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Foucault and Freemasonry

Foucault and Freemasonry

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Foucault and Freemasonry
Margaret Kohn, Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Florida, Gainesville“Heterotopias desiccate speech, stop words in their tracks, contest the very possibility of grammar at its source; they dissolve our myths and sterilize the lyricism of our sentences”.
 
1
Foucaultfirst introduced the concept of heterotopias in his 1966 book 
The Order of Things
. In this initialformulation, heterotopias figure disorder, the incongruity of linking things together which areinappropriate. They are made up of “fragments of a large number of possible orders” juxtaposed“without law or dimension”.In this first formulation, it is not clear whether the heterotopia is a discursive or spatialformation. Foucault’s inspiration for the concept came from a fictional story by Borges which capturedthe fundamental disorder of language and the opacity of meaning. Yet the term heterotopia already hada distinctly spatial connotation. Foucault emphasized that the disturbing quality of social life resultsfrom the way disorder is embodied in space. Disparate elements are “laid”, “placed” and “arranged” insites such that it is impossible to even imagine a shared principle of order. In other words, heterotopiasdo not merely disrupt the organization of a particular system of signification, they transgress the linedividing signifier and signified, abstract language and concrete space, words and things. I believe thatthis is what Foucault meant when he suggested that heterotopias not only “shatter the syntax with whichwe construct sentences”; they also disrupt the “less apparent syntax which causes words and things to‘hold together’.” Not just an element of discourse, they can rupture or challenge a discursive framework.A year later in 1967, Foucault gave a lecture entitled “of other spaces” which explicitly used theconcept of heterotopia to think about the relationship between architecture, politics, and theory. Heemphasized the critical function of those sites which "have the curious property of being in relation withall the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that theyhappen to designate, mirror, or reflect."
2
He differentiated two types of such spaces: utopias andheterotopias. For Foucault, utopias are sites with no real place. They express the reversal or radicaltransformation of society but are essentially mental rather than spatial constructions. He definesheterotopia in the following way.
1
Michel Foucault,
The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences
, (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), p. xviii.
2
Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces,"
 Diacritics
, Spring 1986, 24.
 
2
There are probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places - places thatdo exist and that are formed in the very founding of society - which are somethinglike counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, allthe other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneouslyrepresented, contested, and inverted.He employs the term heterotopia to express the radical contrast between these sites and the rest of society which they reflect and challenge.According to Foucault, heterotopias are distinguished by a breach of traditional time, juxtaposition of incompatible places, and mode of inclusion which conceals (sometimes tacit)exclusions.Foucault distinguished two types - crisis heterotopias and heterotopias of deviation. Crisisheterotopias are places like the boarding school, military service, the honeymoon trip - privileged orforbidden sites that serve to mark out or mask liminal stages in life. Heterotopias of deviance, placeslike the prison, psychiatric hospitals, and rest homes, are a way to embody and patrol the borderlinebetween normality and abnormality. They are real spaces, counter-sites constructed to materialize analternative reality. Yet they also make use of, imitate, and transform pre-existing sites or institutions.They are places of illusion which reveal the illusory nature of our most stable realities. They are realplaces where it is possible to live differently. Hetertopias are sites that nurture the dreams andnightmares that sustain the capacity for vitality, dissent, and variation.Now, in typical fashion, Foucault does not explicitly set up the heterotopia as a principle of political emancipation, a model of social transformation, or a normative groundwork for self-fashioning.He could not, however, resist a concluding warning: “In civilizations where (heterotopia) is lacking,dreams dry up, adventure is replaced by espionage, and privateers by the police”. We are left with thesense that the heterotopia is not just a space of otherness but the basis (or at least the inspiration) forstruggle against existing forms of domination. Some of Foucault’s followers have been more explicitabout drawing this conclusion.
3
As a real countersite which inverts and contests the conventions of thedominant society, the heterotopia could be an important locus of struggle against normalization. Bydennaturalizing existing practices, such spaces could contribute to a broader project of social change.What utopia was for the modern period, from Moore to Marx and Bacon to Bellamy, heterotopia is for
3
Tom Dumm, “Freedom and Space,” in Michel Foucault and the Politics of Freedom, (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1996); K.Hetherington,
The Badlands of Modernity: Heterotopia and Social Order 
ing (London, 1997); Gianni Vattimo, “From Utopiato Heterotopia,” in
Transparent Society
, trans. David Webb, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 62-75.
 
3
the age of postmodernity.
4
It substitutes contingency for necessity, danger for safety, variability forsameness and accepts these as the basis of politics.In his recent book, “Spaces of Hope,” David Harvey challenges this approach to theorizing therelationship between politics and place.
5
He suggests that a position of alterity vis-à-vis the dominantsocial structure does not, by itself, nurture critique, let alone resistance. Heterotopic spaces can be thebasis of guerilla struggles against normalization but they can also serve as tactical measures forachieving more nuanced forms of social control. This seems obvious when we consider that accordingto Foucault’s definition, the paradigmatic heterotopias of contemporary America could include theshopping mall, gated communities, Disneyland, and militia camps. These are our are “effectivelyenacted utopias.” They are undoubtedly places where some of our culture’s other real sites arerepresented, inverted, sanitized or demonized in order to highlight their mythic properties. Earlier formsof community and icons of history are torn from their time and place and presented for admiration andconsumption. Some of the best recent work in cultural studies has demonstrated how theme parks,shopping malls, world fairs, and new urbanist communities employ architecture, symbols, and stimuli tosell an alternative reality, a place that is broadly accessible yet carefully protected from the outside.
6
 These counter-sites, however, employ their distinctiveness to perfect rather than dismantledominant patterns of consumption and social relations. This seems to be the conclusion that Foucaulthimself reached in his subsequent work on the prison. In
 Discipline and Punish
, heterotopias of deviance like the prison, insane asylum, and reform school mobilized their distinctive spatial practices tointensify and refine methods of normalization and, despite their otherness, they presented almost nopotential to attenuate or disrupt the circulation of power.The purpose of this talk is to investigate the relationship between alternative spaces anddominant ideologies. It seems clear that spatial alterity can intensify as well as challenge domination.My argument is that the difference between the dominant ideology and its other spaces can strengthenthe hegemony of the system. The very “otherness” which distinguishes a heterotopia can serve to mask the gap between an ideology’s aspirations and its underlying effects. In order to explain how this
4
Judith N. Sklar, “What is the Use of Utopia,” in
 Hetertopia: Postmodern Utopia and the Body Politic
, ed. Tobin Siebers,(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994).
5
David Harvey,
Spaces of Hope
, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 182-189.
6
See particularly the essays in Michael Sorkins’
Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of PublicSpace
, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992); Keally McBride, “Cosuming Community,” forthcoming in Soc
ialist Review
; JohnFreie,
Counterfeit Community: The Exploitation of Our Londing for Connectedness
, (New York: Rowman and Littlefield,1998). See also the chapter “Egypt at the Exhibition” in Timothy Mitchell’s
Colonising Egypt 
, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

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