Here is the link to my pape-site.
Happy holidays everyone!
Michel Foucault and I agreed to meet on top of the heavenly
drags from his scentless Gaulloise, Michel draws a pocketbook from underneath his coat and hands it to me. Is this what I think it is? The third volume of his renowned History of Sexuality, The Care of the Self (Le Souci de soi), was not meant to be the last: Confession of the Flesh (Les Aveux de la chair) - or the "unborn fourth" - was left incomplete, privately held in the Foucault archive up to these days. It is now also held in
Michel: The reason is quite simple, really. With The Care of the Self, I wanted to examine how the way the individual makes use of his (you'll pardon me, the texts I reference very rarely refer to female individuals) - of his body and mind starts to take up a moral stance throughout the two first centuries of our era. Artémidorus's interpretation of dreams reflects principles of an appreciation of a specific sexual conduct. As I write in the book, these principles underlie Artemidorus' analysis of sexual dreams. In this type of oneirocritica, the social position (and sometimes, the physical condition) of the dreamer in relation to that of his sexual partner matters more than the sexual act itself. It is thus possible to witness an evident correlation between sexual and social scenes. For instance, Artemidorus will only imply that it is a bad or a good omen to dream of a sexual intercourse with a person who occupies a given social status (penetration being the only conceivable sexual intercourse), without ever referring to the concept of morality. To properly answer your question, I would say that this opening chapter serves to remind the reader of the fact that sexual experience is, at the time, still very much understood in classical terms: the value of sexual acts, in many instances, is defined by the social position of those who engage in them. This first chapter hints on this idea that while the subject is still understood in terms of his place in society - as a citizen - his individuality becomes also "subject" to scrutiny. The sphere of citizenship is thus extended, and starts permeating the private sphere; an honourable citizen must have an honourable conduct when out in the city (or city-state) as well as in his dreams.
Michel: Certainly. Before beginning my analysis of these other texts, I wanted to spend some time clarifying this notion of the "culture of the self", which is also the name of my second chapter. I wanted to see how I could connect a growing sexual austerity with a more and more intensive relationship to the self. Indeed, I found out that it is not through the tightening of a legal or religious code that sexual prohibition seems to take place, but because the individual starts to see himself as subject of his actions. Through my examination of Seneca and Epictetus's texts, I got to see this culture of the self as a veritable art of self-knowledge - "art de la connaissance de soi". Each individual, according to these authors, is expected to be taking care of his self: there is no age, not a moment or a situation more appropriate than another: it must be a perpetual exercise. It is possible to point to three main components of this art of self-knowledge: (i) knowing how to live without luxury, through abstinence, (ii) regularly subject oneself to a thorough examination of one's conscience, (iii) be in constant control of oneself. Again, I want to stress that this culture of the self didn't emerge as a result of a solidification of the law or religious codes; this change concerns the way the individual comes to see himself as responsible for constituting himself as a moral subject.
Florence: You spoke about - excuse me the rephrasing - the importance of the individual to place himself as an honorable subject in the realm of the community; can we now go more in depth into the complex relationship between social position and identity - a problem that you investigate in your third chapter, "Self and Others"?
Michel: I would say that it is by observing the changes occurring on the marital and the political scenes that it is most practical to account for this relationship between self and others. For instance, the evolution of marriage from a private to a public institution has the effect of interrogating this institution as a way of life; marriage becomes more and more about a healthy relationship between partners. One also notes a drastic evolution concerning the way politics is understood: one shouldn't feel obliged to actively participate in the life of the city-state, and if one does, one should bear in mind that he has to be a moral example to others, and know when his time has come to withdraw from the public scene. In public life as well as in married life, the growing concern for one's control over one's self can also be understood as a crisis of subjectivation.
Michel: It is interesting how philosophy
and medicine elaborate very similar discourses on aphrodisia - sexual pleasures. Both agree on the fact that to take care of one's self correctly, one has to pay attention to the health of the mind and the body: the unhealthiness of the body will result in the degenerescence of the mind, and vice-versa. The aphrodisia start to be comprehended as existing only for the purpose of reproduction, possibly detrimental to one's constitution when not refrained enough. Highly specific recommandations and precepts are developed by doctors (such as Galen) and philosophers as to what a good sexual conduct should be. These recommandations and precepts can't however be assimilated to a Christian moral: they are expected to be integrated within the experience the subject makes of his self.
