The follow is in response to:
Foucault: Panopticism from Discipline and Punishment
Burgin: Jenni’s Room Exhibitionism & Solitude
Slavoj Zizek: Big Brother, or, the Triumph of the Gaze over the Eye
Do to the overlapping connections of thought between this week’s readings I’ve elected to make my reply a single flow of thought rather then three individual posts. To address the writings in the order read seems like a fine way to start. Foucault’s Panopticism examines the notion of “discipline” or “the discipline” with striking clarity, unfolding layers of complexity, and leaving the reader with more questions then answers. To borrow Rogoff’s phrase the text “staged the event of knowledge” in such a way that it creates room for the reader to wonder in your own curious way, but never lets you get too lost in the process. Foucault uses the metaphoric depiction of the “Panopticon” to examine power relations and the social / political implications of ongoing surveillance.
“Our society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth; behind the great abstraction of exchange, there continues the meticulous, concrete training of useful forces; the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge….”
Published in 1977 there are moments scattered throughout Foucault’s text that seem as if they are describing the internet as we know it today. “…Bentham dreamt of a transforming into a network of mechanisms that would be everywhere and always alert, running through society without interruption in space or in time.” It seems more then appropriate that we would then follow the text with a critical examination of the 1990’s webcam sensation JenniCam. Burgin’s contribution to the conversation is to examine exhibitionism through a flipped read. Published in 2002 (a year before Myspace and 3 years before Youtube) the text makes its arguments with an undertone of still trying to justifying the web (and its crazy characters), it spends much of it’s time describing the particulars of Jenni and her webcam, and why she isn’t a complete out the box nut. The time spent on it this portion of the argument by today’s (web-culture) standards seems almost silly. His argument’s flipping point, turning the table onto the viewer, by slightly probing into how JenniCam functions for the other(s), articulates its lasting relevance, by speculating Jenni as a kind of “transitional object” for the maturation of the web and its function as a “social network” made up of nodes of crafted self-image.
For the sake of this week’s three essays Burgin’s essay brings to the conversation an explicit psychoanalytic tone. Addressing Jenni’s camera as playing the role of the mirror within Lacan’s mirror stage, or Jenni’s comment “I felt lonely without the camera” when explaining her decision for setting the camera up in her second apartment. The text untangles the performance of desire on the early web, leveraging the conceptual tools inherited from Lacan. This transitions well to the fornicating office workers & the voice of God that Zizek uses to explodes his ideas off the page.
Declaring that fantasy “proper” in the psychoanalytic sense is not so much about content of the fantasy but the “non-existent imagined gaze” observing it. What begins to emerge between the sharpness of Zizek’s writing and the three texts is a set of scaleable ideas. A conceptual form that retracts and expands to describe the political and the personal, and in the form’s negative space express what Zizek calls the “unknown knows” – our ideological frame.
“Historically, the process by which the bourgeoisie became… the politically dominant class was masked by the establishment of an explicit, coded and formally egalitarian juridical framework, made possible by the organization of a parliamentary, representative regime. But the development and generalization of disciplinary mechanisms constituted the other, dark side of these processes.” – Foucault
“If the economic take-off of the West began with the techniques that made possible the accumulation of capital, it might perhaps be said that the methods for administering the accumulation of men made possible a political take-off in relation to the traditional, ritual, costly, violent forms of power, which soon fell into disuse and were superseded by a subtle , calculated technology of subjection. In fact, the two processes – the accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital – cannot of separated…” – Foucault
“…what if “real sex” is nothing but masturbation with a real partner? What if, even if I am doing it with a real partner, what ultimately sustains my enjoyment is not the partner as such, but the secret fantasies that I invest in it?” – Zizek
To tie this together I went back to an old journal of mine to review some notes on Lacan’s notions of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. I also found a note to myself that read “life is easier as an autobiography”. In short my chicken scratch notes sketched out an extremely over simplified description of the “Imaginary” being a pre-verbal register whose logic is essentially visual, transitioning through the mirror stage to the “Symbolic”. The Symbolic being a space where the child identifies the ‘mother’ & ‘I’, a separation of self and otherness, through the Oedipal stage to identify the ‘father’ the third symbol opening the child to the larger symbolic field and social order. Lacan views subjectivity as relational, it only comes to play through the principle of difference. “It can only be induced by the activation of a signifying system which exist before the individual and determines his reality.” And finally the “Real” a reality that resists symbolization, as Lacan says “ It is simply history itself”. So, for those heavily invested in Lacan’s ideas this is a poor adaptation, but for my need at the moment it meets the bill.
So when we look at Zizek’s claim about all sex being masturbation, we can first reduce the sensational qualities by replacing sex with any moment of desire, the performance of education, coffee with a friend, the holidays with the family. And identify that Zizek is exposing how our sense of expectation not only informs our performance of self and us, but directly mediates it from the ‘Real’ity of the situation.
“What we obtain here is the tragic-comic reversal of the Bentham-Orwellian notion of the Panopticon-society in which we are (potentially) “observed always” and have no place to hide from the omnipresent gaze of the Power: today, anxiety seems to arise from the prospect of NOT being exposed to the Other’s gaze all the time, so that the subject needs the camera’s gaze as a kind of ontological guarantee of his/her being.” – Zizek
“I felt lonely without the camera.” – Jenni
Looking at the Panopticon and the social body’s historical trajectory into a ‘disciplinary society’. Using ‘discipline’ for both its meanings, a strategy for exclusion, and dividing subjectivities of labor. It seems the true exposition is of labor’s mixed relation to the seat of power. That the architecture of societal formation, is like content of the fantasy, and the subject of power, being the imagined gaze. In this rubix cube the ‘signifying system’ which we inherit is the very thing we are struggling through as a lived order, a system of labor and capital, liberation and hegemony, a dance between & through material and psychic borders. I’m left wondering who is really using who?