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Book reviews: In the depths of the digital age, Financial Review, Nov 17 2016

Extract
The most socially alarming effect of the digital revolution is the state of continuous surveillance endured, with varying levels of complaisance, by everyone who uses a smartphone. Bernard Harcourt’s intellectually energetic book Exposed surveys the damage inflicted on privacy by spy agencies and private corporations, encouraged by citizens who post constant online updates about themselves. “We are not being surveilled today,” he writes, “so much as we are exposing ourselves knowingly, for many of us with all our love, for others anxiously and hesitantly.” In place of the medieval idea of the king’s two bodies – the king’s royal powers derived from heaven and his natural self – Harcourt proposes the two bodies of “the liberal democratic citizen … the now permanent digital self, which we are etching into the virtual cloud with every click and tap, and our mortal analog selves, which seem by contrast to be fading like the colour on a Polaroid instant photo.” (This seems accurate about common feelings, but overestimates the likelihood of digital immortality; in fact vast web-based communities, with all their history, have been swept away with a click.)

Harcourt draws heavily on Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1975) in his account of today’s “expository society”. Unlike Jeremy Bentham’s never-built 19th-century panopticon analysed by Foucault, where all-knowing, all-powerful jailers observed unknowing, unwilling prisoners, everyone in Harcourt’s expository society of Twitter posts and Instagram feeds can spy on everyone else and with few exceptions everyone wants to be spied on. A new kind of celebrity, perceived both as enviable and appalling, comes to those whose only talent is for insistent self-exposure. Worst of all, for Harcourt, is the knowing compliance of today’s consumers with forms of censorship and control once in government hands but now, for better or worse, practised by corporations. The Apple Store, gateway for all software accessible to iPhone users, blocks apps designed specifically to display politically sensitive matter like pictures of drone strikes. “Apple, it seems, has taken on [the] state function of censorship, though its only motive seems to be profit.”

After Harcourt’s book appeared, Apple and the state came into conflict when the FBI tried to force Apple to make it possible to decrypt a terrorist’s iPhone. Apple holds to the largely admirable view that it should provide no means to invade anyone’s privacy, while its software is designed to intrude on everyone’s privacy with messages, ads, alerts, and notifications, and to record and sell everything spoken to the phone’s built-in “digital assistant,” all in the name of convenience and profit. The knowledgeable and elite can reduce these intrusions to the extent that Apple permits, and the strong-willed can turn off their phones, but Apple relies on everyone else’s passive acceptance of interruption and eavesdropping in order to keep its profitable data moving.

Harcourt describes a new kind of psyche that seeks, through its exposed virtual self, satisfactions of approval and notoriety that it can never truly find. It exists in order to be observed; it must continually create itself by updating its declared “status,” by revealing itself in Facebook narratives and Instagram images, while our “conscientious ethical selves” need to be reminded – by ourselves and others – to exist at all. Harcourt apparently does not expect such reminders to have much effect and concludes despairingly: “It is precisely our desires and passions that have enslaved us, exposed us, and ensnared us in this digital shell as hard as steel.”

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Elaine Blair, Chris Kraus, Female Antihero, The New Yorker, November 21, 2016

She turned her failures as a filmmaker and in her romantic relationships into the boundary-breaking autobiographical novel “I Love Dick.”
[…]

“I Love Dick,” Kraus’s first book, was published in 1997 by the independent press Semiotext(e) and received little notice. Semiotext(e), founded in 1974 as a journal by Sylvère Lotringer, whom Kraus later married, was a shoestring operation that had a loyal following in the art world and some corners of academia for having introduced the French theorists Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Paul Virilio to American readers. “I Love Dick” sold fewer than a hundred copies a year until it was reissued, in 2006. Through word of mouth and the endorsement of some influential writers and critics, a new generation of readers has discovered the novel. In 2013, Sheila Heti wrote, in The Believer, that “I Love Dick” belongs to the category of novels that “tear down so many assumptions about what the form can handle.” Last year, Lena Dunham gave a copy to the singer-songwriter Lorde, who Instagrammed its distinctive white cover. It has sold about fourteen thousand copies so far this year. In August, the director Jill Soloway released a pilot for a television show based on the novel.

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Vappereau, M. (2014). Les Carnets de René Allio : une nécessaire publication. Sociétés & Représentations, 37,(1), 179-193. doi:10.3917/sr.037.0179.

Les événements de la fin de l’année 2013, depuis le colloque de novembre à l’INHA jusqu’à l’exposition au Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, permirent de faire redécouvrir René Allio, peintre, scénographe et cinéaste du second xxe siècle, et n’oublièrent pas de saluer l’artiste en tant que diariste. Arlette Farge, en tant que collaboratrice [2] Arlette Farge collabora à l’écriture du scénario du… et amie, ouvrit la manifestation et revint sur ses choix d’extraits de ses carnets pour l’ouvrage publié aux Éditions Lieu commun en 1991 et aujourd’hui épuisé. C’est sur ces petits Carnets de poche au papier quadrillé, que René Allio aligna son écriture serrée, fine et rapide durant près de trente-six ans.

