Critical Practice for Alts


Beloved Alts,

We are subject to regimes of truth, which change over time (Foucault 1977: 30).  When we reflect on truth, or critique, we transform.  SO, let’s together try to understand what critique is in light of reading Uncle Michel and think of some simple strategies for practicing it.  Then, I would really appreciate it if you critiqued me, please, because without “you,” “I” isn’t.


You: Transform what?

U:  the one you are in now

You: Right now, right now?

U: right now

What you looking at, now?  Watch it. lolz :p    In this way, you become a subject.  When we are subjects, we may choose our subject.

Critique, as Uncle Michel suggests in “What is Critique,” begins with the simple act of questioning, “How am I being governed? How can I not be governed like that?”  It begins with interrogating what we habitually take for granted.  To these questions I would add “What is ‘x’?” and “Why, historically and politically?”

(WHAT IS THIS?! A world? WHY?! We are hurdling blindly through infinite space, pathetically clinging to a tiny, flaming rock.  AND, I have a hunch that it’s starting around 1946, when cameras on rockets captured the first images of Earth from space (Reichhardt, 2006), that it became easy to convince an unscientific population of the truth of this answer to the question, “What is the world?” (and by “convince” I mean persuade to adopt a representation of the proposition as true and behave as such).  The next questions I’m considering are: Whom does space-imaging empower and disempower? What does such a “truth” about what the world is reveal and conceal?  How does the apparatus or ‘dispositif’ (or in Deleuze’s approximation, “assemblage”) that produces this truth also govern and produce a certain kind of subjectivity (Ploger 2008: 54)?  How can I search within my own experience to understand how this apparatus governs me and perhaps make it more virtuous, i.e. critical?)

To give you another example of how my practice works, let me offer some of the questions that come to mind right now as I write this in my chair at my computer, drinking my coffee: Historically and politically, why do we sit in chairs? Why are chairs shaped like chairs? Why am I typing this on a computer in English while alone in my library cell? What is English and why? How do chairs, English, and computers empower some and disempower others?  Critique is essentially this interrogation of what we take for granted, just as children and nonconformists are wont to do, followed by the discovery of its historical changes, contradictions, and abuses. Only then are we able to perform an alternative that protects “the right to question truth on its effects of power and question power on its discourses of truth (47).”

My personal alt-governing practice, my lived experience of critical theory, is mundane, resistant, intentional (in the sense that it is a determined stretching inward- community in-reach- a ‘letting in), and largely consists of the questions, My critical practice, then, is a series of attempts to examine and deconstruct the habitat of habits that constitute and govern me.  It is a technique of observation, defamiliarization, and reflection, and the performance of an alternative subjectivity.  In practice, this means that I try to do at least one thing a day that feels awkward and weird (within just boundaries) and then try to reflect on why it felt weird or awkward.  The answer to this question is ALWAYS political and fruitfully reveals the hidden (hidden precisely because they are so obvious and familiar) mechanisms that structure daily life.  The ultimate hope for this practice is that it is grounded in and enables ethical relation, with ourselves and with each other.

Below, I have assembled two lists: one, the various ways Uncle Michel describes critique in “What is Critique” and the other, ideas for performing a critical subjectivity.  Please add to the list! I’m very eager to hear what your views of critique are as well as what we can do to change our embodied,  governmental practice.  My fear is that my exercises are merely the art of being a public nuisance. I’m also conscious of the fact that I take for granted the safety of white urban privilege, as in #1, 2, 4,  for example… To what extent is this true? How can I go deeper?

According to Uncle Michel, critique is:

1) asymptotic (42)

2) anti-ideological (42)

3) negative knowledge (42)

4) change of governmentalization (42)

5) replacement/transformation of philosophy (42)

6) a means for a future or a truth that it will not know nor happen to be (42)

7) akin to virtue (43)

8) the art of not being governed quite so much or being governed in that way (45)

9) biblical, historically (46)

10) putting forth universal and indefeasible rights to which every government… will have to submit (46)

11) made of the bundle of relationships that are tied to one another… power, truth, and the subject (47)

12) voluntary insubordination (47)

13) desubjugation of the subject(47)

14) the movement by which the subject gives himself the right to question truth on its effects of power and question power on its discourses of truth (47)

15) the true courage to know (49)

16) primordial responsibility to know knowledge (50)


Some Embodied Critical Practices or The Art of Being a Public Nuisance

1) Offer and maintain eye contact with someone for longer than feels comfortable.  Are there particular groups of people (especially based on gender, socio-economic status, or race) with whom you regularly avoid eye contact?

