Friday, 10 May 2013

Non-Stop Inanity

The society of control never leaves anything alone for very long. Whereas, in the disciplinary mode, trust was placed in the institutions of discipline (the university, for instance), now those institutions are crumbling around a let's-keep-each-other-in-the-loop lack of trust, masquerading as transparency, openness, accountability, and downright sincerity.

A voracious culture of auditing has been with us for some time now, in which a worker in one of the institutions of discipline (the university, for instance) has been required to submit, at least three times already in this academic year, details of her qualifications, teaching, and research...each time in a format sufficiently different to prevent the possibility of cut-and-paste.

But this kind of auditing, which can seem sufficiently authoritarian to appear as a natural extension of the disciplinary mode rather than its demise, is now gradually softening its expression, relaxing its muscles, exchanging work clothes for a 'one-sie', and sending around an email asking you to name your favourite ice-cream and to submit a fun photo of yourself (a baby-photo, for instance). Non-stop inertia just came out as non-stop inanity.

But, for all its 'uggs' and foolish smiles, for all its text-speak and first-name calling, the control-machine is no less complex than the disciplinary. In former times, the mode whereby our subjection to power was bearable was as an expression of our inner, true self: I was made for being a teacher. The structure of this bearableness was taken from the societies of sovereignty that preceded the disciplinary style, in which, so long as one was out from under the yolk of the law - so long as one was thinking and acting for oneself - one was free. In the discplinary mode, it was precisely when one was acting thinking and acting for oneself that one was subjected - but the disciplinary mode flourished because thinking and acting for oneself felt like freedom!

Now, think of this: The request for the name of your favourite ice-cream and for a picture of you as a baby is made, and is supposed to be felt, as if it is a great and unusual concession on your part to provide such a thing - there is an amusing frisson of transgression - How funny and intriguing, the teacher likes cookie-dough flavour! But this frisson is only the way in which control is bearable, for the idea of 'the teacher' is a disciplinary one, already thoroughly anachronistic. No-one, now, is above naming their favourite ice-cream and showing their baby-photo - control is a great leveller in this regard. But this situation is acceptable to us to the extent that it feels that, in naming our favourite ice-cream and showing our baby-photo, we are making a grand exception, just this once, and coming down to the level of the 'common man'. Inanity is beneath noone now. It is, rather, our basic and ongoing condition, which is made endurable because it feels like a fun exception to the rule.

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