What happens when I read Giorgio Agamben and Jezebel On-line Gossip Zine simultaneously?
I finished reading Giorgio Agamben’s What is an Apparatus? His argument stems from how “Living Beings” are captured by “The Apparatus,” a Foucauldian term that Foucault doesn’t really define, but that too is Foucauldian, right? Anyway, the origin of The Apparatus, according to Agamben, is from a handful of second century C.E. Fathers of the Church who brainstormed about how oikonomia (Greek for the administration of the home) could operate theologically. Said another way, they were trying to figure out how the Church might control every non-being and every being in the world. God, they surmised could be the CEO who would entrusts his Son with the economy of man (a Gnostic reference) while God would maintain a powerful unity in the management of Western human history.
Oikonomia, as Agamben asserts, merges with the notion of Providence and begins to indicate the redemptive governance of the world and human history. Now, what is the translation of this fundamental Greek term in the writings of the Latin Father? Dispositio. // The Latin term dispositif, or apparatus, derives, comes therefore to take on the complex semantic sphere of the theological oikonomia. The “dispositifs” about which Foucault speaks are somehow linked to this theological legacy (11).
But how does this go from blueprint to live? Agamben contends that Living Beings are captured by The Apparatus (which comprises education, prisons, governments, laws, language, religion, military, etc) and within this “capture” there is a continual struggle; it is through this struggle that the Living Being is processed as a subject; in other words, the subjectification of us. Objects are used to create a continuum of desires to keep the Living Beings captured and serviced conveniently through capitalism and include everything from the internet, microwaves, forks, mortgages, porn, cars, Jersey Shore, pencils, sex, IMacs, music, Facebook, bathroom tiles, cars, hot dogs, soy milk, Ritalin, etc … you get the picture. These objects of desire are the power of The Apparatus. The subjectified subject then uses their acquired objects and never-ending desires to masquerade in an assumed “identity” and environment – or this is “I” (who then goes through another division but that’s for another blog).
20th century icon of the fathers of the first ecumenical council in Nicaea (325 CE). (courtesy: Orthodox Church in America)
So is it possible to escape a machine designed by well-bearded robed and haloed church patriarchs who wanted world domination and were basically afraid of sex? Uhm, no. However, Agamben does suggest a way to contend within this model: “Profanation” … but this I’ll leave for another entry.
And this is where I stopped reading Agamben and opened the link to Jezebel, the on-line gossip website that has a tendency to subvert mainstream media and interrogate the very apparatus from which it sprung and through which it is maintained. I wondered if I could apply Agamben to the “process” of subjectification in the discourse of gossip? The etymology of “gossip” is from Old English godsibb or “godparent,” (God + sib relative) or the sponsor of a subject at their baptism. Here, I quickly realized, the subjectification of a Living Being is clearly within The Apparatus’ blueprint and through time and mincing and dicing the word “gossip” became known as the “talk idly about the affairs of others with friends usually by women.” In the very gendered etymology of gossip, the audience and conveyers are agents for “a God” infused Apparatus who enforce codes of morality. Therefore if you gossip with moral indignation, with mean spiritedness, and with ill intentions you are a cog in the process of subjectifying Living Beings into something they are not in order to acquire your own denied desires to be used to construct your identity all of which is driven by capitalism. There are, of course, “good” forms of gossip and anthropologists have also suggested that gossip is a method of survival to gain knowledge of others or for a subject to critically and constructively address their own subjectification; however; bottom-line, if the third party does not have an opportunity to speak, verify, and be understood the “gossip,” spoken over tea, takes its malicious course. Agamben writes about “friends,” how they are within the very word “philosophy,” and how, because friends share environments, is an entry point into politics. More on this later …
Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo. ~H.G. Wells
The Penny Press of the mid nineteenth century introduced gossip columns, educational agendas, pages for religion and advertising, human interest stories, etc to the mainstream media as an alternative to papers with only political themes that were running a bit dry. The low cost for Penny Press production and for consumers served a massive demographic that was experiencing a rise in literacy. Which brings me to Jezebel, a name/symbol that is not without a biblical reference. The story of Jezebel is told in 1st and 2nd Kings and has been over-subjectified through gossip, rumour, defamation, religious codes of conduct, patriarchy, institutionalization of the domestic, categorizing public and private, to name a few. Jezebel is a symbol, a trope, cemented into a vernacular as a fallen woman, manipulator, controller, promiscuous, immoral, false prophet masquerading her identity as a servant to a God. Of course Jezebel’s side of the story, in keeping with the process of gossip and subjectification, is never told, never heard – the Apparatus and its players are not interested because the creation of “the other” (as a form of subjectification) is a prerequisite in the fabrication of their “moral” identities. Jezebel was thrown to the dogs. No, really … she was thrown to the dogs.
Jezebel, queen of Israel and priestess of Baal; King Ahab and the prophet Elijah
Gossip therefore has nothing really to do with the subject who is being scrutinized and subjectified whether it be Lohen in rehab, Lady Gaga’s footwear, Madonna’s take on masturbation, or the woman you don’t even know yet loathe, but has everything to do with one’s own struggle with power. Jezebel, the woman, was constructed as a subject by religion and continually used as a figure in gossip, a symbol that is not only to be feared but perhaps the very figure you desire yourself to be. Demoralization, humiliation, slander, false accusations, and straight up lies toward “the other” become a means to reconstruct and uphold your own temporal “moral” identity, an elusive masquerade of an assumed self, who is manufactured because your Living Being is lost to you.
No wonder you’re so insecure. I think that’s exactly what the second century beards had in mind. Maybe you should think about whom you are actually working for the next time you gossip?
As Lisa, from The Simpsons, says: No one even plays four square anymore, they just gossip.