Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Foucault 2 (week 3)


  1. “One might say that the ancient right to take life or to let live was replaced by the power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death” (p. 138).

    "For millennia, Man remained what he was for Aristotle: A living animal with the additional capacity for a political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question" (p. 143).

    Taken together, these two passages seem to provide a direction toward which we can move when seeking an escape from the biopolitical order. As Foucault notes in the chapter, the sift to biopower extends the activity of the sovereign beyond the juridical subject, for when the sovereign juridical authority emerges through the sword, the sovereign takes the life or leaves it, but does not constitute the conditions of life. The political capacity added to the animal life, and subject to the law/will of the sovereign, constitutes the person as a juridical subject that does not precede or negate his/her animal life. The price of entering into a community, however, for exercising the capacity for political existence (and the person could always exercise the capacity through a denial), is taking on a juridical subjectivity. It is through the legal order that the sovereign gains access to the body, to snuff out life, but the sovereign (or sovereign institutions, or whatever fulfills the function of sovereignty) cannot exert an additive force on life.

    Within biopolitical technologies of governance, the existence of a person as a juridical subject now captures the existence as living being. Man now becomes a political animal with the additional capacity to be a living being. With that, the juridical subject, now fragmented into the regulatory regimes, becomes the predominant site for exercising sovereignty. No longer is the sovereign deciding who to “not kill” and who to “not not kill,” the distributed sovereignty determines “not to allow life” or to “not not to allow life.” In the first formulation, persons have the capacity to exist outside the juridical order (or, at least, not live entirely within it). As long as they did not violate the sovereign’s will, they could live as they please. In the second formulation, persons cannot exist outside the juridical order, for that order—in all of its manifold forms (which is key)—questions the existence of the living animal and cultivates its relation to itself such that the juridical order constitutes the whole horizon of life.

    Happily, the order cannot capture the animal life fully, but it shakes our belief in that life and cultivates within us a belief that the very capacity to live stems from the juridical order. Thus, through Foucault’s ethical turn, to speak the truth in the face of death, is to assert the capacity to exist as a living animal capable of political existence. A being that has life outside the juridical order, which is to resist the “not not,” the taking away of im-potentiality, to allow life. In this, a relation to the self outside the biopolitcal network becomes possible.

  2. I was trying to follow Foucault's use of power, its relation with discourse, norms, and finally, with resistance. Excluding part V, which I haven't read yet, the "method" section brought a lot together for me.

    Foucault has been arguing thus far that power is not a unity, it is a strategy, it is not the law that sets up a limit or says no, and so on. He also talks about power producing norms. But of course, Foucault also says there is no standing outside of power and conducting a great refusal (p. 95). Ultimately, he appears to be arguing that we need to focus on the 'tactics' and 'mechanisms' that produce norms; that power is precisely the effect of these tactics and mechanisms.
    So we need to focus on how the norms how discourses arise that produce those norms. When Foucault does this with sex, he finds many experts in medicine, psychiatry, education, etc that are getting more and more people to speak about sex. The gestures and acts of the population are spoken about, recorded, and turned into knowledge categories. One important point appears to be that what people were already doing and thinking was coded by power in a certain way.
    Next, Foucault makes a fascinating and momentarily depressing claim that power is not "poor in resources" (85) but that power is produced "at every relation from one point to everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere" (93). This means that power finds an anchor, a relay, or a prop that links it to yet another anchor point. Hence, for Foucault, the family is an anchor that relays sex discourse to its children, connects to the school, which connects to doctors. The doctors appear to transverse across all these point. But with this example, we can see how knowledge can be gained about sex and that there are links within the social field available for this knowledge to then be dispersed throughout the population.

    What chance is there for resistance? The ability for resistance has take account of what power is. Since power is not a unity, that is, it is not an institution or structure (93), we have to look elsewhere. He is saying here that the structure of the state is the product of other forces. Taking over the state and continuing to exercise biopower and discipline is pointless.

    I am running out of space. I will finish with saying that I was intrigued by Foucault's example of homosexuality speaking on own behalf "often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified" (101). I've done a little research on 'human capital' which is basically a way assessing the skills, knowledge, and health an individual has and hence, assessing how much one can expect to be rewarded in the labor market. It would be interesting to explore the possibility of using the human capital discourse in a different way. Essentially, 'human capital' is admitting that it is people that are productive, not actual capital, which begs the question of: why does capital gets to keep so much of the profits?

  3. I find Foucault’s enumeration of his conception of “power” very interesting. More than halfway through The History of Sexuality, we are finally presented with a sustained attempt to address what exactly Foucault means when he uses the word ‘power.’ He claims that his “power” does not “mean ‘Power’ as a group of institutions and mechanisms . . . a mode of subjugation . . . a general system of domination exerted by one group over another;” rather, Foucault seems to use ‘power’ to refer to the “multiplicity of force relations” inherent in all situations (92). This would seem to answer my previous question as to whether Foucault was trying to speak of “power” in ontological terms, along the same lines as Nietzsche and his notion of forces. In many ways, Foucault’s view seems to echo Nietzsche’s. Both views seem to see power as some kind of interaction of forces, which ultimately has a productive effect. So it may be that Foucault does not speak of “power” as an ontic unit, but rather forces; power is the relation of these forces, and in turn beings enter into a play of relations of power. Like his treatment of knowledge and power, Foucault again invokes dialectical reasoning when dealing with power and resistance. He appeals for us to understand resistance not as a project which is only realized at the event of an overthrowing or thwarting of power. We are to understand resistance as “the odd term in relations of power; [resistances] are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite” (96). Furthermore, “resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power” (95). This seems to resemble the “perpetual spirals of power and pleasure” (45).

    So it seems that Foucault has crafted a very Hegelian notion of power. It is always-already immanent, and opposition (resistance) is accounted for by its dialectical inclusion. To try to deny Foucault’s concept of power is to fall into the Hegelian trap, for to deny the concept presupposes a degree of knowledge concerning the concept. Admitting this knowledge and employing it in denying this concept of power is to enter into the power relations Foucault explicates.

  4. Despite it being semi-face threatening, I think I need some clarity here. I’ve been chewing on this tonight, so I might as well share-- I’m still feeling my attempt to concretize power for Foucault is a little fuzzy. (My questions are directly linked to how we can put Foucault into the practice of actual, publishable analyses from this definition, but I won’t address that here). In my understanding, power is ubiquitous. It is “not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” (93). Power is imminent, mobile relations… so forces. Power is exercised with aims and objects, but these are not necessarily human or purposive. & “where(ver) there is power, there is resistance,” which is also mobile and consists of “cleavages in a society that shift about” (95-96). It seems power (as told through the moment of sexuality) is a mobile, motivated (strategic) effect that moves us to privilege the formation of arrangements and constellations of relationality, as opposed to a mythic set of tactics to give us “agency.” This is why affirming gay identity or having sex isn’t radical or productive at all; it’s simply playing into the logics of sexuality. However, I’m having a difficult time shaking how queerness can/does(n’t) play into this. I’ve been attempting to listen to the silences, and I’m getting little hints or crazy ideas, like that “passing,” as a queer mobility without an exteriority, may be a resistive experience that eludes categorization. It’s the adoption of the anonymous murmur? Passing can be thought of as just surface. I’m not saying queer in a static, essentialist way, but perhaps as an ethic of play? Maybe?

    As you can tell, I’m feeling a little wobbly here.

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  6. It strikes me that The History of Sexuality as a title must contain some meta-level commentary on how narrative development is meant to be interpreted or instruction for observing Foucault’s train of thought and approach. I find the use of the term ‘history’ significant, opposed to say, archaeology. For me, History of Sexuality Vol. 1 is an “introduction” to the historical narrative of interventions of power at the level of the body, mainly through reinscription of secrecy and repression as productive forms. As to how that historicity is meant to be read, here is Foucault in the introduction of The Archaeology of Knowledge: “To be brief, then, let us say that history, in its traditional form, undertook to 'memorise' the monuments of the past, transform them into documents, and lend speech to those traces which, in themselves, are often not verbal, or which say in silence something other than what they actually say; in our time, history is that which transforms documents into monuments.” I’m left wondering how we’re meant to interpret that transformation in regards to silence and production in The History of Sexuality and providing ‘voice’ (or some interpretative overcoding) of “silent” documents. The ‘history’ here is a production in itself, and I think the title is an acknowledgement that Foucault will produce a history of sexuality or at least how “sexuality” may be decoupled from nature, shown to us as something that has an origin story and relationship to a discourse on power.
    We begin with the role of discourse in the production of something we may call sexuality, which enters political life via church, state—the capacity of power to “suppress” and control sexual desires is in direct correlation with inventing ever increasing orderings and languages for pleasures and gestures of the body. “Confession”, for example, presupposes sin, however Foucault suggests that it actually produced sin in a attempt to totalize the body as a space for God, and therefore regulate it—in greater and greater detail. Similarly, Foucault would have us think of the Englishman writing about all of his daily sexual exploits not as a gesture of resistance, but rather an example of life and body most willingly to be territorialized by power. There is a reversal happening with the productive and negating relationships with sex and sexuality, secrecy and repression. The preconceived fictions of natural shame and taboo is clouded by codification of the body and its language and gestures through various discourses—church, law, classroom, and expanding fields of sciences which quantify and anticipate the body into a knowledge base, allowing more and more points for power to territorialize and control the body.
    Parallels to bio-power are clear, especially the roles production and negation play in power’s increasingly vast and specified relation of the body to life, to the point of the cultivation of population. The sword may symbolize the sovereign right to life—producing life by “letting live and making die” in Medieval law; however, biopower relationships between life and death may be articulated at the level of the population—produce life by “making live and letting die”. Power produced by increasingly complex apparatuses to form and condition and regulate, not to mention implicate struggle to recode the meaning of death ffrom the personal to the symbolic. Like sexuality and direct relation, power over life and death have gone through changing relations—Foucault hoping to reveal groundwork for thinking about resistance within a newly formulated narrative of power.

