Exteriorizing Subjectivity

Snapchat & Pharmacopornographic Biocapitalism


In 1994, Stuart Hall (1932–2014) delivered the W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures at Harvard University. In the second lecture, which corresponds to the second chapter of the 2017 book The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation, Hall noted the following in the context of 1) Anthony Giddens’ understanding of modernization and the separation of place from space, 2) Doreen Massey’s argument that modern globalization sees the notion of space replaced and supplemented “by a concept of place as meeting-place, the location of the intersection of particular bundles of activity spaces, of connections and interrelations, of influences and movements” (110), and 3) an intensification and expansion of Marx’s observation that “all that is solid melts into the air:”

There is now considerable evidence that late modern globalization as we are experiencing it is further undermining and putting into crisis those centered and unified formations of cultural identity, including that most powerful of modern identities, the nation. Such evidence of a loosening of identification with the national culture suggests that what we are witnessing is a strengthening of cultural flows and collective ties that operate “above” and “below” the level of the nation-state, functioning on interpenetrating scales that disrupt our conventional distinctions of locality, neighborhood, and region.

(Hall 2017, 111-112)

The May/August 2019 issue of Contexto Internacional held a forum on Hall’s Fateful Triangle, and the first part gathered contributions from Donna V. Jones, Kevin Vruyneel, and William Garcia Medina. Jones’s intervention calls for us to return to Hall’s earlier writings, where we’re reminded that “The class relations which inscribe the black fractions of the working class function as race relations. The two are inseparable. Race is the modality in which class relations are experienced” (434). What whiteness studies scholarship has shown is that “race has always been the invisible framework structuring the abstraction and universality of class” (435). Jones, after citing Paul Gilory’s 1982 critique of Ernesto Laclau and left-populism, poses a challenge to the temporal boundedness and applicability of Hall’s argument (cf. the paragraph above about the nation in crisis). Jones writes that

we have returned to a moment of crisis in which populist discourse has mobilized an exclusionary concept of ‘the people.’ In Europe and the United States, political opposition to the excesses of neoliberalism is expressed in an unabashed national/racial populism: class identities that might have indicated shared economic or political interests have given way to identities formed through impromptu rituals of racial or ethnic spectacle – UK Independence Party (UKIP) marches and Trump rallies. We live in an age in which ‘economic anxiety’ and demographic panic are one and the same. A secure and relatively uncontested neoliberalism gave us multiculturalism as a panacea to the social marginalization of immigrants and racial minorities in industrialized West; now, as this system is in crisis, and as the anodyne solutions of tolerance gives way to increasingly authoritarian populism, I ask what would a contemporary version of the Fateful Triangle look like?


Bruyneel pushes us to think about the concepts of intersectionality, racial capitalism, and settler colonialism as fruitful extensions and applications of Hall’s discursive theory of the social construction of race. In any case, I sense Hall was simultaneously presciently correct and profoundly wrong. Wrong in the obvious sense that Jones indicates. The failures of Syriza and Podemos, the international financial crisis of 2007-08, and the growth of right-wing populist authoritarian movements across the world have shown, in Jones’s words, “that in this era of nationalist reaction, ironically, globalization has managed to subsume comfortably the archaic language of a nation rooted in blood and soil” (434).When Hall writes “[such] evidence of a loosening of identification with the national culture suggests that what we are witnessing is a strengthening of cultural flows and collective ties that operate “above” and “below” the level of the nation-state,” I am immediately reminded of my research on biopower, Snapchat, and the sex-design of late modern pharmacopornographic biocapitalism (Preciado). I’ve included the paper below.

There is nothing to discover in sex or in sexual identity; there is no inside. The truth about sex is not a disclosure; it is sex-design. Pharmacopornographic biocapitalism does not produce things, but mobile ideas, living organs, symbols, desires, chemical reactions, and conditions of the soul. [1]

—Paul B. Preciado

Welcome to the pharmacopornographic regime. Digital screens, monitors, and interfaces of every size buzz, pulsate, and project wave-particles of light into the air, all around us, twenty-four hours a day. For those born after the advent of Web 2.0 (at the new millennium), there has never been a period of non-digitally mediated subjectivity. [2] The entanglements of technology, late-modern capitalism, and our use of technology in the context of late-modern capitalism raise questions of baffling complexity and of intense urgency. [3] Both popular authors and scholars have observed that many new forms of technology function (and have been functioning) as prostheses of the self and reflexively create and delimit new opportunities for articulating subjectivities. [4] Theorists have observed the linkage between new media and capturing technologies (e.g., photography) for articulating new forms of digitally mediated selfhood—these technologies thicken the layers of significance (and erasure) that are entailed by virtualizing and exteriorizing the performance of selfhood. [5] This paper seeks to understand some of the implications of digitally mediated selfhood for questions of gender and sexuality by thinking through the use of social media platforms on mobile devices, particularly Snapchat.

Historical and Theoretical Framework

Since the “discursive explosion” of the Classical Age, our sense of self is materialized and brought into discourse by the disciplinary mechanisms of sexuality. [6] While Foucault’s work stopped short of examining the postwar implications of sexuality and its relation to subjectivity, other scholars have worked towards bringing his analysis closer to the present. Many American histories of sexuality have highlighted the extraordinary importance of the introduction of oral contraceptives in 1960. [7] Beginning in the 1950s, however, the United States witnessed a radical transformation of its sexual architecture that would later converge with increasing adoption of the pill by women. Recent work has shed light on the critical role of the late media mogul Hugh Hefner (1926–2017) and the Playboy franchise in restructuring postwar landscapes of sexuality, gender relations, and subjectivity. For example, trans-feminist theorist Paul B. Preciado’s sophisticated treatment of Playboy magazine sets the stage for understanding contemporary American milieux of sexuality and gender through what they term the “pharmaco-pornographic” regime. [8] This “post-industrial, global and mediatic regime” describes “a bio-molecular (pharmaco) and semiotic-technical (pornographic) government of sexual subjectivity – of which ‘the pill’ and Playboy are two paradigmatic offspring. [9]

If Preciado’s research on the Playboy franchise in Pornotopia: An Essay on Playboy’s Architecture and Biopolitics very concretely narrates the cultural history of postwar sexuality, then their work of auto-theory, Testo Junkie (which builds on the work of theorists Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, among other trans and queer theorists), proposes that “it is philosophically relevant today to undertake a somato-political analysis of ‘world-economy’” using the global regime of pharmacopornographic capitalism as a category of analysis. [10] Preciado poses the question, “How did sex and sexuality become the main objects of political and economic activity?” [11] Testo Junkie offers a tentative proposal; elaborating the myriad structural, economic, social, and cultural shifts that began during the Cold War. [12]

The changes in capitalism that we are witnessing are characterized not only by the transformation of “gender,” “sex,” “sexuality,” “sexual identity,” and “pleasure” into objects of the political management of living (just as Foucault had suspected in his biopolitical description of new systems of social control), but also by the fact that this management itself is carried out through the new dynamics of advanced technocapitalism, global media, and bio-technologies. [13]

Preciado argues that the world has entered a new stage of late-modern capitalism: “a new kind of hot, psychotropic, punk capitalism.” [14] They tightly characterize the precarious and dizzyingly complex web of processes to which this punk capitalism is heir.

Such recent transformations are imposing an ensemble of new microprosthetic mechanisms of control of subjectivity by means of biomolecular and multimedia technical protocols. Our world economy is dependent on the production and circulation of hundreds of tons of synthetic steroids and technically transformed organs, fluids, cells (techno-blood, techno-sperm, techno-ovum, etc.), on the global diffusion of a flood of pornographic images, on the elaboration and distribution of new varieties of legal and illegal synthetic psychotropic drugs (e.g., bromazepam, Special K, Viagra, speed, crystal, Prozac, ecstasy, poppers, heroin), on the flood of signs and circuits of the digital transmission of information, on the extension of a form of diffuse urban architecture to the entire planet in which megacities of misery are knotted into high concentrations of sex-capital. [15]

With the 1998 introduction of Viagra (sildenafil) into the market, phallic signification was reinscribed within the scheme of punk capitalism as “a pharmacological, theatrical fiction of virility.” [16] The midcentury was punctuated by Playboy, its dusk by birth control, and its explosive end by sildenafil.

Less obvious for an analysis of modern digital subjectivity is the role of architecture and visual arts for helping to decode the material-cultural legacies of vision and seeing for questions of selfhood. [17] Critic, visual artist, and filmmaker Hito Steyerl has narrated the “downfall of linear perspective” and the introduction of new models of spatiality and temporality, especially 3-D schemata. [18] In a central essay, she relates how late-modernity has produced subjective and epistemic “free fall” through the destabilization and unmooring of the objective, masculinist panoptic vision (linear perspective). Whereas in the past, the white male observer under modernism evaluated and categorized the world around him, the situation today is more complex. For her, this abstract (and ultimately fictional) modernist regime has been supplanted, or perhaps accelerated, by humans’ inhabiting of technology. Here, Steyerl notes her reliance on the work of (as of 2019, the late) German historian and film critic, Thomas Elsaesser. [19] On linear perspective, Elsaesser suggests that “this means of seeing…gave rise to a wide range of innovations like panel painting, colonial seafaring, and Cartesian philosophy, as well as the whole concept of projecting ideas, risks, chances and courses of action into the future.” [20] The new biopolitical regime that Preciado invokes, one that controls “subjectivity by means of biomolecular and multimedia technical protocols,” is characterized by “stereoscopic images and the 3-D movie,” both of which are, according to Elsaesser, “part of [a] new paradigm, which is turning our information society into a control society and our visual culture into a surveillance culture.” [21] Steyerl asks how we can “link…obsessive policing, division, and representation of ground to the philosophical assumption that in contemporary societies there is no ground to speak of?” [22] She suggests that “many of the aerial views, 3-D nose dives, Google Maps, and surveillance panoramas do not actually portray a stable ground.” [23] Rather, these new technologies “create a supposition that it exists in the first place.” [24] In the spirit of linear perspective, these new technologies “help to establish an imaginary floating observer and an imaginary stable ground.” [25] While Preciado self-consciously synthesizes the theoretical paradigms offered by Foucault and Deleuze, Steyerl implicitly invokes similar thematic concerns about the diffuse and omnipresent relation of technology to the mediation of subjectivity.

[The] displacement of perspective creates a disembodied and remote-controlled gaze, outsourced to machines and other objects. Gazes already became decisively mobile and mechanized with the invention of photography, but new technologies have enabled the detached observant gaze to become ever more inclusive and all-knowing to the point of becoming massively intrusive—as militaristic as it is pornographic, as intense as extensive, both micro- and macroscopic. [26]

With these new technologies, “[time] and space are reimagined through quantum physics and the theory of relativity, while perception is reorganized by warfare, advertisement, and the conveyor belt.” [27] Steyerl productively engages the work of Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe and British Israeli intellectual and architect Eyal Weizman to highlight some of the biopolitical implications of this epistemic shift; in particular, Mbembe’s concept of “necropolitics” and Weizman’s framework of “the politics of verticality.” [28] However, the ramifications of the pharmacopornographic regime on the politics of sovereignty and acts of physical violence against marginalized populations are out of the scope of this investigation.

Preciado notes that “[the] factory has become sexual; industrial work has turned into biopolitical labor; and what is being produced is gender, sexual desire, and subjectivity as multimedia commodities.” [29] Elsaesser adds a penetrating observation about the new technologies attendant to Preciado’s pharmacopornographic biocapitalist regime (their reformulation of Deleuze’s addenda to Foucault’s disciplinary society, what the former called the society of control): These new technologies are part of “an entire catalog of movements and behaviors, all of which are intrinsically connected to the monitoring, steering, and observation of ongoing processes, and which delegate or outsource what was once referred to as introspection, self-awareness, and personal responsibility.” [30] Aspects of the pharmacopornographic framework can be refracted through analytics offered by thinking through the affordances of the militaristic and pornographic gaze made possible by new technologies. That, as Preciado argues, “there is no inside,” is uncontroversial for critical theory and feminism today. That a fabulation of inside-ness is articulated and inscribed by a military-surveillance-entertainment industrial complex through the quotidian use of smartphones, and especially through the use of Snapchat by young adults, would perhaps raise some eyebrows.

The digital mediation of sexuality plays an important role in the commodification of, not only human desire and relationships, but also human subjectivity itself. Preciado’s analysis of Playboy in Pornotopia called for reading the magazine against the grain and offering thick description “outside of legal and moral considerations,” and also “outside of the sex wars and the endless traps of the feminist pornography debates.” [31] With Preciado, I do not believe in the fruitfulness of engaging these debates for the purposes of an imminent critique of biopower.

Snapchat and Biopower

Snapchat is a multimedia mobile messaging application used on smartphones. It was first released in 2011. Today, it is available on both Apple and Android platforms. According to the German statistics firm Statista, there were 210 million active daily users of Snapchat in the third quarter of 2019. [32] Most of its user base is composed of people born between 1981 to 1996, the cohort designated as Millennials or Generation Y; research suggests that its users are becoming younger and younger as time goes on. [33] A notable feature of the application is the (user-perceived) ephemerality of content shared between people. Messages, videos, and photographs will either disappear after a certain number of seconds, or after 24 hours, depending on chosen settings. Social scientists have commented on the psychological and sociological effects of this ephemerality as far as questions of perception, memory, and consciousness are concerned. [34] Susan Sontag argued that “[our] very sense of situation is now articulated by the camera’s interventions.” [35] When users exchange ephemeral photographs and videos with one another—content the company calls “snaps”—it can be argued that they are being articulated by the architecture of the digital platform itself. The intervention of the device and its rhizomatic linkages to our own sense of awareness takes on a certain kind of agency, if not, an authorship. I argue that, even at this seemingly innocuous level, Snapchat functions as part of a larger dispositif of biocapitalist biopower.

Preciado offers a helpful summary of biopower by thinking through its effects rather than its nature: it “overflows the legal and punitive spheres to become a force that penetrates and constitutes the body of the modern individual.” [36] In contrast to the sovereign power of the king, “[it] no longer behaves as a coercive law or negative mandate, but becomes versatile and response. It is a friendly power that takes the form of an art for governing life.” [37] The friendliness of biopower, of biopolitical dispositifs, in the context of neoliberalism and biocapitalism means that there will be an element of relationality between the instruments of subjectivation and normalization, on the one hand, and the subjects who are being normalized, on the other. Snapchat-as-platform is an extension of the phone-as-prosthesis. Its architecture, the way the application is formed, itself forms its users. It is a friendly platform that allows “friends” to “communicate” with one another, forming a sense of disembodied and virtual communication that is mediated by a profit-seeking corporation with well-paid engineers, marketers, and user-interface experts.

We begin to see the texture of this relationality in the very practices of visual culture and the mediation of information, what John Berger termed the culturally specific ways of seeing. [38] The urgency of this textural shift is not lost on Preciado: “We are witnessing today a mutation in the biopolitical devices for the production and control of the body, sex, race, and sexuality….” [39] It is true, Snapchat is not a chemical substance in the sense that Preciado imagines testosterone functions in the context of pharmacopornographic biocapitalism. Research has indicated, however, the dopamine-inducing effects of mobile phone use and the haptic/kinesthetic materiality of device notifications. [40]

Moreover, these digital platforms are quickly evolving beyond what German social scientists have studied as Alltagsgegenstände, everyday objects that are ready-to-hand for human use. These platforms and the materiality of their own embodiment, particularly mobile phones, reterritorialize the domains of human subjectivity by mediating, facilitating, and accomplishing human communication through a commercially interested apparatus that harvests data and informatics unconsciously yet (supposedly) consensually supplied by the user. They realign the very texture of identity by virtue of normalizing individuals and cultivating a new erotic subjectivity and sensibility. Recall that Elsaesser noted the exteriorizing of interiority in the new society of control. Preciado, in a similar vein, observes the accelerated character of this process and the way it is facilitated by objects—agents of technological biocapital.

In the body’s architectural techno-management, the pharmacopornographic industry synthesizes and defines a specific mode of production and consumption, a masturbatory temporization of life, a virtual and hallucinogenic aesthetic of the body, a particular way of transforming the inner in outer space, and the city in private junkspace by means of self-surveillance devices and ultra-fast information distribution, resulting in continuous and uninterrupted loops of desires and resistance, consumption and destruction, evolution and extinction. [41]

Snapchat has become just such a self-surveillance device. Beyond a helpful rhetorical heuristic, the application actually does tie pharmacopornographic biocapitalism, surveillance, the society of control, sexuality, and digital subjectification and normalization together. Nicholas Carah has argued that “[social] media platforms…continuously assemble identities, cultural practices and social spaces in relation to one another. In addition to targeted advertising, value is created by leveraging a continuous circulation of meaning and attention.” [42] This circuitous meaning-making apparatus is linked to Steyerl’s notion of epistemic “free fall.” The modernist and masculinist horizon is discursively reintegrated into virtual masculinity. Meaning is now interpellated as a virtual communication of identity; commoditized, serial, and encoded through practices of data management. This line of argumentation does not posit that Snapchat (and applications like it) are creating new cultures of subjectivity in a vacuum. Rather, like a cancer, they present new opportunities to mutate and infiltrate existing configurations of discourse, power/knowledge schemata, and dispositifs. But the evolutive function ultimately does, in the final instance, produce new modes of cultural production.

Preciado provocatively flattens the supposed differences between the variegated modalities of erotic and pornographic representation across media spectra. They argue that “[identical] codes of pornographic representation function in the images of the prisoners of Abu Ghraib, the eroticized images of Thai adolescents, advertisements for L’Oréal and McDonald’s, and the pages of Hot magazine.” Indeed, “All these bodies are already functioning, in an inexhaustible manner, as carnal and digital sources of ejaculatory capital. [43] If this is true, then what of self-produced pornography shared between users on Snapchat? The “architectural” dimension of Preciado’s Pornotopia invests architecture with far more agency than it has traditionally been accorded. The semiotic infrastructure of Snapchat becomes our (internal, subjective) infrastructure just as it (dialectically) adopts and incorporates the discursive regimes of heteronormativity by which we unconsciously abide. The pornography that users generate and send to one another furthers the discursive domains of capitalist accelerationism. Users respond to a message quickly: they see a notification, respond to a dopamine “hit,” and enthusiastically participate in the visual codification and commodification of their own bodies. The platform encourages this modality of subjectification by various haptic feedback loops: buzzing, bright colors, and noises.

Bianca Klettke et al. have defined sexting as “the sending, receiving, or forwarding of sexually explicit messages, images, or photos to others through electronic means, primarily between cellular phones.” [44] Self-generated sexting through Snapchat has raised a variety of legal questions, much as mass-production of conventional pornography in the mid-twentieth century did  Beyond the questions of legality (especially pertaining to questions of “revenge porn,” age of consent laws, and sexting between minors, or between minors and adults), it behooves the theorist interested in questions of feminism and feminist theorizing to ask why the digital mediation of sexuality, and the subsequent reframing of subjectivity through the digital, is a “problem” that warrants theorizing in the first place. Researchers have pointed out that, “[while] there are many social, cultural, and other instigators of change in pornography, technology is arguably the most significant contemporary influence.” [45] Ashton et al., in an important synthetic piece, would deny that self-produced sexual content on an application like Snapchat is pornography proper. They argue that “while the visual representation of these experiences could be described as ‘pornographic’, when technology facilitates interactions between two people using virtual space, it is not pornography but is better described as a sexual encounter or, if money is exchanged, sex work.” [46] Yet this dancing between pornography, the pornographic, or sexual encounters misses the point. As Audre Lorde highlighted, “The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women.” Indeed, for Lorde, [pornography] is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.” [47] Whatever Lorde signifies by “true feeling,” the power/knowledge that is embedded in the data machinery inherent in self-produced pornography and transmitted through Snapchat’s servers, mediated by mobile phones, is unlikely to qualify as such in the context of her essay. The “sharing” function of eroticism, as Lorde intimates, is elided in pornography as imagery functions as a stand-in for true feeling. [48] Preciado and Lorde would provide various strategies for resistance against the backdrop of a schema that obviates and elides true feeling.

While I have argued that Snapchat and digital social media platforms have brought into focus new forms of digital subjectivity that problematize modernist epistemologies of linear perspective and disciplinarity, the larger structural forces of gender inequality, heteronormativity, and racism are only elongated and retextured through the fabulations of digital discourse. Charteris and Gregory posit that “[the] systemic, or ‘structural’ level issues…are the entrenched gender inequalities that are inherent in wider cultural systems and are manifest through sexist and misogynistic digital practices. The coupled mobile technology and social media application are politically agential matter…that produces ruptures in normalized…discourses and surface social justice related issues associated with gender and race.” [49] The new frontiers that digital ways of seeing open should cultivate deep and abiding suspicion from feminist theorists as being sites of reproduction and redeployment of modes of aggression against women, people of color, and queer people.


This investigation has called to mind the various theoretical developments in light of contributions made by Foucault and Deleuze. From the disciplinary society to the society of control, Preciado has narrated the digital and subjective architecture of life under pharmacopornographic biocapitalism. Steyerl’s epistemological critique provided some ways of seeing, ways of conceptualizing a ground for critique of the discursive strategies employed by Snapchat to engage in interpellating (post)modern subjects into the pharmacopornographic regime. Snapchat’s haptic architecture was seen to participate in reconfiguring the subjectivity of its users by molding their cognitive maps after its own image. Preciado’s strong architectural determinism was utilized to frame some of the social and cultural consequences of transferring cultural regimes of heteronormativity into the realm of digital production, especially as this production enters realms of explicitly sexual content. A further concretizing of this initial study would engage in digital ethnography, anthropology, and sociology to examine how users articulate their experience of Snapchat, the ways they use these digital social media platforms, to express what Lorde understands as “sensation.” Of further interest would be a critical interrogation and evaluation of the strategies of resistance that Precaido (among others) offers in light to the pharmacopornographic regime.


[1] Paul B. Preciado, “Architecture as a Practice of Biopolitical Disobedience,” Log, no. 25 (2012): 126.

[2] On “Web 2.0” and “Web 3.0,” see John Markoff, “Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense,” The New York Times, November 12, 2006, Business Day, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/12/business/12web.html. On cohorts of digital subjectivity, see Olga Goriunova, “Digital Subjects: An Introduction,” Subjectivity 12, no. 1 (2019).

[3] See temporal compression and the entanglements between technology and late-capitalism, see Judy Wajcman, Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015).

[4] See the work of sociologist Ben Agger, The Virtual Self: A Contemporary Sociology, 21st-Century Sociology, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004), 114-15. See also Joshua Rothman, “As Real as It Gets,” New Yorker, April 2, 2018.

[5] See Susan Sontag’s explication of the mediatory effects of photography and the act of picture-taking in Susan Sontag, On Photography, Penguin Modern Classics, (London: Penguin Classics, 2008 [1977]), 11.

A photograph is not just the result of an encounter between an event and a photographer; picture-taking is an event in itself, and one with ever more peremptory rights—to interfere with, to invade, or to ignore whatever is going on. Our very sense of situation is now articulated by the camera’s interventions. The omnipresence of cameras persuasively suggests that time consists of interesting events, events worth photographing. This, in turn, makes it easy to feel that any event, once underway, and whatever its moral character, should be allowed to complete itself—so that something else can be brought into the world, the ph. After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) tit would never otherwise have enjoyed. While real people are out there killing themselves or other real people, the photographer stays behind his or her camera, creating a tiny element of another world: the image-world that bids to outlast us all.

[6] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley, vol. 1: An Introduction (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).

[7] See, for example, Elizabeth Reis, American Sexual Histories, 2nd ed., Blackwell Readers in American Social and Cultural History, (Chichester, West Sussex and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

[8] Paul B. Preciado, Pornotopia: An Essay on Playboy’s Architecture and Biopolitics (New York: Zone Books, 2014).

[9] Paul B. Preciado, “Pharmaco‐pornographic Politics: Towards a New Gender Ecology,” Parallax 14, no. 1 (2008): 107-08.

[10] Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (New York, NY: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2013), 25.

[11] Preciado, Testo Junkie, 25.

[12] It should be mentioned that Preciado establishes a new concept that operates throughout the text of Testo Junkie. This concept is supposed to be an “equivalent to the force of work in the domain of classical economics” (41). This concept is one they call “potentia gaudendi,” a sort of extra- and intra-discursive “orgasmic force” (41). They briefly gloss this highly inventive term as “the (real or virtual) strength of a body’s (total) excitation” (41). Upon reflection, my own read of this concept is that it is a more vitalist and Bataille-inspired version of Foucault’s “power/knowledge,” the dynamic between puissance and pouvoir. I am not especially persuaded by this necessity of this post-Spinozist pre-discursive field/force/effect. Along with Franco Palazzi, I share some reservations about the extent to which Preciado’s articulation of potentia gaudendi interfaces with more substantial groundings of the role of pharmacopornographic biocapitalism in the midst of neoliberal economics and the politics of immiseration, indebtedness, and austerity, as articulated by Maurizio Lazzarato, Antonio Negri, or Michael Hardt. As will be evident below, I attempt to retool aspects of Preciado’s framework (sans the philosophical concept of potentia gaudendi) and integrate them into a broader critique of neoliberal modes of digital subjectivation along the axis of what Thomas Elsaesser called the “military-surveillance-entertainment complex.” See Preciado, Testo Junkie, 41; Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, trans. Joshua David Jordan, Semiotext(e)/Intervention, (Los Angeles: Semiotex(e)); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004); Franco Palazzi, “Choose Your Pill: Operations of Capital, Psychiatry, and the Construction of Gender,” (Essay), Public Seminar Publishing Initiative at The New School, June 27, 2018, https://publicseminar.org/2018/06/choose-your-pill/; Elsaesser as quoted in Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, ed. Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, and Anton Vidokle, e-flux journal Series, (Berlin and Cambridge, MA Sternberg Press/e-flux journal and the MIT Press, 2013 [2012]), 29.

[13] Preciado, Testo Junkie, 25.

[14] Preciado, Testo Junkie, 33.

[15] Preciado, Testo Junkie, 33.

[16] Paul B. Preciado, “Pharmacopornography: An Interview with Beatriz Preciado,” interview by Ricky Tucker, The Paris Review, Blog, 2013, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/12/04/pharmacopornography-an-interview-with-beatriz-preciado/.

[17] See for example Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style, 2nd ed. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 [1972]), 45-56.

[18] Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 20.

[19] Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 23.

[20] As quoted in Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 29. After considerable effort, it was not possible to locate Elsaesser’s original essay as cited in Steyerl’s bibliography. Elsaesser’s essay was cited as “The Dimension of Depth and Objects Rushing Towards Us. Or: The Tail that Wags the Dog. A Discourse on Digital 3-D Cinema,” with two different links, both broken as of 17 December 2019. The problem is the same with the digital version of this (first) chapter, available online at e-flux at https://www.e-flux.com/journal/24/67860/in-free-fall-a-thought-experiment-on-vertical-perspective/.

[21] As quoted in Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 29.

[22] Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 24.

[23] Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 24.

[24] Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 24.

[25] Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 24.

[26] Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 24.

[27] Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 22.

[28] See Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, trans. Steve Corcoran, Theory in Forms, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019); Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003); Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality: The West Bank as an Architectural Construction,” Mute, Online Winter/Spring 2004, https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/politics-verticality.   

[29] Preciado, Pornotopia, 10-11.

[30] As quoted in Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 29.

[31] Preciado, Pornotopia, 10.

[32] “Number of daily active Snapchat users from 1st quarter 2014 to 3rd quarter 2019 (in millions),”  (Statistia). https://www.statista.com/statistics/545967/snapchat-app-dau/.

[33] Franziska Roesner, Brian T. Gill, and Tadayoshi Kohno, “Sex, Lies, or Kittens? Investigating the Use of Snapchat’s Self-Destructing Messages” (Berlin and Heidelberg, 2014).

[34] See, for example, Jessica Bushey, “Convergence, Connectivity, Ephemeral and Performed: New Characteristics of Digital Photographs,” Archives and Manuscripts 42, no. 1 (2014/01/02 2014). See especially Joseph B. Bayer et al., “Sharing the Small Moments: Ephemeral Social Interaction on Snapchat,” Information, Communication & Society 19, no. 7 (2016/07/02 2016).

[35] Sontag, On Photography, 11.

[36] Preciado, “Architecture as a Practice of Biopolitical Disobedience,” 122.

[37] Preciado, “Architecture as a Practice of Biopolitical Disobedience,” 122.

[38] John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, 1977 [1972]).

[39] Preciado, “Architecture as a Practice of Biopolitical Disobedience,” 124.

[40] Sören Krach et al., “The Rewarding Nature of Social Interactions,” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 4 (2010).

[41] Preciado, “Architecture as a Practice of Biopolitical Disobedience,” 127.

[42] Nicholas Carah, “Curators of Databases: Circulating Images, Managing Attention and Making Value on Social Media,” Media International Australia 150, no. 1 (2014): 137.

[43] Preciado, Testo Junkie, 49-50.

[44] Bianca Klettke, David J. Hallford, and David J. Mellor, “Sexting Prevalence and Correlates: A Systematic Literature Review,” Clinical Psychology Review 34, no. 1 (2014): 45.

[45] Sarah Ashton, Karalyn McDonald, and Maggie Kirkman, “What Does ‘Pornography’ Mean in the Digital Age? Revisiting a Definition for Social Science Researchers,” Porn Studies 6, no. 2 (2019): 145.

[46] Ashton, McDonald, and Kirkman, “What Does ‘Pornography’ Mean in the Digital Age? Revisiting a Definition for Social Science Researchers,” 159.

[47] Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Crossing Press Feminist Series (New York: Crossing Press, 2007 [1984]), 54.

[48] Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” 57.

[49] Jennifer Charteris and Sue Gregory, “Snapchat and Digitally Mediated Sexualised Communication: Ruptures in the School Home Nexus,” Gender and Education  (2018): 13.


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