Month: December 2014

The two psychologists at the center of the CIA torture report

Open Geography

Today’s Senate Select Committee on intelligence (SSCI) report on CIA’s use of torture in interrogation provides plenty of new details about the two psychologists at the center of the CIA program. But I suspect there is much more coverage about them to come.

But already by 2007 and 2009 there were reports by Katherine Eban (Vanity Fair) and Scott Shane (NYT) on these two PhD credentialed scholars that should give pause to academics everywhere, and raises important questions about the weaponization of knowledge.

In addition, see the discussion in James Risen’s new book Pay any Price. The role and actions of professional academic organizations (such as the APA) on the application of SERE to CIA prisoners “has never before been fully explained” he says (p. 178).

The two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, get their own main finding in the SSCI report:

#13: Two contract psychologists devised the CIA’s…

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This week, there’s been a run of articles mourning the (likely) end of The New Republic, which many also noted happened to be the earliest “journal of ideas” that later political writers came upon in their adolescence. (Me too, but even then I recognized it for making far right opinions safe for “liberals.” It gave birth to the thing of respectable “liberals” who “speak the truth” about race and gender from the safe confines of white patriarchal privilege.) It’s exactly the magazine for that age: it was read by people who could just as well have had an Ayn Rand phase. In any case, here’s TNC on TNR’s race problem.

Foucault audio and video recordings – a chronological list with links

Stuart Elden with a chronological list of audio and video recordings of Foucault–another great resource on his Progressive Geographies site. (Send him a link if there’s one he’s managed to miss.)

Progressive Geographies

foucaultLast year I listed all the Foucault audio recordings I could find online. I’ve now updated the list, and reordered them chronologically.

These are now all listed on this page (as part of the ‘Foucault Resources‘ part of this site).

There are a few bits of missing information, and there may well be others available online that I’ve missed. Updates, corrections or additions welcome.

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Thomas Sheehan interviewed at 3:AM Magazine

By Heidegger scholars Richard Polt and Gregory Fried.The interview touches on Sheehan’s recently published Making Sense of Heidegger, which makes his long-held argument that there was no turn in Heidegger, that his later work is more obscure restatements of key insights in Sein und Zeit. The interview gives his short history of Heidegger scholarship in the Anglophone world, touches quickly on the black notebooks, and does make the hard-to-argue-with claim that Heidegger’s history of everything as falling to metaphysics is just philosophy from on high, instead of the needed investigations of various economic, social, and other changes in modernity. (This incidentally was one of the major critiques by Foucault of the early Derrida, namely that a given insight into a certain history of metaphysics was all one needed in terms of social critique.)

RPR Review of The State of Sovereignty

By Jeffrey Epstein, I just happened upon his review article “The State of Sovereignty and a Future Democratic Justice,” while looking for something else. (It came out earlier this year.) Since it a generous review, it’s a bit self-serving to say I like it, but he summarizes very well what I was trying to do:

Gratton deserves great credit for the clarity, concision, rigorous engagement with primary and secondary sources, and charitable readings he extends to each figure under consideration. His work is not a partisan broadside or a claim about which theorist is to be crowned the thinker of sovereignty; instead, he attempts to “take on the tradition” in two distinct yet inter-related ways. First, his careful explication of the historicity (e.g., Rousseau), genealogies (e.g., Foucault and Agamben), and conceptual deconstructions (e.g., Arendt and Derrida) of sovereignty provides a succinct and rich treatment of each thinker’s critique of the onto-theological underpinning of sovereign violence and mastery that continue today, thereby demonstrating one important aspect of the political and normative relevance of Continental thought to the “mainstream” tradition of political philosophy. Second, Gratton “takes on the tradition” by challenging the most common post-9/11 philosophical discourses within the Continental tradition, namely the analyses of sovereignty grounded in the “formalisms of the ‘sovereign exception’” (3). Gratton’s text is an effort to move beyond these abstract considerations of the secularized remainders of political theology and Schmittian decisionism toward concrete consideration of popular sovereignty and the illegitimate excesses of sovereign power within the democratic nation-state. Gratton is ever alert to the ways in which nativist fictions legitimize the sovereign nation-state and de-legitimize certain individuals and communities within and outside its borders. For this reason, he labors to secure a place in political theory for the various genealogies and conceptual deconstructions of sovereignty and its justificatory fictions. (276)

