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Foucault

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Adam Robbert bringing the Foucault and Deleuze eco-style: 

For Foucault, then, the nonhuman impresses itself onto anthropic space through the production of laws and regulations, the production of material infrastructures that manipulate human behavior and perception, and the enforcement of practices that condition human beings. In Foucault’s understanding, the human is always born into a larger historical condition that is not of the same kind as any one person’s individual experience, an experience that is, to an indeterminate degree, an effect of historical trends rather a starting point for historical evaluation. 

Similarly, for Deleuze, nonhuman forces already act on the inside of human experience. Here all knowing is an inter-species effort; multiple species are always on the inside of anthropomorphic space, undermining it from within. The Kantian transcendental subject is for Deleuze a complex and multiple collective of diverging syntheses of cognition and perception. If Foucault initiates a move from the transcendental a priori to the historical a priori then Deleuze initiates a similar movement—from an historical a priori to an ecological a priori. Crucially, the enfolding of divergent species into human cognition marks not just an ecological basis for all human thought—a mark that suggests that all human thought is dependent on a multiplicity of nonhumans living and dying on the inside of human subjectivity—but more cosmically that human cognition is a higher dimensional enfolding of spacetime itself, a synthesis that makes the vastness of the cosmos thinkable to the human mind.

What I like about Adam’s framing of F & D here is his seemless demonstration of how each of these Frenchies are already thinking ecologically in their appeals to structure and materiality, without having explicitly stated as such. Reading Adam’s post (here) reminds me exactly why the work of these two gents is so near and dear to me: each attempts to think about the structural dynamics embodied in material relations of power, subjectivity and episteme in an ecological manner.

I cannot stress enough how important it seems to me to find ways of operationalizing the insight that nonhuman forces always already act on the “inside” of human experience, as the non-human-in-human – the dark flesh conditioning and positioning hominid experience. Experiencing bodies are complex multiplicities of synthesizing assemblage – higher dimensional enfoldings of space-time…

“[M]an and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other – not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc); rather they are one and the same essential reality, the producer-product” (Anti-Oedipus, p. 4-5).

Last night at the Glasgow School of Art Mark Fisher took the stage to discuss accelerationism. I have to say that up until last night I had given only a passing interest to accelerationism, seeing it as not linked to my reading in antipsychiatry. But for all that its necessary to focus our readings it is myopic to act as if something like accelerationism can be passed by, as if it registered no effect on the left at all. The relevance of accelerationism first of all comes from its success in circulating around left tendencies, in appearing in different contexts, and in stirring us on the left, on both sides of an increasingly spurious divide between anarchism, autonomism and traditional Marxism.

What follows is less a report on the specifics of what Mark talked about, although that’ll be in there, but more my first attempt at really engaging with accelerationism, something I’ve been reticent to do until now as I’ve largely felt that accelerationism has functioned as an intellectual meme. But this is probably the strength and weakness of the term. As it spreads it everywhere forces a kind of decision. It seems impossible for most people to discuss accelerationism without endorsing it a a tendency or dismissing it as an irrelevance. I’m most interested in the stakes involved in this decision and in how accelerationism really operates as a force that it has become impossible to be indifferent to.

The double-bind of desire

Among the most interesting aspects of Mark’s talk last night was his continued insistence on desire. Its here that I think it is impossible for someone involved in a renewed antipsychiatry can first connect up with accelerationism. First and foremost psychiatry operates according to the regulation of desires and behaviours. One is mad if one’s desires are unacceptable and/or if one’s actions betray aberrant desires. This is something that antipsychiatrists have always emphasised. Foucault is perhaps the clearest on this question in his interrogation of proto-psychiatric techniques and strategies that constituted the therapeutic battle between doctor and patient.

The first is that these four elements introduce a number of questions into psychiatric practice that stubbornly recur throughout the history of psychiatry. First, they introduce the question of dependence on and submission to the doctor as someone who, for the patient, holds an inescapable power. Second, they also introduce the question, or practice rather, of confession, anamnesis, of the account and recognition of oneself. This also introduces into asylum practice the procedure by which all madness is posed the question of the secret and unacceptable desire that really makes it exist as madness. And finally, fourth, they introduce, of course, the problem of money, of financial compensation; the problem of how to provide for oneself when one is mad and how to establish the system of exchange within madness which will enable the mad person’s existence to be financed.

