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Quotes

“It is equally vain,” she thought, “for you to think you can protect me, or for me to think I can worship you. The light of truth beats upon us without shadow, and the light of truth is damnably unbecoming to us both.”

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

I can’t stop reading the news. I can’t stop reading the news.
It travels, I travel from my optic nerve, through unmoving vocal chords,
past the lump, gut deep.
Can’t stop reading the news and.
It wants to travel back out as vomit and rage.

Hillary tweets in Spanish.
Trump tweets in grunts.
I watch Father Obama while
I make a salad.
The wind is raging.

Think of his affect after Sandy Hook.
(I don’t want to think about it.)
(I can’t stop thinking about it.)

I know what’s coming, as a U.S.–Ameri-kan:

As Americans…
Brutal murder…
Massacre…
Pray for families…
Attack…
We know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate…
FBI…
All the facts…

No definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer…
As an act of terror…
What, if any…

Filled with hatred…
We will go wherever the facts lead us…
This could have been any one of our communities…

As a country…
Carnage…
Law enforcement…

Sacrifice, courage…

Especially heartbreaking for all of our friends, our fellow Americans who are

lesbian.
gay.
bisexual.
or transgender…

A nightclub…
Be with friends, to dance, to sing, to live…
More than a nightclub…
Solidarity, empowerment, awareness, civil rights…

Sobering reminder…

Attacks on any American…
regardless…
an attack on all of us…

Dignity, equality…

Country…
Hate…
Terror…
Values…

The most deadly shooting in American history…
Handgun…
Assault rifle…

Further reminder…

Weapon:
School, house of worship, movie theater, nightclub…

We have to decide…
To do nothing is a decision…

Victims…
Names…
Faces…

Who they were…
Joy to families, friends…

Difference to this world…
Prayer…
Prayer for family…
God…

Strength…
Bear the un-bearable…
Strength…
Strength and courage to change…

As a country…
Heroic, selfless…

Friends who helped friends…
Hate violence…
Love…

United as Americans, protect our people, defend our nation, take action against threats…
God…
Families…
God…
This country.

God, this country.

This fucked up
family.
Attack!

Living in ellipses:
“No definitive judgment…”

Living for ellipses:
“This could have been any one of our communities…”

Thinking of ellipses:
The only way to slow down,
what is said too fast,
what is said is not enough,
Also all wrong, too much.
Can’t speak out every meaning.

Thinking with ellipses:
Going in circles.
On a Sunday.

How is it supposed to make you feel?
Don’t care
How you feel.

Can you feel any other way than wrong?
Don’t care
How you feel.

What are you supposed to do?
Just you wait.

[For Lauren Berlant, “to live elliptically” is to ask a question rather than formulate an answer; a “shrug” is a rhetorical response to a non-rhetorical question of the body – an embodied letting go of future promises in favor of life in the durative present. Revisiting a conceptual grammar drawn from psychoanalysis, Berlant is using “dissociation” to understand it not as a symptom of an underlying abnormality but as a practice of attaching to life. Berlant is dialing back the multiple intersections of subjectivities and pondering what doesn’t add up in social worlds. She is thinking about the content of “being proximate” but not “in community.”

In “Culture@Large,” the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s signature event at the 2012 AAA meetings,  Berlant and her interlocutors thought through the sensorium which overcomes “affective stuckness” but does not jump immediately (as is our social science instinct) to discursive symbolization. For these scholars, this is work that is trained at scenes of social abandonment and lostness, the precariousness of life at large. Drawing from Claudia Rankine’s poem Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and the film based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel A Single Man, Berlant spoke of the way that quick and slow death by racism and homophobia inspires a sociality of not caring, of deciding to be stubborn.
––from http://production.culanth.org/fieldsights/32-walking-around-in-lauren-berlant-s-elliptical-life]

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I’ve reached the end of nearly a month in motion at the end of a year spent here and there with no easy center. I’ve visited with family, chosen and born, seen comrades and friends, and even managed to get some work done. And now I’m finally back in Toronto. I’m exhausted.

I’m not sure––never am––that I’ve collected all the baggage that I toted with me throughout border crossings, bag searches, administrative declarations, and weather delays. How does the baggage survive all that time traveling? How do I? Speaking different languages, coming to my senses, numbing my senses, checking-in on crises of one shape or another as if my role in them matters, peppering the blandness of in-betweens with gossip or an uneasy smile, reveling in stolen sweetnesses when someone remembers who you are trying to become, recalling long dormant shared jokes, playing games, feeling like a ghost, being reminded that I am both loved in this space and an orphan of it.

What I’m left with is a question: What keeps me consistent throughout all of this movement?

Languages and architecture and ways of being in these places seem untranslatably different. Yet, in the quotidian-ness of all that crossing, they are somehow threaded together. Or maybe its the weather? How it doesn’t make sense anywhere? (Except the thick fog, as B told me, which lets you pretend that you are anywhere/nowhere.) Or maybe just the basics? Getting the laundry done in every different kind of machine, this or that surface to clean, thing to put back in its place, remembering that each place has this or that logic of where how and when to replace the thing so it can be found, moved, lost again.

Toronto-Bologna-Cleveland-Toronto is a strange itinerary. Not the Sunday Travel section’s first choice. Multiculti boomtown built over top of resplendent ancient meeting place where the trees stood in water and this would be storytelling season to medieval university town still floating on the slowly cooling magma layer of hot Augusts of decades past petty politics at war with real politics to putatively post-industrial American Great Lakes once unified (but now different) whose begged for renaissance gives those who survive the depression or the violence a specific kind of chip on their shoulder. Daytime television and a stream of oil company and pro-fracking commercials. ExxonMobil does help me.

Is home an exhaustible resource? It’s a real question. On what exchanges is home traded? How is it extracted from the peat of experience, barely compacted? Who’s gaining commission? Is being ‘at home’ a fact? A feeling? A mode? A delusion. Must it be striated through everyday life thinly, like rare earth? What work is required to be ‘at home’ here? And then here. And then, finally for now, here.

If mobility is a privilege––and my body is not always or even usually convinced of this anymore––I could say that I am in need of its opposite for a while. And I get what we need sometimes. To think that, when I was a young teenager, I was convinced that I’d never be able to see the world beyond my hometown. Stuck like every queer felt stuck and feels stuck going back. But slowly, being unstuck becomes a kind of compulsion. Adaptability a life requirement. Must keep things going. Must go. Must do without stillness or else risk stiffness.

Bodies become rigid and brittle for other reasons too. And then we are called to new effort to hold on to any consistent element, to keep at least one particle the same across all that numbing confirmation of identity. Are you who you say you are? Nationality. Do the contours of your face match the contours of the face in this document, the image of someone unwearied by so many mandatory crossings? Place of origin. Has this expired? What’s your status. They add up: Document check, document check, document check, document check. Questions: Why are you here, why were you there, what did you do, who are you carrying with you, what are you leaving behind, what is the total value of your experience? The lucky pass through the fortress, I’m told it makes me lucky. And so I try to remember that when the experience serves up the unluckiest of feelings.

No matter where I go, I carry more books than I can possibly read on any one journey across every border. Their completeness is comforting, consistent. The weight is substantial. It keeps me on the edge of frustration, which is sometimes the only way to survive travel. Books feel like dangerous travel accessories, they might say too much about you.

One book that has crossed every border with me this month is Dionne Brand’s “A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging” I’ve read it little by little and I’m still trying to understand how and why, despite the differences in the reasons for our movement and displacement and return/s, this book has helped me more than anything when I am feeling weary, uncertain, lost for words, lost in cartography, in our out of love, in or out of place; jetlagged, dreadful, devoid of thoughts, or simply too full of them, a fool.

She writes:

There are ways of constructing the world –– that is, of putting it together each morning, what it should look like piece by piece –– and I don’t feel that I share this with the people in my small town. Each morning I think we wake up and open our eyes and set the particles of forms together –– we make solidity with our eyes and with the matter in our brains. How a room looks, how a leg looks, how a clock looks. How a thread, how a speck of sand. We collect each molecule, summing them up into flesh or leaf or water or air. Before that everything is liquid, ubiquitous and mute. We accumulate information over our lives which bring various things into solidity, into view. What I am afraid of is that waking up in another room, minutes away by car, the mechanic walks up and takes my face for a target, my arm for something to bite, my car for a bear. He cannot see me when I come into the gas station; he sees something else and he might say, “No gas,’ or he might simply grunt and leave me there. As if I do not exist, as if I am not at the gas station at all. Or as if something he cannot understand has arrived –– as if something he despises has arrived. A think he does not recognize. Some days when I go to the gas station I have not put him together either. His face a mobile mass, I cannot make out his eyes, his hair is straw, dried grass stumbling toward me. Out the window now behind him the scrub pine on the other side of the road, leaves gone, or what I call leaves, the sun white against a wash of grey sky, he is streaking toward me like a cloud. Frayed with air. The cloud of him arrives, hovers at the window. I read his face coming apart with something –– a word I think. I ask for gas; I cannot know what his response is. I pass money out the window. I assume we have got the gist of each other and I drive away from the constant uncertainty of encounters. I drive through the possibility of losing solidity at any moment.

Today is not a day that beings with the luxury of feeling together.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL - 1983: Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde lectures students at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Lorde was a Master Artist in Residence at the Central Florida arts center in 1983. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Audre Lorde in New Smyrna Beach, FL (1983)

It has been some time since I have written here. Today seems like the perfect day to return to mark 36 years since Audre Lorde spoke her profound truth under the title “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Lorde’s frequently quoted axiom titled an intervention she made at the New York University Institute for the Humanities Second Sex Conference on a panel titled “The Personal and the Political.”

Lorde’s intervention––as much philosophical as urgently political; as much material as deeply informed by spirit––challenged the theoretical terms of “difference” as it had been imagined in both the content of the panel and the formal organization of the conference itself. Lorde witnesses:

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women’s culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.

Speaking of the weight of that “last hour” at which “the two Black women who did present [there] were literally found,” Lorde offers what would likely travel under the academic-legal terminology of an intersectional––not to mention immanent––critique. But, the term “intersectional” itself had not been coined in 1979, so we see behind and through the things that it has a tendency to shorthand when we hear it today.

Stepping through the erasures of the conference––imagining Lorde’s voice and wondering if it is a part of the archival documentation of the event itself––her words are perhaps best understood when read aloud:

Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a difference between the passive be and the active being.

Lorde’s truth is poetic and poetry is her truth. Eschewing the prolonged and inappropriately universalized language of White European Philosophy, Lorde reaches the core quickly. Time is limited for the appointed representatives of difference in the spaces of sameness:

Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.

Perhaps seeing the need to assuage an audience that would be threatened by both her profound presence and her Truth telling, Lorde reroutes the discomfort, rendering interdependency as a relation revelatory of difference’s generative power. This conference needs what she has to say. It is dependent on her vision and practice of interdependency. This makes her a Teacher. The open-ended-ness of the word “generate,” free of object, teaches that difference is not a localizable phenomenon to be represented by specific bodies, but a confrontation that necessarily “sparks” outside of the institution, even if it also lands there on this, or any, occasion.

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference—those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older—know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.

Having arrived there, in that particular institution, Lorde asks a series of questions that might easily be posed in the many academic institutions today. Especially where such institutions make explicit claims to feminist and queer knowledges, practices, and politics:

Why weren’t other women of Color found to participate in this conference? Why were two phone calls to me considered a consultation? Am I the only possible source of names of Black feminists? And although the Black panelist’s paper ends on an important and powerful connection of love between women, what about interracial cooperation between feminists who don’t love each other?

The organizer in me is challenged by these questions, set afloat on the fast moving stream of officially sanctioned action. Anyone who has asked a difficult question of someone in power will understand how that act immediately thrusts you outside of the smooth reproduction of the institutional order. You hit a rough rock in the stream and it cuts you as it also becomes your refuge. If you “speak from difference” it may not differ from your quotidian experience. But if you are assumed to speak from a position of institutionally sanctioned power and authority, you will feel the sense of betrayal on the part of those who rely on your silence to justify their own.

It may seem easy to emphasize love––not for anyone who has actually loved, still––but Lorde goes further than already existing or hard fought for love. She questions everything else. She makes explicit the implicit affects that effected the very organization of the conference itself. For the timid, for those who might not yet feel it, she entrusts her point to a white Truth teller, someone who can show how to take responsibility:

In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often, “We did not know who to ask.” But that is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women’s art out of women’s exhibitions, Black women’s work out of most feminist publications except for the occasional “Special Third World Women’s Issue,” and Black women’s texts off your reading lists. But as Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent talk, white feminists have educated themselves about such an enormous amount over the past ten years, how come you haven’t also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us—white and Black—when it is key to our survival as a movement?