  7. “For the first time in history, no doubt, biological existence was reflected in political existence; the fact of living was no longer an in accessible substrate that only emerged from time to time, amid the randomness of death and its fatality….[Power] was taking charge of life, more than the threat of death, that gave power its access even to the body” (143)

    Since reading Foucault conception of biopower and the idea of ‘right to life’ I’ve been thinking about the different ways in which this biopower and biopolitics have manifested themselves in contemporary society. The most obvious answer to me is the commercialization and politicization of medicine and, in turn, our bodies via the mode of biopower that regulates the body on a micro level as well as the macro level of biopolitics that concerns the management of whole populations. The use of medicine would seem, then, to rely on some sort of norm for a concept of a healthy life. This is to say that more destructive and aggressive forms of biopower such as eugenics, forced sterilization, and so on occur as some sort of correction to the norm. In other words, the forced sterilization of Black women and Native American women in the United States occurred as function of biopower to manage a population’s growth in order to keep the deviation from the preferred norm (Western/white) to a minimum. Normalization thus becomes a form of regulation.

    In another instance, disability as a social creation that demands correction as a function of biopower both because power enacts forces to correct those with perceived disabilities and those impacted by their disabilities claim a right to life. Of course, then, the question of what is meant by “life” in both the claim to a right to life and the power over life comes into play. If we assume a rudimentary definition of life – the act of being biologically functioning – then the task seems simple. However, I think our understanding of “life” is much more nuanced than that – it’s why we have the very quantified notion of a “standard of living.” In this quantified and very political notion of a standard of living we still return to the question of the normalization as regulation.

  8. For some reason I am thinking about Pokemon, a game which I have never played and know very little about other than it’s prime directive: “Gotta catch ‘em all”, or something like that. I watched a YouTube “Walkthrough” of one of the newest Pokemon incarnations in order to get a better idea of it. From what I can tell, it is a role playing game. The player begins as a child who wakes up in a house, goes downstairs to meet his mother, goes into the world and meets up with some friends and in between all of these normal routines they stumble onto Pokemon creatures that they then attempt to capture.

    The video was recorded and narrated by an adult who read all of the characters comments out loud and also gave some commentary as to what they were seeing. A few years ago I was introduced to a part of the internet I wasn’t familiar with—a whole world of these “Walkthroughs” (or I think more commonly know as "Let's Play") of various videogames, being played in real time and narrated for hours on end. The friend who introduced me to it was an English grad student who watched the videos while he was cooking and while he was laying in bed trying to fall asleep. He told me that the industry that has sprung up around these videos makes Hollywood type money.

    I found myself fascinated by my friend’s somewhat embarrassed enthusiasm for the videos and then fascinated by the video itself as I sat at his kitchen table to watch it as he cooked us dinner. My friend gave me some background on the player, one of the most popular producers of these videos on YouTube at the time. He said that the best moments were when his mom would yell down the basement stairs. The player would not pause the video as he argued with his mom, and then he might make a snide remark after she had shut the door. My friend said that he wasn’t completely sure of why he had become so obsessed with these videos, but that he was spending more and more hours of each day with them.

    All of this to say: I am finding it frustrating and restrictive to formulate worthwhile thoughts to directly respond to Foucault’s arguments. How do you respond to something you cannot step outside of? I can only try to imagine the next step of what I think he is talking about, and wonder if, through interacting with videogames in myriad ways, there is a way to affirm our own identities without so much of the baggage connected to affirming ourselves in the world. But even that seems like too much to say. I’ll simply restate the above as my initial reaction to this text:

    On a daily basis there are millions of children and adults watching real time videos of children and adults interacting with interfaces that mimic the daily life of children and adults in various heightened ways.

