Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Deleuze and Guattari

Read the first 25 or so pages of A Thousand Plateaus. At first I was skeptical, and frightened. After all, these fellas were just going on and on about rhizomes, tubers, couch grass, crab grass, Little Richard, and who knows what else.

But after the shock of their style had worn off on me, I found myself attracted, even entranced by their writing style. Moreover, as I have been in pitched battle with Foucault for the last couple of months, it was interesting to read the folks who embrace particularism to an extent only imagined in a text like Discipline and Punish. My major question as I read the intro was just one of orientation and alternative. It would, of course, be fabulous if everyone embraced this hyper-articulation that evaded and dodged all reference to structure in any determining way, but I struggle to understand the utility of such an approach in a world where structures, state apparatuses, and signifiers all "do not float far enough".

As we continue in this Deleuze reading group, I eagerly anticipate A) ferreting out their critique of psychoanalysis, B) understanding what practical implications their recommendations may have and C) figuring out if we can ever know that we are on a plateau.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A New Feature

New feature: Random Deleuze Line of the Day!!

Because I am in a reading group for some Deleuze, I will occasionally post insane quotes found in the course of reading.

today's sample is from a thousand plateaus, p. 9:

"You can never get rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome that can rebound time and again after most of it has been destroyed"

Part Two of the HOS: The Repressive Hypothesis

In the past "one did not speak of sex" and this effect was produced through a prudish series of mutually referential prohibitions. Or at least, this is the conventional account of things according to Foucault. For him it seems the real key is that speaking of sex became somehow a novel and transgressively valenced move. To whisper in the corners about sex could be taken as a form of noble resistance, or at least something which disclosed a particular character of the soul: "Discourse, therefore, had to trace the meeting line of the body and the soul, following all its meanderings: beneath the surfance of the sins, it would lay bare the unbroken nervure of the flesh" (20). I really like his prose here--confession is a spelling out of the excess of desire, but very rarely turns into a discussion of the spilling out of this excess on bodily acts.

Endless and extensive discourses manufacturing of "the interplay of innumerable pleasures, sensations, and thoughts which, through the body and the soul, had some affinity with sex." (20). One can see the workings of the argument here--as a greater and greater number of acts and thoughts became linked to "sex" and this linkage was performed in language, it becomes possible to think of sex as a thing, and not think of each discrete and variable act or thought as something unto itself.

The concern with discussing sex moved into the public under the guise of population discussion Monitoring birth rates, death rates, marital statuses etc. were objects of interest, and as a result sex could be directly articulated to the national interest of a population. Because I am reading this for a Queer Rhetorics class, it seems silly for me to not note that this provides one explanation for homophobia in its early forms- "perverse" sex not aimed at procreation was a direct threat to the health of the nation, because it would not be sex that would increase the size of the population, and thus not make the "body politic" stronger. Certainly this is not limited to what we would call "same-sex" acts: the interesting kernel at the heart of these prohibitions is that way in which it also delimits opportunities for physical activity in the marital bedroom in relation to acts intended for procreation.

I also want to quote at length from Foucault on silence:

"Silence itself--the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers--is less the absolute limit of discourse, the other side from which it is separated by a strict boundary, than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them in relation to them within over-all strategies. There is no binary division to be made between what one says and what one does not say; we must try to determine the different ways of not saying such things, how those who can and those who cannot speak of them are distributed, which type of discourse is authorized, or which form of discretion is required in either case. There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses. " (27)

Central to understanding this passage is importing Foucault's notion of power as productive, not destructive, as outlined in Discipline and Punish. One would mix this critique thoroughly with his criticism of the repressive hypothesis. Traditional notion of silence: it is demanding and waiting to be filled with something, with something that has been neutralized and driven out of its proper space. Critique of this notion: it assumes that there is something which belongs in that natural space, and moreover, assumes some uniform "thing" existed to be driven from that space, as opposed to opening up to the possibility that that very "thing" was created via discourse. "Visibility is a trap" says the Foucault of the prisoners, and here that is clear: sex, made into an object which circulates and both enforces itself and is enforced upon, is controlled owing to the very visibility of it as a sensible notion.

There is another curious moment, where Foucault posits a structural answer to the "Why" question: that sex is an object of manipulation to serve economic and conservative social interests? He says he does not know, but he does know that if this is the case, production, not repression, is the means.

