Re-embering the war
Blowing the glowing embers of British Imperialism…
The Clink prison (named after the sounds of clinking chains) was open between 1144 and 1780. It’s museum is open 7 days a week and boasts that it is ‘real history’ - most likely a desperate claim made in response to the themepark history of the nearby London tombs experience (formerly the London Dungeons).
Inside, the focus is, unsurprisingly, on the particularly gruesome nature of incarceration in medieval London. Of note here, is the ‘oubliette’, the name given to solitary confinement, a hole which regularly flooded leaving prisoners immersed in raw sewage. Elsewhere, the concerted attempt to ‘engage’ visitors, especially children, in the exhibition makes them read as a 101 in ‘how to incarcerate’.
There are step-by-step instructions on how to forge manacles, a list of ways in which money could be made from prisoners and, as part of the little rodents trail aimed at younger visitors, a ‘how far would you go’? quiz on the acceptability of torture during the Spanish inquisition. Worryingly, the implication here is that torture is always acceptable in certain circumstances.
What the museum shows most forcibly is the relationship between suffering and debt that prison continues to embody and which attests to its continued status as mode of punishment par excellence within contemporary society. Prison was intended to cause physical suffering in the form of associated violence inflicted upon the imprisoned body. The healing of wounds was considered to provide evidence of the ‘moral’ healing of the prisoner. As Wacquant points out in Punishing the Poor, today’s prisons cannot only be described in terms of industrial-complexes aimed at turning a profit. At stake, is the same form of public moral indignation which demands a series of suffering be inscribed onto the bodies of those incarcerated. They cannot simply be put to work until their ‘debt’ to society is paid off. Their bodies must be permanently marked with no possibility of healing. Marked by rape, beatings, gang tattoos, poor diet, sensory deprivation, lack of exercise but also marked onto registers which deprive them of welfare on release, access to public housing, employment and, in the case of sex offenders, ensure they are hunted and vilified for the rest of their lives.
Today, with debt once more being held up as the worse form of crime, we are not seeing a return to medieval attitudes towards poverty but rather, the persistence of a strategy of punishing the weaker members of society through public spectacles of pain and suffering.
Leçon du 28 mars 1973
Pourquoi cette institution étrange qu’est la prison ?
Foucault’s final lecture in the course where he gets to the crux of what is at stake in his account of the emergence of the prison as mode of punishment par excellence.
Prison not just its architectural form but, also, its social form. Foucault asks the ultimate question – what type of power underpins the functionning of the prison as such ? Here, he sets out a series of clarifications on power which will be refined and echoed in the ‘Méthode’ section of La Volonté de savoir :
1. Power is not something one possesses.
‘Ça ne se possède pas, parce que ça se joue, ça se risque.’ (p.231)
2. Localisation of power – power is not located in political structures – these are inadequate for describing power in its operation.
3. Power does not simply guarantee a certain mode of production but is a constitutive element of such production, functioning within production itself.
4. Power does not simply lead to the formation of certain ideologies but, rather, produces knowledge which, in turn, enables the exercise of power.
‘le savoir, c’est le pouvoir où réciproquement - , mais d’une façon absolument spécifique et selon un jeu complexe.’ (p.237)
Here, Foucault indicates 3 principal forms of knowledge emerging in the 19th century:
There are two further points to note about knowledge here :
Foucault concludes the lecture by identifying the shift from visible forms of state or sovereign power and their associated rituals to the insidious, daily operation of disciplinary power. The shift from one form of power to the other is marked by the accompanying discourse. Power is no longer articulated through mythologizing rhetoric but, instead, via discourses which analyse and classify. The normalising discourse of disciplinary power is synonymous with the new established social sciences and their production of knowledge.
Leçon du 21 mars 1973
Foucault opens the lecture with a reference to an organization in which three to four hundred individuals are housed and follow a carefully structured timetable. Even though Sunday is a day of rest, the day is also subjected to detailed organization. The timetable is not, Foucault eventually reveals to us, from a correctional institution but a garment factory.
This opening, it seems to me, functions as a type of trial run for the first pages of Surveiller et punir. Here, the destabilizing effect lies not in the contrast between Damiens’ horrific torture and death and the timetable of a house of correction but in the timetable itself. Where such timetables were found in various institutions – these also formed part of utopian projects which, like Bentham’s panopticon, are significant for the discourses of surveillance and regulation they embody. Moreover, during the 19th century, a whole series of institutions emerged, structured around this ‘entreprise d’enfermement’ of the working classes. Institutions not only taken up with the ‘productivity’ of the worker but also incorporating those focused on pedagogy (schools, nurseries), correction (prisons) and therapy (hospitals, clinics, asylums).
