We identify two forms. First, we inquire into a pattern of speech acts normative for the event. Second, we analyze the way in which these speech acts are stylized and included in the Commission's report.
We observe that the hearings were conducted in such a fashion that a specific mode of truth-telling was made to be normative. This effect was achieved and stabilized through a perfomative ethos that was established in the hearings (employing an obligatory tone of high civility). This mood neutralized explicit ethical and epistemological directives and claims.
In this Studio our initial diagnostic claim is that the Commission's dominant mode of truth-telling can be characterized as performative.
Our objective is to initiate an inquiry into the question of how this perfomative mode was made to be the norm?
The problem has two dimensions: the analytic and the anthropological.
The analytic dimension proceeds from Foucault's argument that exercise of frank-speech and performative speech are distinct and antagonistic, one to the other.
The anthropological dimension proceeds from the analytic to the instance under consideration.
We introduce three topics as ways to draw a distinction between frank and perfomative speech: effects, status, virtue. We treat these distinctions as parameters proleptic to reconstructive inquiry into the discordancy at the hearings on synthetic biology and ethics.
"However, there is a major and crucial difference. In a performative utterance the given elements of a situation are such that when an utterance is made the effect which follows is known and ordered in advance, it is codified and this is precisely what constitutes the performative character of the utterance.
In parresia on the other hand whatever the usual familiar and quasi-institutional character of the situation in which it is effectuated, what makes it parresia is that the introduction, the irruption of the true discourse determines an open situation or rather opens the situation and makes possible effects which are precisely not known."
12th January, 1983
"Second—still comparing parresia with the performative—you know that the subject’s status is important in a performative utterance [i.e. the subject’s status authorizes the legitimacy of the speech act]
In parresia on the other hand, and what makes it parresia, is that not only is this indifference not possible, but that parresia is always a sort of formation of the truth at two levels. A first level is that of the statement of the truth itself (at this point, as in the performative, one saysthe thing, and that’s that). The second level of the parresiastic act, the parresiastic enunciation is the affirmation that in fact one genuinely thinks, judges, and considers the truth one is saying to be genuinely true"
12th January, 1983
"Is parresia, then, a way of discussing? It does not fall within the provinces of demonstration, rhetoric, or pedagogy. Could we say it falls within the province of eristic? Is it not, in fact, a particular way of confronting an adversary?"
Michel Foucault 12th January, 1983
Parresia is not a question of the subject’s intentions—apart from intentions the enunciation can be parameterized in its relation to parresia.
This Studio is a remediative determination toward parresia. It diagnoses the deficiency of the President's Commission as a form and venue as well as shifting medium as an initial step in the remediatory process.
Testing the constraints of venue and form we orient toward the possibility of a different venue and form, not just procedurally, but also substantively.
This includes mechanisms where if someone accidentally speaks the truth it can be recomposed in the mode of a deliberation.
Even the representative from ETC, Jim Thomas, who was the most critical of synthetic biology, was predisposed to the deliberative mode. The ETC endorses a politics of deliberation. Moreover, their position was known and scripted beforehand.
Secondly, from the outset the only people formally invited to establish facts about the object are the technicians (that's their performative space).
The only truth question relative to this are the technical questions. Anyone who gives an ethical testimony is excluded from the question of what is synthetic biology.
A parameter of the deliberative mode is to structure truth-claims in such a way that they can be formulated as opinions.
When the powers that be make it impossible to advance understanding, the ethical response from those committed to science as a vocation is the obligation to be intransigent. Such a stance may take many forms, determining how to modulate them in a particular situation is the task at hand.