The Governing and the Governed

In his book “The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World” (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), Partha Chatterjee rejects Benedict Anderson’s notion of a homogeneous time-space of modernity which politics inhabit, suggesting instead that such time is “the utopian time of capital” (6), and that time is heterogeneous, unevenly dense, since modernity is, in which he follows Foucault, heterotopia.

Foucault’s notion of heterotopia is evoked of describing the spacio-temporal characteristics of ambiguity, in which the subject finds herself in several places or points at once, for instance, looking at the mirror. To say that the modernity is heterotopic, is a productive way of speaking about modernity, in my opinion. Modernity is characterized by this ambiguity of positioning, when futurity and remnants of the past commingle and coincide, but also contradict one another and clash with one another.

Homi Bhabha, according to Chatterjee, formulated heterotopic ambiguity around the axes of nation in which “the people were an object of national pedagogy because they were always in the making, in a process of historical progress, not yet fully developed to fulfill the nation’s destiny” (6), yet at the same time, “the unity of the people, their permanent identification with the nation, had to be continually signified, repeated, and performed” (6). Chatterjee announces it to be an inherent feature of modernity, or “modern politics itself” (6)–and one might agree, but there is no big contradiction here, it appears. Both these statements describe the nation in becoming, in flux, in progress. What does contradict each other though, is that the people in the making and in process are simultaneously already perceived or framed as nation today, already–the nation which has a glorious history and bright future; which is a key feature of nation building. Apart from having the future, the past, and the present, nation is as a rule relates somehow, sanctioned by divine providence and blessed by God. To evoke the specter of Vl. Solovyev: “The idea of nation is not something that the nation itself thinks about itself in time, but something that God thinks about it in eternity.” (Соловьев, 1911, 3)–a standard motif of governmentality engaging into what might be called “narrativization of the nation.” (“efforts to narrativize,” as Chatterjee puts it, 8).

The analysis of the untouchables in India, affords for understanding that “Citizens inhabit the domain of theory, populations the domain of policy.” (34).

Chatterjee shows that Lockian idea of two types of citizens–sound-minded citizens who get to govern and those who should be governed because they could not be subjects of consensual politics–is deeply ingrained into structures of democracy; this is indeed modernity’s constitutive, foundational idea, and not some glitch or malfunction happening occasionally.



Chatterjee, Partha. The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Соловьев Вл. Русская идея. М., 1911.


On Thursday, April 7th, I am giving a talk in Professor Elizabeth Lewis’s class “Expressive Culture.” The theme of my talk is “ISIS: Reenactment of Ruins and Atrocity in State Formation.” Students are reading the first chapter from Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish” for the discussion.

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)


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.]



Voluntary Incarceration




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


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.