E-confession as a Disciplinary Technology and the AIDS Subject

Ioannis Vamvakitis
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In 1984, I first heard about the “homosexual disease”. The following days passed in shame and fear; shame for my homosexual impulses and fear for the fatal illness which would punish me for them. Only fourteen-years-old, sexually aware but innocent, and my interpretation of AIDS was a mixture of a death-sentence, a discipline mechanism and a divine punishment. Being a teenage homosexual in the ‘moral panic’ period (1982-1985), where AIDS was mediated as the ‘gay plague’ – as ‘God’s or nature’s judgment on moral decay’ – meant that the feelings of moral and social guilt would be a part of your maturation experience (Weeks, Jeffrey, 1989, 4-5). Although my interpretation of AIDS throughout the years changed, my pubic notions of the “plague” became an inseparable part of my sexuality and my encounters with the AIDS subjects and objects.

About two years ago, while searching on the internet for recent HIV statistics and data I found a site named avert.org, where carriers and patients publish their personal stories. AVERT is an international HIV and AIDS social-welfare organization, located in the UK, that claims to have three aims: first, to educate the people globally, second, to ‘fight the stigma and discrimination surrounding the disease’, and finally, to raise money for medical research and treatment (AVERT.ORG, 2002, http://www.avert.org/about.htm). Intrigued by these digital forms of confession, I clicked on the Personal Stories section and began reading the electronic letters. There, along with my adolescent fear and guilt’s revival and reflection, I found this article’s topic.

Although Foucault notes the late 20th century technologies ‘[he] interprets [them] as a mere extension of the 19th century patterns’ (Poster, M, 1990, 93). Therefore, he ‘neglects to see’ that the ‘technical conditions of surveillance have considerably advanced’ (Mark, Poster, 1990, 91). However, he senses that the new communication circuits have given birth to a new surveillance system (Poster, Mark, 1990, 93):

Our society is not of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth…the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power; it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies. (Poster, Mark, 1990, 93)

According to Mark Poster, this new surveillance system based on today’s circuits of communication and digital databases constitutes a ‘Superpanopticon’ (1990, 93), which not only liberates the disciplinary technologies from Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’, prison-guard, closed-setting (Foucault, M, 1991), but also constitutes subjects willing to participate in their own disciplinary process; by constituting an additional self - an object of social analyses and scrutiny (Poster, Mark, 1990, 93, 97): ‘In the postmodern…mode of information…we see databases not as an invasion of privacy, as a threat to a centered individual, but as…the constitution of an additional self, one that may be acted upon the detriment of the “real” self without that “real” self ever being aware of what is happening’ (Poster, Mark, 1990, 97).

However, these new means of discipline and control couldn’t develop without the simultaneous creation of associative discourses of truth. Foucault argues that ‘there can be no possible exercise of power without a certain economy of discourses of truth which operates through and on the basis of this association’ (Poster, Mark, 1990, 87). Therefore, within the post-modern, new media, context the internet constitutes a new discursive area of truth and power; and the email confession - as a post-modern extension of the 19th century ‘confessional technologies’ - becomes on the one hand, a mean for self-examination, self-awareness, and revelation of “truth” to one’s self and to others (Dreyfus, H, Rabinow, P, 1982, 173-183); while on the other hand it becomes capitalist societies’ mean of ‘producing and reproducing the norm’ – the normalising discourses of objective truth, which legitimise their associative discourse of power (Poster, Mark, 1990, 91).

Consequently, the Personal Stories on the avert.org site have a dual function: They constitute a digital, multiple discourse of truth where the AIDS subjects constitute their additional-disciplined-selves; and thus legitimise a digital, multiple discourse of power where the site’s scientists and the nonqualified public constitute their ‘panopticon-guard’-selves and interpret the AIDS subjects’ confessions (Dreyfus, L. H, Rabinow, P, 1982, 178).

Roland Barthes – underlines the ‘suicidal’ consequences of confession. He writes: ‘Better the death of the author by writing than the suicide by confession’ (1990, 88). Tambling sees confession as the author’s attempt to look back to a miss-recognised and misconceived past-self, and then write his/her present-self in relation to this false assumption. Consequently, instead of writing and ‘altering every other text that has been composed’ - instead of killing the past misunderstood self - the confessing subject remains locked in ‘what it was’, and never learns ‘who he/she is’ (Tambling, Jeremy, 1990, 88). Therefore, by asking the AIDS subjects to confess, we lead them to a suicidal-state where any new experience, any revelation of another self, is directly “murdered” and rewritten in relation to their moral guilt and their one (self) responsible for their illness (Tambling, Jeremy, 1990, 88).

Keywords: Internet, Confession, Discipline, Punish
Stream: Knowledge and Technology
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: E-confession as a Disciplinary Technology and the AIDS Subject

Ioannis Vamvakitis

PhD Candidate in Media and Cultural Studies, Associate Tutor in Media and Film, University of Sussex

Ref: T06P0016