Thank God You’re Border Security


Television Ratings for Australian TV appearing on the web page www.ebroadcast.com.au/tv/ and provided by www.oztam.com.au/html/

The first show is a ‘live action’ comedy program that involves multiple skits where a comedian is placed in a situation of which they know little and is always greeted with the phrase, “Thank God you’re here.”

The second show is a the worst kind of reactionary nonsense pitched as a ‘reality tv show’ following the trials and tribulations of Australia’s Customs Officials, ie those charged with the responsibility of maintaining the integrity of Australia’s borders. It plays on the fears and anxieties of the population.

One show, is thanking God ‘you’ are here, while the other is premised on the expulsion and control of the ‘other’. The rest of the shows are about ‘home’ or (states of) emergency, or both in the case of ‘House’!

Foucault the Hoon

One day he and Oberg went to Stockholm to buy a car. They returned with a magnificent beige Jaguar, which dumbfounded polite society in Uppsala. People were accustomed to more austerity and were especially taken aback to see an instructor — the bottom rung in a very strict university hierarchy — make such a display of wealth. But in fact Foucault had plenty of money (his family continued to support him), and he was by no means the ascetic monk people often portrayed him as later. […] He was known to disguise himself as a chauffeur and take Dani to run errands in town. His Jaguar became legendary among all the Uppsalans who knew him. Everyone describes him as driving like a madman. Dumezil remembered finding themselves in the ditch once. // They all remembered numerous incidents of this sort, accidents that luckily were never really serious, despite all that snow and ice.
pages 77-78, Didier Eribon, Michel Foucault

I have been reading and enjoying Eribon’s biography of Michel Foucault for work and leisure, and I was delighted to come across this section about Foucault’s purchase of a Jaguar while he worked and lived in the Swedish university town of Uppsala. If I had been aware of the Foucault connection to Uppsala I would’ve gone up there for a visit when I went on exchange to Norkopping in 2004 to do a tourist-type thing. (When the only tourist thing I did off my own bat was to go to the oldest Ikea in Sweden… I could say something cool, like, I wanted to find out if it was different from every other Ikea, as an act of post-“Fight Club” celebration. But I won’t. Mainly because it was the same as every other Ikea.)

To get more of an idea of ‘polite society in Uppsala’ in relation to car culture and the scandal of Foucault’s Jag, it is worth having a look at Tom O’Dell’s work published in the Daniel Miller edited collection, Car Culture (see my comments in the Amazon.com review), on the Swedish subculture of ‘raggare’. The ‘raggare’ seemed to be a cross between the stylistic content/expression of bikers and the practices of what we would call in Australia ‘hoons’. The era of the Raggare was a bit later than Foucault’s time in Sweden, and Foucault’s Jag is not a ‘raggarbil’, but the general logic of offending dour Swedish socio-aesthetics of the time is similar.

More on Foucault’s Jaguar after a google:

“More notoriety came Foucault’s way when he acquired a Jaguar sports car,” writes Macey of Foucault’s period in Sweden. “…The car, which was beige with black leather upholstery was second-hand but still expensive… Yet Foucault was immensely proud of it, and even went through a phase of choosing his clothes to match its colour scheme.”

Oh, the car, clothes and identity! Apparently Foucault was about 30 at the time. And, lastly, from this translated German review of a collection of Foucault’s writings, there is some allusion to Proust’s literary mediations of speed. If I remember correctly, Proust’s most famous ‘speed’ piece was published in a newspaper. The central thing I remember about the piece is a discussion about the steeples of a church rising over the horizon in an accelerated manner (which I once attempted to connect with Virilio’s comments on the accelerated evental frame of contemporary media and was thoroughly chastised by the reviewer. lol! see this essay)

I am thoroughly taken by the idea that Foucault was a ‘madman behind the wheel’. I am still smiling. In terms of actually owning a car, a Jaguar certainly isn’t to my tastes (far too bourgie), although I admire the early Jaguars for their graceful, yet purposeful regal styling. However, what amuses me more than I can possibly express here is the notion that Foucault used to drive like a nut with such esteemed passengers in the car as the famous French mythographic historian Dumezil. Ending up in a ditch is no small matter! I know how to drive like a madman, and I know how various people react when in the car when one drives like a madman… To think that, as an accident of history, such a dynamic between Foucault and others existed!?!?!?

EDIT: June 11. Page 174 of Eribon’s biography:

Semiotic Pilotage

(TC&S via Anne)

I think I am suffering from hyper-wired bureaucracy rage. My university has a subscription to the journal Theory, Culture & Society and the new issue is out. Yet, I can’t access the journal through the third party (or is it Sage’s?) journal database search engine CSA Illumina, because the database has not updated its holdings. This is particularly frustrating.

Anyway the latest issue of TC&S looks very interesting as special double-issue annotated glossary of sorts. Entries that I am particularly keen to read include those on the ‘assemblage/agencement’ (3 or 4 entries, but besides the obvious reading, I am not sure what ‘global assemblages’ is about, should be interesting), ‘market’, ‘complexity’, ‘archive’, and, of course, the ‘event’.

It is interesting that Karin Knorr-Cetina has written the ‘market’ entry as Knorr-Cetina’s work looks at the big national financial/stock markets and interactions between traders and this thing called a ‘market’ (online stuff here and here, that first essay was particularly influential on my early thinking for my dissertation), rather than ‘markets’ in the everyday sense largely pertaining to a population of consumers and correlative infrastructure (a market for something). This is going to be an important distinction in the clarifying work of my dissertation. (However, to add a clarification, Knorr-Cetina has certainly engaged with different forms of markets, however my focus will be mainly on the markets constituted by mass consumers and other businesses through niche ‘enthusiast’ media. The relationship between media and markets is my focus.)

I hope the authors of the entry on ‘assemblage’ have read Genosko’s book on Guattari, particularly about the importance of an understanding of the role of ‘transversality’ in the concept of ‘assemblage’. This lineage certainly puts a different spin on it than the machinic heroics of A Thousand Plateaus. Plus, I am not sure what level of scholar the glossary entries are pitched at (what’s its market? lol), but in the abstract for the ‘assemblage’ entry the authors write that the term “has been been derived from key sources of theory”… ‘Theory’? There are a couple of other entries that refer to assemblage, so maybe there is a productive tension between them.

Lastly, John Urry’s stuff on ‘complexity’ will be interesting to read after hearing him speak on ‘complexity and Marx’ in Sweden (and reading nearly all his work!).

Is this glossary an exercise of ‘taking stock’ a delineation of a set of heterogeneous elements, marking them under the territorializing sign of “Theory, Culture & Society” and consolidating this territoriality with the scholarly affects of a serious disinterest (or interested seriousness)? Is the ‘direction’ of editorial content in the journal an example of what Guattari and Alliez called the “‘homing-head’ of innovation” connected directly to the “basic diet” of capitalism: “the means of semiotic pilotage”??? (You know, not in a dissimilar manner to editorial content of magazines…)

If it is, then the journal database from which I am meant to have access is doing a bloody terrible job as part of the journal-scholar assemblage!!!

Windschuttle on Foucault

[I apologise in the beginning for the elaborate quotations in this post, hopefully you will appreciate why such context-building quotations of quotations are necessary.]

Keith Windschuttle’s essay on Foucault was published nearly a decade ago. I have written about it before (I think? I can’t remember exactly). Anyway, now I need to engage with it seriously for my dissertation, so here are some more thoughts.

I wonder if Windschuttle has read some more of Foucault’s works by now, or even some more of Foucault’s interviews, to grasp the basis of his — that is Windshuttle’s — misunderstanding of Foucault’s work? Windshuttle makes two main errors in an otherwise interesting essay.

1) He makes no explicit distinction between different conceptions of the ‘event’. The two main definitions at stake here are: a) historical events, the kind that I suspect Windshuttle would recognise; b) discursive events, the kind that Foucault is writing about. Windschuttle goes to the trouble of quoting from Foucault’s essay ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy and History’:

However, if one takes this view, where does this leave the pursuit of the truth about what happened in the past? Foucault is quite explicit-everything that happened in history has to be seen from a perspective. Even what most people would regard as fairly basic historic facts should not be seen as standing on their own. The details of events such as the storming of the Bastille, or the Battle of Waterloo, can never be seen in objective terms but only through a political interpretation.

An event, consequently, is not a decision, a treaty, a reign, or a battle, but the reversal of a relationship of forces, the usurpation of power, the appropriation of a vocabulary turned against those who had once used it. 

Basic historic facts are just that, basic facts. Discursive events of the kind Foucault is discussing involved the practice of reading the archive as something like what Deleuze and Guattari called a ‘phylum’ and extracting those singularities (of various types) that can be said to have caused the historical ‘discontinuities’ under consideration. Foucault pursued discursive traces from these singularities. Such singularities did not exist in history as such, although they are of the past (and present and potentially the future). Does Windshuttle argue that the inflections and discontinuities that Foucault isolated simply did not exist? That there were no such singularities evident as traces in the archive? No, he says that the dates were wrong. In the first level of critique, what is at stake is not the philosophy per se, but the accuracy of Foucault’s own reductions and scholarly imperfections. Congratulations to Windschuttle for refining Foucault’s method by incorporating a larger set of data.

2) Windschuttle takes a somewhat neo-Platonic route in his understanding of Foucault. He certainly fathoms that Foucault is not merely describing the sheer facticity of history, i.e. reassembling an account of something experienced in the past in the present by using the archive, yet instead of turning to Foucault’s works to help him understand what it is that Foucault is attempting to grasp, he appears to make the assumption that any ‘philosophy’ deals in ‘ideas’. I guess he hasn’t read much philosophy of the ‘event’ then, including Deleuze’s works that sought to repudiate a philosophy of Platonic Ideas for one of ‘events’;). This is the primary error of Windschuttle’s essay that may be in part derived from the first error (regarding the lack of understanding between different conceptions of the event):

Foucault insists that the change which occurred was essentially a philosophical one. There was a moment in time when a new idea was invented. Such was the power of this idea that, eventually, it caused such dramatic political changes as the overthrow of the king and the court in France and the reorganisation of the political system in England.

Interviewer: You determine one moment as being central in the history of repression: the transition from the inflicting of penalties to the imposition of surveillance.
Foucault: That’s correct-the moment where it became understood that it was more efficient and profitable in terms of the economy of power to place people under surveillance than to subject them to some exemplary penalty… The eighteenth century invented, so to speak, a synaptic regime of power, a regime of its exercise within the social body, rather than from above it. The change in official forms of political power was linked to this process, but only via intervening shifts and displacements It was the instituting of this new local, capillary form of power which impelled society to eliminate certain elements such as the court and the king. The mythology of the sovereign was no longer possible once a certain kind of power was being exercised within the social body. The sovereign then became a fantastic personage, at once archaic and monstrous. 

One can see from passages like this why Foucault became so popular within universities. The fall of political dynasties is but a consequence of one momentous idea. Unlike Marx, who made philosophers dependent upon the revolution of the blue collar proletariat for their power, Foucault elevates social thinkers to the most powerful members of society, all by themselves.

Windschuttle continues on with this assumption regarding the nature of the historical ‘thing’ that Foucault seeks to elucidate in different and in different archival projects through his career as being an ‘idea’ rather than a ‘discursive event’. Does Windshuttle really have the understanding that what Foucault was pursuing was the ‘origin’ of an Idea in his study of ‘understandings’ as if such ‘understandings’ were a clinical, disciplinary, or even sexual expression of a commonly, consciously held ‘Idea’ that can be located in a particular historical context within which they were expressed? Nonsense. There is no ‘idea’. Windshuttle would like Foucault’s work to exist on the same level as his own a-historical conjecture regarding the transcendental pillars of Enlightenment humanism. Windschuttle interrogates some of the work of individual Enlightenment-era thinkers for an expression of an ‘Idea’ that he mistakenly believes has been somehow apportioned to them by Foucault (or at least Windshuttle assumes such a responsibility of Foucault).

Foucault was attempting to map the discursive traces of historical shifts. Although these shifts were certainly lived by historical actors and populations and they would have some knowledge (savoir) of them, this is not the same thing as tranformations deduced by an interrogation of the forms of knowledge (connaissance), and correlative knowledge of relations between subject and object, being produced in these historical periods. The level at which these shifts occurred was not of the perceptual terrain of historical agents, as if the Idea was perhaps a particular (neo-Marxist?) (self?) realization of an unfettered consciousness.

The simplest way to approach the methodological underpinnings of Foucault’s work is to treat it as an attempt to borrow from the then-emerging (1960s) field of complexity science, or, perhaps more correctly, to treat it as the attempt of a brilliant historian who perceived the same inadequacies of evolutionary or developmental systems as did the complexity scientists (but in the context of history):

Foucault was tackling the contemporary myth of a homeostatic retro-active coding of humanity in the shadow of the Enlightenment conception of trans-historical ‘Man’ and correlative system of ‘Man’s’ production, hence his announcement of its ‘death’. His primary interest were the systems of thought that take ‘Man’ to be the object of knowledge, from the discursive output of these systems it allowed him to trace the ‘cracks’ on the ‘surface of things’. The ‘cracks’ follow a path inflected by various singularities. The ‘surface of things’ being precisely the relations between knowledge and the things to which such knowledges refer; such relations or rather compositions of language and a state of affairs, are called ‘events’. Foucault pursued them through archival discursive traces (such traces, by the way, were given the generic, but important term in Foucault’s methodological terminology of ‘statements’); hence they are ‘discursive events’. As Negri and Hardt write in Empire (which contradicts what I wrote earlier about ‘events’ in Foucault’s, and Deleuze and Guattari’s works, as I had forgotten so much stuff I had read!):

What Foucault constructed implicitly (and Deleuze and Guattari made explicit) is […] the paradox of a power that, while it unifies and envelops within itself every element of social life (thus losing its capacity effectively to mediate different social forces), at that very moment reveals a new context, a new milieu of maximum plurality and uncontainable singularization – a milieu of the event. (Negri and Hardt, 2000: 25)

Unfortunately, if you do not grasp the qualities of a ‘discursive event’ (even intuitively), then it is impossible to grasp even the slightest hint of an understanding of Foucault’s project. You will forever misrecognise it as evidence of some larger project or another (such as ‘anti-humanism’). Of course, this is not to say that the singularity of ‘Foucault’ can not be organised into other ‘discursive events’ that forward particular interests, such as Windschuttle’s attempt to discourse the singularity of ‘Foucault’ in a particular way that attempts to forward his — that is Windschuttle’s — own conservative interests. From this perspective, Windschuttle’s (perhaps, willful) misreading and essay is an exemplary case of an ‘effective history’. Perhaps Windschuttle wrote it to be a form of ironic postmodernist performance? In that case, Windschuttle is a genius!

Hallward, Deleuze, Foucault

A long rambling post that his been in the works for a while.

Peter Hallward, Prof of Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex Uni, is probably best known for his work on largely being responsible for introducing the Anglophone world to Alain Badiou’s philosophy. Before this Badiou-phase Hallward wrote a book Absolutely Postcolonial: Writing Between the Singular and the Specific. The ‘singular’ as a concept has become central in contemporary philosophy. Hallward’s conception of the ‘specific’ can be inferred from the short extract of an essay available on the Radical Philosophy journal website.

In a different essay Hallward sets up a systematic distinction between Deleuze and Foucault using this ‘specific’ and ‘singular’ distinction.

My aim here is to provide the basis for a systematic distinction, in the broadest available terms, of Foucault from Deleuze with regard to their conceptions of individuation and experience. Deleuze, I will argue, pursues a fully singular conception of the individual, Foucault a fully specific one. This distinction says more about their fundamental projects than the many and generally familiar thematic resemblances that linked their work and justified their mutual admiration. For these two approaches to individuation, singular and specific, are poles apart. The singular is aspecific. If a specific individual is one which exists as part of a relationship to a context, to other individuals and to itself, a singular individual is one which like a Creator god transcends all such relations. A singularity creates the medium of its own existence or “expression,” in Spinoza’s sense. Examples of singular logics include the sovereign of absolutist political theory, the proletariat of Marxist–Leninism, and the market affirmed by contemporary global capital; each constitutes itself through itself, to the exclusion of others (other sovereigns, other classes, other markets …). The singular recognises no limits. The specific, on the other hand, exists only in the medium of relations with others, and turns ultimately on the confrontation of limits – the limits, for instance, of experience, of language, of knowledge, of expression, of introspection…
The essential difference between Deleuze and Foucault, then, can be stated very simply: Deleuze seeks to write a philosophy without limits (through immediate intuition of the unlimited, or purely creative), whereas Foucault writes a philosophy of the limit as such (at the limits of classification, at the edge of the void that lies beyond every order of recognition or normalisation).

I don’t want to appear to be too much of a twit, as Hallward offers an extremely erudite argument and he is a successful prof and everything, but there are two problems with this essay and one minor stylistic thing.

1) The distinction is “made of Foucault from Deleuze” as if Deleuze is the ‘singularity’ which must be accounted for in the ‘specificity’ of Foucault. What would happen if the task was reversed? The distinction was ‘made of Deleuze from Foucault’? This raises its own problems as the measures of comparison would have to change even if the focus was to remain on individuation. Foucault’s method was primarily historical, Deleuze’s was not. Foucault was working under the ‘burden of causality’ precipitated by historical method that Deleuze was not. More on this below.

