Saturday, February 03, 2007

Midnight Snack!

Over the past week I've been developing a recipe for easy trashy burritos that blow taco bell and such out of the water, and I think I've finally got it down to where I want it. I can't keep this to myself, so here you go.

Trashy burritos:
1 tbsp favorite neutral oil
16-20 oz ground beef (ideally 15% fat but as desired)
1 medium onion minced
2 jalapeno chiles seeded, de-ribbed, and minced
2 roma tomatoes cored, seeded, and minced
3 large cloves of garlic minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
Salt to taste
16 oz can refried beans
6 8-inch flour tortillas
Spicy nacho cheese dip

1. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet or sautee pan over medium heat then add ground beef. Break beef apart and brown for about a minute or until fat begins to render.

2. Add onions and peppers and continue cooking until onions begin to become translucent.

3. Add tomatoes and garlic and continue cooking for two minutes until garlic begins to soften, then add half the cilantro and all the cumin, cayenne, and salt. Cook for 30 seconds.

4. Add refried beans and let beans heat and loosen then mix together beans and meat.

5. Meanwhile, prepare tortillas by placing one tortilla on each plate and spread a thin layer of spicy nacho cheese over the tortilla leaving an inch of uncheesed tortilla around the edge. Microwave each tortilla for twenty seconds.

6. Turn off heat to stove and as each tortilla comes out of the microwave, spoon 1/6 of filling into the center of tortilla, add a little fresh cilantro, roll into burrito, and enjoy.

Makes 6 burritos and feeds 2-3 people.

If you want to class them up a little, perhaps try guacamole instead of nacho cheese and halve the refried beans in favor of another tomato and a tbsp or two tomato paste, but I devised this recipe to be a tastier, homemade alternative to fast food burritos while retaining that trashy, guilty edge and have not tested this healthier alternative.

Friday, February 02, 2007

"Camp as Paradigm": Bio-Politics and State Racism in Foucault and Agamben

In Michael Walzer’s 1982 essay, “The Politics of Michel Foucault,” he ends his critique of Foucauldian politics by saying that the “catastrophic weakness of his political theory” is that he neither “…inhabits some social setting and adopts, however tentatively and critically, its codes and categories…or…constructs a new setting and proposes new codes and categories” (Walzer 1986, 67). It bothers Walzer that Foucault doesn’t supplement his (admittedly convincing) genealogies of contemporary power relations with a program for altering these power relationships to the benefit of society. He acknowledges the Foucauldian emphasis on local resistance, but dismisses it saying, “Despite [Foucault’s] emphasis on local struggles, he is largely uninterested in local victories” (Walzer 1986, 59). Although this statement (along with many of Walzer’s arguments) is easy to refute, he does bring up a point that even Foucault would not deny: it is difficult to take Foucault’s work as it is and find a bright outlook for the world he describes. Foucault himself wasn’t shy about this lack either. While he does expand on his personal ideas of political praxis in some of his interviews, he says little in his formal work other than to hope for one day a “different economy of bodies and pleasures” (Foucault 1978, 159) in the first volume of The History of Sexuality, which even a Foucauldian admirer like Giorgio Agamben finds to be a little too fanciful (Agamben 1998, 187).

Perhaps the one failure of Foucault’s that, unresolved, rings as most ominous is his failure to further examine the problem of bio-political state racism that he first raises in his lecture series, Society Must Be Defended. At the end of the last lecture, Foucault suggests that bio-power is here to stay as a fixture of modernity. He doesn’t even go so far as to suggest that bio-power itself is something that even needs be done away with, perhaps given its focus on the preservation of the population of the nation it which it is practiced. Yet his analysis of bio-politics and bio-power leads inevitably to state-sanctioned racism, be the government democratic, socialist, or fascist. As a result, he ends the lecture series with the question, “How can one both make a bio-power function and exercise the rights of war, the rights of murder and the function of death, without becoming racist? That was the problem, and that, I think, is still the problem.” It was a problem to which he never returned. However, in the space opened by Foucault’s failure to solve the problem of state racism and to “elaborate a unitary theory of power” (Agamben 1998, 5) steps Agamben in an attempt to complete an analysis of Foucauldian bio-politics and to, while not solve the problem of state racism, at least give direction for further inquiry and hope of a politics that escapes the problem of this racism.

Foucault’s Rise of Bio-Politics and State Racism
According to Foucault, the foundation of contemporary bio-politics arose during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as “a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them” (Foucault 1978, 136) as had been the prior paradigm of sovereignty. Where the old paradigm of the sovereign gave the king “the right to take life or let live,” the new bio-political paradigm is one where sovereignty “…is the power to ‘make’ live and ‘let’ die” (Foucault 2003, 241). By this shift, Foucault means to highlight the fact that the exercise of power is no longer to lead subjects via a threat of death in order to maintain sovereignty, but rather to take hold of life for a different reason: “…to administer, optimize, and multiply [life], subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations” (Foucault 1978, 137). Instead of one ruler or body constituting sovereignty via a power to kill, “It is in order to live that [jurists] constitute a sovereign” (Foucault 2003, 241).

The necessity of this change from the old model of sovereignty to modern bio-politics lies in the changing conditions of the modern world, particularly, the newfound need for an increasing, healthy, productive population. Whereas the goal of the “anatamo-politics” of the disciplinary power mechanism Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish focuses on conditioning individuals into disciplined workers, bio-power creates and sustains that workforce, a “…global mass that is affected by overall processes characteristic of birth, death, production, illness, and so on.” It constitutes its subjects through “a set of processes such as the ratio of births to deaths, the rate of reproduction, the fertility of the population, and so on” (ibid., 242-43). It achieves these ends through state-sponsored welfare programs, the contemporary emphasis on charitable organizations, and through the control through creations of disciplinary discourses on a wide variety of subjects, such as sexuality (Foucault’s best-developed example) among others.

Through the disciplining of sexuality in the anatamo-political sense of disciplining individuals toward specific views of sexuality and sexual expression, sexuality can be codified, controlled and normalized, as Foucault details in The History of Sexuality: Volume I. However, the purpose of this disciplinarization is not just for the sake of normalization of a population for its own sake, but rather so that the population can in its own turn be regulated. By disciplining people as to notions of proper sexual practices, birth control, child sexuality, hygiene, etc.—as understood by academic disciplinary study—combined with “forecasts, statistics, and overall measures” (ibid., 246), bio-politics was able to create a population of the size and type it needed for the proper “insertion of bodies into the machinery of production” in such a way that it “ensured the maintenance of production relations” that rising capitalism needed to function (Foucault 1978, 41). The problem that leads from this need to protect life is the consequences Foucault sees in any society where bio-politics is the driving force behind sovereignty, and that is the inevitable inclusion of state racism.

This state racism was not an original feature that was present in the founding of bio-politics and bio-power, but it does develop from it. Rather, Foucault traces the origins of bio-politics and bio-power from the less insidious and longer-standing discourse of race struggle or “race war.” As Foucault defines the difference, “Racist discourse [contemporary racism] was really no more than an episode, a phase, the reversal, or at least the reworking, at the end of the nineteenth century, of the discourse of race war.” The discourse of “race war” is thus not racism as we know it, but a “counterhistory” of one race in regards to that of another (Foucault 2003, 66). In this sense of counterhistory,

‘[R]ace’ itself is not pinned to a stable biological meaning…two races exist whenever one writes the history of two groups which do not, at least to begin with, have the same language or, in many cases, the same religion…The only link between them is the link established by the violence of war…[T]wo races exist when there are two groups which, although they coexist, have not become mixed because of the differences, dissymmetries, and barriers created by privileges, customs and rights, the distribution of wealth, or the way power is exercised (ibid., 77).

So the concept of “race” that Foucault is working with both in terms of racial struggle and contemporary racism is not originally solely biological, but also cultural and political. It is the constitutive conflict of whenever someone “writes a history of two groups,” as he says. What this type of history is, and what it is used for is not the mythico-philosophical history that Foucault characterizes as the history of the “right of sovereignty,” but rather a historico-political history that came into its own in sixteenth and seventeenth century England and France as a way for disenfranchised groups of society to assert their own rights, often against the state’s sovereign. It is in this sense that different groups within society would wage an internal war against other groups, and historico-political discourses were their weapons in a nonphysical struggle that, given the definitions above, constituted a race war or race struggle.

