Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Psychopower and Ordinary Madness: Reticulated Dividuals in Cognitive Capitalism

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Psychopower and Ordinary Madness: Reticulated Dividuals in Cognitive Capitalism

Article excerpt


"It's true that, even before control societies are fully in place, forms of delinquency or resistance (two different things) are also appearing. Computer piracy and viruses, for example, will replace strikes and what the nineteenth century called 'sabotage' ... You ask whether control or communication societies will lead to forms of resistance that might reopen the way for a communism ... The key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control" (Deleuze, 'Control and Becoming'). (1)

As Deleuze notes in his 1992 article, "Postscript on Societies of Control," it would appear that Foucault was aware of a coming shift in the way biopower operates and, retrospectively, we can see this in the trajectory of Discipline and Punish. In the very beginning of Foucault's text, we are introduced to Robert-Francois Damiens (also professedly known as "Damiens the Regicide") at his execution at Place de Greve on March 2, 1757. Foucault guides us with great detail through a period characterized by the abrupt abandonment of judicial violence as a public ritualized event and its removal and relocation to invisible sites. At the end of Discipline and Punish, power is described as it is exercised in the 20th century, far more economically and efficiently, moving toward self-disciplining behaviors.

However, as Deleuze's prescient remark to Antonio Negri in "Control and Becoming" reminds us, sites of control can also function as sites of resistance, or as pharmakon--as both poison and remedy. Thus, while Foucault paints the prison as the locus for biopower, prison protest was also once the epitomal symbolic site for structural change--" [i]t is the prisons themselves that put up a resistance." (2) As Deleuze remarks in Foucault, "[w]hen power becomes bio-power resistance becomes the power of life, a vital power that cannot be confined within species, environment or the paths of a particular diagram." (3)

Amending Deleuze's "control society," where individuals are rendered dividuals, or entry-points for datafication, Bernard Stiegler describes how today's digital industrial economy facilitates withdrawal (desaffectation), which, in turn, generates widespread disbelief, miscreance and discredit. (4) Stiegler's provocation to Foucault is that we must not conceive of power at simply the level of biological life but at the level of mind; control exists beyond the juridical and scientific plane and, thus, is philosophically deserving of analysis re: how control becomes technically embedded. From "the cloud" to "smart homes," articulatory architectonics prelude the total quantification and intensive datafication of designed ecological circuits. Datascapes allude to quantifiable data and reticulated technical artifacts, with tracked movements and differential equations annotating corporeal and cognitive labor. Deleuze's prescient description of cybernetic-cum-statistical modulation has reached its pinnacle in our dynamic and mobile informationalized world.

In his most recent work, Stiegler scrutinizes algorithmic governmentality, examining how it prompts an uncontrollable becoming of " [s] ocieties of hypercontrol," (5) or a becoming-panicked that is, inevitably, a becoming-mad, where noetic souls are transfixed as aggregations, or "the swarm": homo digitalis. (6) As individuals are disindividuated and disintegrated, the technologies of ludic capitalism--from the assembly line to Facebook--consult desublimation.

As human experience is exteriorized onto digital platforms, individual and collective protentions (7) are decomposed by the data economy and come to be replaced by "automatic protention." The data economy comes to usurp the industry of cultural goods, tying the cerebral with the cultural. This displacement is what Stiegler terms "disruption," a kind of disintegration that ushers in a "new kind of barbarism" inflamed by extreme disenchantment, the likes of which Adorno and Horkheimer described when surveying the effects of consumer capitalism at the end of the Second World War. …

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