Archives for Michel Foucault

More Conservative Party Coprophilia: Britain’s New Budget

Yesterday the Conservative chancellor of Great Britain gave his Autumn Budget (yes, in winter). As the image here shows, Autumn is the leafy, golden one, with people picking apples, bottom right. Winter is the snowy, ice-hockey one, top right. chancellor osbourne (he doesn’t get capital letters) might need such nursery learning resources so that in the future, if he has one, he can deliver his budgets on time. As most of the country trudged through austerity, even the weather turned austere, with blizzards and ice confirming the prophecies of the picture above.

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Introductio ad absurdum: on the merits of a militant abstinence.

continent. is pleased to announce the addition of a new voice. From the worn, emotional streets of Athens, we introduce Nick Skiadopolous who will be posting here regularly on politics and philosophy and life on the edge of that wine dark sea…

One thing is decisive: that Marxism has contributed and always contributes to the impoverishment of political imagination. This is the point of our departure.
– Michel Foucault (1)

This is not a formal introduction. Yet something obliges me to introduce myself –so persistently that I feel compelled to write about it. Hence this is de facto an introduction on the importance of not succumbing to the temptation of introducing oneself when a given sense or gesture of “urgency” compels one to do so.

Still, I can almost read myself: “I am a middle-class Greek. I happen to be stuck in Athens, after a failed attempt to escape it. I want to convince myself that I am here in transit. This is why I prefer to stay at my mother’s place reading and trying to find some means to escape my purgatory. The conformism of my upper-middle class reveries secretly celebrates the complete crash of my country’s economy: since the job-market is dead, I won’t even have to consider Greece as an option.” I should be ashamed of myself –but I am not. For, if there is one thing that makes me hesitate to rip those quotation marks apart, is my active resistance to an identification that is not simply false, but even more indebted than my poor, devastated country. Continue reading…

The Unofficial View of Tirana (27)—in response to Adam.

To continue the ongoing exchange with A. Staley Groves on the issues of language in relation to the OWS movement and its subsidiaries, Groves pointed out in his last blog post that we are both inquiring “about the broader phenomenon of occupation moving throughout this economic ‘order,’ i.e. ‘global’ capitalism and whether or not the ‘activist’ is pacified, not a pacifist, but in some sense neutralized or disaffected as I have drawn from the idea of ‘affect labor’.” In my response to his argument I would like to focus specifically on the linguistic nature of this affect labor, perhaps beside and beyond Franco Berardi’s point, whom I have not read. The what extent is affect labor the labor of language? I will take my talking points from several French thinkers, which seems appropriate at the moment that the French economy is on the brink of being devalued by the competent authorities.

Michel Foucault stated in his Order of Things that, in what he called the paradigm of the Classical Age, the theories of value and money and the theory of representation were thought within a tabulated space, a “kind of knowledge [which] involves the allotting of a sign to all that our representation can present us with: perceptions, thought, desires; these signs must have a value as characters, that is, they must articulate the representation as a whole into distinct subregions, all separated from one another by assignable characteristics.” (81)
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Foucault and the Iranian Revolution

Posterior and inferior cornua of left lateral ventricle exposed from the side. Henry Gray (from Anatomy of the Human Body. 1918)

First Tunisia, Albania, then Egypt, then the King of Jordan sacked his Cabinet; now Israel is getting antsy and calling out to the U.S. and the other Western colonial powers to ensure that Egypt honors its peace treaty obligations. Fantasies are abounding: the Middle East is on fire, Fundamentalist Islamofascism is circling the Liberal Democracy℠ wagons, and so on.

It’s timely to read Michel Foucault’s observations, from his time in Iran in the wake of the revolutionary actions occurring in the 70s. Below is excerpted some of Foucault’s discussion of what an “Islamic Government” could mean. Click here to read in its entirety.

What Are the Iranians Dreaming About?

When Iranians speak of Islamic government; when, under the threat of bullets, they transform it into a slogan of the streets; when they reject in its name, perhaps at the risk of a bloodbath, deals arranged by parties and politicians, they have other things on their minds than these formulas from everywhere and nowhere. They also have other things in their hearts. I believe that they are thinking about a reality that is very near to them, since they themselves are its active agents.

It is first and foremost about a movement that aims to give a permanent role in political life to the traditional structures of Islamic society. An Islamic government is what will allow the continuing activity of the thousands of political centers that have been spawned in mosques and religious communities in order to resist the shah’s regime. I was given an example. Ten years ago, an earthquake hit Ferdows. The entire city had to be reconstructed, but since the plan that had been selected was not to the satisfaction of most of the peasants and the small artisans, they seceded. Under the guidance of a religious leader, they went on to found their city a little further away. They had collected funds in the entire region. They had collectively chosen places to settle, arranged a water supply, and organized cooperatives. They had called their city Islamiyeh. The earthquake had been an opportunity to use religious structures not only as centers of resistance, but also as sources for political creation. This is what one dreams about [songe] when one speaks of Islamic government.

First published in Le Nouvel Observateur, October 16-22, 1978; then translated and published by University of Chicago Press in 2005 in the collection Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson.


