Wow, that’s acidic!

My previous post, or rather essay, got sidetracked quite a bit, yet it touched on the issue I wanted to cover, more or less, even though my intention was not to examine passports. Somehow I managed to be unaware of the new expanded edition of ‘Landscape and Englishness’ by David Matless that came out in 2016. Anyway, that preface turned out to be fascinating. I finished off the essay with a quote from the ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ by Michel Foucault. I found it very fitting to explain my own views on the topic of subject and individuality, very much related to documents that function as proofs of identity. That said I left it open how I view that beyond that neat quote from Foucault’s early work.

First off, I have to point out that my use of different authors can come across as quite liberal. For example, Althusser’s interpellation that I made use of in the previous essay is not exactly the same as Foucault’s or Deleuze and Guattari’s views on how one becomes a subject, considering the certain differences between the philosophers. I find Foucault’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s views dynamic, whereas Althusser’s views are in comparison static, stuck in the limits of structuralism. It’s not that Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari lack any structure per se. It’s that structures are not inherent, natural or universal, but exist in a constant flux, no matter how static and structured whatever is at stake may appear. I believe one should be familiar with how Foucault defines discourse and discursive formations and similarly how Deleuze and Guattari define assemblages (both the machinistic and the collective enunciative ones) in order to grasp the key differences between, I guess, what one could call structural and post-structural accounts. That said, it’s not worth taking this up here in greater detail. I just have to expect the reader to be informed on these things, otherwise I’ll once again end up on a tangent. Anyway, I like the performance aspect of interpellation brought up by Althusser. I think I can grant him that, even if I don’t find myself in agreement with him otherwise. Same applies to Jacques Lacan. In defining the subject, I think his mirror-image, entailing illusory order, can be easier to grasp and is less acidic (goes down easier) than the what Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari propose.

In order for this topic to remain manageable, I’ll focus mainly on a shorter text by Foucault ‘ The Subject and Power’ that was first published in a journal in 1982. It is also published as ‘Afterword: The Subject and Power’ as is included in the second edition of ‘Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics’ by Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, as published a year later, so not that long before the Foucault’s death in 1984. The first edition published in 1982 does not contain the afterword.

I find looking into Foucault’s late work appropriate, considering that in the end quote in my previous essay Foucault asked people not to ask him to remain the same, which I think summarizes the way he, or, well, I understand his position on question of the subject in the final stages of his life.

Foucault (208) opens up ‘Afterword: The Subject and Power’ by elaborating his objective of his work up to that point, which I assume as referring to some point in 1982/1983:

“My objective, instead [of analyzing the phenomena of power], has been to create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects. My work has dealt with three modes of objectification which transform human beings into subjects.”

Now, from this one can already gather that he considers subject as an effect of transformations, rather than a priori there. Firstly, he (208) he remarks the role of the linguistic or grammatical subject, typically the ‘I’, that does or produces. Such notions are, I think, broadly speaking all too quaint and (over)emphasize the autonomy or freedom of the individual, rational behavior and stable identity. Secondly, he (208) makes note of ‘dividing practices’ that classify people as this or that, such as “the mad and the sane”. Along the lines of Deleuze (5) in his Foucault related short essay titled ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, we could thus speak of dividuals rather than individuals. Thirdly Foucault (208) addresses the role of the human being in turning “him- or herself into a subject.” In summary, I take it that he considers the subject largely an effect of external transformations, but not entirely so, considering that, as he notes, in his later work he turned to looking into the practices of the self, on the self. So, while the human being is made into a subject, interpellated as Althusser would have it or incorporeally transformed as Deleuze and Guattari would have it, the human being is not merely determined by others.

Playing on words, like the French seem to like to do, we can think of the subject in two ways, not just as the grammatical subject, typically the ‘I’. Foucault (212) explains this as “subject: subject to someone else by control and dependence, and tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge” and clarifies that “[b]oth meanings suggest a form of power which subjugates and makes subject to.” He (212) summarizes that in relation to the subject, techniques or forms of power exercised by the state, as well as scientific institutions:

“This form of power applies itself to immediate everyday life which categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which other have to recognize in him.”

