Sunday, September 25, 2011

Annotated Bibliography: Deleuze & Guattari

Lambert, G. (2010). The war-machine and "a people who revolt". Theory & Event, 13(3),

Note* Project Muse does not have page numbers for this journal**
Lambert's work focuses on the "war-machine" and on the inherent contradictions that occur within the exercise of state police/war functions. Lambert describes how the violence of the state to remedy illegal behavior puts the state in a conflict with its own conservative identity- the state must enact violence upon its people as a way of preserving the non-violence of society: thus the "exteriority" of the war-machine/police violence apparatuses of the state. Lambert postulates that this exteriority is also present with "the people" - another abstraction of political discourse. "The people"'s exteriority can be understood as the product of a similar structural transformation as identified in Habermas' work, namely the privatized function of the state to serve particular interests of a few private individuals. This exteriority also gives birth to an understanding of revolt and how "the people" can appropriate the violence of the state (the war-machine) to enact revolutionary politics.

Ringrose, J. (2010). Beyond discourse? using deleuze and guattari's schizoanalysis to explore affective assemblages, heterosexually striated space, and lines of flight online and at school. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43(6), 598-618. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2009.00601.x

This article discusses applications of Deleuze and Guatarri’s theories concerning “assemblages” within the context of social networking technologies and their impact on education systems. The author concludes that school communities and online social networking communities can be understood as “assemblages”, that is, multiplicitous entities which form a body through also-multiplicitous interactions. Ringrose examines the possibility of educational spaces becoming striated via their interactions with online social networking communities. More specifically, the author attempts to explain how gendered and heteronormative discourse is intensified through its articulation via instant messaging, Facebook, Bebo, etc. where there exist structural limits to how students can express their attachments and relationships. “Relationship statuses” and other iterations of classifying relationships striate these spaces in terms of heteronormativity and its normative assumptions concerning gender and sexual orientation.

Tamboukou, M. (2008). Machinic assemblages: women, art education and space. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education,29(3), 359-375. DOI: 10.1080/01596300802259129

Tamboukou’s article is an excellent introduction to A Thousand Plateaus - the particular subject matter (art education, educational spaces) is secondary, for our purposes, to her brilliant explanations of D&G’s terminology. Specifically, the author is interested in “lines of flight” or the “direction” in which deterritorialization proceeds. Within the context of narrative theory, narratives can be understood as a sort of deterritorialization of the self, where the “territory” of the self is emptied through the process of interpretation, and reconstituted by new signs and associations. Tamboukou also posits that the self can be understood as an unstable structure (perhaps “smooth” space) that is in a constant flux of deterritorialization and reterritorialization (via discourse). The self, then, is “multiplicitous” – a body acting and being acted upon – through the various internal and external interactions of desire.

Marzec, R. (2000). The war machine and capitalism: notes towards a nomadology of the imperceptible. Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, 1(3), Retrieved from

This article provides another excellent introduction to a few of the key ideas in A Thousand Plateaus. The author discusses deterritorialization and the rhizome within a context that illuminates the possibility of their plain meaning: international relations. The “war machine” is “decoded” to make more evident particular meanings within the context of inter-state warfare; “war machines” are everywhere, within our social imaginary as vampires, zombies – the infirm. The ideological presence of images of “warriors” helps propel the organization of multiplicities and the channeling of their desire into “the economy of war”.

Sussman, H. (2000). Deterritorializing the text: flow-theory and deconstruction. MLN,115(5), 974-996. DOI: 10.1353/mln.2000.0077

Sussman's article provides an excellent introduction to A Thousand Plateaus not only by providing tips at how to read the book, but also by describing how to read the text in terms of its own vocabulary. Sussman contextualizes many of the ideas D&G posit (Nomadology, the Rhizome) with earlier thought on semiotics as part of an attempt to elucidate how their form (of writing) took shape. Sussman extracts from A Thousand Plateaus "flow-theory", or his name for the methodology of D&G, which is itself an attempt to escape the "incestuous" reslationship (nomadic despotism) of thinkers to source material located in (particular senses of) past texts (pp.973-5).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Achieving our "discipline": on the possibility of panoptic counter-hegemonic knowledge-production (or the silliest title ever)

I begin with the confession, another technique of truth production scrutinized by Foucault in conjunction with his analyses of the Panopticon and disciplinary power. In the confession Foucault finds the utmost expression of internalized self-discipline - the confessor acts upon herself through the confession, becoming both prisoner and prison guard. Foucault explains how the confession has become interwoven into almost every aspect of society: medicine, psychology, criminal justice all have come to rely on the confession as the mode of ascertaining the hidden secret within each of us.

I bring up confessions as I wonder if our blogs and exegeses could be understood as confessional in some way. Certainly, many blogs are confessional in that they disclose intimate/personal information as a way of achieving catharsis, but do our interpretations of these texts not also disclose information/produce knowledge that contain elements of our tucked away "secrets"? Is our mode of revealing (and the content of the revelation) mediated by disciplinary technologies, by panopticism? And would this knowledge not immediately enter into a panopticonal discursive economy where it dialectically informs how to order docile bodies? Basically, I wonder how panopticism manifests itself in our classroom and our online conversations and what role we play in the reproduction of panopticonal modalities.

What is the role of our respective disciplines - to produce knowledge for the fostering of docility, for the efficient ordering of bodies? But as Foucault's project proves, knowledge production can reveal power and its functionings and, perhaps, organize resistance to particular instances of panopticonal power. The panopticonal presence in our classroom - Utah State University, the rankings and competition within the educational system - compels the acquisition (perhaps production) of knowledge on the subject of panopticism and, in particular, its "evils".

Disciplinary technology is constituent of our society today and, perhaps, is the logical conclusion of western metaphysics. My question is whether or not panopticism can be used counter-hegemonically or is the docil-ization of bodies, itself, necessarily a bad thing. I read the docility-making function of panopticism to be inevitable - the particular ways that knowledge is appropriated panoptically, perhaps, could be challenged. But, Foucault's point seems to be something about freedom and how the acting-upon of man by panopticism leaves him unable to resist "bad" exercises of power. How do we identify what goals are worth achieving, or is power, itself, something that we must mitigate?

At this point, I can't help but be reminded of Heidegger's "The Question Concerning Technology", more specifically his description of how technology calls nature into Standing Reserve, a status where it can be acted upon as an object and utility-value can be derived from it. Knowledge, similarly, seems to be called upon "panoptically", that is, its status becomes prescriptive and is meant to inform the organization of docile bodies, hence the term "discipline" carrying a stronger denotation of "area of inquiry". Returning to my question: can panopticism be abolished? Should we refuse to participate in our respective disciplines to avoid participating in panopticism? Can panopticism be a good thing?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mechanical Reproduction and Art: an (anesthetic) for the masses?

Concerning Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, I found his explanation of authenticity within the context of technology not only illuminating but compelling (given the normative assumptions that seem to be interwoven within his text). In particular, his tracing of the degradation of the “aura” as the source of both micro and macro level fascism was interesting as it seemed to highlight an argument I have already encountered in the work of Jurgen Habermas, another thinker considered to be a part of the Frankfurt School. Habermas argues that the public sphere has been transformed from a place for public discourse informed by inter-subjective reason to a closed space used for the negotiation of private interests, usually at the expense of the broader public. Habermas explains that within capitalism the public sphere is now modeled after consumption, where people “participate” in politics by expressing aestheticized political/cultural ideologies. This happens via consumption: if you identify as a “liberal” in the United States, you participate politically by consuming “liberal” political products, i.e. watching MSNBC News instead of Fox News, buying organic food and fair trade products. Instead of achieving the enlightenment model where citizens participate in inter-subjective political discourse, capitalism presents us with an illusionary model where individuals achieve participation passively via uninformed consumption. Not unlike Benjamin’s explanation of how film depicts the world as a place achievable for the common man whilst omitting the technical complexities required to actually realize the depiction, Habermas argues that capitalism depicts itself as “flat” and the provider of equal opportunity to the masses while disguising the social conditions that preclude many from ever realizing “the Dream”.

Benjamin’s description of the aestheticization of the political is, I think, the most important point to extract from his text: when the political becomes aestheticized it enables fascist organizational processes to begin to mobilize increasingly inattentive masses to achieve imperial, neoliberal goals. I see this aestheticization process as triggering two effects (for lack of a better word): (1) the organization of masses, themselves, via the ideological function of film media, and (2) the displacement of inter-subjective discourse as the model for political participation. To elucidate the second point, when participation becomes a matter of expressing mere opinion rather than holding one another to account, dialectically, for the ideas which we espouse, then these masses are easily organized in ways that would seemingly improve social conditions but, in reality, leave the structures of capitalist exploitation intact. I think the state of political discourse in the United States today (see: the “Tea Party” movement) is excellent evidence of this theory’s explanatory potential.

Horkheimer and Adorno’s opening explanation of how culture industries foster aestheticized, hierarchical consumer identities resonates particularly well with Benjamin’s and Habermas’ criticisms. That individuals identify themselves with illusory categories of people I think can be read as symptomatic of a culture that, at a very basic level of understanding, is completely inattentive and uninformed. In fact, when boiled down, the implication of all three authors’ descriptions seems to be that the state of art and culture in the west is such that people are left anesthetized and so over sensitized by the mechanical processes of art/culture industries that they cannot possibly think rationally. I may be treading a fine line when I talk about “rationally”, but I think it remains useful in the sense of its inter-subjective manifestation, not necessarily an appeal to some platonic, universal form of logic or reason that was dismissed by Nietzsche long ago.

