I am beyond excited.
Out of the blue I got an advance copy of Jonathan Lethem's new book, Dissident Gardens.
I've never met him, but I used a quote from Chronic City as an epigraph for Blog Theory. Chronic City is probably my favorite novel ever.
Well, Dissident Gardens came with a hand-written, personal card: "Wanted you to have this one early. With admiration, J.L."
The book is about communism!! (So I am guessing that he maybe knows who I am.)
More specifically, from the back copy:
At the center of Jonathan Lethem's superb new novel stand two extraordinary women. Rose Zimmer, the aptly nicknamed Red Queen of Sunnyside, Queens, is an unreconstructed Communist and mercurial tyrant who terrorizes her neighborhood and her family with the ferocity of her personality and the absolutism of her beliefs. Her brilliant and willful daughter, Miriam, is equally passionate in her activism, but flees Rose's suffocating influence and embraces the Age of Acquarius counterculture of Greenwich Village.
As the decades pass--from the parlor communism of the 30s, McCarythism, the civil rights movement, ragged 70s communes, the romanticization of the Sandinistas, up to the Occupy movement of the moment--we come to understand through Lethem's extraordinarily vivid stroytelling that the personal may be political, but the political, even more so, is personal.
A key line of argumentation in The Freudian Subject attempts to de-sexualize psychoanalytic theory. I appropriate the idea as follows: Freud treats the unconscious as the unconscious of a subject. This leads him to individualize it, to contain it within the individual, as we might say, an ego unconscious. But much of what he discovers can't be contained within the individual. It points to an unconscious that cannot be trapped in a scene or point, an unconscious that moves and shifts. Why is the unconscious this way? I want to argue that it's because the unconscious is a crowd; it's plural, multiple (and so the question remains: is it a still the unconscious of a subject, now understood as a collective subject? or, is it collective but not a subject?) . Freud tries various ways to repress his knowledge of this crowd. One way is with his emphasis on sexuality, which also immediately ties the subject back to others, although in a more singular way, that is, a way delimited by Oedipus. Sex is too limiting (or, in the famous line from Sid and Nancy: sex is boring).
How does Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen develop his argument? In the second section, he reads Freud's discussion of narcissism together with Freud's correspondence (Jung, Fleiss). A key issue: Freud's emphasis on sexuality, particularly in the eliding of the autoerotic body with narcissism that occurs in the correspondence with Jung. This elision is a problem. The autoerotic body is anarchic, ruptured, conflicting (70); this body doesn't merge easily into a narcissism that associates a whole, unified body with an individual, which makes the body into my own body. There is uneasiness and confusion here.
B-J argues that Freud insists on sexuality as a way to give body to narcissism. And, also, as a way to differentiate his view from Jung's even as it had blended and overlapped in a "communism of thought-sharing" in their correspondence. The emphasis on sexuality was, according to B-J, also a (re)institutionalization of "intellectual private property." The explanation of narcissism was a product of a narcissism caught up in mimetic rivalry.
B-J makes a similar argument as he reads Freud's "Psycho-Analytic Notes" together with the Freud-Jung correspondence on the topic of paranoia and homosexuality. For B-J, the issues at stake are much more those of rivalry than sexuality; Freud, however, emphasizes sexuality in the context of his own rivalrous identification with Jung. B-J's argumentation considers the "archesociality" of homosexuality in Freud's account, as well as the tension this causes for Freud's discussion of homosexuality as a threat to sociality. The discussion is intricate. For now, I want to jump to one of the conclusions:
So let us not dream, with Freud, of an ego whose existence would recede sociality (or--and it is the same thing--a sociality that would relate already-constituted subjects to each other. This would be to theorize with delusion, to speculate in line with desire. For narcissism is precisely that: the violent affirmation of the ego, the violent desire to annul that primitive alteration that makes me desire (myself) as the mimetic double . . .desire is mimetic and by the same token narcissistic, and that means that it launches headlong into a systematic, unreflective forgetfulness of what institutes it.
It follow that desire is love of oneself, as Freud writes: self-love, love of the proper. It follows too that it is organized as a vehement rejection of all resemblances, all mimesis. To recognize that I resemble the other, that I resemble myself in him even in my own desire, would be tantamount to admitting the inadmissible: that I am not myself and that my most proper being is over there, in that double who enrages me.