This results in making the individuals subjects (212). If we go back to the previous passport example, that’s exactly what happens with proofs of identification. A passport (or an identity card) categorizes you into this and that, typically by sex, age and nationality, and imposes a truth on you and others, that you are whatever is on its pages, forcing you and others to recognize that it is what it is. As I pointed out previously, you can go against it, that is to say resist the exercise of power, but that results in, well, let’s say cosmetic changes. Alternatively, resisting it by remaining outside the world of identification documents poses its own challenges as others require you to recognize the imposed truth. In other words, you end up being treated like, some would probably say second class citizen, but that’s not exactly what I’m after as you rather end up having no citizenship. Your lack of imposed identity imposes yet another category on you, making you at least a suspect, a potentially harmful person, if you will. For the individual the results are hardly, sorry for the Foucault related pun, productive. Going back to Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’, you end up disciplined for your lack of imposed identity, for your ‘improper’ bodily conduct. The limitations that result from your ‘improper’ conduct coerce you to until your body is once again docile enough and you comply. Simply put, you end up disciplined for your deemed lack of discipline.

Foucault (213-214) traces the origins of this power technique present in modern Western states to Christian institutions. In summary, in Christianity the community, the congregation, is led by a pastor, Latin for shepherd, looks after the well-being of the individuals that form the congregation in order (214) “to assure individual salvation in the next world.” Now, this form of power is very different from the form of power exercised by feudal lords to whom it’s a matter of life and death, loyalty leading to reward, disloyalty leading to punishment. For a lord the individual is a mere pawn used to secure the position on the throne. For the pastor, the opposite is the case. In order to secure the individual’s position in heaven the pastor must be able to be explore the soul of the individual. Now, the pastor doesn’t have arcane abilities that would enable mind reading, so the individual must tell, or rather confess to the pastor.

Jumping ahead in time considerably, Foucault (215) argues that salvation, management of life for post life, is no longer the objective in modern Western societies. Instead, life is managed in this life, for this life, not for life after life. It’s not that Christianity somehow ceases to exist or suddenly has no influence. It’s rather that lacking the sovereign lords, the modern state takes over, but as it cannot kill its subjects as the sovereigns could do, as elaborated in ‘Discipline and Punish’, it must approach life differently. The pastoral power is better suited for this. Now, as Foucault (215) acknowledges, the adaption of pastoral power is not a straight forward process in which the state creates institutions, such as the police, and pushes for the mobilization of previous institutions, such as the family, but a gradual process also fueled by, for example, commerce. He (215) argues that this new type of pastoral power became influential in managing the everyday life through “family, medicine, psychiatry, education and employers.”

Foucault (216) concludes by stating that:

“[T]he political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate the individual from the state, and from the state’s institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization which is linked to the state.”

What he (216) is after “is not to discover what we are, but to refuse what we are.” When you think of it, if you take a look at your passport, you discover hardly anything of yourself, yet what’s in it is what you and others must recognize. He (216) calls this a “kind of political ‘double bind,’ which is the simultaneous individualization and totalization of modern power structures.” In his Foucault related short essay, Deleuze (5) refers to this double bind as designating the individuals that make up the mass that in turn constitutes the individual. So, it’s a system that works both ways at the same time.

What I take from all this is that the objective to administer life is not inherently and intentionally oppressive. It seems a bit far fetched to think that pastors act as shepherds to their flock out of malice, rather on the contrary. In the modern context, similarly to how Terry Eagleton (4) puts it in his ‘The Ideology of the Aesthetic’, I find it hard to believe, not to mention hilarious, that oppression could be sourced to some secret gatherings held behind closed doors by the bourgeoisie who I here imagine assembling around a mahogany table to plot while intermittently sipping claret and smoking cigars. One could argue that the objective of administering life is actually rather noble, but then again that also puts undue emphasis on subjective intentionality, like in that hypothetical gathering example. It is, perhaps, as Foucault puts it in personal communication with Dreyfus and Rabinow (187): “People know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does[.]” So what emerges from intentionality, the outcome, can and does differ from the intentions, the intended outcome. Moreover, for Foucault intentionality does not necessitate a subject, as he (95) states in ‘The History of Sexuality’:

[T]here is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives. But this does not mean that it results from the choice of decision of an individual subject … the logic is perfectly clear, the aims decipherable, and yet it is often the case that no one is there to have invented them, and few who can be said to have formulated them[.]”

