Redefining Apparatus in a Series of Government Waiting Rooms
“So what?” the taller guard called out, “you’re behaving worse than a child. What is it you want? Do you think you can bring your whole damn trial to a quick conclusion by discussing your identity and arrest warrant with your guards? We’re lowly employees who can barely make our way through such documents, and whose only role in your affair is to stand guard over you ten hours a day and get paid for it. That’s all we are, but we’re smart enough to realize that before ordering such an arrest the higher authorities who employ us inform themselves in great detail about the person they’re arresting and the grounds for the arrest. There’s been no mistake.”
Franz Kafka, The Trial
Our PROTAGONIST sits in a jail cell as the appropriate paperwork is sent on to the National Police, who will begin deportation proceedings. One possible outcome is a transfer to the Immigrant Detention Center and a speedy deportation. The other is a release pending the appeal, which usually lasts over a year. The motion for deportation is always granted, and the first appeal is always denied. Only a Contentious Appeal has a chance of winning. To the indigent, lawyers are provided for free through the first appeal. After that, they have to pay.
The Protagonist does not want to be deported. He is in love. Nationalism is also useful because it helps prevent non-compatriots from falling in love. Love is sufficient cause for hating the border.
In his desperation, he wishes for a chance to talk to a judge. Five minutes is all he needs to prove that the police are lying; there is no legitimate reason to deport him.
Talk to a judge. Legitimate reason. Does or doesn’t our Protagonist hate the border? If so, why is he reproducing the logic on which it is based? But he is not so stupid as to think King Solomon still exists. He knows this isn’t a mistake, but the normal functioning of the deportation apparatus. Once caught within it, he goes along with its flows. Not because of what he believes. Because of what he feels.
Two years have passed. The scene opens on a provincial courtroom. A plump, bearded JUDGE officiates, as the obligatory photo of the Head of State stands unseeing on the back wall. The CROWD, dressed in varying degrees of convincing imitations of nice clothes, grins amongst itself. The Protagonist is getting married. He will win the Contentious Appeal.
The judge is very kind as he lectures P and his FRIEND on the responsibilities of matrimony, the duties of fidelity, the utility of good communication. P and friend smile, and he brims with joy as the judge hands over the signed paperwork.
As they exit the courtroom, the crowd laughs and throws rice. Are they reproducing, or subverting?
One year later. P is nervous. He and friend are sitting in the Foreigners Office, waiting for his residency interview. If residency is granted, he can work legally, get access to healthcare, and be safe from the threat of deportation. However, friend has had a baby with her boyfriend, who is not P, and this is plainly visible in the paperwork P has to turn in for the interview. It is a normal occurrence for wives to have babies with other people, but it is not normal for this to be visible in the paperwork.
The residency interview was difficult to schedule. In the past, all the immigrants waited in an endless line that stretched for several city blocks. Some days the people at the beginning of the line would be given the interview, other days they would not.
In the last few years, that building has been abandoned, and the lines of waiting bodies have been disappeared and quarantined to the internet. Using the internet at a call shop or other place with a marginal connection, one cannot arrive at the government page where interviews can be scheduled. With a good internet connection, one has a chance, but most of the time, even though the URL is correct, the link for scheduling an interview will not appear. The website will display all the pertinent information on how, theoretically, one can schedule the residency interview, but will not provide the possibility of actually scheduling it. Lawyers, or those who pay for them, can access the scheduling page automatically.
After defeating the challenge of the internet laberinth, P got a date and a time for an inteview, one month distant. He assembled all the paperwork he needed, and when he arrived, with his friend and legal spouse, at the appropriate government office at the appointed hour, a GUARD at the door gave him a number. He waited for some time until a screen directed his number to a desk, where FIRST FUNCTIONARY looked at the first of his forms, pushed all the rest back into his hands, and without looking at him, gave P another number.
P and friend took a seat in front of another set of screens, and waited another period of time until the second number was directed to a second desk. SECOND FUNCTIONARY was in a good mood, and made P and friend feel less nervous with a smile and other human gestures. She took in all the forms and did not seem to notice any irregularities, even as she joked with a COLLEAGUE about how the previous applicants were clearly in a sham marriage.
At the end of the brief interview, the second functionary gave P a form, complete with a date and an address where he was to retrieve his Foreigner Identification Number, if it were to be granted. This was a good sign. Other people never got this form. They were told it would come in the mail, and they waited interminably.
Who had the power to decide? Where were decisions made? Why did P’s case, which had suspicious elements about it, go through so smoothly, while others were given another run-around?
One month later. The POLICEMEN guarding the entrance bar P’s way until he has shown them his paperwork. They let him pass into a garage that has been converted into a waiting room. A line of IMMIGRANTS wait in front of a ticket dispenser. As they reach their number one by one, they go to sit in the plastic seats that face nowhere. Many of them are wearing their nicest clothes. The decision on whether or not they will be given residency, if there is at any point an actual decision, has already been made. The clothes will make no difference, and they know it. They dress up anyway. An observer who has read Silvia Federici might recall how, since Roman times, the lower classes have always made recourse to magic, whereas the elite have perennially tried to suppress superstition. Here in this waiting room, they will not suppress the wearing of nice clothes. There is a fine line between magic and decor. By insisting on the existence of human sympathy and agency where there is none, and they know there is none, are the immigrants reproducing, or subverting? An observer who has read James C. Scott might consider the weapons of the weak.
After a time, THIRD FUNCTIONARY appears and begins reading out numbers. He has an evil and impatient face, and the people there approach him timidly. Should he grace them with an explanation of what to expect, of how this mysterious process works, those waiting might roll on their backs like dogs. As it is, they remain quiet and observant as long as he is around.
When the third functionary calls a number, the person designated must go and exchange that number for a new number, and go to a new waiting room. Abruptly, the third functionary stops calling out numbers, and disappears. Some time later, he reappears and begins calling out more numbers. Then he leaves again.
On the seat next to P, someone has left a newspaper. The front page shows a FOREIGN CHANCELLOR, who has come to this country to visit the PRIME MINISTER and congratulate him on the economic reforms. Benefits have been cut, the retirement age has been pushed back, and government jobs have been slashed. More cuts are needed, the article warns.
The first inside page is advertisements. The next page talks about immigrants. The poll questions whether they are stealing our jobs. Most of the columns are dedicated to one humorous account: an immigrant has been arrested trying to jump the border going the other way, now that the economy is so bad.
P puts the newspaper down. One apparatus has strayed into another. It is strange how the juxtaposition of the newspaper with this waiting room renders it completely incredible. If one only dared read the newspaper aloud, many of the immigrants waiting here would begin to laugh, and the latent community, the potential for solidarity, suppressed by the fear and discomfort structured into this room, would come alive. Within another apparatus—a bar, an apartment block, the metro—the newspaper would be credible enough to exhaust all but the most exhuberant attempts to refute it, even though its refutation is already included in its own pages (the bankers pushing for mass layoffs, the supposition that African immigrants are stealing jobs).
Who brought the newspaper in here? What did they think about it? Despite the stark differences, a common reality unites all these circumstances; the newspaper is read by those who are bored.
P receives his new number, and goes to a new waiting room. This waiting room is pleasant like a dentists’ office. Posters on the wall denounce fear and violence in five different languages. He wonders if he will be granted residency. His hands sweat, and he wipes them on his jeans. After waiting a time, P sees that the screen is directing his number to a desk. FOURTH FUNCTIONARY greets him with a kind smile. She collects his paperwork, and quickly points out that the standard-sized photos he has brought are too large, and will not fit. He will have to get new photos.
P begins to feel the floor fall out from under him. He thinks about starting the whole process over again. He imagines the novels of Kafka and Ousmane Sembène. The fourth functionary cuts short his freefall by informing him of a store right down the street that will produce photos of the correct format while he waits.
You don’t need to get another number, just come right back to my desk when you’ve got them, she tells him.
P walks lightly out the door, swelling with feelings of fondness for the fourth functionary and amazement at the mercy of this particular bureaucracy. He looks about for the photo store.
A MAN on the other side of the street calls to him. You want photos? Come this way. Real cheap. No not that store, this one. This next one. I work here, I’ll get you your photos right now, it just takes two minutes.
P follows the man into the store and sits down on the stool that is hastily made available to him. He pushes down his mess of hair and takes off his glasses, while consciously trying not to open one eye bigger than the other. On his last ID, one eye seemed bigger than the other, and it made him look like mildly psychopathic. Two minutes later, the photos are cut and pressed into his hands.