"Modern society is perverse, not in spite of its puritanism or as if from a backlash provoked by its hypocrisy; it is in actual fact, and directly, perverse." (47). "Aberrant" sexual behaviors are not the result of the failed universalization of a program of Puritan regulation, nor from the repression and reemergence of drives and desires. Rather, the behaviors are produced from the discursive regulation and constitution of a notion of "sex". They are products of "the encroachment of a type of power on bodies and their pleasures" (48). They are not "results" but rather, they just are.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Once More Into the HOS Vol. 1 Breach, Dear Friends!

We're reading this for my queer rhetorics class. I'm going to post various and sundry meandering thoughts about this text as I read it today.

Part One: We "Other Victorians"

Text begins with section dedicated to outlining a taken for granted understanding of sexuality as a thing which has been represeed by modern developments. An understanding of sexuality as an object of manipulation and operation, and prohibition is contrasted with repression. Prohibition serves to stop actions from taking place, while repression indicates that there are a series of charges and obsessions which are simply redirected. And about this Foucault asks:

"Could things have been otherwise? We are informed that if repression has indeed been the fundamental link between power, knowledge, and sexuality since the classical age, it stands to reason that we will not be able to free ourselves from it except at a considerable cost: nothing less than a transgression of laws, a lifting of prohibitions, an irruption of speech, a reinstating of pleasure with reality, and a whole new economy in the mechanisms of power will be required. For the least glimmer of truth is conditioned by politics. Hence, one cannot hope to obtain the desired results simply from a medical practice, nor from a theoretical discourse, however rigorously pursued" (5).

This to me reads as a mortar lobbed at those reading the fallout of a post-68 politics as a call to arms for a more universal and powerful rebellion against instituted powers. The result of a repressive thesis is an understanding of the source of repression must have been appropriately strong to suppress something inimical about human being, and, moreover, that the proper solution is to enable conditions for this human spirit of some sort to rise up in all its glory and power.

And this repressive hypothesis has the effect of turning an ordinary and everyday behavior into something transgressive--if power has operated by repressing sexuality, merely talking about sexuality is enough to constitute a trangression of sorts. Thus all the criticism of psychoanalysis--a means of "transgressively" disclosing the secrets that speak a deep and infinite validation of the existence of some notion of sexuality within, repressed and quashed by a nasty apparatus. This hushed speaking of sex hints at a future utopia wherein "liberation and manifold pleasures" will be free for all. What seems important throughout is that sexuality is a sort of object which much be liberated from the chains in which it is embedded. As this is the sedimented common sense of the matter, Foucault argues, his whole book might read as somewhat mad.

Foucault is out to trace the history of how we have come to believe in this repression. Why has sex been made into a sin? And what of repression, if its explanatory power is of such magnitude that it becomes an all encompassing tautology we are incapable of opposing on the basis of fact and argument?

Thus three meta doubts about repression: Is this repression a historically established fact? Is power always repressive, or at least primarily repressive? And finally, is critical analysis of repression itself a break or a continuation of the set of power relations that enabled repression's supposed effects to continue to reproduce themselves? And by connection, Foucault plans to investigate the ways in which sex comes to be an object which is said to have forces exerted upon it, even as it as a notion colonizes the individual in an internalized and controlling fashion, mutually constituting itself through a series of discourses and practices marked and mapped by discourse.

He is not out to say that the history of prohibition does not contain truths--rather, we should not take that one story as the only and proper one, for granted. Historical facts will be used to reduce the monolithic force of the repressive hypothesis.

More later.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Foucault on the "Eye of Power" in the Power/Knowledge Reader

I've been reading DeCerteau with great interest, and its easy to see how much of his work on tactics/strategy is drawn directly from Foucault, while building on what Foucault has to say. In this short excerpt from the interviews, Foucault further expands upon what he thinks of Bentham's panopticon, using the notion as a metaphor to launch a few well placed lobs against those who would be obsessed with class struggle:

"Struggle is the word used most often...are to be analyzed as episodes in a war?...the affirmation of a struggle can't be the beginning and end of all explanations in the analysis of power relations"

The point here seems to be that a struggle presumes two already fixed or monolithic forces already existing around which and through which resistances are organized and play. So when Foucault says the "good old logic of contradiction is no longer sufficient" to unravel actual processes, the argument seems to be that juxtaposition and division on the basis of separation helps to constitute existing social processes and structures, not bring them into a levelling light that exposes their "true character". In searching for the "right" struggle and alignment, analysis which presumes that there is a struggle in the first place is a lens which means one focuses on the supposed structures involved in the struggle and not their formulation.