The Compound Gallery of Desire

Ryan Johnson

Picasso, Las Meninas. August 17, 1957.


[1] The painter is still standing back from the canvas, but it is no longer possible to tell where he is glancing. He may be looking straight at us, the viewers, yet while it appears as if the right eye is hovering "motionless," "suspended" in an indirect field of gazes, the other eye has turned on itself, upon the face, trying, though always and already unsuccessfully, to gaze upon itself, to see what might be seen in the varying position of the hidden figure situated beyond our sight on the front of the secreted canvas. He is caught up in his desire to see the front of his body, obviating his own desire: he cannot see what others see. What do we see, the exterior field of gazes, is but a reticulate assemblage of partial objects [1] haphazardly thrown together, easily manipulable, bumping up against other partial objects, overlapping perspectives, which then break apart leaving a residual ring of spittle. Long, thin strands of saliva still cling to a chunk of the artist's hair, dangling down one side of his face. The saliva is the pictorial evidence of the force of becoming, the flow of desire that pulses through every figure in the painting, constituting the relationships that we see.

[2] Where is his hand? Where is his brush? Which is holding which? Down below the painter's waist a brush floats just disconnected from the hand, breaking off the flow of creativity and the movement of the brush, the flow momentarily broken off from the canvas, about to depict another monarchical Spanish scene. The painting is over, but only for a moment, for new productions are about to be created, as the backup of the flow of desire begins to seep out. From the tip of the brush a white trail is visible, the obvious trace emanating from the brush holding the hand. The hand is not skilled, the brush is, and the brush is the temporary source of desire. Our gaze obeys the direction of the brush, yet the brush follows the direction of the gaze: a double corroboration. At each moment in the painting there is the possibility of bifurcation, of recognizing one's complicity in the repetition of the grid of gazes. And it is this moment, the reoccurring possibility for the destabilization of the structuration of viewing a repeated image, that must be explored. Although the scene seems to be static and enclosed, it is actually the potentiality for the creation of a new field, the potentiality for disrupting the feedback loop, the opportunity to obviate the meticulous surveillance and documentation of life. By working with the abstract schema of the painting as a diagrammatic model for mapping a new geography, it will become possible to break free of the strategies of power guiding and governing the body in contemporary society.

[3] What can the brush "volume up"? [2] What can it produce? The scene to be produced, the production to be "volumed up", is unforeseeable. Although the 'scene' has always been an ambiguous and at times problematic notion in Foucault, it functions quite nicely in this new description of Picasso's variations. [3] Every available combination, every angle of connection is possible through the continuous integration of forces into different formations and shapes. The painter "has no doubt just appeared," [4] and we can see the results of his breaking away from the act of painting, the cutting off of the flow of creation. He is cut open, breasts outturned, double opposite arrows pointing up and down, a rise and a fall, expanding and decreasing. New affects erupt on the surface of the painting again and again; new thresholds are produced; the canvas appears double. There is the vision of the canvas that the artist is painting, lying slightly beyond the canvas that we see from our position; this, the canvas of the painter's gaze, is caught somewhere in between the eye peering out at us and the vision of the scene about to be placed on the actual canvas whose back we can barely see. Look where he is looking, he is looking at us, or we are looking at him, or both? "The observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange." [5] We see his body and he seems to see ours. What does he see? We will never know, for it remains forever concealed between his gaze, his vision, and the canvas.

From the eyes of the painter to what he is observing there runs a compelling line that we, the onlookers, have no power of evading: it runs through the real picture and emerges from its surface to join the place from which we see the painter observing us; this dotted line reaches out to us ineluctably, and links us to the representation of the picture. [...] In appearance, this locus is a simple one; a matter of pure reciprocity: we are looking at a picture in which the painter is in turn looking out at us. A mere confrontation, eyes catching one another's glance, direct looks superimposing themselves upon one another. [6]

We, the onlookers, appear to be caught by the gaze of the painter, but we are not. We are free to move on, to observe another painting in the gallery. Yet while we remain here, fixated on these unusual pictures, we notice a penetrating exchange, an exchange of gazes with no foreseeable end and an unimaginable beginning. How many sets of eyes do we see, are we seen by? Let's count: there are the two faces of the artists, the indifferent glances of the princess, the smug and distorted glow of the dwarf, the young maids of honour primping and appeasing the sumptuous princess. Looking to the right we see two doubles: a pair of twins wearing a pair of white boots and displaying two pairs of hands. [7] They may be sharing in the secret of the scene, a judgment about the addition of each new spectator. There are more, innumerably more; an endless number of people can view the painting, and thus become part of the schema. Directing our eyes toward the back of the room and into the mirror, we see something we do not expect. "Is that my face?" one may say; "Is that what I look like?" There is no way of knowing. As the painter tries and always fails to examine himself, to gaze upon his own gaze, we repeat the endeavor. The reflection is not mine, the reflection is not yours; the reflection is just another gaze, another pair of eyes falling back on us again, catching us before this opaque scene.

[4] There seem to be three figures left. Three figures, two probably human and one canine, but they have no eyes that we can see. They have hidden their gazes behind purely colored figures. Amidst this oscillation of forms, this vast, unstable scene, their eyes could yet appear; they could have been watching us the whole time. We cannot know whether a furrowed gaze is piercing us, we cannot tell when we are being surveyed, and that is the genius of the landscape. These figures are panoptic: seeing without being seen, yet we must always act as if we were permanently being watched, as if we were in an inescapable stream of surveillance. They have cleverly positioned themselves as ironic and enchanted silhouettes, both too bright and too dark to make out.

