PHIL 6000/7000: Foucault and Derrida Genealogy/Deconstruction and the Fate of the Death Penalty


Description and Objectives

This course will examine extensively two sets of writings: those around Foucault and his genealogies of power in (mostly) the first half of the 1970s, and writings in and surrounding Derrida’s lecture course on the death penalty in 1999-2000. (Note well: many of these lectures courses, both by Derrida and Foucault, have only recently been made available and published in the last half decade.) The Foucault of this period provides “genealogies of the present” in order to understand the contingency of naturalized institutions (such as the prison), all to understand their historical conditions of possibility. Foucault’s 1960s work, from Madness and Civilization to The Order of Things and beyond, had taken as its method “archaeologies” that would discern different epistemic periods that were heterogeneous to one another. For example, famously, Foucault detected an epistemê at the end of the order of things called “Man”—that is the transcendental-empirico dublet—and that this epistemê, this very manner of understanding ourselves as the human and such would come to an end. His genealogical period—he borrows from Nietzsche the term genealogy—aimed at discerning forms of society power as they concatenated in modernity—from sovereign power of the 16th to 18th centuries, to disciplinary power, to biopower, and so on. Delineating these quite different forms of power was central to his work and his own political activism during this period. Thus Foucault would see a form of sovereigntism as something like the passé of political state—yes something quite around us, but not as central to thinking the political as it once was.

In Derrida’s death penalty lectures, we see quite a different elaboration: a focus principally on sovereignty and its right over life and death. At times in these lectures, Derrida redefines “deconstruction” as principally an elaboration of how to remove ourselves from an era of thinking the death penalty in all its guises. In this way, too, Derrida takes up central questions about politics and punishment while also teasing out what is happening under the name deconstruction. Like Foucault, Derrida found any attempt to reduce his readings and work to a “method” a gross misreading, a vast simplification by readers who couldn’t understand that this wasn’t about subjects doing a method, but rather, in some sense, genealogies and deconstruction always already underway in institutions and texts, for example, to which Foucault and Derrida are responding. We will come back to this point throughout the course. Nevertheless, it’s true that the manner of reading and the resources Foucault and Derrida bring to bear are quite different: Foucault is more likely to argue for that his historical judgments and so on work from the ground up, if you will, seeing crystalizations of power often hidden from the political philosophy, who rigidly keeps herself within her discipline. Derrida, on the other hand, follows closely Heidegger’s Destruktion of the history of ontology and with it, a long and necessary deconstruction of its political theology. That is to say, I think it’s fair to say that Derrida would find Foucault blind to a certain “metaphysics” diagnosed by Heidegger for the very condition of possibility of those histories he’s elaborating. There were other disagreements between them, but the task of this course is three fold:

  1. To understand Foucaultian genealogy. We will have to handle any comparison to the 60s work through questions, since we do not have the time to read closely his texts on archaeology, and so any difference between his “method” (all caveats on this should be taken) of the 1960s and the 1970s will need to be discussed that way. But we must also understand where he sees his work as both continuous with Nietzsche’s own genealogies, and finally how this plays out in his texts on punishment during the 1970s. What does a genealogy of the present seek to do? Why is it “of the present”? Finally why is it not simply a step by step method that can be applied to different historical circumstances? This, by the way, will be the subject of your first short paper in the course.
  2. To understand the practices of deconstruction. In some way, Derrida is lecturing in his course to those who already knew his long past work on this question. I will fill in the gaps on this, but what’s interesting in this course is that while many take deconstruction take it to be some “method” for reading texts, Derrida is explicit that it’s not a method, but is that which happens and is always already underway in the history of institutions and states, texts and peoples. He’s also clear, too, that he thinks deconstruction must both account for the death penalty and also look to a “post-deconstructive” thinking that would step unsteadily beyond a history of political theology of sacrifice that made it possible. Your second paper will be to answer “what is deconstruction”?
  3. Thus you will need to use the writings in the course to think a certain style of reading (one that be rigidified by bad readings into an A-B-C…method) and how those styles differ between Foucault and Derrida. They wrote on each other—often quite critically—but I will not cover those in this course. (The simple reason: Derrida’s major critique came early in both their careers and I find they are both arguing while missing that each’s later ideas would complicate their first set of critiques.) What I want to do instead is to look to the content of these lectures to think how, often discussing overlapping periods in history, they come to different conclusions about how counter-practices may be able to operate against forms of marginalization in the contemporary period.

Reading Schedule and Resources

Tuesday, September 9 (protocol by Shannon)


Recommended Resources: Thomas Flynn, “Mapping Foucault on History,” and Joseph Rouse, “Power/Knowledge,” from the Cambridge Companion to Foucault, ed. G. Gutting (2005). Also helpful background is Kojiro Fujita’s “Force and Knowledge: Foucault’s Reading of Nietzsche,” Foucault Studies (2013)

Tuesday, September 16 (protocol by Sarah M and Kyla B)


Recommended Resources: Stuart Elden, Power, Nietzsche and the Greeks: Foucault’s Leçons sur la volonté de savoirBerfois (July 20, 2011); Michael C. Behrent, “The Genealogy of Genealogy: Foucault’s 1970-1971 Course on The Will to Know,” Foucault Studies (2012).

Tuesday, September 23 (protocol by Fintan)


Foucault, Psychiatric Power, chs. 1-4 and “Course Summary.”

Foucault, Discipline and Punish, Part I and Part III, ch. 1. (available in bookstore)

Recommended: Alan Schrift, “Disclipline and Punish,” from Blackwell Companion to Foucault (2013), and Chris Philo, Review of Foucault’s Psychiatric Power, Foucault Studies (2007).

Tuesday, September 30 (protocol by Kyla)

Foucault, Discipline and Punish, Part III, ch. 3; Part IV, chapter 3

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete, introduction, chapter 3, and chapter 6

Tuesday, October 7 

Lecture 5

Foucault, History of Sexuality Vol. 1, Part I and Part V; Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ch. 2-3 and 6. (protocol by Chris F.)

Recommended: Richard A. Lynch, “Reading the History of Sexuality Vol. 1,” from Blackwell Companion to Foucault (2013).

Monday, October 20 (4-7pm)

Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, chs. 8, 10, 11, and “Course Summary” (protocol by Alexander G.)

Recommended: Michael Kelly, “Racism, Nationalism, and Biopolitics: Foucaults ‘Society must be Defended.”

Also, Peter Gratton, chapter 4, The State of Sovereignty (2012).

Tuesday, October 21 

Derrida, “Ethics and Politics Today,” from Negotiations (protocol by Shannon)

Derrida, “Nietzsche and the Machine,” from Negotiations (protocol by Chris R.)

Derrida, “Forgiveness” (protocol by Nadja)

Recommended: Len Lawlor, “Deconstruction” from A Blackwell Companion to Derrida (2013)

Tuesday, October 28 

Derrida, The Death Penalty Vol. 1, Sessions 1-3. (protocol by Sarah M.)

Derrida, “For Mumia Abu-Jamal

Death Penalty Information Center, “Fact Sheet” (September 19, 2014)

Recommended: Michael Naas, “The Philosophy and Literature of the Death Penalty: Two Sides of the Same Sovereign,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, V. 50 (2012).

Peter Gratton, “Derrida’s Death Penalty Lectures,” Berfois (February 2014); Peggy Kamuf interviewLos Angeles Review of Books (2014)

Tuesday, November 4

Lecture 6

Derrida, The Death Penalty Vol. 1, Sessions 4-7. (protocol by Fintan)

Samir Haddad, Derrida and the Inheritance of Democracy, chapter 1. (protocol by Michael L.)

Tuesday, November 11

Lecture 7

Derrida, The Death Penalty Vol. 1, Sessions 8-12. (protocols by Chris F.)

Samir Haddad, Derrida and the Inheritance of Democracy, chapters 3-4 (protocol by Chris R.)

