Where’s the pilot?

My previous essay drew in part from Gilles Deleuze, but it had actually more to do with his view on Michel Foucault than his own views. Before I move on to discuss how Deleuze and Félix Guattari view the subject (among other things), I’ll carry on with Foucault and Deleuze, with focus on discourse, discursive and non-discursive formations, diagrams and abstract machines.

Now, where to start? I guess I first need to define discourse, discursive formation and non-discursive formation. Simply put, in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, Foucault (49) defines discourse “as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.” It should be noted that he (49) acknowledges that discourse has to do with language or signs, but there is more to it than signs designating things. Discursive formation then, however, is already less simplistic, as Foucault (38) defines it:

“Whenever one can describe, between a number of statements, such a system of dispersion, whenever, between objects, types of statement, concepts, or thematic choices, one can define a regularity (an order, correlations, positions and functionings, transformations), we will say, for the sake of convenience, that we are dealing with a discursive formation – thus avoiding words that are already overladen with conditions and consequences, and in any case inadequate to the task of designating such a dispersion, such as ‘science’, ‘ideology’, ‘theory’, or’ domain of objectivity’.”

So, in other words, discursive formation has to do with a general principle of discourses. That’s still fairly easy to comprehend, despite the extent of the sentence. What comes to non-discursive formations, Foucault (44-45) discusses “[t]he conditions necessary for the appearance of an object of discourse[.]” He (44-45) isn’t exactly clear on the non-discursive side, but if we take the words out, the discourse, we must think what else is there. Importantly, he (44-45) insists that objects of discourse are not merely waiting to be revealed, as if hidden or concealed. In his (45) words “it does not pre-exist itself, held back by some obstacle at the first edges of light.” Foucault is at best implicit here, using the word light, which was discussed in the previous essay. Anyway, I read him as referring to the non-discursive in absence. In ‘The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception’, his focus is very much on vision, as included in the subtitle: ‘regard’ for perception or gaze. Similarly, his following work, ‘The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences’, opens up with a further discussion of gaze in a 1656 Diego Velázquez painting known as ‘Las Meninas’. It seems that the original French title, ‘Les Mots et les choses’, literally translated as ‘words and things’ also hints this way, a split between words and things, between the discursive and non-discursive.

In his book on Foucault, simply titled ‘Foucault’, Deleuze offers an elaboration of the discursive and non-discursive some two years after Foucault’s death. First, it should be noted that Deleuze (49) argues that Foucault was not keen on the non-discursive and that he downplayed its role in order not to undercut his emphasis on the discursive. Acknowledging this, Deleuze nevertheless takes Foucault into that direction. It is perhaps helpful to first take a look at the transcripts of recordings of Deleuze’s seminar sessions on Foucault, held on October 22 and 29, 1985. To my knowledge these currently exists only in French, so you have to live with my shoddy translations where applicable (but, if you are reading this years later, you are in luck as proper translations of this seminar is now available, so check it out if you are interested in this topic) . The sessions likely formed the basis for the book, but the contents are a bit different. Anyway, I find it that the sessions offer more comprehensive examination of certain areas of Foucault’s thought. Also the examples are elaborated more in the sessions than in the book, so I find them very helpful in comprehending Deleuze’s views on Foucault.

During the first session he states that the prison “is a form of light, a distribution of light and shadows before existing as a heap of stones.” In other words, the prison is a building, as we know well, but it is first and foremost the “the place of visibility of crime”, as he also points out. It makes it possible to see crime. That said, I would argue that you can see crime outside prison. I think that is also a visibility of crime as crime is brought to light when you see it happen. Then again, it can then emphasized here that the prison not only casts light on crime, but highlights it. Deleuze then points out that in the criminal system prison is just a form of sanction among others. Perhaps it is better to word this as that penal law dishes out penalties of all forms, not only imprisonment. Anyway, Deleuze emphasizes in the second session that prison is not, in fact, even necessary, but rather an option. He lists that in the past other options included, for example, torture, forced labor, slavery and banishment. In comparison to imprisonment, I find these other options fit the description of a punishment better. Those who are interested in further examples of non-discursive formations, such as in the asylum and in the hospital, can delve into ‘Foucault’ and the seminar sessions.

