Critical Research on Religion

My essay “Pastoral Counter-Conducts” has appeared in the vital new journal Critical Research on Religion. It was wrangled by Roland Boer following his Newcastle conference on Theology and Treason and includes essays on Schmitt, Badiou, Christian materialism and the emerging church.

“Suspicion and Love”

February 28, 2013

Foucault Studies 15 has now been published, a religion themed issue patiently edited by John McSweeney. It includes an interview with James Bernauer, and essays by Jeremy Carrette, Corey McCall, John and myself.

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Immanence, spirituality, revolution, love. What more could you want?

Invariable principles

September 7, 2011

“What I found most disturbing was the sense that the hardcore of rioters came from a feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism. … Punishment alone though is not enough … Locking people up without reducing the risk of them committing new crimes against new victims the minute they get out does not make for intelligent sentencing. … It’s not yet been widely recognised, but the hardcore of the rioters were, in fact, known criminals. … That is the legacy of a broken penal system – one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful. In my view, the riots can be seen in part as an outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes – individuals and families familiar with the justice system who haven’t been changed by their past punishments. … I am introducing radical changes to focus our penal system relentlessly on proper, robust punishment and the reduction of reoffending. This means making our jails places of productive hard work … However, reform can’t stop at our penal system alone. … fix not just criminal justice but education, welfare and family policy.” (Ken Clarke, “Punish the feral rioters, but address our social deficit too”, The Guardian 5 Sept 2011)

“The answer to these criticisms [of the prison] was always the same: the reintroduction of the invariable principles of penitentiary technique. For a century and a half [make that two] the prison had always been offered as its own remedy: the reactivation of the penitentiary techniques as the only means of overcoming their perpetual failure; the realization of the corrective project as the only method of overcoming the impossibility of implementing it. … Word for word, from one century to the other, the same fundamental propositions are repeated. They reappear in each new, hard-won, finally accepted formulation of a reform that has hitherto always been lacking. … One should not see in delinquency the most intense, most harmful form of illegality, the form that the penal apparatus must try to eliminate through imprisonment because of the danger it represents; it is rather an effect of penality (and of the penality of detention) that makes it possible to differentiate, accommodate and supervise illegalities. … There is no penal justice intended to prosecute all illegal practices which, to do so, would use the police as an auxiliary and prison as a punitive instrument, and not leave in its wake the unassimilable residue of ‘delinquency’.” (Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish)

Spend all your spare time wondering whether the apostle Paul is at the origin of modern biopolitics or, to the contrary, enables its dissolution? Well, wonder no more! At least not on your lonesome. The latest issue of the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, on “Michel Foucault and St Paul,” is now up, and it promises to answer that question. Okay, discuss it at least. Among others. My own essay [pdf] is the cough that clears the issue’s throat, spraying Žižek with spittle.

Criminal citation

August 21, 2010

We now have another Foucault spotting in the wilds of American television. Adding to the infamous book in the final episode of The West Wing is a recent episode of the ever-topical Law and Order: Criminal Intent. And just like “Society Must Be Defended” being packed away at the close of everyone’s favourite liberal fantasy, this was another case of the cooption of critique. In an attempt to heighten the brow of their bourgeois scandal mongering, the policing of a vampiric cult in the melodramatically entitled “Lost Children of the Blood” makes judicious comment on the youth of today with a smattering of references to Jung and Freud. Of course such psy-theorists have long been partnered to law and order; apparently now Officer Michel is on the case too. Like something straight out of Miller’s biography, the delightfully thoughtful Detective Zachary Nichols explains to his partner the dark appeal of blood-drinking with reference to what  “Foucault called … ‘limit experiences’, going beyond where you feel safe.” And then, of course, the estranged policeman son of a psychiatrist proceeds to round up the abnormal individuals and return the city to safety.