Thanks to Magnolia Pauker & Mayssa Fattouh for the link!


detail from the Voynich Manuscript (ca. 16th century)

It’s New Year’s Eve, an auspicious moment to outline our upcoming years. Since 2007 there has been a vigorous conversation around “the end of capitalism as we’ve known it.” A renewed interest in Marx’s Capital, the so-called “speculative turn” seems to be chucking-out the materialist fetishes of 20th century modes of Marxian thinking. There’s not necessarily a call for a better analysis so that there can then follow the appropriate action, consider the University for Strategic Optimism‘s conference “On Violence” embedded below:

In light of the above and the upcoming new year, Saul Newman’s (Goldsmith’s University of London) article may be a fine place to start for those seeking a new mode of political action for the new year. The situation is this,

“The challenge of radical politics today is the demand that we think what politics might mean outside the ontological order of state power, outside the conceptual paradigm to which politics has tradition-ally been confined. Postanarchism is thus an investigation of the possibilities of politics beyond the state.”

Anarchism is on the rise in Europe, as USA Today warns; and Slate’s Explainer also tries to understand (perhaps in a nod to the Mel Gibson vehicle What Women Want) what these anarchists don’t want. Their concerted efforts give us this flat explanation:

“Instead of a formal state with police and laws, anarchists envision a society in which small groups govern themselves by consensus. The functions that we now associate with the government, like mail, defense, and education, would be handled on a cooperative basis. The anarchist paradise would look very much like a set of independently run communes.”

Who knows what’s in the minds of “those anarchists.” I suppose interviewing them isn’t easy or of interest to Media outlets. ‘Sides, the theory that “Anarchists” are back (think secular Al-Qaeda) is more convenient to explaining why “Kettling” is necessary in the streets of London, or why Canadian cops had to beat those kids during the G20 Summit this year.

At the heart of the questions around politics is a presupposition of some essential quality that all human beings have. Life without the government would be “cold, brutish, and short” to paraphrase Hobbes. The 2oth century update to Hobbes, Carl Schmitt argued that the political (the essence of politics) is the banding together of those seeking an enemy. To keep the Hobbesean bellum omnium contra omnes that is civil society’s natural behavior, the State acts as a neutral party to make sure that civil society doesn’t tear itself apart (and, one supposes, thereby stop doing all the stuff those in the State want done but don’t want to or cannot do themselves).

To date the situation seems unresolvable, can there be a collection of self-interested people that aren’t going to be at each others throats without having a policing power?

Saul Newman, in thinking of a postanarchism, explores these presuppositions and states:

“Postanarchism [...] does not rely on a bedrock of human nature, or some notion of intrinsic human interests which exist outside power; rather, the multiple possibilities of human existence are constructed contingently through a certain engagement with power – through political action, in other words. So my argument, contra Schmitt, is that postanarchism provides us with a new conception of the autonomy of the political, which transcends both the Schmittian and liberal paradigms.

Read the whole article here.

the Voynich Manuscript

A continental isthmus

Jeff Wall "A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)", 1993. (Photo: © 2006 Jeff Wall/Tate Gallery/Courtesy of MoMA).

Europe and North America, two continents with an isthmus of contrail between them, the path of my flight back home after another session at the European Graduate School, tracing the tenuous link between the dark pool of experience there that is already so distant and impenetrable, I have left it behind, and as a memory it is already a forgotten land mass I can never fully re-access. Do my pages and pages of notes strengthen and thicken the isthmus, or do they just litter the path as I move from one present to another, as useful as pages carried away by the wind. Is any document able to tie two bodies together, the record and the past, with their dancing interaction? Does an author photo illuminate a text, does it just cover over the words and thought with the trivial corporeality of the speaker, or does it draw a traceable line between the giver and receiver?

Jean-Luc Mylayne, PO-30, janvier-février 2006. 123cm x 153 cm. Photo credit: Jean-Luc Mylayne

Rainer Ganahl has followed and photographed philosophers and thinkers in their habitat of lecture hall like Jean-Luc Mylayne has patiently and methodically traced and tracked birds in their environments. Unasked, unsanctioned. As Ganahl never takes notes, just snapshots, or portraits, is he trivializing or immortalizing, is he using the photos to erase the words in the moment they are spoken? Every one of his images can serve as an isthmus between the viewer and the speaker, between the image and the thought that was being expressed at that very instant of speech, but does it create any connection, or is it just another in an endless tangle of forking paths that never lead back to the expression of thought that is documented, in the very moment of transmission. What is the relation of an author’s photo to the text? The author’s name, according to Foucault, was appended to the text to lay blame, to hold the author accountable. But a photo, attached to a name, is a virus grown out of control these days, as our photos with our names appear online, accessible, indelibly, such that anonymity has a face and a label, in the faces of people we may have forgotten or wanted to forget as they appear all too easily, not when nostalgically being sought out, but in invasive broadcasts, as lines of association, a tangle of isthmuses, constantly redefining our relation to our own past, to our fragile memories, which can be trampled by new thoughts flooding in as each photo pricks the senses.