[5] The two completely white figures at the bottom right of the picture are the cubist transformations of a child and a dog, Velasquez's own pet dachshund that he has surreptitiously inserted. They are both unaware, both pure innocent fields of possibilities. The young boy long since deprived of his little red dress, now stands unsuspecting, an empty figure, a hollow machine hooking up to a canine machine; and what perfect flow they have. Continuous, anonymous formations that are literally bodies without organs. Two smooth spaces that can easily be manipulated, swept away, illuminated by the bright stage light of the burst of the sun breaking through the Spanish sky. In fact, it is as if these nascent figures were small theatres themselves, the bounds of their own cells, permanently and objectively visible.

By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower [now a metaphor for any position], standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows [limning the white figures] in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individuated and constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities [transient assemblages] that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately [...] Full lighting and the eye of the supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap. [8]

The flow of light washing into the room renders all bodies visible, sterilizing the space filled with figures, now empty, now filled. It ties the bodies together, evincing a common flow, enveloping the scene, expanding the possible sites for the implementations of a desirable body type. The blank bodies have been produced and can now be recorded and measured against a monetary standard, evaluated in terms of the dominant system of commodification. They are no longer identified as a young boy and an innocent dog but as two living surfaces of smooth, delicate tissue.

[The] subject is not the center, which is occupied by the machine, but on the periphery, with no fixed identity, forever decentered, defined by the states through which it passes [...] starting from zero, a series in the series of states in the celibate [body] machine; and the subject is born of each new state in the series, is continually reborn of the following state that determines him [or her] at a given moment, consuming-consummating all these states that cause him [her] to be born and reborn (the lived state coming first, in relation to the subject that lives it). [9]

The white bodies, emblematic of the body of the modern woman, are perfected, rendered null by the operations of the whole scene, the "mobile army of gazes" unconcerned with truth. Yet what is interesting about the panoptic field of vision filled with the willing empty cavities—pure, smooth figures asking to be filled—is the possibility of anonymous yet immanent operation. It is possible for anyone, at any position on the surface to operate and contribute to the power of the gaze: the design is "polyvalent in its applications." [10] Such an architectonic ordering implements a fully decoded yet highly efficient form of control. The bodies are governed by the figure itself, but the figure is only an effect of a localized population of gazes. Everyone in the scene, from the queen and the artist to the whispering Siamese twins and the infinite cast of viewers stepping before and moving away from the paintings, has a stake in the matter. We all contribute to the shape of this grid of gazes.

[6] The constant yet mobile surveillance established and reinforced by contemporary technological networks is one and the same as the potentiality for perpetuation of this society of control and the opportunity for the introduction of feedback interruptions. By using some Foucauldian methodological structures, most notably his interpretation of Panopticism, it becomes possible to diagram a new conceptual apparatus. Modes of data accumulation and the codification of desires can be utilized to subvert this compound gallery of desire and suspend our contribution to this grid of gazes. The desire to adorn oneself with a perfect body, to corporeally conform to the heralded body type simultaneously produces the introduction of subversion and chaos, leading to the breakdown of surveillance and control. The question is what is the abstract methodology for breaking away from the reinforced habituation that is implicit in contemporary social structuration? With every habit, with every routine, with every corroboration of the social machine, one can create new habits, one can create new routines, one can think differently and become other than the desired body type. A new diagram that conjoins the operative structure of surveillance can decode the valuations of desired commodities, diagnose the economy of control, and program a mode of becoming that breaks our complicity in the social machine and produces unfamiliar, unforeseen, and transgressive behaviors that blaze lines of escape from the predominant system.


[7] This pictorial Panopticon presents half of the picture, an important and still operative half, but wanting. It is necessary to present the Panopticon as this half of the picture, but only so as to pave the way for the completion of contemporary social structuration and order with further diagramming. A body is not only a prisoner of social practices of desire and consumption, but also a complicit element in a whole economy of power relations. I begin with the traditional geography.

[8] The Panopticon, freed from its architectural limitations, is a liberatory, or, more accurately, continuous conjunction of sterile laboratories that experiment and transfigure the stock of objects. This punitive, meticulous machine, personalized by docile, normalized figures, locates and distributes bodies in relation to other bodies according to the set of relations constituting this compound gallery of desire. The infinite, anonymous gazes function as the striae of the grid highlighting a fleeting foci of desirable body types, and opens up channels for the redistribution of desire. Picasso's variations comprise an organic interpretation of an adaptive technology that has been deterritorialized from the blueprint of the panoptic prison and reterritorialized at localized surfaces. Anything can be produced; any body can become any other. With the mere succor of the cosmetic knife, the sterile tube sucking out chunks of fat, the pale laxative, the dieting pill, the gym, the finger placed ever so slightly in the back of the throat, or the bloated catharsis of bulimia, the body is emptied of its substance and filled with assemblages of partial objects, all easily manipulable. These are characterized by the white fungible figures entering at the bottom right.

[9] What Foucault says about Velasquez's original can also be applied to Picasso's variations. Further back, in the far right side of the room:

[a] man stands out in full-length silhouette; he is seen in profile; with one hand he is holding back the weight of a curtain; his feet are placed on different steps; one knee is bent. He may be about to enter the room; or he may be merely observing what is going on inside it, content to surprise those within without being seen himself. Like the mirror, his eyes are directed towards the other side of the scene; nor is anyone paying any more attention to him than to the mirror. We do not know where he has come from: it could be that by following uncertain corridors he has just made his way around the outside of the room in which these characters are collected and the painter is at work. [...] One foot only on the lower step, his body entirely in profile, the ambiguous visitor is coming in and going out at the same time, like a pendulum caught at the bottom of its swing. He repeats on the spot, but in the dark reality of his body, the instantaneous movement of those images flashing across the room, plunging into the mirror, being reflected there, and springing out from it again like a visible, new, and identical species. Pale, miniscule, those silhouetted figures in the mirror [or anywhere in the scene] are challenged by the tall, solid stature of the man appearing in the doorway. [11]

This reversed silhouette, caped in most of the variations, symbolizes the anonymous tower erected and looming over the circular walls of this scrupulous machine. All that the inmates can see is the thin outline, the dark silhouette of a surveillance tower, depersonalized and generalized.

