But hegemony requires a hegemon. Power requires a source.
A lot of distinctions that were useful and important are being
lost, and their loss creates the potential for enormous confusion.
Let me try to save some distinctions about forms of subjection--different
kinds and degrees of being subject to power...
[with apologies to James Davidson, _Courtesans and Fishcakes_;
Platon, _The Drinking Party_; Thucydides, _The Peloponnesian
Let us suppose that Agathon is giving a dinner party: about
20 people which will be held in the Males' Room of his house.
The food will be of the best--seared tuna fresh-caught and landed
at the Piraeus this afternoon, octopus, boar-fish sauteed in
oil and cheese, the new kind of olives called "Kalamata,"
honey-cakes, dates (the large kind, called "Medjool"),
and so on. The wine will be of the best--properly-aged amphorae
imported from the two Ionian Islands that make the best wine,
Lesbos and Chios. The company will be of the best--Sokrates,
of course (he somehow shows up at a lot of fancy upper-class
dinner parties for someone who places so much stress on his freedom
from sensual appetites), Aristophanes will be there trying out
jokes for his new play, Phaedrus, Alkibiades has promised
to drop by (and there is no one in Athens more handsome than
he, fresh as he is from his victories at the Olympic Games),
a few aspiring playwrights and aspiring philosophers, a few up-and-coming
politicians. For entertainment there will be professional musicians,
and the flute-girls and courtesans, of course.
Agathon is giving a dinner party. But I cannot go. I cannot
... I am chained to the wall in this underground barracks.
30 feet long, 6 feet wide, 5 feet high, in which I spend my time--with
eleven of my fellow slaves--from dinner until breakfast. When
the work-day for my overseers neared its end, they fed all twelve
of us our spare meal, marched us down the hill to this barracks,
and chained us here to the wall to sleep. When morning comes
they will unchain us from the wall and chain us together, feed
us our spare breakfast, and then march us up the hill and into
the mine, where we will spend all day digging silver and dodging
the blows of our overseers' whips. The silver we dig is one of
the foundations of Athenian power: it buys wheat and oil from
the lands of the Black Sea, timber from Lebanon to build the
Athenian triremes, and more slaves to replace us in the silver
mine when we die (and we do die: only half of us twelve will
be alive two years hence).
... I am a sharecropper, in debt to Nikias, bound to stay
and work the land here in North Attica, far from the City sacred
to Athena the Grey-Eyed. Even though I live only twenty miles
away, I have never seen the temple of Athena the Virgin ("Parthenos").
... I *must* go to Agathon's party. It is my job to go.
I appear in the body of world literature as the auletris, the
flute-girl, on whom Alkibiades leans as he enters and asks if
the party will "welcome as a fellow-drinker anyone already
so terribly drunk." I will play my flute (probably not very
well). Then I will take off my clothes and go with one of the
party-goers out back. I could make more if I would ride him like
a pony, but I would rather not have to smell his breath...
... I have to go work at my job. My name is Phaedo. Since
my native city was sacked five years ago, I have been sold from
master to master until now I have wound up here in Athens. My
master thinks that he can make best use of me by hiring me out
as a (male) prostitute in the Pottery District. So during Agathon's
Party I will be sitting in my little 6' by 6' cubicle, waiting
for customers. Nevertheless my master is not a bad master. He
only makes me work 12 hours out of 24, and he allows me to go
where I please within Athens (for I have given my word of honor
as a gentleman not to try to escape). And I have made friends
here--Glaukon, Platon, Sokrates--and their friendship and conversation
helps me forget for a while while I am off duty what my master
commands me to do.
... I will go because it is a good business move for me
to go. Well, it is not a business move, exactly. It's sort of
hard to explain. I am Phryne. When it became known that I was
going to bathe in the ocean a crowd gathered, and 1000 Athenians
watched me come out of the sea dressed only in my wet tunic.
Praxitales--the leading sculptor of our age--was so taken with
how I looked that he used me as a model for his statue of Kytheran
Aphrodite. Perhaps you have seen it? More likely you have seen
a picture in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence for which Praxiteles'
statue served as a model: it's called "The Birth of Venus,"
and was painted by Sandro Botticelli. I will go to the party.
I will flirt, gossip, and exchange witty sayings with the guests.
Many of the men there have already given me presents, *large*
and *valuable* presents. If they have brought more to give me--if
they are handsome enough--if they are witty enough--then perhaps
after the party I will go with one of them to his house. But
... I could go. I am Agathon's wife. I could go to the
party, and listen to Aristophanes read scenes-in-progress, and
watch Sokrates tie some slightly-drunk politician who wants to
defend the conventional wisdom up in so many verbal knots. Nothing
bad would happen to me if I went. Agathon would not divorce me,
or beat me (as husbands have the right to do). But I would lose
much status were I--an upper-class Athenian woman, a married
wife--to enter the Males' Room in which the party is taking place.
My husband Agathon would lose much status too. And he is a good
man. So I will not go (although I will listen with my ear to
the wall during, and eat the leftover tuna after, the party).
... I could never get invited to Agathon's dinner party.
I am an honest citizen of Athens, a skilled metalworker. But
I'm not rich. And to go to fancy dinner parties with seared tuna,
you have to give fancy dinner parties with seared tuna. My money
goes to keep my family comfortable and to provide proper dowries
for my daughters. Not that Athens is a bad place to live, you
understand. When business is slack I can go down to the Piraeus
and sign on as a rower in the navy. No citizen of Athens need
be poor, at least not as long as the silver keeps flowing out
from the mines under Flowerhill and the tribute keeps coming
in from the empire. No one tells me what to do. And when I have
time I go to the Assembly, listen to the speakers, vote on peace
or war, and when we feel like it we exercise our people-power--our
demo[s]-cracy--and tax Agathon, Alkibiades, and company to pay
for our public festivals, our strong long walls, and our triremes.
... I am Gylippus, envoy from Sparta to this decadent licentious
city of fish-eating demogogues. The Archidamnian War between
Athens and Sparta is over. But the peace was not a real peace--now
we have a Cold War, in which the Athenians stir up the Argives
to try to erode Spartan hegemony in the Peloponnesus while we
encourage the rich and the good in Ionia to stage coups to unseat
their pre-Athenian "people-power" regimes. We Spartans
don't like decadent, Athenian-style dinner parties. When we eat,
we eat to fuel our bodies. When we drink, we drink to get drunk:
big cups, strong wine. When we f***, we f***. But now is the
time to conspire. And later will be the time to kill.
... I can't go. I had an invitation from Agathon--he wants
to come to my next dinner party and I, Nikias, am richer than
him. I would dearly love to go. But the Assembly meets tomorrow,
and I have to speak. It is becoming clearer and clearer that
the Archidamnian War was but the first page of a bigger struggle,
and that the peace was just a truce in this larger "Peloponnesian"
War. We Athenians need to plan to strengthen our empire and our
forces for when the Spartans next attack. Some think that we
should draw our allies in Sikilia closer to us--make them part
of our empire, assist them in their struggles against Carthage
and against the Tyrant of Syrakusa. I need to speak on this tomorrow,
and I first need to decide whether such a Sikilian Expedition
is good for our city. So I have to work tonight: decide what
I am going to say to the sovereign Assembly tomorrow, and then
outline my speech.
Now let us assume that anyone truly free would go to Agathon's
dinner party. No matter what your ends--no matter what your deep
desires are--good food, great wine, sex, companionship and laughter,
amusement, music, conversation, philosophy--they are all to be
found in Agathon's house, at least if you get to go into the
Males' Room and be a full participant.
Thus anyone who doesn't go to Agathon's house is under some
form of subjection, is oppressed, is subjected by some form of
power that keeps them from the party. "Hegemony" is
exercised upon them--albeit not in "homologous ways."
Instead, the "power relations" to which all those who
don't go to Agathon's party (and the auletris and Phryne who
do) are subject are marked by "repetition, convergence and
rearticulation" and are "bound up with the contingent
sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power." There
is a sense in which Gylippus--who doesn't go to the party because
it isn't a Spartan Thing--is as subject to power as the mine-slave
who doesn't go to the party because he is chained to the wall
in the dark.
But there is also a sense in which these two experiences are
not the same. Gylippus may be "subjected" in the sense
that the reasons he doesn't go to the party were imposed on him
from outside by the same forces that made him a subject (in the
meaning of someone who does deeds and experiences events). The
chains that hold the mine-slave to his barracks were also imposed
on him from outside. But the--may I use the word "subjective"--experiences
of Gylippus and the mine-slave are very different.
So I don't think we get much insight into the different ways
(and the different degrees to which) the people who don't go
to Agathon's are unfree, are subject to power if we look inside
Judith Butler's _The Psychic Life of Power_. The mine-slave chained
to the wall, the farmworker bound to his shack by chains of debt,
the (female) whore with her less visible chains, the (male) slave-whore
chained by his previous capture and his sense of honor that makes
him keep his word not to escape, the courtesan with her lighter
chains, the wife with a different but similar set of forces excluding
her from the party, the Athenian citizen not of the hoplite class
chained by his lack of wealth, the Spartan general chained by
his spartan upbringing and his Lacedaemonian duty, the Athenian
politician chained by his sense of duty to the democracy--these
are all very different situations. What is really gained by calling
all of these people's unfreedom by the same name? How do we gain
insight into what is really going on by playing word games that
blur distinctions between the subject [of a king], the subject
[of a sentence], and the subject [in the sense of one who acts
Thus I think that this discussion has run into a complete