According to Foucault, the emergence of historico-political discourse was a major turning point in the political landscape of Western Europe. The mythico-political history that preceded it was primarily concerned with proving that “…the greatness of the events or men of the past could guarantee the value of the present…each of [the sovereign’s] decisions is inscribed in a sort of law for his subjects and an obligation for his successors…it makes it possible to judge the present, and make it submit to a stronger law” (ibid., 67). The historico-political discourse emerged as a form of history built upon the “decentered position” of the historian who tells a history that “…is interested in the totality only to the extent that it can see in one-sided terms” and is considered a truth in the sense that the truth “is essentially part of a relationship of force, of dissymmetry, decentering, combat, and war.” As for the historian, he is “inevitably on one side of the other…and is working toward a particular victory” (ibid., 52-53). Thus, historico-political discourse is a discourse that takes as its “truth” the truth that is in the best interest of his “race” or group’s rights that the historian can justify historically. The paradigmatic example of Foucault’s historico-political discourse is Henri de Boulainvilliers re-working of the history of the Gauls’ invasion and conquest over the Franks to show how the King of France’s use of history of as a justification for his rule was a misinterpretation of that historical event. Boulainvilliers, on the side of France’s disenfranchised nobles, re-interprets the invasion in such a way as to show how the King, a non-absolutist title in the barbarian aristocracy in Frankish society, is in fact a usurper and a crook who has robbed the aristocracy with whom he was only supposed to be a first among equals. Boulainvilliers’ purpose in this re-working is, for Foucault, was an act of social warfare where the nobles are asserting their right to equality in wealth and privelege with the King. They used historico-political discourse as their weapon.

That these nobles referred to themselves as a “nation” hearkens back to an original definition of “nation” that is divorced from the state. Rather, as Foucault puts it, “According to this [broad] definition, the nobility was a nation, and the bourgeoisie was also a nation…a nation that does not stop at the frontiers but which, on the contrary, is a sort of mass of individuals who move from one frontier to another, through States, beneath States, and at an infra-state level” (ibid., 142). These nations are the groups of people who attempt to use this new historico-political discourse as a weapon to assert their rights against other nations or targets in such a way as to be looked at as race or class struggles (or wars) within a society, instead of as only outside struggles such as physical wars and conflicts with other countries or as justifications for colonialism. Thus, a discourse of racial war was brought inside of a society through the concept of differing “nations” or social “races” and their oppositions in historico-political discourse.

As a response to these historico-political attacks by Boulainvilliers and others throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on the French monarchy, Louis XVI and his administration realized they needed to “so to speak, recolonize that knowledge” (ibid., 137) for the use of the state, to reconfirm the legitimacy of the state. “[The ministry’s] purpose was to code this discourse on history once and for all, and in such a way that it could be integrated into the practice of the State” (ibid., 178) as part of a larger project to “ensure that knowledge was centralized” (ibid., 181) in all the emerging disciplines. In this process, there was also an alteration of the meaning of “nation” to the more common “Statist” definition that stated: “[F]irst, it must be a great multitude of men; second, it must be a great multitude of men inhabiting a defined country; third, this defined country must be circumscribed by frontiers; fourth, the multitude of men who have settled inside those frontiers must obey the same laws and the same government” (ibid., 142). Further, “The nation does not constitute a body. The nation in its entirety resides in the person of the king” (ibid., 218). Again, this universalizing definition is an attempt to define the intra-state, inter-“nation” (in the original sense of the word), or racial struggles of the state as more rebellious than a legitimate historically-supported struggle over rights. Foucault argues this shift of the definition of “nation” gives rise to the idea of “class” as a replacement. Unfortunately for the French monarchy, this new use of “nation” did become the dominant definition until after the French Revolution, and further, “disciplinarization did not defuse the confrontation [between ‘nations’]…but actually made it stronger thanks to a whole set of struggles, confiscations, and mutual challenges” (ibid., 186).

The monarchical state had run out of time. After the French Revolution, with the founding of the Third Estate, there was a debate over which part of society, which “class,” best represented the new French nation (in the new, statist sense). Foucault cites Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès’ pamphlet on the Third Estate as a key answer to this debate. As Foucault paraphrases, “And yet there is ‘a’ nation in France…who have the potential capacity to ensure the substantive and historical existence of the nation. These people supply the historical conditions of existence [the necessary ‘functions’ and ‘apparatuses’ of a nation Sieyes outlines] of both a nation and thea nation” that would become “the nation” was the class of the bourgeoisie. Yet the antihistoricist bourgeoisie, without a historico-political interpretation with which to assert their rights as the nobles and the monarchy did, instead adopted a different historico-political strategy: a historico-political interpretation of Roman history as a liberal republic, as opposed to the conservative absolutist state the monarchy interpreted Rome as. That is, a state made up of primarily private citizens from whom state sovereignty springs. As Foucault speaks for them, “‘We are no more than one nation among other individuals. But the nation that we constitute is the only one that can effectively constitute a nation. Perhaps we are not, in ourselves the totality of the social body, but we are capable of guaranteeing the totalizing function of the State.’” This historico-political discourse entailed a universalizing of rights and laws by including citizens of the state into the nation as well through a “…self-dialecticalization of historical discourse...” that characterizes the present as “…the moment when the universal speaks its truth” (ibid., 236). Another effect of this transfer of power and perspective to a class with no historical grounding was an inversion of historico-political discourse in the hands of the now-dominant bourgeoisie. Instead of historico-political discourse as a weapon against other nations within the state, the bourgeoisie positioned it as “…a history that is polarized toward the present and toward the State, a history that culminates in the imminence of the State, of the total, complete, and full figure of the State in the present. And this will also make it possible…to write a history in which the relations of force that are in play are not of a warlike nature, but completely civilian, so to speak” (ibid., 224-225).

The new focus not on the past and legitimizing sovereignty but instead on the health of the state in the present ensuring universal rights and laws for those within its nation is what marked the shift from the old model of sovereignty to the new paradigm of bio-power. However, with the new Statist definition of “nation,” the nations of the old definition, which waged racial war and racial struggle, were recoceptualized as the classes within a nation or state that we know today. However, by taking the notion of classes and thus class struggle (which becomes the primary site of continuing historico-political, counterhistorical discourses thereafter) out of Foucault’s original definition of “race,” the sole remainder is biological race, the basis of contemporary racism. This new form of racism divorced from old notions of racial struggle, Foucault says, “takes over and reconverts the form and function of the discourse on race struggle, but it distorts them, and it will be characterized by the fact that the theme of historical war—with its battles, its invasions, its looting, its victories, and its defeats—will be replaced by the postevolutionist theme of the struggle for existence” (ibid., 80). In other words, instead of “nations” struggling for rights, we are left with biological races vying for racial superiority. When combined with the new bio-political perspective that emerges in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—as illustrated by Foucault in the rise of the Third Estate, where the purpose of the state is to universalize the rights of its citizens and “make” them live in the ways described at the beginning of this section—contemporary biological racism, Foucault argues, inevitably is adopted by the state.

Foucault opens the final lecture of Society Must Be Defended by stating that though the theme of a war between races “was eventually eliminated from historical analysis by the principle of national universality…the theme of race does not disappear, it does become part of something very different, namely state racism” (ibid., 239). From this one can see the problem that is present when a bio- and anatamo-political society, which sees as its goals regularization and normalization respectively, is faced with external threats and internal differences it is unable to assimilate. In both cases, a society that is based on the protection of the lives of its subjects must resort to racism. As Foucault says, racism is a way “to subdivide the species [the bio-political state] controls, into the subspecies known, precisely, as races.” Further,

…[R]acism makes it possible to establish a relationship between my life and the death of the other that is not a military or warlike relationship of confrontation, but a biological-type relationship: ‘The more inferior species die out, the more abnormal individuals are eliminated, the fewer degenerates there will be in the species as a whole, and the more I—as species rather than individual—can live, the stronger I will be, the more vigorous I will be. I will be able to proliferate’ (ibid., 255).

Thus, the bio- and anatamo-political state, on behalf of members of its nation, is able to authorize bloodshed not only against other nations, but against its own people in the name of racial purification. As Foucault says, this purification process has no limit. The Nazi regime, as the ultimate example of a perfectly bio- and anatamo-political state—and thus “an absolutely racist state, and absolutely murderous state, and an absolutely suicidal state”—not only eliminated perceived biological threats to the German bloodline, but was also so absolutely intolerant to internal difference that, at the end, “Hitler gave the order to destroy the German people’s own living conditions” (ibid., 260) as a method of further purifying a losing Germany of its weak peoples that led to such a defeat. Unfortunately, for Foucault, every modern bio-political state inevitably heads in this direction, and as Walzer criticizes him for, Foucault has no answers on how to escape the problems he has unearthed.

