The illusion of liberation

Ian Douglas | 20 November 1997 |



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just imagine a complete and universal order embracing
all humanity, in a word, a state of perfect civilian order.
Take my word for it, it’s sheer entropy, rigor mortis,
a landscape on the moon, a geometrical plague ..
— Robert Musil

In the third section of Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault described the measures to be taken — according to military ordinance — when a plague or contagion appeared in a 17th century city or town. ‘First, a strict spatial partitioning’:

[quote style=”2″] the closing of the town and its outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain of death .. small wooden canals are set up between the street and the interior of houses, thus allowing each person to receive his ration without communicating with the suppliers and other residents .. Only the intendants, syndics and guards will move about the streets and also, between the infected houses, from one corpse to another .. It is segmented, immobile, frozen space .. Each individual is fixed in his place .. Everyone locked up in his cage, everyone at his window, answering to his name and showing himself when asked — it is the great review of the living and the dead.[/quote]

This immobilization of the populace — this ‘freezing’ of time and space — was not only an emergency measure. It was also the first principle of the ‘correct means of training’ (the psycho-politico/physical organization of the human type itself) witnessed foremost on the military courtyeard, and writ large across the spaces of early-modernity. ‘Disciplina militaris restitua’; the legend that is borne on the coin commemorating the symbolic importance for the age, of Louis XIVs first military review, whereupon, also engraved, as Foucault described, stands the king,

[quote style=”2″] right foot forward, commanding the exercise .. several ranks of soldiers are aligned in depth .. On the ground, lines intersect at right angles, to form, beneath the soldiers’ feet, broad rectangles that serve as references for different phases and positions of the exercise. In the background is a piece of classical architecture .. statues representing dancing figures: sinuous lines, rounded gestures, draperies. The marble is covered with movements whose principle of unity is harmonic. The men, on the other hand, are frozen into a uniformly repeated attitude of ranks and lines: a tactical unity.[/quote]

This incredible reversal of function (the inanimate becomes animate, the mobile becomes sedentary) is emblematic of the security-aesthetic of the pre-classical age.1 The pose of the frozen soldier gave the sign and correlative disciplines to define not only the “state of emergency” but the state of normality, traversed throughout with surveillance and hierarchy, classification and writing; the regularization of power over segmented bodies. At the critical phase in the birth of our world, these imaginaries overlap, repeat and converge, filtering down into the image and the dream of the ‘utopia of the perfectly governed city’; secured not by the threat or the practice of dispersion, but an individualized inertia of meticulous discipline ..

The discovery of motion

It is important however to see this as an ideal, for in practice by the end of the 17th century the broad technology of power that underpinned the emerging modern society was already beginning to rethink its own modus operandi; the result of a profound culmination of transformative impulses, practices and fragments of knowledges stretching back at least as far as the 16th and 15th, if not 14th and 13th centuries, but finding a home in the governmental requirements of ascendant modernity.2 In The Will to Know, Foucault described in outline the nature of these requirements, and more importantly, their consequence. ‘Since the classical age’, he wrote,

[quote style=”2″] “Deduction” has tended to be no longer the major form of power but merely one element among others, working to incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimise, and organize the forces under it: a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them.[/quote]

Witness then the emergence of a power bent on generating trajectories, lines of flight, life-forces, rather than incarcerating them. From where did such a profound revolution spring?

Foucault’s own suggestions lie within the broad parameters of the theme that would dominate his writings in the mid- to late-1970s: his analysis of security and populations in the ‘age of bio-power’. Two poles of intervention of this ‘power over life’ emerge in Foucault’s account. The first centres on the ‘body as a machine’; an ‘anatomo-politics’ aimed to extort individual energies and optimize capabilities (without, however, ‘making them more difficult to govern’). The second centres on the ‘adjustment of the phenomena of population’ (its very broadest trajectory) to the material constraints of the state in question; a ‘bio-politics’ focused on demography, the synchronization of resources and citizens, the social constitution of contracts and interests, wherein the health and well-being of the civitas became a ‘general objective of policy’ and domain of investment. Rather than be satisfied with the archaeology of the ‘dark, but firm web of our experience’, Foucault increasingly turned his attention to the ‘absolutely conscious strategy’ attested in both political texts and the ‘mass of unknown documents’ constitutive of the question of government; its historical politics, techniques and practices.