Metamorphoses of the Zoo: Animal Encounter after Noah, edited by the inestimable Ralph Acampora, has now been published. Among a number of great essays, including Jennifer Wolch’s influential “Zoöpolis,” is my “From Zoo to Zoöpolis: Effectively Enacting Eden.” (A related review on “Unreal Zoos” is at Society and Animals 18:1.) This essay was a challenge to write, not only because it synthesises so much of my neglected work, but also due to Ralph’s insistence (central to the book) that critique be paired with reconstruction. An important, if taxing exercise for us card-carrying Foucauldians and our instinctive suspicion of therapeutic interventions.

In the acknowledgements, Ralph apologises to his son for scandalising his middle namesake, but then characteristically avers in favour of promise. I am another to both despise and love the flood story, and another with a son named after (if not for) that ambivalent patriarch. He knows the letters that make up his name and is apparently capable of ego-googling, because he came running one morning to show me this page, and exclaim about its images of “animals, water, animals, water.” This essay is for him, and generations of biophiliacs to come; may they not be alone on the earth.

Is procrastination a mode of resistance to neoliberal demands for productive self-government? If so, then there’s been some terrible delay in the production of busts and t-shirts memorialising my revolutionary mein. You may think yourself a level 20 wizard in Task Avoidance, but I’m both the Lenin and the Che Guevara of that shit.  Forget solitaire and minesweeper. Forget chatrooms and forums. If you only knew the measures I’ve taken to dodge a duty. The amount of shit I’ve got done! Anything I’ve ever happened to complete has been the result of evading some other, scarier demand. One day, this monumental history will be told.

So it was nice to have some authoritative confirmation that the perpetual deferral of my own thesis on Foucault has in fact been the ultimate counter-conduct. Yay for me! Through my unintentional lack of accomplishment, I have recaptured some self-determination from this cursed society of success.

Sure, I have an Australian Business Number as an individual, by which the state recognises and interpellates me as an entrepreneurial subject. Sure, I have taken occasional measures to improve and market my own saleable human capital. But has it worked? God no! My greatest expertise is in time-wasting. My high school Digger high score proves my subversive cred. I ain’t no sucker for this regime of self-advancement and (the bestest word ever) responsibilisation. It’s time for “recovering the capacity for inaction, irresponsibility and the refusal to seek out opportunity.” (76) The less we do, the more the capitalist machine groans and halts.

Who’s with me?

Oh, I see you’re already at it. Good! Continue!

In search of The Plan

March 21, 2010

“We consoled ourselves with the realization—unspoken, now, respecting the etiquette of irony—that we were parodying the logic of our Diabolicals.” Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum, p. 467.

This novel—in which we were first introduced to the fictional character Dan Brown—is clearly Eco’s finest. The Italian scholar’s erudition is unparalleled; I have spent the last decade reading Foucault, even ventured to the archive in Caen, and have yet to come across any reference to the pendulum that Eco takes as his fulcrum. Perhaps it will turn up in The Government of Self and Others or subsequent lectures. I have tried to discover whether Eco was in Paris during the seventies or early eighties, but wikipedia was hardly forthcoming on the matter. In any case, this powerful semiotician is no doubt in possession (hidden among his 50,000 volumes) of the forbidden final manuscript of The History of Sexuality, wherein Foucault revealed the secret of the furtive S/M practice, learned in San Francisco and key to the interpretation of all his sayings and writings, that Eco portrays at the conclusion of his great novel. (Miller’s biography does not even have an index entry on “strangulation”, which shows that even the most insightful of hermeneuts can fall short of the truth.)

However these investigations turn out, I am blessed to have finally discovered my true diabolical comrades, who expose Eco’s slander of Bacon-Shakespeare, militate clandestinely for the overthrow of the latest New World Order, and more importantly, insist on the true “purpose of authentic metaphysical schools, orders, or traditions — to guide individuals through preparatory physical and spiritual self-purification to commitment to a lifetime’s quest for self-knowledge, the development of character, and graduated advances in the evolution of consciousness, leading ultimately, to liberation.” In all his late work on spiritual exercise and gnostic ascesis, Foucault rarely put it better himself.

At least I have shaken myself loose of the false path presented by this cabal—

—whose tour I futilely tracked through Romania last May as a result of unwarranted associations and extraordinary shortcuts that I am now ashamed to have believed.