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. [12]

The figures in the painting, and the bodies of women in turn, are enabled, empowered, given the means to surveill themselves. In all the reflective surfaces—shop windows, hand mirrors, puddles of rainwater, identification with a celebrity or idealized figures—women find the reminder of an all-seeing eye. The body never escapes the gaze, the theatre of desire. The law is internalized; the gaze is internalized; the body is reversed. Once a type of body is held up for display, the woman is able "to exploit the bad instincts of all sufferers for the purpose of self-discipline, self-surveillance." [13]

[10] The inspector's voice also enters the cells through "conversation tubes"—innocent ways of reaching directly into the individual's private intimate dwelling space—that transmit orders, imperatives, advice, ways of achieving the aims of that advice, options opened up for the fulfillment of orders. An unknown voice is able to communicate without being attached to a face, to a clearly defined source of authority. The prisoners, that is, the women, responding to the advice or imperative cannot know for sure whether they are being surveilled, but the call has been heeded, the order has been felt, and the more personalized and the more individually directed the order is, the more autonomous the women may feel. She seems perfectly able to deny the call, to ignore the advice; yet this sense of freedom, this state of liberty to choose one way or the other, is not actually freedom at all. The woman may be under close tabs or she may not, but, due to the anonymous yet personalized and poignant character of the gaze and the voice, she is susceptible to discontinuous yet inevitable punishment. In order to prevent the possibility of feeling the repercussions of an inspector recently ignored, she must always act as if she were to be reprimanded, as if she were constantly surveilled, as if punishment were a necessary effect of a denial of the call to have this or that type of body.

[11] There was, however, a plan to be followed so that transgressions are not only discouraged but eradicated out right. Here is the voice of the all-seeing inspector.

I will take care [s]he shall not think of making any [transgressions]. I will single out one of the most untoward of the prisoners. I will keep an unintermitted watch on [her]. I will watch until I observe a transgression. I will minute it down. I will wait for another: I will note that down too. I will lie by for a whole day: [s]she shall do as [s]he pleases that day, so long as [s]he does not venture at something too serious to be endured. The next day I produce the list to [her]— You thought yourself undiscovered: you abused my indulgence: you see how you were mistaken. Another time, you may have rope for two days, ten days: the longer it is, the heavier it will fall upon you. Learn from this, all of you, that in this house transgression never can be safe. [14]

The woman, too, is kept under close inspection in much the same manner. By means of the same strategy as the watchman in the Panopticon, the woman receives reports on her status every day: fashion magazines telling her how to dress and what to feel, enjoy and buy; the e-mails alerting her to all the easy ways of losing weight and becoming popular; the repeated image of the rail-thin model or celebrity in television, movies, videos receiving all the attention, getting everything she wants, beaming in all the grandeur of her beautiful bodily adornment.

[12] While Deleuze notes that "[a] schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst's couch... a breath of fresh air, a relationship with the world." Foucault finds that even the outside world, even the intimacy of one's private chambers, even the distorted scenes of Picasso's variation, are all overcoded, all commodified, all organized according to the direction and pervasion of desiring gazes. [15]

[13] Pushing Foucault up against Deleuze, and introducing Klein's partiality of objects into this regime of optical desire, it is possible to recognize the minuscular stature of the small theatres. The bounds of these localized spaces, imbued and governed by gazes, are not the white outlines of the figures of the boy and the dog in the bottom right corner of the painting, but the different elements of assemblages of partial objects constituting the empty cavities of smooth bodies. A woman does not reflect on the totality of her body as a whole, but on the individual partial aspects of her assemblage. The pair of breasts, the curve of her ass, the flab on her belly, the sag under her chin, and on and on until there is a complete colonization of the body, are all different figures acting on brightly lit stages. [16] The woman can place her breasts on the bank of the stage, examine them from every spectator's position, superimpose them on the computer screen and scrutinize them as virtual images, turn them around and appraise them from every angle. The breasts, the ass, the legs, the arms, etc. are all stars of their own shows, easily manipulable, easily augmented and diminished, regulated or modified at every corner: "partial objects become the possessions of a person and, when required, the property of another person." [17] With all the new cosmetic technologies and prescriptions capable of completely altering if not removing these partial objects, it is possible to understand the woman as a loose collection of independent theatres displaying this or that body part. Just as "scenes are lines of light before they become contours and colours," [18] the traces of heterogeneous body parts take part in a grotesque play in which both audience and actor are at the hands of a hidden director before whom they are judged to be too fat, too soft, imperfect, disgusting, or pure signs of complete inadequacy.

