Teaching Dreams

I’d love to teach a course on gender and sexuality leaning towards researching and questioning BDSM practices because they, in their turn, are exploring questions of power, violence, and gendered expectations. If I ever have such an opportunity, in this course I’d prompt students to read classical texts, such as Foucault’s The History of Sexuality and Butler’s Gender Trouble; ethnographic or historic accounts, like Chauncey’s Gay New York and Kulick’s Travesti, and some non-nonfictional literature too–memoirs, old and recent, written mainly by women, exploring their sexuality through writing.

Mirrors of Foucault, or A Little Bit of Bookworming

“The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history: with its themes of development and of suspension, of crisis and cycle, themes of the ever-accumulating past, with its great preponderance of dead men and the menacing glaciation of the world.” (”Of Other Spaces” by Michel Foucault,diacritics / spring 1986. Translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec)

“As is well known, the great and obsessive dread of the nineteenth century was history, with its themes of development and stagnation, crisis and cycle, the accumulation of the past, the surplus of the dead and the world threatened by cooling.” (“Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” by Michel Foucault. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. Edited by Neil Leach.* NYC: Routledge. 1997. pp.330-336)

“As we know, the great obsession of the nineteenth century was history: themes of development and arrest, themes of crisis and cycle, themes of accumulation of the past, a great overload of dead people, the threat of global cooling.” (“Different Spaces” by Michel Foucault in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology. 1998. The New Press New York. Edited by James D. Faubion. Translated by Robert Hurley.)

As Foucault in the first sentence of his lecture, delivered on the 14th of March, 1967, to the Architectural Studies Circle, which was later published under the title “Des Espaces Autres” in the issue 5 of the journal Architecture-Mouvement-Continuité (October, 1984; 46-49), later known broadly as the “Foucault’s Heterotopia Writing,” may or may not have said, the nineteenth century was occupied with:

– development and suspension
{stagnation]
{arrest];
– crisis and cycle;
– ever-accumulating past (past) or the past’s ever-accumulation (accumulation);
– preponderance  of the dead,
[surplus}
[overload}
– and the treat of the global cooling
[menacing glaciation}.

I wonder if surplus of the dead makes the Leach’s Foucault into a Marxist.

_________________
* the name of the translator of this piece in Leach’s volume is omitted. in the Acknowledgements section we read the editor’s gratitude for the permission to publish the piece expressed in the following expressions: “Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies: Theodor Adorno, ‘Functionalism Today’, trans. Jane Newman and John Smith; Ernst Bloch, ‘Formative Education, Engineering Form, Ornament’, trans. Jane Newman and John Smith; Michel Foucault, ‘Other Spaces: The Principles of Heterotopia’.” perhaps it is reasonable to suggest that Jane Newman and John Smith did the translation; the very title of the Foucault’s piece in the edited volume differs however from the title mentioned.

American Anthropological Association Meeting, Minneapolis, 2016

On the 19th of November at the American Anthropological Association meeting (Minneapolis, Minnesota) I presented my work entitled “Archeology of the Robotics: Remnants of Soviet Robots” on the panel “Affect and the Materiality of Ruins: Radioactive Subjects, Contested Futures, and Evidence of Lost Worlds” that we put together with Magdalene Stawkowski and Kelly Alexander. They both presented their work, as well as Mark Gardiner. Alison Cool was the discussant. The panel enjoyed the attendance of anthropologists, and the discussion was so lively that questions and remarks went for five minutes beyond the time.

The key event of the AAA meeting in 2016 for me was a panel “Sleepwalking Into Extinction: Elaine Scarry’s S.O.S. to Anthropologists” on the same day.

I read Elaine Scarry’s book “The Body in Pain” and used her concept of the room of torture as a tool of torture to extend it to the landscape of torture as a tool of torture, in case of the ISIS performative executions, and was lucky to talk to her about it briefly after the panel.

Elaine Scarry’s S.O.S. is related to un-abolished nuclear weapons. I, as a child of the Cold War, did have nightmares and fears of the world dying in the nuclear catastrophe, which is a shared experience for my generation. It is true that the nuclear threat fell into the background (one of Scarry’s arguments). And it is reasonable to join Elaine Scarry in the statement that this should not be so. For indeed it was Foucault who first noted that the supreme new tool of biopolitics, nuclear weapon, could eliminate its creator. Elaine Scarry adds to that (or reminds)–not only its creator, but all the life on the earth.

