Posts Tagged ‘Foucault’

Deregulate life

June 9, 2020 Comments off

After being under lockdown for over two months (depending on labor conditions and state jurisdiction), the country filled the streets en masse. The protests, triggered by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, brought the sheltered-in-place out to the public space. The contrast between isolation and demonstration is striking as it completely transformed the concept of solidarity from that of distance (self-isolation as the protection of the other) to togetherness. If living together was contingent of a momentary lapse of togetherness, suddenly it was defined by collective body’s occupation of the urban space. This form of adaptability and capacity for contradiction, defines the politics of care for those whose lives are entangled through an intersection of unheard, and constantly reiterated indignations. While the current covid plague disproportionately killed black and brown communities, police have been historically and systematically targeting black lives. The lockdown prevented the rituals of grieving the dead and consigned them to bureaucracies of the necropolitical administration. The public slaughter of George Floyd by the police and its digital dispersion reached the screens of the non-essential sequestered and the essential workers who kept them alive, enraging both groups alike. The demonstrations staged a collective mourning of a “significant loss of human life” – biological and social.

In a tweet trump called the protesters “lowlife and losers.” In another tweet, all those exercising their First Amendment rights, he called out as “thugs, Radical Left, and all others [sic] forms of Lowlife & Scum.” While the protesters gather under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter, it is revealing how the president labeled their lives low, that is of lesser importance (as opposed to “high”?)— which of course is consistent with the bigoted racial ideology of this country. This clarifies why the very crux of the movement emphasizes the biopolitical warfare that distributes life disproportionally among the populace (considering some lives lower than others). The tweet shows that for the ruling establishment certain lives don’t matter, as they are worthy only of abasement, a lowering that includes impoverishment and death. Racism as Foucault shows is a biopolitical practice that links the death of the other to the better, “healthier and purer” life of some. Racism wants to eradicate what it designates as “low” life, to nurture “high” life. It creates and maintains hierarchies of life and perpetuates the notion of race by the daily rituals and the practice of racism as Barbara and Karen Fields show. Further, those who are designated essential workers are primarily from communities of color whose lives do not matter under the current biopolitical maldistribution of life. Although one would hope it could go without saying, it now cannot: Those whose labor is essential must have their lives recognized as essential, too. That is, they are the essence of our collective existence. Black Lives Matter insists that there is not and should not be a hierarchy of lives.

The pandemic that necessitated the living wear masks so that they could live (when supplies of those masks could be found), simultaneously dressed the protesters with anti-surveillance cover that disrupted the facial recognition algorithms of the biopolitical establishment. It protects against the virus and adversarial identification. The mask defaced, disidentified and deindividualized the multitude that rose up for black lives and disinfected the streets from racial capitalist necropolitics. New York and many other cities’ centers of retail and luxury are now occupied, not by consumers and tourists, but by the lives that are barred from the high streets. The lockdown that cleared the streets from commerce was greeted with demonstrations that flooded it with life, in its most fundamental, lowest – ground level, basic form. Not life as its regulated by commodity and administered by consumption. The protesters showed who the streets belong to.

In one of the recurring slogans the police are asked to give the protesters head, instead of killing and brutalizing people. The present circumstances encourage us to consider what kind of a world we would build if the police gave the residents [solicited] pleasure, instead of unsolicited pain? In this world, protecting and serving people would be measured by the amount of pleasure that the government and, by extension, the law enforcement provide to their constituents. We should therefore regulate industry and deregulate life – in its multitude, divergent, uncontainable manifestations.

Black Lives Matter. “I yield my time.”

Visual Parrhesia

March 14, 2012 Comments off

Visual Parrhesia


Faced with the complexities of the Benjaminian concept of the dialectical image (earlier posts), and the difficulties in imagining such technical image, here I would like to use Foucault’s concept of Parrhesia to think of a set of conditions for images concerning truth. In his series of six lectures, at the University of Berkeley, California, Foucault talks about the essential properties of parrhesia as a “verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy.” Could there be a visual component to parrhesia? Could it be a visual activity instead of solely a verbal one?

While this concept includes the notion of danger, discussed above, but also sets a few other conditions that might prove useful in imagining possibilities to go beyond the formal indexicality of the photograph.

The first condition that Foucault mention is frankness, the notion that the speaker does not use any form of rhetorical maneuvering to persuade the listeners. The second condition is the notion of truth, and here according to Foucault, the speaker has established a ‘personal relationship’ with truth and believes what he is saying is true. It is important to note that not anyone could be considered a truth-teller, and the practice of parrhesia was held for male citizens of the Athens democracy, a notion that further ties the parrhesia to citizenship. The third condition is danger, for not any kind of truth-telling is a practice of parrhesia, for instance a grammar teacher tells the truth, but does not take any risks in telling so. The other condition of such speech activity is the notion of criticism, Foucault writes, “parrhesia is a form of criticism, either towards another or towards oneself, but always in a situation where the speaker or confessor is in a position of inferiority with respect to the interlocutor. The parrhesiastes is always less powerful than the one with whom he or she speaks. The parrhesia comes from ‘below’, as it were, and is directed towards ‘above’.” For instance when a philosopher criticizes a tyrant, or a citizen the majority, etc. This notion of criticism, is tied the notion of duty, the last condition that Foucault ascribes to parrhesia. Tied to the notion of citizenship, the speaker takes it as a duty to say what s/he is saying to enhance the living conditions of the community.

Thích Quảng Đức's heart remained intact after his self-immolation

The question is if and how can these conditions be applied to images, and the practice of image making? For the most part, one can argue that there are images that could meet these conditions of production. Take the surviving photographs of Auschwitz, they were produced under precarious conditions, they were not in any ways, and by any means manipulated and could be considered “frank”, they made visible the inhumane practice of the perpetrators, and by doing so they performed a form of critique. However, the practice of parrhesia is a public practice, it happened in the agora, it was directed toward the king, the tyrant or the democratic elected representative government. These photographs show “moments of truth” for the future, they are historical documents and like all images, they represent an absent. Parrhesia as a figure of speech requires the presence of the speaker at the moment an utterance is being made. The question here would be if the image-maker can share the same spatial and temporal coordinates with the image at the instance of visualization. Therefore, visual parrhesia requires an agora of spectatorship, where the images are produced, distributed and viewed at the same time. It is when the event and its representation form a single entity, where one would not exist without the other. Under these conditions, a certain degree of risk and danger creates an umbilical cord between what is being shown and the image-maker who is present where such an act of presentation is taking place.