Thursday, December 06, 2012

as mountains

I traverse these hours as mountains
These hours are mountains
These hours are valleys

I am plodding, erring
I exist in errancy and eternity
I self-destruct within these hours
These hours contain me
I cannot break free

I find freedom within these hours
These hours frighten me
I cannot be free

The hours are "I"
A movement, a stillness
A waiting, a despair
A fear, a paralysis
The hours traverse "I" as mountains

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Permanence and Change

"To take for permanent that which is only transitory is the delusion of a madman."

Kalu Rinpoche

"How can fire take possession of what is frozen?"

Thomas Merton

"The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth."

Niels Bohr

"My life is my message."

Mohandas Gandhi

"Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage."

Anais Nin

"We have found the world in our own souls."

Tielhard de Chardin

"Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing."

Fyodor Dostoyevski

"Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath."

Kabir

"If you would seek to know everything; then do not seek to know anything."

St. John of the Cross

We are estranged "because we do not know where we have come from, or where we are going. We are separated from the mystery, the depth, and the greatness of our existence. We hear the voice of that depth; but our ears are closed."

Paul Tillich

"The trouble is that you think you have time."

Jack Kornfield

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Existence

"All logical thinking employs the language of abstraction, and is sub specie aiterni. To think existence logically is thus to ignore the difficulty, the difficulty, that is, of thinking the eternal as in process or becoming. But this difficulty is unavoidable, since the thinker himself is in process of becoming. It is easier to indulge in abstract thought than it is to exist, unless we understand by this latter term what is loosely called existing, in analogy with what is loosely called being a subject. Here we have again an example of the fact that the simplest tasks are the most difficult. Existing is ordinarily regarded as no very complex matter, much less an art, since we all exist, but abstract thinking takes rank as an accomplishment. But really to exist, so as to interpenetrate one's existence with consciousness, at one and the same time eternal and as if far removed from existence, and yet also present in existence and in the process of becoming: that is truly difficult."
-- Kierkegaard

"Everything has been figured out, except how to live."
-- Sartre

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Sacraments

The soft patter of rain on the leaves outside my window...a cleansing of the earth - a baptism - and the rain knows no religion. The sacraments of the earth are full of grace.

Darkness in a cloud. Emptiness in a gaze. Harmfulness in a heart, and love in a stone. These are the perils and the sacraments of life. The Mysteries are all around.

Disconnected Thoughts in absentia

Wisdom's head is dashed upon the rock when an infant,
but knowledge is reared in a loving home to become a "good citizen."

Intentional wandering/erring is not only beneficial but necessary.

Look to the stars...it might surprise you. The truest answer to any question,
Is a question.

Cosmic humor is not bliss unattainable,
Cosmic humor (sorrow?) is bliss never achieved.

The keeper of lies only succeeds by lying to oneself.
The keeper of truth only succeeds through self-deception and sorrow...
the release from this is joy.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Postmodernity