[14] The exacting architectural figure has since been left behind. The circular structure of the cell-made walls rimming the periphery of the prison, the central tower in a perfectly bearded position, and the building as a whole has fallen out of favor. This does not mean, however, that the principle of organization and mechanism of power are also absent. In fact, with the closing of the last working panopticons, the advantages and effects of their original implementation have been more successful than ever. The panoptic regime and the style of subjection have been so successful that there is no longer the need for the actual building. "The panoptic schema, without disappearing or losing any of its properties, was destined to spread throughout the social body; its vocation was to become a generalized function." [19] The motivation for continual and implicit reinforcing reception of the structure of the social field based on the panoptic principle made the circular architecture otiose. "Whenever one is dealing with a multiplicity of individuals on whom a task or particular form of behavior must be imposed, the panoptic schema may be useful." [20] Individuals willingly enter and take stock in a lifelong economy of self-monitoring. Even though the looming inspector's tower is gone, the indistinguishable and ambiguous glow still lingers. Merely look at the dark silhouetted body stuck halfway between the doors in the back. "So the abstract formula of Panopticism is no longer 'to see without being seen' but to impose a particular conduct on a particular human multiplicity." [21]

[15] These notions of the internalization of the desire to be desired and the punitive status of a woman in contemporary society, however, are simply reiterations of social commentaries, popularized by the repetition of slogans. Such comments, while still salient, are only half of the picture. Given the changes in social structures since the seventies—from the ubiquity of media outlets, the constant barrage of advertisements and advice, to the increasing ability to meet these standards through cosmetic surgery—new abstract apparatuses are necessitated to make sense of these developments. Through pervasive systems of reward and punishment, the prison of the body is more mobile than ever. The arrangements, flows, connections, and organization of technological networks provide the possibility for the implementation of continuous normalization and surveillance, but also indicate points of breaking down, ways of turning the machine upside down, opportunities for plugging the machine back into itself and forcing it to cause its own destruction. It is the possibility for accessing the points of breaking off one's corroboration of the system, of subverting the double nature of control, that must be effectuated; and, through the diagramming of a new methodology, a new geography will be actualized. As we will see, many contemporary performance artists utilize this diagrammatic methodology. "Thus there is no diagram that does not also include, besides the points it connects up, certain relatively free or unbound points, points of creativity, change, and resistance, and it is perhaps with these that we ought to understand the whole picture." [22] To diagram is to diagnose these points of resistance and creativity, to see how modern social practices aim to control its redundant topography, to point out each fissure in the landscape and exploit it. For every pattern of corroboration of the standard system there are multiplicities of lines of flight out of the system.

[16] Desire is invested in all sides of relations, those in positions of "domination" as well as those being "dominated;" they all depend on the force of desire flowing through them. The flow of desire is the production of intensities on different planes and levels; it is not a personal matter, not his or her desire in the case of a subjective Freudian drive (although desire can be captured, reduced, and represented as such), but a multiplicitous tension between impersonal relations and connections. Out of a nondescript interaction of intensive movements a body is produced, an assemblage is christened, and a body type is heralded. The relations between bodies are not asymmetrical, distinct downward spirals, but sites of combination, stimulation, or opposition used in order to compose the types of bodies, sculpting and trimming at this point and sometimes at others; to classify these compositions so as to make them easily understandable, clearly identifiable, and simply accessible, and to normalize behavior based on the desire to meet and adhere to the shifting classifications evident through a timely composition. The reality of desire is opened up through practice. The purchase of a certain commodity is a crossing of the threshold of the economy of desire and the entrance to a living web of power relations. Buying one cosmetic surgery opens up the possibility and the desire for every other type of cosmetic surgery. As the desirable body type continually changes, the possibilities for corroborating these changes through consumption of image altering products mirrors the changes. It is the flow of desire through each of these nodes in the social network, mobilized through technological developments, that leads to concrete questions and potentialities. The economy can be exposed and subverted at each point: walking up to the beauty counter, entering the surgeon's office, buying each product that proclaims to shape one's body into the heralded image, spending time consuming popular websites and television programs, etc.

[17] The distribution of bodies in this widespread economy of desire cannot be revealed by a couple of studies or through the examination of a particular medium; rather, the situation involves the structural operation of the whole economy—the medical field, assorted forms of media, psychological advice, personal pamphlets (magazines and self-help books tailored for "you"), individual relations, sexual relations, professional relations, etc. Bodily relations—between individuals, the individual and herself, the individual and various images—are intimately corroborated. This acquiescence is seen in the depiction of the direct confrontation in the panoptic system. A woman does not fear some distant homogenized, exterior power located outside of the field, but feels the endless echo of the flow of desire in her own ears. Although there appears to be a figure lurking in the doorway, the success or failure of the schema relies on the corroboration of individual women; as the message to consume and comply is sent out, the purchase and the compliance is sent back, producing a positive feedback loop. The successful completion of this loop perpetuates the social structuration. The shadowy figure is much closer than he appears. Opticality is in front and in back, always within and never beyond.

[18] The bright light source illuminating the panoptic figure offers very little information on the identity or purpose of such an individual. He or she is the emblem of a "machinery of a furtive power." [23] Beyond the heavy walls, dungeons and security fortresses of medieval prisons, beyond the analytically oriented space of the panoptic field, the prison is now a mobile menagerie existing in and through each particular body, or, more specifically, each severed body part. As the woman becomes her own director, complicit in the feedback loop, arranging herself, removing the fleshy excess, sculpting what little remains, "[s]he inscribes in [her]self the power relation in which [s]he simultaneously plays both roles; [s]he becomes the principle of [her] own subjection." [24] The woman is her own director because she is shrouded in the social practice of corporeal consumption, buying into the heralded image and supporting it at every point along the way. All activity, every movement, every jiggle or flex of her thigh, every type of food entering or exiting her mouth are recorded and coded, the continuation of punitive social practices. She cannot afford to let one element stray from the confines of the particular theatres.

[19] In the midst of all this oil drama there seems to be something missing, some influential element of the play of gazes let out, present by its very absence. The activity and effects of the painting are clear. Each figure fulfills his or her role perfectly. Yet where is the viewer? Does the viewer not greatly contribute to these motions, to this scene? Foucault has left us with only half of the picture. The face in the mirror is not mine. We recognize the actual structure of the painting emitted from the lone, caped silhouette emerging or vanishing from or into the brightly lit hallway. The gaze leaves no plane untouched, but how is the viewer's feeling of the field of desiring gazes included? On top of highlighting the power that sees but cannot be seen is the opposite perspective: synopticism.


