knowbotic research on Fri, 6 May 2005 13:29:48 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> transcoding sovereignty

Galloway/Thacker wrote: "When the body politic is in abandon, it opens 
onto notions of the common, the open, the distributed."

Hints to conceptualize such an "openness" you can find in the text of 
Giaco Schiesser written in the context of the naked bandit project actually shown in the Open Nature 
exhibitionat ICC Tokio

Sovereignty of a new kind
Picking up the torn thread
Giaco Schiesser

It is in times of major social upheaval or crises that the dispositifs of 
ruling sovereignty become questionable =AD politically, legally, 
philosophically. The existing apparatus proves to be porous, and new plans 
have yet to be made. This applies to the present era of post-Fordist 
globalization, in which for some theorists the historical role of the 
nation-states except for the USA has become superfluous.

With "Il principe" and "Discorsi" in the early 16th century, Niccolo 
Macchiavelli in his countryside exile laid the foundations for all modern 
political philosophy. A republican before the term existed, he had been 
dismissed from all offices of state in the midst of the crisis of the 
Florentine republic; his discussion of the relationship among rulers, 
state, and people, between politics and morality, has remained highly 
controversial and topical until the present day. Some four hundred years 
later, in the 1930s, Antonio Gramsci was jailed by the Fascists. Aware 
that he would not survive imprisonment, the philosopher and former leader 
of the Italian Communist Party was determined to create something "für 
ewig" (for posterity), as he noted with a nod to Goethe. Although his 
philosophical-political work picking up the threads of Machiavelli's 
"Prince" was discussed only briefly when published, its impact has been 
all the more enduring. His "Prison Notebooks" focus on the question of the 
failure of the model of sovereignty propagated by the Communist parties of 
Europe in the period, and the closely associated question of the bourgeois 
values deeply anchored in the "hearts and minds" of humankind. Of interest 
today is not Gramsci's modern "Prince" (that is to say, the Party) but the 
conceptual tools he furnished for analyzing "bourgeois society": 
"hegemony," "historical block," "war of position / war of movement," 
"every day common sense," the modernized notion of the "cultural 
battleground." Since the thread to Gramsci's wide-ranging if fragmentary 
explorations has been torn, the need to re-read his "Prison Notebooks" 
would appear to be pressing. Particularly his notion of the state as the 
hegemonial combination of societa civile and societa politica represents a 
level of knowledge urgently required in order to efficiently analyze the 
contemporary sovereign.

In the post-Nine/Eleven era in which the USA is so forcefully aspiring 
toward "sovereign unilateralism, that undivided sovereignty" (Jacques 
Derrida), an analysis should not fall behind Gramsci's acquired knowledge 
of the constitution of bourgeois society and the rhizomatically connected 
deliberations on sovereignty by Althusser, Foucault, Derrida, and others.

Gramsci demonstrated for instance that the notion of a homogenous state is 
untenable. The simple complexity of the princely state of the medieval 
variety has yielded to the complex differentiation of modern societies and 
their dispositif of sovereignty. The state which is the core of modern 
sovereignty is invariably a formation based on compromise, a 
conjuncturally and temporally determined form resulting from struggles 
among disparate social forces. The resultant formation is of varying 
duration, but never stable; it remains structurally volatile because it is 
constantly besieged.

In other words: sovereignty is always heterogeneous, never homogeneous. 
Historical research has shown this to be true even of rigid military 
dictatorships or of National Socialism. And it is all the more true of 
democracies such as those established in the wake of the American and 
French revolutions. Since the founding of the states they serve, however, 
the models of sovereignty embraced by modern western societies have 
harbored an irresolvable contradiction: the highest sovereign is the 
people (which is tacitly installed as the sovereign: the American 
Declaration of Independence begins with the words, "We hold these truths 
to be self-evident=85"), but at the same time the people delegates its 
power, even if only for a limited period of time, to representatives. John 
Locke, already, stated that "Supreme Power (=85) is a delegated Power from 
the people." As the Proclamation of Massachusetts of 1776 puts it, "It is 
a maxim that, in every Government, there must exist, somewhere, a supreme, 
sovereign, absolute, and uncontrollable power; but this power resides 
always in the body of the people.