It follows, finally, that narcissicism is violence, and that the ego ...is a gloomy tyrant . . . Narcissism is in profound collusion with power--by which we mean tyrannical power, or put another way, political madness--by virtue of its mimetic, rivalrous, (a)social origin . . . 93-94
Affirmation of the ego is violent because it is a wrenching of the ego out of the crowd, the collective, the group of which it is a part. Or, the ego is nothing else but this wrenching, this assertion of self. And it's an assertion doomed to frustration because it depends on the very others it needs to annihilate. The horror of the ego: I am not myself.
B-J says that the violence of the ego is also present at the collective level: "the totalitarianism and imperialism of the 'we' are never anything but the supreme phase of the absolution of the ego, the "I," and they are implied in even the most solitary, most pacific meditations on the ego cogtito."
This does not mean that any collective is totalitarian, only that it risks totalitarianism insofar as they are 'the supreme phase' of the absolution of the ego. But, even in this somewhat watered down version, I wonder if B-J jumps to quickly to make the 'we' nothing but the ego bigger. That, I think, is too fast, particularly given his focus already on the dilemmas of sociality.
I've been reading this in order to get at the primacy of collectivity and a sense of collective desire. At this point, I am afraid that one of the costs of this direction is that the desire at work is violent. The violence, though, I think is the violence of the assertion of the ego. It's a product of mimesis, the operation that let's desire be as the desire of a subject even as it undermines the subject itself; or, desire insofar as creates and threatens an ego.
Fortunately, I think, the chapter ends in a way I need it to: primary narcissism is a myth, present only as already crossed out (101). Or, in my language, it's a symptom of the problems Freud is having enclosing the unconscious or accounting for the emergence of a subject as an ego.
That the subject emerges in and through a primordial fiction is what Freud has been saying from the outset, from the moment he declared ... that 'something' has to form the ego. This has to mean that the ego is nothing--not even amorphous matter, not even a 'fragmented body'--prior to such a formation, prior to such a 'creation.' Thus we have no business speculating about the nature of the ego, the subject, the Narcissus complex, any more than we may presuppose any sort of property or subjective identity. Such identity will always be apocryphal and fictious (but its falseness can no longer be truthfully expressed), inasmuch as there can be no subject except one that is initially modeled on or modeled by (here we have no way of distinguishing activity from passivity, spontaneity from receptivity) something that 'precedes' it. 116
In the beginning were others. We weren't among the others; I wasn't one among them. I emerge from and out of them and the I that emerges will always be to an extent false, fictious, imaginary (B-J, though rejects Lacan's account of the imaginary because 'in the beginning there is no one to see anything at all;' this doesn't seem to me to be necessary because I think they are talking about different stages).
And can we apply this to thinking about a political subject? Perhaps when we note the blurring of active and passive, spontaneous and receptive.
Back to B-J: his point is that Freud's early arguments presuppose the ego and the arguments in the narcissism essay attempt to solve this problem but fail (resulting in an essay that is unreadable). His very language breaks down.
if the ego is not 'present from the outset,' if it is nothing prior to accepting in (and as) 'itself' a form that comes 'from without,' it follows not only that the relation to the object (to the other, to the 'non-ego') is primary, but also and especially that this first relation cannot have been a specular relation, nor even, ultimately, a relation at all.
The ego can't emerge by looking because that assumes that there is something that is looking; it can't emerge via an object relation, because that assumes a separate ego that can be in this relation.
Where the ego forms itself in the image of the other, where it mimes the other, one can no longer speak either of 'form' or 'image,' either of 'self' or 'other.' Where the id was (neither himself nor myself), the 'I" arrives. And the id can no longer be expressed in the language of the visible, of perception, of phenomenality, nor, by the same token, in any sort of theory of models and images. The other stage becomes a beyond-stage, a fore-stage of the primary mimesis. 118
Freud's attempts to explain the ego ideal and ideal ego, whether via introjection and internalization or projection flounder on the same problem: positing an ego before the one the origins of which he is trying to describe. Freud only 'solves' the problem by shifting it to another level.