The policemen at the entrance ignore P as he walks freely past them, skips the first line and the first waiting room, and returns to the desk of the fourth functionary. In five minutes she has finished her present task, and turns again to P. She takes the photos and begins entering information into the computer. Shortly before she hands P the temporary card with his Foreigner Identification Number, it occurs to him that they have not denied his residency application. He has attained legality.
The fourth functionary explains how he can get his permanent card, in a month, and then he walks away into the sunshine, immensely pleased with his new number. A person less conscientious of this irony would gaze at the number and try to memorize it. P does not even look at it, except to assure himself that it is there. Nonetheless, the joy each kind of person feels at this moment is the same.
From the perspective of an immigrant in a residency process, Foucault’s assertion that power is everywhere takes on a completely different meaning than it would likely have for an academic whose career options include government posts or honored teaching positions supplemented by dissident book writing.
The codes, histories, and ideologies—the sciences—in which power wraps itself to be transmitted, evaluated, modified, and reproduced, are taken in much more cynically, or at the least apathetically—without care—by those who are most jerked around in the movement of that power. So much so that the science of it, for those whom common sense might deem powerless, is largely irrelevant. Any justification will do. It is demonstrable that a person’s credulity does not determine or affect their compliance with a particular apparatus. However, though they tend not to evince care for the sciences of power, there is indeed a form of care at work in their daily acts of collaboration.
Immigrants in particular hold a privileged vantage point that helps them to understand that the rituals they go through, the pledges they recite, and the regulations they obey, are all lies. The assertion, therefore, that there is no externality to power loses half its validity when power fails to capture the imaginary. We stand here in this apparatus, but we do not believe what we are told about the place we inhabit. We are only partially in the orbit assigned to us.
If we choose to reach, we will generally reach for a discourse that is also inscribed with power relations analagous to the ones we oppose, “a point of resistance and a starting point for an opposing strategy” that crystallizes around many of the same fragments of the dominant strategy. Democracy, human rights, amnesty. The barbarians are rebuilding the city.
However, before this moment of constituted opposition, there exists a long, opaque moment of discontent bordering on affective strike. Though such moments are in all likelihood more numerous than the moments of political opposition (that’s certainly how it appears from the inside, and from the ranks of political activists and canvassers), they are illegible to the State and therefore invisible to its academics and philosophers. But because they do not inevitably lead to political opposition but neither are they always inert, rather sometimes they explode, these moments of discontent suggest the possibility of negation, and thus of rupture and exteriority to power.
In other words, nearly all manifestations of constituted opposition take the form of politics and reproduce power-as-domination (the only type of power, evidently, considered by Foucault), such that any exceptional manifestations of opposition can be disbelieved or dismissed as simply underdeveloped: though they seem to constitute a negation now, give them time and you’ll see that they too are productive like everything else. But because opaque discontent does not necessarily lead to constituted opposition, because most people who flirt with the affective strike do not eventually politicize their discontent as demands and counterstrategies, but they do sometimes act out in a disruptive way that does not offer its own public discourses, we have to surmise the existence of true negation, contrary to Foucault’s idea of omnipotence.
Therefore, we have urgent need for a tandem to Foucault’s power/knowledge coupling. Let’s call it power/affect. The immigrants in this story do not collaborate with the series of apparatuses they must pass through on the basis of what they know and believe, nor as mediated through the discourses in which they participate—by smelling a lie and retracting their care, they reveal the existence, in their imaginary, of something at most only partially conditioned by the apparatus and yet wholly unsatisfied by it, and therefore external to it. By not occupying their most intimate spaces, power proves itself to be, on at least one level, external to them, and it is this external power that incorporates them into its flows by eliciting fundamental emotional responses, via its ability to threaten them.
If “Discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it,” then those institutions which have survived so long without collapsing and being absorbed into new strategies of power/knowledge have done so by suppressing the most negative of discourses and encouraging in other discourses the values of productivity, participation, and reform—which is to say, democratically.
And for the numerous forms of resistance that do not offer up any discourse but rather mutely deny the apparatus that most necessary reproductive quality it elicits—care—the apparatus responds in a similarly subverbal and affective way, through a combination of threats and flattery in order to reinitiate the commerce of emotions that its unbelieving and discontented captives had withheld.
