Monday, December 26, 2005

The enclosures.

Slavery is being practiced by the system under the color of law.... Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today; it's the same thing, but with a new name. They're making millions and millions of dollars enslaving blacks, poor whites, and others--people who don't even know they're being railroaded.

-Political Prisoner Ruchell Magee (via Chabert).

It's strange that Foucault, who wrote about an incarceral modernity, about the institutions of criminality, madness, sickness, never wrote about slavery. Did he think that race-based labor institutions were just a footnote to the other systems, or was race too controversial for him? Was he afraid to challenge the liberal narrative of slavery, and in Foucauldian fashion, demonstrate how the system today is more repressive? I don't know. It seems impossible to imagine worse than slavery, but for so many people, what the hell is the difference? Perhaps in the end the institution of slavery challenges the periodization of Foucault's classical and modern ages, that there is a longue duree of racialized exploitation after all, lying at the origins and nadir of the capitalist system.

Perhaps the supposedly special case of slavery reveals the problem of emphasis in Foucault's epistemic breaks: the modes of exploitation shift suddenly, as does the logic of production and its ideological field, but the ever-hurrying pace of capitalist exploitation remains.


Blogger Nate said...

This is a really good point, and well put. I'm not very familiar with Foucault, though he's a figure I'm trying to get to know better. I'm genuinely suspicious of proposals of radical breaks, I often wonder what political effects those might have, what gets left out of the dramatic breaks. I think you point out a really key case of that.
Best regards,

11:34 PM  
Blogger hollowentry said...

Thanks Nate.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Nate said...

Hollowentry, have you read the Federici book Caliban and the Witch? She takes Foucault to task for not considering the witch-hunts. She's got an argument connecting it to colonialism (and believes there's new enclosures happening today in Africa), I don't quite follow all of that part to be honest, but I'm willing to agree with her on it. The historical detail's the part I liked best.

5:05 PM  

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