Agamben’s Bio-Politics and Racism of Sovereignty
Another critique Michael Walzer has for Foucault in his essay on Foucauldian politics is on Foucault’s disowning of those followers of his who claim a close kinship between the carceral and the gulag. The passage in question is in an interview entitled “Powers and Strategies” where Foucault dismisses the similarities between the gulag and the carceral by mocking those who stay, “Look how skillful we are at evading the problem of the Soviet Gulag by dissolving it in the troubled waters of political imprisonment in general.” He continues, “The Gulag question, on the other hand, involves a political choice” and he encourages others to pursue a separate genealogical investigation of the Gulag (Foucault 1980, 134-137). Yet that is not good enough for Walzer, who states, “…[F]oucault provides no principled distinction, so far as I can see, between the Gulag and the carceral archipelagos…Nor does he provide a genealogy of the Gulag and…his account…contains no hint of how or why our own society stops short of the Gulag” (Walzer 1986, 62). The mistake Walzer is making and the reason he fails to see the difference is that he assumes the Gulag to be an anatamo-political institution like the carceral. Rather, when Giorgio Agamben does take up Foucault’s suggestion of studying the Gulags and the concentration camps of the twentieth centuries, he shows that unlike the carceral, these institutions are not anatamo-political normalizing institutions, but rather bio-political institutions that are “the exemplary places of modern biopolitics” (Agamben 1998, 4). Agamben also points out that, in fact, our society has not stopped short at all as Walzer thought.

There are a few major questions raised by Foucault’s genealogy of bio-politics that Agamben helps to clear up: We know it is the bourgeoisie that initially presided over the rise of bio-power in France, but Foucault also states that socialist and fascist states are just as prone to bio-politics and state racism, if not more so; so what is common factor leads all three governments in that direction? What role does the sovereign body that presides over bio-political states play if bio-power is diffused into the capillaries of the state? Finally, if bio-power is so diffused, how does state racism get a foothold in such a state, when that would mean the moral and political cooperation of vast numbers of people? For Agamben, the answers to these questions begin with a disagreement with Foucault: While Foucault sees the genesis of bio-power as a relatively recent movement, Agamben rather argues, “…the inclusion of bare life in the political realm constitutes the original—if concealed—nucleus of sovereign power. It can even be said that the production of a biopolitical body is the original activity of sovereign power” (ibid., 6).

Though likely Agamben would agree with Foucault’s genealogy of the rise of bio-politics to a social paradigm from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Agamben sees the genesis of bio-power and bio-politics as coinciding with sovereignty itself. For Agamben, sovereignty is grounded in the state of exception. That is, the power of the sovereign is that “…of proclaiming a state of exception and, therefore, of suspending the order’s own validity.” Either the sovereign suspends the order’s validity in order to create or change law, or he does nothing, allowing the norm of law to stand. Thus, “the sovereign…legally places himself outside the law”; however, what the sovereign says when he is outside the law then becomes the law. In that sense, the sovereign always both acts outside the law, but by the fact that this is the mechanism of law-making, is still always within the law, being the source of law (ibid., 16). In this way, the logical mechanism by which the sovereign exercises power over bodies is the same mechanism: by excluding them from the norm of law. Agamben calls this mechanism the “relation of exception…the extreme form of relation by which something is included solely through its exclusion” (ibid., 18). This is the case in any situation where sovereign power is exercised simply by the fact that every case is an example, and “[t]he example is thus excluded from the normal case not because it does not belong to it but, on the contrary, because it exhibits its own belonging to it. The example is truly a paradigm in the etymological sense: it is what is ‘shown beside,’ and a class can contain everything but its own paradigm” (ibid., 22). Hence, if the domain of bio-politics is “situated at the point at which the individual as a simple living body become[s] what is at stake in a society’s political strategies” (ibid., 2) and the power of the sovereign over individuals is in excepting them from the juridical order (thus stripping them of the political existence granted by this order), what is left is the sovereign bringing back into society (through the relation of exception) only the bare life of the individual thus constituting a bio-political relationship between the two at the individual level.

Agamben’s paradigm for this relationship is Roman legal figure of homo sacer, or “sacred man.” In Agamben’s genealogy, the term “sacred” is meant in the original Roman sense of one who is “…simply set outside human jurisdiction without being brought into the realm of divine law”—one who is excepted from human law, but not consecrated to the Gods. Thus, the homo sacer, being outside of both human and divine law is “[l]ife that can be sacrificed and yet may be killed.” This term referred to the original form of Roman capital punishment where the homo sacer is stripped of all political relationships and could be killed by anyone without punishment. In a social order where any scripted killing was a sacrifice, the only way to enforce capital punishment, and thus exercise the sovereign power over the body of the individual was to except that person from the norms of the law in order for the norm prescripted by the law to be able to be carried out. Thus, with political existence stripped from homo sacer, all that remained was the bare life of the individual reinscribed within the community “in the form of his being able to be killed” and given to God “in the form of unsacrificeability” (ibid., 82). As shown above, the sovereign relationship with any object of its power is the same as with homo sacer in that the relationship between sovereign and the individual always involves the reinscription of the bare life of the subject back into society. The implications of this, Agamben goes on to explain, is that:

[H]omo sacer presents the originary figure of life taken into the sovereign ban and preserves the memory of the originary exclusion through which the political dimension was first constituted…The sovereign sphere is the sphere in which it is permitted to kill without committing homicide and without celebrating a sacrifice, and sacred life…is the life that has been captured in this sphere…and, in this sense, the production of bare life is the originary activity of sovereignty…The sovereign is the one with whom all men are potentially homines sacri, and homo sacer is the one with respect to whom all men act as sovereigns (ibid., 83–84).

Not only is the relationship of the sovereign exception the essential mechanism of sovereign power over life, but it is also the method for politicizing bare life as the essential object of sovereign power. Further, it is important to note that once an individual has been designated homo sacer, “all men act as sovereigns” insofar as each has the same bio-political prerogative as that which belongs to the sovereign, to make live or let die, which becomes vitally important when, as Foucault describes, bio-power becomes a paradigm of modern power.

As Foucault tells us, one of the first tasks of the bourgeoisie after the French revolution was the universalization of rights and laws, the guarantee of by the new sovereign bodies of the West that they would take care of their citizens equally. Both Foucault, as we have seen, and Agamben agree that this is a vital event in the rise of bio-politics during this period. Agamben relates these universal rights to bio-politics initially through their paradigmatic example, the writ of habeus corpus, a legal procedure “…originally intended to assure the presence of the accused at the trial and, therefore, to keep the accused from avoiding judgment” which has another, hidden face as “…grounds for the sheriff to detain an dexhibit the body of the accused.” Thus, “Corpus is a two-faced being, the bearer both of subjection to sovereign power and of individual liberties” (ibid.,125). This turns out to be the case, in Agamben’s analysis, with all declarations of rights. Rights attach themselves directly to the body, or bare life, of the subjects in that the rights to citizens is guaranteed by birth in a nation-state. It is the emergence of a subject as bare life at birth that is granted rights, as bare life is the only relationship the sovereign can have with the subject. As such, “Declarations of rights represent the originary figure of the inscription of natural life in the juridico-political order of the nation-state” (ibid., 127). As such, when universal rights are declared, every subject is now in a bio-political relationship with the sovereign body, where the source of rights only comes when one’s bare life is excepted from the juridio-political order at birth only to be reinscribed as a citizen, a member of a nation-state who is guaranteed rights only insofar as they are located at the site of the citizen’s bare life. Thus, every citizen is related to the nation-state only through the relation of exception, the same mechanism through which the Romans designated homines sacri.

Such a new system of this is unequivocably bio-political. In applying the relation of exception to all members of a nation-state, the reality within that nation-state is that, as Walter Benjamin put it, “the ‘state of emergency’ [or state of exception] in which we live is not the exception, but the rule” (Benjamin 1968, 257). We can see this in the linking of “life and politics—originally divided, and linked together by means of the no-man’s-land of the state of exception that is inhabited by bare life—begin to beome one, all life becomes sacred and all politics becomes the exception” (Agamben 1998, 148). The juridical order only has power over life by excepting it and reinscribing it back into the juridical order in the form of bare life, and in the bio-political state, bare life is the subject and foundation of politics. In this sense, law and life become indistinguishable. This state of exception as rule is the ideal environment for bio-politics to flourish, as it is only in this way that the nation-state can achieve full political sovereignty of the bare life of the citizens that constitute it and thus ensure its ability to carry out its program of the management of bodies.