To make room for this line of thinking, it becomes necessary to alter the conceptualization of an apparatus traced by Foucault and defined by Agamben. As Benjamin analyzed social relations in an object, we can redefine apparatus as a concrete manifestation of the networks intimated by Foucault, and analyze these networks of power within their concrete and daily manifestations, so as to tease out the strategic relationship between the spaces we inhabit and the powers that shape those spaces.
Unlike the inchoate, protozoan strategies of power relations described disinterestedly by Foucault, we talk about strategy on the basis of our unapologetic negation of power, from which we develop discourses not to justify ourselves but to formulate tactics and express our desires, all in the certainty that there is more to life than this.
There is a vital need for the existence of the State in any coherent explanation of an apparatus. And while the State itself is fragmented rather than univocal, it can be understood as the gathering point of strategic inititiaves of order consensually legitimated by all those who wish to elaborate and impose initiatives of order. Though more effective apparatuses inculcate their captives with the impulse to engineer society and thus constitute the project of an absent ruling class in their daily affairs, this impulse originates elsewhere, and it is the State that impels it, that evaluates and regulates the strategies of order manifest in a multitude of apparatuses.
The State underwrites the social relation of domination, and without it, distinct institutions, apparatuses, and other concentrations and manifestations of power would rise and fall, out of and back into an anarchic status quo, as in the first 99% of human history. It is the State that proactively tests its various components and stands ever vigilant against entropy.
In this immigration waiting room, the State is felt both near and far. It is in the decor and formulae the captives go along with against their better judgment, and it also stands invisibly behind its own absence, behind an impersonal form that seems to lack any possibility for agency but indeed reflects strategic decisions that were made somewhere. The number of hoops to jump through reflect the rate at which strategic planners wish immigrants to be able to regularize their status and increase their integration while decreasing their precarity. And the friendliness or cruelty of specific paper pushers also contains the immense potential for violence sequestered in other spaces of the system, excercised within other apparatuses that have been ordered, by the State, to strategically deal with one specific thematic of its rule: immigration.
While the immigrants in these waiting rooms are by no means a homogenous lot, many of them surely know about Mohammed, who was recently killed in the immigrant detention center on the outskirts of this city. And those who come from Africa know what kind of deportation would await them—release in the middle of the desert, or internment in a Moroccan concentration camp. Most of the people here would rationally suspect or know that the specific functionaries before them do not have the power to order a deportation or detention, but that does not stop from them treating these functionaries with a certain awe and wariness. From cynicism to ingratiation, the imposition of power on them provokes an emotional response that lubricates their movement within the apparatus, binding them to it even as they resent or disbelieve it.
An authority with no human face can provoke only idolization and negation. A human authority will elicit either hatred or fraternization, both of which are subversive. A faceless authority that employs human functionaries, on the other hand, produces the perfect response. Faced with a power that is distantly contemplating destroying one’s life, the prisoner to this power will tend not to shoot the messenger. As is natural against an opponent one cannot immediately defeat or even see, the prisoner will act out of fear, either by trying to remain invisible to the messenger (which, in a well designed apparatus, means going along with the flow, even enthusiastically so, by putting on nice clothes for example), by trying to seek sympathy from the messenger (by demonstrating one’s equality according to the norms intrinsic to the apparatus), or by establishing a common identification (often based on the recognition of shared powerlessness: “I’m just doing my job”).
Disempowerment is the prerequisite to being in an apparatus, either as a conduit or as a captive (the conduit is the human functionary through whom power, information, and affect flow; the captive is the created subject who is the target of those flows—in less formalized apparatuses one can be both conduit and captive, but in either role one is disciplined by the apparatus). If a human functionary of an apparatus graces us with any sociable nicety, we are apt to feel grateful not proportional to the insultingly small scrap they have thrown us but proportional to all the system they work for has taken away. Believing the apparatus to be natural removes the possibility for cynicism or contempt. Understanding the apparatus to be an imposition does not remove the possibility of seeking sympathy in it, feeling grateful towards it. Often, the best one can do is to wrap oneself in an armor of sullenness.
In those apparatuses that have replaced the most brutal institutions of the past (such as those related to borders and policing), the threat of destruction by an external power is more obvious, and thus the intensity of emotional sympathy towards any human recognition is potentially greater.