Lorde references the feminist movement in a move that carries us to the coda of intervention. She speaks to and from the depth of feminism and the breadth of all it can learn if it moves beyond the mere gesture of inclusion toward the substantive and substantiating act of collective self-inquiry (auto-coscenza):

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women—in the face of tremendous resistance—as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.

The tragic multiplication of labor, the fractious “repetition of racist patriarchal though,” the redirected power of erosion: None is particularly surprising to the Warrior Poet, but each new iteration seems to demand another call to justice. And so we are called, in terms that honour what the space of intervention––the conference itself––is actually trying to do despite itself. Lorde brings us there in words that, thirty-six years later, fall like heavy raindrops on the still thirsty, root thick soil of early autumn:

Simone de Beauvoir once said: “It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.”

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.

Read all of “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House” here.
(Try doing it out loud.)

In fact, we need to think about sex and gender in a more ecological kind of framework, understanding that changes in one environment inevitable impact changes in other environments. Gender here might be thought of more as a climate or ecosystem and less as an identity or discrete bodily location. And so when we see sex/gender events like the pregnant man, like heteroflexibility, like metrosexuality, like gender fluidity, we are witnessing the aftershocks of the massive shifts that the emergence of transgenderism announced, presaged, and caused. Future shocks are on the horizon, and instead of trying to prevent more damage, we should be hoping that one particularly powerful tremor might bring the whole crumbling edifice of normative sex and gender crumbling down.

–– J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism: Gender, Sex, and the end of Normal, Beacon Press (2012, 81–82)

I just learned that this week is Bisexual Awareness Week or #BiWeek; at least according to this panoply of organizations and corporate co-sponsors.

Nevertheless, learning about bi-week inspired me to read June Jordan. She was and is a brilliant poet, playwright, essayist, revolutionary activist, feminist, and out bisexual. I am so grateful to learn from her work and her powerful voice, ear, and lexicon of truth. It’s a good week to spend time with June Jordan.

These poems are, in part, powerful and moving portraits of deep experiences of violence and oppression. Especially, “Poem about Rights.” They are also a way of re-experiencing, sharing, teaching, telling hard truths. Please keep that in mind before you click play.

 

Full text quotation from Desert Islands and other texts, 1953–1974 (Semiotext[e], 2004, pp. 206–213; bold emphases mine)

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Michel Foucault: A Maoist told me: “I can see why Sartre is on our side, for what and why he is involved in politics; and you, I can even see why you do it, since you’ve always considered imprisonment a problem. But Deleuze, really, I don’t see it.” His question took me totally by surprise, because it’s crystal clear to me.

Gilles Deleuze: Maybe it’s because for us the relationships between theory and praxis are being lived in a new way. On the one hand, praxis used to be conceived as an application of theory, as a consequence; on the other hand, and inversely, praxis was supposed to inspire theory, it was supposed to create a new form of theory. In any case, their relationship took the form of a process of totalization, in one shape or another. Maybe we’re asking the question in a new way. For us the relationships between theory and praxis are much more fragmentary and partial. In the first place, a theory is always local, related to a limited domain, though it can be applied in another domain that is more or less distant. The rule of application is never one of resemblance. In the second place, as soon as a theory takes hold in its own domain, it encounters obstacles, walls, collisions, and these impediments create a need for the theory to be relayed by another kind of discourse (it is this other discourse which eventually causes the theory to migrate from one domain to another). Praxis is a network of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory relays one praxis to another. A theory cannot be developed without encountering a wall, and a praxis is needed to break through. Take yourself, for example, you begin by theoretically analyzing a milieu of imprisonment like the psychiatric asylum of nineteenth-century capitalist society. Then you discover how necessary it is precisely for those who are imprisoned to speak on their own behalf, for them to become a relay (or perhaps you were already a relay for them), but these people are prisoners, they’re in prison. This was the logic behind your creating the GIP (Group for Information on Prisons): to promote the conditions in which the prisoners themselves could speak.2 It would be totally misguided to say, as the Maoist seemed to be saying, that you were making a move toward praxis by applying your theories. In your case we find neither an application, nor a reform program, nor an investigation in the traditional sense. It is something else entirely: a system of relays in an assemblage, in a multiplicity of bits and pieces both theoretical and practical. For us, the intellectual and theorist have ceased to be a subject, a consciousness, that represents or is representative. And those involved in political struggle have ceased to be represented, whether by a party or a union that would in turn claim for itself the right to be their conscience. Who speaks and who acts? It’s always a multiplicity, even in the person that speaks or acts. We are all groupuscles. There is no more representation. There is only action, the action of theory, the action of praxis, in the relations of relays and networks.