At stake in these utopian projects was research. Architectural research: the most effective way to build and organize an establishment where the surveillance of the maximum number of individuals could be carried out using the minimum number of guards. Micro-sociological research: how to internalize this surveillance within small groups of individuals themselves.
The proliferation of such institutions taken up with the surveillance and management of individuals involves what Foucault describes as a ‘reintensification’ of power. Such institutions do not form a coherent network emanating from a centralized state power but often operate in a manner which is discontinuous with or in excess of direct state power. The operation of power within such institutions was often considered in terms of feudal power yet, as Foucault indicates, the stakes were clearly different.
Most notably, the sequestration of individuals no longer occurred as a means of isolating undesirables from the larger social body. Instead, sequestration occurred with the precise aim of reincorporating such individuals through various processes of normalization.
‘La machine travaille pour démarginaliser, et la marginalisation n’est qu’un effet latéral.’ (p.213)
Foucault identifies two key functions of sequestration:
Moreover, Foucault goes on to suggest how such institutions produced a series of fictions (he gives the example of impossible heterosexuality/non-existent homosexuality within the space of the single-sex educational establishment) as normalized behavior – the fabrication of the social.
The spatial configuration of the institution is traversed by temporal constraints which bind the individual via a series of discourses concerning what is normal/abnormal, legitimized by an authority operating from beyond the institutions limits.
Leçon du 14 mars 1973
DEPREDATION cf. DISSIPATION
Where in previous lectures, Foucault spoke at length on the ‘menace’ of the lower classes brought into contact with bourgeois capital – a greater distinction is made between the ‘desire’ of the working class body and its function as labour-force.
As labour-force, the body of the worker could deny or withdraw his/her labour in a series of ways: 1. Refusal to work 2. Refusal to work in a regular, effective manner 3. Exhaustion of one’s labour-force through other activities 4. Refusal to produce a family according to the requirements and expectations of capital.
Moreover, unlike depredation, dissipation of the labour-force was at far greater risk of manifesting itself collectively via worker’s organisations and strikes.
Foucault makes a number of key points about “dissipation”:
- as a result, Foucault identifies 3 main forms of defining the shortcomings of the worker’s body: intemperance (wasting energy in certain activities), imprudence (time-wasting), disorder (life-style non-conducive to family and work life). The main forms or institutions responsible for such shortcomings were – festivity, lottery and cohabitation [concubinage].
Foucault concludes his lecture by moving from his account of ‘dissipation’ as one way in which the worker was posited as a threat to bourgeois accumulation of capital to the ways in which this threat was reconfigured less as a crime or menace and, instead, as a shortcoming to be managed and monitored by maintaining a constant pressure upon the worker. At stake here is not only a surveillance of the worker that is ongoing but also one that is written down, recorded, contributing to a form of ‘knowledge’ about an individual.
Here, we see taking shape some of the key ideas and trajectories that inform Foucault’s Surveiller et punir and an empirical development of Foucault’s earlier work on discourse, knowledge and truth.
Cours du 7 mars 1973
There are different discourses of fear running through capitalist societies. Today as in the 18th and 19th centuries. These define the judicial and penal systems, their targets and modes of operations.
Foucault points out that there were different politics of fear and different ‘threats’ – different figures of the criminal ‘other’ as there continue to be. If Eugène Sue and others represented criminality in terms of a dark underworld of criminal masterminds (think Balzac’s Vautrin), social outcasts, plots and schemes – there was another more prevalent image which menaced the bourgeoisie and played a more urgent role in determining the judicial and penal systems. This was the figure of the ‘worker’ – a real and not an imaginary threat perceived in terms of his needs, desires, labour and the threat these posed to bourgeois capital.
[Wacquant’s Punishing the Poor resonates strongly here in its demarcation of the shift from the menace of criminal activity to that of poverty as the major operant of fear over recent years]
Foucault identifies a number of key points here:
‘La peur est branchée sur cette présence physique du corps de l’ouvrier, de son désir, sur le corps même de la richesse.’