Michel: It means that marriage is now more
about the bond between spouses than it is about economical arrangement. As far as the husband is concerned, a principle of moderation is to be respected: reciprocity, more than control over others, becomes the new duty. The art of married life takes shape through precepts - a lot of them developed by the Stoics. This way of life starts forming as a strong model, advertised as conform to nature and socially useful - beneficial to everyone's good. It is through marriage that man finds his rational form. And it is only through marriage that one can establish a satisfying relationship to one's self - the aphrodisia of course being subject to another form of scrutiny.
Michel: I must say that love for boys, at the end of the classical age, is no longer what is used to be at the time of Socrates. Plutarch and Pseudo-Lucian provide two contrasting examples of how love for boys and for women is rationally justified. Plutarch argues that relationships with boys are disgracious because non-consensual, while they are gracious with women, because reciprocal. Pseudo-Lucian hovers towards the opposite side, positting love for boys as more civilized, more evolved, than love for women - too natural, too primary. In any case, what happens at this time is that with the strengthening of the culture of the self, which implies a strong ambivalence and even hostility towards aphrodisia taking place outside the marriage/reproduction framework, a new erotica emerges, where virginity comes across as a highly respectable virtue.
Michel: Ah, this is an interesting question. I recently had a discussion about this with Deleuze. I won't expand too much on this, but referring to his idea of detachment (décrochement) which engenders a folding, a reflection (un plissement, une réflexion), I would say that you can see my text as an edification of a facultative rule - the rule for facultatively commanding oneself, as a free man, and of course, as a free woman, or whoever you happen to be as a human being.
It seems that Michel never ceased to use his time wisely since he left us. He has plenty of it to take care of his self, plenty of friends to share his reflections with. When I asked him if he still considered himself as a human-being, he frowned and, looking at the fog down below, responded with another question:
"Do you consider yourself a human-being?"
"We're not in heaven, are we?", I said, hyper-dubitatively. Here, another question.
"Surely you don't need to ask me. Rather, ask yourself the following: why have I come up here? You could as well be talking to yourself right now."
Maybe I should have gone through the effort of climbing
In a read that is simultaneously dense and playful, Munoz's thesis is informed by the theorizing of Ernst Bloch, a Frankfurt School Marxist that has been largely ignored compared to his Frankfurt colleagues. Munoz finds Bloch's ideas on utopia helpful for his project on queer futures, particularly since he sees Bloch as promoting "hope as hermeneutic"; Munoz explains "from the point of view of political struggles today, such a critical optic is nothing short of necessary in order to combat the force of political pessimism" (p.4). In addition to Bloch, Munoz also borrows heavily from Giorgio Agamben's notion of "potentiality," a concept that is distinguished from "possibility" since "unlike a possibility, a thing that simply might happen, a potentiality is a certain mode of nonbeing that is eminent, a thing that is present but not actually existing in the present tense" (p.9). It is this relationship to the future that Munoz believes can be a/temporally created in the present through intentional methods of queer living.
Munoz showcases important queer art and cultural artifacts that illustrate his thesis, including drag performers, photographs of queer stages, spaces of public sex, theater, and dance. For example, in Chapter 2, "Ghost of Public Sex: Utopian Longing, Queer Memories," Munoz uses a "performance text" by John Giorni called You Got to Burn To Shine, in which Giorni recalls "fucking Keith Harring" at Prince Street subway toilet in 1982. In the description, Giorni celebrates the spontaneous, anonymous, unbridled surrender to pleasure that occurred in the moment he and his then-anonymous partner explored each other's bodies, as other's watched. Munoz suggests that this can be seen as an act of resistance and world-making, especially in the face of AIDS-panic sex-policing that took place in the 80s. He then draws on the dialectal thinking of Theodor Adorno to show how "Giorni's text [is] pointing beyond the barriers of our current conditions of possibility, beyond the painful barriers of the AIDS pandemic; it lets us see, via a certain conjuring of "the past," and for many of us we see this past for the very first time" (p. 38).
Munoz's interest in the relationship of temporality to utopia continues throughout the book. In the chapter entitled, "The Future Is in the Present," Munoz tells us about Samuel R. Delany's memories of the advent of postmodern performance art, which he describes as "spare, difficult, minimal, constituted largely by absence, isolation, even distraction" (quoted in Munoz, p. 51). Delaney admits that his disappointment was a result of modernist expectations for something more coherent, but because "no one ever got to see the whole" Delaney (and Munoz) admit spaces of queer world-making. Here, Munoz turns to C.L.R. James' collection of writings, The Future in the Present, which is a Marxist project that posits the ability for the new world to be created in the shell of the old (as the old is still occurring). James' most lucid example is that of an old shop-worker who, because of decades of manual labor work, is unable to perform his job at the factory. In response, his fellow workers agree to pick up his slack so that he can stay hired, as he has a wife and children to support. Munoz connects James' description of dialiectical utopianism back to the discussion of public sex, which he cites as an example of an "outpost of a new society" (p. 55).
Themes of space/time continue most saliently in Chapter 4, Gesture, Ephermera, and Queer Feeling, and also Chapter 6, Stages: Queers, Punks and the Utopian Performative. In the former, he uses drag performance artist, Kevian Aviance, who is "six foot two, bald, black, and effeminate" (p. 73), to discuss the potentiality of the "in-between." For Aviance, drag does not mean perpetuating the fictitious gender binary; he performs without a wig, does not cover up the bulge in between his legs, but is unarguably feminine in gesture and movement. Munoz states, "[Aviance] performs the powerful interface between femininity and masculinity that is active in any gender, especially queer ones. In this fashion he is once again a counterfetish, elucidating the real material conditions of our gender desire" (p. 79). Similarly, in Chapter 6, Munoz sees space/time working together in utopian ways in his discussions of a series of photographs that capture unoccupied queer stages. Although Munoz is talking about literal "stages" (upon which people perform, physically), he makes a nod to the double-entendre of the discourse placed on queer youth that their desire is "just a stage." The disconcerting images of empty stages where privy queers are used to seeing queer-worlds flourish are a reminder that "[t]he best performances do not disappear but instead linger in memory, haunt our present, and illuminate our future" (p.104). Munoz evokes Derrida's notion of the "trace," to explain the potentiality of memory (and the past) to inform our utopian futurity.
Munoz closes his book with the help of a Magnetic Fields song, "Take Ecstasy With Me," which he reads as call to submit to pleasures," but also "a call for a certain kind of transcendence" (p.185). Fittingly, Munoz reminds us that "queerness is not yet here; thus, we must always be future bound in our desires and designs" (p. 185).
As is true with his last book, Disidentifications, Munoz masters the art of combining high-theory with performance and media criticism. His ability to blend Marxist analysis and postmodern theory is an example of utopian promise in and of itself. Throughout each showcase of performance artist or artifact, Munoz is fairly consistent in convincing us that there is a space for futurity in queer-world-making. However, his ideas start to become redundant and what we get from each artifact starts to blend toward the middle and end of the book. We are shown over and over that alternate spaces of queer world-making are possible, that memory informs the present that informs the future, that potentiality is greater than possibility, but not much else. Furthermore, his attempt to claim the political potency of each of his examples (from drag to public sex to Andy Warhol to LeRoi Jones) falls flat at times, especially in contradictory moments when it seems he believes in the importance of collective organizing, but then concedes to individual acts of everyday resistance.
Those critiques noted, I still recommend this book as one of the most coherent pieces out there that addresses the other side of the antisocial thesis debate. Unfortunately (?), as is the case of many books-written-for-the-academy, it is a work that would be read best with chapters extrapolated for different themes of a course, or, what will probably be the case for me, for whatever paper a certain excerpt might be most relevant. Read as a whole, it's redundancy is on the edge of "boring," but Munoz avoids this through his engaging prose, his captivating examples, and his admirable unabashed optimism.
As the semester draws to a close (hurray and gasps of horror!), I'm working on finishing up my big project. Once it's done, I'll post it on the blog--for anyone that's interested in French film! It has been really useful and productive, and I'm pretty sure that I'll make use of what I've written later on when I teach. We even have some oppurutnities while teaching the lower langauge levels as grad students to bring in film, so I think I'll be able to use this (either exactly this or something in the same format) sooner than later!
