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.


'Extraordinary Rendition and the Quest for Accountability in Europe' (UCD Working Papers in Law, Criminology & Socio-Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05/2012) by Suzanne Egan comments that
Despite the conclusions of many high level investigations in Europe that European States had facilitated the practice of “extraordinary rendition” engaged in by the United States post 9/11, very little progress has been made in holding those States accountable for their actions and omissions. Distinguishing between various forms of accountability, it takes as its primary focus the prospects of achieving legal accountability for complicity in extraordinary rendition in Europe. Recognising that complicity is a complex phenomenon that embraces a wide spectrum of conduct, the article applies the accountability lens to different degrees of participation in extraordinary rendition, namely, direct and active participation on the one hand, to indirect or passive forms of participation. It concludes that while international human rights law is capable of addressing direct forms of complicity, significant challenges are faced in holding European states legally responsible where indirect participation in the process is concerned. Further obstacles are faced in compelling the initiation of public inquiries into complicity and in mitigating invocation of national security interests in the context of civil proceedings. By thus exposing the current fault-lines of human rights law in dealing with this issue, the underlying aim of the article is to help focus minds on the possibilities for filling those gaps and the best means of influencing the policy of States in the matter of extraordinary rendition.

16 August 2012

Fakes and Tests

'Raid uncovers alleged fake ID racket in Turner' by Christopher Knaus in today's Canberra Times reports on my photoshopping - this time of NZ drivers licences for use by underage (or banned) nightclubbers -
An imperfect New Zealand driver’s licence, a strangely mismatched Australian accent, and cluey nightclub bouncers helped lead police to a local fake ID production lab, with a stash of over 100 fake IDs, two tasers, and a replica assault rifle. 
Canberra’s fraud squad yesterday raided a Turner apartment they suspected had acted as a major fake ID production hub since 2010. The raid, which was the result of a six month investigation, uncovered 130 remarkably genuine New Zealand and Californian driver’s licences and proof of age cards. 
An 18-year-old had been allegedly using the apartment to flog off the fake IDs for between $70 to $110 each. 
Police allege he used a sophisticated’’ printer and a computer to gradually perfect the bogus idntification over time. Police are unsure exactly how many of the IDs were in circulation, or if they were being distributed interstate.
The CT indicates that the photoshop kid's venture  ran into trouble when bouncers at Canberra nightspots "began to notice inconsistencies, including the lack of New Zealand accents"
"A lot of counterfeit licences had been produced in an attempt to get into nightclubs, or to purchase alcohol in liquor stores", detective acting sergeant Rachel Batterham said. "In turn, security staff contacted police, and this has started what has been a very lengthy and complex investigations.  It is fairly sophisticated in the fact that he has been doing this for a little while, and learning how to improve on the quality of the licenses."...
Police say they have a number of new leads as a result of those raids. Sergeant Batterham said the fake IDs could potentially have been used to get other forms of identification, set up bank accounts and get credit cards. Those in possession of the licences will also be spoken with by police, and could face possible charges.
No fun at Mooseheads for them!

Do we need more than an accent and unpleasant jokes about the amatory habits of NZ sheep? 'The British Citizenship Test: The Case for Reform’ by Thom Brooks in 83(3) The Political Quarterly (2012) 560-566 meanwhile argues that
mmigration presents a daunting challenge to successive British governments. The public ranks immigration as one of the leading policy issues after the economy and employment. There is also greater public support for stronger immigration controls than in many other countries. In response, government strategy has included the use of a citizenship test. While the citizenship test is widely acknowledged as one key part of immigration policy, the test has received surprisingly little critical analysis. This article is an attempt to bring greater attention to serious problems with the current test and to offer three recommendations for its revision and reform. First, there is a need to revise and update the citizenship test. Secondly, there is a need to expand the test to include questions about British history and basic law. The third recommendation is more wide-ranging: it is that we reconsider what we expect new citizens to know more broadly. The citizenship test should not be viewed as a barrier, but as a bridge. The focus should centre on what future citizens should be expected to know rather than how others might be excluded. The test should ensure that future citizens are suitably prepared for citizenship. There is an urgent need to improve the test and this should not be an opportunity wasted for the benefit of both citizens and future citizens alike.
For a local perspective see ‘The Australian Citizenship Test: Process and Rhetoric’ by Farida Fozdar and Brian Spittles in 55(4) Australian Journal of Politics and History (2009) 496-512 and the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) s 23A. see