I could not help but caught myself on the thought that, as much as the nuclear threat is important and real, there is also a tinge of nuclear nostalgia to the conversation about it. The question for me is: what kind of shared nightmares today’s children have?

Space Generating Bodies and Vice Versa

According to Foucault, racism is an inevitable tool of the nation state, which it uses to stratify and modify its citizen. Racism is not occasional slippage of the system, it is a part of the system, its integral, system-generating part. (I’d say that the same is true in regard to misogyny.)

Biopolitics is concerned with great masses of people, as opposed to the old (pre-eighteenth century) sovereign power, which concentrated on attaining control over the individual bodies. The control over bodies did not disappear, but was permeated with new types of control, subtler, and more nuanced. If in the sovereign power was the right to let live and make die, in a new era, the era biopolitics, it was a power of ‘“make” live and “let” die.’ (241)

This new mode of power, the mode of ruling over the human-being-as-a-species, rather than human-being-as-an-individual, required new methods of control, care, and management. And such methods emerged—hygiene routines, insurance, safety trainings, mandatory medical service, and so on.

Foucault critics Socialism as being but another version of capitalism, because Socialism re-implemented all these methods and tools, and never offered any critique of them—to the contrary, embraced the new Leviathan of biopolitics, still more devoid of individual features than ever, and no any less horrifying than in the Hobbesian imagination.

It is in these settings that camps appear, according to Agamben. Agamben conducted a revolution in the understanding of camps. Rather than attempting to decipher the nature of camps from the events that took and are taking place there, he asked, to the contrary, what are the nature of things which happened as derived from what camp is (Agamben, 2003). In it, he follows Benjamin, who, and this is a Marxian insight, positioned “space” before the “events,” “space” before the “bodies” which it produced (and not vice versa). Agamben shows that camp is intrinsic to the new social order—the camp, where all laws are suspended, is a place inevitably resurfacing in the biopolitical mode of power, in a nation state which is busy with its endless purification and sustaining of its population.

Dehumanized “zoe” is both camp’s production and its first victim, whereas “bios,” political life, as long as it remains in power at least. Perhaps it is possible to think about “zoe” and “bios” as about a cast division of our times, and this division has class, racial, gender, sexuality, and mental health dimensions. There is always a possibility for “bios” to slip into “zoe,” but there is hardly any possibility for “zoe” to rise to “bios.”

 

References

Agamben, Georgio. Means Without End: Notes on Politics. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Foucault, Michel. Society Must Be Defended. Pikador, New York. 2003.

Robotic Producers

In the Soviet modernity, not only mechanisms should have been exploited beyond their limits, not only workers were expected and were trying to surpass themselves in effectiveness of their labor, but living beings, cared and mediated by humans, were also enhancing beyond belief the hidden capacities of their bodies.

The instruments of the rising biopower were eugenics, active human-led environmental change, and husbandry loaded with the ideological demand of demonstrating the superiority of the Socialist governmentality.

When Foucault described what he called “anatomo-politics of the human bodies,” which presupposed “the body as a machine,” processed through different stages of disciplining and optimization (Foucault, 1978, 139), he did not mention that the bodies going through all the stages of the cycle which had to make them more efficient and more docile, were not only human. The non-human body was also a cog of the state gear wheel.

Marshalled by the regimes of biopower, pigs were becoming reproduction machines, cows—biorobots, chickens—egg conveyers, rats—laboratory instruments, sheep—fur-generating automatons, and dogs—alive mechanisms of cosmic exploration. Cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, geese, and all the breathing beings had to be useful, give what was demanded of them, and reproduce themselves; they were counted, weighed, measured, compared, exhibited; their products calculated, scaled, pasteurized, and distributed; their offsprings enumerated, examined, and their further trajectories decided.