In the new “nation-state” that both Foucault and Agamben have described as a state of universalized rights and laws, there is no singular sovereign king, but rather a sovereign nation, where the nation is made up of its citizens. In this sense, “bare life…now fully enters into the structure of the state and even becomes the earthly foundation of the state’s legitimacy and sovereignty…Declarations of rights must therefore be viewed as the place in which the passage from divinely authorized royal sovereignty to national sovereignty is accomplished…birth [thus bare life]…here for the first time becomes…the immediate bearer of sovereignty.” In other words, sovereignty resides in every citizen, and every citizen is part of the “members of the sovereign” (ibid., 127–129). People are simply divided into those who exercise the “passive rights” of the general population or the “active rights” of those who govern on behalf of the nation. In this sense, the individual power to govern does indeed come from the people, though only few exercise the “active rights” of a governing figure. These are the common factors all bio-political governments have in common.

The problem is, since bio-politics functions in a state of exception, where the norm of law is always in suspension “…in order to make [the norm’s] application possible,” the sovereign power that regularizes bodies is not in fact the force of law, but rather a “force of law without law” (Agamben 2005, 38–39), the only way to exercise one’s rights is within the exception where those rights can only be enforced through a force that is not the law. What this means, according to Agamben, is that “…the so-called sacred and inalienable rights of man show themselves to lack every protection and reality at the moment in which they can no longer take the form of rights belonging to citizens of a state” (Agamben 1998, 126). What he means by this, is that, in regard to a post-World War I Europe, many countries found their borders filling with refugees who, as not having been born there, did not have citizenship, yet should still be considered a “man of rights.” Yet their existence calls into question the idea of birth and nationality as necessarily connected notions and {put the originary fiction of modern sovereignty in crisis” (ibid., 131) This fracture opened the doors for “juridical measures allowing for the mass denaturalization and denationalization of large portions of [countries’] own populations…citizenship was something of which one had to prove oneself worthy and which could therefore always be called into question” (ibid., 132). And if the political subject in the bio-political society is nothing but a bare life invested with certain rights, rights which could be taken away at any time through a loss of citizenship, all that would be left is bare life—homo sacer. In that way, any citizen is already homo sacer to the extent that the rights that citizen has are far from guaranteed within the state of exception. Also consider the emerging topic of euthanasia as a discussion about “life unworthy of being lived” that should perhaps be decided upon by “a state committee composed of a doctor, a psychiatrist, and a jurist” (ibid., 139) and a blurring of the definition of death to the point that “…partisans of brain death and modern biopolitics propose that the state should decide on the moment of death” (ibid., 165) as second and third ways of marking cases of those who are homo sacer—who may be killed without being sacrificed.

It is no surprise that in a state where all these practices are realized as functions of sovereignty—denaturalization, decision on life worth living, and definition what is considered dead—that such a state has reached the peak of bio-politics and state racism has reached a point of primacy in the employment of bio-power. In a state where everyone is sovereign and at the same time everyone is potentially homo sacer, the bio-political process or regularization takes as its mechanism of regularization a selection process by identifying and purifying of society those who are dead and who have lives not worth living—this tends to start at the level of the biological racism that is left over from the adoption of the “nation” by the state in Foucault’s analysis above. Though in a bio-political state, bio-power is diffused throughout the social body in what Agamben calls, in State of Exceptionpotestas,” those who are given the role of governance through “active rights,” and thus are the ones who hold the decision over the exception, are invested with “auctoritas” or the authority to “…assert itself only in the validation or suspension of potestas” (Agamben 2005, 86). The problem is, when a bio-political state becomes totalitarian—as in Stalinist Russia, Fascist Italy, or Nazi Germany—the people are still sovereign and have potestas, it is just that the now the leader, in this example Hitler, “His power [his auctoritas] is, rather, all the more unlimited insofar as he is identified with the very biological life of the German people.” The spheres of potestas and auctoritas, the two constitutive aspects of Agamben’s bio-power are now combined in his one person in which life and law are coexistent as well. “…[H]is existence has an immediately political character…the Fuhrer is no longer an office in the sense of traditional public law, but rather somethinga that springs forth without mediation from his person insofar as it conicindes with the life of the German people” (Agamben 1998, 184). The sovereign power constituted by the German nation is thus at once still theirs and given to Hitler to use, his word now having the power of not only authorization, but of fact in that what he says is carried out through the potestas of the people by the very fact that he says it. As Agamben says, “…when [auctoritas and potestas tend to coinside in a single person, when the state of exception, in which they are bound and blurred together, becomes the rule, then the juridico-political system transforms itself into a killing machine” (Abamben 2005, 86).

It is thus no surprise that Hitler was able to order the denaturalization and denationalization of the Jews and send them to concentration camps just as it is no surprise that Stalin did the same with political dangers in sending them to the Gulags. The concentration camp and the Gulag are thus the sites of pure exception and symbols of state racism in their purest form, where every citizen, in this case the guards, had the right of sovereignty over the bare life that was left to the homo sacer that were there interred. However, Agamben is careful to point out that such extreme racism and tactics are not limited to Totalitarian States, those are just the places of their maximum exposure. Agamben warns us, “the camp, which is now securely lodged within the city’s interior, is the new biopolitical nomos of the planet…today’s democratico-capitalist project of eliminating the poor classes through development not only reproduces with in itself the people that is excluded [and thus racially targeted as future homo sacer] but also transforms the entire population of the Third World into bare life” (Agamben 1998, 176–180). Thus, as every citizen is sovereign and potential homo sacer in a bio-political society, every citizen is involved in the creation and continuation of state racism, and every citizen can be a target, depending on who is currently being excluded.

Local Resistance and Divine Violence
In the light of Agamben’s help in augmenting Foucault’s theories of bio-power and state racism, I’d like to briefly return to the critique Michael Walzer made of Foucault’s politics when he said, “Despite [Foucault’s] emphasis on local struggles, he is largely uninterested in local victories.” The local victories Walzer listed that he felt Foucault was not duly impressed by were “new laws about consent, confidentiality, access to records; juridical interventions in the administration of prisons and schools” (Walzer 1986, 59). As Foucault points out in his interview “Intellectuals and Power,” in these cases, what we are looking at are not local “victories” at all, but rather “a new disposition of the same power with, at best, a change of masters” (Foucault 1996, 81) and that is hardly revolutionary.

Rather, what Foucault means by local resistance is that the only way of accomplishing this regional, local, and non-totalizing undermining of power, as Deleuze puts it but Foucault agrees, is that “only those directly concerned can speak in a practical way on their own behalf” (ibid., 76). As Foucault goes on to elaborate, this means that there are a multitude of different forms of power and they are exercised in countless different situations on specific people. But one cannot effectively injure an entire power hierarchy alone. Nor can one ever be effectively “represented” by others. The only truly political act that can have any revolutionary potential, is to speak about the injustices of one’s own particular situation in the most specific and local manner. “It is because to speak on this subject, to force the institutionalized networks of information to listen, to produce names, to point the finger of accusation, to find targets, is the first step in the reversal of power and the initiation of new struggles against existing forms of power…[to] confiscate, at least temporarily, the power to speak on prison conditions” (ibid., 79). Thus, according to Foucault, it is only when criticism of the system is specific, not general, and multiaccented by those with direct experince, not representative, that the cracks in the facades of power can be clearly pointed out.

But what, ultimately, will these local resistances lead up to? What is their end point? According to Benjamin, “…it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency” (Benjamin 1968, 257) as opposed to the current state of emergency that is the rule which is characterized by the blurring of the limits between life and law and between violence and law. According to Agamben, this true state of exception is one where “bare life must itself…be transformed into the site for the constitution and installation of a form of life that is wholly exhausted in bare life and a bios that is only its own zoē” (Agamben 1998, 188). The exception in this case of a true state of exception thus appears to be a sovereign relationship with bare life that is a means with no ends, but rather a form of or result from Benjamin’s pure (or divine or revolutionary) violence, which “is that which does not stand in a relation of means toward an end, but holds itself in relation to its own mediality…so pure violence is attested to only as the exposure and deposition of the relation between violence and law” (Agamben 2005, 62). Divine violence can shatter the link between not only violence and law, but also life and law that were joined through the “fiction of their articulation,” but which divine violence hopes to separate. The goal of this separation, for Agamben, would be, “To show law in its nonrelation to life and life in its nonrelation to law [as a] means to open a space between them for human action, which once claimed for itself the name of ‘politics’” (ibid., 88).

