Monthly Archives: September 2005

Steve Wright

“Pondering Information and Communication in Contemporary Anti-Capitalist Movements” From The Commoner. July 2001.

Razor-wire Imperialism

Weekly Worker 489 Thursday July 17 2003
Razor-wire Imperialism
From Guantanamo to Kumingting to Campsfield, detention without trial is used to divide and rule. John Hutnyk calls for an international working class response…





LP/CD by

(the back cover includes a quote from Critique of Exotica, and see track 6, thanks un)

KWark review of Rumour of Calcutta

Against Mother Theresa

John Hutnyk’s Rumour of Calcutta, reviewed byMcKenzie Wark
Wednesday, 10 September 1997

dead link above, but republished HERE.

Clarissa Lee

Steve Shaviro

The Pinocchio Theory never lies.

Jodi Dean

Cultural studies, political comment and other curios from the USA


The Box Brownie camera, circa 1962, was clearly designed for ease of use. Anyone can just pick it up, focus, and shoot. Rather hard to see the image in the viewfinder if I remember correctly – but I am not so sure I do remember this – its taken on the veranda of grandfather Thomas Tate’s house in Melbourne. Jx

The Dialectic of Here and There

This is the abstract and first couple of paragraphs of an essay I have coming out in the journal Social Identities in January. I include it here because I’ve just heard that Sivanandan will speak at Goldsmiths on Oct 5 (4pm).

The Dialectic of Here and There:
Anthropology ‘at home’ and British Asian Communism


Ethnographers in Britain seem to have by and large ignored left political activity among South Asian settlers on these islands. The lustrous career of South Asian communists active in the UK is however not to be romanticized and of course there were many more people not involved in class politics than can be registered in the annals of communist champions. But it is clear that the groundwork for many of the kinds of political positions taken for granted today were forged in adversity and struggle under scarlet flags. That this again means that not everyone is involved in left wing groups and causes today goes without saying, and again it should not need to be pointed out that an overly rosy view of the inheritance of South Asian politicals would be inappropriate and misguided (but all those slightly strange left wing uncles and aunties do have an influence). The point is that given the really existing conditions into which most South Asian youth are born in multi-racist Britain, and given the heritage to which they can, if they wish, lay claim, it should be no surprise that comprehension of the struggle is ‘imbibed as if with mothers milk’, as one informant described it to me. Why has scholarship singularly failed to register this?

Keywords: South Asian, communists, anti-racism, imperialism, history, Britain.

Anthropology ‘at Home’

‘labour in the white skin cannot be free if in the black it is branded’ (Marx 1867:301)

In a short story collected in Where the Dance Is, Ambalavaner Sivanandan tells the tale of a meeting of a Marxist study group in a pub in Hampstead, probably sometime in the 1970s. In this engaging story, (semi-autobiographical?) a Sri Lankan PhD student at the London School of Economics, going by the name of Bala, is invited to a meeting by Clarence, an acquaintance from home now resident in the ‘mother country’. Bala is uncertain as to just what is required of him:
I was not sure how to play my role: as a red insurrectionary or as black militant (Sivanandan 2000:48).

The four white comrades bought him drinks for both affectations, but when the discussion turned to the issue of immigration into Britain it was Clarence, the ‘senior immigrant’, who won the most approval, and a kiss from one of the women, for a position that should readily be recognised even amidst the smoke and fug of the mid afternoon local boozer. As the story tells it, Clarence ‘mumbled and spluttered incoherently about the responsibility of the mother country to its children and ended up declaring, “we are here because you were there”‘, something Bala had heard before. The meeting broke up, with the next Saturday scheduled as a discussion of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire.

The story goes on with various intricacies, the woman who kisses Clarence cooks a curry for Bala, Bala gets to know something of Clarence’s life in Britain, but the main point in retelling this scene is neither appreciation of Sivanandan’s accomplished literary talents, nor to rehash some scenario in mockery of the curry-cooking patronising white left woman Tessa, but to register the movement that Sivanandan always tries to effect: the complication and extension of thought beyond platitudes and slogans, achieved always also from an activist’s perspective. The formula ‘we are here because you were there’ may in fact have the ring of truth, and it makes an excellent chant, and must needs be said. But saying it for approval, saying it into the ether, saying it without consequence deserves critical attention too. Sivanandan questions the motives and context of sloganeering even in the very heart of a Marxist cell meeting discussion of immigration in the days when Compendium bookshop was still a fixture and visits to Cuba were the norm. Sivanandan shows us exactly where romantic attachments and the deceits of too easy acceptance only allow platitudes when more is required. As to what happens at the end of the tale, without giving the story away – its called ‘The Man Who Loved the Dialectic’ – a nuanced Marxism makes more sense of the predicament of contemporary life than that afforded in any other conception.