The ubiquity and wide implementation of the process was like a mass madness, a lunacy of daydreaming caught in a swarm of hectic, frenetic activity giving no rest nor respite to humans and nonhumans alike. Seven-year-plans of developing of the Soviet economics were finished in five years, and five-year-plans in three years. The central and regional newspapers were dappled with “949 liters of milk for each cow in four months received milkmaid Nosova”; “milkmaid Melentyeva is taking an obligation to milk 2900 liters per cow” in a year; animals almost took Socialistic obligations as well: at least a sheep of the Ust Uda region in one kolkhoz was planned to produce 2,6 kg of fur a year; one hundred ewes were expected to bring one hundred five lambs a year; one sow bred 12 piglets; plants did not hang behind either: one hectare was supposed to produce 12,5 centners of crops, and so on (examples are from “Angarskaya Pravda” #42 (2093), 1960).

All across the Soviet Union individual milkmaids, steelmakers, coalminers, conveyer operators, and well as collective farms and enterprises, were taking on “raised obligations” (povishennie obyazatelstva) to produce, manufacture, assemble, make, complete, and accomplish. Every new achievement, were it a number of tons of steel or eggs per chicken, was soon surpassed, record broken, and it seemed that there will be no ending to enlarged capacities of the body, plant, machine, and metal.

Milkmaids were not just milking and taking care of cows, but “created milk rivers,” transforming the trope of fairy tales into the Soviet reality. Delicate corn was all of a sudden growing in Siberian taiga, Northern tundra, and Central Asia semisavanna for that sole reason that such was the wise decision of the Party. Michurin’s amazing apples not only were about to bloom in the regions which were historically too cold or too dry for them previously, but it was only a matter of time, and of several decades at that, until said apples would adorn the Mars’s rusty surface with the carpets of their shed petals and then fruits.

In such context, it was only too reasonable that prairies were transubstantiated into arable land and rivers had to be turned around and rush towards their streambeds, irrigating deserts. In 1947, the project of the near-Pole Salekhard-Igarka railway, which had to be built in permafrost, began emerging as a parallel to Baikal-Amur Mainline; the construction of Salekhard-Igarka was necessary not only in order to develop communications in the scarcely populated region, but also to shield the country from the enemies’ backstabbing blow which they could deliver any moment from the unprotected lands of the Arctic. People who were working on the railroad, imprisoned and converted into forced labor, were thrown into naked, barren landscapes, and expected to protect themselves by extracting out of thin air the shelters and sustenance, much as they were expected at other sites of the “constructions of the century.”

“Breathers” became robotic producers of goods and themselves; when the body is a machine, its frailty is but an annoying obstacle, and the stock of such bodies is practically inexhaustible, but recreatable, refillable, and restorable. Those had to be bodies brimming with enthusiasm, euphoric exaltation of living and participation in a great project of building the Sovietopia: the model of the future for the whole world.

Foucault: A Randomized Collection of Quotes

Foucault, Discipline and Punish

Important quotes. (It is the task approximating impossibility, to extract important quotes from Foucault, since everything he ever wrote is a breakthrough, if applied properly, and thus is of paramount importance; albeit not deprived of admirable machismo, if I may be permitted to remark.)

“In France, the guillotine, that machine for the production of rapid and discreet death, represented a new ethic of legal death. But the Revolution had immediately endowed it with a great theatrical ritual. For years it provided a spectacle.” (15)

Inventor

Mr. Guillotin,
an advocate for humanity
and a foreseer of the future,
proposed to statesmen
a vehicle for punishment,
a sleek guillotine,
concise like a grand piano,
fast like the best automobile,
and painless, like an injection of morphine,
a door and a portal to the better world,
a lift to heaven and hell.
In his private life,
he was modest and shy.
He had an emerald tortoise,
who kept him company during
morning coffee and evening tea,
but this is not
what he is universally acclaimed for,
nor respected the most.

“Regard punishment as a political tactic.” (23)

“But the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.” (25) [and sighs?]

“We should admit rather that power produces knowledge [Marx — V.O.] (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” (27)

“The body interrogated in torture constituted the point of application of the punishment and the locus of extortion of the truth.” (42)

“Besides its immediate victim, the crime attacks the sovereign: it attacks him personally, since the law represents the will of the sovereign; it attacks him physically, since the force of the law is the force of the prince.” (47)

“The liturgy of torture and execution” (49)

“In the ceremonies of the public execution, the main character was the people, whose real and immediate presence was required for the performance.” (57) [The society of spectacle and more]

“Under the protection of imminent death, the criminal could say everything and the crowd cheered.” (60)

“…attempts were made to seize the condemned man, either to save him or to kill him more surely” (63)

“ambiguous rituals” (65)

