- Active Intolerance: Michel Foucault, the Prisons Information Group, and the Future of Abolition ed. by Andrew Dilts, Perry Zurn
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 272pp.
Active Intolerance: Michel Foucault, the Prisons Information Group, and the Future of Abolition aims to achieve several important balances. The first involves understanding how involvement with the Group d’Information sur les Prisons (GIP) contributed to Michel Foucault’s intellectual development without overstating his role so as to efface the collaborative nature of the political movement. Second, the collection of papers aims to attain a balance between “intellectual labor and abolitionist politics” (9) in a way that resists any sharp distinction between theory and practice. To recognize theory as itself a practice not only raises questions about the role and responsibilities of intellectuals in political movements, but challenges the conception of the gathering and dissemination of information as divorced from action. Finally, the book seeks a balance between historical appreciation of the GIP and its relevance for contemporary prison activism. Without losing sight of these ambitious aims, [End Page 129] editors Perry Zurn and Andrew Dilts manage to bring together some of the most exciting perspectives in Foucault scholarship, critical prison studies, as well as information activism and prison abolitionism today.
The book is divided into four parts, each containing three or four papers. Following the GIP’s dictum “donner la parole” (to give the floor) to prisoners, the first three parts conclude with single-page declarations of the “intolerable” penned by death row inmates. Part 1, “History: the GIP and Foucault in Context,” takes up the relationship between Foucault’s involvement with the GIP and his intellectual trajectory. In “The Abolition of Philosophy,” Ladelle McWhorter suggests that what Foucault perceived to be the failure of the GIP was instrumental in forming his later conception of philosophy (as well as activism) as a set of lived practices. Pushing this later conception of philosophy a step further provokes the question of whether it is time for philosophy to untether itself from the academy. In “The Untimely Speech of the GIP Counter-Archive,” Lynne Huffer examines the GIP’s activities as a “politics of speech” through the dual lens of History of Madness and genealogical time. This allows the GIP’s texts to be mobilized as “a ‘counter-archive’ whose untimely speech ‘gives the floor’ to genealogical events out of sync with their own time” (45). Colin Koopman argues, in “Conduct and Power: Foucault’s Methodological Expansion in 1971,” that the early 1970s mark a methodological transition from Foucault’s Archealogy (as a single-vectored and discursively oriented methodos) to Genealogy (as multi-vectored and conduct/praxis oriented). This insight allows him to account for the fact that Foucault’s 1971 Collège lectures as well as his writings on the GIP are both politicizing in their methodology, while only the latter might be regarded as political in topic. In “Work and Failure: Assessing the Prisons Information Group,” Perry Zurn advances a set of criteria for “work/failure” internal to the GIP, in order to assess its efficacy qua model of prison activism. By conceiving of work/failure as a “constellation” of modalities, Zurn is able to avoid a moralizing analysis of the prison system, while at the same time providing theorists and activists with a scheme that is sensitive to the multimodal reality of the prison itself.
Part 2, “Body: Resistance and the Politics of Care,” deals with “the prison as a particular technique of embodiment.” In “Breaking the Conditioning: The Relevance of the Prisons Information Group,” Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara) details his own struggles against, and victories over, the “psychologically infantilizing” and “dehumanizing” experience of mental conditioning employed against the incarcerated. Had there been a GIP-like initiative during the San Quentin uprisings in 1984, he argues that the public would have been able to hear the claims of California prisoners, “instead of being told a unilateral version of events” (111). As tempting as it is to view inmate care-giving as an...