Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Toolbox

by Fredrik T

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Antony Gormley, Kivik Art Center, 2008

The three texts analyse the relationship between theory and practice from various perspectives. In extension, it brings up questions as to what theory is and what constitutes practice? In the conversation between Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault a new relationship between theory and practice is discussed. This relationship is “partial and fragmentary”, rather than one being the application of the other. To Deleuze, theory is invariably local, related to a limited field, and subsequently applied in another sphere.

Deleuze uses the “relay” to explain how he understands theory and practice to be interrelated: “practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practice to another. No theory can develop without eventually encountering a wall, and practice is necessary for piercing this wall”. Deleuze brings up Foucault’s analysis of penal institutions, where at one point it became necessary for the prisoners to be heard, a form of practice which informed the theory – as a relay to another set of theory rather than as a simple affirmation or application of theory. “The emphasis was altogether different: a system of relays within a larger sphere, within a multiplicity of parts that are both theoretical and practical”.

This new relationship between theory and practice is thereby ultimately one where “representation no longer exists; there is only action — theoretical action and practical action, which serve as relays and form networks”. This shift can be compared with Marx, as proposed in his theses on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” (Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, no. 11). Foucault suggests that “theory does not express, translate or serve to apply practice: it is practice”. To Foucault, theory is a “regional system” of the struggle against power. Both Foucault and Deleuze agree that theory is inherently opposed to power [which would suggest that power is opposed to theory?]. Power is here understood as something enigmatic elusive, incomprehensible in totality, only perceivable in its expression, as Foucault puts it: “everywhere that power exists, it is being exercised”, the problem is that in most instances, it is masked, hidden and it is the task of theory to expose these hidden power relations.

In Eyal Weizman’s text “Lethal Theory”, critical theory is applied to question the power of the military doxa, a set of dangerously rigid beliefs , both to the soldiers themselves and civilians. As Naveh puts it: “we employ critical theory in order to critique the military institution itself”. If power is understood to be opposed to theory (an e contrario interpretation of the relationship between power and theory elaborated by Foucault and Deleuze), the question becomes: how does the introduction of theory into a system (the military) opposed to theory transform this system? On the surface, the answer is very literal; theory is employed to break down actual walls, according to Weizman. Yet, by questioning the military logic, (critical) theory in extension, must on a different level question power and how it is exercised. Despite claims of the opposite, “this theory is not married to its socialist ideals” (Weizman), one could argue that making a military establishment start to think rather than recognise will ultimately transform not only its operational tactics, but also its own subjectivity, and its relation to power.