Bureaucratic Phantasies

by bojanboric

I introduce the concept of bureaucratic phantasies. Inspired by the surrealist fascination with the bureaucratic operations of the unconscious, I plan to test the theoretical possibilities of this concept in the realm of the urban conditions through discussion based on urban phenomenon in post-Socialist Chisinau. This concept interrogates the idea of the urban unconscious as an archive of urban memories merging with the continuous processes of refinement of the bureaucracy repeatedly producing fictions projected as holograms into real spaces, more real then reality itself. The memories of unrealized futures, dreams, desires, never told personal histories are processed through the procedural repetitions embedded within austere bureaucratic procedures, calculations and statistics. Hidden in the corridors of the state archives and the urban space itself, today they are unleashed and mutating.

Bureaucratic Phantasy is an incomplete bureaucracy, a kind of bureaucracy that leaves room for interaction. It is also possibly a space of resistance and a space with many contradictions and complexities. Through this concept I intend to explore relations between micro realities of urban space and institutions of society involved in social production and reproduction. According to Lyotard, in the post-modern era, there is a “crises of metanarratives” but they have not disappeared. They only made a “passage underground” deep into the unconscious. “This persistence of buried master-narratives is what I have elsewhere called our “political unconscious”(Lyotard).

Bureaucratic Phantasy is a concept of material and non-material, human and non-human apparatuses linking the notions of seemingly opposite meanings, that of “phantasy “and “bureaucracy”. The meaning may seem paradoxical  only initially, expressed through an inherent conflicts in society, producing mythologies as norms for productions of truth and notions of reality. Its archive of memories operates through urban unconscious, as something not anticipated. Often, in form of a document that suddenly appears or disappears, materializes in reality without apparent reason or meaning.

Bureaucracy is an apparatus and a social institution associated with the state power with unclear boundaries. “Phantasy” according to the dictionary formulation “is the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things”. In order to understand the meaning of bureaucracy, Max Weber argues, one needs to begin to question boundaries of the state as a social phenomenon emerging from beyond the state. Bureaucracy is an invention and part of the phantasy of the society itself, part of its unconscious; it is reproducing itself through performative actions within the society while constantly developing and shifting boundaries, norms and regulations.

According to Donna Harraway, we live in mythical time, the society is changing through the logic of the bio-political machine. There are new “fruitful couplings” emerging from this coupling of politics and fiction as well as science and fiction. “The pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the spectre of the ghost in the machine.” (Harraway D.) I would argue that the new forms of haunted political spaces are evolving today and along with the technological advancement and through the “mutation of capitalism” (Deleuze, Control Society). In the twenty-first century control societies the “real” is produced through fictions as much as through science, the ghost is still there. In this process, the boundaries such as that between the public and private are broken. “Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.” (Harraway D. Cyborgs)

The state is an imaginary social institution and as such it continuously produces imaginaries through bureaucracy. While reproducing the notion of the real it re-produces its own state imaginary. The loop goes on in a vicious cycle, the actions are initiated and produce other actions, creating myths, these produce spaces, then through acts of bureaucracy produce an imaginary state, these produce society, and it goes on and on…..

Deleuze refers to the similar process occurring in the contemporary state which he calls the control society. While in disciplinary societies there is a beginning and the end of a process, Deleuze argues that in the control society, there is always an ongoing transition, a transformation, “you never finish anything” (Deleuze, Control Society). As in Kafka’s Trial, the post-Socialist city is suspended in transition between two societies, one determined by disciplinary judicial norms expressed through the state of the “apparent acquittal (between two confinements)” and “endless postponement” (constantly changing) a characteristic of the control society.

History is not linear, it is a product of an unconscious process embodied in workings of bureaucratic phantasies. Through stories about the Ghost Boulevard and the concept of the bureaucratic phantasy, I investigate the nature of a different kind of bureaucracy. Such imaginary concept is a part of social and cultural reproduction and as such instrumental in production of spatial phenomenon. The Bureaucratic Phantasy represents an imaginary institution, a product of interface among various social forces; however, although a product of imaginary or even poetry, it manifests itself in a rational and calculated way, within its own internal logic and with the tendency of suppressing individual memories. Its endless archive is located somewhere between the arkheion, the official city of statistics, forms numbers, well categorised and the domus expressed through stories, narratives. It is manifested in space but also in public memory through virtual worlds, apparitions (in media or in space). “The question of the archive is not, I repeat, a question of the past…but rather a question of the future” (Derrida, Jacque Archive Fever)

It is mirroring society while producing its own public memories. It is a phantasy that replicates itself, and as in a dream reflects a distorted imagery, an illusion of what is normal and expected. According to Foucault, state itself is an imaginary formation, “Maybe after all, the state is no more then a composite reality and a mythisized abstraction, whose importance is a lot more limited then any of us think.” (Governmentality, MF) The project of the utopian future itself has become an artifact, a part of the burried grand narrative, now incorporated into the present, how is it going to be imbedded into the narrative of the present time? The space of the Ghost Boulevard, does not exist, it’s “real” is configured through continuous performance of the bureaucratic phantasies, through mythical reconfiguration, it is produced through the interface between the society and institutions. Because the Bureaucratic Phantasy is an incomplete bureaucracy, as it has not yet reached its maximum level of efficiency, it has allowed itself to be perceived as a machine for producing imaginaries, dreams, fictions. It is ambiguous; partially a machine that seems broken, a repository of images and memories, it recycles history and does not rely solely on objective reason such as raison d’etat. It is a cultural machine, a library of the past knowledge, a brain whose calculations have lost original purpose, still it is filled with elaborate data, plans and other artifacts of knowledge that could be transplanted into the present at any time as some kind of noise or as the ghosts of rational objectivity.

According to Weber, Bureaucratic organisation has proved to be superior to any other kind of apparatus due to its technical advantage. This was the main reason for its advance through history. When fully developed to its optimal level, it resembles the well functioning machine. “Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge, of the files, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction, and of material and personal costs” (M. Weber) From today’s vantage point we can also talk about bureaucracy as a method of management of information embedded into the world-wide-web as the global system of management of information and society. But the bureaucracy can also be thought as an imaginary social invention, that when fully established to its highest optimal level is difficult to destroy. “Where the administration has been completely bureaucratised, the resulting system of domination is practically indestructible”. (M. Weber, Bureaucracy). Although the bureaucracy is produced in democracy, the conflict inevitably emerges as the democracy then needs to restrict the power of bureaucracy. Consequently, according to Weber, bureaucracy makes any “revolution” in the true sense of completely building a new type of rule and authority virtually impossible.Furthermore, according to Weber, bureaucracy is dependent on the “calculable rules” and “without regard for persons”. As the bureaucracy becomes more developed, the more it is “dehumanized”, and this is praised as the “spatial virtue of capitalism”. In turn it demands the need for “experts” who would support this apparatus and provide for its legitimacy with their expert knowledge. Such Weberian bureaucracy is obsolete, something else is occurring now, through emergence of a new beast.

The performative practice within which bureaucratic apparatus operates is relies on repeated creation and recreation of public perception of the bureaucracy, meanings and the actors involved. In it the state institutions subvert their own assumed logics. It is however, intangible and hard to grasp and locate as it operates through an interface between the public, it is constructed only as a virtue of the public imaginary, “Performance assumes an interface between actors and spectators; they both constitute and are constituted by an audience”. (The Antrhopology of the State, Gupta). In other words it is through the re-enactment of the minor bureaucratic procedures and daily routines that the institutions of the state are constituted but can also be destabilised. The “partial perspective” (Harraway D. Situated Knowledges) provides the only possible avenue towards reaching objective vision that constructs reality, through this interface in the in-between space. Donna Harraway, calls it “the power to see”. This is also where the possible resistance may reside.

I propose that the notion of contemporary public space dependent on such interface between various shifting agencies play continuously in the space of the city such as the “Ghost Boulevard” through the bureaucratic phantasy. Instead of excavating ancient artifacts from the ground, the artefacts are produced and invented  by being named, traced and mapped as links in the complex web of relations, they are created without the need to be excavated. Their meaning is broadened beyond the physicality of objects, things. Furthermore, through the composition of “partial perspectives”,  I seek to reveal the gaps in logic, inconsistencies and flaws in the system. These are expressed in the narratives and are regulated through varieties of traces, red lines, voids, numbers, words and images. These supposed “flaws” in the system are not necessarily presented as negative nor positive, they are just part of the complex narrative of the present and perhaps clues for what the future may be.