- The Art of ResistanceOn War, Politics, and the Power of Public Mourning in Mexico
In January 1976, Michel Foucault asked his audience at the College de France—those dozens of men and women who struggled to put their tape recorders close to him—not to take the course that began as a "teaching activity." Instead, Foucault asked them to take those public sessions as work reports: Every Wednesday he would present some ideas, guidelines and "suggestions for research" on what he had been working on in those days.
More than 40 years away, Foucault's unsolicited statement bears great significance. It is as if he suspected the impact that his conception of politics, war, or racism would have on understanding and rethinking the forms of power and violence experienced in contemporary societies. In a way, Foucault seemed to prefer to distance himself from certain interpretations of his work that he could not anticipate. [End Page 83]
One of such unexpected uses or interpretations took place at the beginning of the new millennium. In 2003, Achille Mbembe published "Necropolitics," an essay that would be greatly influenced by the notion of politics as war and biopolitics—posed in Foucault's aforementioned course—to explore and understand the new forms of politics, war, and terror in the contemporary world. In his analysis, Mbembe points out the spread of the state of exception and the relation of enmity that have become the basis of a conception of sovereignty as the right to kill.
Even more difficult to foresee for Foucault—and Mbembe by extension—would be the impact that this theoretical framework, which goes from the relational character of power and biopower to necropower, would have to understand the means and conditions of contemporary violence in Mexico. This essay aims to reflect the forms of discrimination, brutality, and loss that have been taking place since the "war on drugs" began in 2006. And with it, to explore and make visible the emergence of artistic practices and counter-narratives that have taken place to resist violence and its normalization.
Warfare, Power, and Resistance in Michel Foucault
The series of lectures imparted by Michel Foucault in 1976—which were ultimately published as Society Must Be Defended—must be contextualized in the aftermath of the fall of Nazism and the retreat of stalinism witnessed in the twentieth century. The irruption of such new forms of state violence led Foucault to become more interested in the question of power and the different ways by which human beings are turned into subjects. To accomplish this objective, Foucault explores and redefines the traditional conceptions of power, war, and sovereignty.
Foucault undertakes a genealogy that leads him to discard the classical frameworks with which power used to be analyzed: the juridical and economic. He points out how both conceptions have conditioned us to think about power as a right that can be possessed and transferred partly or completely by means of a legal operation, with the idea of constituting a larger power: a political sovereignty. Under this perspective, power is nothing [End Page 84] more than a commodity that can pass from one hand to another through some sort of contract (Foucault 2003, 13).
Confronted with this economistic conception of power, Foucault proposes a relational view of power. His theoretical premise on this subject is as simple as it is conclusive: "[it] is not something that is given, exchanged, or taken back…it is something that is exercised and that it exists only in action" (2003, 14). Foucault's proposition is revolutionary, as it seeks to stop observing power with the lenses of an economic exchange or a legal transaction, to recognize it "in itself, [as] a relationship of force" (2003, 15).
Far from wondering or trying to define what power is, Foucault's goal is to understand the mechanisms, instruments, and ceremonies through which power is manifested and exercised. Foucault focuses on capturing power in its real or effective practice. This explains why his questions are not around its essence or its intentions but rather its operation: "What is the exercise of power? What does...