The relationship between the subject and power is a theme that has played a significant role in determining the direction of European thought since Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud weighed in on the scene. Both the Frankfurt School thinkers such as Horkheimer and Adorno, and the Parisien philosophers such as Deleuze and Foucault, took on this subject as one of the objects of their studies in different ways. Although I was deeply influenced by Adorno’s Negative Dialectics and Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution at the beginning, I later on turned towards Deleuze and Foucault to find tools for repairing the restrictive implications of the early Frankfurt School thought. I think poststructuralism and critical theory have a lot more to offer one another that can be used in practical critique of the predominant order in particular and nihilisms in general, than many, such as Habermas, suggest.
The point of departure of this investigation is the modern discourse on power that emerged with the Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century. A response to metaphysics and Christian dogmatism, Enlightenment is a system of thought which proclaims itself to be governed by universal reason alone. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment Horkheimer and Adorno situate Marx and Freud, together with themselves, in this tradition. I situate Foucault himself in this same tradition of Enlightenment.
Enlightenment signifies the secularization of the authority of the Big Other, and erection of instrumental reason in the place of the absolute authority of the Bible. In this light Enlightenment appears to be merely a change of roles between the masters and the slaves; the problem inherent in the metaphysical world of representation remains the same. Walter Benjamin, for instance, warns against this trap set by the panoptic mechanism which creates a Leviathan within the subject. In his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin argues that cinema can turn out to be a fascist propaganda machine if it falls in the wrong hands. Benjamin is not only against the aestheticization of politics but also the politicization of aesthetics. What remains unthought in Benjamin’s essay, though, is the ideology of representational and metaphysical conceptions of nonreason, which is itself the problem inherent in the structure of the system. I now return to Hobbes through Foucault, whose thoughts on health and death and their relation to the predominant power structure become relevant.
Foucault’s interpretation of the Panopticon and Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan become relevant here precisely because they present us with metaphors representing an idealized model of modern power structure. This power structure is not only still dominant, but also increasing its dominance as it decreases its visibility. It does this by making the subjects believe that they are governed by the reality principle when in fact they are governed by the pleasure principle. This situation causes a shift in the subject’s conception of health. I’ll come back to this in the future, but now I have to mention something else which is very closely linked to this shift in the subject’s conceptions of health and death.
The most important thing that Hobbes says in Leviathan, which I think is still relevant to a considerable extent, is that death is the absolute master, and the fear of death forces the subjects to adapt to the existing social order. Leviathan feeds on this fear of death, and it is Leviathan itself that instills the fear of death in people. If we keep in mind that in Western societies death is associated with nothing/ness, it becomes clearer why and how Foucault’s use of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon in Discipline and Punish as a metaphor of the modern power structure which has nothing/ness at its centre gains new significance.
At the periphery, an annular building; at the center, a tower; this tower is pierced with white windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions – to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide – it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lightning and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap. ~ Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 200
Foucault, without directly referring to him, shows that Hobbes’s monster has become a machine. I argue that this machine is itself in a process of transformation today, and is in the way of taking the form of something that is neither organic nor inorganic, neither visible nor invisible, but felt. This is power as affective force. Power can no more be represented by metaphors. For metaphor is a concept that belongs to the world of metaphysics which exists only as a fantasy world, whereas today power has a more material existence than it has ever had and its materiality splits as it unites the psychosomatic and the sociopolitical realms of experience.
The automatization of power, that is, transformation of power from an organic state, as demonstrated by Hobbes, towards an inorganic state, as demonstrated by Foucault, has been studied in a different way and in a different context by Mark Poster in his Foucault, Marxism, and History. Influenced by Poster’s interpretation of Foucault in relation to Marxism, and in the context of the relationship between discourse and power, I reassert, in a different way and for different reasons, that Foucault’s conceptualization of the Panopticon is useful and yet insufficient in understanding the workings of power today in the face of the recent developments in technology.
In this new situation the subjects know that they are still locked in the Panopticon, but pretend that they are free floating across the Superpanopticon. This is because they are being locked deeper into the Panopticon; and there finding themselves dismembered, losing themselves in the terrible condition of being pushed further into the hitherto undiscovered corners of one’s own room, in their cells.
A new formulation of Foucault’s concept of biopower, the Superpanoptic discourse reverses the roles of Eros and Thanatos; abuses our understandings and misunderstandings of the life drive and the death drive, as well as manipulating our inner conflicts and turning us into antagonists. It does this by erasing the necessary boundary between life and death, the organic and the inorganic, so as to create the conditions of possibility for manufacturing an illusory sense of oneness with the world, hence uniting the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation which should remain separate from and/but contiguous to one another for the perpetual transformation and multiplication of life forms to take place at the same time.
In his Critique of Judgement Kant distinguishes between the determinative and the reflective modes of judgement.
If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, the judgement that subsumes the particular under it… is determinative. If, however, only the particular for which the universal is to be found is given, judgement is merely reflective. ~ Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, 13
If we keep in mind that the reflective mode of judgement reflects on particulars in such a way as to produce universals to which they can be subjected, and that the determinative mode of judgement determines a universal by subjecting it to a particular, it becomes understandable why among these two I shall be using the reflective mode which splits as it unites the subject of enunciation and the enunciated subject. But it must be kept in mind that the subject of enunciation which refers to the universal is itself a constitutive illusion, or a regulatory ideal necessary for the emergence of the subject as the enunciated content.
I don’t know if it is worth mentioning that in this time we are all slaves and yet some slaves dominate the others. Where time goes no one knows. There are necessary illusions in this life, some for life, some not. Both the extreme belief in civilized progress and barbaric regress are good for nothing. These two are now in the process of being left behind. A third possibility of developmental process is emerging in the form of a becoming reconciled which is based on the recognition of the otherness of the other as it is, that is, prior to the additions and the subtractions imposed upon the self and the other, nature and culture, life and death.
For a nonnormative and progressive work it is necessary for the participants to become capable of making distinctions between their natures and cultures, their cliniques and critiques. It is a matter of realizing that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation.
It is true that sometimes it takes a long journey to get there, where one eventually got to, and realise that one is other than one thinks itself to be. Apparently the numbers indeed start with zero and continue with two, but it takes time to realise this actuality and become capable of actualising this reality. Perhaps we should indeed know that absolute reconciliation is impossible and yet still strive to reconcile ourselves as much as we can to all the living and the dead.
There is always another breath in my breath, another thought in my thought, another possession in what I possess, a thousand things and a thousand beings implicated in my complications: every true thought is an aggression. It is not a question of our undergoing influences, but of being ‘insufflations’ and fluctuations, or merging with them. That everything is so ‘complicated,’ that I may be an other, that something else thinks in us in an aggression which is the aggression of thought, in a multiplication which is the multiplication of the body, or in a violence which is the violence of language—this is the joyful message. For we are so sure of living again (without resurrection) only because so many beings and things think in us. ~ Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 298
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