How are we to explain that an ego (fragment) assimilates (itself) (to) the other and thereby forms itself? That it begins by incarnating (itself) (as) voice, law, ideal? That it emerges by incorporating (itself) (as) voice, law, ideal? That t emerges by incorporating (itself) (as) the other, the object? These are inevitable, and inevitably hopeless, questions, as long as continue to posit a preformed, ready-made ego. For it is not clear why such an ego would need to identify itself, even "partially," with an ideal imposed from without, or why it would desire to submit to the law that imposed imitation. If the subject is "at the beginning," why would it subject itself? 124
As B-J explains, this the problematic of the second topography Freud introduces in the 1920s:
How can we conceive of that strange figure of an ego that forms its ideal in its own image and forms itself in the image of its ideal, that projects itself in the ideal and introjects the ideal, that identifies the ideal with itself and itself with the ideal? 125
I think the answer has to turn on the crowd. And, the final chapter of the book thus focuses on the primal band.
In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Freud concerns himself with man as a member, man in his belonging to: how is that that to which man belongs, belongs to him?
We should note that the German title refers to Massenpsychologie. The English "group" could have been translated as mass or as crowd. I consider the book in some detail for several reasons: first, because of the way the group is enclosed in the individual; second, because of the link between transference and the group; third, because many of the elements of Freud's account reappear in later writers' discussions of crowds. What is crucial in this text is the primacy of the group to the individual. Group psychology--belonging, connection, will--comes first. The individual ego develops out of it in a process that is unstable and incomplete.
Group psychology, Freud tells us, is concerned with the simultaneous influence of a large number of people, generally strangers, on the individual. It thus concerns man as a member of a race, nation, caste, profession, institution, or crowd organized at a particular time for a specific purpose. What's interesting to Freud is that man's insertion into a group leads to thoughts, feelings, and actions that are unexpected. He wants to understand the nature of the mental change effected by groups.
I have italicized insertion into a group because in some ways Freud's account actually seems to be inverted, an account of the group's insertion into the man or, differently put, the enclosure of the group in the individual. Perhaps it makes sense to say that there is an ambiguity here as to what is incorporating what: does the group incorporate the man or does the man incorporate, internalize, introject the group? Is it possible that there is a reciprocal, albeit uneven and not without remainder, incorporating? And might this unsteady, unstable site of overlap be the space of the subject such that subject is necessarily collective?
Freud develops his account by quoting extensively from Gustave LeBon's The Crowd. There are two significant elements in the first passage from LeBon that he lifts: the fact that individuals in a group are in the possession of a kind of 'collective mind that makes feel, think, and act in manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and act were he in a state of isolation' and the idea that the psychological group is a 'provisional being formed of heterogeneous elements.' Neither of these points interests Freud. He basically assumes that LeBon's ideas are in keeping with his. What he wants to know is what it is that unites individuals into a group, but LeBon isn't telling.
Instead, LeBon is talking about things like a racial unconscious, an 'unconscious substratum created in the mind in the main by hereditary influences.' This substratum is similar in everyone. Individual characteristics are a kind of superstructure of difference built on this common base. This suggests that the base is common, that it consists in the group. The group is again incorporated in the individual. As I see it, the problem with this sort of claim, one manifest in its racism, is an assumption of substantial content. It is insufficiently formal. So a similarity is implied and inserted into what is formally the press and presence of many, of the crowd. Similarity is assumed when all that can be assumed is commonality.
One might expect the argument to be that this unconscious is what manifests itself in the crowd. Somewhat surprisingly--at least Freud is surprised--LeBon's argument is instead that new characteristics, characteristics not previously possessed, are displayed. The first is a sense of invincibility that accompanies a loss of a sense of responsibility. Freud writes this off as not surprising--of course our deepest selves lack responsibility; the crowd enables the individual to 'throw off repressions.' Note, insofar as the repressions that mark the individual are thrown off, it's the crowd that returns. More interesting is the second: contagion. It is kin to hypnosis. The third is suggestibility. I should add that nearly everyone who writes about crowds describes crowds in terms of contagion and suggestibility. We see the language of contagion, for instance, in discussions of the movements of 2011 as well as in networked media.
