Archive for the ‘patrick ffrench’ Category

the everyday utopia

September 13, 2007

we are not done with mister ffrench yet – one part in his essay treats the strategies to deal differently with the everyday life developed in the work of roland barthes. to present this part here poses some difficulties: first i am less familiar with the work of barthes then with the work of foucault, second a lot of barthes’ work deals with semiotics – the science of signs and how meaning in language is constructed. and this topic needs a longer introduction that i am willing to do in this post.

so i tried to just pick out some arguments to sketch you the everyday utopia according to barthes. as already mentioned in my post a homsexual life, i will paraphrase some ideas from the essay a different life? of patrick ffrench – but don’t blame mister ffrench for any inaccuracies…

roland barthes best known work is certainly mythologies, where he analyses everyday myths – myths meaning here certain cultural phenomena that have a solid meaning “that goes without saying”, without saying because it is “natural” or “common knowledge” (ah, now we would have to get into semiotics). interestingly, his examples are not taken from the world of work, but of leisure and culture, reflecting the cultural / social shift of france in the 1950s and 1960s:

“If Barthes’ subject matter is taken primarly from culture, from the world of leisure (wrestling, adverts, exhibitions, magazines) as opposed to the world of work, this reflects what Ross (1995) has called “the colonization of everyday life” in France in the 1950s and 1960s, the huge influx of objects and capital devoted to the deployment of the leisure and and cultural industries. “Style” was no longer the province of the individual artisan or dictated by tradition; everyday life is “stylized” in a way that permitted the identification, ordering and control of those to whom it no doubt appeared in the guise of new and exciting opportunities for pleasure. (ffrench, pp. 293)”

so if everyday life is colonized by (now “customized”) mass-culture with prefabricated meanings, how can we imagine an utopia, not one far away on an island, but an everyday utopia? in a first step by analyzing the as granted given meanings and by dissolving these meanings through formal analysis, showing that they are not godgiven, natural. and it is to note thet the moment meaning cristallizes, is agreed upon and becomes a stereotype, it also becomes a product, it becomes impersonal, ready for marketing.

so instead of finishing, of coming to a “final” sense or meaning, barthes postulates the process, the never arriving at a solid meaning; the use of singular, individualized values, particular to the body. the body means in this context not something opposed to the mind, it means a radical individuality, not as exception or as a differrence to something, but avoiding any reference point then himself. the body means singularity.

to give an example: barthes desire was to write. so the desire is fullfilled while writing (process). the moment the written work is finished, it holds no interest anymore, it is finished, takes on a meaning, becomes a product. this certainly explains the fragmentary character of a lot of barthes’ work. the “highest” form of writing for barthes was the haiku, a highly formalized, short form of originally japanese poetry. additionally, the haiku also demands that it expresses the now, what i see, feel, taste, hear, think now. any connection to history or future or something bigger is either avoided or condensed in the now. so, according to barthes, we have a highly formalized form of writing with a sense that never can be clearly determined. (as with a lot of other forms of poetry as well. and i think that is why poetry can sometimes evoke such strong personal feelings.) so the sense of a haiku can only be personal, it has to work for “my body”, it can not take on an impersonal, dis-embodied sense – it’s just not clear enough, and the references are missing…

so there lies one aspect of the utopian in everyday live: making it personal, avoiding a seemingly clear meaning given through a social context by trying to make every moment singular (and therefore opening every moment to many different meanings). actually avoiding that our live becomes a story with beginning, middlepart, and end.

to be able to let this happen one needs her/his own speed, own rhythm – something barthes calls “idiorrythmie”.

the everyday utopia is then the space giving us, away from prefabricated social meanings, a certain distance from the social, that allows us to maintain our own rhythm. and therefore allows the multiplication of meanings, all equal, all more a process than a product.

ffrench Patrick: A Different Life? Barthes, Foucault and everyday life, Cultural Studies Vol. 18, No. 2/3 March/May 2004, pp. 290-305

for the link to prof. patrick ffrench’s homepage please see my links-list.

a homosexual life

September 10, 2007

what does it mean to be homosexual? having sex with other men? maybe. maybe not. so what is a homosexual life? maybe it could be an approach to living life that has not much to do with sexual orientation. so good news for all you heterosexuals out there: you can lead a homosexual life, too!