Michel Foucault: It seems to me that traditionally, an intellectual’s political status resulted from two things: 1) the position as an intellectual in bourgeois society, in the system of capitalist production, in the ideology which that system produces or imposes (being exploited, reduced to poverty, being rejected or “cursed,” being accused of subversion or immorality, etc.), and 2) intellectual discourse itself, in as much as it revealed a particular truth, uncovering political relationships where none were before perceived. These two forms of becoming politicized were not strangers to one another, but they didn’t necessarily coincide either. You had the “cursed” intellectual, and you had the “socialist” intellectual. In certain moments of violent reaction, the powers that be willingly confused these two politicizations with one another—after 1848, after the Commune, after 1940: the intellectual was rejected, persecuted at the very moment when “things” began to appear in their naked “truth,” when you were not supposed to discuss the king’s new clothes.

Since the latest resurgence, however, intellectuals realize that the masses can do without them and still be knowledgeable: the masses know perfectly well what’s going on, it is perfectly clear to them, they even know better than the intellectuals do, and they say so convincingly enough. But a system of power exists to bar, prohibit, invalidate their discourse and their knowledge—a power located not only in the upper echelons of censorship, but which deeply and subtly permeates the whole network of society. The intellectuals are themselves part of this system of power, as is the idea that intellectuals are the agents of “consciousness” and discourse. The role of the intellectual is no longer to situate himself “slightly ahead” or “slightly to one side” so he may speak the silent truth of each and all; it is rather to struggle against those forms of power where he is both instrument and object: in the order of “knowledge,” “truth,” “consciousness,” and “discourse.”

So it is that theory does not express, translate, or apply a praxis; it is a praxis— but local and regional, as you say: non-totalizing. A struggle against power, a struggle to bring power to light and open it up wherever it is most invisible and

insidious. Not a struggle for some “insight” or “realization” (for a long time now consciousness as knowledge has been acquired by the masses, and consciousness as subjectivity has been taken, occupied by the bourgeoisie)—but a struggle to undermine and take power side by side with those who are fighting, and not off to the side trying to enlighten them. A “theory” is the regional system of this struggle.

Gilles Deleuze: Yes, that’s what a theory is, exactly like a tool box. It has nothing to do with the signifier… A theory has to be used, it has to work. And not just for itself. If there is no one to use it, starting with the theorist himself who, as soon as he uses it ceases to be a theorist, then a theory is worthless, or its time has not yet arrived. You don’t go back to a theory, you make new ones, you have others to make. It is strange that Proust, who passes for a pure intellectual, should articulate it so clearly: use my book, he says, like a pair of glasses to view the outside, and if it isn’t to your liking, find another pair, or invent your own, and your device will necessarily be a device you can fight with. A theory won’t be totalized, it multiplies. It’s rather in the nature of power to totalize, and you say it exactly: theory is by nature opposed to power. As soon as a theory takes hold at this or that point, it runs up against the impossibility of having the least practical consequence without there being an explosion, at some distant point if necessary. That’s why the idea of reform is so stupid and hypocritical. Either the reform is undertaken by those who claim to be representatives, whose business it is to speak for others, in their name, and this is how power adjusts, distributing itself along reinforced lines of repression. Or else the reform is demanded by those who have a stake in it, and then it is no longer a reform but a revolution. A revolutionary action, by virtue of its partial character, is determined to call into question the totality of power and its hierarchy. This is nowhere clearer than in the prisons: the tiniest, meekest demand by the prisoners is enough to kill Pleven’s pseudo reform bill.’3 If little children managed to make their protests heard in nursery school, or even simply their questions, it would be enough to derail the whole educational system. In reality, the system in which we live cannot tolerate anything, whence you see its radical fragility at every point, and at the same time its global repression. In my opinion, you were the first to teach us a fundamental lesson, both in your books and in the practical domain: the indignity of speaking for others. What I mean is, we laughed at representation, saying it was over, but we didn’t follow this “theoretical” conversion through—namely, theory demanded that those involved finally have their say from a practical standpoint.