Freud's next two pages consist almost entirely of long passages from LeBon on contagion and hypnosis. He notes that there is an assymetry in LeBon's account. Contagion refers to members effects on each other. Suggestibility, particularly when understood in terms of hypnosis, suggests something else entirely. Who is the hypnotist?
Before investigating this problem, Freud includes another long quote from LeBon:
Moreover, by the mere fact that he forms part of an organised group, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilisation. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian -- that is, a creature acting by instinct. He possesses the spontaneity, the violence, the ferocity, and also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive beings.
Freud approves, finding this helpful for understanding the individual in the group. Again, he seems to me to invert his point since the passage seems to describe the primitive group within the individual, sedimented as the hereditary components of the unconscious.
Freud next turns to the group per se and repeats various elements of LeBon's description, saying that the group is changeable, irritable, impulsive, credulous, incapable of perseverence, desirous, intolerant of delays in the satisfaction of its desire, open to influence, and that it thinks in images. The group is inclined to extremes, obedient to authority, respectful of force, it goes to extremes. It has a thirst for obedience: it is an 'obedient herd.' "It wants to be ruled by force and to fear its masters." At the same time, because it is not ruled by personal interests groups may be devoted to ideals. In short, in groups extremes exist side by side.
Finally, Freud notes that LeBon's discussion of leaders is rather minimal. What he likes in it, though, is LeBon's account of a mysterious power, 'prestige,' as a kind of domination exerted by an individual or idea that paralyzes our critical faculty and fills us with astonishment and respect. Prestige, Freud says, arouses a feeling like that of fascination in hypnosis.
Freud is preoccupied with the leader because he wants to know what it is that ties the group together--the main thing he thinks is missing from LeBon's discussion. His hypothesis is that the answer is love, or emotional relationships. Love holds the group together. The individual gives up his distinctiveness to the group because he wants to be in harmony with its members.
Before I continue we should keep in mind a few things at this point. First, we are talking about groups that range from race, to caste, to nation, to profession, to institution, to crowd. Second, these groups are all considered to be psychological groups. Whether an individual is physically in the group--in the crowd or in an institution--is no different from whether the individual is imagining or feeling himself to be in it--as with the nation or race. There is no difference between whether the individual is in the group or the group is within the individual. Third, the description of the group's behavior comes primarily from LeBon, who takes his description from Taine's account of the French revolution, that is, from descriptions of revolutionary masses.
It would be too easy simply to reject Freud at this point. Better, I think, is to try to get at what's compelling so far. Why, in other words, it might not be completely wrong to compare a professional organization, with one's membership in the imaginary community of the nation, with the experience of being in a crowd. When one thinks of oneself as a member of any group, one is occupying the position of that group towards a specific issue or question. One isn't thinking from one's own personal interests, but from a collective interest. Personal interest is subsumed in the collective. [Incidentally, the problem of the US--which might be the same as the problem of liberal democracy as well as any form of libertarianism--is that the collective is subsumed by the individual; the individual is prioritized.] This is a rather cognitivist illustration. What about something more affective? Here as an example we might think of nationalist responses to the burning of a state flag or perhaps to the invocation of threats. Or, with regard to professional organizations we might think of the way we apply certain standards of 'professional excellence' when we assess matters that we might approach differently under other circumstance ("well, I like X's work, but X is not right for this job").
Are we far removed from suggestibility and contagion? Not if we recall the mysterious 'prestige.' In professional situations we often respond to the fact of another's prestige--which is one of the reasons for double blind peer review. We also often find ourselves rather automatically repeating terms, phrases, ideas that have been suggested to us. I wonder if our often overstated critiques of others' work are reactive attempts to shake ourselves loose from these kinds of attachments. There could be, then, habits of mind that are not fully our own, that inhabit us in ways rather too much like the enthusiasm of the crowd at a football match.
So Freud has accepted LeBon but wants to look further at what it is that ties together members of a group. He has suggested that the ties are emotional--love. To explore this further he turns to the church and the army. What is the intervening step? He says that what is really worthy of attention is the distinction between leaderless groups and groups with leaders. And, 'in complete opposition to the usual practice,' he will begin not with simple groups but with highly organized, lasting, artificial groups, again, church an army -- two groups, incidentally, not mentioned in his summary of LeBon.