Recommended: Judith Butler, review of The Death Penalty Vol. 1London Review of Books

Tuesday, November 18

Derrida, Rogues, Part I, ch. 1-5. (protocols by Nadja and Michael L)

Peter Gratton, Chapter 5, The State of Sovereignty: Lessons from the Political Fictions of Modernity (2012)

Tuesday, November 25

Derrida, Rogues, Part I, ch. 5-end. (Protocol by Alexander)

 Tuesday, December 2

Final Class: Catch-up day

Noon, December 10, Final Papers Due

13 thoughts on “PHIL 6000/7000: Foucault and Derrida Genealogy/Deconstruction and the Fate of the Death Penalty

  1. Disciplinary Power and the Power of Sovereignty in Psychiatric Power
    In Psychiatric Power, Foucault explains that “the mechanism of psychiatry should be understood starting from the way in which disciplinary power works.”[1] Disciplinary power – the modality by which (political) power comes to control the body (somatic singularity) – is here analyzed in contrast with the power of sovereignty, which historically precedes it and with which it was long enmeshed. Foucault first defines the power of sovereignty as “a power relationship that links sovereign sand subject according to a couple of asymmetrical relationships: a levy or deduction one side, and expenditure on the other.”[2] Secondly, he explains that these relationships must have a “founding precedence,” for example, “divine right, or conquest, a victory, an act of submission, an oath of loyalty, an act passed between the sovereign who grants privileges, aid, protection, and so forth, and someone who, in return, pledges himself.”[3] These relationships are constantly reactualized through ceremonies, rituals, narratives, etc., and are, in fact, fundamentally fragile and sustained by a supplement or threat of violence.[4] Thirdly, these relationships are intertwined with each other and cannot be clearly separated in a comprehensive way so as to allow the discernment of a hierarchy between them, i.e., they are not isotopic (they are relationships of differentiation but not classification).[5]
    In relationships based on sovereign power, there is minimal emphasis on the body, for the “subject function” is always in flux as bodies circulate and engage in different relations and disputes. Therefore, “you never find a perfect fit between sovereignty and corporeal singularities.”[6] The place where we observe individuality is the sovereign, who referees all and who, “in his own body, is the point on which all these multiple, different, and irreconcilable relationships converge.”[7] Moreover, in contrast to sovereign power, disciplinary power employs neither mechanisms of levy and expenditure nor a split between a sovereign and fluctuating subjects, but rather is a “total hold” or “exhaustive capture of the individual’s body, actions, time, and behavior.”[8] Furthermore, the disciplinary system is continuous rather than discontinuous – it does not require constant (discontinuous) renewal, but rather involves continuous control of the constantly observed individual. There is no reference to a founding act, event or right; disciplinary power “refers instead to a final or optimum state” in which discipline has become habit, the system maintains itself, and “only a virtual supervision (is) required.”[9] The principle that upholds the permanent functioning of disciplinary power is its constant exercise, which can outline the “growth and improvement of discipline on a temporal scale.”[10]
    The written form is essential to the maintenance of discipline and control. It allows for the grading or ranking and recording of individuals, the subsequent transmission of this information through a hierarchy, which is in the end made accessible, ensuring “omnivisibility” (in this sense, disciplinary power has a panoptic character).[11] This is also observable in the ways in which digital information about us is collected, transmitted, stored and provided to the government for the ultimate means of control and surveillance in the present time.[12] Writing codifies us (literally), schematizes us, then transfers this information to a point of centralization, enabling quick and preemptive reactions of disciplinary power – often before acts themselves are possible.[13] Moreover, punitive and continuous action regarding potential behavior then projects a type of psyche underneath the singular body – a “core of virtualities” which further establishes the norm and “universal prescription for all individuals constituted in this way.”[14]
    A disciplinary apparatus is (unlike in those of sovereignty) “isotopic” – all elements defined places or ranks (superior and inferior).[15] Moreover, different disciplinary apparatuses are compatible and interconnected (e.g., “school classifications are projected, with some modification…into the social-technical hierarchies of the adult world”[16]). This isotopic character also implies that there is a residue, an “unclassifiable,” unsupervisable remainder, in disciplinary systems — the ultimate example of which are the mentally ill. From this point we can recognize and critique the limits of disciplinary power.[17] Additionally, disciplinary power is consequently said to be both at once anomizing and normalizing – the perpetual work of “the norm in the anomic.”[18]
    Disciplinary power can be characterized as the reorganization of the relations between the subject and the individual in depth. Individualization does not occur at the site of the sovereign at the peak of the system. Rather, the exercisers and workers of power themselves become inconspicuous, as the system continues on its own. For example, directors, heads of states, chiefs are merely functions (that could equally be exercised by other replaceable individuals), and the individuals fulfilling these functions are themselves always caught up in other systems which in turn supervise, subjugate and discipline them. It could be said that in disciplinary power, there is a lack of individualization at the top of the system, but strong individualization at the base, at which point we can see that the subject-function is precisely super-imposed on “somatic singularities,” i.e., on individual bodies.[19] Disciplinary power thus “fabricates subjected bodies” and distributes them; in other words, the individual becomes the subjected body.
    In short, the individual has become the subjectivizing effect produced directly on the body by disciplinary techniques (such as constant supervision, writing and punishment) of political power, which have in turn extracted a certain psyche.[20] There is thus no underlying essential, individual to be discovered, and leveling the rights of the individual against the subject of science or psychology becomes a futile endeavor, for, from the beginning, the individual is already “a psychologically normal subject.”[21] The two sided nature of the “juridico-disciplinary individual” identified by Foucault entails, on the one hand, that the individual is abstract subject of juridical or philosophical theories with irreducible rights, and on the other, that beneath this individual, there is the historical individual as effect or product of disciplinary technology. The discourse of the human sciences couples these two individuals together, and can lay claim to an essential concept of man persisting underneath and capable of surpassing the juridical individual (but which is in fact just the disciplinary individual). However, particularly in the humanist discourse, the opposite claim can be advanced that the disciplinary individual is alienated and enslaved, but if we restore his or her rights, we will observe the emergence of an original, living, philosophico-juridical individual.[22] This oscillation between the jurdicial individual as the “ideological instrument of the demand for power” (power claimed) and the disciplinary individual as the “real instrument of power” (power exercised) generates, according to Foucault, our contemporary illusion of “man.”[23]

    [1] Michel Foucault and Jacques Lagrange. Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1973-74, trans. Graham Burchell, ed. Jacques Lagrange. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 41.
    [2] Ibid., p. 42. Foucault explains that expenditure can be in the form of gifts (including gifts of service, such as a religious service by the Church), or working for pay which can be very different from the types of services, products, time quantities or other which have been levied or deducted (the latter of which always exceeds expenditure).
    [3] Ibid., 43.
    [4] Foucault states “the other side of sovereignty is violence, it is war” (ibid., p. 43).
    [5] Ibid., p. 43.
    [6] Ibid., p. 45.
    [7] Ibid. We can thus already observe here a relationship of application between political power and the body of the sovereign, but the individualizing function in this case does not extend beyond the sovereign (in contrast to what we will see in disciplinary power), who moreover could himself/herself be a multiple body (see ibid., pp. 45-46).
    [8] Foucault continues, “it is a seizure of the body, and not of the product; it is a seizure of time in its totality, and not of the time of service” (p. 46), and furthermore explains that all disciplinary systems tend to occupy the individual’s “time, life, and body” (p. 47).
    [9] Ibid., p. 47.
    [10] Ibid.
    [11] Ibid., p. 48. I unfortunately do not have space here to further explain the significance of Bentham’s Panopticon in Foucault’s development of the panoptic principle of omnivisibility in disciplinary power. However, it is noteworthy that the confrontation of (mad) King George III and his servants, heavily used by Foucault to demonstrate the emergence of the installation of disciplinary power in society, is contemporaneous with Bentham’s Panopticon (Ibid., p. 41).
    [12] Take for example, the significance of the PRISM surveillance program, the details of which were released by Edward Snowden. PRISM was revealed to be collecting data communication between individuals from Google and Yahoo accounts. I would suggest that our general continued use of Google and Yahoo, along with the integration of (particularly Google) accounts on our smartphone, and our feelings of apathy towards the information that we allow our phone applications to access, demonstrates the continued self-functioning of disciplinary power, which moves increasingly towards chiefly virtual supervision and necessarily relies on the written as a control instrument. Foucault’s claim that the possibility for immediate intervention enabled by disciplinary power (which relies on writing) on the same level of that which occurs exemplifies the “point when the virtual is becoming real” also has ontological potential for such analyses of disciplinary control through our modern technological techniques and practices.
    [13] Here we can think of examples such as arrests for the establishment of websites containing hate speech, or mandatory interviews conducted by banks with any individual who deposits a substantially large amount of money as exemplifying the intervention before action of a disciplinary system. This is markedly different form sovereign power, “which only intervenes violently, from time to time, and in the form of war, exemplary punishment, or ceremony” (ibid., pp. 50-51).
    [14] Ibid., 56.
    [15] Consequently, movement within the system cannot be produced through discontinuity, dispute or favour, but “is produced by a regular movement of examination, competition, seniority…” (ibid., p. 52).
    [16] Ibid., p. 53.
    [17] Foucault’s examples include the deserter with regards to the disciplined army, the mentally defective with school discipline, and delinquents with relation to the police discipline (ibid., pp. 53-54). We may also think here of Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of the homo sacer. Importantly, Foucault describes the mentally ill as the “residue of all residue’s, the residue of all the disciplines, those who are inassimilable to all of a society’s educational, military, and police disciniplines” (ibid., 54). There will always be an infinite number of attempts and “supplementary disciplinary systems” (ex., special schools and hospitals) in attempt to retrieve these individuals and normalize them.
    [18] Ibid., p. 54. It is anomizing for it always excludes certain individuals and makes the “anomie” clear, but is normalizing for it always invents “new recovery systems” and re-establishes the rule.
    [19] This only happens in sovereign power in specific situations of ceremony, branding, violence and ritual (ibid., p. 55).
    [20] Ibid., p. 56.
    [21] Ibid., p. 57.
    [22] Ibid., p. 58
    [23] Ibid.

