Sunday, March 07, 2010

Power is exercised only over free subjects

[Foucault on Relations of Power and Relations of Constraint: Is Chattel Slavery the Former, the Latter or Both? from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen. Power relations presuppose relations among free subjects…  
Thus, it seems that American slaves were involved at least intermittently in something like a power relation with their masters.  This is not to deny that they were at times bound physically (e.g. for beatings); however, the majority of their service for the master necessitated an unbound (physical) existence.  In addition, as many slave narratives attest, various forms of resistance were possible within these the constraints of the slave system.  For example, slaves often interrupted work routines, stole from their masters, had love affairs with the mistress, attempted to escape, and even physically confronted their masters…  
Thus, freedom is the condition for the possibility of power relations to obtain, freedom makes possible the maintenance of power relations.  Perhaps what he means is that in power relationships, e.g., a pedagogical relationship, one side has to willingly take the subordinate role (the student).  The student is not forced to learn from the professor, but places himself willing under the professor’s direction.  Thus, from the student’s side, when the professor has the “lead” role, the student’s freedom is necessarily limited—but limited by choice.  Such a relationship, if it remains positive and productive, does not translate into a dominating relationship, as the student could at any time decide not to listen to the professor’s advice, or s/he could choose to stop attending the professor’s lectures.  Also, it seems that the professor must be open to correction by the student.  When the professor accepts the correction or challenge to his/her argument, thesis, etc., the student then exerts power (in the Foucauldian sense), which results in a reduction of the professor’s freedom.]

[(title unknown) from For The Turnstiles by DGA. Considering this manifesto at Posthuman Destinies…
To the Foucault thing: I am increasingly convinced that Foucault was not particularly consistent methodologically or philosophically. He was a brilliant historian, no question, but his positions are very hard to trace over the course of his career. Peter Dews' book Logics of Disintegration is a brilliant treatment of this. It is much weaker on Deleuze, however. Finally, it is not clear to me how this very Foucaultian manifesto locates its use of self and the care of the self in the Foucaultian patois of governmentality and biopower, contemporary terms to the tentative care-of-self explorations Foucault put forward at the end of his career. This might be a way back to addressing the question Carlson and Banerji pose above vis a vis Aurobindian spiritual practice.] 

The status of the residents of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry is complex to characterize. We get to hear the voice of only a handful of authors or orators. The large majority may not be amply intellectually equipped, and hence silent. Generically they are called ashramites, and even sadhaks or disciples that adds a chunk of aura to their identities, but the more coveted part of their existence is the life long economic security that they are entitled to. Although their stay is supposed to be voluntary, social and economic compulsions turn it otherwise.

Behind the façade of snatches of modernity, however, one can sense in them deep scars of deprivation and victimhood, power play and hierarchy. Absence of TV, Internet, and mobile phones during the Masters' presence facilitated a semblance of aloofness. Time and technology are thus adding to the sadhaks' woes as no preceding guidance is available to fall back upon.  Harmoniously negotiating one’s multiple identities within a cosmopolitan community and simultaneously endeavoring to demystify the power relations that is woven all the while is no mean facet of the sadhana that (s)he is officially engaged in full time. 

The Heehs imbroglio brought into focus many contradictions obtaining within the Ashram in contradistinction to its avowed goals. Granted that all these cannot be resolved overnight or in a time bound mode. But understanding their many ramifications and being willing to apply all our intelligence to alleviate their foul effects proliferating is a sacred responsibility which need not scare us. Confabulations on Ashram climate change can occur without peregrination of Copenhagen. [TNM]

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