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<nettime> 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








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