We are left, now, with an incoherence. If power is everywhere, yet it is also an external force to be used against us, what does it mean to speak of an apparatus?
In describing a medical apparatus in the recent article, “Dark Passage,” Frere Dupont describes the “front-end” workers dealing with the patients who provide the putative justification for the existence of the hospital, and behind these workers a whole host of technicians, bureaucrats, specialists, and others who provide the true weight and direction of the apparatus.
Another way to understand this invisible weight is to conceive of an apparatus as a specific vessel with a physical structure and a bureaucratic or corporate organization, that is invisibly operated by an array of institutions. The apparatus, therefore, captures us and disciplines us to follow its flows, thus animating it, but this interaction is motivated, modified, and reiterated by specific and intentional institutions that are increasingly disappearing behind the apparatuses they manage. This disappearance is an intentional protection of their power from the resistance that constantly threatens them. This question can also be understood in terms of points of production, but production of strategies or activity rather than physical commodities. In order to protect itself from resistance, the State has removed the points of production—in this case the institutions—farther and farther away from the public sphere, leaving naturalized or impersonalized apparatuses as spaces of reproduction of the strategies of order.
Not so long ago, it might have been possible to talk about a school as both an apparatus and an institution, a place where activity was decided and reproduced. Increasingly, the school is solely an apparatus, reproducing the education that arrives from a distant point of production.
The great monolith of a building, the Foreigners’ Office, now stands empty. Its various functions have been shopped out to numerous other offices. Immigrants no longer line up outside the building like medieval supplicants, hoping to appease the authority that presumably resides at the center of the Castle. The decision to close down this apparatus and reconstitute it in multiple segments, distant from the institution that governs it, was made by an institution even more distant, and evidently more powerful.
The apparatus reproduces power only if it functions, and it functions only if its captives move through it. It is the institutions that police disruptions of this movement and that maintain and improve the physical and organizational ability of an apparatus to shape and channel its captives. When the Los Angeles highway onramps were widened to enable military mobilization, a higher level of consciousness was at work, intervening in the generally self-regulating relationship between the highway apparatus and its most immediate managing institution, the highway department.
Evidently, there is also a hierarchy and thus an interaction among the institutions. The lower level institutions tend to work at right angles to each other. That is, they receive their input and send their output to distinct institutions, so each can follow a set of organizational principles that produce no external feedback, and thus create no relationships. The hospital receives directives from a health board and a budget committee, they produce differing products for insurance companies, an accounting office, and research firms. The hospital worker is discouraged from providing any personal care to the patient because the patient is incidental, and the worker must follow directives handed down by remote institutions and produce a product, for which the patient is but a medium, that are distributed to other institutions.
In this way, attention and care are alienated, as the functionary is alienated from her own emotions and the people in front of her (she may chose to be friendly with someone whose deportation order she is processing, or she may be rude and vicious to someone whose residency number she is printing out).
These institutions may compete with one another to improve their position within the hierarchy, but most of all they will fight to justify their own existence and preserve some niche, while at the same time accomplishing as little work as possible. Institutions that function as factories and effectively produce will quickly become underfunded. Institutions that function as conduits and pass work on will guarantee their relevance. In other words, they are conservative and rationalizing.
On top of these exist other institutions that do not feel the threat of underfunding, and that inculcate the possibility (though not the certainty) of higher levels of consciousness. It is at these levels where longterm strategic necessities can be envisioned and debated, and tactical interventions planned. These institutions serve as a legitimizing form for informal networks of people who understand themselves as powerholders, who have the ability to reshape an apparatus with a few conversations. Membership in these networks is not explicit, and, based on what can be seen from below, lacking the findings of an anthropological study that will never be given funding nor security clearance, such membership seems to stem from an ability to move within those networks and the higher institutions that stand in front of them.
This definition (the higher institutions legitimate networks that are formed by those capable of moving in such networks) would be atrociously redundant were it not in the nature of power to centralize. All things that rise must converge, as they say. But because power is always vulnerable to entropic forces (for this very reason it remained inchoate for most of human history), the centrality of these higher institutions is never perfected. On the one hand, they require a level of informality and decentralization even at the top in order not to be completely ineffective, and this informality must be masked by formal institutional structures in order to not be self-contradictory. On the other hand, the higher institutions provide a certain anchor, however arbitrary. The selective group of people who, by birth, fortune, or skill, reach these upper echelons can have their claims of membership to this community of rulers validated in a way that, if not ritualistic, is at least formal, and thus preserves the ruling community’s sense of itself. As such, the higher institutions are a necessary cultural artifact to stabilize the fragmented ground on which they actually stand.