Foucault’s genealogy begins with the birth of statistics (the mathematics of state).3 It was this domain of knowledge that first attempted to tabulate the unpredictable nature of the body’s forces in order that they be made probable. For Foucault this science finds its zenith in the notion of ‘reason of state’ (in the writings of among others, Botero, Rosello, Piccolomini, and Segni); the Italian revolution in the language and practice of politics, where the greatness of cities and states is linked to the strength and productivity of the population.4 The ‘great eighteenth-century demographic upswing in Western Europe’ — no doubt in part a consequence of this new concern with the collective power of people — adds only urgency to already established necessity for co-ordinating and integrating bodies into the apparatuses of production and adequate power mechanisms, whereby,

[quote style=”2″] ‘population’, with its numerical variables of space and chronology, longevity and health .. [emerges] .. not only as a problem but an object of surveillance, analysis, intervention, [and] modification … [/quote]

With this subtle shift from observation to intervention we pass from the age of ‘fearing’ to the age of ‘facilitating’, populations. Statistica gives way to political arithmetik. Annotation gives way to adding-up. This new accomodation with the once regarded ‘dangers’ of the mass is epitomised best in the writings of the Austrian and Prussian “consulate administrators” — whose work was known to contemporaries as Oeconomie, policey-wissenschaft, or ‘police science’ — domains mysteriously forgotten in our usual histories of the rise of the West; a fact all the more curious as, in the words of Marc Raeff,

[quote style=”2″] Even a hasty perusal of collections of police ordinances indicates that the major elements of what we usually subsume under Enlightenment notions were, in the latter decades of the seventeenth century, being introduced pragmatically .. for instance .. rational persuasion .. individual initiative and self-interest .. [and] freedom of individual activity …[/quote]

In many respects the forerunners to ‘political economy’, Seckendorff (1656, 1693), Wolff (1719, 1728), Dithmar (1731), Darjes (1749, 1753, 1756, 1776), Zinke (1751), Moser (1758), Bergius (1767-74), and Mueller (1790), among others, aimed to produce a new combinatory technology of population; ‘cameralistics’. To make individuals ‘useful for the world’ in such a way that ‘their development also fosters the strength of the state’ was the sole aim of these lost registers.5

This ‘strength of the state’ was (importantly) conceived in two ways: one the one hand, as the material result of the harnessing and channelling of energies and trajectories (industry) into the productive economy, and on the other, as the securitization of governance through workfare, occupation and the incentive to profit (enrichment). Productivity, diligence and happiness emerged as the objectives of the mode of government that came to dominate the classical age and inscript itself into the utilitarianism of modern liberalism. This new mode of governing — simultaneously differentiated (in the classification and organization of bodies) and aggregated (in the policing of rhythms and processes of populations) — is a true innovation of quite incredible proportion; a kind of kinetic arithmetic, or constitution of useable forces. A universal power of engendering; at least in ambition.

Kinetic arithmetic

‘The breeding of human beings’ as Martin Heidegger reminds us, ‘is not a taming in the sense of a suppression and hobbling of sensuality; rather, breeding is the accumulation and purification of energies in the univocity of the strictly controllable ‘automatism’ of every activity’. Not least the most important innovation of the classical age was the emergence of a comprehensive practical reason that would take as its focus the knowledge and facilitation of this automatism. Police science was among the foremost in this aim. Finding inspiration in a whole array of ‘advances’, from Leonardo’s anatomical notes and drawings, Versalius’ first public autopsy and De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), Descartes’ declaration that the body is no more than an ensemble of ‘moving machines’, Hobbes’ assertion that the universe is ‘corporeal’ (and indeed his own fascination with motion6 … ), this practical reason heralds nothing less than a new spatio-temporal imagination of human existence: the appropriation of the world of men and things built upon the geometrical classification that had dominated the pre-classical/post-Renaissance age, known to everyone universally as ‘mechanics’.

‘Mechanism’, as Jonathan Sawday has so rightly described,

[quote style=”2″] offered the prospect of a radically reconstituted body. Forged into a working machine, the mechanical body appeared fundamentally different from the geographic body whose contours expressed a static landscape without dynamic interconnection. More than this, however, the body as a machine, as a clock, as an automaton, was understood as having no intellect of its own. Instead, it silently operated according to the laws of mechanics .. The political implications of this process of thought were immense.7 [/quote]

This new physical body of regular motion finds its home in the body-politic of the disciplined and tranquil society. With progressions in the knowledge of planetary movements, the psychology of perception and duration, the social diffusion of the clock, the mathematical, cartographic and anatomical revolutions, a new interest in the possibilities and aesthetics of uniformity was born. With the coming together of the historical sciences (which as Cassirer has reminded us is much more an 18th than a 19th century phenomena), the notion of the kinetic and dynamic trajectory of society through time and space — the awareness of the very possibility of molding populations into giant automata of movement — fast came to define the parameters of ‘public safety’, good order, and the functioning society, measured and controlled, regular and real; made to obey the rules of the world’s movements.

In addition to the physical body let us not forget the inward reorganization of the human type itself; by which I mean the soul and the conscience, and the seals of ‘responsibility’. For not the least part of the kinetic and biopolitical revolutions of the classical age was the burning into memory, as Nietzsche would have it, of the very possibility of acting within a structure of promises and contracts. The mind — as he so forcefully describes in The Genealogy of Morality — that can project itself into the historical future. ‘To breed an animal’ he writes, ‘that can make promises — is that not the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? Is it not the real problem regarding man?’ That the kinetic and biopolitical revolutions would become linked with the rise of modern capitalism becomes clear: the making of promises — or transcending time, or of launching the mind in and through time — is only possible when the human ‘animal’ has become, in Nietzsche’s words, ‘calculable, regular, necessary’. This making of men calculable is precisely what political arithmetic took as its task.

The burning into memory — what Nietzsche calls ‘mnemo-technics’ — of the ability to promise was, as Nietzsche described, achieved for hundreds of years by the scaffold, the stocks, the pillory, or the rack. Yet by the end of the 18th century — as Foucault would describe with such efficiency and precision in Discipline and Punish — new requirements were being generated. And so we might rename Nietzsche’s mnemotechnics, mnemo-kinetics. The will becomes indistinguishable from the trajectory of contracts. Responsibilty ensures the memory will never stray too far from the pressures of the future: a future of conscience and promises, burned into the psyche by pursuasion and coercion. Suddenly whole masses of men — the state — can be conceived as ‘progressive’; synchronized according to expediency, and put into motion at the the will of the govenor. Note in this regard the remarkable words of Johann von Justi (1755), Prussian cameral administrator, writing in the middle of the 18th century, summarising precisely the nature of the great displacement effected in the name of the grandeur of the state. ‘A properly constituted state’ he writes, ‘must be exactly analogous to a machine, in which all the wheels and gears are precisely adjusted to one another; and the ruler must be the foreman, and the main-spring, or the soul .. which sets everything in motion’.

Frederick the Great, the ’meticulous king of small machines’, was surely the first statesman to bring together the two themes that would dominate the historical horizon of the modern period; bio-power and moving-power (mnemo-technics and mnemo-kinetics). By the turn of the 19thC these themes were running in parallel, a fact of which Foucault seemed well aware,

[quote style=”2″] At first, [disciplines] were expected to neutralise dangers, to fix useless or disturbed populations, to avoid the inconveniences of over-large assemblies; now they were being asked to play a positive role, for they were becoming able to do so, to increase the possible utility of individuals. Military discipline .. increases the skill of each individual, coordinates these skills, accelerates movements, increases fire power, broadens the front of attack without reducing their vigour .. The discipline of the workshop, while remaining a way of enforcing respect for the regulations and authorities, of preventing thefts or losses, ends to increase aptitudes, speeds, output and therefore profits; it still exerts a moral influence over behaviour, but more and more it treats actions in terms of their results, introduces bodies into a machinery, forces into an economy.[/quote]

A ‘collective, obligatory rhythm’ was emerging; a ‘meticulous meshing’. ‘We have passed’, Foucault continues,

[quote style=”2″] from a form of injunction that measured or punctuated gestures to a web that constrains them or sustains them throughout their entire succession. A sort of anatomo-chronological schema of behaviour is defined .. Time penetrates the body and with it all the meticulous controls of power .. Disciplinary control does not consist simply in teaching or imposing a series of particular gestures; it imposes the best relations between a gesture and the overall position of the body, which its condition of efficiency and speed .. The principle that underlay the time-table in its traditional form was essentially negative; it was the principle of non-idleness .. Discipline, on the other hand, arranges a positive economy: it poses the principle of a theoretically ever-growing use of time: exhaustion rather than use; it is a question of extracting, from time, ever more available moments and, from each moment, ever more useful forces. This means that one must seek to intensify the use of the slightest moment, as if time, in its very fragmentation, were inexhaustible or as if, at least by an ever more detailed internal arrangement, one could tend towards an ideal point at which one maintained maximum speed and maximum efficiency … [/quote]

What we find then is the gradual emergence of a ‘science of time’ mediating man’s relation to motion within the confines of acceptable limits to reason and order defined in the movements of the natural world and celestial heavens and inscripted into the day–to-day realities of the commercial and industrial economy. The condemnation of idleness as the ‘source of all disorders’, culminating in the obligation to work (madness as ‘the absence of work’8 … ) is surely the most conspicuous indication of the links newly forged between motion, good order and the individual. As Mumford describes, ‘Time as pure duration, time dedicated to contemplation and reverie, time divorced from mechanical operations, was treated as a heinous waste’. In this, as described by Jonathan Sawday, ‘the “power” of the soul gave way to a sequence of mechanical movements .. the silent forces of springs, wheels, and cogs, operating as a contrived whole .. The modern body had emerged: a body which worked rather than existed’.

The implications were both enormous and diffuse. In Flesh and Stone, Richard Sennett takes up the point of how these references to motion and capital accumulation came to define the very design of early-modern city. New principles of urban planning and policing emerge based upon new medical metaphors of ‘circulation’ and ‘flow’ (Harvey, 1628, Willis, 1684). The health of the body becomes the comparison against which the greatness of cities and states will be measured. The ‘veins’ and ‘arteries’ of the new urban design are to be freed from all sources of possible blockage. ‘Enlightenment planners’, writes Sennett,

[quote style=”2″] wanted the city in its very design to function like a healthy body, freely flowing as well as possessed of clear skin. Since the beginnings of the Baroque era, urban planners had thought about making cities in terms of efficient circulation of the people on the city’s main streets .. The medical imagery of life-giving circulation gave a new meaning to the Baroque emphasis of motion.[/quote]

The regularisation of cleanliness and sanitation, and the removal of madmen, beggars and idlers from the highway can all be related to the question of the efficiency of movement that dominated the historical imaginary of the classical age. As Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1748) would remark, only organized matter was endowed with the principle of motion. We may also add that matter endowed with the principle of motion was increasingly regarded as ‘ordered’. Expressed with perfection in the words of Guillaute (a French police officer writing in 1749), ‘Public order will reign if we are careful to distribute our human time and space by a severe regulation of transit; if we are attentive to schedules as well as to alignments and signal systems; if by environmental standardization the entire city is made transparent.’9 When transparency and transport come together in Guillaute’s words; when mnemo-technics joins mnemo-kinetics in the constitution of order; this is when we reach the threshold of the world of which we are still prisoners; the world brought to being on the back of the classical dream of the tranquil society — achieved, despite its violence, in the universalization of societies founded on the dual daemonic principle: ‘facilitate life, facilitate speed’. Forget about post-modernity: let’s excavate the birth of biokinetic society.

The birth of biokinetic society

If Frederick was the foreman of this newly constituted machine-in-motion, Napoleon would surely become it’s soul. If we need any further confirmation that the genealogy of kinetics runs hand-in-hand with the state we need look no further than the subject of Goya’s Collosus; the true addition to Hobbes’ Leviathan. More than anyone prior, Napoleon would embody the next phase of history, defined not so much by the ‘art of governing’, as the ‘art of motorizing’.10

Under the Committee of Public Safety the levée en masse is established providing the first clear model of modern conscription. Perfected by the hand of Bonaparte, the energy tapped from the newly mobile populations was unmatched in history. And not only in warfare did the principle of kinetic force come to dominate, but also in his Civil Code — the Code Napoléon — of which he claimed the, ‘most compact government with the most rapid circulation and the most energetic movement that ever existed’. All of this was unthinkable without the elaborate ensemble of powers in which the new kinetic state was anchored; the disciplinary codes that would come to define modern governance; its permissions and illegalities, nature and future. Prefigured perfectly in the words of French military reformer Comte de Guilbert,

[quote style=”2″] What I want to avoid is that my supplies should command me. It is in this case my movement that is the main thing; all other combinations are accessory and I must try to make them subordinate to the movement.[/quote]

More than anyone before him Napoleon would understand the real politics of supply. In the measured words of Emerson, ‘Such a man was wanted, and such a man was born; a man of stone .. a worker in brass, in iron, in wood, in earth, in roads, in buildings, in money and in troops .. a master-workman .. with the speed and spring of a tiger in action.’ In Napoleon’s own words, “I am the revolution.” Witness the birth of a new technical, geometric, chronographic imagination of men and things: an ‘unrecognised order of political circulation’, in the words of Paul Virilio, tragically crystallised in the French Revolution, which,

[quote style=”2″] claimed to be a revolt against subjection, that is, against the constraint to immobility symbolised by the ancient feudal serfdom .. the arbitrary confinement and obligation to reside in one place. But no one yet suspected that the ‘conquest of the freedom to come and go’ so dear to Montaigne could, by a sleight of hand, become an obligation to mobility. The ‘mass uprising’ of 1793 was the institution of the first dictatorship of movement, subtly replacing the freedom of movement of the early days of the revolution. The reality of power in this first modern State appears beyond the accumulation of violence as an accumulation of movement.[/quote]

Revolution replaces circulation, automotion supplants motion: the increase in pace acting to secure tranquillity through compulsion; what Paul Virilio has termed so profoundly, the ‘peace of exhaustion’. In looking at the birth of biopower as a kinetic phenomenon, we gain the essence of a possible outline of the political technique through which the ‘problem’ of early modernity (the problem of populations) was transcended and turned to the advantage of the new state that would quite literally march through history. Populations become, from this silent threshold, nothing more than armies at speed; beaten into submission by the very velocity of their lives. With Napoleon, as Will and Ariel Durant have so perfectly described, ‘the ecstasy of liberty yielded to the dictatorship of order’.

The illusion of liberation

Let us imagine before concluding the flagpoints of this history — this geometrical plague of political order — in summary form. In early modernity we find a rabble populace, poorly disciplined, wandering and blighted by the spectres of unreason, idleness and environmental destitution. The aim of political reason — in the context of broader societal transformations (the discovery of order through production, the rise of the money economy, commercialism and early mercantilism11 … ) — is to navigate a course between the extremes of revolution and stagnancy. Having recognised that (in the words of Botero) the ‘true strength of a ruler consists in his people’, political rationality aims also to ‘multiply’ the citizenry as a productive force. A new politics of order, both of detail (looking into men’s souls), and of generality (the new concern with the biology of populations) becomes a technical necessity. Working together, these techniques of intervention (‘anatomo-power’ and ‘bio-power’) produced at the heart of the classical age an initial stasis; seen best in the military courtyard, the hospital, the prison and the school. The power of movement was subject to a territorial codification (in the city, in the workhouse, in the asylum, in the manufactory).

By the beginnings of the 19thC the place of the state and political reason in constituting spaces for existence had been secured, and a second ‘reordering’ could now be effected, heralding perhaps less the age of bio-politics as the age of bio-kinesis. Rather than charting the middle ground between rapidity and stasis, power would aim to ‘release’ the full productive, dynamic efficiency of the (national) population in and through time. ‘Motion’ (or more precisely, motorization12 … ) had emerged as the destiny and law of a new politics of order. The full equivalence of Virilio’s ‘metabolic vehicles’ to Foucault’s ‘bearers of order’ becomes clear. ‘Dromological power’ — or in Foucault, ‘capillary power’ — had emerged as the practical basis and first principle of capitalist modernity established simultaneously with the apparatus of modern governance. Mobility, in other words, had become simultaneously the means to an illusionary liberation and the means to an all-too-real domination; the accumulation of men running hand-in-hand with the accumulation of movement. Speed was to be taught as a virtue because it has in itself become an incarcerating discipline.

This final threshold — of speed as discipline — indeed finds its birth in the formative years of modernity, and as such is inextricably linked with it. In the words of Richard Sennett, ‘the Enlightenment planner made motion and end in itself.’ No doubt this is when ‘globalization’ (though yet to find its linguistic expression) first emerged as the imaginary endpoint to liberal freedom. Expressed so well in the words of Karl Jaspers, ‘The surface of the world became universally accessible; space capitulated’. Or as Paul Virilio describes in Speed and Politics, ‘the dromocrat’s look .. causes distances to approach.’ An obligation-to-mobility (moving-power) had emerged, that for Virilio this is clearly worrying,

[quote style=”2″] The end-point is reached when humans have become inanimate .. The revolution of the auto, of automobile travel, certainly awakened the illusion of a new nomadism, but in the same stroke the revolution of the audiovisual and electronic media destroyed the illusion once again. With the speed of light the rigour mortis begins, the absolute immobility of humanity. We are heading for paralysis. Not because the surplus of autos brings street traffic to a standstill, but because everyone will have disposal over everything without having to go anywhere.[/quote]

Does this automotion through telepresence not take us back to Foucault’s disease-ridden city, or the military spaces of Louis’ review? ‘Losing one’s soul’, Virilio reminds us, ‘means losing the very being of movement.’ Yet as William Mitchell in City of Bits, has recently approved, ‘As networks and information appliances deliver expanding ranges of services, there will be fewer occasions to go out’. ‘The crowd’, wrote Foucault, ‘a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together, a collective effect, is abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities’. When considered in the context of the rise of neoliberalism — indeed the liberal-rational capitalist project as a whole — one can surely see the answer to the question that Foucault poses for himself: ‘How is power to be strengthened in such a way that, far from impeding progress, far from weighing upon it with its rules and regulations, it actually facilitates such progress?’ This is surely the true achievement of security: a form of power that simultaneously fixes and makes mobile to the speed of light the malleable body of the ‘terminal-citizen’.

‘If last century’s revolution in transportation’, writes Virilio,

[quote style=”2″] saw the emergence and gradual popularisation of the dynamic motor vehicle (train, motorbike, car, plane), the current revolution in transmission leads in turn to the innovation of the ultimate vehicle: the static audiovisual vehicle, marking the advent of behavioural inertia .. the witness’s own body becoming the last urban frontier .. Having been first mobile, then motorized, man will thus become motile, deliberately limiting his body’s area of influence to a few gestures, a few impulses, like channel-surfing .. Surely we cannot fail to foresee the future conditioning of the human environment behind this critical transition .. The urbanization of real space is being overtaken by the urbanization of real time which is, at the end of the day, the urbanization of the actual body of the city dweller, this terminal-citizen soon to be decked out to the eyeballs with interactive prostheses based on the pathological model of the ‘spastic’, wired to control his/her domestic environment without having physically to stir: the catastrophic figure of individuals who have lost the capacity for immediate intervention along with natural motricity and who abandon themselves, for want of anything better, to the capabilities of captors, sensors, and other remote scanners that turn them into beings controlled by machines with which, it is said, they are ‘in dialogue’ .. At the end of the century, there will not be much left of the expanse of the planet that is not only polluted but also shrunk, reduced to nothing, by the teletechnologies of generalised interactivity.[/quote]

Of this in a very similar thesis Louis Mumford warned us over 25 years ago. As he wrote then,

[quote style=”2″] Behold the astronaut, fully equipped for duty: a scaly creature, more like an oversized ant than a primate — certainly not a naked God. To survive on the moon he must be encased in an even more heavily insulated garment, and become a kind of faceless ambulatory mummy. While he is hurtling through space the astronaut’s physical existence is purely a function of mass and motion, narrowed down to the pinpoint of acute sentient intelligence demanded by the necessity for coordinating his reactions with the mechanical and electronic apparatus upon which his survival depends. Here is the archetypal proto-model of Post-Historic Man whose existence from birth to death would be conditioned by the megamachine, and made to conform, asin a space capsule, to the minimal functional requirements by an equally minimal environment — all under remote control.

Dr. Bruno Bettelheim reports the behaviour of a nine-year old autistic patient, a boy called Joey, who conceived that he was run by machines. “So controlling was this belief that Joey carried with him an elaborate life-support system made up of radio tubes, light bulbs, and a ‘breathing machine’. At meals he ran imaginary wires from a wall socket to himself, so his food could be digested. His bed was rigged up with batteries, a loud-speaker, and other improvised equipment to keep him alive when he slept.

But is this just the autistic fantasy of a pathetic little boy? Is it not rather the state that the mass of mankind is fast approaching in actual life, without realising how pathological it is to be cut off from their own resources for living, and to feel no tie with the outer world unless they are connected with the Power Complex and constantly receive information, direction, stimulation, and sedation … [/quote]

There is a term in scientific discourse for an object that appears to be moving while actually static. Its called an autokinetic illusion. What can we say about the world being destroyed by dromomania? Is this world in its entirety an autokinetic illusion? Finally to our epigraph: ‘Imagine order’, wrote Robert Musil,

[quote style=”2″] Or, rather, imagine first of all a great idea, and then one still greater, then another still greater than that, and so on, always greater and greater. And then on the same pattern imagine always more order and more order in your own head .. just imagine a complete and universal order embracing all humanity, in a word, a state of perfect civilian order. Take my word for it, it’s sheer entropy, rigor mortis, a landscape on the moon, a geometrical plague .. [/quote]

Our current danger is that this plague will triumph not because the town is left open and exposed, but because it is frozen, and we with it, in time and space, becoming little more than prisoners of the utopia of the perfectly governed city.

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This paper was presented as a guest lecture at the Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 18 November 1997.
  1. See also, Foucault, Michel (1967), Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (London: Tavistock).
  2. Of particular importance was the reconceptualization of distance following the crusades, and the redicovery of linear perspective following the translation into Latin in 1406 of Ptolemy’s Geography. It is, of course, impossible to date any ‘threshold’ by way of an easy marker. Four or five events do, however, seem to me to be important in locating the ‘outsides’ of the first kinetic threshold: i) in 1480 Leonardo da Vinci describes a workable parachute; ii) in 1502 Peter Henlein builds a spring-driven watch (the ‘Nuremberg egg’) intended to be worn by means of a chain round the neck; iii) circa.1505, Wan Hu ties 47 gunpowder rockets to the back of a chair in an effort to build a flying machine. He is killed during testing; iv) circa.1510, spinning wheels powered by foot treadles become popular throughout Western Europe. For historical background see, Burckhardt, Jacob (1960), The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (New York: Mentor), Huizinga, Johan (c1997), The Autumn of the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), and Edgerton, Samuel J. (1975), The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective (New York: Basic Books).
  3. See also: Hacking, Ian (1975), The Emergence of Probability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), (1982) ‘Biopower and the Avalanche of Printed Numbers’, Humanities in Society Vol 5 pp. 279-95, (1986) ‘Making Up People’ in Heller, T. et al. (eds) Reconstructing Individualism (Stanford: Stanford University Press), (1990) The Taming of Chance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), (1991), ‘How should we do the history of statistics?’, in Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller (eds.) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf).
  4. See: Viroli, Maurizio (1992), From Politics To Reason Of State: The Acquisition And Transformation Of The Language Of Politics, 1250-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), Burke, Peter (1991), 1991) ‘Tacitism, scepticism, and reason of state’, in J.H. Burns (ed.), The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450-1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), and Tuck, Richard (1993), Philosophy and Government, 1572-1651 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  5. Foucault, Michel (1981), ‘Omnes et Singulatim: Towards a Criticism of “Political Reason”’, in: Sterling M. McMurrin (Ed.), The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Vol. 2 (Utah: University of Utah Press). On ‘police science’ see also: Small, Albion M. (1909), The Cameralists: The Pioneers of German Social Polity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), Parry, Geraint (1963), ‘Enlightened Government and its Critics in Eighteenth-Century Germany’, Historical Journal, Vol. VI, Raeff, Mark (1975), ‘The Well-Ordered Police State and the Development of Modernity in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Europe: An Attempt at a Comparative Approach’, The American Historical Review, Vol. 80, No. 2, and Pasquino, Pasquale (1991), ‘Theatrum politicum: The genealogy of capital-police and the state of prosperity’ in: Burchell, (eds.), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf).
  6. Spragens, Thomas A. (1973), The Politics of Motion: The World of Thomas Hobbes (University of Kentucky Press). The ‘gate of natural philosophy universal’ lay, for Hobbes, in the ‘knowledge of the nature of motion’ and ‘the science of man’s body’.
  7. Sawday even goes so far as to suggest that the move from sovereign to republican notions of governance might find their origin in this reformulation of knowledge of the body. A fascinating notion that might be taken forward (if one at least partially suspends one’s disbelief): republicanism gives way to cameral science, cameral science gives way to political economy, political economy gives way to utilitarianism, utilitarianism gives way to libertarianism, libertarianism gives way to pluralism, pluralism gives way to globalization; all of which perhaps unthinkable without the discovery of the machine image of the body. On the correspondence between metaphors of the body and those of the body-politic, see also: Marcovich (1982), Porter (1993).
  8. Foucault, Michel (c1997), ‘Madness, the Absence of Work’ in: Davidson, Arnold (ed.), Foucault and his Interlocutors (Chicago: University of Chicago).
  9. Guillaute, quoted in Virilio, Paul (1986), Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology (New York: Semiotext(e)).
  10. Michel Serres (1975) argues a similar point in analysing the transition from the ‘clockwork age’ to the ‘motor age’. Again, the crucial link is the birth of bio-politics, and the transformation of the power to govern. In the words of Carl von Clausewitz, ‘War had suddenly become an affair of the people, and that of a people numbering thirty millions, every one of whom regarded himself as a citizen of the State’.
  11. ‘Cities full of tradesmen and craftsmen and merchants love peace and tranquillity.’ Botero, Giovanni (1956), Reason of State (New Haven: Yale University Press).
  12. See also: Schivelbusch, Wolfgang (1986), The Ralway Journey: The Industrialization of Space and Time in the 19thC (New York: Berg).

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