  2. Angela Davis opens the third chapter of Are Prisons Obsolete? with the following quote from Discipline and Punish to demonstrate the inherent link between prison and reform:

    “One should recall that the movement for reforming the prisons, for controlling their functioning is not a recent phenomenon. It does not even seem to have originated in a recognition of failure. Prison ‘reform’ is virtually contemporary with the prison itself: it constitutes, as it were, its programme” (40).

    The roots of the prison relate to the American Revolution (and thus, resistance to British colonialism), at a time when incarceration in the prison was considered to be more humane than practices inherited from Europe, in which, as we saw at the beginning of Discipline and Punish, punishment was a public spectacle focused on revenge. Davis links the rising penitentiary movement in Europe and the U.S. (18th/19th century) to Enlightenment ideals, Protestant reformers and the rise of industrial capitalism (42). Imprisonment as the primary mode of state-inflicted punishment is associated with the “appearance of a new set of ideological conditions” which “reflected the rise of the bourgeoisie as the social class whose interests and aspirations furthered new scientific, philosophical, cultural and popular ideas” (43). In a truly Foucauldian light, Davis thus describes the prison as “what made most sense at a particular moment in history” and accordingly encourages us to question the relationship of the prison system to the historical circumstances of the 18th/19th century, and whether it is still applicable to our current time.
    During this period, the individual began to acquire rights and freedoms. Imprisonment can only be a punishment when individual rights are considered valuable and inalienable (for in the prison rights are restricted and taken away). Davis furthermore explains that prisoners were mostly male, “since women were largely denied public status as rights-bearing individuals, they could not be easily punished by the deprivation of such rights through imprisonment. This was especially true of married women, who had no standing before the law” (45). Domestic corporeal punishment persists in other forms today (e.g. domestic violence). Davis also emphasizes that the prison sentence is computed in terms of time and is consequently related to the abstract quantification of the Age of Reason, during which labour started to be calculated by time and compensated by money, which can help us link resistance to capitalist globalization with a resistance to the prison.
    If we consider Protestant reformer John Howard’s understanding of imprisonment as offering the possibility of disciplined self-reflection and self-reform, along with Bentham’s panopticon and “ideas regarding the technology of intemalization designed to make surveillance and discipline the purview of the individual prisoner,” we can see that “the conditions of possibility for this new form of punishment were strongly anchored in a historical era during which the working class needed to be constituted as an army of self-disciplined individuals capable of performing the requisite industrial labor for a developing capitalist system” (46).
    Early prisons in the U.S. were split between two models: the Pennsylvania system, which focused on total isolation of prisoners who were to reflect and repent, and the Auburn model, which entailed solitary cells but common prison labor (“congrate”) which was to occur in silence. Davis’ argument is that Auburn became the dominant model for the U.S. and Europe due to its “more efficient labor practices”(47). The two systems both involved a sort of religious based “solitary confinement” assumed to have an “emancipatory effect.” As Davis explains, “the body was placed in conditions of segregation in order to allow the soul to flourish” (48). Despite this, she argues that at this point in time, observers of the prisons such as Charles Dickens remarked the potential of such conditions for insanity, the questioning type of individuals produced by the prison and the suitability of prisons in a democratic society overall.
    Supermax prisons developed as a way to deal with the disciplinary problems in this penal system. Davis notes descriptions of these prisons no longer include references to individual rehabilitation included in early descriptions of the benefits and goals of confinement in the context of early U.S prisons. She states, “What was once regarded as progressive and even revolutionary represents today the marriage of technological superiority and political backwardness” (50). Supermax prisons do not presume to respect individual rights, create conditions of respect for prisoners, or to have the goal of transforming their habits and ethics. Davis describes that the horrors created by the supermax are “the perfect complement for the horrifying personalities deemed the worst of the worst by the prison system” (50). Imprisonment, in its focus on regimentation and confinement, was, in the 18th and 19th century, rooted in an Enlightenment assumption of progress on the level of the individual member of society (51). The reformers of this period were primarily Protestant, Quakers being the dominant dominant group (whose traditions of suffering introspection and the idea of imprisonment as a type of purgatory can be connected with idea of the prison which they championed). More importantly, however, the reformist position embodied materialist and utilitarianist principles of the enlightenment, for “the campaign to reform the prisons was a project to impose order, classification, cleanliness, good work habits, and self-consciousness” (53). The three goals of such prisons were: “maintenance of order within a largely urban labor force, salvation of the soul, and rationalization of personality” (54, Davis quoting John Bender, Penitentary: Fiction and the Archtecture of Mind in Eighteenth-Century England).
    Davis then shifts focus towards the role of literature and education in contemporary campaigns concerning the prison. Central questions here concern the social interest catered to by the persisting lack of education available to prisoners and their illiteracy. She describes the defunding of creative writing courses in the prison and the disappearance of journals publishing prisoners’ writing, explaining that prisoners are increasingly dissuaded to educate themselves (thus progressively “dashing the hopes” of prisoners who, in light of Malcolm X’s autobiography, attempt to spend the majority of their time in prison pursuing education) (56). Davis believes that this demonstrates a disregard for “rehabilitate strategies” for prisoners, “particularly those that encourage individual prisoners to acquire autonomy of the mind” (57). She uses the case of the dismantling of the 22 year old college program at Greenhaven Prison (NY) to demonstrate this point, and how emancipating prisoners through education, thus opening further possibilities for reform, is discouraged by contemporary prisons.
    So if the idea of the prison itself is linked with reform and ideals which perhaps do not meet the demands of a 21st century society, what alternatives to the prison are there? In chapter six, Davis explores “abolitionist alternatives,” focused on the types of society, justice system and infrastructures which decrease the “need” for prisons altogether (she interestingly notes that the anti-death penalty campaign “tends to rely on the assumption that life imprisonment is the most rational alternative to capital punishment” (106)). Davis describes the initial difficulty in letting go of the current system as the “unconditional standard” and beginning to consider the “set of relationships that comprise the prison industrial complex,” which is the condition of the possibility of exploring a variety of possible alternatives to the prison. The prison industrial complex is “a set of symbiotic relationships among correctional communities, transnational corporations, media conglomerates, guards’ unions, and legislative and court agendas” (107), and abolitions strategies should focus on alternative strategies and institutions that would dismantle these relationships. Goals of such an alternative system could include the prohibiting of punishment as a source of corporate profit, the elimination of race and class as “primary determinants of punishment,” and changing the idea that punishment is the “central concern in the making of justice” (107). Davis proposes the strategy of decarceration to begin removing prisons from our society through alternatives such as “demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance” (107). These would progressively “crowd out” the prison, forcing it to be less prominent in our society. As alluded to above, access to education and, more precisely, the elimination of violence from schools play a pivotal role here, along with the availability of healthcare. Davis notes that “there are currently more people with mental and emotional disorders in the jails and prisons than in mental institutions,” and although she note that this should not signify a regress to the repressive old system of mental institutions, one can wonder, following the insights of Foucault, whether the elimination of prisons would help eliminate the (largely capitalist) problems of the prison industrial complex, or whether similar power dynamics and oppression would continue to manifest themselves through the alternative institutions and systems. In any case, health care needs to be available in such a way as to reduce the racial and class disparities amongst those who have access. Other forms of social discrimination, including male dominance and homophobia, also need to be addressed through systematic, institutional alternatives.
    Davis also defends the decriminalization of drug use, and the corresponding development of free, community-based drug treatment programs (so that accessibility would no longer be restricted to the affluent). Decriminalization would help reduce the amount to people sent to prison, with the goal of prison abolition. Furthermore, an abolitionist strategy could include decriminalization associated with a defence of immigrants’ rights. Davis suggests “dismantling the process that punish people for their failure to enter this country without documents” (110). Finally, alternatives must be conceived towards minimalizing violence against women. Additional alternatives which could further the abolitionist strategy could include jobs and living wage programs, alternatives to the welfare systems and community recreation (111).
    In a broader sense, Davis encourages us to be sceptical regarding the social role of punishment as not simply being the logical consequence following from crime. She states rather that punishment, through imprisonment, “is linked to the agendas of politicians, the profit drive of corporations, and media representations of crime” (112), and further describes the link association of imprisonment with race, class and gender structures. The point of the alternatives described above is to disturb these relationships and focus on the systems of social relations that “support the permanence of the prison” (112). Further questioning of why “criminals” have been constituted as a class of “human beings undeserving of the civil and human rights accorded to others” (112) (Davis insists here that we have all broken the law, but that disparities in the intensity of police surveillance contributes to the racial and class-based disparities in arrests). She concludes that many people of marginalized groups are in prison because their “communities have been criminalized,” thus both criminalized activities and criminalized populations/communities need to be addressed by programs for decriminalization.
    In terms of how to treat grave crimes such as murder and cases where the rights and bodies of others have been assaulted, Davis suggests we focus on alternative modes of making justice, such as conflict resolution, restorative or reparative justice instead of retribution. But is this really possible, as seen in the case of the murder of Amy Biehl, or was this case merely an exception?

  3. Shannon

    September 9, 2014

    Truth and Power

    The program of Truth and Power is to retrace the develop of Foucault’s thought. This is no easy program to fulfil. In an attempt to avoid cliché, I will simple say that the breath and scope of his project is vast. Through reading interviews and transcripts from various lectures it is easy to see that he is a thinker that does not want to be labeled period, he exhibits features of the structuralist, post-structuralist.

    For Foucault’s “aim is to attack great systems, grand theories and vital truths, and to give free play to difference, to local and specific knowledge, and to rupture, contingency and discontinuity. For Foucault, to act as a grand theorist is to commit the undignified folly of speaking for others – of prescribing to them the law of their being. It is to offer a new orthodoxy, and thus a new tyranny.” (1)

    He “is not especially concerned with those statements which are held as true in a given field of knowledge. Rather, he is attempting to reveal the sets of discursive rules which allow the formation of groups of statements which are what Ian Hacking calls ‘true or false’: statements, that is, which can only be seen as true or false because we have ways to reason about them (Hacking I982: 49).” (2)

    He brings to philosophy and the sciences insights that are intended to motivate discussion without being the final world. Gary Gutting considers him along Nietzsche in-terms of his influence, but acknowledges the erudition in Foucault lacking in Nietzsche.

    The main focus of the interview, as the name implies is investigation power relations, especially regarding 1. The political status of science 2. The ideological function it could serve. Said otherwise, Foucault was interested in considering the “excessively complicated question concerning the impact of scientific discover, the program of science, and its relation to the political and economic structure of society.

    Science for Foucault is enmeshed in social structures, and he wants to trace the interplay of science in the play of social forces. The investigation of Foucault is different from that of say, Thomas Kuhn. Foucault’s goal is not to describe like the structure of scientific revolutions, but to trace the play of power which makes possible the new revolution, which permits the new paradigm, and the role the new paradigm plays with the social structure of power.

    This transitions into the binary of continuity and event. Events for Foucault have the following characteristics;

    1. It always escapes our rational grasp
    2. The domain of absolute contingency
    3. Structure (theoretical) vs. Event (practical – existential

    Foucault says that this opposition between structure and event generates a “certain anthropology.” This anthropology involves the interplay of the theoretical and the pragmatic as Kant says.


    Skinner, Quentin. The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences [in English]. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    1 Quentin Skinner, The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 68.
    2 Ibid., 69.

  4. J. Derrida: On Forgiveness

    (I) For J. Derrida forgiveness is unlimited and due to its nature hard to measure (Derrida, Jacques: On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 27). It is also important to divide forgiveness from law and related themes like excuse, regret and amnesty etc. (27). Forgiveness has a “religious heritage”(28) and in its tradition it has become a global practice for the individual up to corporations and heads of state to “ask for ‘forgiveness’”(28). The turn towards memory and act of self-accusation finds its roots in the past, where extraordinary events like the crimes of the 3rd Reich led to trials with the accusation of ‘crimes against humanity’ (28f.). This movement of the international community was a historic transformation towards a society, whose concepts of the ‘human’ and ‘humanity’ descend from a Christian confession (but without needing a Christian church) (30f.). It applies also to non-Christian cultures as the use of forgiveness as a tool for one’s own interest in politics has nothing to do with the pure forgiveness, as Derrida claims that forgiveness used for re-establishing a normality is not what it is meant to be. It should not be normal, normative or normalising, but always stay something extraordinary. In his view this modern movement is caused by globalisation, or globalatinisation, which is majorly influenced by Roman Christianity, “which today overdetermines all language of law, of politics, and even the interpretation of what is called the ‘return of the religious’.”(32).

    (II) Derrida claims that the unforgivable exists, because only the existence of something unforgivable can lead to an act of forgiveness. “Forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable.”(32). The ‘universal conscience’ of today reactivates the call for forgiveness over and over, because monstrous crimes are no longer forgotten. Forgiveness is also divided from the imprescriptible, which is a term of French law describing crimes against humanity (33). Those crimes against humanity are, at least in the mind of Jankélévitch, unforgivable as the accused party does not ask for forgiveness (33). Derrida questions the relation between the forgiving and the forgiven, as the act of forgiving should be unconditional on the one hand; but on the other hand the guilty asks for forgiveness in order to cast off part of his guilt (34f.). Also there would be no meaning to forgiveness if it only forgives the forgiveable (36). The two points of Jankélévitch, first, that “forgiveness must rest on a human possibility”(37) and second, that this “possibility is the correlate to the possibility of punishment”(37) lead to the unforgivable, which, for Derrida, opens up the possibility of forgiveness. (37 – here Derrida disagrees with Jankélévitch, latter seeing the unforgivable as truly unforgivable). Trying to examine the procedure of forgiveness raises the two questions of ‘what is forgiven’ and ‘whom does one ask for forgiveness’ – a victim, a god? Derrida does not answer those questions (38).

    (III) Instead he proceeds making the distinction on the side of the guilty between the guilty and the fault. In its madness forgiveness remains surprising as it is “heterogeneous to the order of politics or of the juridical as they are ordinarily understood.”(39) In politics, however, forgiveness is always a calculated condition for reconciliation by amnesty and therefore national unity (40). “This ‘ecological’ imperative of social and political health has nothing to do with forgiveness.” (41). Pure forgiveness has only two parties: the guilty and the victim (42). Forgiveness has nothing to do with judgement and a third party, like an anonymous state, cannot grant forgiveness (43). The conditional process of repentance is also divided from the pure unconditional forgiveness.

    The right of grace is an example for an action apart from the law and can be used by sovereign to pardon criminals (45f.). It is an exception, but an arbitrary one, that is almost always executed in a conditional, and therefore un-pure manner (46f.).

    (IV) The participation of different parties raises the question if there can be “forgiveness without a shared language?”(48) But this impossibility of conscious forgiveness supports the former argument of pure forgiving as the unforgivable (48f.). Also finalized forgiveness cannot be counted as a pure forgiveness as it serves a purposes beyond its essence (50). Forgiveness is always divided between this pure essence and the pragmatic political approach (51).

    (V) The terms human rights, crimes against humanity and sovereignty “are connected in the public sphere and in political discourse.”(51) Even though the heterogenous structure remains (and has to remain), someone can still demand justice while forgiving in his or her heart (54).

    (VI) But on the other hand it is also possible not to forgive. And it lies in the zone of experience of the victim to forgive or not to forgive and no political instance should try to break in this very personal sphere as it cannot be understood by someone other than the victim (55).
    Also the events of history, that should remain in the consciousness of society, cannot be judged, and should not be judged. Knowledge about historic events is at no point of time absolute or objective (56). Rather than that all Nation-States (and therefore their societies) are born out of violence, which is hidden within the foundation of the states (57). And all actions taken in order to defend humanity or judging crimes against humanity remain bound to the sovereign structures of the powerful states (58).

    (VII) Forgiveness in the real world is always related to sovereignty. Be it “a strong and noble soul”(59) or a state. Derrida wishes for a forgiveness that is “unconditional, but without sovereignty.”(59).

    Warsaw Genuflection
    “Wenn dieser […] für das Verbrechen nicht mitverantwortliche, damals nicht dabeigewesene Mann nun dennoch auf eigenes Betreiben seinen Weg durchs ehemalige Warschauer Ghetto nimmt und dort niederkniet – dann kniet er da also nicht um seinetwillen. Dann kniet er, der das nicht nötig hat, da für alle, die es nötig haben, aber nicht da knien – weil sie es nicht wagen oder nicht können oder nicht wagen können. Dann bekennt er sich zu einer Schuld, an der er selber nicht zu tragen hat, und bittet um eine Vergebung, derer er selber nicht bedarf. Dann kniet er da für Deutschland.”

    “When that […], for the crime not co-responsible, back then not present man now still, at his own urging, makes his way through the Warsaw Ghetto and genuflects there – then he does not genuflect there for his own sake. Then he, who is not in need to do that, genuflects there for all who are in need, but do not genuflect there – because they do not dare, or they can not, or they cannot dare. Then he confesses a guilt, which he does not bear himself, and he asks for a forgiveness, which he does not need for his own sake. Then he genuflects there for the German nation.”
    Schreiber, Hermann: DER SPIEGEL, 14.12.1970, p. 29f.

  5. Sarah
    16 September 2014
    That knowledge is an invention means:
    1) Knowledge is not an inherent part of human nature. There is no knowledge instinct. “The intellect is at the service of the various instincts” (203). Knowledge does not tear itself away from instinct, interest, play, and struggle. These are all necessary supports for knowledge (206).
    2) There is no divine intellect. No knowledge preceding human knowledge.
    3) Things are not made in order to be known. “They do not turn towards us with an intelligible face which looks at us and waits for our gaze to meet them” (203). There is no hidden meaning or essence.
    4) Knowledge is the result of a complex operation. We think knowledge must be opposed to the instincts, when it is only a matter of certain relation between the instincts. The complex operation consists of keeping one’s distance from all else, protecting oneself from them. Differentiating oneself of them, destroying them.
    “Knowledge is indeed what goes beyond appearance, what maliciously destroys it, puts it to the question, and extracts its secrets. A knowledge that remained at the level of what is given as appearance would not be knowledge at all” (205). However, knowledge will never be complete, and will never be adequate to its object. It will always be separate from a thing in itself (206).
    Does knowledge have to be knowledge of truth?
    “What kind of knowledge would it be that does not suspend the truth or put it out of circulation, but is the place where truth emerges in a secondary, aleatory, non-essential way?” (207)
    How should we analyse knowledge of truth? as an illusion? as a structure? as will? “Is the relation between knowledge and the truth a matter of error (i.e. of untruth), will, or law?” (207)
    “Is truth a phase? Will there be an end to truth? Can we imagine or conceive of a new knowledge that would once again be knowledge without truth? Is there a future truth or a future without truth?” (207)
    “Knowledge was invented, but truth was invented even later” (207). Historically, truth is added to knowledge. Knowledge does not have to be destined to truth, and truth is not the essence of knowledge.
    To Nietzsche, there are 2 answers to this question:
    1) knowledge that is not linked to truth is pure “wanting to know” (208). He opposes this to the schematizations, or simplifications of a knowledge oriented toward truth, explaining that the apparatus of knowledge as simplification is not for knowledge, but for mastery over things.
    The formation of reason, logic, and categories does not help us with our need to know, but is used in order to understand (208). (understand vs know? connaissance vs savoir?)
    “Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is opposed to good, useful, generous, accommodating knowledge, the knowledge that does good, that is to say, does something other than know” (209). For knowledge that does good, the question is not of knowledge, but that of life, struggle, food, rivalry. It is knowledge of need, which is in the service of our preservation and growth (209).
    2) A secondary knowledge that is also before the quest for truth suspends usefulness and wants to see everything equally and without prejudice: Knowledge that wants to be pure (209). Absurdity. psychological misunderstanding.
    The idea of an origin of knowledge entails a relation between a subject and an object. Nietzsche attempts to put the greatest distance possible between subject and object, insisting that the subject-object relation is not the foundation of knowledge, but is produced by knowledge (210). To Nietzsche, the subject-object relation is does not constitute knowledge, but is the first and major illusion of knowledge.
    Nietzsche speaks of knowledge as a lie because it “distorts reality, because it is perspectivist, because it erases difference, and because it introduces the abusive reign of resemblance” (213). Knowledge seems to interpret, rather than explain.
    Interpretation posits and imposes signs, changing the differences of chaos into differences of words and meaning. Interpretation is violence to the chaos.
    Nietzsche asserts that the knowledge that does not rely on a relation between subject and object is the only knowledge that addresses reality: all other knowledge is the result of violence of interpretations that are distorted by perspective, domination, and need (213).
    Knowledge before truth does not mean that knowledge takes a long time to discover truth, but that truth is “an episode, an invention, maybe a diversion of knowledge” (214). Truth is not something that must be discovered, but something that is created.
    Paradoxes (We should definitely go back to this!):
    If truth is not a condition or foundation for knowledge, but instead a product or effect of knowledge, it must be false knowledge. It is a system of errors. Is truth a destruction to the illusion of knowing? “Nietzsche transforms the skeptical assertion ‘truth does not exist’ into a series of paradoxes deriving from the proposition: truth is not true” (217).
    Appearance is that which allows us to think the history of truth without relying on truth. Truth does not exist in appearance. Appearance is where truth is indefinite (217). Appearance is reality, not the opposite of reality. the true and sole reality of things.
    To Nietzsche, knowledge is an illusory effect of the fraudulent assertions of truth (218).
    Nietzsche explains that the root of truth is in the will, or, more specifically, the will to power. He explains that the search for knowledge or truth, which have a relation of reciprocal cruelty and destruction, is not will to know, but will to power (219).

  6. Sarah
    October 28, 2014
    Jacques Derrida – The Death Penalty – Chapters 1-3
    We often speak of death inflicted on an innocent person, or presumed innocent person, as unpardonable (as we saw in “Forgiveness”). According to Derrida, “the death penalty signifies that the crime it sanctions remains forever, on men’s earth and in men’s society, un-forgivable” (45). In The Death Penalty, Derrida examines whether “the death penalty is what is proper to man” (1).
    Derrida insists that “the death penalty, that is, the legal and legitimate sentencing, is distinct from murder or from putting to death outside of the law . . . in that it treats the condemned one as a subject of rights, a subject of the law, as human being, with the dignity that this still supposes” (8). Derrida reminds us that in Plato’s Laws, there is a punishment worse than the death sentence, which treats humans as beasts who do not deserve the right to a burial, or even the death sentence.
    Derrida first compares the death penalty to the right to kill in war. According to Rousseau, a person who kills another person can be put to death by the state as a war criminal because the person who killed another person is threatening the stability of the state. Derrida asserts, however, that the abolition of the death penalty is different from the abolition of the right to kill in war” (3). He adds that states which have “abolished the death penalty keep a sovereign right over the life of citizens whom they can send to war to kill or be killed in a space that is radically foreign to the space of internal legality, of the civil law where the death penalty may be either maintained or abolished” (3). He explains that the abolition struggles do not concern putting to death or killing in general, as in wartime, for example. They concern the death penalty as a legal apparatus. Killing a foreign enemy in the context of declared war never seems to be a problem, even in those countries which have abolished the death penalty.

    Derrida wonders whether there is a contradiction between “thou shalt not kill” and the death penalty, especially since even the Bible orders that those who commit certain crimes should be sentenced to death (14). Derrida explains that the way around this problem is to distinguish between ‘killing’ and ‘murder.’
    “The two deaths, the two puttings to death apparently have no relation, or so little relation, they are so heterogeneous that there would be no contradiction in proscribing the one while prescribing the other, in saying ‘thou shalt not kill’ in the sense of ‘thou shalt not murder’ and then saying, ordering that whoever murders shall be punished with death. The difference that counts here is not between life and death but between two ways of putting to death. One death, that of the death penalty, reinstates the law or the commandment that the other death (murder) will have violated” (14).
    Derrida explains that we must remember that not every death, or even every inflicted death, is the sentence or the application of a death penalty. The death penalty presents itself as a “concept of law, the concept of a sanction exercised by law in a state of law” (40), even if one contests the juridical purity, legitimacy, or even legality of the death penalty.
    Derrida focuses on the United States: “one of the very rare, or even the only and the last large country of so-called European culture, and with a so-called democratic constitution, that maintains . . . the principle of the death penalty” (41). Derrida explains that the “application of the death penalty is today in the Unites States a more spectacular and heated debate than the debate over the death penalty itself, as if the essential thing were to maintain, or not . . . a good and tolerable death penalty” (42).
    Derrida emphasises the importance of the spectacle of the death penalty, bringing up an argument of Foucault’s from Discipline and Punish. Insisting that “the spectacle and the spectator are required” (2), he explains that a seeing-punish is essential to punishment, as a right or even a duty. According to Foucault, the staging of suffering is now excluded from the punishment. To Foucault, the guillotine marked a de-spectacularization of the death penalty, since it reduced the death to a visible, but instantaneous event: almost without touching the body (43).
    Derrida explains that the motif of cruelty plays a large role in the logic and rhetoric of the abolitionist argument, often as if the principle of the death penalty were less in question than the cruelty of its application. It can be to the point that, if the cruelty were to disappear, the principle of the death penalty could be maintained (48). This could happen if the death penalty was made insensible, or anesthetized – both to the condemned and the spectators. This anesthesial argument does not contest the rationality of the principle of the death penalty, and can often play right into the logic that maintains the principle of the death penalty. “It pleads merely for a less cruel, less painful application of the said rationality” (49). This logic allows for people to be in favour of the death penalty, as long as it is administered in a way that is not cruel. In 1977, certain states revised their laws with the aim of making the death penalty less cruel and compatible with the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments (less cruel, less arbitrary, and less discriminatory). Derrida uses lethal injection as a less cruel example, comparing it to a gas chamber, hanging, firing squad, or electric chair. (Today, this is being reconsidered due to recent problems with the drugs used in lethal injections.)
    Even when the death penalty was abolished in the United States (between 1972 and 1977), the principle of the death penalty itself was not abolished. The argument about cruelty was only against the technical modalities of its implementation, and avoided the real question of the principle of the death penalty (72). Often, it is the cruelty of the execution which is denounced, rather than the death itself, as is seen when the cruelty of execution is understood as a case of torture. “So torture is denounced but not putting to death” (57). (Can/should waiting, knowing death is coming be counted as a type of torture?)
    Relating to the attempt to make punishment less discriminatory, another problem highlighted by Derrida is the prominence of people of certain races who receive the death penalty. As Derrida explains, “for the same crime a black man is ten times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white woman in Florida, Texas, Georgia, or California” (54).
    Additionally, in 1989, the Supreme Court in the United States ruled that there is nothing standing in the way of an execution of those between sixteen and eighteen years old (who were minors at the time of the crime) and the mentally handicapped.

  7. We “Other Victorians”
    The title of Part One refers to the standard against which we believe we seek liberation; the Victorian era, which Foucault points out is associated with an imaginary level of prudishness. The association is false (freedom of sexual expression was in fact the norm) but notably it coincides with the rise of capitalism. Sex is associated with an ascetic morality, and is generally forbidden except for the role of procreation because the pursuit of pleasure detracts from the productivity of workers.
    Sex becomes desired because it has been forbidden. Conversely, that one would talk about sex and our sexual liberation is taken to be a transgression of sorts; our motivation for doing so is the anticipated freedom.“The question I would like to pose is not, ‘Why are we repressed? but rather, ‘Why do we say, with so much passion and so much resentment against our most recent past, against our present, and against ourselves, that we are repressed?’” (P8-9). He identifies that our ‘repression’ is less about sex and properly about pleasure; “What is at issue, briefly, is the over-all discursive fact, the way in which sex is ‘put into discourse’. Hence, too, my main concern will be to locate the forms of power, the channels it takes, and the discourses it permeates in order to reach the most tenuous and individual modes of behaviour, the paths that give it access to the rare or scarcely perceivable forms of desire, how it permeates and controls everyday pleasure” (P11).
    Right of Death and Power over Life
    Sovereign power was characterised originally as being possessed of the right of the life of his subjects, both the protection and the end; “it derived no doubt from the ancient patria potestas that granted the father of the Roman family the right to “dispose” of the life of his children and his slaves; just as he had given him life, he could take it away” (p135). This power functioned by way of deduction or seizure (of bodies, of lives). The sovereign essentially has the right to remove that which one enjoys (having a body, being alive).
    This ‘deductive’ power, which takes away from individuals in particular, is contrast with a multitude of others; ‘working to incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimize, and organize the forces under it: a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them’ (p136). These powers give life and invest in life, rather than taking it away (causing death).
    The right of life over death ‘now presents itself as the counterpart of power that exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavours to administer, optimize and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations. (137)’ Notably, these regulations do not apply to individuals in particular. While the sovereign was free to dispose of his children and his servants, and later those who directly or indirectly threatened his life, this new power governs without a face and without targeting individuals. While sovereign power also operates by giving or taking life, this power operates by fostering life until the point of death. “Now it is over life, throughout its unfolding, that power establishes its dominion; death is power’s limit, the moment that escapes it; death becomes the most secret aspect of existence, the most “private.” (138). This power, which invests in life, operating at the level of the population is what we come to know as biopower.
    Biopower involves two primary mechanisms; the disciplines of the body and the regulations of the population. At the level of the disciplines we observe efforts to optimize the capacity of the body, the extortion of its forces, increases in docility and integration into economic controls. The regulations of the population concern the administration of births and deaths, level of overall health, expectancy, longevity, and interventions which aim at modifying these regulations. These interventions aim at the population, generally, but have their effects on the bodies of individuals: I.e. the promotion of exercising 30 minutes a day and eating a balanced diet is promoted for cardiovascular health, to avoid chronic diseases, etc, but these are in fact efforts to optimize your health and promote your capacity to maintain productivity. We develop disciplines (and discipline those who do said developing) which provided us with the capacity to improve our living conditions and productivity quite dramatically. The institutions which were put in place to maintain production relations began to produce segregation and social hierarchies, as profits began to accumulate with certain members more so than others.
    Biopower gives greater privilege to the norm than to the law because the law is something we associate with the sovereign, his sword, and death. We live with greater comfort and less fear of death because biopower invests in life rather than threatening to relieve us of it. The law therefore begins to function in this manner, subsumed under biopower, we argue for “the right to life, to one’s body, to health, to happiness, to the satisfaction of needs.. all these new procedures of power which did not derive, either, from the traditional right of sovereignty’ (145). That biopower has the ability to appraise the value of our lives provides us with the knowledge of how our standard of living compares with that of our neighbour and the establishment of norms based on these appraisals. Our protests stem from dissatisfaction on where we fit on the distribution around that norm.
    The relationship between biopower and sexuality is identified by Foucault as stemming from four lines of attack. The first two stem from ‘the requirements of regulation, on a whole thematic of the species, descent, and collective welfare, in order to obtain results at the level of discipline’ (146). They are the sexualization of children (the purity of the family line is imperative) and the hysterization of women (that is, responsibility is owed to the future children they bear). These are coupled in the concept of Racism; the survival of epidemics and famine was greatly increased if you could depend upon those in your family, and greatly hindered if your blood line was impure because of a mixing of races (the Nazis portrayed the extermination of the Jews as a cleansing, a type of racial hygiene, to protect against this). The other two lines of intervention ‘[were] regulatory in nature, but it had to rely on the demand for individual disciplines and constraints.” (147) they pertain to birth controls and the psychiatrization of perversions. These are associated with ‘the Freudian endeavour to ground sexuality in the law – the law of alliance, tabooed consanguity, the Sovereign-Father, in short, to surround desire with all the trappings of the old order of power’ (p150). Essentially, this pertains to inbreeding (too much purity of the blood) and not breeding at all (for the love of objects over other humans).
    Foucault notes that his account does read as if to detract from discussing sex in the sense that Freud did (reproductive functions, bodily regions, organs) and agrees that yes, in fact that is his point. Sex is something we say belongs to men (Freud’s castration anxiety) and therefore defines women because of their lack (Freud’s penis envy); we are taught to believe that children have no sexuality and that the effects of pleasure derived from the self negate the capacity to derive pleasure from others later in life (the sin of masturbation). The psychiatrization of pleasure derived from objects (fetishism) derives its rationale from the way in which these objects drew parallels to organs and bodily regions, which made them understandable. “By creating the imaginary element that is “sex”, the deployment of sexuality established one of its most essential and internal operating principles… It constituted “sex” itself as something desirable (156).” The same mechanisms that ‘repress’ sex are those which invest in extracting labour from bodies, and the desire for ‘liberation,’ our criticism of the Victorians, corresponds to the interventions which modify the regulations of populations.

  8. J. Derrida: Rouges (Ch. 1 & 2)

    §1) Derrida wants to raise a double question, which is “at the same time semantic and historical, by turns semantic and historical.” (Derrida, Jacques: Rouges, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, p. 6.) With turn he also means return. Some things return and reoccur by time. He connects his thoughts about this question with torture. When someone is put to the question, not only in question, in the means of torture, one gets confronted with the roue [wheel] of “encircling violence and an insistent repetition.” (8).

    The wheel is Derrida’s most important term as the raised question as well turns and returns. This double question is first phrased as “democracy to come” (8), but Derrida specifies it as the struggling question of “the concept to come of democracy.” (8). The term democracy does still lack a proper concept and leaves him in confusion as “democracy does not present itself; it has not yet presented itself, but that it will come.” (9). He further says that people claim to know about the legacy of democracy, back from the times of the ancient Greek State, but in reality do not know much about it.

    Derrida starts explaining his wheel not only as a physical object, but a round, rotating movement in society. Democracy has this rotating movement in itself. It simultaneously assembles “its own law, its force of law, its self-representation, the sovereign and reappropriating gathering of self.” (11).

    When positioning itself, the wheel can turn, turn around and returning, opening the possibility of totalizing itself. But the turning surface, turning through a mover or a motivation, also has a centre that remains still, immobile (12).

    Democracy for Derrida is the moving force of the sovereign authority, a round form that works by turns or each in turn (13). He explains the Aristotelian concept of the Prime Mover, that is “neither moving itself nor being itself moved” (15) and, at the same time, sets everything in motion. The pure activity of the Prime Mover is pleasure and its movement and energy therefore desired. The Prime Mover is in no mean infinite, but both: Immovable and still eternally and contentiously in motion (16).

    For Derrida there is already “some ‘idea’ of what democracy should mean, what it will have already meant- and the idea, the ideal, the Greek eidos or the idea also designates the turn of a contour, the limit surrounding a visible form.” (18). If there wasn’t at least some idea of democracy, one “would never worry about its indetermination.” (18).

    §2) In the second chapter Derrida starts to define roué and its connection to the former raised metaphor of the wheel: The roué [cunning person] is “a man without principle or morals. A roué respects nothing” (19) and therefore deserves the wheel. “Roué characterizes a leading astray.” (20). The roué appears to be a voyou [rouge], “at once included and excluded, excluded from within the closely policed circle of respectable society.” (21).

    But even for democracy itself it is difficult to distinguish between its good accounts and its evil license [exousia]. Democracy, after all, is a regime. The word demo-cracy is based on people and power. For Derrida, freedom [eleutheria] is also a figure for power. “Freedom is essentially the faculty or power to do as one pleases.” (22). Freedom cannot exist without a certain sovereignty. Freedom goes hand in hand with equality and in a democratic state this means that the freedom of a finite being is bound to a circulation of power. One being has the power in the society and then the wheel turns so it turns away only to later return.

    This freedom with license within a democracy allows its people to develop multi-coloured, varied societies. The different paradigms of democracy that have been developed over the centuries are its historical mutations on which account we build our state-systems today. For Derrida, Democracy is “neither the name of a regime nor the name of a constitution. It is not a constitutional form among others.” (26).

  9. Michael Lahey
    November 4, 2014
    The Structure of Aporia

    In chapter 1 of Derrida and the Inheritance of Democracy, Samir Haddad looks throughout Derrida’s works to explain the structure of aporia, which means “without passage or having no way to move forward.” While Derrida deliberately uses different terms throughout his writings, such as undecidable, double bind, antinomy, aporia, etc., they are all deliberate, as “each name carries different connotations and resonates in a particular way with its specific context.” For example, when dealing with Kant, the term Derrida uses is antinomy.

    Regardless of the terms used however, Haddad explains a connection they all have, an overarching logical structure where “In each case, at stake is a relation between two elements that contradict each other at the same time they depend on each other.” The power of aporias in Derrida’s work show that traditional ways of thinking approach unresolvable contradictions. It is the logic of this structure Haddad wishes to articulate, which he does in this chapter by focusing on hospitality.

    Types of Hospitality
    There are two regimes of hospitality that Derrida focuses on, both which stem out of the Abrahamic tradition. First, the law of unconditional hospitality, which is “a law that mandates an absolute openness, a welcome that allows for the coming of any other, without question or imposed limitations. To be hospitable, according to this law, is to welcome whomever or whatever, no matter who or what they are or when or how they come.” If we take hospitality to the extreme, we see the problems develop. Without limits on what we do for others, we can see unintended and undesirable things happen, there could be a dangerous intrusion, or could even lead to harm. “Even if the other deprives you of your mastery or your home, you have to accept this.” Here we see that the very notion of pure hospitality in practice will inevitably be its own overcoming.

    The second regime to contrast the law of pure, open hospitality is that of the conditional hospitality. Here we see the conditions, norms, and rights of those who both offer and receive hospitality. “These laws are anything but unconditional, as they are constituted by complex systems of the norms, customs, rules, and regulations stating when hospitality is appropriate, and how to go about performing it. The issue here is that there is no direction in the application of such conditions. “Without the unconditional law as their guide and inspiration, the conditional laws risk losing their sense as hospitable and would simply be laws of economy. A welcome governed only by such laws would be the first move in an exchange whose completion lies in the guest’s fulfillment of her reciprocal obligations, something that one would not, Derrida maintains, label a scene of hospitality.”

    Aporia in Hospitality
    At first it may seem like these two types of hospitality are completely opposed, which may lead some to imagine a Hegelian style dialectic where parts of each are sublated into a new standpoint. We may also think of a Kierkegaardian leap to choose either/or. Derrida holds, however, that the laws of hospitality mutually depend on each other, as there seems to be no way out of this situation. In this way they both form an aporia. The very notion of the unconditional law informs the conditional laws, which in turn, allow for instances hospitality.

    While both laws need each other, their relation to each other is not symmetrical, “The law is above the laws.” That is to say, the unconditional, pure hospitality informs the conditioned and lawful. The law to inform the other laws is beyond the law, “It is thus illegal, transgressive, outside the law, like a lawless law.” What we can say now is that the unconditional needs the conditional to be considered a law at all, while the conditional needs to be informed how to act. “One could say that the unconditional law depends on the conditional laws in order to be a law, whereas the conditional laws depend on the unconditional law in order to be hospitable.”

    The aporia of hospitality is endless. To look at a single iteration would include an instant of the imperfect unconditional law in a conditional law. “Its time is divided, across these iterations. Hospitality thus remains always to come as it calls forth more iterations in an endless attempt to resolve the aporia, to bring the two arms of the aporia into alignment.”

    Regarding Aporia as a law which is impossible as a law:
    “The co-presence in the aporia, or equivalently in any one iteration (the coupling One + n), is thus one of an impossible law of hospitality (a law impossible as a law) and a possible law (yet only ever possibly, never actually, a law of hospitality). It is a simultaneity of two different modalities of law, two laws present at the same time but in different ways. This difference is yet another way of explaining the necessity of the aporia—the contradiction cannot be resolved because it involves two modalities of law.”

    Unconditional Hospitality as an Ideal?
    Derrida mentions the unconditional law as “the categorical imperative of hospitality.” So it would be worthwhile to determine whether unconditional hospitality can be seen as an ideal, something to strive for. For Kant, it is imperative that one must act out of duty in order to be moral, that is, recognizing a law as such requires a moral action. Derrida however, claims that “To be unconditional, the absolute law of hospitality cannot even demand that one obey it out of duty, for this, too, would be a condition.” An a priori principle for Kant would include necessary conditions and limits. So while Derrida moves beyond Kant in one sense, the inevitable pervertabilty of the unconditional law leaves Kant’s position the lone pure ideal.

    Aporia is not Negative
    One of the problems with the tension in unconditional hospitality is that we could be encountered with anything, and we would want to take it on. If the unconditional could be anything, it can everything. Strictly speaking then, “we do not yet know and will never know what it is.” It is, then, only the past iterations of the hospitality that help to inform what is appropriate. Here Derrida says that “Hospitality should be so inventive, modeled on the other and on the welcome of the other, that each experience of hospitality must invent a new language.” We should take this to mean that with each coming hospitable act, there is an element of invention. At the same time, we should not discount our previous actions, as they will undoubtedly help us in knowing how to proceed. “The aporia of hospitality comes from the past, from inherited traditions. From where else does one get the idea that hospitality must be, on the one hand, unconditional? From where else, on the other hand, come the conditions? From where else does the very language of hospitality arrive? Each moment in the iterated chain is a moment of inheritance of the contradictory laws, and so each engagement with the aporia of hospitality is an act of inheritance.” This inheritance then, can be seen as the relationship of impossible tensions shared between conditional and unconditional laws in attempting to know what it is to be hospitable. We can say that “it is precisely in this inheritance that invention is to take place.”

    “It is thus through understanding inheritance that one can better understand how to move forward, to find passage in the place where no passage seems possible.”

  10. November 18, 2014
    Rogues, Part I, ch. 3-5

    Last week we discussed the structure of aporia in hospitality in reading Samir Haddad’s Derrida and the Inheritance of Democracy. Hospitality had two regimes, the pure, unconditioned concept of doing whatever was asked without exception, and the conditioned, which adhered to the norms, customs and regulations stating when hospitality is appropriate. Today, as we look at Derrida’s Rogues, it will prove beneficial to this logical structure in the back of our minds, as we are bound to see similarities when discussing the nature of democracy.

    Plato on Democracy/Freedom
    In the Republic, Plato says how “In a democratic country, you will be told that liberty is the noblest possession.” With freedom at the heart of democracy, there can be no way to predict what a nation’s constitution could look like, as it could potentially sample and authorize any kind of paradigm. This result is that, “strictly in a Platonic sense, that there is no absolute paradigm, whether constitutive or constitutional, no absolutely intelligible idea, no eidos, no idea of democracy. And so, in the final analysis, no democratic ideal.” The peculiar notion we are left with is a regime without a regime, an “essence without essence that, under the same name, and though a certain concept would have no aim.”

    If we take the notion of freedom to the extreme, that is, without conditions, Plato says, “The full measure of popular liberty is reached when the slaves of both sexes are quite as free as the owners who paid for them…the horse and donkeys catch a habit of walking down the street with all the dignity of freemen…the result: the citizens become so sensitive that they resent the slightest application of control as intolerable tyranny, and their resolve to have no master they end by disregarding even the law.” Plato is correct to be anticipate the end of democracy in such a climate, as the very notions developed within it, the free play, could certainly involve anti-democratic ideals. Here, Derrida makes a case for thinking of democracy has having an autoimmune logic.

    What is a democratic government to do, when the democratic process itself is in danger? Derrida shows us such an example with the suspension of the Algerian election in the 1990s.

    “The suspension of the electoral process in Algeria would be, from almost every perspective, typical of all the assaults on democracy in the name of democracy. The Algerian government and a large part, although not a majority, of the Algerian people (as well as people outside Algeria) thought that the electoral process under way would lead democratically to the end of democracy. They thus preferred to put an end to it themselves. They decided in a sovereign fashion to suspend, at least provisionally, democracy for its own good, so as to take care of it, so as to immunize it against a much worse and very likely assault. By definition, the value of this strategy can never be either confirmed or confuted. For such a strategic and sovereign decision is not like a reversible laboratory experiment: it effects with no turning back the process to be analyzed. In any case the hypothesis here is that of a taking of power or, rather, of a transferring of power (kratos) to a people (demos) who, in its electoral majority and following democratic procedures, would not have been able to avoid the destruction of democracy itself. Hence a certain suicide of democracy.”

    Here we see an interesting relationship between democracy and sovereign power. In one sense democracy is destroying itself to save itself, while at the same time, sovereign power is invoked and then immediately disappears, allowing democracy to continue. There is an aporetic structure at work here, as autoimmunity is “an indecidability, that is, an internal-external, nondialectizable antinomy that risks paralyzing and thus calls for the event of the interruptive decision.”

    Can we imagine a continuous democracy without autoimmunity? This of course, would require a limiting of the free play of ideas inherent in any democracy. Derrida uses the term autoimmunity to liken democracy to a living thing, always changing, growing. To limit the free play of ideas, then, would make it unchanging and lifeless and thus, ultimately leading democracy turning into a completely sovereign style of government. This leads us to the paradoxical conclusion that autoimmunity, provides us with the opportunity to continue the free play that would have otherwise been lost, it allows us to work towards what is to come in future iterations of democratic governments.

    Ruling By Turns
    As Aristotle points out, “one principle of liberty is for all to rule and be ruled in turn.” We may think of this as a typical two party system, a red versus blue, taking their turn governing every four to eight years, Derrida however, offers two kinds of alternation. First, the “so-called normal and democratic alternation (where the of one party, said to be republican, replaces that of another party, said to be equally republican) and the alternation that risks giving power, modo democratico, to the force of a party elected by the people (and so is democratic) and yet is assumed to be nondemocratic.” It is difficult to read this without feeling a sense of restlessness, failing to see the changes we wish to see in the world. Derrida later says that “Democracy has always been suicidal, and if there is a to-come for it, it is only on the condition of thinking life otherwise.” I think we can take this to mean that he is not without hope. Autoimmunity, as we have seen is crucial to the ultimate continuing of democracy. Thinking of life as otherwise is engaging in the democratic free play of ideas. The hope is that future iterations of government take these ideas up and implement when it is their turn to rule.

    If freedom is “by essence unconditional” and “indivisible”, then equality is what is needed to “introduce measure and calculation (and thus conditionality)” into the equation. Of course, calculation here, refers to achieving equality according to number. That is to say, each individual gets a single vote of equal value. It is this pairing of equality and freedom that results in the antinomy at the heart of the notion of democracy. The classic philosophical problem was originally articulated by Aristotle. He is careful to distinguish between two types of equality, that of number, and of proportion. The problem is that “…democracy arose from men’s thinking that if they are equal in any respect they are absolutely equal.” While this is problematic on its own, Derrida is concerned with the issue, that “as soon as everyone is equally free, equality becomes an integral part of freedom and is thus no longer calculable.” What we are left with, according to Derrida, is the unconditional condition of freedom. This can be seen as a sharing of freedom between all individuals.

    The notion of fraternity is brought up by Jean-Luc Nancy, in chapter 5. The reason for this, as Derrida writes, “is a question of determining and naming a community, the common, the sharing of the incommensurable freedom or equality of each and everyone. Nancy proposes calling it a ‘fraternity’” Even though the word fraternity carries obvious connotations of masculinity, coming from the latin frater meaning brother, Nancy argues that “fraternity is to be understood ‘aside from every sentimental connotation’” Derrida’s trepidation lies in power of the word’s history. Once introduced into politics, the temptation of a genealogical descent back to the word’s original meaning is certainly possible. Such language could thus establish a political and social foundation that could limit the free play of ideas in democracy, and certainly exclude many from participating in it.

  11. Rogues Part 1, Sections 6 and 7
    Section 6
    Derrida states that democracies have strived towards two contradictory goals: To contain only worthy and law-abiding citizens, and at the same time to welcome those that have been traditionally excluded. Derrida notes that “In both cases…this hospitality remains limited and conditional’ (63). Derrida discusses the connotations and history of the French word ‘voyou’, which can be translated as ‘rogue’ or ‘hooligan’. Voyou has been used to designate the ‘other’ and to label someone as in need of punishment by the law. It is uncommon for someone to refer to themselves as a voyou; it is always used to label someone else.
    There is an association between those labelled as ‘voyou’ and the idea of the ‘common people’ who are supposed to be best served by democracy. The idea of the voyou is also connected with public spaces such as highways and city streets. These people are believed to make public spaces unsafe by their presence. Derrida also brings up the idea of a ‘voyoucracy’, a sort of secret order that runs in parallel with established institutions of democracy. Derrida says ‘Voyoucracy is a corrupt and corrupting power of the street, an illegal and outlaw power that brings together into a voyoucratic regime, and thus into an organized and more or less clandestine form, into a virtual state, all those who represent a principle of disorder’ (66). The voyou is also associated with certain geographical locations within the city, such as the French suburbs.

    Section 7
    Derrida identifies a question that is important to this project. He asks ‘Can one and/or must one speak democratically of democracy?’ (71) Derrida first notes that ‘To speak democratically of democracy, to speak on the subject of democracy in an intelligible, univocal, and sensible fashion, would mean making oneself understood by anyone who can hear this word of the sentences formed with this word’ (71) On 71-72 Derrida discusses the relationship between the ability to speak about democracy and concepts of legal right given by a state authority. The conclusion is that ‘To speak democratically of democracy, it would be necessary, through some circular performativity and through the political violence of some enforcing rhetoric, some force of law, to impose a meaning on the word democratic and thus produce a consensus that one pretends, by fiction, to be established and accepted – or at the very least possible and necessary: on the horizon’ (73)
    The idea of a democracy ‘on the horizon’ leads into a discussion of Rousseau’s discussion of democracy in On the Social Contract. Rousseau believed that a true democracy would be against the natural order, because it would involve the many governing the few. Rousseau also argues that a true democracy cannot exist because it relies too much on the ‘inhuman virtues of man’ (73), which are not common among men but are required for the functioning of a democracy. Despite Rousseau’s pessimism about the possibility of democracy, he still believes that it is necessary to strive towards ‘What he nonetheless calls the democratic “constitution”, the survival of democratic desire, the resurgence of a preference that prefers the risks, dangers, and perils of freedom to the slumbering quietism of servitude’ (74).

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