Saturday, January 31, 2009
Apparatus of Capture
One of the most intriguing texts in Deleuze’s oeuvre dedicated to political philosophy is “7000 B.C.: Apparatus of Capture,” the thirteenth chapter in A Thousand Plateaus. I have no intention to analyze here this extremely intricate piece, but only to make two short comments that try to connect the loaded title and the strange illustration that set it in motion (a version of which appears above).
First, the title. You may assume that “apparatus” stands for the French dispositif, a notion that was very dear to Foucault at the time, and to which Deleuze dedicated a later essay, entitled “What is a Dispositif?” As a matter of fact, the word in A Thousand Plateaus is simply appareil. There is, however, no clear difference between what Foucault calls dispositif and what Deleuze calls appareil, which may give another justification for the common translation of both into a single English word: apparatus.
So what is an apparatus? The most lucid explanation of this decisive notion can be found in a recent essay by Agamben, forthcoming in English in a book bearing on its cover this very question. Yet a provisional answer can be given on the mere ground of the illustration in the beginning of “Apparatus of Capture.” Its source is the Dictionnaire economique, published in 1732 by Noel Chomel. According to the List of Illustrations at the end of A Thousand Plateaus, it appears under the entry Perdix (Partridge), but it can actually be found under the entry Filet (net). This little slip is more meaningful and symbolic than it seems. In order to understand why, let us look closer at this fascinating document.
Chomel understands economy, the subject matter of his dictionary, in a classical, rather than a modern sense. If you expect to learn about credit, mortgage, labor, derivatives, or sub-prime (as one would expect from a recent dictionary on the subject), you will be gravely disappointed. But if you want to learn how to build a pigsty, how to prepare a marinated hen, how to hunt deer, how to grow radishes, how to avoid smelly urine, how to sleep soundly, or how to distinguish between the milk of a cow, a goat, and a woman, then you are in the right place. Anything that has to do with the management of the home (or the oikos, from which the word economy derives) including its living inhabitants (animals, plants, but also humans, to a lesser degree) can be found in this magnificent book.
Today we like to distinguish between home and work, but this separation would not make much sense to many people before the nineteenth century. This is why Chomel’s book could be a fruitful starting point for a conversation about the recent rise of people who “work from home.” There is also a striking similarity between Chomel’s thoroughly informative encyclopedia and the current torrent of magazines dedicated to various aspects of the movement that we call “Do It (cooking, sewing, building, growing…) Yourself,” which could actually be traced back to Thoreau’s Walden in the middle of the nineteenth century. What you see when you open Chomel’s dictionary is therefore a more generous sense of the word “economy” than the restricted meaning that we give the word today. Call it, if you like, “pre-alienated economy.”
Why, then, an “apparatus of capture”? In “What is an Apparatus?” Agamben reveals the surprising link between the Greek oikonomia and the Latin dispositio, between economy and apparatus. He eventually defines an apparatus as “literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings.” With his detailed entries and meticulous illustrations, Chomel offers his contemporaries useful apparatuses to capture living beings, beautifully exemplified by the various nets reproduced here (please excuse the quality: I lacked the appropriate apparatus to capture these illustrations).
Chomel, of course, was only interested in apparatuses that can capture animals and plants, but not people, though his inclusion of various entries about human health in his economic dictionary is certainly suspicious. As Foucault shows, this tendency intensified at the end of the eighteenth century, giving rise to a myriad of apparatuses designed specifically in order to capture human lives, which is what we call today “biopower” and “biopolitics.” Nevertheless, in view of Agamben’s recent research (especially The Reign and the Glory), alongside the publication of Foucault’s lectures (especially The Birth of Biopolitics), we could also easily speak about “bioeconomy.”
Chomel’s dictionary may illustrate the continuous “spillage” of economic apparatuses from the animal and plant kingdom to the human one. That this lesson was already very familiar and successfully practiced by a young man from Nazareth around year zero may be proved by his near-obsessive use of economic metaphors in his sermons and miracles targeted at potential followers. Nets that capture fish can also capture people.