Wednesday, May 19, 2010


As we approach ethnography as a anthropological and well as representational problematic, Alfredo’s blog post concerning the limits of significations succinctly lays out the stakes in any attempt. What are the limits of the ethnographic subject? What limits does this subject reveal through the radical alterity, limits that Taussig perhaps points to in Mimesis and Alterity, or a liminality that Chow refers to concerning race in The Protestant Ethnic. Through a reading of Doane’s Information, Crisis, Catastrophe, the limits of signification, representation through the revelation and exploitation of death and catastrophe, are at once a lure and threat of referentiality. One the one hand, it is the “lure of referentiality” that maintains the gaze of the spectator, precisely because of the threat of referentiality that televisual catastrophe promises, but always defers. However, even as the threat and anxiety surrounding these limits are always disavowed through an othering of victimization and representation, there is still always the threat.
It would be interesting to think through the relation of ethnography to television in terms of temporality, distance, and representation. If television is a continuous stream of image and information that insists on the immediate, urgent and discontinuous, then how does/can one represent the ethnographic subject in this stream, particularly if this subject is one, as Fabian might argue, that is placed within another temporality? In other words, what is at stake in the televisual representation of ethnic subjects? How does such a temporality and representation figure into the body of the ethnic subject? When the televisual catastrophe collides with a catastrophe of race as infringing on national consciousness, as Giroux gestures toward, what can be said about this encounter and the implications that each has on the other? Alfredo points to these issues, central questions that draw from many of the readings from throughout the course. One question that Alfredo raised seems particularly provocative: “how does maintaining death as the limit of technology and signification help underpin particular modes of representation?”

Monica Garica

Makeup post: Final Week Response Sean F.

I find Sabrina's questioning of the relationship between animal capture and the apparatus to be very productive. Agamben's theorization locates the two states of humanness, the capacity for “boredom” and the “Open, which is the possibility of knowing being as such,” in relation to the suspension of the living being's “disinhibitors” or what he defines in The Open as carriers of significance (16-17).

It would seem then that the “disinhibitor” functions as an apparatus in that it both is the means through which the living being experiences the world and is captivated by it. The distinction between disinhibitors and apparatuses then appears to be along a binary division of nature vs. culture.

I would question then what the limits to the “disinhibitor” is as certain animals such as Crows can pass knowledge among social groups (such as using passing cars on roads to crack nutshells). It is easy to say that the human is capable of producing and being subjected by the abundance of apparatuses, but I feel this is an all too humanizing argument.

In thinking about Avatar I would also question when animals shift from the category of living being and into the category of the apparatus. The domesticated animal or beast of burden in some ways can be seen more as a machine than a being on its own. In this way, through the process of breeding and other manipulations how has mankind itself functioned as an apparatus par excellence upon different species, ecosystems, and even biomes? I will take these questions along with me into my further studies. Thanks everyone for such a great class!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Week 3 Makeup Response

In his Mimesis and Alterity, Taussig's claim that mimesis has the capacity to transform both mimer and that which is mimed presents intriguing potentials for a means of assuming coevalness between subjects that moves beyond merely "communicating." The mimetic faculty, he argues, enables one not only to "make models, [and] explore differences," tasks which parallel Fabian's critiqued ethnographic method of denying coevalness, but also to "yield into and become Other" (xiii). This 'becoming Other' resembles in my mind the task ethnographers often set out for themselves of assuming an indigenous perspective in order to operate within a cultural framework, and requires an altered subjectivity in the process of communicating. The mimetic faculty, however, involves both objectification ("making models") and the sharing of time (to "become Other"). Taken in this light, the practice of mimesis, as Taussig himself argues, must be undertaken cautiously.

Firstly, one must wonder if the process of sharing time necessarily involves an objectification of some sort. Must one first "make models" of Others before she can become them? Here, Derrida's notion of arche-writing's denial of full presence affects even the least objectifying project of communication. If, in order to become Other, one must first make a model of that Other, then sharing time is at its core a process of making a 'accurate' model, of constructing another culture as an intellectual model, which, if followed well enough, will enable the ethnographer to refine the model by testing its usefulness in communicating. Such a paradox makes one wonder: if this 'sharing of time' is only attainable in so much as it is first denied, why attempt to achieve it?

Secondly, if we accept Taussig's claim that mimesis in fact has the capacity to alter that which is mimed, must we become more weary of the potential for an ethnographic coevalness to be even more successful at transforming ethnographic 'informants' into the ethnographer's imagined Other than merely treating them as objects stuck in a static, earlier Time?

Taking these two concerns together, 'sharing time' appears as a project to be undertaken with a specific, transformative aim in mind. Fabian's call for ethnographers to struggle to grant coevalness to their informants in all stages of studying them appears incomplete. The motivations behind 'giving the gift' of coevalness must be interrogated.

Monday, May 3, 2010


In "What is an Apparatus?", Agamben defines and then traces the genealogy of the Foucauldian apparatus by looking at Jean Hyppolite's analysis of Hegel's "positivity". He then connects the definition of the apparatus to his theological genealogy of economy, which allows him to propose a caesura (made possible by the terminology of the theologians that separated praxis from God's being) that puts living beings or substances on one side and the apparatuses that capture them on the other.

Agamben situates the apparatus in a new context of "the extreme phase of capitalist development in which we live" (15). In this expansion on the Foucauldian apparatuses, Agamben defines an apparatus as "literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings" (14). The struggle between substances and apparatuses results in the formation of subjects. Agamben argues that we are now incessantly acted upon by multiple apparatuses, and thus are sites of multiple subjectivities. He also explains that apparatuses are "rooted in the very process of humanization" in that man "attempts to nullify the animalistic behaviors" with the apparatuses (gadgets, instruments, various technologies) that crowd the Open. In order to understand this argument, we may have to look back on Agamben's The Open and his analysis of Uexküll's Umwelt. For the animal, whose environment-world is limited to certain "characters of significance" or "marks", there is no possibility of apprehending or unconcealing of its environment. There is only instinctive behaving. Because man can be separated from this "immediate relationship with its environment", he is aware of, creates, and uses apparatuses.

Agamben's look at the apparatus in the context of capitalism and modern technology raises a few interesting questions. More and more, humans are now the substances being captured or controlled by apparatuses, especially technological ones. We have seen a proliferation of apparatuses that control animals as well. Just consider shock collars for dogs or the beef feedlots, also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Do these sorts apparatuses separate animals from their immediate relationships with their environments? What can we say about animal subjectivity? Agamben writes that "every apparatus implies a process of subjectification, without which it cannot function as an apparatus of governance, but is rather reduced to a mere violence" (19). If this is the case, then can we not say (if we agree that the application of apparatuses on animal is not subject-forming) that the capture of an animal by an apparatus is simply violence?

Agamben also points to a "massive process of desubjectification" without real subjectification that has occurred through an (over)proliferation of apparatuses in our current phase of capitalism. He writes of the citizen of postindustrial democracies
[He] readily does everything that he is asked to do, inasmuch as leaves his everyday gestures and his health, his amusements and his occupations, his diet and his desires, to be commanded and controlled in the smallest detail by apparatuses (23)
Is this totalizing "capture" of man similar to the capture of the animal? At what point does this desubjectification and overstimulation of man by apparatuses (which we could say act like "carriers of significance"?) reduce man to acting only on something similar to an instinctive behavior?


"What I’m trying to single out with this term is, and foremost, a thoroughly heterogeneous set of consisting of discourses, institution, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral, and philanthropic prepositions…The apparatus itself is the network that can be established between these elements (2)."

A question I had when I watched the movie this time around was what was at stake in that the network in Pandora was far more literal than in ways that many theorized for the class.

What does it mean that a 'skywalker' is nature chosen one? Does it re-inforce the violence which Derrida critiques in Levi-Straus? Or rather does it does it privilege immanence Derrida introduces in the plane of sameness through the sudden contingencies of Jake being in an Avatar, and preferring it.