According to Freud, church and army are groups that people don't typically choose to enter and that they leave only at high personal costs such as punishment or persecution. Each are headed by an individual (Christ, commander) "who loves all the individuals in the group with an equal love." This illusion of equal love is absolutely essential, Freud tells us. Everything depends on it. Christ stands in relation to the individuals in the church as a kind of elder brother or 'father surrogate.' In fact, because of the equality of members (each shares equally in Christ's love), the church is like a family. Members call each other brothers (and sisters). 'The tie which unites each individual to Christ is also the cause of the tie which unites them with one another." The army is basically the same, with the fundamental difference being that this familial structure is repeated in a hierarchical fashion (sections, units, squadrons, etc). What matters here to Freud is the double nature of the libidinal tie of the group: individual to leader, individual to individual.
The tie to the group is libidinal, strong enough to limit one's narcissism. So, what kind of libidinal tie is it? Answering this question takes Freud to a discussion of the differences between identification and object choice. "Identification is known to psychoanalysis as the earliest expression of an emotional tie with another person." Additionally, from the very first identification is ambivalent; tenderness can become hostility. Freud's example (a nice convergence of identification and incorporation) is the cannibal who only devours those of whom he is fond.
The repercussion of the discussion of identification for Freud's account of the church and the army is that he oedipalize them, that is, present the group as ultimately no different from the family.
The discussion of identification is detailed, detailed in a way that Freud notes has left the riddle of group ties untouched, shifting it over to the riddle of hypnosis. He got to hypnosis via 'being in love.' He explains that hypnosis is not actually a good object to compare with group formation because it is 'identical with it,' isolating 'the behavior of the individual to the leader.' In a group, the individuals have all substituted the same object for their ego ideal and 'have consequently identified themselves with one another in their ego.' (Because Freud is interested in the leader, he addresses the ego ideal and its relation to the ego in some detail; I might have to take this up in a subsequent post. For now, I am leaving it to the side because I am more interested in the group, not in the somersaults Freud does to try to discuss groups in terms of a leader.)
Freud wonders whether it would have been simpler just to talk about a herd instinct (he invokes Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in War and Peace, 1916). But, he says no. What's really at work is the more complex structure he already outlined, the one where multiple individuals identify with one another in their love for the same object (his example is that of 'the troop of women and girls ... who crowd around a singer or pianist after his performance'). Trotter's problem, and the reason the herd instinct doesn't explain groups, is that it leaves out the leader. There isn't a herd instinct. There's a horde instinct. Man is a horde animal, an individual creature in a horde led by a chief.
And so, the primal horde, the originary form that the group revives. Recall the basic characteristics of the group: the dwindling of conscious, individual personality, the predominance of the emotions and the unconscious metal life, the focus of feelings in a common direction, the tendency to immediacy--"all this corresponds to a set of regression to a primitive mental activity." His note regarding the primal horde is even more telling: "The will of the individual was too weak; he did not venture upon action. No impulses whatever came into play except collective ones; there was only a common will, there were no single ones." He concludes that the oldest psychology is the group psychology; individual psychology has only come into prominence from it gradually and in a way that is still incomplete.
Then Freud forces himself to make a distinction and make individual and group psychology co-equally primary. Why? Because of the leader. Yet this reintroduces the problem of individual psychology at another level: how does one who is a member of a group become a leader or how is that after the leader dies there is another who can take his place: "there must therefore be a possibility of transforming group psychology into individual psychology." Freud's answer is nearly nonsensical--he explains how the primal father forced his individual sons into group psychology (denial of sexual access to women; restriction of libidinal ties redirects them toward group). That is, he inverts what he said he was going to explain.
At any rate, Freud argues that the leader of the group is the same as the primal father, which is why the group wants to be dominated or led, why--and he quotes Le Bon here--the group has a thirst for obedience.
The mental differentiation part of the psychic development of the individual involves a separating from the group, but this separating is also an internalization (formation of ego ideal out of which the ego separates). The process is none to stable and liable to shock. Freud notes that it is conceivable that this separation can't be born for long and has to be temporarily undone (festivals). (To be clear, the primary direction of Freud's discussion involves the separation between the ego and ego ideal; I am trying to read it as the separation of the individual from the group. I think that this is fair insofar as the ego ideal is a figure of the group.)
In his closing remarks, Freud returns to the myth of the primal horde: father feared and loved, killed by band of sons, sons fight among themselves for power, gynocracy installed during this period, "some individual is moved to take over the father's part and free himself from the group" -- he was the first epic poet who invents the heroic myth, the myth of the hero who slays the father. The hero claims to act alone -- but folklore reminds us that he is always accompanied by a crowd, like small animals, bees, and ants.
"The myth, then, is the step by which the individual emerges from group psychology."
He also schematizes being in love, hypnosis, and the group. In the latter two, sexual tendencies are inhibited in their aims; the object is substituted for the ego ideal, with the extra element of identification with others in the case of the group.
This post is a reading of Robert Michels' discussion of the iron law of oligarchy. Two questions underlie the reading: what is his critique of the party and what is the relation of his idea of the crowd to this critique? At this point, I only sketch some of the components of the latter idea rather than provide much of an analysis.
Robert Michels' Political Parties (1911) is the classic critique of not just the revolutionary party (or the 'modern party as a fighting organization') but the party form in general. His basic claim is well known. Parties tend to oligarchy -- it's an iron law. Sometimes overlooked is the fact that Michels' argument applies to democracy (or any kind of mass or collective governance) overall: democracy, of any kind, tends to oligarchy. What might work for a small group can't be carried out by masses directly, so they have to divide the tasks, delegate, specialize, report, and assign. Because leadership is technically indispensable, democracy leads to oligarchy.
The problem for socialists is that socialism, too, tends to oligarchy (Michels was a member of the SPD and then the PSI; Lenin refers to him as 'the garrulous Michels'). Even those parties one might most expect to remain in tune with and accountable to the workers, even those organizations animated by ideals of democratic participation, even those championing the cause of the proletariat ultimately take on a whole slew of oligarchical characteristics. It's a sad but true fact of modern political life
Consider some of the specific criticisms of the socialist party: the party as an entity is not identifiable with the totality of its members. It is created as a means to an end, but quickly becomes an end in itself, with interests of its own, detached from the class it ostensibly represents. It can well be, then, that the interests of the party do not coincide with those of the masses at all. A problem with the socialist party, then, is that a party is a program (here I think Michels is mistaken, as will become clearer below; Michels describes multiple ways in which the party is more than a program; his larger argument, then, undercuts this claim). The party is not a social or economic unity. The socialist party might have a program based on the working class but its members can be from any class; class struggle reappears within the party. (The idea that class struggle will appear in the party seems right to me.)
Michels notes as well that the socialist party (which he understands to be a parliamentary party) 'gives a life to certain strata of the working class,' raising them up out of their proletarian position. In effect, the socialist party removes from the proletariat some of its best members. This may be involuntary, but in happens insofar as these members come to hold office in the party. The effect is that the 'involuntary task' of the socialist party is to deproletarianize the proletariat (which could perhaps even be thought of as prefiguring the abolition of the proletariat as a class; in practice, though, it is a form of embourgeoisement).
According to Michels, 'who says organization, says oligarchy.' Or, more specifically, once there are paid officials, a distinction between electors and elected, a division of labor, and the necessity of leadership, all which seem necessary components of an organized party, union, association, or state, then we are deep in the midst of oligarchy.
Issue 15.3 features two articles, one on will, the other on the state. Each is an original and significant redeployment of a fundamental category in a new political and theoretical setting. Tracing the work of its category in various literatures and fields—for example, Lucretius, Pascal, and homonationalism, for Ahmed; Foucault, pluralism, and neoinstitutionalism, for Biebricher and Vogelmann—the articles opening this issue of Theory & Event challenge contemporary theorists’ assumptions regarding the salience of certain concepts—there is more life left in them than many of us have thought.
