, interactions, and encounters become a high-stakes gamble where the prize is the right to speak “truth:” “speaking the truth is the stake and outcome of a series of practices and statements, rather than the secret to be revealed (or not) by them”.


On one hand, Nealon’s description here of truth seemingly echoes the lessons of social constructionism: what counts as real and valid is contested and struggled for through a variety of discursive practices.  However, I think Nealon’s/Foucault’s picture is richer in that it seems to work on both the macro and micro levels, while I often feel that there’s some impersonal power called Discourse  imposing norms and reality/ies on us in other constructionist theories.  Here, though, truth or reality or whatever you wish to call it becomes not what we’re subject to and by, but rather the very term/s by which we enact agency.  It is not that we are assigned subject positions by Discourse  but that we win (or lose) our agency and subjectivity by how we fare in the truth-contests we engage in with other subjects and with power.

 This does not preclude the chance, however, that the game is rigged or that, nor that these interactions are any less fraught with competing claims for truth simply because we recognize the contest.  But how to change the game or makes these interactions less anxious is beyond me.  At least in this post.