Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Discipline and Control: Butler and Deleuze on Individuality and Dividuality

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Discipline and Control: Butler and Deleuze on Individuality and Dividuality

Article excerpt

Towards the beginning of a short essay on new forms of power Gilles Deleuze makes the comment that "there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons."I Deleuze's concern is that these forms of power, which he calls "control," no longer coerce via individualization, as did the forms of disciplinary power that Foucault analyzed, but function by "dividualization," via the fragmentation of identity instead of its formation. With control, the various aspects of our lives are coerced by the modulation of our gross activities rather than by the discipline of the fine movements of the body. To put it in Deleuze's terms, while disciplinary power operates through the construction of an individual out of the prepersonal components of the individual, control operates through the pre-personal itself; indeed it operates by constantly deferring the formation of identity.

In one respect, at least, this account is strikingly similar to that given in Judith Butler's Gender Trouble,2 viz., that of locating the problem of politics in the space opened up by the question of subjectivity. The central issue here is whether there is a unified core that can be used to identify the essence of human being or whether the subject is a multiplicity whose possibility of identity is forever postponed. Butler argues that individuality is by its nature coercive and that the recognition of one's inherent dividuality is the means of disrupting the disciplinary power of individuation. While Deleuze and Butler may initially seem at loggerheads here, I shall argue below that their positions are conjunctive and offer a way out of the polarized binary opposition of dividuality and individuality that fuels current debates on the philosophical and political status of human beings. What I shall do in what follows is to suggest that Butler provides us with some of the weapons that Deleuze has exhorted us to look for.

The problem that each philosopher faces is that given current conceptions of power (which we can trace to Nietzsche and Foucault), both individuality and dividuality are threats. That is, whether the human being is conceived of as a unified entity or as a fragmented one, it is open to coercion and domination within the relations of power that form the various webs of social and political apparatus. On the one hand, a person constituted as a particular identity, and assigned to one of a multiplicity of subject positions always already waiting for us, is constrained to abide by all the norms associated with that identity. On the other hand, the fragmented life one lives in contemporary Western societies opens each aspect of one's existence to external control precisely because the possibility of establishing an existential center is continuously deferred, as neither one's family life, nor one's occupation, nor one's social life can function as the linchpin of one's existence and thus as the ground from which one can gain control over one's own life and identity.

In "Postscript on the Societies of Control,"3 Deleuze argues that the structures of power relations are in the process of shifting from models based on series of enclosed spaces through which the body moves, and in which the body is constrained to conform to the norms dictated by each space, to models in which the flows of bodies through series of open spaces are modulated, in which the movements of the body through social space are regulated at the borders of those various spaces. While the prison is the model for Foucault, for Deleuze it is the corporation. In the prison, one moves through a prescribed set of spaces (one's cell, the exercise yard, the dining area, the workroom) in which the fine movements of the body are trained and disciplined according to the requirements of that place, observed in each for behavior that varies from the norm for that space. In the corporation, one is constantly incited to exceed the norm, to retrain oneself in order to move from space to space in a way that obeys the telos of the corporation. …

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