Sara Ahmed constructs a powerful willfulness archive. What is it that incites the charge of “willfulness”? Who is willful and under what conditions? How are some made to bend to the will of others in the name of getting straightened out? Ahmed’s archive starts with the child, and then with the arm of the child, to explore the modes of authority, inclusion, and participation that close attention to willfulness reveals. The willful child becomes the feral, inner-city waif of London’s riots, the state both requiring and assuming that willfulness must be stamped out (the language of press and politicians reacting to the events of August 2011 echoes eighteenth century injunctions not only to discipline but to beat, even to break). Ahmed attends as well to an additional kind of force, one that doesn’t just make another act against her own will but that operates more directly on the will itself, rendering the consequences of failing to will what one insists that one will too much to bear. Institutions may embody, instantiate, and enact this insistence on a particular will with the effect that those whose raced, sexed, and queer difference fail to conform, comply, or go with the flow are nearly automatically rendered willful.
Thomas Biebricher and Frieder Vogelmann throw down a provocative challenge to theorists embracing the Foucauldian concept of governmentality. What’s new about it? How does it succeed where other theories of the state have failed? Most appropriations of governmentality quickly dismiss previous accounts of the state, as if they were all written by idiots or apologists. A more thorough consideration of the literature on the state—which Biebricher and Vogelmann clearly and concisely provide—demonstrates that interest group theorists, systems theorists, and neo-Marxists all had insights into operations of power that have been falsely considered unique to Foucault. So are Biebricher and Vogelmann enjoining us to forget Foucault (or perhaps operating as covert Habermasian hitmen)? No. On the contrary, they make a compelling argument that Foucault advances a new form of state philosophy. To this end, they treat governmentality as an archaeological category, a move that enables them to emphasize “governmentalities as discursive formations, as specific self-images of the state that require a particular knowledge about the state generated through appropriate technologies (e.g., statistics).” This enables them to specify the importance for Foucault of “a philosophy that has political effects without becoming political and that offers strategic knowledge” rather than knowledge to be used by the state.
Producing an issue of Theory & Event is a collective effort. It involves not only the work of the authors and editors, managing editor, and book review editor, but also that of readers, reviewers, and the editorial board. Issue 15.3 is even more of a collective product than usual in that it includes a symposium guest-edited by Neil Roberts and a special supplement guest-edited by Darin Barney, Brian Massumi, and Cayley Sorochan. Each responds to pressing contemporary events. Roberts brings together an array of contemporary theorists to consider the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida last spring. With pieces from Anna Marie Smith, Anne Norton, Michael Hanchard, Stephen H. Marshall, Ange-Marie Hancock, Mark Reinhardt, Christopher J. Lebron, and George Ciccariello-Maher, this symposium demonstrates the ongoingness of theorizing, the ways we are always to an extent in the middle of the events we endeavor to understand. The symposium introduction can be accessed at http://staging01.muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v015/15.3.roberts.html
With their collection of articles, some written both in French and English, Barney, Massumi and Sorochan analyze and intervene in the contemporary Red Square struggles in Quebec. Opening with a chronology of the Quebec Student Strike written by Cayley Sorochan, the supplement to Issue 15.3 includes contributions from an array of theorists and activists: Alia Al-Saji, Olivier Asselin, Normand Baillargeon, Érik Bordeleau, Thomas Lamarre, Diane Lamoureux, Dominique Leydet, Krista Geneviève Lynes, Erin Manning, Brian Massumi, Jonathan Sterne, and Daniel Weinstock. The supplement to Issue 15.3 will remain open access for three months at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/toc/tae.15.3S.html
You can also click on http://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/press_releases/summaries/tae_martin_quebec.pdf to see the publisher’s press release announcing the new issue. We invite you to circulate the link to Issue 15.3 and its supplement widely, exploiting all the forums, blogs, posts, and social media outlets available, to keep theorizing moving in pace with these events.
Issue 15.3 concludes with seven reviews: Jill Stauffer reviews Bonnie Honig’s Emergency Politics; Stacy Douglas reviews Mark Rifkin’s Erotics of Sovereignty; Milo Sweedler reviews Simon Critchley’s The Faith of the Faithless; Tamkin Hussain reviews Timothy C. Campbell’s Improper Life; Isis I.O. Leslie reviews William T. Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy; Tracy B. Strong reviews Henry Kissinger’s On China; and with thanks to our guest review editor Kennan Ferguson, Marc de Wilde reviews James R. Martel’s Divine Violence and Textual Conspiracies.