2. This is not a phantasmatic fear – bourgeois capital as predicated on new risks, leaving it exposed to the workers upon which it depended and the danger this exposure to those on the margins of poverty posed. (p.177)
3. The danger posed by the workers was defined precisely in terms of their productivity – their ability to work.
4. This fear did not simply concern the possibility of major uprisings, political movements etc but in terms of the individual behavior of workers – their productivity or lack thereof, their laziness, their drunkenness – the damage they inflicted on their own bodies seen as the property of their bosses.
Thus arose the need for a legal and penal system which incorporated both the need to enforce labour and productivity onto the body of the worker and protected the various forms of capital exposed to this body.
‘il y a tout un jeu entre la prison et l’amende’ (p.180)
Thus, it was the punishment, the sentence which came to define the nature of a crime. Alongside the definition of a crime in terms of its punishment, criminology emerged as the means of applying a ‘juridico-medicale’ discourse to punishment. The length of a sentence had to correspond to the appropriate time required to produce rehabilitation.
Over the 18th and 19th century, the logic underpinning punishment shifted in various stages:
Foucault makes the following additional points by way of conclusion:
Hence the irony of contemporary forms of criminology [and, indeed, sociology] presented as offering ways of transforming the system from the outside.
Leçon du 28 février 1973
Foucault expands his discussion of the shift from permitted illegalism under the Ancien Régime to the “grande peur” of the 19th century in which the working classes became increasingly subject to a penal system based on bourgeois accumulation of capital rather than feudal protection of property.
Here, he develops his account of the shift via consideration of the rural as specific site where up until the 18th century, a whole range of illegalisms such as poaching provided subsistence to the poorer members of society. A key example here is the forest which, once a place of refuge and subsistence for those living on the margins, became a major area of economic investment and exploitation during the industrial revolution.
Foucault goes as far as to suggest that the French Revolution emerged in part as a result of what he terms ‘micro-histoires’ – a whole series of new infractions appeared as peasants were increasingly denied the possibility of illegal but widely tolerated activities on feodal land.
A number of points are enumerated here:
Foucault flags up a number of texts where this is apparent including an extended citation from ‘En 1768: Bulletin de propaganda contre Montagne’. What is evident in this text for Foucault is the convergence of illegalism and the newly emerging figure of the ‘delinquent’. Key here is the establishment of this figure as belonging to a ‘population etrangere’. So the move is clearly made from widespread, endorsed or overlooked illegal activity to its association with an alien population whose behaviour and motives run counter to bourgeois interests. Political power is called upon here as a type of umpire [arbitre] between classes with the protection of one class from another emphasized by aligning the lower classes as a threat precisely as a result of being less civilized, more savage and primitive. So the interests of the class who can define themselves as best embodying notions of social contract, civil obedience, morality etc are positioned above those who are defined (by the same class) as the antithesis of these socio-moral values.
Foucault cites this text at length for another important reason. Its clarity and intelligence provides a counterpoint to the myth of ‘betise’ frequently associated with the bourgeoisie almost to the point of obsession amongst intellectuals [and, indeed, dominant cultural representation – think Dickens, here]. This myth of bourgeois ignorance is, Foucault suggests, its greatest ally. Moreover, the scholarly quest to locate bourgeois cynicism concerning the lower classes results in the search for the ‘non-dit’, the isolation of texts and discourse from their context. Instead, Foucault argues, we should work to locate such discourse less in the textual and, rather, in the various functions and places where its effects take place. (p.170)
Brewing coffee for ancient scrolls
A partly destroyed clue. Upping the stakes.
The careful examination of clues
A missing clue.
Locating the treasure - not so much a chest of gold as a pandora’s box unleashing all manner of horrors out into the world.
LEÇON DU 21 FEVRIER 1973
‘Au XIXe siècle, l’illégalisme ouvrier est la grand cible de tout le système répressif de la bourgeoisie.’
Criminalizing certain groups has always been the aim of the judicial system. If Angela Davis, Loic Wacquant, Michelle Alexander have discussed recent manifestations of this in the U.S., La Société Punitive provides a European inflection where the targeted group were not recently freed black slaves co-opted back into unpaid labour via the criminalization of vagabondage, unemployment and so on, but the lower classes.
Today we continue to punish and be punished for the refusal to produce and/or consume - not asking for credit entails its own punitive measures (although albeit not as extreme) as does the refusal or the inability to perform certain types of labour. No debt is as suspicious as too much debt.
