Archive for the ‘ Capitalism ’ Category

Annotation: Michel Foucault’s “Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life” (1990)

Peer-Review: 0

Foucault, Michel. “Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life” The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. 135-159. Print.

In this essay Foucault discusses the historical changes in sovereign power as the absolute “right to decide life and death” eventually came to be conditioned by exceptional circumstances where the sovereign’s life was threatened (135). In these instances, he would be able to “legitimately wage war, and require his subjects to take part in the defense of the state; without ‘directly proposing their death’” (135). Foucault asserts that in modern times sovereign power “as the ‘power of life and death’ was in reality the right to take life or let live” (136). The sovereign exercises his power over life through the deaths that he can command and exercises his power over death by the lives he can spare. Foucault accentuates that in this framework power is exerted according to the model of “deduction, a subtraction mechanism,” that “culminate[s] in the privilege to seize hold of life in order to suppress it” (136). He notes, however, that since then power in the West has undergone a radical transformation.

No longer a deductive force that attempts to “suppress” life with the threat of death, now “power…exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavors to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations” (137). Foucault calls attention to how wars have ceased to be waged in the name of an individual sovereign but rather for the defense and survival of whole populations. He emphasizes that modern states exercise power in this manner, stressing life even as they expose their subjects to death. Foucault asserts “that the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death (138). He notes that because power can only exerts its influence over life, “death is power’s limit” (138). Foucault explains that suicide, as an individual, private act, subverts power, and classifying it as a crime is power’s grasping attempt to manage life.

He goes on to describe how “power over life evolved in two basic forms” since the 17th century (139). Foucault describes how the first form is “centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities…the parallel increases of its usefulness and its docility, [and] its integration into systems of efficient and economic control” (139). He groups all of these mechanisms of power under the heading of “disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body” (139). Foucault asserts that the second form is “focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality…life expectancy and longevity” (139). These mechanism he groups under the heading of “regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population” (139). Foucault emphasizes that power mobilizes to discipline the human body and regulate populations, giving rise to a “great bipolar technology—anatomic and biological” that works towards “invest[ing] life through and through” (139).

He further notes how this “bio-power” has been instrumental to the rise and expansion of capitalism. Foucault insists that the success of this economic system “would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes” (141). Capitalism, which demands growth—the creation of new markets, the production of more goods and capital, etc—ultimately relies on a power capable of fostering, optimizing, and regulating life rather than death (141).

Foucault argues that modernity is marked by mankind’s development of political measures to specifically maintain and perpetuate its own existence. But he suggests that one important consequence of “bio-power” is the normalization of power beyond the formal legal system. He asserts that “law operates more and more as a norm, and that the juridical institution is increasingly incorporated into a continuum of apparatuses (medical, administrative, and so on) whose functions are for the most part regulatory” (144). Foucault further notes how the right to life has become the underlining demand of most political struggles.

He finally concludes his essay with a discussion of how sex has gained so much political significance within this schema of power because it is tied to both “the disciplines of the body” and “the regulation of population,” a “means of access both to the life of the body and the life of the species (145, 146). Foucault goes on to offer a fascinating argument about the management of sexuality and deployment of sex, which I have chosen not to go into detail about here.

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Annotation: Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse’s “The Problem of Population and the Form of the American Novel” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Armstrong, Nancy and Leonard Tennenhouse. “The Problem of Population and the Form of the American Novel.” American Literary History 20:4 (Winter 2008): 667-685. Print.

In this article Armstrong and Tennenhouse argue that “novels written during the period of the early republic” resemble Barbary captivity narratives in that they “imagine a community in cosmopolitan terms” (668). The authors suggest that by examining these captivity narratives, it becomes possible to recognize how early American texts resist definition or interpretation from within a strict national framework. For instance, works such as Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive challenge “fixed national identities” and boundaries by ushering characters into a space of captivity in which “people… are defined, not so much by their nation of origin, or home, as by their encounters in a world produced by the circulation of goods and peoples” (672). In Armstrong and Tennenhouse’s perspective, this interaction within a cosmopolitan community, where individuals establish “kinship by trading women, goods, and information across the Atlantic world” becomes the quintessential feature of early American novels (674). The two also extend their argument further by considering the “problem of population… namely, the problem of containing the larger category of universal humanity within the smaller category of the nation” (676). In doing so, they discuss the evolution of the Barbary captivity narrative and its role in transforming the American novel into its “domestic” or “‘national’ form” (679). Ultimately, Armstrong and Tennenhouse’s analysis of the Barbary captivity narratives presents an intriguing framework for analyzing Margaretta’s period of confinement with Roulant’s mansion and, more broadly, Read’s attempt to address the “problem of population” through the structure and form of her novel.