2) From what I can figure out (Hallward references another book the essay appears in), Hallward does not quote or reference Foucault’s essay on “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”:

An entire historical tradition (theological or rationalistic) aims at dissolving the [eruption of] singular event into an ideal continuity-as a teleological movement or a natural process. “Effective” history, however, deals with events in terms of their most unique characteristics, their most acute manifestations. An event, consequently, is not a decision, a treaty, a reign, or a battle, but the reversal of a relationship of forces, the usurpation of power, the appropriation of a vocabulary turned against those who had once used it, a feeble domination that poisons itself as it grows lax, the entry of a masked “other.” The forces operating in history are not controlled by destiny or regulative mechanisms, but respond to haphazard conflicts. They do not manifest the successive forms of a primordial intention and their attraction is not that of a conclusion, for they always appear through the singular random//ness of events. The inverse of the Christian world, spun entirely by a divine spider, and different from the world of the Greeks, divided between the realm of will and the great cosmic folly, the world of effective history knows only one kingdom, without providence or final cause, where there is only “the iron hand of necessity shaking the dice-box of chance.” Chance is not simply the drawing of lots, but raising the stakes in every attempt to master chance through the will to power, and giving rise to the risk of an even greater chance. The world we know is not this ultimately simple configuration where events are reduced to accentuate their essential traits, their final meaning, or their initial and final value. On the contrary, it is a profusion of entangled events. If it appears as a “marvelous motley, profound and totally meaningful,” this is because it began and continues its secret existence through a “host of errors and phantasms.” We want historians to confirm our belief that the present rests upon profound intentions and immutable necessities. But the true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or a point of reference.

The ‘singular randomness of events’. This is not the ‘same’ singularity as Deleuze’s. Yet, what would happen if the ‘burden of comparison’ was reversed? First, although some would like to otherwise argue (allegedly on his behalf), I think Foucault is being accurate when he says, “I’m not much of a philosopher” (249). His works were not ones of philosophy. Second, he was working not only against both “the facticity and mute inertia of occurrences”(351) but a particular conception of continuist historical method. Examples from Volume 2 of the ‘essential works – aesthetics’ (the one that Hallward references):

1) “Those events [of the existence of discourse, by the fact words are spoken] functioned in relation to their original situation, they left traces behind, they continue to exist, and they exercise, in that very subsistence in history, a certain number of manifest or secret functions.” (289)

2) “Archeology, as I understand it, is not akin either to geology (as the analysis of // substrata) or to genealogy (as the description of beginnings and successions); it is the analysis of discourse in its archival form.” (289-290)

3) “One might ask what is the ultimate purpose of this suspension of all accepted units this obstinate pursuit of discontinuity, if it is no more // than a matter of releasing a cloud of discursive events, of collecting them and preserving them in their absolute dispersion. In fact, the systematic effacement of merely given units makes it possible, first, to restore to the statement its singularity as an event. […] [A] Statement is always an event that neither language nor meaning can completely exhaust. […] [T]he aim is to grasp how these statements, as events and in their so peculiar specificity, can be articulated to events that are not discursive in nature, but may be of a technical, practical, economic, social, political, or other variety” (307-308)

I really don’t understand why the ‘event’ has not played a much larger formal role in the work of those using Deleuze and Foucault. I don’t think I’ve read a single thing about ‘events’ in Foucault’s work except for Chris Colwell’s stuff on Deleuze and Foucault and the ‘Event of AIDS’. I have read lots, but maybe I haven’t read enough! (oh, the PhD anxiety…) It seems as if Deleuzian or Foucaultian acolytes are more interested in becoming part of the event of ‘Deleuze’ or ‘Foucault’ by continuing to be interested in the things they were interested in rather than using a critical use of their methods. Is this why they are popular, because it allows academics to engage with ‘academic popular culture’ (academic enthusiasms)?

If Hallward engaged with Deleuze’s anti-philosophical texts — his ‘pop-philosophies’ — such as Kafka with Guattari or Essays Clinical and Critical I think a comparison between Foucault and Deleuze on Foucault’s terms would be very interesting.

3) Lastly, there is an annoying stylistic thing with the way Hallward writes. We all have our quirks, but this is frustrating as it appears to be blatant rhetorical flourish. Examples:
1) “Throughout this highly misleading account of Foucault’s work…” Highly misleading? How? Why? (The English version is a highly misleading translation of the French!) Perhaps it is beyond the orbit of Hallward’s agrument, but for a lowly dumb arse like me I like to know why it is a ‘misleading account’ (and not, for example, a ‘successful philosophical engagement with an anti-philosopher).
2) Or another example: “Nothing could be further from Deleuze than Foucault’s merging, through Blanchot, or the privileged myths of Eurydice and the Sirens.” What does this even mean? What sense of proximity allows one to say ‘further from’ a person’s name? Which stands in for what? ‘Deleuze’ the person, the body of work, the alleged body of thought? It doesn’t mean anything and means everything at once.

I thought I was reading Foucault through Deleuze, but now I realise I am increasingly doing the opposite, or even more complex readings that cannot be reduced to either Deleuze’s or Foucault’s respective singularities of thought. Hallward’s essay is very interesting, but the confrontation between ‘Deleuze’ and ‘Foucault’ has to be more complex than a reduction of one singularity into the other’s specificity.