What is at stake, what has always been at stake is the ability of the legal and penal systems to transform themselves according to the demands and shifts of capital whilst maintaining a discourse of morality, of social responsibility and public protection which appeals to and invokes the fears and anxieties of all sectors of society.
From fraud to crime
If fiddling one’s expenses, omitting to declare extra income on one’s tax return is considered a normal part of managing one’s finances - an exercise in creativity and ingenuity rather than criminality, there comes a moment when this is no longer sustainable.
I wonder whether we might read the MP expenses scandal in the UK over the past few years along these lines. The heavy-handed (thought not that heavy) moralism applied here was not because the MPs who were reprimanded had been caught stealing public money but precisely in order to justify a similar moralism filtering down to the middle and lower classes - the benefit cheats and small time tax dodgers. Not the landed gentry or multinational corporations. So really all this constituted was an exercise in identifying MPs with the lower and middle classes instead of the landed gentry and the corporations upon whose boards they continue to sit.
So MPs here mark a watershed - the point whereby fraud turns from creativity to theft.
Of relevance here is the shifting line or set of lines which designate certain activities as misdemenours, offences, crimes. The same activities are, at any given time, endorsed, encouraged, overlooked in certain groups while they are cautioned, reprimanded, prosecuted, punished, condemned in others. The lines here are both class and colour based.
[Here, see Michelle Alexander on the heavy sentences handed out to the black community for the most petty of drug offences]
Foucault focuses on how such shifts occurred in the 19th century as modes of production shifted from the artisanal, the workshop to the factory. A bourgeois moralism set in aimed at protecting newly acquired capital from appropriation by the workers. Where those involved in the fabrication, distribution and sale of goods were once encouraged and, indeed, expected to flout feodal tax laws for the benefit of bourgeois wealth, as feodal power receded, such widespread illegalism became redefined as crime.
So from this ‘creative’ flouting of the law that everyone did, was expected to do and most got away with - ‘crime’ became an isolated activity, carried out by a select minority. It is here that the notion of the recidivist appears as the bourgeoisie sought to produce a break between widespread illegalism and a specific activity belonging to a criminal few.
6 June 2014. Nottingham Trent University
In Desert Screen, Paul Virilio suggests the notion of a ‘squared horizon’ as a way of envisioning the interposition of the screen, multiple screens, in matters of war, conflict and international relations. Yet, the ‘squared horizon’ might also function as a starting point for bringing together the various frames and trajectories which make up Virilio’s oeuvre. The ‘squared horizon’ evokes the fragmented, pixelated existence of late capitalism, the perpetual dividing up of time into ever smaller units, the deferred, bracketed out future, put aside in favour of the instantaneous and immediate, the impact of urbanization with its grid systems and blocks on our experience of space, time and identity.
We are pleased to present a one-day conference focusing on the work of Paul Virilio organized around theme of the squared horizon.
Attendance to the conference is free but please reserve your place here so we have an idea of numbers.
Conference Schedule (room tbc)
9.30 Registration and Coffee
The Big Night: Into the Ultracity - John Armitage, University of Southampton
11.30 SQUARING OFF – VIRILIO AND SPACE
The secret underground bunkers do exist!!! - Michael Mulvihill, Artist.
The Negative Abyss - Mark Featherstone, Keele University
Topological Variations in Virilio’s Le Futurisme de l’instant - Enda Mccaffrey, Nottingham Trent University
14.00 SQUARING CIRCLES – VIRILIO AND TIME
War and Post-War: Memory and European Identity in Paul Virilio’s Phenomenology of Modern Technology - Neil Turnbull, Nottingham Trent University
Concepts and Catrastophes: Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio - Gerry Coulter, Bishop’s University, Canada
15.30 SQUARE HEADS – VIRILIO AND THE DIGITAL IMAGINATION
Framing the Criminal - Sophie Fuggle, Nottingham Trent University
The digi-child and dromospheric sensibility - Felicity Coleman, Manchester Metropolitan University
Inner screens and cybernetic battlefields: Paul Virilio and Robocop - Brian Sudlow, Aston University
5pm Close of Conference followed by Conference dinner in Nottingham (details tbc)
ATTENDANCE IS FREE. BOOK YOUR PLACE HERE
For further information about the event please contact: email@example.com