what follows is a little sketch of a definition of homosexuality, of a homosexual life that follows somehow the ideas of foucault regarding this subject – but extracted from the reading of foucault by patrick ffrench in “a different life? barthes, foucault and everyday life“, an essay published in 2004 in cultural studies (the detailed information you’ll find at the bottom). i will not totally adhere to this text – so don’t blame mister ffrench for any simplifications and/or mistakes.

allright, so let’s get started. we already know that foucault was interested in new ways of thinking, and as a consequence in new ways of living. as a basic assumption we take that identity is formed through the social norm – through the installation of the norm our lifes get produced, through the norm we get created as subjects (to do, to become what society expects from you), the social norm defines our identity – and it does not make any difference if we try to adhere to the norm or if we oppose it, since both ways use the social norm as reference point. so that explains also foucault’s interest in history – history in this context means the history of the self, of how in history people related to themselves.

during this investigation foucault postulates that one important field in western society where we get formed as subjects is sexuality. so sexuality has a privileged role in defining our identity, our social selves.

so our desire makes what we are: a normal heterosexual or a normal homosexual.

so the homosexual desire makes one a homosexual (as social identity) – so this desire is not subversive in any way towards society – it already has a meaning in society. so how do we get out of being just made, of being ascribed an identity based on our desire? one way to change that is identity politics – changing the social meaning of what is a homosexual.

but foucault was not really interested in identity politics – he was more interested to find another way – to leave desire out, since desire is in any case occupied by the forces of social definitions. he was thinking of something more radical, more utopian.
in a first step he substitutes pleasure for desire and body for subject (or identity).

pleasure not as something defined by society, but as something that might be, but not necessarly must be connected to sex.

body as in sharp contrast to the subject – the body as having not a clear social definition, but as something that enables the giving and receiving of pleasure.

and the relationships of bodies outside and beyond sex is then what he would call “une mode de vie homosexuel”, a homsoexual way of living.

therefore we find a definition of heterosexuality and homosexuality which has nothing to do with sexual desires, but with different ways of structuring relationships.

heterosexuality: the goal is sex, the structure of relationships are given by the society (the courting, for example).

homosexuality: the goal is friendship, the structure of relationships have to be invented.

so the homsexual way of life is friendship as a way of life. as example we can take the relationship between two men with great age difference, or from a very different social standing. contrary to a heterosexual relationship you already start with sex – and then you don’t really have an idea how you deal with each other, meaning society has no template for this kind of situation. therefore one has to invent ways of relating to the other. and since sex is not the goal (already done, thank you), the goal is friendship.

so homosexuality is not the truth about oneself, it is not ones essential identity, but a strategic position:

“Homosexuality in this instance is re-articulated not as the truth and secret of one’s desire but as the possibility at least of new and strange relations after and beyond sex. One could imagine it voiced in this statement: You identify me as homosexual, I identifiy myself as homosexual (or why not, as heterosexual) but I am going to claim that identity not as my truth, as the truth of my desire, but as a local and strategic means of inventing different relations with others, of realizing virtual relations:

Homosexuality is a historic occasion to re-open affective and relational virtualities, not so much through the intrinsic qualities of the homosexual but due to the biases against the position he occupies; in a certain sense diagonal lines that he can trace in the social fabric permit him to make these virtualities visible. (Foucault, 1997, p.138)

(ffrench, 2004, p. 302)”

so just havin these same sex desires will not make you in any way subversive or any different from any member from society – it just puts you in a (still stigmatized) specific place. you can fight that definition as homosexual, fag, queer or change their meaning in society, and then you can take these identities as a starting point to actually make your daily life more adventurous in the sense that you take it just as a strategic position (not as the truth about yourself) and try to establish relationships far away from any given rules.

so this is in a very condensed form the ideas of foucault how to avoid the trap of a daily life – opening oneself to new ways of relating to other people, not by trying to find yourself, but rather by constantly loosing and re-defining yourself. and yes, homosexuality is a good starting point…

here the detailed bibliographic information:

ffrench Patrick: A Different Life? Barthes, Foucault and everyday life, Cultural Studies Vol. 18, No. 2/3 March/May 2004, pp. 290-305

the cited foucault text:

Foucault Michel: Ethics: The Essential Works I, trans. Robert Hurley and others, ed. Paul Rabinow, Penguin, London

prof. patrick ffrench homepage

cultural studies journal online