I, like Liz, have struggled a bit to find a voice that I'm happy with, and I'm still not satisfied, but I think that it's just the nature of the "big project" beast. I worry that I've gone so far away from academic writing that it's too basic...but still useful, simple words can be useful (I keep having to convince myself).
I'll reflect more on the project in my "conclusion" section, as I think reflection within the project will be useful for furture film endavors.
Earlier this semester, Sara and I met to discuss this final project. Sara suggested that I write an annotated bibliography, aiming at supplementing the research I had just started for my thesis. I thus embarked on some sort of selection process: I had to come up with eight works that I found the most engaging and relevant to my research. I did a lot of reading, here and there (a lot of it actually coming from the course's assigned readings), and came to the following realization: although I am more fond of certain authors/texts than others, I can't say for now which I am going to make a more extensive use of throughout my thesis. However, what I can say is that with all this thinking and reading, an argumentative line (shall I even dare the plural form? - argumentative lines?) started to shape. Which means that now, I feel ready for a "proper" paper for this class. One of the advantages of a paper being: I can fit more of these greatly engaging authors I've come across. So a paper it will be, oh, what a conventional format.
I can't help but regretting not having had the guts (to avoid using another word) to try more and get over two essential problems, which prevented me from making the most of this class, namely: a very, very old, writer's block - from SMS to thesis, this affliction doesn't spare anything - and a reluctance to embrace "new" means of communication - e.g. emails and blogging. Raechel and Sophie have been doing such a great job with their blogs, it makes me want to re-/deconstruct this confusion (?!), redigest these weird feelings I have about writing a blog, about writing on a blog.
I wish myself, and of course all of you who aren't done yet with their (many?) papers a lot of courage and luck, shall Inspiration be your guide.
Afghanistan Soldiers do "Telephone":
(why isn't linking or embedding working for me?!?!)
MIA's "Born Free" (Warning: very violent):
PS: So sad today was my last time together with all of you brilliant wonderful ladies!
For my book review on Judith Butler's Frames of War, I've chosen to format it as a kind of "annotated abstract" by chapter.
Judith Butler starts out her book Frames of War with an explanation of her project. She frames the book as a collection of essays revised to make a cohesive book. With this collection, she says that she is attempting "to rethink the complex and fragile character of the social bond and to consider what conditions might make violence less possible, lives more equally grievable, and hence, more livable" (Butler, viii). Through this explanation, she seems to be situating herself and her words on the border between theory ("rethink," "consider") and praxis ("conditions").
Introduction: Precarious Life, Grievable Life
In the introduction, Butler suggests a way of perceiving the personal and the collective. She wants to find a broader way of understanding precariousness, particularly as related to the collective over the personal. Instead of only seeing individuals as precarious (or not), we need to start to think of everyone as collectively precarious, and of precariousness as a shared condition. I see this as stemming from her understanding that "lives are precarious by definition" (Butler, 25). If we understand precariousness outside of the individual and instead as this collective state that she describes, inevitable every life would fall under the category of "precarious".
While part of Butler's argument certainly does focus on the recognition of lives that have previously been tagged as "ungrievable," she also wants to make room for those nations (mainly the US) to accept their own precariousness and their own right to grief. The possible downside to this recognition is a further refusal of certain members of that nation to be included in this acknowledgement of a collective precarious condition.
Chapter 1: Survivability, Vulnerability, Affect
The focus of this chapter is on certain questions or problems that are particularly relevant within the context of war. Butler puts into question who the subject is, especially during times of war, and how wartime heightens a sense of national identity. National identity during wartime serves to reinforce who fits into the cultural conception of human and who does not. Butler also indicates the circumstances under which someone is grievable or not.
To demonstrate her point, Butler brings in the photos and the poetry of Abu Graib prisoners, both in terms of content and of the censorship controversy that surrounds them. From the content of the poetry, Butler reveals the collective pain that the poets feel, and how torture exploits the vulnerability of the body. No doubt, she claims, the governmental system that allowed these torture acts to take place do not want the public, to whom they are trying to justify their usage of these methods, to see the "enemy" in a state of vulnerability, either through photos or expressive poetry.
Chapter 2: Torture and the Ethics of Photography: Thinking with Sontag
Turning to Susan Sontag's work on photography, Butler examines how photographs have recently been used within the context of war and specifically torture. She refers mainly to the photos taken of Abu Graib to show how suffering is presented to us and how this presentation changes our reaction.
Butler begins by explaining the dominance of "embedded reporting" in the coverage of the Iraqi War. This is a kind of reporting that is based only on the approved perspective of the government, and specifically of the military. Butler noted the specific example of the media agreeing not to show images of the coffins of American casualties returning home.
Turning again to the photos of Abu Graib, Butler points out that they too can be understood as part of embedded reporting as the photos are attempting to show American victory and military prowess. She notes on Sontag's distinction between narrative and photographs, that narratives inform us, but that photos haunt us. Sontag also points to the possibility to refuse to be haunted by images, which Butler ties to a refusal that comes from where the viewer sees the subject of the photo within the "frame" of humanity. If the subject is seen as outside of this frame, the images are not haunting. Butler argues that without a sense of haunting, there is no sense of loss, and that these individuals are not seen as grievable as they are outside of the frame of what the viewer considers to be human.
Chapter 3: Sexual Politics, Torture, and Secular Time
In this chapter, Butler looks at the rhetoric of freedom and how it is used to justify state sanctioned force. She calls attention to the use of feminism and gay rights to attack Islam both physically and verbally, all while "reaffirm[ing] US sovereignty" (Butler, 105). Sexual politics are also used for arguably less extreme means; the case that Butler presents here is that of France's secular government. She links the rhetoric of laïcité (secularism) in France, which maintains that the heterosexual family is essential, to the Catholic argument of the necessity of the heterosexual family (and the rejection of the homosexual family). This association between the secular and the religious puts into question the origin of the cultural rules that dictate the symbolic order. Even in a rigidly secular nation, it seems, the symbolic order is maintained through religious norms.
Butler maintains that the hypocrisy of these rules is plainly presented, as sexual freedom is not completely open, in spite of the attempt of Western cultures to proclaim a superior tolerance in comparison to those individuals or cultures that are seen as extreme "others". Presumed Western tolerance is used to exclude presumed non-Western intolerance, in situations ranging from immigration to torture.
Chapter 4: Non-Thinking in the Name of the Normative
The issue that Butler brings up in her fourth chapter is the insufficient framework and language that is used to talk about the subject. She argues that the way the subject is talked about now "presumes specific kinds of subjects" (Butler, 137) that fit into specific categories. When we speak of the "cultural subject" or the "sexual subject", we are in essence, Butler argues, normalizing the subject in a way that does not allow the subject to be understood as it truly is.
The specific example that Butler presents is the "homosexual subject" and the "Muslim subject", two identities that are often thought of opposite and incompatible. She indicates that simply because a religious has certain rules, these rules cannot reliably show how people exist within them. Overall, she is indicating that the language we use limits the subject to the normative.
Chapter 5: The Claim of Non-Violence
With the concluding chapter of her book, Butler examines violence, non-violence, and the subject. She claims that non-violence cannot be seen as a principle, as it cannot be applied to everything and it cannot exist alone. This restriction in the way that non-violence can be understood means that it can only be thought of as an appeal. For Butler, this notion of an appeal for non-violence raises the issue of the time and circumstances required to respond to the appeal for non-violence.
The subject and violence are connected for Butler as her understanding of the subject implies that the subject is always formed through violence, as subjects are put into categories against their will (for example, gender). The violence of the creation of the subject continues as the subject exists. It is through this constant violence and struggle that there is a possibility for non-violence.
To explore this further, Butler reviews various theories on violence through mourning, mainly Levinas, Freud, and Klein.
Overall, I thought that this book offered an interesting new take on questions of violence, most notably state-sanctioned violence and how it is perceived, or how it is supposed to be perceived, by those around it. Butler offers compelling ways of thinking about how different kinds of lives, or even different kinds of subjects, are understood. My only critique is that often times, she makes rather large claims that she does not necessary back up, and I did not always feel convinced with the "facts" that she used as a basis for her arguments. I think that reading her work would be more fruitful if she were to more thoroughly cite her sources.