INTRODUCTION
The difficulty in understanding postmodernity arises because of its difficulty, and perhaps impossibility, of being defined in any concrete way. In fact, definitions offered in regard to postmodernity are often quite contradictory. As the definitions of postmodernity range across many subjects and fields of analysis (i.e., time, space, reality, progress, technology, art, literature, philosophy, politics, economics), it is impossible to cover all conceptions of postmodernity in any sufficient way in this paper. Instead, a concise differential introductory definition of postmodernity is attempted by drawing largely from the writings of Habermas, Lyotard, and Jameson. A brief description of each author's attempt at defining, or at least describing, postmodernity offers a diverse understanding of postmodernity that (hopefully) aids in clarifying, rather than obfuscating, the term postmodernity.
(POST?) MODERNITY: AN INCOMPLETE PROJECT?
Habermas argues that the project of modernity is the belief “in the infinite progress of knowledge and in the infinite advance towards social and moral betterment” (1749). In this sense, modernity is grounded in a teleological understanding of society and culture. Habermas further writes, “Modernity revolts against the normalizing functions of tradition; modernity lives on the experience of rebelling against all that is normative” (1750). Habermas is here re-emphasizing the call of the Enlightenment project to, as Kant asserts, “Have courage to use your own understanding!” (What is Enlightenment (ENGL 8065 Reader) – 51). Indeed, this is the motto of Enlightenment, to think for yourself. Thus, an Enlightenment thinker is to resist and rebel against normalizing functions of tradition, specifically religion. In this respect, Habermas's assertion that modernity's ideal is to rebel against “all that is normative” is not unfamiliar to postmodern and poststructuralist thought (i.e., Derrida, Foucault, Barthes). Indeed, as Perry Anderson asserts, “Virtually every [subversive] aesthetic device or feature attributed to postmodernism...could be found in modernism” (Wolfreys – 192). Consequently, the distinction between modernity and postmodernity is often blurred and even misunderstood by supposing that postmodernity is the antithesis, or synthesis, to modernity.
Essentially, then, the modern project, which is generally posited to be the product of the Enlightenment, is to develop objective categories of analysis (i.e., science, universal morality, and law) based on the inner logic of the individual that aims at the infinite teleological progress of society and culture. However, Habermas rejects the optimism of this early modernist project that expected the arts and sciences to promote and control the understanding of “the world and of the self, moral progress, the justice of institutions and even the happiness of human beings” (1754), but he does not reject the modern project altogether. Rather, he asserts that the project of modernity is not yet fulfilled. He writes, “The project [modernity] aims at a differentiated relinking of modern culture with an everyday praxis that still depends on vital heritages, but would be impoverished through mere traditionalism” (1758). Yet, he is not hopeful that this development will occur in today's society because of a general negative attitude towards cultural modernism and its failures. Consequently, although Habermas does not abandon the project of modernity, he is not entirely optimistic about its future.
DEFINING (?) THE POSTMODERN
On the other hand, Lyotard describes postmodernity as “incredulity toward metanarratives” (Wolfreys – 193). This assertion does not sound all that different from the project of modernity – rebellion against all normalization. In this regard, postmodernity and modernity are not wholly dissimilar. The main difference is that postmodernity is incredulous towards all metanarratives, including the teleological “meta-History” that modernity embraces. That is, postmodernity is highly suspicious of any “project” that proposes fulfillment (telos) or a “relinking of modern culture with an everyday praxis” (1758). Lyotard explicitly states that postmodernity is characterized as “the disappearance of this idea of progress within rationality and freedom” (1612-13). Thus, postmodernity is distinctly different from modernity in its suppositions about “progress” (telos); yet, the incredulity postmodernity holds toward metanarratives is definitely a modernist move, not modernist assertion, in that postmodernity is rebelling against “all that is normative.”
Lyotard also suggests, similar to another aspect of modernity, that postmodernity is in a succession of a “diachrony of periods” (1613). He discusses this succession in a chronological, and thus modern, way that is something like a “conversion, a new direction after the previous one” (1613). This “breaking with tradition” is indeed a modernist principle, but the postmodern “break” with modernity is, “rather, a manner of forgetting or repressing the past. That's to say of repeating it. Not overcoming it” (1613), or, as he later asserts, “the 'post-' of postmodernity does not mean a process of coming back or flashing back, feeding back, but of ana-lysing, ana-mnesing, of reflecting” (1615). That is, postmodernity is not a schismatic break with modernity. It is not the synthesis (an “overcoming”) to the thesis of pre-modernity and antithesis of modernity. Rather, as Iain Chambers posits, postmodernity “emerges in a critical relationship with the preceding principles [of modernity]” (Wolfreys – 191). Ergo, postmodernity is firmly grounded in modernity itself.
However, in contradistinction with Lyotard, Perry Anderson and Thomas Docherty argue that attempting to periodize postmodernism is a mistake (Wolfreys – 192-93). As Docherty writes, “The postmodern is not synonymous with the contemporary” (Wolfreys – 192). In other words, these “authors,” contra Lyotard, do not see the “post-” in postmodernity as indicating a dichronic progression of time. Instead, in agreement with Lyotard, they understand postmodernity as developing with modernist thinking and making many similar modernist movements, but, at the same time, resisting and rejecting many modernist assumptions (i.e., metanarratives, metaphysics, infinite progress). In an interesting way, then, postmodernity is a modern critique of modernity with a postmodern flare.
POSTMODERNISM AND CONSUMER SOCIETY
In another line of thought, Jameson argues that postmodernity, contra Wolfreys (191) but in agreement with Teresa Ebert, is an economic development of late capitalism that emerged in the mid-twentieth century, especially the 1960s. He argues that postmodernity has two distinct characteristics: pastiche and schizophrenia (1962). For Jameson, pastiche is “like parody...without parody's ulterior motive, without the satirical impulse, without laughter...Pastiche is blank parody” (1963). He posits that only pastiche is left in postmodernity because of the death of the “subject” in postmodern thought. That is, an autonomous, individual subject is, and always has been, a myth. Only pastiche remains because all that is left to do is “to imitate dead styles” because of “the failure of the new, the imprisonment in the past” (1965). The present speaks through the past towards the future. Time, space, and history are conflated, inverted, and often disappear. In this way, the postmodern is also schizophrenic.
Jameson further argues that this loss, or disappearance, of history is occurring because the current social system “has little by little begun to lose its capacity to retain its own past, has begun to live in a perpetual present and in a perpetual change that obliterates traditions of the kind which all earlier social formations have had in one way or another to preserve” (1974). Consequently, the postmodern, for Jameson, emerges with “this new moment of late capitalism,” and it is characterized by the “aesthetic of consumer society,” that conflates time and history. That is, postmodernism transforms “reality into images,” and it fragments time “into a series of perpetual presents” (1974). It is what Baudrillard refers to as the “hyperreal,” or “the product of an irradiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere” (1733). All that is left are fragmentary hyperreal images of the present. Thus, postmodernity signals the disappearance of both time and history because postmodernity cannot sufficiently “deal” with time or history.
CONCLUSION
From Habermas to Lyotard to Jameson, there are contradictions throughout each of their texts. Perhaps, then, any definition other than a working definition of postmodernity will always be insufficient and even inaccurate. Postmodernity covers a wide range of multi-perspectival subjects and disciplines from art to architecture to philosophy to economics, and, in this sense, postmodernity is conceivably schizophrenic as Jameson asserts. Whether postmodernity is the continuation of the project of modernity or a “true” continuation of the enlightenment (little “e”) project, what is clear, possibly the only clarity attained, about postmodernity is that it is an influential force pervading multiple disciplines across both time(?) and space(?). In other words, the possibility of postmodernity is always already its impossibility.