Michel Foucault: And when the prisoners began to speak, they had their own theory of prison, punishment, and justice. What really matters is this kind of discourse against power, the counter-discourse expressed by prisoners or those we call criminals, and not a discourse on criminality. The problem of imprisonment is a local and marginal problem, because no more than 100,000 people go through prison in any year. But this marginal problem shakes people up. I was surprised to see how many who were not in prison interested in the problem, to see so many people respond who were in no way predisposed to hearing this discourse, and surprised to see how they took it. How do you explain it? Is it not simply that, generally speaking, the penal system is that form where power shows itself as power in the most transparent way? To put someone in prison, to keep him there, deprive him of food and heat, keep him from going out, from making love, etc., is that not the most delirious form of power imaginable? The other day I was talking with a woman who had been in prison, and she said: “To think that one day in prison they punished me, a forty year old woman, by forcing me to eat stale bread.” What is striking in this story is not only the puerility of the exercise of power, but the cynicism with which it is exercised as power, in a form that is archaic and infantile. They teach us how to be reduced to bread and water when we’re kids. Prison is the only place where power can be exercised in all its nakedness and in its most excessive dimensions, and still justify itself as moral. “I have every right to punish because you know very well how evil it is to steal, to kill…” This is what is so fascinating about prisons: for once power does not hide itself, does not mask itself, but reveals itself as tyranny down to the most insignificant detail, cynically applied; and yet it’s pure, it’s entirely “justified,” because it can be entirely formulated in a morality that frames its exercise: its brute tyranny thus appears as the serene domination of Good over Evil, of order over disorder.

Gilles Deleuze: Now that I think about it, the inverse is equally true. It’s not only prisoners who are treated like children, but children who are treated like prisoners. Children are subjected to an infantilization which is not their own. In this sense, schools are a little like prisons, and factories are very much like them. All you have to do is look at Renault’s entrance. Or anywhere: you need three vouchers to go make pee-pee during the day. You uncovered a text by Jeremy Bentham in the eighteenth-century, a proposal for prison reform: it is in the name of this noble reform that Bentham establishes a circular system, where at one and the same time the renovated prison serves as a model, and where without noticing it, one moves from the school to the factory, from the factory to the prison and vice versa. There you have the essence of reformism, of representation which has been reformed. However, when people begin to speak and act in their own name, they don’t oppose one representation, even one which has been reformed, to another representation; they don’t oppose another mode of representation to power’s false mode of representation. For example, I recall when you said that there was no popular justice against justice, it happens at another level altogether.4

Michel Foucault: In my view, what comes to light beneath the hatred which the people have for the judicial system, judges, tribunals, prisons, etc., is not only the idea of some other, better justice, but first and foremost the perception of a singular point where power is exercised to the detriment of the people. The anti-judicial struggle is a struggle against power, and in my opinion it’s not a struggle against injustice, against the injustice of the judicial system, nor is it for a judicial institution that would work more efficiently. Still, isn’t it striking that every time there are riots, revolts and seditions, the judicial apparatus has come under fire, in the same way and at the same time as the fiscal apparatus, the army, and the other forms of power? My hypothesis, but it’s just a hypothesis, is that popular tribunals, for example, those during the Revolution, have been a way for the lower middle class, in alliance with the masses, to recuperate and harness the movement unleashed by the struggle against the judicial system. To harness it, they proposed this system of tribunals, which defers to a justice that could be just, to a judge that could pronounce a just sentence. The very form of the tribunal belongs to an ideology of justice which is a bourgeois ideology.

