on exomologesis and biopolitical walking tours

by oskar gudehn

.1) The Birth of Biopolitics – Michel Foucault. Foucault is defining and analysing Liberalism not as an ideology, but as a “principle and method of rationalising the exercise of government, rationalisation that obeys […] the internal rule of maximum economy”. Foucault then goes on to state that “governmentality should not be exercised without a critique far more radical than a test of optimisation”. Instead of asking for the economical optimisation of governing, one should ask for the need for governing.

Liberalism grew (from late 18th century) as a tool for criticising governments as: 1) a former governmentality one tries to shed; 2) a current governmentality one wish to strip down (to reform); 3) a governmentality one opposes and whose abuses one tries to limit. Foucault argues this to be the main aspect of liberalism, market economy and political economy are tools used for the fulfilment of this main goal.

Foucault then goes on to describe two different liberal movements, the (West) German liberal movement (1948-1962) and the American neo-liberal Chicago School. Both were born as a critique of over-bureaucratisation, state interventions and planned economy (i.e. Soviet Socialism, National socialism and Keynesian economy). They however differed in the conclusions drawn from neo-liberal market studies. German liberals argued the “natural” market price to be fragile and thus needed to be supported through careful governing of civil aspects, such as assistance to the unemployed, healthcare coverage, housing policies etc. The Chicago School went the other way around and proposed that aspects of life, such as family and birth policies, or delinquency and penal policies, should be governed solely by market rationality. Foucault abruptly closes, arguing biopolitics (as the strategic governing of the bodies of the population) to have been framed by the questions of liberalism (since the end of 18th century).

.2) Government of the Living – Michel Foucault. Exomologesis – to state/confess the truth AND to identify yourself with it. Originally used in christian circuits, both as an act of faith (proclaiming your faith and the conviction in your proclamation), and the slightly darker one; the confession of sins you have committed and the direct identification of yourself as a sinner.

.3) In Slavoj Zizek’s “In Defense of Lost Causes” (which I’m now trying to read for the third time) there is a short excerpt concerning this exomologesis of today:

“In the endless complexity of the contemporary world, where things, more often than not, often appear as their opposites – intolerance as tolerance, religion as rational common sense, and so on and so forth – the temptation is great to cut it short with a violent gesture of ‘No bullshit!’ – a gesture that seldom amounts to more than an impotent ‘passage à l’acte’. Such a desire to draw a clear line of demarcation between sane truthful talk and ‘bullshit’ cannot but reproduce as truthful talk the predominant ideology itself. No wonder that, for [Harry] Frankfurt himself, examples of ‘no bullshit’ politicians are Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and, today, John McCain – as if the pose of outspoken personal sincerity is a guarantee of truthfulness.”

.4) Helen Runting and Kim Trogal performed a walking tour through Stockholm, analysing spaces, uses and restrictions along the way. As starting and ending point two symbolically charged and restricted places were chosen, The Royal Palace in Gamla Stan and the Migration Office in Solna. Though the intervention could be criticised by its (lack of) direct consequences (Zizek for example often shows his distaste for this kind of “soft” thought), the analysis of the two places, and some of the spots along the route connecting them, is incredibly interesting.


Looking into the private business sector you find this exomologesis again. Airline companies promising that their cabin staff is “always (and sincerely) happy”; articles stating why you shouldn’t hire unhappy people etc.

You are no longer allowed to lie, a fake smile to your colleague or professional politeness is not acceptable. Today this simple lie is not enough, we have to lie doubly; both by word and act, both a fake smile and a fake sincerity behind it.

We can then go further and apply the term of exomologesis on Runting’s and Trogal’s walking tour; The Royal Palace is basically a fake that pretends to be real both by what it says and by the way it says it, it pretends the pretending to be real. It is the residence of the Royal family, without them actually living there. Still it hides this fact behind a facade of seriousness; the palace is guarded by the Swedish army (with live ammunition), there are rules and regulations as for where you are allowed to walk and not, what you are allowed to do and not. Finally, we have the tourists. The tourists in this place becomes an act of unmasking. By their mass, with cameras and guide books, they turn the Palace and its seriously pretended seriousness into a spectacle, unmasking it, stripping it of its facade.

This opened my eyes to the (marxist?) action of “touristing” something, an appropriation and inversion of ‘slumming’. Just by viewing something as an amusing spectacle, by stating it to be a spectacle, it becomes a spectacle. Secondly, can such an act of unmasking also take place in personal relations? I don’t mean to superimpose the (violent) act of ‘touristing’ onto individuals and personal relations, but the key concept might be the same. Irony as an act of unmasking?