The last two essays on John Tagg's theories and concerning carceral representation theoretically develop the agency/structure dilemma, arguing for a resolution via Giddens's conception of the "duality of structure." Therein, the concept of the subject is rethought to show its constraining aspects, as is the concept of structure revised so as to reveal its enabling influence. In "Disputing Grounds," I first set out to describe Tagg's position vis-à-vis contemporary critical discourse: "Eschewing all totalizing conceptions (Marxist or otherwise), debunking universal themes, and attempting to overcome staid oppositions such as between Art and Society and even that sacred cow, the separation between Practice and Theory Tagg has become the bête noire of mainstream art historians.
Thus, the universalized notions of subject, experience and essence are displaced by new concepts that [according to Tagg] 'open on an analysis of historical regimes of production, meaning, power and subjection, across which divided social identifies are fixed and curtailed'." After much discussion, I finally relate Tagg's thinking to Giddens's on the agency/structure debate and ask whether Tagg's theories can adequately "ground" an ethics:
"According to Giddens, we are not 'culture dopes,' nor are we agents who are self-transparently aware of what we are doing. A dual purpose is served by this theory: it unseats the concept of structure as an external determination of action, and it denies the random character of human actiontwo purposes somewhat en rapport with the gist of Tagg's own theorizing. Moreover, like Tagg, Giddens maintains that the social sciences are intrinsically critical disciplines; he distinguishes four levels of critique: intellectual, practical, ideological, and (unlike Tagg) he adds moral critique. Concerning the latter, Giddens argues that the social sciences can legitimately make moral criticism of states of affairs, but such criticisms can be justified only by a form of argument which fuses together factual and evaluative claims. Giddens describes this position as 'contingent moral rationalism,' for he believes that any moral critique stands in need of rational justification, even if, in particular cases, this justification may not be conclusive. Giddens's theory aims at avoiding essentialism and universalism, even as it attempts to provides a basis for ethical claims; in an interview he stated, 'I don't really think that I'd support any program of trying to ground critical theory, but nor will I support the opposite [Tagg's position], that is the idea of a purely immanent critique or ungroundable form of critique'."
In my next to final essay, "Discipline and Photograph . . . ," I further assimilate Giddens's thinking to my own project, a study of the representation of prison and prisoners, noting that becoming social is not viewed in monological terms asserting the primacy of either the agent or structure but on the cognitive level, as notes Giddens ". . . mastery of the 'dialogical' contexts of communication. Such mastery is by no means wholly discursive, but involves the accumulation of practical knowledge of the conventions drawn upon in the production and reproduction of social interaction'." Thus, this inquiry into Danny Lyon's and Morrie Camhi's photobooks, and Gary Glassman/Jonathan Borofsky's and Stephen Roszell's video tapes assumes that the carceral regime is a discursive space that exists through the actions and interactions of its participants in and out of prison.
Stills from Glassman/Borofsky's
videotape Prisoners (1990)
"Meaning-worlds" are produced which reflect the ongoing, lived experience of the various people caught up within the discursive regime that is the penitentiary: inmates, guards, and their families, the prison administration, reformers, and revolutionaries. These carceral meaningworlds are produced/reproduced in the various representations of the prison, prisoners, and staff. The four texts under scrutiny are examined not as simply embodying, as Fredric Jameson put it, "some commonsense external reality," but as "always be[ing] (re)constructed after the fact."
