Griff The Invisible fantasies of reality

Read this after you have seen the film and please go see it. It is very good. Below is a post that is parts review, critical exegesis of the film and reflection of its critical reception. The post has been languishing in my drafts folder for a few weeks and it was only after two of my friends Myke and Mel both wrote reviews of the film that, if I am not being to pithy, were negative.

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to be worthy

Judd Apatow’s Funny People is the first new movie I have seen in a long time that I can genuinely say was good. Film critics describe Funny People as the third movie in a ‘trilogy’ with 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Reading some of the reviews, especially the bad ones, makes me wonder how the fuck these people get jobs as film critics. Who the fuck pays these people and who the fuck reads them except with the same displeasure that you come across as the consequence of an innocent internet search like when you can’t help read some bigotted scrawl on a toilet stall wall? So move on if you don’t need a dose of hatorade to fire you up this timeless internet day. I am going to try and shake off some of the nastiness I am feeling by putting finger to keyboard (over the fold). I am the groundhog that is driving angry in the Groundhog Day of the cultural industry. Believe it.

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Harman: Prince of Networks #1

“The question is only whether we grant sufficient reality to objects when we say that a thing is not just known by what it ‘modifies, transforms, perturbs, or creates’, but that it actually is nothing more than these effects. If the pragmatism of knowledge becomes a pragmatism of ontology, the very reality of things will be defined as their bundle of effects on other things.” (95)

It is unclear for me from Harman’s writing if this is meant to be a critique or a positive observation. I have a feeling that because Harman is attempting to develop an object-oriented philosophy and not an event-based philosophy he would say it is a critique. So far this is the best comment in his book, however, so I thought I better post about it.

If you are concerned with events as constituting reality, then you begin with a concern with onto-epistemological problems. I am still reading so I am not sure if Harman goes on to argue that we can somehow know reality and discuss it in any sensible fashion without relying on assumptions of what is happening beyond its effects (what with certain qualifications Deleuze would call an ‘event’). If reality is in part consituted by the relations formed with an observer, then we cannot even know the full extent of these relations let alone the ‘objects’ we form them with!

I already have about 12 pages of notes which shall form the basis of a critical review.

Through (Foucaultian) Biopower to (Deleuzean) Control

Following discussion on Craig’s blog, and in light of Todd May’s review of the book, here is a brief extract from Nealon’s book Foucault Beyond Foucault that captures some sense of what Nealon means by ‘intensification’. (Pages 67-68, // = page break):

As Foucault puts forth in his work on disciplinary regimes, iron-fisted mechanisms of regulation are both expensive and inefficient—a lesson that international business learned long before the cold war nation-state did. Foucault argues that the disciplinary apparatus was born gradually alongside imperialist expansion in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, and reached its apex in the twentieth, with the factory societies of Fordism. By all accounts, however, this kind of Fordist New Deal welfare state has been systematically dismantled by worldwide conservative political hegemony and the rise of the so-called new economy—in short, by the intensification of biopower. In a world of cyber-work, e-commerce, distance education, virtual markets, home health care, and the perpetual retraining of flexibly specialized labor, the disciplinary world of partitioning and surveillance (the office, the school, the bank, the trading floor, the mall, the hospital, the factory) seems like it’s undergoing a wholesale transformation. As Deleuze argues, “We’re // definitely moving toward ‘control’ societies that are no longer exactly disciplinary. . . . We’re moving toward control societies that no longer operate [primarily] by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication. . . . In a control-based system, nothing’s left alone for long.”28 Deleuze further elaborates on the Foucaultian distinction between discipline and control: “In disciplinary societies, you were always starting all over again (as you went from school to barracks, from barracks to factory), while in control societies you never finish anything—business, training, and military service being coexisting metastable states of a single modulation, a sort of universal transmutation” of power.29 So, following the Foucaultian logic of power we’ve been developing here, as societies of control extend and intensify the tactics of discipline and biopower (by linking training and surveillance to evermore-minute realms of everyday life), they also give birth to a whole new form. And this emergence comes about through what Foucault calls a “swarming [l’essaimage] of disciplinary mechanisms,” through the intensification of discipline rather than its exhaustion or dissipation: “The massive, compact disciplines are broken down into flexible methods of control” (D&P 211). Panoptic disciplinary surveillance in the contemporary world of “control” has been taken to a new, even more disembodied and therefore efficient state; your Web browser, your DNA, your bank ATM card, your subway pass, or your credit report all suggest that you are tracked in ways that make the disciplinary or panoptic warehousing of bodily traces (like photographs, surveillance tapes, fingerprints, or blood types) seem positively quaint by comparison.

Nealon actually does make a historical argument regarding the movement between mechanisms of power, but does so in such a way as to not introduce a radical break between disciplinarity and control. The transition occurs across an intensive threshold rather than between historical eras. There is however, as it is clear in the above extract, a historical dimension to Nealon’s argument.

May is a bit unhappy with Nealon’s periodization:

The interpretive reservation has to do with the periodization Nealon lays out. On this periodization, discipline bears upon actions while biopower concerns norms. As he writes, “the disciplinary criminal is known through her transgressive deeds, while biopower’s delinquent is known through his abnormal personality” (p. 47). I believe this is a mistaken interpretation. For Foucault, it is precisely discipline that works through personalities and norms. He writes,

Behind the offender . . . stands the delinquent whose slow formation is shown in a biographical investigation. The introduction of the ‘biographical’ is important in the history of penality. Because it establishes the ‘criminal’ as existing before the crime and even outside it. (Discipline and Punish, p. 252)

And elsewhere he states, “The power of the Norm appears throughout the disciplines” (Discipline and Punish, p. 184).

Foucault’s view, as I see it, is that discipline is one part of biopower. Near the end of the first volume of the History of Sexuality, Foucault writes, “starting in the seventeenth century, this power over life evolved in two basic forms. . . One of these poles . . . centered on the body as a machine. . . The second, formed somewhat later, focused on the species body” (History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, p. 139). There are two aspects to biopower. One of those involves individualizing discipline, and the other involves an intervention into life of the kind Nealon calls biopower. Therefore, discipline is actually a part of biopower.

I don’t think Nealon’s argument contradict’s Foucault’s suggestion above about the biographical character of the criminal as quoted by May. In fact, I suggest it actually supports it. For Nealon, the criminal becomes known through his or her transgressive deed, the biographical investigation of the kind Foucault notes and May is quoting surely comes after this deed or action. The ‘criminal’ that transcends (‘as existing before the crime and even outside it’) the action of the crime (‘transgressive deed’) is a construction of investigative discourse. ‘Trangressive deed’ plus ‘investigative’ discourse equals subject that ‘always’ was and is a ‘criminal’.

To go out on a limb (I haven’t actually finished Nealon’s book, so maybe he discusses this later), the temporal relation is different for biopower and involves the modulation of action and norms through governance of relations of futurity. This is why ‘risk’, ‘opportunity’, ‘challenges’ and so on are central to neoliberal governance, because these three terms and others describe specific temporal relations. What is at stake is not necessarily relations between people or objects, but between at least two compositions of these relations at different times (present and future).

Foucault 2.0: A Neo-Liberalised Foucault Beta?

Eric Paras’ book Foucault 2.0 has an atrocious title. The Web 2.0 phenomenon is an expression of the worst excesses of the cultural industry capitalising on a techno-enthusiasm. The title of Paras’ book therefore immediately puts me off. This is a pity because I don’t think I am alone in my desire to not be intepellated into the current fashions of the cultural industry, be they academic or otherwise, and Paras’ book deserves some critical attention. Let this post stand as a review of sorts, it is not a proper review, I only want to highlight the useful and not very useful sections of his book as I understand them.

Others have described this book as partially a biography and partially a work of philosophical critical commentary. This is the strength of the book. To understand philosophers doesn’t mean comprehending concepts according to their identity, but understanding the contingent material practice of philosophy that served as the conditions of emergence for the concept. So not a body of concepts, but a seriality of contingencies that allowed the concepts to be developed. Another brief post is in the works where I engage with Buchanan’s tips for reading Deleuze and Guattari (in the Deleuze and Music edited collection), and I argue that Buchanan takes a pedagogical line organised around the resemblance of the concept to identity, and not the genealogy of the concept and the contingency of its emergence.

The extended discussion of the period of a few years from the late-1960s until the early-1970s in Foucault’s oeurve is very productive. Paras notes the influence of Deleuze’s work and the reconfiguration of Foucault’s method. For example, I have elsewhere described it as the mobilisation of the event where Foucault shunted the event from the shackles of the discursive archive and mobilised it by asking how discourse related to the mechanisms of power as they affected bodies. If Deleuze’s reading is followed then Foucault was always talking about power, but the mobilised event of disciplinary dispositifs was described not simply through the rule-based configuartions of statements, but through the relation of statements to dispositifs: of the archive of discourse to the history of bodily practices.

Similarly, I think Paras’s analysis of Foucault’s Iran writings are productive in that he takes them seriously and unravels the core argument regarding the revolution as a moment where the ‘planetary forces’ of ‘modernisation’ were refused. (This is in stark contrast to Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson’s reading of Foucault’s Iran writings, which I briefly mention here.)

This is all well and good until Paras seems to lose the ‘plot’ a bit in what I assume is meant to be the point of the book’s argument, the “Deep Subjects” chapter. Another reader had similar problems with Chapter Four: “Paras’ interpretive strategy blinds him to the continuities at work across Foucault’s texts and reduces his later texts to something of a death bed conversion to the time-honored values of liberal humanism.” The problem, condensed: Paras writes from within neo-liberal discourse and argues from the assumption that “interests” equals “individuals”, thus transforming Foucault’s two courses (77-78 and 78-79) into a project “that viewed the individual as the secret bearer of his own deep truth” (113).

Catastrophic. Why would Foucault simply start to ignore the work of Deleuze and Guattari, where desire is social before it is individual? Why would ‘interest’ necessarily be ‘individual’? The insertion of economics into governmental discourse and practices was completely organised around organising bodies and practices so as to lead to a convenient end or outcome. The convenient end was not of some reified individual, but of ‘interests’. Interests coalesced, they formed agencements that exceed the subjective interests of individuals. The ‘calculated leaving-alone’ was calculated precisely because nothing was left alone. Utter nonsense:

Rather than tighening of the reins of social control, Foucault described a kind of slackening: a power that functioned with precision inasmuch as it let natural processes pursue their course, inasmuch as it let individuals follow their inclinations. (103)

‘Processes’ are not ‘natural’ and ‘inclinations’ do not belong to ‘individuals’.

EDIT 27/09/07: Eric Paras replies in comments.