This space for human action, I believe, is where Foucault’s local, political acts take place as localized acts of divine violence not with an eye on altering the power structure, thus leaving at best “a change of masters,” but with an eye toward a true revolutionary violence if these local resistances were to be coordinated on a large enough scale. As Foucault has been criticized, he does not have a particular end in mind behind these resistances, but that is by Benjamin’s definition, requisite for the violence to be pure or divine instead of constitutive, which would just reinscribe the violence back into the juridical order via the power/resistance dynamic. Agamben, however, does see a world beyond divine violence that he borrows from Kafka and Benjamin when he says, “One day, humanity will play with law just as children play with disused objects, not in order to restore them to their canonical use but to free them from it for good…a state of the world in which the world appears as a good that absolutely cannot be appropriated or made juridical” (ibid., 64).

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

———. State of Exception, trans. Kevil Attell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.

———. Reflections, ed. Peter Demetz and trans. Edmund Jephcott. New York: Schocken Books, 1978.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: Volume I, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, Inc., 1978.

———. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon, et al. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

———. Foucault Live: Collected Inverview, 1961-1984, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston. New York: Semiotext(e), 1996.

———. “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976, ed. Arnold I. Davidson, trans. David Macey. New York: Picador, 2003.

Walzer, Michael. “The Politics of Michel Foucault.” In Foucault: A Critical Reader, ed. David Couzens Hoy, 51-68. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1986.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cat's Cradle and the History of the Apocalypse

Before August 6, 1945, fewer than thirty novels had ever been written "...which specifically depict nuclear war and its aftermath" (Brians, 101). In the ten years that followed, over two hundred novels were written on the subject. In the ten years after that, over three hundred more were written (Brians, 351–358). Most of these novels were science fiction, including Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. In fact, science fiction became the genre of choice for writers looking to work out their fears and anxieties about the very real threat of the apocalypse that the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. For the first time, humanity possessed a power with which it could easily wipe itself out. But why did the task of dealing with and predicting the effects of nuclear war fall mainly into the laps of a genre that generally was not thought of as particularly literary? In Containment Culture, Alan Nadel argues in part that the science fiction boom is the result of a failure on the part of scientists to give a coherent and reliable account of either the form nuclear war may take or the ultimate consequences of such a war. As a result, the responsibility of dealing with such a vast task fell into the domains of science fiction writers like Vonnegut to go where science could not by illuminating the failures of science to construct a coherent emerging cultural narrative of nuclear warfare.

In Cat's Cradle, Vonnegut's characters illuminate a general regard toward the chronicling of the history of nuclear war as a pointless endeavor. For instance, the novel opens with the narrator, Jonah, collecting material for his book about "...what important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan" (Vonnegut, 11). Jonah intended to call the book The Day the World Ended. However, Jonah's project does not get off the ground and the book he originally intended is never written. If the title of Jonah's book is taken literally, then perhaps Nadel can help to illuminate exactly why Jonah found the "factual" book impossible to finish.

In Containment Culture, Nadel describes science as a sort of history that is written before it happens. History, he argues, is a reporting of the "facts" of events that happened in the past. Science, on the other hand, is the reporting of the "facts" of events that should happen given a hypothesis and a set of natural laws as parameters. He quotes Michael de Certeau in describing the difference between modern science and history as "...the rift between a subject that is supposedly literate [history], and an object that is supposedly written in an unknown language [science]. The latter always remains to be decoded" (de Certeau, Writing, 3). In other words, science is like history in that it is a narrative that has already been written, even though the results of the experiment have yet to be experienced. The difference is that we can read a history readily while with science, "written in an unknown language," we have yet to understand all its secrets and narratives, though they were already written when time began. In order to "decode" the language of science, scientists must perform experiments. In this context, a new scientific hypothesis is much like a work of science fiction in that it is a previously unknown result of the creativity of a human mind and, as of yet, has as much basis in fact as a work of fiction until experience proves otherwise. As de Certeau puts it, "In order to come into being, science must resign itself to a loss of both totality and reality" (de Certeau, Heterologies, 214). Until proven, a scientific theory is a sort of fiction. Nadel clarifies by stating, "If science did no more than describe what had happened, it would be called history" (Nadel 43).

Of course, there is such a field of study as the History of Science that chronicles the attempts of scientists to prove their hypotheses and thereby turn an educated guess into a known fact of knowledge and science into history. This supposes that the ultimate goal of science is to predict the future and write the "History of the Future" (Nadel, 40) before it is history in truth. Rather, Nadel describes science as the modern equivalent of prophecy or fate ("a sense of unalterable history" [Nadel, 47]) that has yet to be made manifest. In essence, what Vonnegut is doing by having Jonah attempt to write a book about "the day the world ended," as an event that has yet to literally come to pass, is to write a history of the future. The book Jonah wanted to write is, ultimately, the book he has written—a book about the end of the world. The reason he was able to finish it at the end of the novel, not at the opening of the book, is that he was attempting to write an account of an event that has not happened in a "factual," or scientific, way. As we will see, this is not possible with the subject matter he has chosen. Instead, he is only able to finish his "history" after the world has ended in fact—a time when his history no longer has any meaning; there is no one to read it.

That the end result differs from his intention, in that his original title is written as hyperbole while the resulting book is "factual," isn't relevant. His original conception is to write "The Day the World Ended" as a book about the atom bomb—a topic that he and others of the era saw as "a fearsome destroyer and apocalyptic omen" (Boyer, 25). Though the atom bomb did not result in nuclear winter in Cat's Cradle, a post-apocalyptic winter is exactly what Vonnegut gives us in the end regardless. It is simply caused by "ice-nine" instead of atomic warfare. As in science, the hypothesis of Jonah (and the world at large of the time) is but an educated guess. Often, the result of a scientific enquiry does not fit the hypothesis as expected, though the question upon which the scientist hypothesizes remains the same. Simply, Vonnegut suggests that "history" about any apocalyptic scenario is no better than the vaguest scientific hypothesis until it is history in fact.

With the nature of science and its "...unavoidable connection [with] fiction" (Nadel, 41) laid out, one can begin to understand the explosion in the genre of science fiction after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. This understanding is best illuminated by examining the ways science deals with the shadow of possible atomic warfare that continues to loom over the world, even decades after the last use of atomic weaponry. If it is the duty of science to utilize natural laws and combine them with hypotheses to write a history of the future, then how does one write a future of a nuclear Armageddon? If the goal of successful science is to ultimately become historical, then how can a nuclear apocalypse fall under the umbrella of science? As Nadel notes, "The ascent to nuclear power thus empowers an absurd discourse...for it necessitates the understanding of an event that cannot exist retrospectively" (Nadel, 46). The effects hypothesized by science of a nuclear apocalypse cannot be verified by experience because there would be no one left to do the verifying. Since a nuclear apocalypse of this nature can never be written as a history, it falls outside the domain of science to predict, as is reflected in the failure of the "scientists' movement" that Boyer relates (Boyer, 47–106). The furor surrounded scientists' ultimately inaccurate "prescient" proclamations of "one world or none" for only a few years. The public can only take being exposed to doom-and-gloom predictions for so long before their narrow repetition of ideas and the resultant popular fear was "overwhelmed by larger forces...manipulated by other people pursuing other goals" (Boyer, 106). However, the history of the nuclear apocalypse does not fall outside the domain of science fiction, the type of science no one expects to be proven true or false.

Thus, when Jonah confronts Bokonon at the end of the novel, Bokonon tells him, "If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow." After all, such a history would be good for little else. It would certainly be a cold, hard form of comfort to know that there was a "history of human stupidity," something people could use to learn from the mistakes of humanity, but that there is no longer anyone alive to read and benefit from it. It is only useful as a pillow for a dead man "...thumbing [his] nose at You Know Who" (Vonnegut, 191). This failure of history and science in such a case is why the responsibility for the exploration of the form and effects of such an apocalypse falls to the realm of fiction.

Indeed, if one purpose of history is to learn from the mistakes of the past, then the purpose of Vonnegut/Jonah writing a novel about The Day the World Ended, ultimately titled Cat's Cradle, is to produce a mock history. The title "Cat's Cradle" itself suggests this when, like the useless quality of a fake history such as Vonnegut's, Newt aptly signifies that the game "Cat's Cradle" as entertaining but insubstantial ("No damn cat, and no damn cradle" [Vonnegut, 114]). Like many other writers of science fiction, Vonnegut intends Cat's Cradle to be a learning experience—a history of the end of the world that the public still can read. Nadel describes the purpose of literary postmodern science fiction as "...generic mutations, hybrids, deformations become interesting not because they represent a falling away and/or progress toward some essential ideal of representation/expression, but rather because they help identify the cultural narratives that permit the appearance of generic stability" (Nadel, 52). In other words, science fiction as a literary genre is not meant to be escapist ("falling away") or prescriptive ("progress toward some essential ideal"), but rather they attempt to strip away the false facades of "generic stability." Science fiction attempts to critique, or at the very least lay bare, the "cultural narratives" that allow such facades to go unquestioned. In Cat's Cradle, Vonnegut questions a variety of such cultural narratives, but none more so than exposing facades constructed around the popular perception of science and scientists.

The most obvious targets of Vonnegut's ire are the very people whose position he is usurping: the scientists who created the atomic bomb, aka "ice-nine." Like the atomic bomb, there is an inherent "dual nature" to ice-nine. Nadel describes the dual nature of the atomic bomb as "...totalizing and minuscule, secreted and omnipresent, capable of binding or of rendering asunder" (Nadel, 14). Atomic power is the power of life in the universe, "binding" all bodies together, yet at the same time it is the one and only power that is capable of the complete "rendering asunder" of life as well. Similarly, ice-nine is but crystals of water, the most essential nutrient to life on earth, and it is also the one thing that can render all other water on earth undrinkable. However, one point Vonnegut makes with his substitution of ice-nine for atomic weaponry is to point out that such an essential nutrient as water (thus atomic energy) only came by its destructive nature at the hands of irresponsible scientists. Nadel agrees with Vonnegut saying, "for the energy in the atom to become fuel, 'unnatural' acts must be performed; nature must be violated...the duality comes not from the fuel, but from those who tap and spend its energies" (Nadel, 23). Thus, ice-nine is a way for Vonnegut to show that scientists did not stumble onto a hidden use of water, they perverted its nature beyond recognition.

As for the scientists themselves, Vonnegut gives us Dr. Asa Breed and Dr. Felix Hoenikker to highlight the self-delusion under which he sees them as operating. Scientists too recognize a dual nature to the invention of atomic weaponry, but scientists see the problem as necessary: "the processes for the production of atomic weapons and for development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes are, through most of their courses, identical and inseparable" (U.S.Dept. of State, v). In other words, the existence of the most destructive weapons on the planet is an unfortunate side effect of the use of nuclear power as a source of energy. Thus, the negative aspects of atomic dual nature are simply problems we have to live with in order to use its advantages. Vonnegut hints that such a justification of atomic power is no excuse for science to deny responsibility for the totality of its creations. Case in point, Hoenikker's justification for the invention of the ice-nine that destroyed the world was that " of the aspects of progress should be that marines no longer had to fight in mud" (Vonnegut, 37). So, Hoenikker invented ice-nine to rid the world of mud. By giving such a trivial genesis to ice-nine, any justification there can be for a power that might destroy the world is inherently foolish. Simply because there is a dual nature doesn't make the exploitation of the negative aspect a great idea. Regardless, Asa Breed and Angela Conners see this noble purpose as reason enough to insist that "[i]f you ever do do the book, you better make Father a saint, because that is what he was" (Vonnegut, 81). Never mind "Father" ends up being responsible for the most dangerous substance the earth has ever known. When Jonah attempts to suggest such might be the case to Dr. Breed, Breed responds with anger and the end of the interview (Vonnegut, 41).

Scientists such as Breed and Hoenikker make the error of assuming that the advance of knowledge is an unqualifiedly good thing. Miss Faust describes Dr. Hoenikker by simply saying, "...the main thing with Dr. Hoenikker was truth" after pointing out that "intimate things, family things, love things...weren't the main things with him" (Vonnegut, 43). The portrait Vonnegut paints here of the Doctor is one where morality does not enter into the thought process. Things that ought to be paramount in his life from a moral standpoint took a back seat. Dr. Breed seems to agree that "[n]ew knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become" (Vonnegut, 36). Again, Vonnegut hints that science and scientists are detached from the values that dominate the lives of the average person. To these scientists, truth and knowledge are more important than the well-being or safety of the general population. Micheal de Certeau supports this view of scientists by arguing that "[e]thical tasks are replaced by what is supposed to be an expression of reality [within] the scientific establishment" (de Certeau, Writing, 200). In other words, scientists see the most important goals in life as the increase of knowledge, or the discovery of the "reality" that was written at the beginning of time but only now becoming legible. In this light, science is not an "ethical task," but is rather replacing ethical tasks in a way that does not leave room for both ethics and scientific knowledge to coexist.

Vonnegut implies that scientists such as Hoenikker are pardoned from not noticing the dual nature of their inventions because their childlike nature shields them from the realities of the real-world uses of their toys. This may not necessarily be true. Hoenikker does label his ice-nine as "Danger!" and advises others to "keep away from moisture," and as a substance which "he had no doubt meant to melt up" (Vonnegut 165–166), but that didn't stop Hoenikker from creating ice-nine to begin with. The fact that he knew the danger shows him as even more irresponsibly childish. As such, Vonnegut also portrays Hoenikker and those like him as not as innocent as they wish they were and are thus accountable for the uses to which their inventions are put. George Kennan once described atomic scientists as "[p] innocent as six-year-old maidens" (Kennan, Memoirs 1925–1950, 301), and the picture Vonnegut paints on the surface seems to echo that sentiment. Hoenikker is portrayed as a man who once apparently sincerely asked, "What is sin?" (Vonnegut, 21) and performed "...some of his most famous experiments...with equipment that cost less than a dollar," which turns out to be ", gay toys" (Vonnegut, 45). How can one hold a man like that accountable when he doesn't hold himself accountable for the things he creates? While Hoenikker may be a metaphorical father of the bomb, Vonnegut's answer is to this question is to look to Felix's real children.

Vonnegut portrays the Hoenikker children as key figures in the struggles between the United States and the USSR in regards to which super power is to occupy the superior position in their power struggle through superior proliferation and control of ice-nine. Nadel characterizes this struggle in its real-world atomic aspect as a sort of courtship/seduction game being played between the two nations. Commenting on Kennan's theories of containing the spread of Soviet thought into free nations, Nadel states, "Kennan thus outlines a scenario wherein the United States seduces the Soviet Union through a slow process of courtship that situates the United States in the superior role..." (Nadel, 31). Of course, this theory does not take in to account that the Soviet Union will also be attempting to occupy that same superior role. Vonnegut does not buy in to the rhetoric that one or the other nation must necessarily be submissive. Once each nation learns of the existence and the significance of ice-nine, the race to possess this new ultimate weapon is on. In order to obtain this ice-nine, both nations employ the exact same tactic: the seduction of Hoenikker children. The U.S. seduces Angela and the U.S.S.R. seduces Newt. In this way, Vonnegut plays no nationalist favorites, equating the two countries in tactics and intent. Rather, he makes the dynamic interesting where the children themselves are concerned.

If the Hoenikker children represent the legacy of Dr. Hoenikker the scientist, then perhaps Dr. Hoenikker's legacy is not as pure as Angela and Dr. Breed think it is. They think of Hoenniker's legacy as that of his bomb child. But Vonnegut takes a more direct and literal approach of parentage and legacy by focusing on Hoenikker's biological children. Vonnegut uses the Hoenikker children to suggest that maybe the two super powers are not the seducers they see themselves as being. Rather than taking advantage of innocent children, Frank Hoenikker lets slip that "I bought myself a job, just the way you (Angela) bought yourself a husband, just the way Newt bought himself a week on Cape Cod with a Russian midget" (Vonnegut, 163). This leads to the possibility that the legacy of Dr. Hoenikker through is various "children" is far from being pure and rather one of prostitution. Each Hoenikker offers his or her goods in order to gain a desire. He or she then denies any role by trying to displace the responsibility for his or her action on others—the nations of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. For example, Frank dumps all the responsibility of his decision and its consequences onto Jonah and takes a trip "...down a spiritual obliette" (151). This shows that the legacy of science is really not the innocent child it appears to be. Science and thus scientists aren't purely innocent simply because of their morally ambiguous neutrality, instead purely focusing on the desire to knowledge. Rather, this dangerous, atomic science is portrayed as a Lolita-type character who is a willing partner in illicit activities for which the seductive partner (government) is forced to accept the blame while the legacy in question hides behind a façade of innocence. After all, scientists only "handed the bomb over to the generals" (Boyer, 95), they did not use them, but that doesn't change the fact that, to a large extent, the offspring of the scientist, Hoenikker's legacies, are to blame for the end of the world in more ways than one.

Though Boyer does go into some detail about the "scientist's movement" of the mid- to late-1940's, his narration too seems to support the notion of moral ambiguity on the part of scientists. Despite all the rhetoric of "one world or none" of the scientist's movement, Boyer points out much of the criticism surrounding "...the atomic scientists' motives and their moral right to offer themselves as political guides...A reflective silence, Niebuhr implied, might be a more appropriate stance for the makers of the bomb than eager volubility" (Boyer, 95). Further, Boyer gives us an example of Edward Teller, who,

...when the UNAEC negotiations collapsed, Teller lost all further interest in political efforts to control atomic weapons. The one great moment had passed; further effort was pointless...Succumbing increasingly to an all-encompassing suspicion of the Soviet Union, Teller championed development of the hydrogen bomb, challenged nearly all arms-control efforts as naïve and dangerous, and advocated a nuclear arms build-up almost without control or limit (Boyer, 101).
In other words, as the moral rhetoric behind the scientists' movement gave way, Teller and many scientists like him simply switched positions and went back to work making more, bigger, better bombs. After all, that is what, as nuclear scientists, they do while justifying it to themselves as an intellectual exercise—manipulating primarily what is, Nadel reminds us, the negative half of the atom's dual nature.

At the very least, Cat's Cradle can be read as an indictment of the irresponsibility of science and the façade of innocence that covers scientists in general. But more than that, we can also see in Jonah's two books, one failure and one success, that perhaps the true fault of science in the era of containment is their lack of foresight which caused them to overstep their own rational boundaries. Without due consideration of the consequences, scientists—looking for the next boundary to cross, the next frontier to explore—created, in their search for truth and knowledge, a legacy that escaped their control. And, being scientists, they were unable to write the cultural narrative for how the "history of the future" would play out in regards to atomic weaponry, as science does not provide a means with which to test a hypothesis about "the day the world ended." Such a history can only be written through experience, as Jonah finds, and the only experience can be through fiction. Ultimately, unable to write their own legacy of the bomb—which, as the scientists' movement would have had it, was that of world government—their creativity exhausted, these scientists mainly went back to that which they knew best, making bombs. Much like Dr. Hoenikker and his legacies, both weapon and human, the government is what seizes control of the atomic legacy for its own ends. Perhaps, what Vonnegut suggests is that next time, science should leave the contemplation of the apocalyptically horrible in the hands of science fiction and leave the real world out of it.

Boyer, Paul. By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture
     at the Dawn of the Atomic Age
. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.

Brians, Paul. Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895–1984.
     Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1987.

de Certeau, Michel. Heterologies: Discourse on the Other. Trans.
     Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

de Certeau, Michel. The Writing of History. Trans. Tom Conley. New
     York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Kennan, George. Memoirs 1925–1950. New York: Pantheon, 1967.

Nadel, Alan. Containment Culture: American Narratives,
     Postmodernism, and the Atomic Age
. Durham, NC: Duke University
     Press, 1995.

United States Dept. of State. The International Control of Atomic
     Energy: Growth of a Policy
. Washington: Government Printing
     Office, 1946.

Vonnegut Jr., Kurt. Cat's Cradle. New York: Dell Publishing Co. Inc.,

A Short Summary of Panoptic Surveillance in Foucault

Heh, here's a brief exegisical summary I wrote for a class a while back. I found it while sorting through some of my old papers, and I thought it was a nice condensation and explanation of Foucault's key concepts in Discipline and Punish. It isn't an essay per se, but It seems worth posting all the same.

As Foucault lays it out, in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, much of the western world saw a sudden shift in the strategies on punishment. The system before this shift Foucault refers to as the "society of spectacle"; afterwards, "disciplinary society." Each system was a strategy of the hegemony of the time to exercise power and control over the lower classes, but they each used entirely different strategies and techniques.

Under the regime of spectacle, Foucault uses the example of the execution of "Damiens the regicide" in 1757. This gruesome public execution showed in the most explicit way the strategy of a "society of spectacle" in exercising power of the bodies of its subjects. In this manner, the regime in charge made it known to its subjects what crime was and what the consequences of crime would be. Damiens showed, in the most literal sense, what it was to attack the "The King's Body," (or its double in the "crown"/state). It was the hope that this punishment onto the body of the individual for everyone to see would serve to repress criminal tendencies in other individuals in the population. However, what it also did is set up the criminal as "the symmetrical, inverted figure of the king," who represents "the 'lack of power' with which those subjected to punishment are marked." Thus, the criminal is often the more sympathetic figure, especially when it is the case that "the punishment was thought to equal, if not to exceed, in savagery the crime itself." When this occurs, it has the ability "to make the executioner resemble a criminal, judges murderers." Thus, a new mode of punishment was needed—one where the perception of the infliction of punishment was not on the body, but on the soul.

This new mode of punishment is best informed by and illustrated for Foucault by Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon. The Panopticon is a building designed for complete, constant, anonymous surveillance of its subjects. Under this surveillance, never knowing if or by whom one is being watched, the subject is trained to resist any impulse of misbehavior or "abnormality" for fear of being caught, never knowing if such a display is safe or not. In this way, the enforcement of rules is shifted from the spectacle of the power of violence enacted upon the body to the power of discipline essentially coded into the "soul" of the subject under the gaze of the Panopticon. Thus, the body of the subject is made into an "object of knowledge" that can be studied, catalogued, and completely individualized in every way available to the human sciences. As Foucault puts it, the body is turned into a site of "political technology" that, as it is further studied, increases the knowledge base of the human sciences and thus allowing the dominant hegemony ability to exercise greater power through better individualization and surveillance in an ever-increasing cycle of "power-knowledge." Foucault explains then how the idea of the Panopticon can infiltrate the rest of society through these methods, ultimately creating a state where people police themselves unconsciously.

All this ties, for Foucault, most strongly into the idea of the penal system. This is where those who are not adequately "normalized" through these discourses end up. The judge no longer is a punisher, but one who decides, with the help of specialists of the human sciences, how to understand and cure (or "normalize") the criminal in question. Thus, punishment of the body and sympathy for punishment that arose in the "society of spectacle" in response to this punishment is short-circuited by the "humane" system and its stated goal of "rehabilitation." Punishment is no longer on the body of the punished, but on his soul through endless surveillance and individualization in the social Panopticon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A brief sketch of Delillo's representation of TV in Mao II

One of the more personally striking scenes in Mao II is the passage when Karen watches a TV report of the infamous soccer (football) riot in the UK. Karen notes that "on any given day it was mainly the film footage that she wanted to see and she didn't mind watching it without sound." She then proceeds to experience the clip of violence not as a horrible event of violence and death, but as a work of art; as she puts it, "it is like a religious painting, the scene could be a fresco in a tourist church...". But Delillo isn't trying to say that Karen is wrong, desensitized, or even fooled by taking the visual images in without the context of sound. Instead, he seems to be pointing out that, like the mass of bodies in the riotous crowd, mass media is an environment where individuality (whether the boy in the white cap or the singular meaning attempting to be conveyed through the report) is lost in the onslaught of the surroundings.

Delillo is pretty clear in pointing out that the overt message or meaning of the newscast is irrelevant. It is only the medium of the representation that matters. In Karen's words, "you could make up the news as you went along by sticking to the pictures only." Karen doesn't see anything wrong with this idea of ignoring the message in favor of the medium, and Delillo doesn't give us any hint that we ought to correct her, either. Instead, Delillo's description of the riot, while seemingly bruital, is really clinical and strictly descriptive, not laying any negative judgments on the barbarity of the scene. He accomplishes this description through a sort of detached prose where Karen even stops to search for the appropriate word to use ("writhing"), supposing a sort of clinical interest in the correct way to categorize rather than a visceral label. Further, Delillo plunges into his litany of violent imagery ("terrible slow straining and heaving," "two men crawling on heads and shoulders," "pressed together and terribly twisted," "suffering faces"), only to cease the litany mid-description to point out "men calmly shorts and jerseys...standing in the grass" (as well as the seemingly irrelevant observation "soccer is called football abroad") before delving directly back into the violent images. Not only does this interrupt the flow of meaning (paradoxically by seamlessly being integrated into the narrative), as if this image were on par with the violent ones immediately surrounding it on both sides. But, in wondering why Karen and these soccer players seem calm and desensitized, one can look at the strong artistic parallel presented in the passage.

Such scenes have become much like the religious works of art that Karen compares it to. Unlike art, television (and particularly the news) is supposed to represent a form of reality. Yet art is something that, while it may be horrible in the sense of being "filled with people suffering," it isn't something that is supposed to be taken as a direct representation of reality as it television. However, Delillo here suggests that television (and perhaps mob behavior/violence in general extrapolating to the soccer players themselves) actually has become no more than an aesthetic, soundless form of art. People tune in to television to see these types of things, and the television stations oblige by giving their viewers what they want. The actual reality behind the event becomes of second importance if of importance at all. Television (and spectacles in general, perhaps), are no longer any more meaningful than the relationship between viewer and viewed.

Brief Thoughts on "A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid

I think I found a favorite passage. This description of Kincaid's is one of the most succinct, effective descriptions of colonialism I have read:

In a small place, people cultivate small events. The small event is isolated, blown up, turned over and over, and then absorbed into the everyday, so that at any moment it can and will roll off the inhabitants of the small place's tongues...The people in a small place then experience the event as if it were sitting on top of their heads, their shoulders, and it weighs them down, this enormous burden that is the event, so that they cannot breathe properly and...eventually they absorb the event and it becomes a part of them, a part of who and what they really are...(52–53)
Though not specifically stated as such, Kincaid makes it clear that, in the case of this book, that event is Antigua's colonization by the British, but also colonization in general of any form.

When I read her repetition of "a small place" over and over in this passage and on the two pages that follow, I don't read that such a place is necessarily small, and it isn't really even a place at all. Rather, Kincaid is describing the process through which a larger, more technologically advanced culture can, when it sets its mind on colonization, completely obliterate any culture that stands in its way. Such was the case in Antigua. The British, with their overwhelming force both militarily and culturally settled itself "...sitting on top of [the Antiguans'] heads, their shoulders..." and projected their own values onto them. Kincaid then spends most of the essay discussing the political and cultural corruption that permeates through Antigua. She notes in particular the politicians' desires for wealth over the good of the people and that hotel training is more highly looked upon than formal education (i.e. the library). However, Kincaid is also careful to say that it wasn't the intention of the British to change their culture to such a singularly capital-driven, top-heavy society that is so full of corruption. To the British, they were bringing "enlightenment" to an unenlightened society. Rather, the culture that arose after the end of British control is simply the outcome of this heavy burned of colonialism on such "a small place."

Kincaid's primary argument against colonialism seems to be its destruction of a culture's natural development. She points out that Antigua never had an industrial revolution or an "Age of Enlightenment." They never had to go though the painful process of finding themselves as their own culture and society within the larger framework of the modern world. Instead, they were given a shortcut through which they missed out on the important lessons that give a society the ability to find its own equilibrium. After all, how could they expect to be faced with the weight of hundreds of years of British tradition, culture, and power without becoming infatuated and subverted by the advantages of wealth and middle-class promises that a seemingly successful capitalist state like Britain hints can be theirs? And, as Kincaid points out, the British weren't moral role models on the same scale as they were cultural. After all, it's hard to see those who are running your country as having anything but "bad manners." So, those in positions of power in Antigua go where the money is, take advantage of whomever they can, and think they are capitalists for doing so.

But the fact is, this situation of unnatural, broken development isn't only a formula imposed on those countries that are currently, or recently have been, directly occupied. Kincaid also shows how colonialism, both in Antigua and throughout the rest of the world, is alive and well today. But these days, it isn't the same old physical occupation it used to be. Instead, it is culture and capital that are doing the colonizing.

In the first chapter of A Small Place, Kincaid asks us to imagine ourselves as tourists in Antigua and guides us through what seems like a typical first tourist experience in Antigua (though pointing out questions that we, as tourists, may not ask ourselves). But she quickly turns the tables on the reader, no longer inviting us to explore Antigua, but telling us that "a tourist is an ugly person"—not the person, necessarily, but the tourist in the person. While a tourist is not an invader who colonizes with guns blazing, the tourist does expect to be treated with a certain level of deference. This expectation does not necessarily spring from the explicit belief of personal, innate superiority, but rather from the point of view that the tourist is the one with disposable capital that the host wants. As in the case with Antigua, tourism and a booming tourist industry is not necessarily what the people of Antigua want, but because of their lack of natural development of other capitalist industries, in a sense, it is what they get regardless. It is an industry where they can make money to feed their need (British-originated) for further capital that (again due to lack of natural learning&$41; is not put into building the infrastructure of Antigua as a whole, but rather it is put back into the tourism industry to build more capital without the thought or experience that expansion is possible. Because of this vicious cycle, each tourist that visits Antigua is contributing to the stagnation of an Antiguan culture which cannot grow outside of a one-dimensional economy on its own. Tourists are the new colonists, imposing what they want and their ethnocentric demands on this country which, as Kincaid says, becomes a weight which in turn "eventually...becomes a part of them, a part of who and what they really are."

Saturday, April 30, 2005

"The plastic substance, imposed by tradition"

I'm currently working on finishing up Henry James' Wings of the Dove, and I came across this passage that, quite frankly, I find highly interesting in the way it precursors a good bit of post-structuralist literary theory by a solid fifty-plus years. I can just smell Foucault in the background, and I can't help but think this is the ideal kind of thing to save in case I ever need a good example for a paper on these themes, which I suspect I will at some point.

That was the story—that she was always, for her beneficient dragon under arms; living up, every hour, but especially at festal hours, to the 'value' Mrs Lowdner had attached to her. High and fixed, this estimate ruled, on each occasion, at Lancaster Gate, the social scene; so that our young man now recognized in it something like the artistic idea, the plastic substance, imposed by tradition, by genius, by criticism, in respect to a given character, on a distinguished actress. As such a person was to dress the part, to walk, to look, to speak, in every way to express, the part, so all this was what Kate was to do for the character she had undertaken, under her aunt's roof, to represent. it was made up, the character, of definite elements and touches—things all perfectly ponderable to criticism; and the way for her to meet criticism was evidently at the start to be sure her make-up was exact and that she looked at least no worse than usual. Aunt Maud's appreciation of that tonight was indeed managerial, and Kate's own contribution fairly that of the faultless soldier on parade. Densher saw himself for the moment as in his purchased stall at the play; the watchful manager was in the depts of a box and the poor actress in the glare of the footlights. But she passed, the poor actress—he could see how she always passed; her wig, her taint, her jewels, every mark of her expression impeccable, and her entrance accordingly greeted witht he proper round of applause. Such impressions as we thus note for Densher come and go, it must be granted, in very much less time than notation demands; but we may none the less make the point that there was, still further, time among them for him to feel almost too scared to take part in the ovation. He truck himself as having lost, for the minute, his presence of mind—so that, at any rate, he only stared in silence at the older woman's technical challenge and at the younger one's disciplined face. It was as if the drama—it thus came to him, for the fact of a drama there was no blinking—was between them, them quite preponderantly; with Merton Densher relegated to mere spectatorship, a paying place in front, and one of the most expensive. This was why his appreciation had turned for the instant of fear—had just turned, as we have said, to sickness; and in spite of the fact that the disciplined face did offer him over the footlights, as he believed, the small gleam, fine, faint, but exquisite, of a special intelligence. So might a practised performer, even when raked by double-barreled glasses, seem to be all in her part and yet convey a sign to the person in the house she loved best.
Holy crap. You get all that? It's impressive how James positions Kate's character in her social context purely in relation to having to live under the constant gaze of her Aunt as the "theatre manager." James credits Kate in that she "passed," but I'm not sure that's entirely a complement. It's made quite clear that she lives her life not only in the "'value' that Mrs Lowdner had attached to her," but now she is also under the gaze and scrutiny of Densher, for whom she must play a separate role (that of lover) at the same time. Kate's challenge is to merge both roles into one performance, and the fact that she is so highly successful at it is one of the primary points that shows that, while James may predict postmodernist theory in this passage, he is—at heart—a true modernist. If this were a postmodern novel, she would fracture in the attempt to contain dual roles simultaneously—hey, it drives Holden Caulfield into an asylum—to two different observers at the same time. For the modernist James, however, to do so is possible. She's just that extraordinary. The theatre aspect serves to further reinforce the notion that Kate can only play the role society has established for her and that she cannot deviate—due to constant surveillance—lest she lose everything she is working for. Yet, she does get to be offstage at times (such as when she's out with Densher without her Aunt's knowledge), but she must constantly fear discovery (i.e., Milly in the art gallery), as Foucault explains is the method of control outside of survellance in his coneptual "Carcerial" in society in general. This fear of discovery keeps her behavior and interaction with Densher within at the very least allowable, though not ideal, bounds.

There, that should be enough to remind me why I am intrigued in that passage. There is certainly much more to dig out, and there are counter-arguments to be made, but this will serve as a start. Thank you for bearing with me.