Cartes-de-visites mugshot card, anonymous (1899)
As my discussion moves to its conclusion, I address, borrowing from insights by Jurij Lotman, the relationship between the person who initiates the carceral investigation, the inmate, and the prison that constrains him/her as embodied in the mutual implication of agent and structure:
"The [carceral] investigator (male or female) crosses the boundary, 'penetrates' the inside-space (the cellblock, coded as 'female,' resistant to transformation, a topos, a matrix) and, hence, is always positioned as 'male' (the active principle culture, the creator of differences and norms) by the narrative structure. Even when the inmate seems to actively resist that inside-space, as does Billy George McCune [Lyon's version of Sartre's 'Saint Genet'], such resistance is always linked to the mobile character (Lyon in this instance) who functions as the exchange mechanism between inside and outside. Thus, the female position in these narratives is fixed by the mythical mechanism, creating distinctions, the primary one being sexual difference. A product of this coding of the carceral as 'female' which, in turn, refortifies patriarchal master discourse is the belief that once inside prison one is impotent to affect the direction of one's life (structure usurps agency): one is subject to rape and is figuratively (literally in McCune's case) castrated."One recalls Adorno's observation in Negative Dialectics (1973): "In the age of the concentration camp, castration is more characteristic of social reality than competitiveness." As the essay develops, I further discuss the agency/structure debate in terms of repressive, honorific, and ironic representations of the carceral subject, detailing both 19th-century and recent instances of these functions of representation. In this context it is again pertinent to cite Adorno's Negative Dialectics "To use the strength of the subject to break through the fallacy of constitutive subjectivity " for his words seem to shadow Giddens's notion of the duality of structure and address the theme of my investigation of the carceral. Martin Jay, discussing Adorno's thinking on this issue, cites from the "Introduction" to the latter's The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology (1976):
"Although society has a subjective side because it always refers back to human beings, it 'is objective because, on account of its underlying structure, it cannot perceive its own subjectivity, because it does not possess a total subject and through its organization it thwarts the installation of such a subject.' Not only was a meta-subject lacking, so too was the individual subjectivity that might account for society on consensual, social contractual lines. Social nominalism of this type was no less ideological than the rigorous social realism that denied any role to individuals whatsoever."This discussion of agency and structure attempts to read their relationship as more complex than a simple binary opposition through an overcoming of an either/or logic with a both/and model which I see as closely figuring Jacques Derrida's "logic of the supplement" which overturns all such oppositional logic. This essay, drawn from prefatory and introductory remarks to a lengthier study of the carceral regime, functions here to introduce, to provide a background for, my concluding essay which further develops the subversion of such simple antinomies by drawing upon Derrida's logic of the supplement and applying it to a specific body of artwork.
" 'La Pinta: An Incredible Topology' furthers my discussion of carceral narratives. It is an attempt to think beyond Lotman's static structuralist binarism of in/out, as sketched out in the previous essay, using Jacques Derrida's fluid Deconstructionist subversion of this foundational dichotomy via the "marginal graft," a particular instance of his logic of the supplement. The theoretical implications so developed are applied to an explication of New Mexican photographer Bob Saltzman's photographer-inmate collaborations in which the image-maker's color portraits of the inmates in New Mexico's State Penitentiary at Santa Fe are enframed, marginally glossed, supplemented by ink drawings the inmates so pictured have rendered. Saltzman's collaborations produce a sense of repeated transgressions between prisoner-created frame (what Derrida terms the parergon) and Saltzman's centrally-placed photograph (ergon). Saltzman's collaborative photoworks, "La Pinta: Doing Time in Santa Fe," intuitively subvert the binary topology necessary for the kind of structural domestication discovered by Lotman: Their subversiveness can be figured as implementing a Derridean deconstructionist double-play called 'the logic of the supplement' which displaces the rigidity of oppositions such as inside/outside, center/ margin, image/frame. Jacques Derrida rethinks interiority by investigating how the effect of discursive space is produced and how that space makes possible an institution, founds an 'architecture' in which 'topology poses the [phallogocentric] law,' repressing the play of difference with a violence it seeks to hide through domestication, through the construction of the prison-house."Derrida, thus, examines the production of inside and outside in itself, finding something even more subtle (it seeks to hide), more primary (the opposition between inside and outside is the matrix for all possible oppositions, such as the agency/structure opposition), and more violent (an irruptive force) than Lotman's static structuralist formulation. The Saltzman-inmate collaborations figure Derrida's simultaneous "double-play" of deconstruction as an oscillation between two rebellious gestures toward the "architecture" (understood as both discursive and physical) of the prison-house: the first, an escape attempt without changing terrain, uses against this carceral edifice the instruments or stones already available in the prison-house; the second, an absolute break, asserts difference by irruptively attempting to displace the inmates from their carceral confines. The result? A revelation that the prison-house, the carceral regime, is founded upon a discursive abyss, but so founded as to hide that abyss, to prevent the discovery that it is not unshakable. Saltzman's collaborations figure that abyss. Although the final two essays of this anthology explicitly examine structure and agency within the context of the carceral, the attempt to conceptualize them beyond a simple binarism so as to reveal the fragility of all architectures of thought underlies each and every essay herein.
James R. Hugunin, Chicago, IL