[-empyre-] the netopticon

Christina Spiesel christina.spiesel at yale.edu
Tue Jan 11 11:25:48 EST 2011

Hello All,

Oddly on topic, my husband just sent me a link to this old b/w photo; 
It depicts the "shooting" of the MGM logo lion.  Adding our perspective 
as viewers of the picture, there are at least three POVs involved. I am 
most curious about how the lion constructed the scene but have no access 
to that information. It is oddly moving to see the two men behind their 
technology confronting a big beast who could do them massive harm if he 
was hungry or upset.  There is a whip discreetly to the left behind him 
but no chains. How free was he, how well trained? How much can he 
exercise choice unless something in the situation overrides his 
training?  The lion has great dignity, fearsome expressiveness, enough 
hair to be considered mature. Why does he cooperate? Can he even 
envision that he could run away, that there would be a  life outside? 
Maybe he knows there's no veld outside, that he'd just have to dodge 
cars. And the men, so confident behind their tech, their gaze 
instrumental, not particularly engaged with anything but that which 
comes through the mediation of their equipment. They, too, are blind to 
the possibilities in the scene. Do we viewers do any better?   It seems 
we are talking about this in part.

But I am wondering whether Foucault can really help us here. We may all 
ultimately be complicit in systems we live amongst because we just want 
to get on with life quite aside from what self-interest is served, but 
the fact remains, there are huge power asymmetries here and for any one 
person to take responsibility for the military-industrial complex we are 
living under is absurd -- because our range of action is always limited 
in a variety of ways.  The souveillance may be a way of talking back, 
truth to power, but without the ability to publicize, souveillance 
itself may cease to be a means -- perhaps a benefit envisioned by those 
who want a hierarchical Internet.  Maybe we'll go back to good old rumor 
although the progress of that is very hard to track. In the case of 
extreme inequality of power, what does one do?

Efficiency is a term that calls to me as a term to be grappled with. 
Efficiency is a relative term even if "they" try to elevate it to a 
category. So what is efficient for one set of goals may be highly 
inefficient for another -- like waste collection v. recycling. Democracy 
is highly inefficient because of the number of people who need to be 
coordinated but it is very powerful when instantiated because it has 
many webbed connections. Hierarchies imagine they can control things but 
can be done in by decapitation -- or by not seeing the dangers outside 
their views, like the men with the cameras. Likewise, assymmetrical 
warfare is very efficient because it doesn't have to maintain the kinds 
of bureaucratic institutions that organized armies do but it is highly 
vulnerable to social interventions. But if one doesn't want to engage in 
the use of power through warfare, assymetrical or not, what are the options?

  Living inefficiently might be seen as a form of rebellion. And what 
could be more inefficient than art-making? So now I will quote Foucault 
back:  "What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become 
something which is related to objects and not to individuals, or to 
life. That art is something specialized or which is done by experts who 
are artists.  But couldn't everyone's life become a work of art? Why 
should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?"  Art 
in this sense is conceived as a process and attitude and less a subject 
or strategy. (1982, 83: "On the Geneology of Ethics: An Overview of A 
Work in Progress."

Just musing,


On 1/10/2011 5:24 PM, Simon Biggs wrote:
> Hi Marc
> A substantial post that will take time to digest (in both senses). I think
> I'll do it in small serves.
> The quote below appears to support Foucault's panoptic model, with everyone
> complicit in the process of surveillance. I've just checked Discipline and
> Punish and so far as I can see Foucault doesn't reference Weber.
> The SSN is an interesting project. They have a listserv, Surveillance and
> Society, that is worth being on. My impression of the people who are
> involved in that network is that many are concerned about the erosion of
> civil liberties and critical of the expansion of state surveillance,
> especially since 9/11. They also seem a reasonably sophisticated bunch,
> familiar with the Foucauldian view. In this apprehension it is recognised
> there is a conspiracy - but (arguably) we are all part of it.
> Best
> Simon
> On 10/01/2011 19:01, "marc garrett"<marc.garrett at furtherfield.org>  wrote:
>> The publication begins by saying
>> "Conventionally, to speak of surveillance society is to invoke something
>> sinister, smacking of dictators and totalitarianism. We will come to Big
>> Brother in a moment but the surveillance society is better thought of as
>> the outcome of modern organizational practices, businesses, government
>> and the military than as a covert conspiracy. Surveillance may be viewed
>> as progress towards efficient administration, in Max Weber's view, a
>> benefit for the development of Western capitalism and the modern
>> nation-state."
> Simon Biggs
> simon at littlepig.org.uk
> http://www.littlepig.org.uk/
> s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
> http://www.elmcip.net/
> http://www.eca.ac.uk/circle/
> Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC009201
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

More information about the empyre mailing list