2) Sit, stand, or lie down in a place where it is inappropriate to do so, e.g. lie down in the path of foot traffic and observe your own reactions as well as those of the people around you.

3) Have a conversation with yourself in the mirror.  Try to see yourself as an object and a subject at the same time.  Even better if you can catch yourself off guard and see yourself as a stranger.  How do you feel about this stranger?  Do you want to talk to them, hug them, run away from them, etc.?

4) Sing out loud on a street corner.  Share your joy or pain.  Are your emotions welcome or unwelcome?  Why do think that is?

5) Wear an outrageous article of clothing, e.g. wear a horse-head mask to class.  Who becomes outraged?  How do they express their outrage?

6) Put on some music and move your body in the silliest, most bizarre ways possible, or however feels good.  If you do this in private, observe: Do you feel shame or embarrassment even when no one is watching?

7) Create your own lexicon. Re-define your world with a critical inflection.  e.g. “homeless” re-christened as “homefull”

8) Ask, “How is ‘x’ governing me? How can I not be governed like that?”

9) Disrupt the author function by giving authors a personal nickname (Foucault 1977).  Add a familial title to their name (grandpa, daddy, sister) as a way of mapping your own ideological genealogy.


Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1977.

—“What is an Author?” In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. ed. Donald F. Bouchard, Translated by Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977. 124-127.

—-“What is Critique?” In The Politics of Truth. Edited by Sylvere Lotringer. Translated by Lysa Hochroth and Catherine  Porter. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007. 41-81.

Ploger, John. “Foucault’s Dispositif and the City.” Planning Theory 7, no. 1 (March 2008): 51-70.

Reichhardt, Tony. “The First Photo From Space.” Air and Space Magazine, November, 2006.

Wallenstein, Sven-Olov. Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.

public space/commons/city

pu·blic space 

noun \ˈpə-blik ˈspās\

a democratically accessible social space in which people can debate critically and reason freely; carefully designed to supervise or restrict social interaction of the marginalized and non-governed.


Fig. 1a    Anti-sleep benches restrict use of piblic space and specifically target the homeless population in their design.


Fig. 1b    The Arab Spring protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Public space, in the notion that it is of the people, democratizes space even in places where Democracy is hardly found and social interactions are regularly highly supervised, creating a politically charged space and concept.


Fig. 1c   Digital spaces is a democratic forum through which its users are free to engage in critical debate thereby becoming a public space; activity on these sites, however, is often regulated, restricted, and controlled.  This political and cultural resource may also be exploited for the private gain of a select few (such as the sale of data); see commons.



noun \ˈkä-məns\

the cultural and natural resources upon which the welfare and safety of the whole of a community depend; privatized for the gain of select  individuals at the cost of the community.


Fig. 2    Viable resources such as water, though nominally owned collectively, are subject to monopolization when the means for accessing and distributing those resources are in the hands of individual owners.


noun \ˈsi-tē\

A relatively large and permanent settlement with complex infrastructural systems for sanitation, utilities, land use, housing, and transportation that greatly facilitates daily life of individuals belonging to that city; non-conforming individuals are excluded from these services and therefore, from the city.


Fig. 3a   A boy in Mumbai, India walks into an open toilet on stilts where the waste goes directly into an open water source. Such is the informal infrastructure of shanty towns where the most marginalized citizens (and non-citizens) must provide the  services at the neglect of their city.

Fig. 3b   Trailer parks are semi-permanent, often marginalized offshoots of cities that must generally develop their own infrastructure and services; their mobility directly challenges the notion of a fixed and static city.



Fig. 1a: High Back Anti-Homeless Bus Bench, April 15, 2012, accessed September 15, 2013,

Fig. 1b: “Public Space Powered Democracy,” Project For Public Spaces, Feb. 23, 2011, accessed September 15, 2013

Fig. 2: “Coke-Sponsored Rover Finds Evidence of Dasani on Mars,” The Onion, March 24, 2004, accessed September 16, 2013,,1146/

Fig. 3a: “In India, A toilet shortage drains the economy,” Businessweek, Sept. 9, 2013, Accessed September 15, 2013,

Fig. 3b: Erik Jacobs, “Waiting in Fear in Government Trailers,” The Boston Globe, September 3, 2006, accessed September 15, 2013,