[…]
Allio, en véritable artiste matérialiste, conçoit la création comme le « seul remède à l’aliénation [15] René Allio, Carnets, 25 août 1966. ». Au cinéma, il retrouve encore ce trait chez ses héros, ces hommes du peuple qui l’émeuvent et qu’il veut faire revivre à l’écran. Le monstre parricide, Pierre Rivière, petit paysan rattrapé par le drame du droit, est lui aussi possédé par cette passion du « faire » qui finit par le dépasser jusque dans le meurtre. Le mémoire de Rivière et les témoignages collectés dans le dossier par l’équipe de Michel Foucault rapportent que le jeune homme avait conçu un instrument inconnu qu’il nommait calibène, à la grande stupéfaction de tout le voisinage. Et René Allio peut ainsi écrire, alors qu’il travaille au scénario de son film normand :

“Ce qui me motive cette fois ce n’est pas ce qu’il y a à dire, c’est ce que ces textes et les événements qu’ils rapportent me donnent désir et besoin de faire : moi aussi une calibène, un instrument tout nouveau pour me distinguer, eh oui ! secrète ressemblance de Pierre Rivière avec tous ceux qui veulent, ou qui doivent dire autrement” [16] Ibid., 31 août 1974..

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Etelka Lehoczky, Mirrors And Neck Ruffs: A Graphic Novel Takes On Velázquez. NPR Books, 30 August 2017
Review of graphic novel: The Ladies-In-Waiting by Santiago Garcia, Javier Olivares and Erica Mena

[…]

Even in this crowded field, Diego Velázquez’ 1656 Las Meninas (The Ladies-in-Waiting) maintains a special hold on viewers’ imaginations. The elaborately gowned girl at the center is weirdly poised for her age. The presence of the artist himself, standing to one side with brush in hand, gives the scene a jolt of unexpected modernity. Then there’s that mirror in the background. Framing two hazy faces, it makes it unclear who’s looking at whom.

For Santiago García and Javier Olivares, Velázquez’ painting is itself a kind of mirror, offering kaleidoscopic angles on history and culture. By telling the story of Las Meninas’creation and its subsequent influence over generations of artists, they hope to find insights into timeless aesthetic questions — even, with the graphic novel format, prompting the reader to muse on the relationship between comics and high art. It’s a heady — and heavy — mix.

Maybe too heavy; García even includes a bibliography of titles like Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things. As if determined to show off the effects of his reading, he jumps between historical periods in the best postmodern fashion, dropping in on artists who’ve been impacted by Las Meninas over the centuries: Goya, Picasso, Dalí. Maintaining a knowing, high-low tone, he casts some anecdotes in the vein of sensationalistic comics — “True Crime Stories: Murder In Main Street” — only to turn around and spout lines like “Maybe it’s time to give a name to the image that appears at the heart of a text and that the writer contemplates before his notebook.” Anyone who still doubts comics’ intellectual potential will find plenty of ideas here. But while García gestures in impressive directions, he never really digs into his themes.

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Foucault in Warsaw, Durieux.eu blog, 31 August 2017.

 Le Soir spends ample space on an article by Maya Szymanowska about a new Polish publication by sociologist Remigiusz Ryzinski, ‘Foucault W Warszawie’ (Foucault in Warsaw – no translations yet).

In 1955 Michel Foucault arrives in Uppsala, Sweden, where he will work on his doctoral dissertation. But then in October 1958, he moves to Warsaw, Poland, where he is going to direct the Centre de civilisation française at the local university. There he continues working on the manuscript he will  eventually defend in 1961 in Paris as his so-called ‘principal thesis’. It is published originally as ‘Folie et déraison. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique’.

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Kelly BulkeleyDark Times and the Powers of Dreaming, Huffpost, 24 August 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a new book, Dreaming in Dark Times: Six Exercises in Political Thought, by Sharon Sliwinski, a professor at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Sliwinski approaches dreaming as a powerful resource for political theory and action, especially in times when basic human freedoms are most at risk. That we today are living in such times has become impossible to ignore.

But throughout history, in times of collective crisis, people’s dreams have often responded with a surge of imagery, emotion, and insight that help people respond more effectively and creatively to the pressing challenges facing their group in waking life. This is also true in the modern era, as Sliwinski’s fascinating and beautifully written book makes clear.

As she explores the political sociology of the dreaming imagination, Sliwinski’s main guides are Sigmund Freud (as interpreted by Michel Foucault) and Hannah Arendt. It is the deep dive into Arendt’s philosophy that gives Dreaming in Dark Times its inspiring vision and potent timeliness. Arendt was a twentieth-century political theorist born in Germany who fled the Holocaust in World War II and lived in the United States until her death in 1975. Her writings focused on such topics as totalitarianism, freedom, authority, and revolution.

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Lydia Davis, Foucault and Pencil (short story)
The author reading her story (audio file)

‘The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis’
Review by Michelle de Kretser, The Monthly, Australian politics and culture, October 2010

In the United States, Lydia Davis has long been acclaimed for her experiments in short fiction. Elsewhere, she is best known as a translator of French literature and philosophy; in particular, for the 2002 translation of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, where Davis provided the first volume. Her Collected Stories showcases a remarkable formal range, while preserving the impress of Davis’ second profession in recurrent strategies and motifs.

Several stories dissect a statement, an idea, a situation. Consider ‘Foucault and Pencil’: “Sat down to read Foucault with pencil in hand. Knocked over glass of water onto waiting-room floor. Put down Foucault and pencil, mopped up water, refilled glass. Sat down to read Foucault with pencil in hand.” Here the nouveau roman, with its minute scrutiny of objects and actions, is echoed and – along with Foucault – gently mocked.

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