Friday, June 22, 2007

Language as Unaction III

When "'effective' tries to make a fact into an exigency or a possibility into a fact, and its offhand quality means to signal that the difference isn't one," that means that "effectiive" admits the gap between what would be legitimate and what it's trying to get across, acknowledges it in dismissing it. The "effective" move takes the gap that delegitimates it and by displaying uncaring about it, converts it into an occasion for the rhetoric of efficacity. Foucault advises us to focus on "forms which are, at the same time, modes of power exercise and modes of knowledge acquisition and transmission" because he too is interested in how to get back and forth between factive power and truth, and a powerfully factive form that concerns itself explicitly with "knowledge contents" is a good candidate for the connector he needs. But all forms that "effectively" achieve an end also regulate knowledge, if only by dismissing it. We're subjected to the display of efficacity when the point is made that something doesn't have to be done or explained to us.

Opposite to Foucault's project of verbalizing mute forms of power is work on representation and language that not only reads it as effectiveness, but claims that what it's "about" is that performance. All utterances perform as well as state, and their formal, unspoken actions need to be read; investigating formal efficacity leads outside the object to its networks, motives, the interests that drive it, and so on--that's what Foucault does. But there's a difference between that and claiming that on the thematic level, as well, the representation is about its effectiveness. That position, one that makes an allegory of efficacity, closes off the exploration by pulling the representation's networks and debts inside it and treating them as reflections. Moreover, it's designed to negate anything about the object that would remind us that something exists besides efficacity. Negating itself as writing and effectively cheerleading for power, this kind of allegory worse than ignores interpretation: it erases the space for it.

Benjamin fantasizes about linguistic responses to factive power in ways more floridly magical than Foucault's rational goal of creating a discourse around a mute, uncooperative form. Benjamin elides the difference between an occurrence, which can never un-occur, and its impact, which fades. The fading of the action's impact is an opportunity for language's revenge on actions. Only representations can extend the force of a single act (although orchestrations of followup supporting acts may be more effective). Mostly Benjamin worries about this when thinking about events he can't bear to have forgotten, rather than remembering how the victim might gain from the fading of an aggression. So, when he writes that a historian should be "firmly convinced that even the dead will not be left safe from the enemy if he wins" ("Theses on the Philosophy of History," VI), he conflates deliberately facts and their dependence on language, as if the language on which they depend for impact could actually harm or help past events themselves.

Image: Albrecht Altdorfer, Allegory of the Royal Trip,1531

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