Secondly it is a matter of taking seriously, that is to say of neither 
underestimating nor overestimating, a sovereignty whose differentiation -- 
the division of powers into legislative, executive and judicature -- 
increases according to the complexity of the modern state. The three 
separated powers are interconnected over a "trusteeship," and are 
therefore not sovereign in their own right. Yet the authority of state 
they exercise is unilaterally binding, and therefore sovereign. Thus, the 
system of checks and balances functions on the one hand -- as demonstrated 
at present, for instance, by the US Supreme Court's admission of lawsuits 
by Guantanamo prisoners against the ongoing activities and interests of 
the executive. On the other hand, the danger exists of the division of 
powers being undermined, as is likewise shown by the current situation in 
the USA, where the legislative is appointing a number of supreme judges 
exclusively on account of their political affiliations.

What does this tell us against the background of the findings on 
sovereignty made by Gramsci, Foucault, Derrrida, and others? We must 
discard the last remnants of thought based on conspiracy theories and 
theories of manipulation increasingly discernible among some 
intellectuals, and particularly those in the USA, since September 11, 

Just as we have learned that the individual is dividual, and that the atom 
is not the smallest unit of mass, we must come to grasp the sovereign 
fundamentally as a heterogeneous formation, as an "articulated whole" (to 
take up Louis Althusser's notion in a different context) that is 
substructured and sometimes contradictory, as the product of a 
structurally contingent interrelation of social forces. No absolute center 
exists, even if efforts are being made to create such a center. If one 
follows Foucault in grasping the sovereign as a dispositif, as an 
articulation of elements, then it is a matter of altering the given 
"ruling" dispositif as a constructed, external arrangement, of 
re-articulating it and at the same time introducing new elements. A social 
dispositif which does not, for instance, exclude slaves as non-human (as 
was the case with the Greek polis), Jews as inferior (as was the case with 
National Socialism), gays and lesbians as deviant (as was the case 
throughout Europe and in the USA until the 1960s), or -- wholly topically 
-- migrants as alien and basically incapable of cultural integration, 
furnishes its members with extremely diverse options for living. If one 
secondly, with reference to Ernesto Laclau's and Chantal Mouffe's 
deliberations on radical, plural democracy, "takes leave of the myth of a 
transparent, homogeneous society," then it becomes obvious that this 
re-articulation of the sovereign must furthermore remain an interminable 
process: there is no Archimedean point from or to which democracy is 

This interminable project of radical and plural democracy takes seriously 
the micro- and macro-physics of the circumstances of individual, society 
and control, and goes ahead with a life skill of "self-solicitude," an 
"aesthetic of existence" (Michel Foucault) to which is inherent a concern 
for the others. In such a dispositif of sovereignty, whose objective is 
intensified social conditions as opposed to a withdrawal from society or 
the formation of niches, it is a radical and interminable matter of 
self-invention instead of self-realization, of conceptualizing oneself 
(Entwerfung)as opposed to subjecting (Unterwerfung), of unleashing 
multiple and hybrid forms of self-determined existence instead of 
submitting the self to existing control structures, however rebellious a 
form this submission may take. In short, it is about an art of life that 
enables and requires self-conceptions that are manifold (viel-fältig) as 
opposed to simple-minded (ein-fältig), and must be created by the 
individuals themselves. It is about sovereignty of a new kind, sovereignty 
at once supple, fluid and stable; about hegemony without a hegemon.

The installation Naked Bandits amounts to an imposition of artistic 
interference within and onto this highly explosive field of 
non-homogeneous sovereignty. Its own explosiveness derives from a mode of 
intervention which does not politicize or foreshorten but instead expands 
the artistic perspective. Naked Bandits puts to the test a complex 
confrontation with the complex contemporary sovereign: In basically any 
public space - galleries, museums, gyms, city squares - any location that 
itself invites an expansion of its space and audience, the "visitors" can 
partake and actively intervene in the experience of being imprisoned and 
excluded, of imprisoning and excluding, of being sovereign and being 
sovereign-determined. In the course of this acoustic, visual, and haptic 
process, they mentally and physically discover that they, just as in 
society, initiate collaborative processes over whose precise constitution 
and effects they have no overview. Over which they can indeed have no 
sovereign overview, since the result of their activities is always the 
unpredictable effect of many overlapping intentions: there is no 
standpoint from which the complete transparency of the activities would be 
revealed =AD just as there is no place from which society reveals itself 
as being wholly transparent. Because it is a test case, however, visitors 
are allowed to literally see into these processes, can learn somewhat to 
recognize that and how they are simultaneously part of the sovereign and 
object of the sovereign. That these experiences and insights co-train 
attitudes that are useful for independent, own-minded action in the 
currently crystallizing new post-Fordist social formation is the justified 
hope of this project.

further texts (by Timothy Druckrey and krcf) on the naked bandit project
you can find:

Transcoding the Dilemma
naked bandit

krcf/christian huebler

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