week 7: traveling tables and people making machines (kelly)

When thinking about our conversation last week, I cannot help but wonder: where are all the subjects? Dovetailing from Julia’s discussion about intimacy are questions about subjectivity, specifically the kinds of subjects that populate the different stories that we have been reading. With Freud, there are multiple subjects, each of which are essentially caricatures of what it means to be a person. Like with much of what we have read, the ‘subjects’ populating these stories are functions outlines or placeholders for an interchangeable parade of ‘savages’ or ‘scientists’. We have discussed at length the kinds of ‘primitive men’ that are being created by each metaphor, by each analogy but again there are still no people, no subjectivities in these stories.

Before examining the Freud, I wan to turn back to Foucault’s preface to The Order of Things to (re)think about what each of the authors that we have read are doing. In particular, what kinds of subjects they are creating. Foucault’s preface outlines the various ‘tables’ or ‘systems’ that make certain categories of knowledge legible. This table, as we have discussed previously “enables thought to operate on the various entities of our world, to put them in order, to divide them into classes” (xvii). What is being carved up and created on this table? People. Or, articulated differently, as language intersects space (xvii) on the table, subjects are created. Finally, if we return to Saussure to think about the table itself as an arbitrary space, and then to Natasha to think of the arbitrary links that hold systems of thought together as culture, we can begin to see how cultures create (categories) of subjects and, as a result, make certain bodies legible. Ian Hacking, in the essay “Making Up People” describes this best when he writes (I apologize for the long quote but conveys better than I could the arbitrariness of subjectivity and the role of the sciences in general and anthropology in particular:

I have long been interested in classifications of people, in how they affect the people classified, and how the affects on the people in turn change the classifications. We think of many kinds of people as objects of scientific inquiry. […] We think of these kinds of people as definite classes defined by definite properties. As we get to know more about these properties, we will be able to control, help, change, or emulate them better. But it’s not quite like that. They are moving targets because our investigations interact with them, and change them. And since they are changed, they are not quite the same kind of people as before. The target has moved. I call this the ‘looping effect’. Sometimes, our sciences create kinds of people that in a certain sense did not exist before. I call this ‘making up people’ (Hacking 2006; emphasis added).

Anthropological examinations interact with its subjects in often intimate ways and as a result “they are not quite the same kind of people” yet the categories that the anthropologists we have so far are using never change to reflect this interaction. As a science, anthropology is perpetually ‘making up people’ that before the interaction did not exist but then after the interaction are the only kinds of subjects that can become visible. Returning to Freud, the question I want to ask is what kinds of people are being made up in this text? The neurotic, the child and the savage.

What Freud is doing is essentially creating a table upon which these three figures can exist co-exist. As we read through the text we can see him meticulously (and sometimes with great difficulty) carve out a common ground where the (Western) neurotic and child can coexist with ‘primitive man’. What this does is create an anachronistic or “atavistic” (Freud, 66) space for the neurotic (and the child). Moreover, as Freud argues, their neurotic expenditure of immense energy is an “inherited archaic constitution” (66). The neurotic is thus another kind of ‘living fossil’ that one does need to travel to go see. By using anthropological text to create the common ground for these three figures, Freud is bringing a ‘primitive’ or ‘atavistic’ space first delineated by anthropologists, such as Morgan and Tylor, into his contemporary Vienna. In this space he locates both the neurotic and the child.

With this move we can also start to see the ways in which the anthropologist travels ‘primitive’ spaces to make up savage subjectivities but that the anthropologist also brings back these primitive spaces with him, in which other subjects, such as neurotics and children, become located. This traveling brings up one final thing that I want to discuss, something that I think becomes evident in Freud’s text. How tables, arbitrary systems or cultures travel.

As discourse circulate or travel they do something both the subject-objects being made and the subjects doing the making. As Julia, has often pointed out, there is an invisible figure of the anthropologist that haunts the texts that we have read. This invisible figure is what allows these discursive systems to travel, unproblematized, from one place to another, doing different things to different kinds of people. Hopefully, in the coming weeks we can begin to make this figure more concretely visible and, as a result, make unconcealed the kinds of knowledges that travel from place to place, making up people as they go.

Hacking, Ian (2006). “Making Up People”, The London Review of Books vol 28, no.6: http://www.generation-online.org/c/fcbiopolitics2.htm

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