[20] The description so far

conjure[s] up a host of scenes which create reflections, flashes and shimmerings, visibilities varying according to the time and the season, which distribute the descriptions in a light-being, a reunion of all the light to which Faulkner [for us Picasso] holds the secret [...] And above these two elements there exists the third phenomenon, centers of power that are unknown, unseen and unsaid. [25]

If we follow Foucault's description and observe the perfect symmetry emitted by the figure of the precious young princess, we are left with only half the picture. According to Foucault, the fluttering spiral of the scene, however free and flowing, finds its fulcrum, its dispersing center, on the image of the Infanta Margarita, the princess. Once wearing a pink, gray, and florid dress in Velasquez's original, she is now caught in the geometric gown that Picasso has offered her, giving the impression of perfectly limned proportions. The lines spreading down from her face, along the sides of her neck, and filling out the bared top of her chest melt into blackness just a moment before the sight of the occupied dress. The two maids of honour are still lurching toward the princess's every whim, placating her with advice and whispers of glory. The maid to the left is kneeling as if caught in a quick moment of worship of the new member of the monarchial family. The maid to the right also offers her services and then quickly slips into the background almost unnoticeably. These two gazes lend to the location of the cap of the visual cone pressing on the Infanta, the symbolic center of a large X. Foucault notices:

a large X: the top left-hand point of this X would be the painter's eyes; the top right-hand one, the male courtier's eyes [one of the Siamese twins in Picasso's paintings]; at the bottom left-hand corner there is the corner of the canvas represented with its back towards us (or, more exactly, the foot of the easel); at the bottom right-hand corner, the dwarf (his foot on the dog's back). Where these two lines intersect, at the centre of the X, are the eyes of the Infanta. [26]

Pulling and distorting this crossed shape is a second figure,

a vast curve, its two ends determined by the painter on the left and the male courtier on the right—both these extremities occurring high up in the picture and set back from its surface; the centre of the curve, much nearer to us, would coincide with the princess's face and the look her maid of honour is directing towards her. This curve describes a shallow hollow across the centre of the picture which at once contains and sets off the position of the mirror at the back. [27]

At this point, however, Foucault stops short, not yet aware of the methods and practices that he later utilizes. This organic curve, the rounded center initially focused on the princess before pulling back to the limits of the room, is mobile. The scene is filled with bodies, objects, and gazes: a rotating landscape of optical coincidence; the scene is never the same, it is ever changing, mutating through the positivity of the feedback loop. Merely see how the cap of the cone of the vision of the viewer can vacillate from the princess to the mirror, from the mirror to the caped silhouette, from this shadowy figure to the bodies without organs, to the erupting canine cavity, and on and on. The vertex of the cone, an organic X, is a stereotactic tool directing the delicate tip of the direction of the gaze. This heated beam, the radiation of desire, can transform the scene without any trouble at all, not even a body can hinder the movement of the gaze; in fact, the body is produced by the very action of this mobile ubiquity. The ceaseless striding of gazes traversing the field structures the mode of organization, the construction and placement of bodies along convergent paths. This visual structuration tells the eye what to see and the body what to be. No body is safe; there is no opportunity to escape. The gaze is a meticulous, surgical tool pressing on the belly, perceiving through the flesh, severing the "self" from the body. The organization of the painting is mobile, and we are only offered a frozen image for a mere moment. This place of relations, or, more accurately, non-relations, which are colored by the flow of forces, is just a single instant in a swirling spiral of mutations. Foucault has offered a single interpretation of the relations that Velasquez so perfectly captured, but with the recognition of the viewers, of the roles we play, of every instance of corroboration, Picasso's variations on Vasquez's original Las Meninas open up the positive possibilities of continuous, and quite literal, transfiguration.

[21] The scene pivots around the momentary star, the Infanta. From the top of her head there is a lengthy curve flowing from the back wall, arching over the cap of her skull, and sliding directly into our gaze. This is the first "sagittal" line pulling us into the middle of the commotion, this material milieu. The second sagittal line appears from the head of the royal figure in the mirror and stretches out, again, directly into our gaze. However, these are not the only planes ordering the picture. In fact, there are many "ineluctable lines" [28] protruding from the far end of the room, striated and ordered the surface of vision, cascading over the surface of the distorted bodies, holding the viewer frozen in his tracks. Our position before the painting, as the viewers, is articulated by these many peculiar functions, positions that are distinct yet fluid, sharp yet mobile, repeated but never identically. Our position, a momentary formulation, " is a compound of relations between forces." [29] As the viewers we are characterized by a multiplicity of forces that come into contact with the various forces that are opened up with each passing set of relations. These forces or flows of desire contract at the particular location of the viewer or body, producing a localized site for corroboration or destabilization of the social field. We emerge not as a concentrated, enclosed, self-identical entity, but as an ambiguous nexus of conflicting and discontinuous forces pushing and pulling in different directions. There is no singular will filtering the plurality of sensations into a self-identical unity, but a synthetic conception strewn across a multiplicity of incoherent relations. As Nietzsche says, the will (or desire) can be "understood as the theory of the relations of dominance under which the phenomenon 'life' arises." [30] For Nietzsche, as for Foucault, "willing [or desiring] seems to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only as a word." [31] The "self" as a desiring subject is not "the best known thing in the world," nor is it that which is "truly known to us, known completely, without deduction or additions," but "only a complex of feeling and thinking." [32] Given this Nietzschean conception of the viewer or viewed as decentered subjects, we find ourselves caught in a diverse mutating web of desire, structured by sagittal lines that "pass not so much through forms as though particular points which on each occasion mark the application of a force, the action or reaction of a force in relation to others, that is to say an affect like 'a state of power that is always local and unstable.'" [33] These lines are yet again representative of the heterogeneous state of relations that continue to change and reconstitute each "point" in the scene. What is considered desirable at one point in time is quickly passed over with mutations in relations. Desire passes through lines of light, unfolding through different formations. We, the observers, are exterior yet intimately involved, distinct yet defined by the growing ability to affect and be affected by the variable scene lying within and before us, drawn into a pre-coded exchange of bodies and scenes. We are as much a part of the perpetuation of the scene as ever. The scene does not exist without our corroboration in the lines of light striating the field.

[22] The colors, shapes, and figures hovering around the edge of the painting serve as the hinges of a shape about to be doubled. So far, with only a little anachronous pressing and combination of terms from throughout Foucault's oeuvre, this moving cone of vision has constituted the panoptic figure. The sagittal lines that initially directed our eyes toward the mirror on the back wall now focus and refocus on different figures. Yet, again, this is only half of the diamond, the visibly articulated shape that has remained loose and unchecked. Now, in the diagrammatical Foucauldian spirit, the spirit that once proclaimed, "I am a cartographer", it is possible to map the rest of the scene. [34] Grasping this unbridled, flexible shape of the desiring gaze, the scene can now be inverted. The diamond can be repeated so that it not only presses back into the paintings but also stretches out to the distant position of the observers. Just as the stereotactic tip of the cone moved from figure to figure, from body to body, from body part to body part in the painting, the same can be done to us, the observing audience. The organic panopticism organizing the painting also organizes the life exterior to the classical Spanish scene. The tip of the reversed diamond falls on us; it falls on every particular viewer. This completion of the diamond structuration ushers in the use of the synopticon.

[23] The endless series of synoptic viewers account for the totality of anonymous individuals walking up to, standing before, and walking away from the paintings hanging on the walls. The viewer is not a particular individual branded as an admirer of Picasso's studies, but the momentary formation of an identity gained through consumption and participation. There is a positing of an identity of slippage: present identities slipping into future identities, the woman reacting to her accident of bodily identity, the figures in the painting and the witnesses to the scene, the set of relations opening up into new relations, the flowing of forces that are cut off and opened up with each new differential relation. Upon entrance into the field of gazes, the body is captured, identified, and coded by the arrangement of the social network. Yet, as the network is in continual mutation, expanding and contracting along with the adaptation of the individual gazes, the body mutates according to the functioning of the scene. Each view morphs into the next, anyone is able to stand before the painting and become the viewer, just as anyone is able and encouraged to become a constituting element of the mobile social network.

[24] Etymologically, synopticism refers to the many ('syn' indicates 'together') seeing the few ('optics' suggests sight or vision), and at first it seems that the synopticon is merely the opposite of the panopticon: rather than allowing the few to see the many, it enables the many to see the few. But since Deleuze has done away with the confines of the heavy penal architecture, as Foucault seemed to have wanted, and left us with an arrow-headed schema, pan-synopticism now allows "a particular multiplicity" to "impose a particular conduct" on the few. [35] With the upsurge in media, with the possibility of tying millions and millions of viewers to a single image, a particular body type, the many can now impose imperatives on a small number of celebrated individuals. More and more the light of the synoptic gaze is cast from various positions toward a single image that might lie far beyond the walls of the home. Watchers of a movie, of a television show, of a popular website, and every other form of mass media, are drawn together to bolster the cone of desire. Each particular observer plays into the synoptic schema; each visual consumer supports the flow of desire; each gaze cast upon the randomly selected few structures the optical cone; each position in the field of the diamond animates this artificial body. The observers act upon the observed, and the observed act upon the observers: a double corroboration. The positions are innominate yet forceful, possible of both affecting and being affected. With the introduction of the synoptic side of the diamond, and its attachment to the rotating hinges of the panoptic side of the diamond, we offer Foucault the pure disciplinary function of "a figure of a political technology that may and must be detached from every specific use." [36] Since the panopticon and the synopticon are two sides of the same mechanism of desire, they can easily be inverted without losing the desiring force flowing through heterogeneous relations. Recognizing the optical cone evident in the painting offers one perspective; highlighting the opposite cone offers many others. In this way, the flow is maintained, the movement continues through newly diagrammed relations.

[25] This is not to say that the localized yet diffused flow of desire radiates from a particular position in the striated social field, such as the celebrated individual with the idealized body or the many's potency for consumption, for these desiring-desired-desiring relations move along and through the plurality of lines connecting the viewers and the viewed, indicating points of conflict, revealing changes in relations. This means that desire is not situated at the site of the image of the feminine ideal, nor is it identified with the mass of viewers. No modality is sovereign, no position is privileged; the flow of desire is persistent and intelligible, engendered by the very existence of forces flowing through relations. Desire comes as much from the periphery, the most distant observer, as from the objectified image; complicity persists at each of the countless points in the diamondic schema. Each position differs yet depends on every other. The heralded body type is only such because of the functioning of the flow of desire emitted by gazes cast upon it, alighting the space and the constituting tension in which a body can be displayed so openly and transmitted so quickly. Viewers are brought into intimate relations with the center, where the center is each particular body in a given milieu, and the desirable image is placed immanently in the space of the viewer. Desire is the effect of the confrontation of the social body with itself, the intensive looping feedback of forces perpetuated at every moment of participation, forming an organic diamond loosely structured by the new forms of media, which are able to transmit information, images, imperatives, advice, etc. more quickly with the rapid advances in technology. The lines of force are drawn into a tighter and tighter ball, the world is reduced down to minimal yet complex arrangements, imbuing the world with a gravitational force experienced in multifarious "points, knots, or focuses...spread over time and space at varying densities, at times mobilizing groups or individuals in a definitive way, inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior." [37] What the introduction of this pan-synoptic schema offers is a possible answer to Foucault's questions:

In a specific type of discourse on [embodiment], in specific places...what were the most immediate, the most local power relations at work? How did they make possible these kinds of discourses, and conversely, how were these discourses used to support power relations? How was the action of these power relations modified by their very exercise, entailing a strengthening of some term and a weakening of others, with effects of resistance and counterinvestments, so that there has never existed one type of stable subjection, given once and for all? [38]

Without merely changing terms around, it seems that this methodological manner of investigation of relations constitutive of the social field can lead us toward a discovery of what occurs in today's society with issues of embodiment, the "tyranny of slenderness," [39] the proliferation of eating disorders, the problems arising with an ever changing body image, the consumerization of the self, and other questions surrounding these issues. What institutional formations allow for the exercise of the flow of desire? In what ways do television, the Internet, film, psychology, the medical field, the new technologies and advancements in the flow of information lend to this play of relations through the pan-synoptic field? These problems must be addressed on each plane: including the poly-directional sagittal lines that arch over individual bodies, the gazes emitted from the panoptic and synoptic positions, each location within this field of gazes, the sinister and dexterous sides of the body, the body parts held up for display and scrutiny, and every anatomical plane dividing the body into smaller and smaller theatres. This new model of desire, a possible diamondic diagram of an efficacious and pervasive strategy of modern times, is a means for making sense of the flow of desire churning through changing, pervasive mediums. The pan-synoptic diamond is a visually imaginable impetus that forces us to become aware of our intimate involvement in what is occurring, our complicity in the continuation of an operative social network. The sad state of the fashion industry, the ill effects it has on women's body image, the maleficent environment that has caused anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, addiction to cosmetic surgery, binge and compulsive eating, feelings of inadequacy, the commoditization of selves, all continue, all thrive in today's society because they are supported at each point in the diamond-shaped social field. A relation only exists as long as there are differences that constitute them, forces only flow when there are relations to flow through, and we are always and already intimately involved and implicated in a diamond structuration of contemporary society that not only allows such issues to spread across part of the globe but actually encourages and rewards these behaviors.

[26] It is not enough, however, to merely record and become aware of one's complicity in the predominant apparatuses of capture and social normalization; rather, it is necessary to recognize the possibility for destabilization. At each nexus, along with the possibility for the perpetuation of punitive social relations, there is also the potential for subversion of the system. The pan-synoptic schema is a diagrammatic methodology for mapping strategies of power: it "produces an historical image of how strategies of power attempt to replicate themselves in forms of surveillance, documentation, and expression on one hand, and in the spatial organization of collective life on the other." [40] This diagram provides the tools for the conceptualization of social arrangements and connections, and for abstracting out the structure of the economy of desire in order to locate the potentiality for destabilization of the system. Since the structuration of contemporary society has left behind the enclosed apparatuses of penal institutions, leaving only tenuous strategies and practices, there is the need for a way to harness and disrupt the mobility of the modern modulation of control. The stone walls and dark and narrow cells of the penal institution are gone, but the immensity of control is greater than ever. The addition of the synoptic element offers exactly that: a way to become aware of the complicit nature of everyday activity, of one's corroboration in an undulating hierarchy of stratified bodies.

[27] This new diagram indicates the points of corroboration, but only so as to decode them and reveal that these nodes are simultaneously fraying fissures spreading open for the introduction of points of catastrophic movements that will bring about the demise of the predominant field of desire. Foucault has brought us half the way, and the previous generation of theorists has certainly utilized Foucault's contributions to the fullest possible extent; yet, as we have seen, this is only half the picture. Now, with the installation of the other half of the diamond, the social style of structuration provides the necessary tools for the mutation of the social apparatuses and technologies, making room for the potentiality for becoming-other. This process of destabilization or deterritorialization, then, provides the necessary tools for effectuating Deleuze's program for change. With the pan-synoptic diagram in hand, one can:

[l]odge [one]self on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight...Connect, conjugate, continue: a whole "diagram." [41]

The diagram provides the methodology for location, experimentation, effectuation, and creation. There is now the opportunity to turn away from the surface of the gallery of desire, for inserting oneself at discontinuous points along its face and crossing over forbidden thresholds into the chaotic outside. There is a resounding "No" to the desire to consume the same products, the obliteration of the repeated image, experimentation with modes of becoming that break inveterate patterns of behavior that control the dynamics of collective societal relations, and an even louder affirmation of the potential for alternative practices and utilization of a given space. "In a pre-established geography, which extends...from bedrooms so small that 'one can't do anything to them' to the legendary, long-lost attic that 'could be used for everything,' everyday stories tell us what one can do in it and make out of it." [42] From the very spaces that serve as means for survival and means for surveillance, one can diagram new uses and novel potentialities. The most obvious examples of such diagrammaticism is seen in the work of artists who actually harness the power of social structuration in order to turn the tables and aesthetitize their lives with the very tools of control and normalization that they have been offered.

[28] Contemporary postmodern artists, such as Hasan Elahi [43] and Orlan, [44] have taken hold of the very tools, practices and apparatuses that have been installed to survey, control, and normalize society into a homogenous mass of disciplined bodies in order to make their lives works of art, a performance art of everyday life; they are modern day aestheticians. After being arrested and detained by the I.N.S on a return trip from abroad, Hasan Elahi, a thirty-five year old Rutgers professor, realized it was no longer possible to escape the stream of surveillance. Despite demonstrating that there was no possible way that he was the individual on the terrorist watch list that the government has assumed him to be, they still tracked him everywhere he went. Eventually, after conceding that he was captured by the striated visual terrain, that the field of vision had become utterly pervasive, Elahi found the only available line of escape: he self-surveilled and self-documented his entire life. At the beginning, before he went anywhere, he would call an F.B.I. agent to let them know exactly where he was going, what he was doing, and every other possible detail that might factor into the outing. This information included the exact proportions of materials he would consume, the number of the bathroom stall that he used, the way he combed his hair, and every possible detail that he could imagine. Documenting nearly every hour of his life, Elahi's website now holds over 20,000 pictures spanning the last three years of his life. Elahi even carries a G.P.S device that transmits signals to an online map that pinpoints his exact location at all times. The aim of Elahi's endeavor is to encourage others to do the same so that the information data pool will short-circuit from the flood of information and documentation flowing into government bureaucracies.

[29] Parisian artist Orlan also embraces the panspectrality of contemporary society in different ways. Orlan has seen the way that cosmetic surgery has continued to skyrocket in popularity, and this fact about consumer practice has led Orlan to push this modern trend to extremes. By opening her body up to experimentation in a series of surgeries, Orlan has given herself up to what she has called Carnal Art, the extreme modification of the body, but mostly her face, through popular means of beautification. Orlan literally consumes the flow of desire, and it is possible to see the bumps and bulges protruding out of her body; rather than trying to fight and arrest the contemporary desire to buy the perfect corporeal adornment, she has investigated these conventions by inscribing her body with consumer practices. When the trend in plastic surgery was cheek implants, Orlan implanted silicon lumps into her temples; when the operating room has become a booming business in the beauty-producing machine, Orlan transforms the hospital into a carnal theatre, a living baroque parody of scalpels and organs. By disentangling herself from the striae of the capitalist field of desire, she reinserts herself on the plane, and considered her body the ultimate ready-made, a field of the innocent possibilities to produce the perfect monstrosity. Orlan has become a "paradox of festivals," [45] a fabrication of deformation, both actress and director, a surgical exhibition, the target of a heated beam of desire; in short, a modern day aesthetician illuminated by a cone of self-imposed desire in a compound gallery of desire. From a position of transgressive marginality, Elahi and Orlan began lives of total and almost unlivable immersion in the flow of desire.

[30] Through a diagrammatic understanding of social practices of normalization and the effective structuration of these practices, these artists and many others [46] have harnessed the flow of desire so that they could begin to destabilize the system and reorient the social field. Such diagrammatic analyses consider the pre-established landscape a number of different ways. At each moment in a geographical schema there is the possibility for the perpetuation of surveillance and control; but, simultaneously, there is the potentiality for drawing a burning vector, a line of escape out of the system, or sometimes the opportunity for transversing the face of the system, thereby re-conceptualizing the very practices of social organization: a viral destratification of the technologies of the capture of the flow of desire. The system can and is being compromised, and pan-synoptic diagrammaticism is the means for the insertion of such panoramic paranoia.


[1] See Melanie Klein for a full description of partial body objects.

[2] Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things p. 3; from now on will be Foucault OT.

[3] Deleuze, Gilles, Foucault p. 80; from now on will be Deleuze Foucault.

[4] Foucault OT p. 3.

[5] Ibid p. 5.

[6] Ibid p. 4.

[7] Foucault refers to this pair of individuals as the king's courtiers, one male and one female.

[8] Foucault, Michel Discipline and Punish p. 200; from now on will be Foucault DP.

[9] Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix Anti-Oedipus p. 20; from now on will be Deleuze AO.

[10] Foucault DP p. 205.

[11] Foucault OT p. 10-11.

[12] Foucault DP p. 201.

[13] Nietzsche, Freidrich. The Genealogy of Morals, sec. III, para. 16.

[14] Bentham, Jeremy. The Works of Jeremy Bentham p. 81-82; Bentham's emphasis.

[15] Deleuze AO chap. 1.

[16] Morgan, Kathryn Pauly "Sculpted Bodies." From Welton, Donn, ed. Body and Flesh p. 325-349.

[17] Deleuze AO p. 71.

[18] Deleuze Foucault p. 80-81.

[19] Foucault DP p. 207.

[20] Ibid p. 205.

[21] Deleuze Foucault p. 34; Deleuze's own emphasis.

[22] Deleuze Foucault p. 44.

[23] Foucault DP p. 203.

[24] Ibid p. 203.

[25] Deleuze Foucault p. 81.

[26] Foucault OT p. 12-13.

[27] Ibid p. 13.

[28] Ibid p. 13.

[29] Deleuze Foucault p. 124.

[30] Nietzsche, Freidrich Beyond Good and Evil paragraph 19.

[31] Ibid paragraph 19.

[32] Ibid paragraph 19.

[33] Deleuze Foucault p. 73.

[34] Interview with Foucault from Nouvelles Litteraires, 17 March 1975; Ibid p. 44.

[35] Ibid p. 34.

[36] Foucault DP p. 205.

[37] Foucault, Michel The History of Sexuality: Volume 1 An Introduction p. 96; from now on will be Foucault HS.

[38] Ibid p. 99.

[39] Chernin, Kim The Obsession.

[40] Rodowick, D.N. "Reading the Figural" p. 17.

[41] Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus p. 161.

[42] Certeau, Michel de The Practice of Everyday Life p. 121.

[43] See «» to find out where Elahi is at right now.

[44] See for further description of her work.

[45] Deleuze, Gilles Difference and Repetition p. 2.

[46] Joy Garnett, Cindy Sherman, and Stelarc are some other contemporary artists programming the diamondic schema.


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