The Figural and Corruption

Jean F. Lyotard

The work of Jean Francois Lyotard, a French thinker has brought the figural to the centre of critical attention. Lyotard teaches us that figural can be traced in an intertwined relation of the sayable and visible. When we read a text, we have to close our eyes to the visible alphabets and other markers to get to the sayable in the text. I wish to employ the dynamics of the figural to understand the phenomenon of corruption in our society. To achieve our task, we may do well to understand the work of Gilles Deleuze another celebrated French thinker. He teaches us three ways of reading the figural: the correlative, the complementary and the collateral. His terminology is outlandish but it opens several windows on the figural. He divides them depending on the relation of the visible with the expressible. 

The correlative reading examines the relation of what can be said with what can be seen. It is a relation between verbalisation and spatialization. He teaches that in this context, we have to examine how the legibility of the objects, concepts and subject emerge in organization of discursive formations (sayability) and vice versa. Deleuze teaches the Foucault demonstrates the correlative reading   in his book, Birth of the Clinic.  Foucault critically studies how the legibility of human body diminishes. He tries to measure the transformation of clinical gaze into a glace whereby body is no longer legible or picturable by a totalising look. This condition converts the body into an impenetrable surface and we require medical instruments (stethoscope and other technologies of auscultation) to translate the invisible interior of the body into recognisable sense. We have no other systems of signs that map, classify and document the hidden interior into legible space. We can see how in this context what is visible is affecting what is sayable.  

We have several examples that can demonstrate how we try to read the hidden interior into some kind of legible sense to demonstrate how the visible affects the sayable.  Today we can see how the elections strategies are being drawn on some measurable stats that indicate the vote shares of the political parties. We arrive at numbers to make sense of the political position of political parties. This shows the visibility of the numbers increases our speakability about the chances of the political parties.   But the most important insight that we can draw from this relation of the visible and the sayable is to employ it to understand corruption in our country. Corruption requires invisibility. When it comes to light, it increases the length and breadth of our sayability. This means, we begin to speak about it with courage and desire change.  Pre-Nirav Modi episode most people could not speak about the corruption of the BJP. Post-Nirav Modi some people among us are now saying that we have a suit-boot and loot Sarkar. 

Nirav Modi

We still need to deepen our reading of the figural to understand the length and breadth of corruption. Maybe we have to enter what Deleuze calls complementary figural reading.   This reading  can be traced in the way Foucault describes the panopticon (he gives us the instance of prison architecture) where he draws the relation of discursive and non-discursive as the institutional basis of power. Deleuze teaches that complementary is a spatial organization model and  is central to panopticon. He says panopticon is not something that enables us  to see without being seen. It is more an imposition of conduct on human collectivity. It is achieved by the re-division of space and ordering of time in a serial fashion which creates an architectonic of space-time.

 Complementary relations exercise power through three fundamental relations that brings a divide in space, order in time and lets us compose in space-time. The architectonics of corruption requires us to divide space. It requires the corrupt to hide the space where it occurs. Besides, the division of space, it requires the corrupt to serialize time and bide for the apt time in an invisible space to successfully commit an act of corruption. All this requires a composition of space-time. The architecture of composition of space time for corruption is exactly opposite of panopticon. Like the panopiticon corruption requires a segmented space. But panopticon requires the segmented space to be observed at each point where the individuals placed are supervised and disciplined. Corruption requires a segmented space but difference is that the  corrupt self police themselves to track the opportune time to indulge into corruption and strive to keep the act of corruption secret and  invisible. This means any corruption requires management of knowledge and power. This brings us to what Deleuze calls collateral reading of the figural. 

The collateral reading of the figural examines the relation of the grouping of discursive statements themselves. It means we have to scrutinize how these statements (sayables) emerge, organize and distribute themselves as historical of discourse.  Deleuze teaches that by relating the sayable to the visible, we can examine the transformation of discourse in different epochs and also understand how the organisation of discourse is informed by the quality of knowledge and power.  Thus, the quality of knowledge and power informs the discourse and constrains the visible and the sayable. The more the corrupt guards the visibility of corruption the more power he/she has over us. Besides, our knowledge being limited about it our sayabitiy is constrained. This is the situation of all corrupt cases. We can see how UPA become unpopular when all its scams came in the public sphere and the same is becoming true of the NDA post-Nirav Modi episode. 

Our reflection reveals us that our speakability of corruption increases with the visibility of the same. This means we need to increase visibility to minimize the room for corruption. People call this increasing visibility transparency.  Direct fund transfer to the beneficiaries through their accounts has minimized corruption of the middle man.   Although the Adhaar number  is purporting to bring the same, it may fail as it has made all people vulnerable to be in a condition of being  cheated by the middle man (like those who run the public distribution systems) who can simply claim that the adhaar  biological verification have failed and deny benefits to us  and hand over same to those who pay a price. Hence, the so called transparency measures have to be critically studied. In this context, we have to agree that appoint of Lokpal (as a watchdog) is very important.  It produces a condition of being watched and thus increases visibility that would open space for speaking about as well as lead us to act against corruption.   

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao