Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

A Homo Calculator at Large: Reading the Late Work of Foucault in the Light of Ivan Vladislavic's "Villa Toscana"

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

A Homo Calculator at Large: Reading the Late Work of Foucault in the Light of Ivan Vladislavic's "Villa Toscana"

Article excerpt


This essay takes the form of a reading of Foucault's late work on the subject and power, particularly that concerned with the technologies of self, and the implications this work has for an understanding of the relationship between questions of government and those of self-government in modernity. Focusing on the figure of Jeff Budlender, central character of the opening story of Ivan Vladislavic's The Exploded View, the essay explores how, from the point at which the state engages in biopolitics--that is, systematically invests in a technology of individuals--forms of government cease to translate spontaneously into practices of self-government. The result, expressed at the level of the individual, is, I argue, the often uneasy attempt to orientate the self to the individual self while at the same time taking cognisance of that self's position in the social entity as a whole. This conflicting position is, I suggest, vividly revealed in Vladislavic's account of the inner life of Budlender, demographer and statistician, as he attempts to make sense of South Africa, himself, and even the woman he loves in ways that alternate between brief concerns with the individual followed by more lasting preoccupations with the group, finally doing justice to neither.


Hierdie essay is in die vorm van 'n lesing van Foucault se latere werk oor die onderwerp van mag, veral die mag wat betrekking het op die tegnologiee van die self, en die implikasies wat hierdie werk inhou vir 'n begrip van die verhouding tussen regerings--en selfregeringskwessies in moderniteit. Deur te fokus op die figuur Jeff Budlender (sentrale karakter van die openingsverhaal van Ivan Vladislavic se The Exploded View), ondersoek die essay hoe--van die punt waar die staat biopolitiek begin toepas (d.i., stelselmatig in 'n tegnologie van individue bele)--regeringsvorme ophou om spontaan in selfregeringspraktyke omgesit te word. Ek voer aan dat die resultaat, uitgedruk op die vlak van die individu, die dikwels ongemaklike poging is om die self ten opsigte van die individuele self te orienteer, terwyl daar terselfdertyd kennis geneem word van die self se posisie in die sosiale entiteit as geheel. Voorts voer ek aan dat hierdie konflikbelaaide posisie tekenend onthul word deur Vladislavic se relaas van die innerlike lewe van Budlender, die demograaf en statistikus, na gelang hy poog om Suid-Afrika, homself, en selfs die vrou wat hy liefhet te verstaan op maniere wat kortstondige bemoeiing met die individu afwissel met meer blywende ingesteldheid op die groep, sodat daar uiteindelik nie reg geskied aan een van die twee nie.

One of the characteristic features of the extraordinary, mostly short and less formal pieces published in the eighties is the way Foucault locates the particular theme he is exploring in each case within the wider trajectory of his work, particularly that concerning the subject and power and describes himself as engaged in "a genealogy of the modern subject as an historical and cultural reality" (Foucault [1981] 1994:177).

Up until that point, he states, he had conducted this genealogical enquiry from two vantage points; the first he describes as general, the second as practical. The first or general route is best represented by The Order of Things ([1966]1970), which is concerned with how scientific knowledge from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century had attempted to explain human life, labour and language by means of overarching common logics and criteria. The second route, taken in Madness and Civilization ([1961]1965), The Birth of the Clinic" ([1963]1973), and Discipline and Punish ([1975] 1977), focuses on the ways in which a set of technologies (ranging from institutions to discourses) produces particular subjects simultaneously as objects of knowledge and of domination.

In characterising the direction taken in his later work, Foucault speaks of the importance of adding a fourth cluster of techniques to the three outlined by Habermas: those of production (concerning the transformation and manipulation of things), those of signification (that permit one to use sign systems) and, most important here, of domination (those that direct the conduct of individuals by way of imposing certain aims and objectives upon them). …

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