Gilles Deleuze: If we look at today’s situation, power necessarily has a global or total vision. What I mean is that every form of repression today, and they are multiple, is easily totalized, systematized from the point of view of power: the racist repression against immigrants, the repression in factories, the repression in schools and teaching, and the repression of youth in general. We mustn’t look for the unity of these forms of repression only in reaction to May ’68, but more so in a concerted preparation and organization concerning our immediate future. Capitalism in France is dropping its liberal, paternalistic mask of full employment; it desperately needs a “reserve” of unemployed workers. It’s from this vantage point that unity can be found in the forms of repression I already mentioned: the limitation of immigration, once it’s understood that we’re leaving the hardest and lowest paying jobs to them; the repression in factories, because now it’s all about once again giving the French a taste for hard work; the struggle against youth and the repression in schools and teaching, because police repression must be all the more active now that there is less need for young people on the job market. Every category of professional is going to be urged to exercise police functions which are more and more precise: professors, psychiatrists, educators of all stripes, etc. Here we see something you predicted a long time ago, and which we didn’t think possible: the global reinforcement of the structures of imprisonment. So, faced with such a global politics of power, our response is local: counter-attacks, defensive fire, an active and sometimes preventative defense. We mustn’t totalize what is totalizable only by power, and which we could totalize only by restoring the representative forms of centralism and hierarchy. On the other hand, what we must do is find a way to create lateral connections, a system of networks, a grass roots base. And that is what is so difficult. In any case, reality for us does not pass through the usual political channels in the traditional sense, i.e. competition and the distribution of power, like the so-called representative authorities of the French Communist Party or the French Trade Union. Reality is what is actually going on in a factory, a school, a barracks, a prison, a police station. Consequently, action there entails a type of information of another nature altogether than what passes for information in the papers (such as the type of information we get from Liberation Press Agents).

Michel Foucault: Doesn’t this difficulty, the trouble we have finding adequate forms of struggle, derive in large measure from the fact that we still don’t know what power is? After all, we had to wait till the nineteenth-century before we knew what exploitation was, and maybe we still don’t really know what power is. Maybe both Marx and Freud are not enough to help us come to know this thing which is so enigmatic, at once visible and invisible, open and hidden, invested everywhere, this thing we call power. The theory of the State, the traditional analysis of State apparatuses certainly do not exhaust the field in which power functions and is exercised. This is today’s great unknown: who exercises power? and where? Today, we know more or less who does the exploiting, where the profit goes, into whose hands, and where it gets reinvested, whereas power… We know very well that power is not in the hands of those who govern. But the notion of “ruling class” is neither clear nor well developed. There is a whole loosely knit group of notions that need analysis: “dominate,” “manage,” “govern,” “state apparatus,” “party,” etc. Similarly, we need to learn just how far power extends, through which relays, down to the smallest instances of hierarchy, control, surveillance, prohibitions, constraints. Power is being exercised wherever we find it. No one person, properly speaking, holds it; and yet it is always exercised in one direction and not another, by this group in this case, by this other group in this other case. We don’t really know who has power, but we do know who doesn’t. If reading your books (starting with Nietzsche and in anticipation of Capitalism and Schizophrenia) has been so crucial for me, it’s because they seem to go a long way toward setting up this problem: using old themes like meaning and sense, signifier and signified, etc., to pose the questions of power, the inequality of powers, and their struggle. Every struggle develops around a particular focal point of power (one of the innumerable focal points such as a boss, a security guard, a prison warden, a judge, a union representative, a newspaper’s editor-in-chief). And if pointing out these focal points of power, denouncing them as such, talking about them in a public forum, constitutes a struggle, it’s not because people were unaware of them, it’s because speaking up on this topic, breaking into the network of institutional information, naming and saying who did what, is already turning the tables on power, it’s a first step for other struggles against power. If making a speech is already a struggle, like those made by the medical doctors who work in prisons or by the inmates themselves, it’s because such an action momentarily confiscates the prison’s power to speak, which is in reality controlled exclusively by the administration and its accessories, the reformers. The discourse of struggle is not opposed to the unconscious, it’s opposed to the secret. This seems a let down, but what if the secret were worth much more? A whole series of equivocations concerning what is “hidden,” “repressed,” “unspoken,” enables a cheap “psychoanalysis” of what should be the object of political struggle. The secret is perhaps more difficult to bring to light than the unconscious. The two themes which only yesterday we came across once again, that “writing is the repressed” and that “writing is by rights subversive,” in my opinion betray several operations which must be severely criticized.

Gilles Deleuze: About the problem you just raised: that we see who does the exploiting, who profits, who governs, but power is still something rather diffuse— I would offer the following hypothesis: even Marxism, especially Marxism, has posed the problem in terms of interest (it is a ruling class, defined by its interests, that holds the power). Suddenly, we run smack into the question: how does it happen that those who have little stake in power follow, narrowly espouse, or grab for some piece of power? Perhaps it has to do with investments, as much economic as unconscious: there exist investments of desire which explain that one can if necessary desire not against one’s interest, since interest always follows and appears wherever desire places it, but desire in a way that is deeper and more diffuse than one’s interest. We must be willing to hear Reich’s cry: No, the masses were not fooled, they wanted fascism at a particular moment! There are certain investments of desire that shape power, and diffuse it, such that power is located as much at the level of a cop as that of a prime minister: there is absolutely no difference in nature between the power wielded by a cop and that wielded by a politician. It is precisely the nature of the investments of desire that explains why parties or unions, which would or should have revolutionary investments in the name of class interest, all too often have investments which are reformist or totally reactionary at the level of desire.

Michel Foucault: As you point out, the relationships among desire, power, and interest are more complex than we ordinarily imagine, and it is not necessarily those who exercise power that have an interest in exercising it; those who have an interest in exercising it don’t necessarily, and the desire of power plays a game between power and interest which is quite singular. When fascism comes into play, it happens that the masses want particular people to exercise power, but those particular people are not to be confused with the masses, since power will be exercised on the masses and at their expense, all the way to their death, sacrifice, and massacre, and yet the masses want it, they want this power to be exercised. The play of desire, power and interest is still relatively unknown. It took a long time to know what exploitation was. And desire, it has been and promises still to be a lengthy affair. It’s possible that the struggles now under way, and the local, regional, discontinuous theories being elaborated in the course of these struggles, and which are absolutely of a piece with them, are just beginning to uncover the way in which power is exercised.

Gilles Deleuze: So I come back to the question: today’s tevolutionary movement has multiple focal points, and this isn’t a weakness, it isn’t a deficiency, since a particular totalization belongs rather to power and its reaction; Vietnam, for example, is a formidable local response. But how do you view the networks, the transversal connections between discontinuous active points from one country to another or within the same country?

Michel Foucault: This geographic discontinuity you’ve mentioned perhaps means that the moment we struggle against exploitation, the proletariat not only leads the struggle but defines the targets, methods, places and instruments of struggle; to make an alliance with the proletariat is to embrace its positions, its ideology; we effectively assume the motivations of its fight. We all melt together. But if we choose to struggle against power, then all those who suffer the abuses of power, all those who recognize power as intolerable, can engage in the struggle wherever they happen to be and according to their own activity or passivity. By engaging in this struggle which is their own (they are perfectly familiar with its targets, and they themselves determine the methods), these people enter the revolutionary process—as allies of the proletariat, of course, since power is exercised in the way that maintains capitalist exploitation. These people truly serve the cause of the proletariat revolution by fighting precisely at that point where they suffer oppression. Women, prisoners, conscripts, homosexuals, the sick in hospitals have, as we speak, each begun a specific struggle against the particular form of power, constraint, control being exercised over them. Such struggles belong to the revolutionary movement today, provided they are radical, without compromise or reformism, provided they do not attempt to readjust the same power through, at most, a change of leadership. And these movements are connected to the revolutionary movement of the proletariat itself insofar as the proletariat must fight every control and constraint which are the conduits of power everywhere.

In other words, the generality of the struggle most certainly does not occur in the form you mentioned before: theoretical totalization in the form of the “truth.” What constitutes the generality of the struggle is the system of power itself, all the forms in which it is exercised and applied.

Gilles Deleuze: And one cannot make the slightest demand whatsoever on any point of application without being confronted by the diffuse whole, such that as soon as you do, you are necessarily led to a desire to explode it. Every partial revolutionary attack or defense in this way connects up with the struggle of the working class.

Notes

1. An interview with Michel Foucault on March 4, 1972, in L’Arc, no. 49: “Gilles Deleuze,” 1972, pp. 3-30.

2. Cf. “What Our Prisoners Want From Us,” note 1.

3. See “What Our Prisoners Want From Us,” note 3.

4. Cf. “Sur la justice populaire. Debat avec les maos” (5 fevrier 1972), Les Temps modernes, no. 310 bis, juin 1972, pp. 355-366. Repris in Dits et Ecrits, vol. II, no. 108 (Paris: Gallimard, 1994).

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