Archive for the Nealon Category

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?

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”?” 



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

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.