Thursday, 20 September 2012

Commonalities of modernity and regime ancien (Foucault)

This piece is based on an incomplete reading of M. Foucault's Discipline & Punish Penguin 1991: [D&P] hereafter. This represents an attempt to apply Michel Foucault's ideas about power relations to a contemporary setting.

This paper goes far beyond my reading so far and the original text. It is a theory of the subject, based around a Sartrean model.

Computers are conspicuous by their absence in Orwell's 1984 and likewise Foucault's D&P but I wish to think about search engines in relation to the individual encountering power.

These study notes meander all over the place, for actual atudents of Foucault other study notes will be more appropriate. In this blog there's a attempted philosophical "shotgun wedding" between Foucault and Sartre's existentialism. A reference to a news story about an alleged incident at a prison and the idea of a homeless person as the inverted figure of Kate Middleton - as events unfolded contemporary to this text.

a missing page

This post ran away from me to an extent as the Jimmy Saville scandal, that “tsunami of filth”, broke into the news and was temporarily abandoned. I will try to include some ramifications of this scandal into the post but this will not be the best place to research that scandal either.

Satre's “The Look”, and Power

‘In Sartre's account of the look (which is again, in his text, a first person narrative), the visual relation is reversed. One enters the real or imagined perceptual field of another, and becomes oneself "present to the eyes without distance" (BN,330), like an object. In Sartre's famous example, he is peeping through a keyhole, wholly and pre-reflectively engrossed in this act. When he hears footsteps and realizes he has been seen, the object of his own attention becomes the Other's look for which he is the scene. He finds himself the shameful object of the Other's attention. And in thus becoming an object for the Other, he grasps the Other as a subject, a freedom (BN,322ff). That is, rather than apprehend the Other-as-subject through an attribution of subjectivity, one encounters and knows the Other in oneself as an attribution by the Other -- not through the attribution's content, but through its enactment."’ The Sartrean Account of the Look as a Theory of Dialogue

The Being-For-Itself, in my view, confronts power in a similar way to the individual engrossed and apprehended in the illicit act of spying through a keyhole. Except power has no one tangible body whose transcendence I can transcend, it's so multifarious that it's practically metaphysical in nature, like some great hulking deity.

Power is proud to be apprehended in the act of “spying though a keyhole”, makes of virtue of its spying, it is the duty of all who serve the exceptional empire to be ever vigilant against its enemies, the enemies of its people.

N.B. This post is published somewhat zealously, I must read that paper properly in the future. I have other background reading, specifically, Derrida The Ends of Man and R.L. Martin Matrix and Line: Derrida and the possibilities of a post-modern social theory .

Foucault argues that all crimes are crimes against the person of the sovereign and those who obey the sovereign's laws. In the present that means that all crimes are assaults upon the “meta-personage” of the exceptional empire, treason and terrorism being the worst. An Islamist militant is probably the highest type of criminal in the present.

At the beginning of D&P, pg 23, Foucault sets out four rules for writing a "history of the present":
1) To regard punishment as a complex social function.
2) Analyse punitive methods as methods of expressing power - regard punishment as a political tactic.
3) Look for a common matrix behind the humanisation of the penal system and knowledge of man - process of "epistemologico-juridicial" formation.
4) To attempt to discover if the insertion of "the soul" into the punitive process and science is the product of power over the body.

This is the philosophical position I am trying to "map", move from, and explore thereby.

Little fails

Obviously, being homeless is hard enough but being vulnerable and having public humiliation heaped upon you just makes the situation worse. It will act as a trigger for those who want to bully this already bullied, unwell and powerless person.

In Medieval times people would be put into the stocks and it strikes me that modernity can, at times, be equally barbaric.

Stocks are devices used in the medieval and colonial American times as a form of physical punishment involving public humiliation. The stocks partially immobilized its victims and they were often exposed in a public place such as the site of a market to the scorn of those who passed by. Since the purpose of putting offenders in the stocks was to expose them to ridicule and mockery, passers-by were encouraged to throw mud, rotten eggs, moldy fruit and vegetables, smelly fish, offal, and excrement (both animal and human) at those being punished. wikipedia: stocks

This person is not physically restrained but they are restrained by their dependence on various prescribed medications, including some for gastronomic disorders. This history of gastronomic disorder and an earlier bowel operation were not raised in court by their Legal Aid solicitor, or, if they were, weren't reported by the local paper in its fairly disproportionate coverage of the court case.

An individual in the stocks was at the mercy of the elements for several days, a homeless person, such as this, has to find shelter and toilet facilities where they can over a period of months, if not years.

the body is also 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. This political investment of the body is bound up, in accordance with complex reciprocal relations, with its economic use; it is largely as a force of production that the body is invested with relations of power and domination; but, on the other hand, its constitution as labour power is possible only if it is caught up in a system of subjugation. . .[D&P] pg25-26

The "stocks", both Medieval and modern, represent a public display of power in extremis. Power requires subjects that are powerless to express itself, I would contend.

This subjugation is not only obtained by the instruments of violence or ideology; it may be calculated, organised technically thought out, it may be subtle, make use of neither weapons nor of terror and yet remain of a physical order. . . this technology is diffuse, rarely formulated in continuous, systematic discourse; it is often made up of bits and pieces: it implements a disparate set of tools and methods. In spite of the coherence of its results, it is generally no more than a multiform instrumentation. Moreover it cannot be localised in a particular type of institution or state apparatus. [D&P pg26]

Foucault argues that in the darkest regions of the political field the condemned man represents the symmetrical inverted figure of the king [D&P pg29]. I would contend that this homeless individual represents the symmetrical inverted figure of, say, arbitrarily, Kate Middleton - with her designer clothes, perfect teeth, fad diets, luxury homes, public good works and ideal husband.

From what I can gather, this person seeks refuge in the communal areas of high rise flats, glass palaces, and is banned from them, being chastised by the residents. This situation borne out of necessity, illness and social exclusion seems to be self-perpetuating with a momentum of its own that dances simultaneously with and outside of the individual I am here writing of.

Foucault cites Vico ‘This old jurisprudence had “an entire poetics” ’ - the tower blocks of which I have written and not the most salubrious of palaces and their residents are not what society regards as its “highest types” yet they transmit the values of the exceptional empire despite its general disregard for them.

the "body politic" as a set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons, relays, communication routes, and supports for the power and knowledge relations that invest human bodies and subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge.[D&P pg28]

This could be interpreted in Sartrean way, in that the being-for-itself (the Self, “I”), in general, but in particular in the case the being-as-"condemned" arises out of all sorts of interactions with all sorts "Others" in a myriad of power relations.

This object of knowledge, the person, a.k.a. "the condemned" is perceived and acted upon on a variety of levels - the magistrate, police officer, legal aid, policeman, prosecutor, bureaucracy, "public opinion", warders, traffic wardens, traffic lights, traffic cones, parking meters and CCTV cameras and peers are all presented with the choice to interpret and affirm or deny their position in this nexus of power, except in such cases of they being inanimate objects, i.e., traffic cones. Traffic cones, etc., are the "droppings" of power, expressions of an often irrational vortex formed by conscious agents.

Out of the sum of these interactions, throughout the life of any person they will be confronted by a vast, infinitely subtle at times, "matrix" of power relations, which is a form of intentionality. The being-for-itself (being-as-condemned) is then born as an result - a "soul".

The being-as-condemned can at once be the being-as-condemner - Foucault argues this is often the case. If we are told enough that we deserve punishment, when confronted by the Being-of-Others, as power, we may come to believe it.

The "soul" must be an object of knowledge for itself - though caught in this swirling vortex of condemnation the transparency with which "the soul" can present itself to itself and others must be open to some doubt.

The condemned represents the ultimate failure to produce and behave and the consequences of being in that situation to all participants in the network of power, including the condemned themselves and those studying them.

[Torture] must mark the victim, it is intended, either by the scar it leaves on the body, or by the spectacle that accompanies it, to brand the victim with infamy; even if its function is to "purge" the crime, torture does not reconcile; it traces around or, rather, on the very body of the condemned man signs that must not be effaced; in any case, men will remember public execution, the pillory, torture and pain duly observed. And, from the point of the law that imposes it, public torture and execution must be spectacular, it must be seen by almost all as its triumph. D&P pg34

In modernity the brand is defined by the bureaucratic instance of the criminal record which limits life chances but this is not necessarily the beginning or even the end of this branding process.

Consider the person in my previous example, they have been branded by attention from the newspaper and humiliated in court. Outside of the paper event, they are not much different to a traffic cone that has been carried as a drunk's irrational trophy and ended up meaningless in a cul de sac from which it cannot escape, There in that cul de sac it is empty of all power.

12/2/13 At this point there could be a place to analyse the “substantiality” of Kate Middleton's power, which is bizarre, to say the least. She has enough power to make blogs vanish (if only temporarily), have magazines raided and editors fired from afar but yet she doesn't have the power to sunbathe topless even in a “private” place.

Here's a link discussing this issue: The world's most talked about woman has immense power but no real authority

Epic fails

All falls are relative, some people can only fall so far, when they are little more than the living waiting for death. Other falls, needs must, be more spectacular.

Consider the case of prison nurse Karen Cosford and her co-defendants. The BBC News website is not, like the local paper, "Tomorrow's birdcage carpet", it is eternal, and "above it all" are the search engines.

The search engines are the epitome of power not controlled and never really possessed, Karen Cosford seems to be undergoing a period of serious duress. (Now serving three years in prison (edit)

karen cosford google search reults

The homeless individual and the prison nurse alike are experiencing power expressed through their peers as much as their forebears did in the stocks: being on the throwing or receiving end of rotten tomatoes and excrement - their falls being relative to the distance it takes to hit rock bottom.

The internet is arguably the ultimate representation of power exercised and never really possessed - an open prison built out of text and irrational links - a place where all sorts of facts and pseudo facts are bandied about by and on behalf of various "souls" - conscious beings engaging in rituals of power.

