I’ve been reading The Political Mapping of Cyberspace by Jeremy Crampton (2003) after finding a comment about one of my posts on Jeremy’s blog. Jeremy’s comment lead me to begin an exploration of the terms “hupomnemata” (self-writing) and “parrhesia” (frank and fearless speech, particularly spoken against the powerful) (p. 107). This post, therefore, is an attempt to distill and focus those parts of Crampton’s writing that have particular relevance to my upcoming thesis. I claim no special knowledge or understanding of the topics about which he speaks and invite any meaningful critique of this summary.
One of the struggles I’ve been waging is to distill a thesis statement; and have had even more difficulty conceiving of a way into the discussion of the tensions experienced between employee bloggers and their employers. In this regard Crampton’s approach may prove highly valuable. He frames his own work as a focus on the “contact point” (p. 17) between Foucault’s concepts of the technologies of the self (he explains these in detail later in the book) and the technologies of domination utilised by those in power. The overlap of these two forms of government – the government of the individual self by the self and the regulation of institutions – produce a domain of contestation and the necessary recalcitrance and resistance required for the existence of a power relationship. Looked at in this manner the tension between employee and employer has two connected but separate domains that continually bear and act on one another.
Expectedly Crampton invests a section of his book on the technologies of the self in which he critiques the concept of “confession” (he notes that there has, to this point, been little meaningful discourse on the concept despite its centrality and importance to Christian societies) and explains some of techniques of self such as hupomnemata and parrhesia.
Crampton notes the importance of confession of truth about oneself in the process of authentication of self in cyberspace (user names and passwords require confession of truth to a system/person of power) and without this confession the authentic self is denied access.
He points out that the “technologies” (of the self) to which Foucault refers have a broader meaning then how we might imagine technology (computers, calculators, electricity grids); a production, a fabrication, a bringing forth, not something that is hidden, needing to be found, but something to be produced as an artist or craftsmen would their work (p. 84). In other words:
“What is brought into existence in technologies of the self is precisely the truth about oneself” (p. 85).
These “techne” are techniques that mould, shape, and produce the self. As opposed to a self that is already existent, the self becomes a deliberate act performed and produced by the self – one must work to be attain the gay life he notes Foucault as saying (no doubt this idea might not go down well for those who propose the existence of the gay brain, but that’s a discussion for another day). One of these techne is the already mentioned hupomnemata (it’s a Greek word), a way of self-writing, not as some form of Christian confessional in order to reveal ones true self, but as a way to transform the self through the process or act of writing. Crampton believes that such non-confessional self-writing has rich potential for the practice of the self, a framework in other words, or a process in which we might write our self into being, or finally a way of “working on oneself in the context of a community (world)” (p. 95).
It is this sense of community that Crampton uses to direct his attention to the matter of the world of blogs; personal online journals around which develop various levels of community. But Crampton is aware of the manner in which much of the understanding about cyberspace in which blogs exist hinge on the twin concepts of authenticity and confession; understandings that he holds has problematic. In relation to the concept of confession he notes that the confessing of one’s sins (or the truth about oneself on the psychiatrists couch) are designed both to allow for the emergence of the pure, sinless self and for the normalisation of the individual (how far from the norm do our sexual tastes, behaviours, and psyche vary?). He further notes the all-pervasive nature of the confession (TV shows, fields of medicine, law) each reliant on the revelation of the truth of the inner self and each creating, more or less, the normalisation of the subject. Little wonder, therefore, that the concept of the confession has been taken to the extreme by scholars such as Dodge and Kitchin and Turkle who propose that the confessional finds its ultimate manifestation in the online world where cyber-dwellers may disavow their own bodies in a space that allows finally the discovery of one’s true, but heretofore, lost identity.
As appealing as these theories may sound, says Crampton, they cannot be sustained in that they conceive of cyberspace as being a separate, heterotopian (with a nod of the head to Foucault?) space as opposed to another part of the real world in which various technologies (including the Internet and “cyberspace”) has been introduced. Technologies and cyberspace did not form the real world but rather came out of the real world as ways to make life more enjoyable/easier/more comfortable. Insofar as cyberspace is conceived of as a separate space, Crampton claims that the confession and authentication required to access this space requires or creates a form of subjectivity by which people become “discriminable individuals with identifiable selves, who dwell in physical space, and who produce the truth about themselves in order to enter the separate domain of cyberspace…” (p. 100). And in the process of the conceiving of cyberspace as a separate space subjects are normalised, cyberspace becomes opposed to real space, and human beings are denied the opportunity that cyberspace provides for them to practice the self.
As part of this practice of the self blogs provide individuals with a means by which to resist the forces of individualisation and provide a process through which they might work on oneself to fully become. Crampton posits that “blogging [is] a deliberate strategy of resistance against the normalized, confessional conception of the self” (p. 104) and an expression of “a care of the self through techniques of self-writing” (p. 105). Bloggers, he proposes, through their writing, develop themselves rather then expose a previously hidden inner truth from within. In other words the self of the blogger is constructed and brought to life through self-writing not discovered through the peeling away of layers via confessions.
Connected with the idea of resistance (and I will say connected also to blogging) Crampton builds the Greek concept of parrhesia on which Foucault built a considerable volume of work in the early 1980’s. Crampton shows that parrhesia means “frankness; speaking everything on your mind and not holding back” (p. 107) but the concept also means that there must be a telling of what one knows to be true (not in the evidential manner of the word but through something known morally; to speak one’s own truth I would say) and an element of risk or danger in the telling (risk of losing a job, risk of losing a relationship, risk of beheading). Parrhesia stems from a sense of duty, is made without coercion, and does not share the same sense of compulsion found in the concept of confession.
In the context of power relationships (I imagine here the tension between employer/employee) Crampton explains Foucault’s notion of the “parrhesiastic contract” (p. 108) wherein a ruler, invested with great powers, allows and encourages courtiers and advisors to speak their mind, assuring them of their bodily safety despite the ‘truth’ they might tell. What is curious and fascinating about this contract is what each of the parties bring to the relationship; the powerful has the power but not the truth, the subject has the truth but not the power. Therefore the two become complicit in each other’s strategies and in the maintenance of the power relationship. On the one hand the rulers “govern with a light hand” (p. 108) permitting and encouraging the governed to publish and speak openly and freely, on the other, the ruled legitimate the rulership of those in power through the maintenance of their ongoing relationship with the rulers.
Such a legitimation does not suggest that the contract is fixed either by its terms, domain, or consideration. Rather the lines of a parrhesiastic contract are always, or at least often, being negotiated and renegotiated. Using the example of Diogenes and Alexander, Crampton explains how new ground and new lines of contestation are opened and created; but these are not just any battles. Unlike struggles that react to various instances of the implementation of power, parrhesiastic struggles, in the true manner of the Cynics, question the very foundation of – the basis of – power. The parrhesiast is concerned less with winning the debate at hand and more with the addressing the very relevance and structure of the debate.
It is worth pointing as an aside here the relevance of the work of Jodi Dean in regard to the location of power structures within society. As I have posted previously, Dean’s critique of Habermas recognises the messiness of civil society and the importance of recognising the fragility of embodied human beings, and of thus allowing power relationships to contest the very structure and formation of the debates in pubic discourse. In this regard Foucault, Crampton, and Dean all share a common conception of the problematics of the public sphere and the sense of possibility arising from the recognition of the existence of power structures deeply embedded within the social body. It is this continual resistance to power at all levels of society which Crampton believes holds great promise for the possibility of change.
Crampton’s book is more far-reaching than I have portrayed here, delving into the world of cartography and the politics of the mapping of cyberspace (hence the name of his book). However I have attempted to constrain my comments here to matters which affect and address concepts that may be covered in my thesis. These concepts must now include the technologies of the self as suggested by Foucault and techne including hupomnemata and parrhesia, both of which go directly to the methods used by the employee blogger. Whether using blogs as a process for writing oneself into being in the world or used as a means for questioning the foundations of authority and bringing about change Crampton’s work is highly informative and worthy of further investigation.
Crampton, J. (2003). The political mapping of cyberspace. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.