Annotation: Celine Parreñas Shimizu’s “Assembling Asian American Men in Pornography” (2010)

Peer-Review: 0

Shimizu, Celine Parreñas. “Assembling Asian American Men in Pornography: Shattering the Self Toward Ethical Manhoods.” Journal of Asian American Studies 13.3 (June 2010): 163-189. Print.

Analyzing two Asian American 2004 porn films–Darrell Hamamoto’s “Yellowcaust” and David Hou’s “Masters of the Pillow”–Shimizu underscores the risks and dangers in current projects of pornographic production that aim to reclaim Asian American sexual representation.  Producing these porn films to counter dominant representations of Asian American masculinity as lacking, the filmmakers privilege heteronormativity and same-race coupling.  Within these problematic frameworks, Asian American masculinity is privileged and defined through the domination of Asian American women–reclaiming them from interracial couplings on-screen–and rejecting queer and asexual Asian American men; of course, lesbians are once again excluded from this equation.  Shimizu argues that the visibility of Asian American men in such porn productions upholds gender hierarchies and heteronormativity; consequently, such representations ironically reinforce notions of Asian American masculinity as lacking and destructively closes off possibilities for exploring and representing sexualities beyond binaristic norms.

According to Hamamoto, dominant images in the media and in porn shape our desire for whiteness and instigate our self-hatred.  Framing Asian Americans as victims within structures of white power, he calls for the assertion of Asian American masculinity over Asian American women “as redemptive of racial wounding” (168).  Shimizu argues, however, that such a reading is overly simplistic and neglects to consider the complex dynamics in which the viewers process their consumption of porn.  She further critiques simplistic assessments of visibility which posit that the mere representation of opposite-sex Asian American couplings in porn is revolutionary.  On the contrary, Shimizu underscores the need for critical analyses of “gendered power” in such porn productions that deny Asian American women their sexual agency and portray gayness as undesirable (170).  Portraying heterosexual sex acts as “the actual order of things,” the filmmakers impose their own meanings through these films and deny viewers the ability to participate with representations as sites in which other possibilities for sexuality may be negotiated (173).

By “shattering of the self,” Shimizu calls for challenging dominant linkages between sex acts and identities such as penetration symbolizing masculinity.  She stresses the opportunity for reconstructing notions of self by first deconstructing such destructive linkages.  One means of doing so is understanding and deconstructing the different forms of sexualization based on gender and their manifestation on screen through porn.  For Asian American women in porn, Shimizu argues that they “use the tools of their subjugation to recast and rewrite their roles” whereas men assert domination over women (180).  The two porn films, Shimizu argues, reinforces notions of sexuality as inherent and coherent.  Therefore, their mission is for men to reassert their (coherent) sexuality over their victimization.  This emphasis and claim of a coherent masculinity as the key for liberation of Asian Americans as a whole represents male narcissism, which Shimizu connects to Hamamoto’s own capitalist ambitions of constructing a porn empire (which would necessitate the presence of Asian American male subjects).

The framing of sexuality as whole and purely in terms of domination and power represses understandings of sexuality as a production that could be negotiated.  In debunking this notion of wholeness and self, Shimizu calls for a productive discourse surrounding sexuality.  Shifted away from concepts of power, we may then redefine masculinity in terms of “ethical manhoods” to stress sexuality as an ethics of care toward the self and toward others.  This necessitates a clearer understanding of power and privilege among individuals, including Asian American men.  Instead of seeing themselves as mere victims, they must understand and acknowledge their own privileges and the powers that their actions may assert.

Annotation: Sibylle Fischer’s Modernity Disavowed (2004)

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Sansay’s Secret History, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

Fischer, Sibylle. “Introduction.” Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 1-38. Print.

In the “Introduction” to her book, Fischer interrogates the “silence” surrounding the Haitian Revolution as it was widely censored from official discourses, even from the presses of Cuba just a short distance away from Saint Domingue. She emphasizes the need to analyze these gaps within the historical archive, which requires an interdisciplinary approach and a transatlantic framework that “mirror[s] the hemispheric scope of the slave trade” because crucial information is lost through the fragmentation of academic specialization and attempts to force that information into nationalistic paradigms (2). Fischer accentuates that such an approach reveals that these silences were not absolute and news of Haiti did travel through merchants and traders in informal port systems (4). She also critiques how “Caribbean plantation and the political upheavals in the colonies rarely make it into the canonical histories of modernity and revolution” (7). Fisher emphasizes that above all sugar production in the Caribbean functioned as an emblematic machine of modern capitalist economy, where industrial agriculture was predicated on the exploitation of human labor through the transatlantic slave trade (12). She ultimately characterizes the Caribbean slave economy as a “modernity disavowed.” Fischer takes care to distinguish the concept of “disavowal” from popular discourses about trauma, which merely locates events in the realm of the unthinkable and unspeakable because “disavowal” “forces us to identify what is being disavowed, by whom, and for what reason” (38).

Fischer’s framework of “disavowal” will greatly inform my own reading of Secret History as I examine how Sansay offers a revision of the history of the Haitian Revolution, calling attention to the “disavowal” of female oppression. Fischer also notes the important role women played in abolitionism and how “the language of antislavery was taken up literally by the suffrage movement” (17). This historical connection between the fight for black and female rights is especially helpful in understanding Sansay’s text and how the juxtaposition of the domestic narrative with the political race narrative is not entirely jarring or unfounded. As Fischer suggests, racial and sexual oppression was deeply, almost inextricably intertwined within the institution of slavery, as masters maintained complete “personal domination” over their slaves (17).

Annotation: Karen Weyler’s “A Speculating Spirit” (1996)

Peer-Review: 0

This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Weyler, Karen A. “‘A Speculating Spirit’: Trade, Speculation and Gambling in Early American Fiction.” Early American Literature 31.3 (1996): 207-242. Print.

In this article Weyler argues that popular American novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries play an important role in shaping “public economic discourse” (208). These works not only attempt to reconcile competing desires for material improvement with republican values, but also contribute to the “gendering of the American economic system” by figuring trade as a uniquely “masculine prerogative” (208). Weyler therefore draws a distinction between male and female responsibilities in the new nation. She asserts that while women are charged with remaining “sexually and emotionally chaste,” men have to confront the challenge of being “economically virtuous—meaning that they must balance self-interest and public interest” (208). Ultimately, it is this conception that men need to acquire capital through “virtuous trade” that pervades the politco-economic philosophy of early American novels. Weyler asserts that in response to the inherent problems within trade, namely, the selfish individualistic “ethics” it proposes as well as the material “importation of luxury goods,” novelists of the period strove to distinguish virtuous trade from “gambling, speculation, or inheritance” (210, 208). These authors emphasized the importance of “industry” for achieving successful business ventures and represented the “productive fruits of trade” as not only individualized gains, but patriotic symbols of “America’s trading freedom” (223). These qualities, among others Weyler describes, allowed novelists to set virtuous trade apart from the quick, often self-destructive profits gained through gambling, speculation or inheritance. Her article therefore provides unique insight into the way early American novels represent the nation’s role within the international market, but my research on Margaretta; or, The Intricacies of the Heart offers an opportunity to intervene in Weyler’s argument. Whereas she concerns herself with texts in which males dominate the global economy and trade is largely successful for industrious characters, Read’s novel diverges from these conventional narratives. In Margaretta we are introduced to a chaotic and unpredictable international market, in which males, regardless of their diligence or honorable intentions, emerge as victims of trade. Ultimately, it is this masculine colonial economy that our heroine successfully infiltrates to rescue her lover from the whims of the market, thereby implying a vital role for women in the circum-Atlantic world.

Annotation: Jean and John Comaroff’s “Alien-Nation” (2002)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff. “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millenial Capitalism.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104.4 (2002): 779-805. Print.

In this article Jean and John Comaroff discuss how the prominent role of speculation in the current global capitalist economy, where capital seems to achieve an almost spectral “capacity to make its own vitality and increase seem independent of all human labor, to seem like the natural yield of exchange and consumption” (782). They suggest that the valuation of capital itself has led to the severe devaluation of human labor to the extent our modern condition gives rise to zombies. The Comaroffs present an anthropological study of post-Apartheid South Africa, drawing a connection between zombies and immigrants caught in the flows of global capitalism, where both are speech impaired (incapable of articulating their oppression) and forced to perform a kind of “ghost labor,” reduced to a mere instrument of production, the most lowly and unacknowledged occupation in an increasingly service and capital driven economy. They claim that the term zombies appropriately reflects the seemingly supernatural manner in which the rich are able to continuously consume and get richer without engaging in the conventional means of production themselves. While I am uncomfortable with the Camoroffs’ association of immigrants as zombies, which seems to deprive these individuals of any means of agency I would like to consider their discussion with respect to the spies in Native Speaker, particularly whether these “spooks” can also be conceived as zombies victimized by global capitalism.