The whole array of institutions compose the State, whose configuration changes over time with the evolution of its component institutions. The array of institutions, the apparatuses they manage, and the movement of the captives of those apparatuses, comprise a system. The system breaks down only when the captives’ movement cannot be disciplined. When the captives wear nice clothes, or act sullen, or smile at a functionary, they are reproducing the system. But that does not mean that they can not also be subversive. Reproduction does not entail agency, and agency is always, at the least, latent. The same acts that reproduce can also erode discipline, or prepare indiscipline.
The paranoia of power is justified. It can never predict a tipping point, or be entirely sure whether its captives are obeying or mocking. With the disruption of a system, it is feasible that entire apparatuses could be abandoned. Although apparatuses need input and management in order to function, one advantage they have over direct rule by institutions is that they continue to encourage order in the absence of rule. They are structured to recapture those who pass through them. Imagine, a moment, a horde of barbarians who have overthrown the forces of order and now move through the physical shell of the system. Upon inspecting what they have inherited, they might enter a waiting room—there will be many of these, after all, waiting around—and upon entering, they might pay it no mind, or use the seats as toilets, or as shelves for stacks of dishes from the communal kitchen they are creating in the courtyard, where once immigrants morosely filed in lines. But the design of the apparatus suggests a certain use, and our barbarians might instead decide to use the counter as the point of dispensation for their food, and arrange those who want the food to wait in the rows of uncomfortable seats, facing forward. And in one of the seats, they will find a newspaper. They might only use it to wipe their asses, or to dry the stacks of plates. Or, they might look at it, try to make sense of the photos, to understand the world depicted therein.
Out of an apparatus, an entire system might be reborn. It is not the head of the king that can send out new buds, but the guillotine that has ended him.
Whether the system is disrupted and reemerges, or whether it evolves to save itself from rupture, it must always change in order to stay the same. The manner in which the system understands and justifies itself changes over time, in tandem with its methods, as well as the sorts of pledges and paperwork people on the bottom have to pantomime, and those changes demonstrate the coupling of power and knowledge. But one thing remains the same, not ahistorical but original: the sine qua non of the State, its prerequisite and most central logic—social control.
In the end, contrary to those who have wished to entirely dehumanize power and thus, in a way, to naturalize it, an apparatus can be identified only on the basis of the control it exercises, and control requires objectives, and thus an external will. Control implies a restriction of agency, or will, yet will is always influenced by environment. A perennial philosophical question is the distinction between restriction and influence. In language, such a definitional boundary becomes impossible without recourse to morality, and morality in turn must anchor itself either to nature or to will, raising the question of the interpretation of nature, or returning again to the supposed conflict between environment and agency.
But in practice, one can intuit the difference, and it is visible everywhere in the relationship between power and affect. One can see restriction, as opposed to mere influence, in what people regularly do against themselves in order to go along with the flow, and it is such a flow that one knows to belong to an apparatus, and not to a river, a breeze, the vagaries of aging or erosion.
As Bakunin said, “If God existed, it would be necessary to abolish Him.” If the rules set down by nature were the work of an external will, then there would be no difference between the market and the food chain. But we have overturned every rock and God is still nowhere to be found. The fundamental element of the State, this impulse to control, seeks to be equally invisible, yet because it exists, and therefore can be destroyed, it must constantly flee, and the traces of its flight are writ large across the social fabric.
Addendum regarding Foucault, for those who really care
It may seem strange to talk about apparatuses in a way that privileges the role of institutions in shaping them, when Foucault used apparatuses or ‘dispositifs’ to a large extent as a philosophical blind from which to snipe at the centrality of institutions and the State. I insist this isn’t a step backwards. The classical conception of the Sovereign governing through the implementation of laws can scarcely compete with Foucault’s complex mapping of fragmented, mutually conditioning, and immanent power relations.
