The examination as mechanism

wade tillett on Fri, 25 Jan 2002 04:15:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The examination as mechanism

‘The only thing that should be going into that room is you and the clothes that are on you.’ I hand them my ID’s (A driver’s license and a credit card). As I sit down to check in, I look past the desk through the glass window at others taking the test. The testing room is bleak. No pictures on the wall. No pictures on the wall in the entire suite for that matter. The most prominent features is the video cameras hanging down form the acoustical tile ceiling. The tiles have been slid back, as if constant upkeep is necessary on the video lines. A camera is positioned over each station. The stations are divided by standard office cubicle furniture. As I am informed of the rules yet again, I watch the people taking the tests on the monitors in front of me and contemplate that it will soon be me This spatial foreshadowing I suppose is meant to instill a feeling of fear of surveillance and result in compliance with the rules: I am given 3 pre-sharpened pencils and 6 sheets of gridded tracing paper, stapled. I am not to remove the staples. I am to turn in all 6 sheets of tracing paper before leaving. (Each sheet has rules printed again on the top.) I am not allowed to bring anything into the room, all personal belongings, wallet, purse, coat, food, drink are to be left in the provided locker. I am to keep my ID visible at all time. I am to raise my hand for assistance. I am not to remove the papers. At each station is a computer, a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and mousepad. I sit my id down on the desk as instructed. No, not there, I am informed, as my escort places my ID on the top of the extended edge of the desktop computer, fully visible to the camera above my head looking down at me. In addition to the individual video surveillance, time-lapse recorded, is audio recording, fish-eye mirrors at the center of each ceiling-wall juncture, and the large window looking in from the desk that I was just looking through. It is strangely quiet, I think as I read the on-screen instructions on how to use my mouse. With the time counting down in the right hand corner, I wonder what happens to those answers I give back to the questions. The mind is being probed for agreement. It is being probed for conductance. A question runs through wire, enters visual apparatus, is processed through a living cellular structure, and re-enters the wire via a key-entry system. In this way, the conducting capacity of the living cellular structure is tested. Is this cellular structure, isolated and surveilled, quantified and identified, able and willing to function as a semi-autonomous (i.e. blind to their non-autonomy) part of the state economic system? How much resistance was provided? Were there any irregularities? Was the feedback relatively clean, and above all, predictable? Now I see why it is necessary to isolate the body: in order to nullify it, in order to remove all potential proliferation, communication. Besides adding the air of legitimacy to the test, the constant surveillance implies a nullification of the body that allows a probing of the mind. The screen before the beginning of the test explains that all test questions and answers are confidential. Any attempt to remove any paper from the test room will be counted as an irregularity. Procedures for disputing questions are to filled out immediately after the test. Complete opacity. The scoring considerations on all the documentation I read beforehand were intentionally vague. It never says how things are scored, or what percentage is needed to pass. I called up my friend who had already taken the test. Surely he would know his percentage, the scoring procedure, and what was needed to pass. He informed me that his score report only told him that he passed. ‘That’s it? No score?’ I asked. No. I think it is around 75% he said, but it is curved. I had heard 70% and not curved elsewhere. So one takes a test in order to become licensed. The actual contents of the test are not exposed. The actual scores are not divulged. The system of scoring is cloaked in mystery. Thus, the greater truth is exposed: the test is not at all about evaluating ‘competence’ through scores (isolation), nor is it about evaluating ‘conformance’ of your ideas to theirs (surveillance). The intentional implication of the testing apparatus is that the test functions as the opaque black box that allows a legitimate yet concealed transformation of knowledge to power. In fact, it is not the user that is given power through a subjugation to conformance testing of the state apparatus. The testing apparatus is, in fact, only the simulated, false object, the decoy, that allows the actual mirrored power agreement to take place. The actual transformation is not one in which the user transforms knowledge to power. The actual mechanism that occurs is that the subject first transfers his power into the system to legitimate the system, the system then transfers power back to the user, thereby legitimating the user. In other words, the mutual agreement accomplished by the test is this: you gamble on a position afforded by the state by pledging to uphold the legitimacy of the state, therefore the state is legitimized. Thus the position handed to you by the state is legitimized. By professing the legitimacy of the state apparatus, you set up your own legitimacy of position within that state. This is how discourse begins. This is the function of the exam: an agreement is made. You agree. Despite the fact that your scores are hidden from you. Despite the fact that the standard is hidden from you. Despite the fact that the questions and answers are hidden from you. Despite the fact that you and everyone else are prohibited from sharing questions and answers (thereby removing all possibility of comparison and therefore second guessing). Despite all this, you agree. The system is legitimate. Not coincidentally, and not unknown to you, therefore the position the system doles out to you is also legitimate. You agree not to question the opacity. You agree to participate in the opacity. You agree not to question the results. You agree to follow the procedures of dispute that are provided precisely to prevent questioning of the overall procedure. You agree to place yourself within the machinic opacity order to receive a position within it. And the mesh-like structure, which atomizes the individual to a reduced set of (visual) bodily characteristics, which removes any potential communication or support network, serves to ensure the non-subversion of the power/privilege apparatus. Power is ‘distilled’ from the user so as to prevent the corruption of the power structure. This is not an act of morality, although it is roundly professed to be. It is merely a mechanism of self-preservation of the structure of power. It legitimates the process. It hides the actual agreement. It ensures participation. The test, through isolation and surveillance, facilitates an agreement whereby the subject is reduced to an atomic unit of power, a power-in-kind with the system. The system responds with a privilege, an image, a shell, a position, a self for the subject. The subject justifies the system, thereby justifying the self, through the support of the system. The system justifies the subject, thereby justifying itself, through the support illicited from the subject. This is the creation of the reflexive dual circle of self-justification. This is how the knowledge/power economy is set up and perpetuated. This is how the circular process of state-legitimacy and self-legitimacy is constructed. This is how privilege and power perpetuate themselves. ‘Please fill out this exit survey so that we can serve you better.’ Was the testing center comfortable? -Wade Tillett # distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission # <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism, # collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets # more info: and “info nettime-l” in the msg body # archive: contact: