17 August 2012

Foucauldian Off

'From Biopower to Psychopower: Bernard Stiegler's Pharmacology of Mnemotechnologies' by Nathan Van Camp in Ctheory comments that
During a seminar at the University of Vermont in 1982, merely two years before his untimely death, Michel Foucault indicated that he may have insisted too much on the technologies of domination in the course of his work and in the same breath announced that he planned to correct this theoretical weakness by connecting his earlier analyses of power relations to a historico-conceptual analysis of what he tentatively called "technologies of the self." Unfortunately, his early death, but possibly also some limitations inherent to his theoretical framework, kept him from elaborating this project in a more systematic way. However, despite Foucault's pronounced intention to shift the focus of his research to technologies of self-formation that would enable subjects to regain a certain amount of autonomy in the face of modern power mechanisms, this aspect of his work has been largely neglected in recent radical political theory. Although it is now widely recognized among critical theorists that Foucault's work needs serious revisions for relevance in today's context, few have yet taken serious interest in the conclusions that should have to be drawn from his announcement at the Vermont seminar. On the contrary, many of those who claim to be still working in a Foucauldian spirit simply assume that it is his famous concept of biopower that requires renewed attention. 
I argue that such an exclusive focus on Foucault's concepts of biopower and biopolitics has been detrimental to an appropriate understanding of the workings of power in today's Western societies The work of the French theorist of technology, Bernard Stiegler, reveals that contemporary power technologies no longer mainly aim at disciplining bodies or regulating life-processes, but at controlling and modulating consciousness. Such a substitution of psychopower for biopower, Stiegler suggests, is closely connected to the substitution of consumer capitalism for production capitalism. Subsequently, I will show that in his late work, Foucault ventured to analyze how psychotechnologies could be transformed into emancipation technologies, but that his own persistent focus on biopolitical issues kept him from elaborating a proper psychopolitical perspective on the most salient technologies of domination of his own time. To conclude, I propose that Stiegler's pharmacological notion of power technologies provides a more practicable alternative to the theologico-political models that seem to inspire the work of many of those who have taken up Foucault's legacy.
Van Camp concludes -
One of the most important tasks with which critical theory is faced today is therefore to develop an affirmative psychopolitics which could reconstitute the mnemotechnical system in the face of the psychotechnologies of globalized psychopower. 
Foucault's writings are only partially helpful to gain a better understanding of the technologies of domination with which democratic societies are confronted today. Because he believes that power is always exercised over bodies or the life-process, he not only overlooked the emergence of psychopower, but he also misunderstood the essential critical role of institutions that take care of the socialization of psychotechnologies. He could, for example, only regard education as a disciplinary technology through which docile bodies are produced and not also as a psychotechnique through which minors could be taught how to deal critically with texts and images. If, despite his late interest in writing as self-technology par excellence, Foucault did not succeed in correcting his exclusive focus on biopower, it is mainly because he did not grasp the pharmacological nature of power technologies. Most of the radical political thinkers who have taken up Foucault's legacy suffer from the same deficiency. Given their utterly pessimistic diagnosis of the state of the contemporary world, many of them lapse into forms of religious anarchism to oppose the prevailing power mechanisms. 
Nowhere is this strategy more openly pursued than in Agamben's analysis of what he, loosely following Foucault, calls an "apparatus" (dispositif). While for the late Foucault an apparatus could also support processes of individuation, Agamben only seems to focus on its capacity to produce processes of de-individuation: "What defines the apparatuses that we have to deal with in the current phase of capitalism is that they no longer act as much through the production of a subject, as through the processes of what van be called desubjectivation". And he adds: "We could say that today there is not even a single instant in which the life of individuals is not modeled, contaminated, or controlled by some apparatus." At first sight, such a bleak assessment of the current state of affairs has much in common with the processes of psychic and collective de-individuation Stiegler attempts to analyze. However, the problem with Agamben's discussion of what he calls the oikonomia of apparatuses is not only that it focuses exclusively on its potential to control biological life and hence almost completely ignores its potential to control and modulate the mind, but also that for Agamben this oikonomia is nothing but "a factual state with no alternative". Hence, as Stiegler argues, Agamben "leaves this poison without a remedy." For Agamben, the pharmakon is a poison pure and simple, never a remedy. Furthermore, since Agamben thinks of apparatuses as the totalizing version of ancient religious rituals which establish a separation between the sacred and the profane, it should come as no surprise that his only alternative to the oikonomia of apparatuses is yet again a religious gesture, albeit a more radical one. What is required today, Agamben argues, is nothing less than a counterapparatus that is capable of restoring "to common use what sacrifice had separated and divided." Readers of Agamben's work are probably familiar with this gesture, although it never really becomes clear how it actually works. Simplifying a bit, it basically consists in performing "the cut of Apelles," as Agamben calls it The Time that Remains, or a "divide of the division" elsewhere, which would bring about an enigmatic messianic time in which man would be finally redeemed from the domination of sovereign power (the "real state of emergency"). From the perspective of Stiegler's thought, however, such a gesture is, as I have attempted to show above, nothing but a denial of the originary technicity of temporality. No experience of time is possible without mnemotechnics; opposing oneself to a homogeneous chronological time is nothing but a metaphysical gesture. 
Hence, if industrial democracy is to have a future, we should first recognize that it makes no sense rejecting the mnemotechnical system as such. Given its pharmacological nature, the only way to confront contemporary psychopower is by re-inventing this same mnemotechnical system in such a way that it enables the emergence of a new culture of care. Any critical response to the current mnemotechnical system must arise from within its own possibilities. The most promising aspect of today's digital devices, as Stiegler argued in his essay 'The Discrete Image,' is that its users are no longer destined to remain passive receivers of real time imagery. The danger of the current mnemotechnical system is that it threatens to collapse the gap between primary retention and secondary retention and that it consequently could obtain a monopoly over what to retain and what not to retain in perception. The new digital mnemotechnical devices, however, give their users the power to 'discretize' the continuous flow of imagery that presents itself to the psychic apparatus in the sense that users can disrupt their reality effect and regain a critical distance. By rewinding, replaying and even re-assembling the given imagery, we can regain the power to actively select and organize the tertiary and secondary retentions which otherwise would remain completely under the control of the programming industries. There is, however, no reason to be utterly optimistic about the prospects of the emergence of a new mature technological culture. Although we have recently witnessed a number of revolutionary events and the rise of new civil movements in which new digital mnemotechnical devices have played decisive roles, it is also clear that these potentially emancipatory technologies could -- as Adorno and Horkheimer already knew - just as easily be recuperated by the programming industries to reach ever more passive consumers. Moreover, whether such a strategy to slow down the temporalization of time in the digital era does not actually betray an attempt to reclaim a position which the psychic apparatus occupied before the analog and digital revolution occurred, remains a vexed question. It is nonetheless clear, however, that if the 20th century was the age of biopolitics, the 21st century will be the age of psychopolitics.
'The Skull-Bone and the Bloody Head: Lacan's Lamella and Kojèvo-Hegelian Desire' by Andrew Ryder in 6(1) International Journal of Žižek Studies (2012) meanwhile states that
Slavoj Zizek has made it his essential project to renew an understanding of G.W.F. Hegel’s subjectivity by means of the psychoanalytic theory and practice of Jacques Lacan. One crucial element in such an endeavor is Lacan’s notion of the lamella, a particular understanding of excessive desire as indestructible and exterior to the self. I would like to investigate Zizek’s characterization of the lamella in Lacan’s work and its Hegelian antecedent (particularly evident in the famous reading of Alexandre Kojève), as well as bringing the thought of Georges Bataille, a significant interlocutor for Lacan, to bear on the formation and ramifications of the idea. Most importantly, I would like to investigate the question of sexual difference as it has bearing on the lamella (and on subjectivity) as a result, and to suggest a feminine aspect to its image that has perhaps gone unnoticed.