A place where free speech can potentially make you your own accuser if you say the wrong things, insult the wrong or right people, those with power and money

This piece has taken some time and events have taken a new turn in recent days, with the publication of images of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless. This new social phenomena ought to be confronted in my earlier, somewhat arbitrary, assertion that the homeless person represents a mirror image of Kate Middleton.

Kate Middleton has been "scarred" by the paparazzi in the sense that it's a "big deal", to some, that the probable future Queen should be photographed topless: kate middleton topless

As of 19.9.12 an injunction has been won and damages leveled against the original print publisher, who have had their offices raided today by the French police.

The google picture search index shows pictures "crawled" by robots just two days ago - one of those sites is missing completely - perhaps removed by the host or its creator and another has replaced images with one that doesn't show nipples.

N.B. The above paragraph is “historical” and reflects delays caused by “Saville-gate”, etc.

There is no "outcry" over the bare-chested William - the entire focus of it all seems to be a few centimetres of Kate Middleton's flesh.

What this tells us is that at some point in time this part of a woman's flesh has been marked out and sanctioned, by some arbitrary action of power. Yet, I seem to recall, hazily, a British royal in Africa among numerous topless African women and there was no scandal.

Google image search is part of a vast machine of physical matter but nobody sees its whole "soul" - its source code, it's "top secret" - there's no supreme surveyor at google - no unique panoptic vantage point from which all the condemned - the social networking, confessors and accusers - can be surveyed, it's the utter expression of power exercised, experienced and not possessed.

Even the ideal prison will have its own language of signs, tattoos and taps on pipes - a barter system of bits on strings fabricated of bed linen as the internet has its bits and bytes and shadow currency with which you can buy almost anything.

One lawsuit has sent those publishing of those few royal centimeters of Kate Middleton's body, running, yet, transcending it all, is google's cache, which has yet to catch up, violates copyrights, publishes libels and doesn't get litigated against. Google is “panoptic” in nature a sort of stateless exceptional empire where no conscious agent is sovereign.

Kate middleton is the inverted figure of the homeless: when troubled she gets a free holiday to some tropical island, her body is sacred and offices get litigated against and raided. she doesn't have to freeze and cower, everything is “sorted”.

Since I first, second or third draft of this text the former Editor of the Irish Daily Star, Michael O'Kane, has resigned: .

“Saville-gate and the submen” (really epic fails)

She had receded into shadow, and lay there, a large, dark, shapeless package. But the vision of her lingered in his eyes. He clasped his hands across his stomach, and stared at the ceiling. Blanchard was snoring gently: the patients had begun to talk among themselves, in twos and threes: the train rumbled on. She was poor and ill, she was lying on her back in a cattle-truck, she had to be dressed and undressed like a doll. And she was beautiful. As beautiful as a film star. Beside him lay all that humiliated beauty, that slim, pure tarnished body. She was beautiful. She sang in music halls, she had looked at him through her eyelashes, and she had wanted to make his acquaintance: he felt as though he had been lifted onto his two feet. Sartre The Reprieve Penguin classics p.208

Now, you think, how all these vulnerable, troubled or impressionable children, were abused by the “great and the good”, just bodies in cattle trucks. Has the Queen is yet to admit her failure in giving Saville the O.B.E? Maybe like the NKVD the Queen never makes mistakes?

We live in a society where those at top have everything and the “docile bodies” have nothing. Where children with nothing can be confronted by the deity of absolute power in all its forms. This is reality of the UK as I perceive it right now.

To say that “modern” (sic) society has transcended the Medieval in my opinion is laughable.

Those at the top have everything, the power, through lawyers, to inflict serious financial damage, even prison, over their critics. Money is power over the body, nothing has really changed that much. twits and webmasters have the ability to accuse the powerful of crimes or highlight the testimony of others but only at the risk of litigation.

Things have changed in that only a modicum of tech savvy can get round anything but the truly powerless are mostly incapable of accessing that knowledge or using it for redress.

The almighty eye of the other is jealous guarding its privilege of spying on enemies of its subjects through keyholes, declaring it an exclusive virtue and also of the definition of what an enemy consists of.

To wrongly accuse someone of being a paedophile with malice or forethought is a heinous act but from the media I get the impression that we live in a world where power and money can get you anything, it seems, and conversely, the lack of, all it can get you is abused.

Mostly from “Savillegate” I get the impression that what has been forgotten is the victims themselves. We haven't heard of any big financial payouts for their young lives being ruined, the only people who have been compensated are those involved in the secondary, and much lesser BBC scandal, arising from the real scandal that is “Savillegate”.

Just two days ago now The Independent published Big rise in children missing from care homes.

What is clear is that their has been a long-standing cover-up and willful blindness around “Savillegate” - I'm writing philosophy here and I'm simply not interested in individuals but the systems themselves - what is clear is that the victims where the most vulnerable and the criminals more powerful.

Power abused so blatantly illustrates power in extremis and gives us an insight into power in general, even at its most benevolent power possess the same systems as power blatantly abused.

Although there are commonalities between “modernity” and what has gone before there are a lot of divergences in the expression of power.