  9. Many apologies for the late posting!
    Although we get a more robust distinction between disciplinary power and biopower in “Right of Death and Power Over Life, and though it doesn’t quite have the dramatic flair of the Damiens episode, I enjoyed observing how Foucault’s reconfigurations of power already begin to trouble his articulations of power in “the Repressive Hypothesis”.
    My first impression of “the Repressive Hypothesis” was one in which disciplinary and biopower function through discourses/mechanisms in a similar enough manner. We get a story about how, despite the tendency to say modern times imposed silence about sex, the Christian pastoral actually encouraged the constant proliferation of sexual articulation (as exhibited by My Secret Life). Disciplinary power functions through sexuality in that individuals are cognizant and on the lookout for sexual behaviors. At which point, Foucault attempts to move his genealogical analysis of discourses about sex from the Christian pastoral to other foci. When he maneuvers to expand his scope from the pastoral, I had initially glossed over how this transition carries hints of biopower and a very different register for sexual discourse. He notes how this discourse has always been supported “in the first place, by a ‘public interest.’ Not a collective curiosity or sensibility; not a new mentality; but power mechanisms that functioned in such a way that discourse on sex – for reasons that will have to be examined – became essential” (23). After reading the later chapters, this section becomes a pretty significant moment in which Foucault acknowledges a register or sense of sexual discourse that is currently beyond his current framework. It is a sort of proto-biopower moment in which a mode of disciplining the individual body is not enough to ‘account’ for a more public interest in “analysis, stocktaking, classification, and specification, of quantitative or causal studies” (24). This counting behavior-one that must be analyzed at a later time - is at ends with self-discipline and surveillance.
    At the end of all this, I am wondering two things. One curiosity is probably more problematic than the other. My first instinct is to ask: why present this reconfiguration of thought as an aside? The hyphenated brushing aside of what will eventually be addressed later is perhaps unsubtle foreshadowing sure, but I would like to think that this first hinting at biopower is curated in a way to deliver some sort of hermeneutic point. Which leads to the second question of: how do I feel/experience having Foucault’s reconfigurations first presented as an aside for a later time? Does this structure of storytelling afford a particular understanding of biopower?

  10. Like Josh and Kirby, I was especially interested in the "Method" chapter, because there Foucault seems to give the most explicit definitions of his terminology, particularly that word we're all trying to understand here: "power." As Kirby explained in his comments, Foucault understand power as the multiplicity of force relations. This means it can't be identified with any institution, figure, or dominating agent. It's the physics of social activity (which is not only social but material, ideological, epistemic, etc.).

    But this doesn't mean that domination and resistance don't happen in this field of forces. We could maybe even say that that is all that happens: as in physics, forces aggress against each other, moving each other, and different factors go into the intensity of force an object bears or is moved by. This is why resistance is never exterior to power: it's a fact of power itself, another force in the plurality of forces. Foucault says, "[power] is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society" (93) This means that a person's or institution's capacity for agency is always determined by the power-relations already at work in society. And norms, it seems, are caused by paths of least resistance, the way silt accumulates on a riverbank: it's not going to heap up statically in the middle, because the current pushes it aside and away. (Also, I'm not a physicist, so don't push the metaphors too far.)

    So two things to consider: (1) If someone disagrees with social norms for ethical or doctrinal reasons, is that disagreement automatically pre-determined by power-relations or evidence of a transformation in force relations? and (2) Might the formation of different communities facilitate creating a space for the production of new, local norms? When Foucault describes the tactics of power (the local cynicism of power), he says, "tactics which, becoming connected to one another, attracting and propagating one another, but finding their base of support and their condition elsewhere, end by forming comprehensive systems" (95). It sounds like the forming of such systems--though inscribed within power--becomes a medium of transforming or diverting power relations into a localized expression which looks very different from the "outside" world, despite being run along the same dynamic logic. Hence, perhaps, the ways personalities, ideologies, and behavior transforms within closed communities such as cults, or the way particular ethics become norms within certain institutions.

  11. For what it's worth:
    In "The Archaeology of Knowledge" Sheridan Smith makes the following
    observation on the relation between savoir and connaissance:

    'Connaissance a particular corpus of knowledge, a particular
    discipline --€“ biology or economics, for example. Savoir, which is usually
    defined as knowledge in general, to totality of connaissance, is used by
    Foucault in an underlying, rather than an overall, way. He has himself
    offered the following comment on his usage of these terms: €œBy connaissance
    I mean the relation of the subject to the object and the formal rules that
    govern it. Savoir refers to the conditions that are necessary in a
    particular period for this or that type of object to be given to
    connaissance and for this or that type of enunciation to be formulated€'(AK: