Monday, December 3, 2007

A plea to The Means of Correct Training

by Matt Dewey

What I’ve found to really like about reading Foucault is the somewhat availability or presence of accessible summaries of his main points. Not necessarily the paragraphs that start with ‘ In short,’, or ‘Finally’; they sometimes, in my mind, are not even at what we might naturally or compositionally expect to be the ‘end’ of his reasoning. But discussing some of these ‘neatly wrapped’ conceptual resolutions are what I’m hoping to do in this response...

pg. 182

“This hierarchizing penality had, therefore, a double effect: it distributed pupils according to their aptitudes and their conduct, that is, according to the use that could be made of them when they left the school; it exercised over them a constant pressure to conform to the same model, so that they might all be subjected to ‘subordination, docility, attention in studies and exercises, and to the correct
practice of duties and all the parts of discipline’. So that they might all be like one another.”


Pg. 184

“ In a sense, the power of normalization imposes homogeneity; but it individualizes by making it possible to measure gaps, to determine levels, to fix specialities and to render the differences useful by fitting them one to another."

These two quotes have a relationship that I can’t seem to get straight or that maybe one quote is actually the other and Foucault is simply repeating himself as we all seemed to notice and discuss last week. I think what sticks out in my mind in both of these quotes is the inherent dualities; the double speak or twin objectives that, specifically in the second quote on page 184, seem to conceptually do opposite things.

- The hierarchizing penality is for Foucault a system of ranking, or a reward system that has to do with awarding privilege to those who ‘perform’ to expected levels and a demotion in status or privilege for those that do not demonstrate acceptable aptitude or behavior. I believe Foucault’s observation comes from a military school context, but it seems quite easy to see it happening in other circumstances as well. Morality, ethics (either both good and bad) wealth, and access are all systems in our culture that are both assessed by such hierarchies (straight, pro life, and citizen = ‘the right’ and therefore all others are not, this one plays out in political campaigns; wealth has always been seen as an achievement of a certain level of competency and character while being poor is suggestive of lower skill and aptitude; access is a lot like wealth as far as it suggests certain aptitudes, demands of time, and ‘taste’.) But what Foucault seems to not talk about is the idea that the ‘school’ may be ‘rigged’; that in all the discipline, there are those that never have to take the quizzes. As real as Foucault’s military school discipline observations are, and as much as I agree with its subtlety, privilege is just as real... For instance the ratio of poor to rich soldiers fighting in Viet Nam, or Iraq for that matter.

-Normalization. I love the quote on 184 because I have never read this idea, or seen this concept explained in such a straight forward phrase (though it makes so much obvious sense)... It also illuminates the French obsession with ‘difference’ (specifically, Derrida). I seem to want put the two suppositions in a Foucault ‘action’ timeline:

Normalization ---> Hierarchy of penality ---> Discipline (observation) ---> Gaps?

Normalization ---> Discipline (observation) ---> Gaps ---> Hierarchy of penality?

With each one returning back to normalization?

Or is it simultaneous?

Normalization/ Hierarchy of penality ---> Discipline (observation)---> Gap/Normal?

Or is Foucault saying, like he does on pg. 183, that this process is a byproduct of the rational validity? Of the need to assess and assign facts and proof?

Gap/Norm - For Foucault these are the same or essentially isomorphic. Observation (and examination) is the discipline, and Normalization is the hierarchy of penality (of which we could include things like class, and racial and sexual inequality)?

One of my favorite films by Jean Luc Godard is, Alphaville (1965), which is a classic ‘lone man vs. organization’ film. The central command computer call Alpha 60 becomes a main character and a conscience of the film, computing little fancy tidbits like:

“The essence...
...of the so-called capitalist world...
...or the communist world... not an evil volition... subject their people... the power of indoctrination...
...or the power of finance...
...but simply the natural ambition of any organization... plan all its actions"

What Alpha 60 seems to be saying is that there is a subversive tendency in all processes of organizing that seek to control all its conditions and outcomes; which, then again, is the reason in which we form the seemingly inorganic and purposive instrumental organizations in the first place...

The idea of a ‘natural ambition’ is problematic for me given in its deep apriori presumptions, but Godard gives a subtlety and aloofness to the ideas and realities of control and power that befits Foucault; that power ( in many instances) is in our rational need for protection (or validation) from both science and God.

But in order to complete the utter randomness of this response even further, I have to make the connection, simply because I’m a mass communication student, (and what kind of comm. student would I be?) to the discipline of Foucault and the use of mass media, since the early 1920’s, of the phenomenon of advertising. Given that the problem of capitalism is not in the production of goods but the consumption of them, one can trace during the 1920’s a shift in the field of advertising from describing the qualities of the product it was trying to sell, to incorporating the product socially, in already communally accepted values of family, love, self esteem, etc. By tapping established relationships between individuals and communities, advertising and manufactures were able to penetrate the very mechanisms of our meaning making and litter them with consumable happiness...
I bring this up to reiterate (I think) the discipline of Foucault as systematic; we have been 'trained' I think, rather passively, to justify the irrational, to suffer in the expectation of a joy in the material when we know it doesn’t ultimately make us happy... There is nothing ‘natural’ in this ability but a logic of reproduction and protection and conservation.

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