However, at the center of Foucault’s project of complexification is an almost old-fashioned (and typically philosophical) desire to erase differentiation. He scoffs at the homogenous mass of revolutionary subjects, and with good reason. But in telling us there is no ruler and ruled, in refuting the idea of class society, he falls into another trap. That which is infinitely differentiated and differentiating is, in the end, homogenous. If power is an omnipresent conflictual relation created by me as much as by the cop, that the only difference between me and the cop is an ever changing series of specificities that flash across a matrix—sorry, matrices—of transformation, what else can we really say? As such, Foucault is something like a juggler, frantically moving the cups around the table so we can never see under which one the coin lies.
The other grand movement that inheres to society and the world is emergence. The web of meaning continues, entropically, to fragment, differentiate, and condition, but always before the point of incoherence a new grammar or pattern emerges, and some patterns maintain their coherence, albeit altered, through many epochs and sea-changes.
It is absolutely true that all of us sitting here in this waiting room are not simply “immigrants.” Within this particular apparatus we find ourselves on the same side, which is to say it becomes easy to imagine the existence of sides. But back in the neighborhoods we will be men and women; grandparents and children; Morrocans, Pakistanis, Chinese, Ecuadorans, and even—god forbid—North Americans.
But what we easily forget is that the nonexistent necessarily exists, and through the imaginary an outside can manifest to that which has no exterior. We carry with us these moments in which we can imagine we are on the same side, and in a completely irrational way, they can return at moments when the specific power relations do not at all comprise us as a “we.”
Even as he makes power omnipresent, he continues to describe it in terms of conflict and domination. Like vestigial romantics, we insist on spaces free from domination. But we do so not simply out of whimsy. Or rather, our whimsy is a powerful thing that must be answered to. Precisely at the point where the society of classes, of ruler and ruled, is proven not to exist because we are all so enmeshed in shifting webs of power, we understand that the society of classes is born again, because in our memories and in our imaginations exist moments of solidarity, of freedom, of utopia, and in all the grey spaces in between these moments of dreaming we trudge through something that can only be described as powerlessness.
We can agree, in a way, with all four rules Foucault sets out in the chapter “Method” in The History of Sexuality. But each one also leaves something lacking.
To Foucault’s “rule of immanence” we must counter with an indispensable imaginary, which is on the one hand exterior and impervious to power-knowledge, and on the other tangential to it at an infinity of points, and therefore conditioned by it. But we must not be fooled by the assumed superiority of power; the totality of power relations can also be limited or modified by the imaginary, and it is here that the possibility of subversion exists.
To his “rule of continual variations,” we must point out the obvious error of ignoring strong historical continuities within the matrices of transformation. Foucault would agree that things are not simply created anew, yet he still insists on averting his eyes from the historical roles of powerful and powerless. To point out the fluidity and interconnectedness of these roles is one thing. To deny their perennial perseverity is something else entirely.
To the “rule of double conditioning” we must insist on the existence of historical episodes in which strategies were in fact projected via tactics created expressly for that purpose. Obviously strategies are conditioned by the specificity of available tactics, but this is only to say that rulers—and contrary to Foucault, the category of ruler is a valid one—are not Gods who can create the conditions and matrices of relationships in which they rule. “The family organization” was not simply “used to support the great ‘maneuvers’ employed for the Malthusian control of the birthrate” and related matters of production. On the contrary, the family organization as such was largely created, by the Church and the State, in order to mobilize a new instrument in the service of governing strategies. State institutions and employers did not simply rely on the “specificities” of family relationships to condition the realization of their explicit strategy for qualitatively and quantitatively increasing domination; they specifically punished divergence from a new set of gender and familial norms which they themselves formulated (in a fragmented and immanent way, of course). But as Foucault begins his analysis after capitalism and biopower were already put into play, which is to say, after the machine was already built, he loses out on an opportunity (which he is patently uninterested in) to differentiate between relationships pertaining to the mechanisms of this machine and those obtaining between the machine and what exists before it, under it, against it.
And finally, to the “rule of the tactical polyvalence of discourses,” we must insist on, and ultimately realize, discourses born out of negation and imagination, discourses that do not make pretensions to purity and detachment from the discourses of power but that can still claim, mystically, to come from somewhere else because they are going somewhere else, off the map.
3 thoughts on “Kafka Reloaded”
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