The sentence is simply too long to quote here, gargantuan to be honest, so I condensed it to the bare minimum. I think it’s helpful to note that in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ Foucault (25) refers to what I believe he (95) in this case calls the ‘almost unspoken’ as the ‘already-said’, yet ‘never-said’. To open this up, in a way, everything is based on something, the ‘already-said’, be it spoken or written, fair enough, but as the ones who said them, or invented them, are not typically around, they become taken for granted. So, in a way they have never been said, although they have been, at least at some point in time. Anyway, the point is, I believe, that the origin of discourse is muddled and so is the subject behind the intentionality. Discussing Pierre Bourdieu’s doxa, as presented in ‘Outline of a Theory of Practice’, would useful here, but I have to stop at something. To sum things up, you could say that its rather ironic and paradoxical that the individual becomes individual in relation to other individuals that work upon the individual as a collective, yet there is no one to blame for it, no cigar smoking oppressors behind closed doors to be discovered.

How about now? Well, it’s still possible to argue that Foucault’s view on how one becomes a subject holds, despite the some three decades in between now and his death in 1984. Deleuze, however, argues in his short essay that these days we live in societies of control, as suggested by the title of his essay, rather than what Foucault characterized as societies of discipline. Now, I think that these are more or less the same thing, albeit Deleuze does a good job at updating the arguments, taking them to the next millennium. If you thought Foucault comes across as dystopian, reading Deleuze hardly alleviates any concerns. He (5) emphasizes that while the old institutions studied by Foucault haven’t vanished, they have been improved upon by moving from mere series of disciplinary periods in one’s life (school → army → factory, also feel free to add the prison, the hospital, the asylum in the mix) to perpetual shaping of the body through constant training and surveillance. Suddenly the highly touted lifelong learning doesn’t sound so great anymore. In Deleuze’s (4) treatment society is gaseous or liquid rather than solid, modulating rather than molding bodies. Anticipating the digital era, he (5-6) sees people turning into units of data and factories being replaced by faceless corporations owned by equally faceless stockholders with marketing positioned as their souls. With regards to money, he (6) argues that people are controlled through debt. It’s now a numbers game. No hard feelings. Remember Greece? Remember Ireland? Remember the subprime mortgage crisis?

With regards to actual forms of control, Deleuze (7) exemplifies it with a hypothesized electronic card that modulates access to certain areas in space not on the basis of physical barriers but judged by a computer that tracks your position. While this hasn’t happened, it wouldn’t take a lot to implement these days. Not that you aren’t now tracked. On the contrary, more than ever, thanks to the phones in your pocket. That said, I would argue that it’s not worth it to regulate access by tracking you. With the increasing role of corporations and their influence over states, it is not in their interest to strictly speaking control people. Visible exercise of power makes it, you know, too obvious and might lead to resistance. It’s more convenient, and not to mention profitable, to keep managing people’s lives unbeknownst to them. This is where one starts to think of how one could perfect that, like, say in the form of self-imposed discipline, which Foucault refers to as biopower in the first volume of ‘The History of Sexuality’. The introduction of computers and networks in the mix only takes all this to the next level.

I went on quite the binge here, yet at the same time a couple pages worth of discussion of human beings as subjects hardly does justice to the authors whose ideas I juggle. That said, it should help a bit once I return to examining relevant landscape research.


  • Althusser, L. (1971). Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (B. Brewster, Trans.). New York, NY: Monthtly Review Press.
  • Bourdieu, P. ([1972] 1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice (R. Nice, Trans.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Deleuze, G. ([1990] 1992). Postscript on the Societies of Control. October, 59, 3–7.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Eagleton, T. (1990). The Ideology of the Aesthetic. Oxford, United Kingdom: Basil Blackwell.
  • Foucault, M. ([1969/1971] 1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language (A. M. Sheridan Smith and R. Swyer, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
  • Foucault, M. ([1976] 1978). The History of Sexuality. Volume 1: An Introduction (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
  • Foucault, M. ([1975] 1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  • Foucault, M. (1982). The Subject and Power (L. Sawyer, Trans.). Critical Inquiry, 8 (4), 777–795.
  • Foucault, M. ([1982] 1983). Afterword: The Subject and Power (L. Sawyer, Trans.). In H. L. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow (Eds.), Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (2nd ed.) (pp. 208–226). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Lacan, J. ([1966] 2007). Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English (B. Fink, H. Fink and R. Grigg, Trans.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Matless, D. ([1998] 2016). Landscape and Englishness (2nd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Reaktion Books.