He ends the review by asking why I had not treated cosmopolitanism at some length in the book: “This omission leaves unexamined whether or not cosmopolitanism is simply another sovereign fiction or how a non-sovereign future might also be cosmopolitan,” mentioning the work of Seyla Benhabib and Bonnie Honig in particular (279). This raises an excellent question about a pivot towards a more “positive” non-sovereign conception of the political, and certainly even in the authors I cover, Arendt and Derrida, for example, stand out for their writings on it. I would just quickly say that the language of cosmopolitanism, I think, has been usurped by the worst elements (though I do admire Honig’s work on this) and so I’ve avoided it–the world politics we have is one of globalization and sovereigntism (however much it was once thought those were somehow in tension), and thus its use becomes a Kantian-style abstraction or vague moralizing without much teeth in the face of what needs to be confronted.

Saskia Sassen’s Father and Eichmann

An interesting and previously unknown story to me about the sociologist and urban theorist’s links, through her father, to Eichmann’s post-war life in Argentina. (She had left discussions of this out of her autobiographical essays.) Perhaps the most troubling thing in the story is that a “friend,” Craig Calhoun, thought he was doing her a favor with this tidbit:

Another friend, Craig Calhoun, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, praises her ability to synthesize and make sense of issues cropping up around the world. “If you wanted to say, ‘Where does Saskia Sassen do fieldwork and research?’—she does it in the business-class seats of international air travel, talking to the people who happen to sit next to her.” 

With friends like these…

Crime. Punishment. Eric Garner.

My graduate seminar this semester used the framing of “crime and punishment” and the abyssal relation between the two as the starting point for reading through much of Foucault’s 70s work performing genealogies of power as well as Derrida’s 1999-2000 seminar on the death penalty and ancillary works. A common point, if often unmentioned, for both is the second essay of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, where Nietzsche not only describes the pairing of crime and punishment as based in the earliest barter economies (thus the balance of scales that we now use for justice, but which were of course first used in trade), but also argues that crime was invented for the sake of punishment, for a given pleasure it provides which is then disavowed under the banner of proceduralism. In any case, I had argued in the course that there is no crime without punishment and vice-versa, that a crime is only such if there is a given punishment, etc. Not exactly breaking ground there conceptually, but nevertheless opening the way for thinking an-economic forms of justice, such as Foucault was broaching in late 70s interviews on the prisons and the end of the death penalty in France, and which forms the basis for all of Derrida’s late thinking of the relation of justice to the law, unconditional forgiveness to its conditions, and of course, the sovereign fiction of the knowability of death for one to be able to use it as a “commensurable” punishment for a given crime in the first place. But of course there is another non-economic relation of crime and punishment, which is sovereigntist: in the killing of Eric Garner, we have the crime without the punishment for the officer involved, and in his killing, we have the punishment without the crime, which of course if the (il)legality of sovereign force in the state of exception that haunts the streets and byways of American cities from LA to Ferguson to NY. This explains the somewhat ironic, even necessarily hypocritical charge of the left: to want at once the end of a given legal paradigm (prison as the answer to everything) while also wanting those who enforce the law to be at the end of its sharp stick as well. But this hypocrisy is not self-defeating or even problematic: politics is necessarily hypocritical, since the point is that we can only ever speak from within a given set of conditions (we have this legal system such as it is) and it can only be perfectable (but without ever the hope for a telos of perfection) through its revisability in the name of displacing this (un)just pairing of a said crime and its commensurability in a given punishment. This isn’t a relativism but politics as what it is, always a question of performative strategies. But nothing is harder–as we see with each of these grand jury decisions–than making sovereignty in all its localities face itself, punish itself, and therefore begin its dissolution.