 

For now I’ll simply assert my agreement with Foucault on this point, although I hope to expand on it elsewhere. We could perhaps quickly state that the question of madness, of identifying mad subjects, always passes through the question of desire, of what it is the mad person wants and what actions and beliefs they are invested in, what libidinous attachments they have formed, half-formed, wrenched themselves away from or had shattered in front of them. This is part of what Foucault will isolate in the confessional apparatus of Christianity that will again be seen in the psychoanalytic confessional: one must articulate one’s desire before the cure can be effected. This is still seen in today’s psychiatry among the new hysterical subjects with the proliferation of bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and anorexia nervosa. These diagnoses codify experiences of aberrations in desire first and foremost. The so-called new symptom is circulates more around the question of desire than it does cognition, and this is perhaps proven by the disappearance of the term “desire” from psychiatric literature. Instead we see the accumulation of theories about impulse control, motivational deficits, obsessive-compulsions. With this is the deployment of procedures for the manipulation of these psychological constructs, chief among them the motivational interviewing techniques and the mindfulness based protocols that seek to attach subjects to proper desires via “values work”, and which may remain open to repurposing among radicals.

The question of desire doesn’t just circulate around madness, although this is one of the aspects in which the engineering of desires by capitalism effects casualities. We can talk of psychic wounds when we talk about madness, but we could just as well talk about libidinal wounds. Capitalism effects double-binds. Its not so much that there is this injunction to Enjoy! It is more that there is the injunction to Enjoy Responsibly! The command is issues at once to enjoy but also to isolate a limit that is never explicitly specified. Libidinal subjects are then forced into the situation of enjoyment in which enjoyment becomes an ethical moment without any existing rule of thumb. What is the limit? Where is the limit? Does one transgress it? Is that enjoyment? The double bind is a perverse command that undoes itself, dissolves itself by doubling back on itself, the second fork in the injunction sweeping back to cancel the first.

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Paul Rabinow on Foucault & the Contemporary

rabinow

– the host is a bit lacking but Rabinow is probably the most important intellectual of our time…

 

Paul Rabinow is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California (Berkeley), Director of the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory (ARC), and former Director of Human Practices for the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC). He is perhaps most famous for his widely influential commentary and expertise on the French philosopher Michel Foucault. He was a close interlocutor of Michel Foucault, and has edited and interpreted Foucault’s work as well as ramifying it in new directions.

Rabinow is known for his development of an “anthropology of reason”. If anthropology is understood as being composed of anthropos + logos, then anthropology can be taken up as a practice of studying how the mutually productive relations of knowledge, thought, and care are given form within shifting relations of power. More recently, Rabinow has developed a distinctive approach to what he calls an “anthropology of the contemporary” that moves methodologically beyond modernity as an object of study or as a metric to order all inquiries.

Rabinow’s work has consistently confronted the challenge of inventing and practicing new forms of inquiry, writing, and ethics for the human sciences. He argues that currently the dominant knowledge production practices, institutions, and venues for understanding things human in the 21st century are inadequate institutionally and epistemologically. In response, he has designed modes of experimentation and collaboration consisting in focused concept work and the explorations of new forms of case-based inquiry.

Infrastructure, after all, is about how worlds are made, how forms of life are sustained and made viable. To think politics as infrastructural is to set aside questions of subjectivity, identity, demands, promises, rights and contracts, and instead to render visible the presumptions that the knots of attachment, adherence, care or fondness and have already been tied by nature or supposedly incontestable forms of connection (by kinship, race, money, sexuality, nation, and so on). The materialities of infrastructure render it the most pertinent political question there is. Everything else is distraction. Infrastructure is the undercommons – neither the skilled virtuousity of the artisan, nor regal damask, nor the Jacquard loom that replaced, reproduced and democratised them, but the weave.   – Angela Mitropoulos

Angela Mitropoulos‘ post above (which is an excerpt from her book) is brilliant and very timely, at least for me. Lately I have been obsessing on the need to rethink all available options for large scale social organization. Democracy? Maybe. Communism? not sure. Some hybrid? Perhaps. But one thing is for certain: what have right now really isn’t working for a lot of us. Maybe what we need is a whole new set of possibilities and a new kind of “infra-politics”, as Angela suggests above.

And, with this, I keep coming back to the idea that our real and imagined infrastructures might be the best point of departure for imagining alternatives AND, more importantly, for actually enacting new modes of existing. Infrastructure could be best understood as the intra-active medium and context of human subsistence and social relations. The skeletal supports of any social organization is its infrastructure: the ecological and material conditions of human assembly. The forces, modes and means of ecosocial (re)generation are determining, and operate at levels and in ways beneath or removed from representation, discourse and ideology. Such conditions provide the affording ‘soil’ within which the weeds of justification and ideology grow, but are not to be confused with them. Marx knew this, Foucault knew this, so many great thinkers knew it, even if they didn’t quite articulate it strongly enough. Infrastructure is the ‘weave’ that supports our worlds and organizes all consequential flows. Or, as Angela writes, “Infrastructure is the answer given to the question of movement and relation.” And engaging the social field at the multiple levels and strata that form infrastructure means augmenting political ideologies with the power of praxis and its results.

We believe it is time to rethink an infrastructural model at risk of quickly becoming obsolete. This should be, particularly in our days, a vital task for architects: vindicating and domesticating a framework for action they have habitually been sidelined from. Aware of our scarce resources, it is time to re-program the rigid models of the past, from the margins, designing flexible infrastructures free from rhetoric. – Angela Mitropoulos

Infrastructure, then, is truly about enacting worlds, or “worlding” [see Mei Zhan (2012), “Worlding Oneness: Daoism, Heidegger, and possibilities for treating the Human.” Social Text 29:4 (109):107-28]. And we need to develop the sense-abilities and response-abilities capable of sorting out what works, or what affords, facilitates and generates the most adaptive and eudaemonic (and perhaps creative) modes of human being and becoming. In a trivial sense we could say we need more Aristotle and less Plato.

To be clear, focusing on what “works” is not about seeking some naive form of neo-utilitarianism, techno-rational grid, or purified cultural deadening of diversity, but rather a rigorous and reflexive investigation and sensitivity to what is appropriate at different levels of reality and in different contexts. Praxis is about intelligent functioning not totalitarian instrumentalization. And an adaptive orientation to praxis looks at all available forms of life and relations and seeks to enhance those that generate the most positive effects, regardless of pre-established convictions, conventions and assumptions.

A focus on attending to infrastructure also fits well with we are calling “post-nihilist praxis”. Loosely, if nihilism results from the delegitimization of all appeals to transcendentals (“the death of God“), and a direct confrontation with finitude and radical contingency in all things, including language and logic, then a post-nihilist turn would be to deliberately create tools and practices and language-games – and thus infrastructures – for engaging and enacting worlds after the collapse of dogma and ideology via a more affective and corporeal ‘coping-with’. Post-nihilist praxis thus seeks to deactivate human tendencies for erecting (phallic connotation intended) yet more “gods” or universalizing ideologies in place of the old, dying and dead idols, and operate within worlds in a decidedly pragmatic way.

This, incidentally, is why post-nihilist praxis is not post-nihilism. “We don’t need another hero, we just need to know the way home”, so to speak, and to quote Tina Turner. Any strategy, practice, tools or ‘onto-stories’, as Jane Bennett has written, self-conscious and effective enough to help us adapt and be creative among the ruins of ideological certainty, and in relation to the ongoing ruination of planetary eco-systems and tradition social matrices, must be on the table.

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  • “I have said in some of the earlier books that anthropology to me is anthropos + logos or logoi, so if you are interested in anthropos which in Greek is the human thing, and if you agree with Foucault and others that there have been different figures of anthropos, including man, and we may or may not be out of that figure, and if you think that the sciences or the logoi are extremely important in shaping the understanding of anthropos, then the anthropology of the contemporary in the way I seek to practice it has to take into account these logoi, and the potentially emerging figure of anthropos, which is with sciences and with these questions about what it means to be a human being.”Paul Rabinow