One frustration I have with Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s piece is my inability to understand what specific apparatuses compose “the culture industry”. Of course, this is a common complaint with theoretical works (“I can’t understand their application”) but it is particularly problematic in this instance because I can’t envision exactly just how pervasive the “culture industry” is. I often have doubts when encountering arguments such as Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s primarily because they are so “gloom and doom” – their indictment seems to penetrate into every aspect of western society. Is there anything redeeming, anything left to reclaim? Are the forces of capital so inhuman as to be unstoppable even by those who are in positions of incredible power? Is there a meeting of conspirators in some remote location overtly working to preserve the structures of capitalism, to perpetuate the ideological conditions that will allow their continued exploitation of everyday people? I think this is the real challenge posed by critical theory: coming to realize that the battle is waged against the discursive forces which are reproduced in our everyday interactions, not just faraway in a court room or on the floor of the Senate. The ideological conditions in which we live are combatable - we just have to be willing to fight.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I may be paranoid, but no android: an autobiography

Before launching into a narrative of my first memories with technology, I think it’s important to explain how my young mind first began to conceive of the idea of technology. Looking back, the word “technology” immediately evokes fond memories of video game cartridges and trips to “Computer Warehouse” to find new upgrades to the family personal computer; however, the word “technology” encompasses far more than mere electronic gadgetry and toys. But this is how I first came to know “technology”, as something distinctly new, electronic and fun to play with and enjoy. This understanding neglects the otherwise vital implications “technology” had for my young life even as early as birth. As a sickly infant, I required the aid of sophisticated medical technologies to give my lungs time to develop and grow; engineering technologies made possible the opportunity to live in a comfortable home that remained warm even in the harshest of Idaho winters; and, telecommunication technologies kept me in contact with friends and relatives all over the world. But, still, “technology” only manifested itself to me in the Nintendo Entertainment System and personal computer, not in the walls of my home or the bus that drove me to school each day.

The youngest of four children, my initial encounters with technology were mediated by my siblings, in particular my two older brothers who instilled in me a love for the newest and best technology that the market had to offer. My brothers were the “gatekeepers” of technology in that not only were they the disseminators of electronic technology and gadgetry (by this I mean that they were the source of my parents’ information about what technology to buy), but whatever was their conception of technology eventually became my own.

While my brothers were away at school during the day, my half-day Kindergarten afforded me a few hours to experiment with my brothers’ technology on my own, primarily their video game systems, including the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and an IBM PC. Both required learning new “languages” in order to interface with the video game capabilities each possessed: the NES needed to be “hooked up” to the television via a coaxial cable to see the images contained on the game cartridge while the DOS operating system on the PC could only be navigated via a command-line interface that used an unfamiliar combination of English characters to find and execute programs. Mastering the process of setting up video game consoles and “cracking” the “c:/whatever.exe” language of DOS constituted my first solo encounters with technology without the paternal influence of my siblings. I use the word “language” because technology’s tendency to become more or less sophisticated seems to depend on the ability of the user to contextualize particular pieces of technology with their previous encounters with older or different forms of technology. These experiences seem to weave together and form a sort-of language that, itself, evolves with each new piece of technology.

My introduction to technology at such a young age is likely the result of a natural curiosity with electronics. This inclination to experiment made me proficient with technology early on and many of my friends and family came to understand me as a tech “whiz”. When a new PC or modem was brought into our home, I became the go-to guy for installing the equipment not only because of my ability to quickly understand new technology but also because my slender size allowed me access to the small spaces through which wiring was often run. My brothers came to call me “MacGyver” for this very reason.

Later in my life technology has been vital to developing my current obsession with independent music: in secondary education, the cost of purchasing CDs and MP3s proved prohibitive but upon discovering the world of “peer-to-peer” file sharing in college, I found it possible to immerse myself in all types of music. I never had before devoted much time listening to music, but the incredible access that peer-to-peer networks provide to music changed this completely, creating a completely new niche in my life. Moral concerns about file-sharing aside, this technology introduced a new aesthetic experience for me to which I never would have had access without it.

My technological literacy has waned over the years, partially due to a resistance to participate in new social media, but also because my interest in technology began to plateau as broadband made the internet more accessible and efficient at providing information. My interest in technology earlier in life was due in large part to the fact that I could encounter it on my own: technology was a solo affair, something that I could come to understand without other people. Thus the increasingly “social” nature of new media and technology has held little allure to me as, again, I prefer the isolation that technology seemed to previously afford. New technology, today, seems to be oriented around globalizing the experience of technology, or, at least, making it possible to play/use with more people, both in your own home and with others around the globe.

The Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360 video game consoles I think are emblematic of this: the Wii eschewed the obsession with graphical improvement and, instead, focused on changing the video game experience to be more interactive and accessible to the non-video gaming consumer; the Xbox 360 is marketed for its multiplayer connectivity through its “Xbox Live” platform. I think this sort of “web 2.0” phenomenon will likely characterize the future of technology, at least in the short term.

I am a bit paranoid about the future. While technology has proved instrumental in several positive populist movements (Egypt, Tunisia, perhaps limited success in Iran and Syria), Bentham’s/Foucault’s panopticon seems to be a looming specter. Both public and private institutions are increasingly relying on forms of technological surveillance that make me worry about the future possibility of organizing resistance to neoliberalism and capitalism.