Toward a Contribution to the Critique of Political Stenography

18 Aug

… because i think there are just too many words out there on the internet(s), i try to update my research blog once or twice a year, usually at the beginning of the summer and sometime after the winter break.  it’s august, and i’m only now getting to this task now, but here goes…. it’s been a productive summer in some ways.

first, several years too late, i think i’m finally making the affective turn.  better late than never.  i started the summer by rewriting and vastly expanding an article from last year (roundly rejected from a certain journal) on metaphor and biopower.  any author of a critical text has to somehow abandon caution and fall in love with their ideas. if you don’t do that you’re a stenographer. and in that spirit I’m in love with metaphors as instruments of biopolitical dissemination/diffusion.  here’s what i’m trying to say:

Feeling Like: Affective Biopower and Metaphor

This article addresses the problem of diffusion in Michel Fouault’s influential thesis on biopower, and specifically biopolitical processes of subjectification. Considering recent criticisms of what is alleged to be Foucault’s discursive reductionism from affective and new materialist perspectives, the argument extracts valuable insights regarding corporeality, imitation and feeling in the transmission of biopolitical affects. These insights are applied to a renovation of Foucault’s discursivity by expanding biopolitical discourse to the domain of everyday language use, and specifically the use of metaphor. A critical reflection on the structure of metaphor as a medium for the transmission of biopolitical effects incorporates a model of affective transmission through imitation and replication, drawing links between affect theory, biopower and the everyday use of metaphor.

That was May-June.  Most of July was eaten up writing an entry for a handbook on neoliberalism (my topic is neoliberalism and emotion),  and after that i immersed myself in a reading project on psychologies of racism and anti-racism.  this is really scary.  should one conduct a genealogy of one’s own political commitments?  or just leave them alone, or even protect them from thought? anyway, too late now.  i’ll present some of this work at a conference coming up in boston: Psychology and the Other:  http://www.psychologyandtheother.com/#!2015-conference/c12d9   here is the blurb for my presentation.

Racism Against The Abnormal: Black Rage, The Psychologization of Black Affect, and the Work of Cultural Competency

This presentation considers contemporary racism in the context of Michel Foucault’s lecture course of 1974-75, Abnormal. In using the phrase “racism against the abnormal,” Foucault reveals historical connections between racism and evolutionary and developmental sciences. In the 18th and 19th centuries, criminologists and psychiatrists uncovered a range of psychological and physiological abnormalities and states of emotional and moral atavism. The moron, the pervert, the idiot, the sociopath, and the imbecile represented failures of biological development that provided a template for later forms of racism, whereby racial groups were viewed as bearers of a primal, pre-civilizational affect. The psychologization of the phenomenon of “black rage” represents an extension of this logic, although a complex and ambivalent one. Considering black rage as a psychological effect, and particularly the concept as it was developed in Grier and Cobbs’ 1969 study of that name, the importance of black rage today is traced to its origins in a discourse on racism and abnormality. Black rage today opens up a field of radical alterity, enabling practices of parrhesia and anti-racist critique, but also functions as an apparatus of capture which ultimately subsumes the primal, “mad” speech of black rage within a grid of tolerated cultural differences, mediated through relations of empathy and cultural competency. The wider point is made that many of our contemporary anti-racist strategies, which implicitly or explicitly invoke normalized notions of racial difference, operate in this space of ambivalence between a politics of transformation and a politics of capture.

And, as if that weren’t enough, I just got an article back that needs some work.  It’s my most direct Foucauldian critique of anti-racism as governmentally, but the reviewers correctly point out that it needs to be reframed.  here’s where it currently stands…

A Genealogy of Anti-Racism: The Knowing, Killing and Empathizing of Racial Discourse

This article applies Michel Foucault’s provocative treatment of racism to a genealogical study of contemporary forms of anti-racism. Where Foucault distinguished two principal moments of racial discourse — race war, characterized by a critique of political authority, and state racism, in which this critique is appropriated by the state for the purposes of biopolitical government — this article proposes a third moment in this trajectory, anti-racism, as the hegemonic form taken by racial discourse today. Moreover, extrapolating two key tendencies within the discourse on race — its epistemological moment as a technology of knowing, and its necropolitical moment as a technology of governing — anti-racism is considered for the ways in which it transforms, modifies and reapplies these two tendencies. Anti-racism, it is argued, folds these tendencies into a new program that, while ostensibly opposed in absolute terms to racism, in fact reproduces many of its key categories. Anti-racism’s incorporation of racisms’ epistemological and necropolitical moments reproduces the broader logic of neoliberal governmentality, wherein empathy is valued as a form of human capital.

and on a more lyrical note: this summer i fell in love with this image, which i think on some level captures the spirit in which any critical author writes, both within and against their time. it’s an improvised grenade launcher, made from found junk by prisoners during the Attica uprising of 1971. against overwhelming power, in the face of near certain failure and with only the ingenuity that desperation provides, you attack.  love it.

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