Friday, April 15, 2005

from Le Clocher Chante

La petite cascade chante
pour cacher sa nymphe emue....
On sent la presence absente
que l'espace a bue.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Reflections on Foucault

INTRODUCTION

In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault describes what he calls “coercive technologies of behavior,” “orthopaedists of individuality,” “the normalization of the power of normalization,” and “power-knowledge” as “a certain way of rendering the group of men docile and useful.” These different descriptions of “carceral mechanisms” each offer insight into the project Foucault undertook in Discipline and Punish. Each of these terms, or groups of terms, is descriptive of a relationship Foucault sees between knowledge and power and of the way this relationship influences and constitutes processes of normalization and behavior. For Foucault, it is vital to grasp how these terms of coercion function within society in order to understand how individuals are constituted and re-constituted through discursive formations, since these coercive functions serve to ensure the processes of normalization and behavior. First, Foucault's understanding of power relations is briefly explored. Then, his descriptions of different “carceral mechanisms” are examined.

MECHANISMS OF NORMALIZATION

Foucault views power as that which allows and constitutes the multiple processes of normalization. What is in question is how power operates to produce and re-produce these different processes of normalization and behavior. For Foucault, power does not simply come from above. Rather, it is generated throughout society via different (carceral) mechanisms. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault asserts that although these mechanisms of power and normalization begin as a “carceral archipelago,” the mechanisms soon diffuse throughout the rest of society, thereby “transmitting disciplinary norms into the very heart of the penal system and placing over the slightest illegality, the smallest irregularity, deviation or anomaly, the threat of delinquency” (1639). He further asserts, “The carceral 'naturalizes' the legal power to punish, as it 'legalizes' the technical power to discipline” (1644). Thus, it is not a question of necessarily identifying a source of power but of identifying how power functions through various networks and mechanisms and why individuals allow themselves to be punished under the power of legality.

One example of this type of power is what Foucault identifies as “coercive technologies of behavior.” Specifically, he examines Mettray, the prison. He posits that the chiefs and their deputies at Mettray were these “technicians of behavior, orthopaedists of individuality” and their task was to “produce bodies that were both docile and capable” (1637). That is, there must be those who observe in order to “correct” the ones under surveillance, which serves to “produce” functional “citizens” of society. Ergo, “technologies of behavior” produce both the observers and the observed. In this sense, Mettray was “organized as an instrument of perpetual assessment” (1637), and it is this instrument of perpetual “panoptical” assessment that lends itself powerfully to the coercive nature of technologies of behavior. Consequently, if one believes one is being constantly assessed, then one is more likely to modify one's behavior to fit into accepted “norms” of behavior. Foucault asserts that these technologies of behavior function as instruments of perpetual assessment through networks of permanent observation (1637-38). He writes, “The modelling of the body produces a knowledge of the individual, the apprenticeship of the techniques induces modes of behaviour and the acquisition of skills is inextricably linked with the establishment of power relations...[thus] submissive subjects are produced and a dependable body of knowledge built up about them” (1637-38). This “modelling of the body” not only serves to subject (and objectify) the individual, but it also serves to invent a “soul” to be known, which further objectifies (and despises) the body. Foucault, with Nietzsche, posits that the soul is the prison of the body, that the soul was invented to punish and despise the body. Thus, one effect of perpetual assessment and permanent observation, a certain surveillance, is the production, or functioning, of coercive technologies of power. Yet, in a reflexive move, if one is under constant surveillance, then there must be an “other” who is the observer, and Foucault refers to these observers as “orthopaedists of individuality.” However, as Foucault observes, these technologies of power did not remain confined within the prison walls of Mettray.