In ‘Foucault’, Deleuze (31) sums things up by stating that there are “two types of practical formations: the one ‘discursive’, involving statements, the other ‘non-discursive’, involving environment.” Now, what is interesting, not to mention important, is that these two overlap to certain extent and in part produce one another, as he (31) points out. He (31) states they are indeed distinct and separate, yet not only can they bring about a new formation of the same type, but also the other type of formation: “[n]aturally, environments also produce statements, just as statements determine environments.” That said, to be clear here, he (31) adds “that the two formations are heterogeneous, even though they may overlap: there is no correspondence or isomorphism, no direct causality or symbolization.” If you are wondering what is meant by this, think of (or rather look up) René Magritte’s painting ‘The Treachery of Images’, in French ‘La trahison des images’. The painting depicts a pipe and under it a text ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’, which translates to English as ‘This is not a pipe’. If you didn’t get it, the point is that it is not a pipe, no matter how you state it is. It’s just a representation. To connect this to the topic at hand, Deleuze is asserting that the formations are distinct from one another and cannot be reduced to the other.

Deleuze (32) exemplifies the discursive and the non-discursive in the context of the prison and penal law, first summarizing the discursive:

“Penal law concerns those aspects of criminal material that can be articulated: it is a system of language that classifies and translates offences and calculates sentences; a family of statements that is also a threshold.”

He (32) continues with the non-discursive:

“Prison, for its part, is concerned with whatever is visible: not only does it wish to display the crime and the criminal but in itself it constitutes a visibility, it is a system of light before being a figure of stone[.]”

Now, as already stated in general, what is interesting is not the two as the distinct entities that they are. What is interesting is how they come together and form something new. Deleuze (33) characterizes this:

“And the two forms continue to come into contact, seep into one another and steal bits for themselves: penal law still leads back to prison and provides prisoners, while prison continues to reproduce delinquency, make it an ‘object’, and realize the aims which penal law had conceived differently (the defence of society, the moral conversion of the condemned man, the changes made to the sentence, individuation).”

So, in the case of the prison and the legal system, one ends up affecting the other and being affected by the other. The way I understand this is that they remain distinct, yet strangely what results is not what is intended, at least supposedly, rather the opposite. In the seminar sessions and in ‘Foucault’, as argued by Foucault in ‘Discipline and Punish’, Deleuze states that the gradual shift from crimes on people to crimes on property necessitated a finer system to deal with it. Now, increase in crime, albeit petty crime, leads to more prisoners who are sent to prison in order to be corrected or reformed. That way society maintains productivity. Issuing a punishment, like chopping off a hand for stealing, leads to a less able member of the society, which leads to less productivity. Mutilating your workforce is counter-productive. That said, what results from putting more people behind bars is more delinquency. In ‘Discipline and Punish’, Foucault (266) is very clear on this as he argues that “[t]he prison cannot fail to produce delinquents.” I would emphasize that there is a difference between delinquency, or crime, and delinquent, or criminal. The former is an act , what you do, the latter is an attribute, what you are (considered to be). Foucault (267) notes that this leads to recidivism because, well, despite having been just corrected or reformed that attribute or label will make your life harder once no longer in prison. Once a criminal, always a criminal, am I right? Anyway, the interplay of the prison and the legal system end ups reinforcing both the discursive and the non-discursive, making certain act a thing. Here I find it fitting to reiterate what Foucault once stated to Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow in personal communication as indicated in the afterword to the second edition of ‘Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics’ (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[.]”

What is this? What is this (new) thing? Introduced in ‘Discipline and Punish’, applying not only to prison, but also the school, the hospital, the barracks and the factory, Deleuze (33-34) characterizes what Foucault calls Panopticism “an optical or luminous arrangement” or “a[n] [abstract] machine that not only affects visible matter in general … but also in general passes through every articulable function.” So, well, it’s not really a thing per se, but an arrangement, formula or informal dimension as Deleuze (34) puts it. In other words, in general, he (34) states that “it is always concerned with unformed and unorganized matter and unformalized, unfinalized functions, the two variables being indissolubly linked.”

Does it have a name? Can it be called something? In Foucault’s terms it is a diagram, as twice mentioned in ‘Discipline and Punish’ (171, 205). To be more specific, Foucault (205) states that the Panopticon is to be understood as “the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form[.]” He (205) elaborates its uses:

“It is polyvalent in its applications[.] … It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power, of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can implemented in [establishments]. Whenever one is dealing with multiplicity of individuals on whom a task or a particular form of behaviour must be imposed, the panoptic schema may be used.”

Now, the way I understand this is that the Panopticon is not the only diagram. It’s just the one Foucault chooses to focus on due to its potential. His (171-172) other explicit use of the diagram is the military camp, what he describes as a temporary city where everything is highly organized around the principle of visibility. In both cases Foucault discusses closed spaces, but the principle is rather based on them being open and visible. In contrast to the panoptic diagram of the modern societies, Deleuze (34-35) notes in ‘Foucault’ that the preceding sovereign societies made use of a diagram, but one that “is used to deduct rather than to combine and compose; to divide masses rather than to isolate the detail; to exile rather than to seal off[.]” In order to make sense of this comparison, he (34-35) refers to the modern diagram as the model of the ‘plague’ and the sovereign diagram as the model of the ‘leprosy’.

Moving from the specific to the general, Deleuze (35) summarizes that:

“Lastly, every diagram is intersocial and constantly evolving. It never functions in order to represent a persisting world but produces a new kind of reality, a new model of truth. It is neither the subject of history, nor does it survey history. It makes history by unmaking preceding realities and significations, constituting hundreds of points of emergence or creativity, unexpected conjunctions or improbable continuums. It doubles history with a sense of continual evolution.”

To clarify this, he (36-37) emphasizes that a diagram “has nothing to do either with a transcendent idea or with an ideological superstructure”, yet it “acts as a non-unifying immanent cause that is coextensive with the whole social field”, so it’s “like the cause of the concrete assemblages that execute its relations; and these relations between forces take place ‘not above’ but within the very tissue of the assemblages they produce.” In ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, Deleuze and Guattari introduce the concept of abstract machine, essentially the very same that has been mentioned already in the definitions of diagram. In it they (142) state that it is not an infrastructure that determines or a transcendental idea, but rather a pilot; it “does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality.” Anyway, in summary, I think the point is that it is not as important what it is than what it does: constructing a type of reality.

Now how is this even related to landscape? Aren’t landscapes all about the exterior and isn’t Foucault all about confinement and enclosures, the interior? Well, yes and no. The institutions he covers are indeed typically interior spaces: the mental asylum, the hospital, the prison, the school and the army. That said, in ‘Foucault’, Deleuze (42-43) argues that interiority is, in fact, secondary to exteriority for Foucault. What I gather is that there is a bit of wordplay here as those confined into an interior space, that is inside, are in fact those who are on the exterior, those outside. In other words, those confined, the insiders are actually the outsiders, the excluded, the ones with the ‘plague’, the ones with the ‘leprosy’. While that may seem like some crafty play on words, which I think it is, Deleuze (43) argues that it has more to do with dispersion of the discursive or the non-discursive. In other words, I would argue this has a lot to do with how certain arrangements of space, those of the interior, make things, well, (more) manageable. If people are too dispersed, say, just out there somewhere, they are not necessarily that visible. On the contrary, if they are concentrated into an area, or rather confined to an interior area, there are fewer shadows to hide in. For example, how does one know who is a criminal? I don’t have an answer to that, but somehow I feel that confining people into one place helps to identify them as such. So, it all boils down to organization of space and visibility in general, not only to interiors.

Are there any examples of the contrary type? Well, not long ago I ran into an article titled ‘The rural panopticon’ by Chris Philo, Hester Parr and Nicola Burns. The title pretty much tells you what you need to know, but I’ll summarize the article nonetheless. The gist of the article is that panopticism is typically linked to interior spaces, like the prison, but it functions even in the great outdoors. In the context of the study presented in the article, the Scottish Highlands, there is very little visual obstruction out there, so while it may seem hyperbolic, no matter where you go, someone might see you. Add to that that rural populations tend to be at least small enough for people to actually know one another even in a large stretch of area, as they point out (234), whereas, in contrast, in the city people don’t know their neighbors who live next door and share walls with. In the conclusion they (237-238) add that it’s not necessarily even the visibility of space, be it interior or exterior, that (only) matters, but the people. As they (238) point out, it’s the conduct that matters as it is the people who keep an eye on one another. Fair enough, some conditions are probably more ideal for all this, but that said, in the end, isn’t it far more effective to induce self-discipline, one in which people keep, or rather have to themselves in line? You know playing it safe, just in case if someone snitches on you, you’ve done nothing wrong.

I intended to discuss how this is applies to landscape, but this essay is hefty enough already. I had to exclude that and focus on it separately. This essay first contained the light and language discussion, but I opted to put that out first to avoid repetition. It made sense to discuss language and light before explaining how they can be understood as the discursive and the non-discursive and they come together in the diagram or abstract machine.


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