“The offences had to be properly defined and more surely punished; out of this mass of irregularities, sometimes tolerated and sometimes punished with a severity out of all proportion to the offence, one had to determine what was an intolerable offence, and the offenders had to be apprehended and punished.” (86)

“The right to punish had been shifted from the vengeance of the sovereign to the defence of society.” (90, “Society Should Be Defended”)

“The last crime cannot but remain unpunished.” (93)

“the double taxonomy of punishments and crimes” (100)

“The art of punishing, then, must rest on a whole technology of representation.” (104)

“Mere day-dreaming? Perhaps.” (105)

“This, then, is how one must imagine the punitive city. At the crossroads, in the gardens, at the side of roads being repaired of bridges built, in workshops open to all, in the depths of mines that may be visited, will be hundreds of tiny theaters of punishment.” (113)

“The apparatus of corrective penalty acts in a quite different way. The point of application of the penalty is not the representation, but the body, time, everyday gestures and activities; the soul, too, but in so far as it is the seat of habits. The body and the soul, as principles of behavior, form the element that is now proposed for punitive intervention.” (128)

“How did the coercive, corporal, solitary, secret model of the power to punish replace the representative, scenic, signifying, public, collective model?” (131)

“Let us to take the ideal figure of the soldier as it was still seen in the early seventeenth century. To begin with, the soldier was someone who could be recognized from afar; he bore certain signs: the natural signs of his strength and courage, the marks, too, of his pride; his body was the blazon of his strength and valour; and although it is true that he had to learn the profession of arms little by little — generally in actual fighting — movements like marching and attitudes like the bearing of the head belonged for the most part to a bodily rhetoric of honour…” (135)

“Discipline sometimes requires enclosure, the specification of a place heterogeneous to all others and closed in upon itself.” (141)

“The organization of a serial space was one of the great technical mutations of elementary education.” (147)

“The mutual improvement school was to exploit still further this control of behaviour by the system of signals to which one had to react immediately.” (167)

“These ”observatories” had an almost ideal model: the military camp — the short-lived, artificial city, built and reshaped almost at will; the seat of a power that must be all the stronger, but also all the more discreet, all the more effective and on the alert in that it is exercised over armed men.” (171)

“The order that the disciplinary punishment must enforce is of a mixed nature: it is an ‘artifical’ order, explicitly laid down by a law, a programme, a set of regulations.” (179)

“One of the essential conditions for the epistemological ‘thaw’ of medicine at the end of the eighteenth century was the organization of the hospital as an ‘examining’ apparatus. The ritual of the visit was its most obvious form.” (185)

“As opposed to the ruined prisons, littered with mechanisms of torture, to be seen in Piranese’s engravings, the Panopticon presents a cruel, ingenious cage.” (205)

“We are much less Greeks than we believe.” (217)

“This production of delinquency and its investment by the penal apparatus must be taken for what they are: not result acquired once and for all, but tactics that shift according to how closely they reach their target.” (285)

“I am not saying that the human sciences emerged from the prison.” (305) [Oh but you do.]

 

desk

Voluntary Incarceration

 

 

Reference

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Translated by Alan Sheridan. Vintage Books New York 1995.

Airport

Airports in their current materialization are only possible in the society of control. The paranoid consistency I observed through Russia, Ukraine, Great Britain, Finland, India, Italy, Spain, and the United States of America, is impressive. In the majority of these countries I saw more than one airport. They are remarkably similar; a truly international space. Quirks and things are different everywhere, but the essence of the place is to be devoid of any local specificity, over which the universal readability of the space is opted for. Wonderful continuity throughout the different continents and countries. The glaring surfaces everywhere, the same alphabets, the same underlying message: follow our directions in a correct and timely fashion, and out of our deceptively comfortable globality you would get to the dear to your heart locality, in all what the word entails, faster. Everywhere there is the same pulsating threat: you are the citizen here who might be, if needed, if the authorities so desire, stripped from your so-called rights, very easily and in an accurate, disciplined, elegant, noiseless manner.

Our current culture is all about exercising the utmost patience: safely secured in their seats, little do passengers differ from the patients secured in their inebriated selves, within their dulled with the drugs bodies. Foucault would call airport today the disciplining space akin to prison and hospital. “The Birth of the Airport” is one of his unwritten books.