Foucault posits that Mettray and its school marked a new era because of its new technologies of power and observation in that it perfected the “normalization of the power of normalization,” and “the arrangement of a power-knowledge over individuals” (1639). The normalization of the power of normalization is the invisible, and “normal,” infiltration of carceral methods of observation and domination throughout society. It serves to render the individual powerless, in a sense, because the individual surrenders power to other individuals (the orthopaedists of individuality) because of the “fiction of a juridical subject” (1644). That is, the normalization of the power of normalization is the allowing of oneself to be observed, and the succumbing to societal “norms.” Yet, this normalization occurs at a subtler level because, when the power of normalization is normalized, it becomes invisible. This is what Foucault means when he refers to a “panoptic society.” In a panoptic society individuals are objectified as subjects that are under constant surveillance by everyone within the society itself through what Foucault calls “examination techniques” (e.g., churches, schools, hospitals, the military, and other institutions), which become the orthopaedists of individuality. What is more, individuals also engage in self-surveillance, a self-reflexive surveillance. Individuals are self-regulating because, if there is any deviation from the “norm,” then they are considered to be engaging in “deviant behavior” and immediately become “suspect” as “abnormal,” under penalty of “law.” In this way, individuals themselves become a “normalizing power.” As Foucault asserts, “The judges of normality are present everywhere” (1645). He further suggests that this normalizing power, this “omnipresence of the mechanisms of discipline,” is one of the major functions of society (1645). Indeed, this is the very rendering of “the group of men docile and useful” (1645). Ironically, the “Knowable man (soul, individuality, consciousness, conduct, whatever it is called) is the object-effect of this...domination-observation” (1645). In this regard, interiority itself is the product of punishments. Thus, the normalization of the power of normalization is the invisibility of the power of normalization, which inculcates humankind with a certain docility, a powerlessness, that makes them useful to society by punishing those “deviants” of the “norms.”

Finally, Foucault suggests that this “panoptic regime,” or this multiplicity of carceral surveillance networks of normalization, not only identifies these “violators” of “norms,” but it also creates these “delinquents.” Foucault states, “The delinquent is an institutional product” (1642). He further suggests that the delinquent is not cast outside of society, but the “norm violator” is included in that which it is excluded from in terms of the “rule of law.” Or, as Foucault writes, “there is no outside,” and, he continues, “the delinquent is not outside the law; he is, from the very outset, in the law, at the very heart of the law, or at lest in the midst of those mechanisms that transfer the individual imperceptibly...from deviation to offence [sic]” (1642). Consequently, the prison that punishes delinquency is the very institution that perpetuates delinquency. However, the problem, for Foucault, is not simply that these institutions punish delinquency, but the problem is “the steep rise in the use of these mechanisms of normalization and the wide-ranging powers which, through the proliferation of new disciplines, they bring with them” (1646). In other words, the problem is the pervasive and “natural” status these mechanisms of normalization achieve within society. The problem is that the power of normalization is normalized, or “naturalized,” through discursive formations of surveillance and self-surveillance. Mechanisms of power and normalization are so powerful because they become invisible through acceptance (normalization). In this sense, knowledge itself is a process of normalization and self-surveillance because it is assumed that through knowledge one gains power. Yet, it is precisely because of this powerful observational function that one is normalized through the attainment of knowledge since it is only “natural” that one must learn (i.e., learn how to be a “normal” citizen capable of functioning “properly” within society). Power forces one to gain knowledge, but the knowledge only serves to render one docile and useful within society.

CONCLUSION

For Foucault “coercive technologies of behavior,” “orthopaedists of individuality,” the normalization of the power of normalization,” and “power-knowledge” as “a certain way of rendering the group of men docile and useful” are all descriptive of the carceral mechanisms used within society to produce the normalization of behavior. These mechanisms of power serve to protect the homogeneity of society by inscribing “normal” behavior into the process of the constitution of individuals as subjects by objectifying the subject. The “anomalies” are marked as “delinquent,” which cause not only the production of examination techniques that serve to constantly judge the “other” but a type of self-surveillance through which individuals judge themselves. Thus, normality is “policed” by the very subject who is always under suspicion.