3 August 2011

Deleuze and Foucault on Power

Michel Foucault: ... I was surprised to see how many people who were not in prison interested in the problem, to see so many people respond who were in no way predisposed to hearing this discourse, and surprised to see how they took it. How do you explain it? Is it not simply that, generally speaking, the penal system is that form where power shows itself as power in the most transparent way? To put someone in prison, to keep him there, deprive him of food and heat, keep him from going out, from making love, etc., is that not the most delirious form of power imaginable?

The other day I was talking with a woman who had been in prison, and she said: "To think that one day in prison they punished me, a forty year old woman, by forcing me to eat stale bread." What is striking in this story is not only the puerility of the exercise of power, but the cynicism with which it is exercised as power, in a form that is archaic and infantile. They teach us how to be reduced to bread and water when we're kids. Prison is the only place where power can be exercised in all its nakedness and in its most excessive dimensions, and still justify itself as moral. "I have every right to punish because you know very well how evil it is to steal, to kill..." This is what is so fascinating about prisons: for once power does not hide itself, does not mask itself, but reveals itself as tyranny down to the most insignificant detail, cynically applied; and yet it's pure, it's entirely "justified", because it can be entirely formulated in a morality that frames its exercise: its brute tyranny thus appears as the serene domination of Good over Evil, of order over disorder.

Gilles Deleuze: Now that I think about it, the inverse is equally true. It's not only prisoners who are treated like children, but children who are treated like prisoners. Children are subjected to an ifantilization which is not their own. In this sense, schools are a little like prisons, and factories are very much like them. All you have to do is look at Renault's entrance. Or anywhere: you need three vouchers to go make pee-pee during the day.

You uncovered a text by Jeremy Bentham in the eighteenth-century, a proposal for prison reform: it is in the name of this noble reform that Bentham establishes a circular system, where at one and the same time the renovated prison serves as a model, and where without noticing it, one moves from the school to the factory, from the factory to the prison and vice versa. There you have the essence of reformism, of representation which has been reformed. However, when people begin to speak and act in their own name, they don't oppose one representation, even one which has been reformed, to another representation; they don't oppose another mode of representation to power's false mode of representation. For example, I recall when you said that there was no popular justice against justice, it happens at another level altogether.

Michel Foucault: In my view, what comes to light beneath the hatred which the people have for the judicial system, judges, tribunals, prisons, etc., is not only the idea of some other, better justice, but first and foremost the perception of a singular point where power is exercised to the detriment of the people.

The anti-judicial struggle is a struggle against power, and in my opinion it's not a struggle against injustice, against the injustice of the judicial system, nor is it for a judicial system that would work more efficiently. Still, isn't it striking that every time there are riots, revolts and seditions, the judicial apparatus has come under fire, in the same way and at the same time as the fiscal apparatus, the army, and the other forms of power?

My hypothesis, but it's just a hypothesis, is that popular tribunals, for example, those during the Revolution, have been a way for the lower middle class, in alliance with the masses, to recuperate and harness the movement unleashed by the struggle against the judicial system. To harness it, they proposed this system of tribunals, which defers to a justice that could be just, to a judge that could pronounce a just sentence. The very form of the tribunal belongs to an ideology of justice which is a bourgeois ideology.

Gilles Deleuze: If we look at today's situation, power necessarily has a global or total vision. What I mean is that every form of repression today, and there are multiple, is easily totalized, systematized from the point of view of power: the racist repression against immigrants, the repression in factories, the repression in schools and teaching, and the repression of youth in general. We mustn't look for the unity of these forms of repression only in reaction to May '68, but more so in a concerted preparation and organization concerning our immediate future.

Capitalism in France is dropping its liberal, paternalistic mask of full employment; it desperately needs a "reserve" of unemployed workers. It's from this vantage point that unity can be found in the forms of repression I already mentioned: the limitation of immigration, once it's understood that we're leaving the hardest and lowest paying jobs to them; the repression in factories, because now it's all about once again giving the French a taste for hard work; the struggle against youth and the repression in schools and teaching, because police repression must be all the more active now that there is less need for young people on the job market. Every category of professional is going to be urged to exercise police functions which are more and more precise: professors, psychiatrists, educators of all stripes, etc.

Here we see something that you predicted a long time ago, and which we didn't think possible: the global reinforcement of the structures of imprisonment. So, faced with such a global politics of power, our response is local: counter-attacks, defensive fire, an active and sometimes preventative defense. We mustn't totalize what is totalizable only by power, and which we could totalize only by restoring the representative forms of centralism and hierarchy. On the other hand, what we must do is find a way to create lateral connections, a system of networks, a grass roots base. And that is what is so difficult. ...

-- Excerpt from Gilles Deleuze's 'Intellectuals and Power' in Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974, ed. David Lapoujade, translated from the French by Michael Taormina [Semiotext(e) 2004]. Interview with Michel Foucault originally published 4 March 1972 in L'Arc, no. 49: "Gilles Deleuze".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, first thank you for this! It's really interesting. I just want to have the references of the picture. Can you tell me more about it? When? Who took it? Why are they here, together? and so on. Thank you.

07 September, 2013 22:48  
Blogger eleanor said...

not sure. i found it on google!

08 September, 2013 12:26  

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