Intellectual Power: Fallen Contemporary, Part 8

Hamid Rayhan

For Muzibul Haque Kabir, Poet & Literary Critic

Subalterns never speak up, only time breeds their voice.  Sovereign, law, and prohibition form a system of representation of power which is extended during the subsequent era by the theories of right, and political theory has never ceased to be obsessed with the person of the sovereign. Such theories still continue today to busy themselves with the problem of sovereignty.

Perhaps this is because it has always been thought that power is mediated between the forms prescribed in the great juridical and philosophical theories and that there is a fundamental, immutable gulf between those who exercise power and those who undergo it. If this isn’t bound up with the institution of monarchy, this developed during the Middle Ages against the backdrop of the previously endemic struggles with feudal power agencies, and continues still today, for instance, Palestine, Kasmir, Yemen, a country at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. The monarchy presented itself as a referee, a power capable of putting an end to war, violence, and pillage and saying no to these struggles and private feuds. It made itself acceptable by allocating itself a juridical and negative function, albeit one whose limits it naturally began at once to overstep. What we need, however, is a political philosophy that isn’t erected around the problem of sovereignty, nor therefore around the problems of law and prohibition. We need to cut off the King’s head: in political theory that has still to be done. Yet already people are trying to replace it by discipline, that vast system instituted’-in the seventeenth century comprising the functions of surveillance, normalization, and control and, a little later, those of punishment, correction, education and so on. One wonders where this system comes from, why it emerges and what its use is. And today there is rather a tendency to attribute a subject to it, a great, molar, totalitarian subject, namely the modern State, constituted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and bringing with it. According to the classical theories, the professional army, the police and the administrative bureaucracy in terms of the State mean to continue posing it in terms of sovereign and sovereignty, that is to say in terms of the law. If one describes all these phenomena of power as dependant on the State apparatus, this means grasping them as essentially repressive: the Army as a power of death, police, and justice as punitive instances, etc. I don’t want to say that the State isn’t important; what I want to say is that relations of power, and hence the analysis that must be made of them, necessarily extend beyond the limits of the State. In two senses: first of all because the State, for all the omnipotence of its apparatuses, is far from being able to occupy the whole field of actual power relations, and further because the State can only operate on the basis of other, already existing power relations.

The State is superstructural in relation to a whole series of power networks, which invest the body, sexuality, the family, kinship, knowledge, technology and so forth. True , these networks, stands in a conditioning-conditioned relationship to a kind of ‘meta-power ‘ which is structured essentially round a certain number of great prohibition functions ; but this meta-power with its prohibition can only take hold and secure its footing where it is rooted in a whole series of multiple and indefinite power relations that supply the necessary basis for the great negative forms of power . This doesn’t open up the possibility of overcoming the dualism of political struggles that eternally feed on the opposition to the States on the one hand and Revolution on the other, it indicates a wider field of conflicts than that of those where the adversary is the State. The State consists of the codification of a whole number of power relations which render its functioning possible, and that Revolution is a different type of codification of the same relations. This implies that there are many different kinds of revolution, roughly speaking as many kinds as there are possible subversive recodifications of power relations, and further that one can perfectly well conceive of revolutions which leave essentially untouched the power relations which form the basis for the functioning of the State. Power is said as an object of research that one has to invert Clausewitz’s formula so as to arrive at the idea that politics is the continuation of war by other means. The military model seems to us on the basis of our most recent researches to be the best one for describing power; war is here simply a metaphorical model or is it the literal, regular, everyday mode of operation of power.

As soon as one endeavor to detach power with its techniques and procedures from the form of law within which it has been theoretically confined up until now, one is driven to ask this basic question: isn’t power simply a form of warlike domination. One shouldn’t, therefore, conceive all problems of power in terms of relations of war and isn’t powering a sort of generalized war which assumes at particular moments the forms of peace and the State. Peace would then be a form of war, and the State a means of wagging it. It is a war on all against all. The role of the army and military institutions is in this civil society where permanent war is waged. The essence and mode of transformation of power relations are. All of these questions need to be explored. In any case, it’s astonishing to see how easily and self-evidently people talk of war-like relations of power or of class struggle without ever making it clear whether some form into war is meant, and if so what form. Now, there is a phenomenon that emerges from during the eighteenth century, namely the discovery of populations as an object of scientific investigation ; people begin to inquire into birth-rates, death-rates and changes in population and to say for the first time that it is impossible to govern a State without knowing its population, for example, on an administrative basis, it seems to see its goal as lying in the problems of political control of a population . This disciplinary power then acts alone and of itself, or it does rather draw support from something more general, namely this fixed conception of a population that reproduces itself in the proper way, composed of people who marry in the proper way and behave in the proper way, according to precisely determined norms. One would then have, on the one hand, a sort of global, molar body, the body of the population, together with a whole series of discourses concerning it, and then on the other hand and down below, the small bodies, the docile, individual bodies, the micro-bodies of discipline. Even if we are only perhaps at the beginning of the researches here, we could say how we see the nature of the relationships if any which are engendered between these different bodies: the molar body of the population and the micro-bodies of individuals. One must keep in view the fact that along with all the fundamental technical inventions and discoveries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a new technology of the exercise in power also emerged which was probably even more important than the constitutional reforms and new forms of government established at the end of the eighteenth century. In the camp of the Left, one often hears people saying that power is that which abstracts, which negates the body, represses, suppresses, and so forth.

Most striking has been pointed out about these new technologies of power introduced to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are their concrete and precise character, their grasp of a multiple and differentiated reality. In feudal societies, power functions essentially through signs and levies, signs of loyalty to the feudal lords, rituals, ceremonies and so forth, and levies in the form of taxes, pillage, hunting, war, etc. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a form of power comes into being that begins to exercise itself through social production and social service. It becomes a matter of obtaining productive service from individuals in their concrete lives. And in consequence, real and effective incorporation of power is necessary, in the sense that power has to be able to gain access to the bodies of individuals, to their acts, attitudes, and modes of everyday behavior. Hence, the significance of methods like school, state or institution discipline, which succeeds in making children’s, bodies the object of highly complex systems of manipulation and conditioning.

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