What then for writing about South Asians in Britain that would do more than rehearse either the trite axioms of identity politics or the romantic attachments of essentialist stereotype? On two sides there is a seductive danger and all too easy exoticist trap – playing the ethnic card and falling for ethnicist stereotypes have been the preserve of many who would write, with good intentions, the history of South Asains in Britain. On the one hand those who have appropriated the role of documenting Asian identities in the metropole, on the other metropolitan identities playing up to expectations. For convenience sake this essay identifies this double trap in the congealed positions of anthropologists writing on South Asians in Britain, and in their identitarian informants – and it uses the critical position of a British – South Asian communist history (the subject matter that stems from Sivanandan’s fictional study group) as the counterfoil that disrupts this duality.

The procedure of taking category and classification in advance of observation and discussion has reified and fixed a conservative set of stereotypes. To assume that caste, kinship, arranged marriages and religious tradition are the main keys to comprehension of the social and political experience of South Asians in Britain is a common delusion. A delusion born from the work of anthropologists bent on finding rural and village subjects conveniently replicated in metropolitan settings. This is a conservative anthropology in the extreme, owing more to allegiance to old categories found ‘over there’ than politics and experience of people with agency ‘over here’. Not to say, of course, that caste, kin and religion are or were unimportant, but, as we will see, equally worthy of attention could be workplace and neighbourhood organisations, trades unionism, political activism, socialist and communist party affiliation, rallies and other such associations. It can be argued that the organisational history of South Asians in Britain has been particularly obscured by a blinding culturalism attuned only to the exotic. The worst consequence of this exoticism is to reduce the ‘migrant’ worker to a timeless and rural pre-political unconsciousness – an imperialist oversight that replicates ethnicist fantasy and depoliticises by means of reified culture…..JH

Art Education Congress

I have to give a talk in Athens on friday. Here is the abstract I sent. For a paper to be written on the plane (well, the notes to be reassembled and rearranged again and again, as ever rewritten in the hours leading up to the talk…). Its for the European Art Education Congress.

On the relation between art and theory

John Hutnyk (Reader in Cultural Studies, GoldsmithsCollege)

I work at GoldsmithsCollege where there are two competing agendas reshaping the nature of University (art) teaching. My work has been in part a political exercise to explore these contradictions. On the one hand there is great interest in practical and engaged research, or art-research/research-practice, as a series of interventions and interruptions interweaving both practice and theory, or relating both productivity and research not as opposed but simultaneously cross-referential and co-constituted with one another.

On the other hand there is an increasingly bureaucratised, compartmentalised and accounting-ified regime of documentation and forms which hinders all creative theoretical exchange and reduces teaching and creativity to drawing-by-numbers.

Art has become commercialised and instrumentalized to an astonishing degree both in terms of consumption and as practice (examples: Tate Modern and the tourist economy; Banks and mining industry sponsorship of artists; the branding of Goldsmiths as cool brand Art College).

The commercialisation of teaching is also well advanced; the teaching factory and its ‘improving’ functions are more and more instrumentalized and industrialised as a part of a general trend (examples: fee paying programmes to earn export revenue; productivity gains, increased class sizes, degraded facilities; reduction of teaching to ‘technique’, not pedagogy).

This instrumentalization is common to our total social world – everything, even our conversations, becomes a calculus, and a resource. The same logic infects children’s fantasy novels right through to the global war of terror – our ‘model’ way to understand these things is too often merely profit and loss. We now even draw up such tables to evaluate the most esoteric of our practices. Heidegger’s notion of Enframing, and Adorno’s notion of the Culture Industry suggest we need more than a revaluation of Art teaching, rather a fundamental rethink of the relation of theory to practice, and of intellect to production.


On cultural nationalism

On cultural nationalism – Slavoj Zizek has recently debated Geoff Boucher in the pages of Telos, and from their discussion its possible to glean a revealing set of conections between the Symbolic or Law and how it is supplemented by the real, or ‘solicited excess’.

Enlightened cynicism is supplemented by ideological enjoyment of ethnic nationalism such that cynical distance through to protestations of support for democratic politics are supplemented by the perverse or obscene excess of bureaucratic enjoyment, such that liberalism, multiplicities, even ‘alliance politics’ are the symbolic forms that are secured through the unacknowledged superego support of the obscene. The meaning of the former is secured by the latter – the secret dependence of democratic politics upon national enjoyment takes varied forms, whether it be the novelty of the ‘third way’ politics, the love-thy-neighbour posturing of multicultural tolerance, or ‘radical’ reforms (drop the debt campaigns perhaps), even ‘Struggles for cultural recognition …[are] secretly supported … by compliance in deed, if not in words, with nationalistic rituals’(Boucher 2004:160). The best these modes of ‘politics’ can claim is to be the human face of the obscene enjoyment generated by the capitalism-nationalism nexus. Zizek points to the need to break from these supplements to destroy the logic of their excessive unconscious attachments – discursive unity is secretly supported by venal enjoyment (Zizek 2004:164) and he would have done with this kind of ‘rainbow coalition’ against populist fundamentalism in order rather to ‘aggravate’ class difference into class antagonism (Zizek 2004:186).

Zizek/Boucher – ref in Telos 2004.

On inoculations

On inoculations – “Apocalypse Now”

There is a scene in the film Apocalypse Now where Kurtz (Brando) is telling Captain Willard (Sheen) of the incident where a South Vietnamese village’s children had been inoculated against smallpox by the US forces. In a vicious ideological hack job, we are told that when the marine medics had left the village, the Viet Minh returned and hacked off each inoculated arm. A pile of little limbs in a heap in the middle of the village. The ‘sheer genius’; of that, says Kurtz. ‘We will never defeat them’.

Remember that Kurtz, and Willard, are on a wholly western quest. Upriver, towards ‘the Horror’ (Conrad’s manual replaced by special ops documentation). What book does Kurtz throw at the spaced out photographer (Hopper) to silence him? An anthropology text – The Golden Bough – by the consummate armchair anthropologist, Sir James Frazer. Famed for never having gone on any quest, ‘heaven forbid’, Frazer is reputed to have said at the prospect of meeting the savages he wrote about. Something here stands for the futile arrogance of those questing inoculators who, surely, just want to help the other (to health, to democracy). To want to help in this way is the same complicity that anthropology always had as handmaiden of colonialism, only nowadays this is reconfigured so that the social sciences, and culture, is to be reworked in the service of globalisation.

On Sampling – Against Paul Simon.

On Sampling – Against Paul Simon.

(From an essay ‘The dialectics of European Hip Hop: putting the fun back into Fun^da^mentalism’, published in the most recent edition of the journal South Asian Popular Culture 2005).

The demonization of Islam – which was established in the wake of Soviet Communism’s collapse. The early moves that manufactured a new enemy have now been replaced by the crusading ‘war on terror’, which targets Asians of all stripes within and beyond national borders and the rule of law, and irrespective of any consideration of allegiance to peace, civic life, evidence, coherence. With this context in mind, we might consider earlier skirmishes of the music market as little more than incidental. But politicized motivation was never more explicit than in the response of Paul Simon to Fun^da^mental’s ‘crossover’ efforts on the album ‘Erotic Terrorism’ (Nation 1999). The reconstructed world music impresario’s follow-up album after ‘Graceland’ (Warner Brothers 1987) was called ‘The Rhythm of the Saints’ (Warner Brothers 1990). It used recordings of a town square performance by the Brazilian percussion ensemble Olodum, which were taken back to New York where Simon ‘improvised music and words over them and added other layers of music’ (interview with Bob Edwards, quoted in Taylor 1997:64). Taylor adds that it is Simon who profits – his position in a powerful economic center – the United States, a major corporation – means that he cannot escape is centrality, despite his assertion that he works “outside the mainstream”’ (Taylor 1997:203). It is then curious to compare the moment of appropriation – another key misleading term – with a parallel incident. When Fun^da^mental recorded a version of Mr Simon’s song ‘The Sounds of Silence’ for inclusion on ‘Erotic Terrorism’, their request to clear copyright for the sample was refused. Asked for permission once again, Simon was offered the publishing rights for the new version, with an additional backing vocal, but Mr World Music again said ‘no’, citing legal precepts and refusing further discussion (author interview with Aki Nawaz). Noting the power of some musician-entrepreneurs to own and control, and the cap in hand reliance on name stars and gatekeepers for those who might want to breach the conventions of music industry protocol, the track was renamed ‘Deathening Silence’, sample removed. The retelling of these conjoined tales about Mr Simon is not to make an equation between the selfish, or rather self-interested, conceits of copyright legalese and the more serious debacles of racism, anti-Islamic profiling and the anti-people pogroms of the state machine. But who would be surprised if someone did equate such ‘cultural’ power with the way the war on terror legislates special rules that permit detention without charge or trial in the USA, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, etc? Even though such a connection was anticipated in Fun^da^mental’s ironic album title reference: ‘Erotic Terrorism’. Thinking of the Detention Camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, certainly there is some credence to Fun^da^mental’s pre-September 11, 2001, prophecy that ‘America Will Go to Hell’ – in their anti-war anthem EP release from the same period as ‘Deathening Silence’ (America Will Go To Hell Nation 1999). The use of hip-hop to express a critique of American (and United Nations, NATO or British Military) imperialist activities makes Paul Simon’s legal enforcement of silence something less than neutral and this conjunction surely indicates also a more nuanced relationship between politics and content than the unidirectionalist historians of hip-hop might warrant. The ‘deathening silence’ here is not only a comment on record industry ownership of lyric and melody, but also references the ways commercial imperatives sanction quietude about the politics of so-called anti-terrorism and the inadequacy of romantic and liberal anti-racism. No mere hybridity, Fun^da^mental’s call is to fight against the seductive terrorisms of complicity and conformity, the manipulation of market and law, the destruction of culture and civilization in pursuit of oil.

What kind of change in the apparatus of the culture industry would be required to orient attention away from the industrial military entertainment complex? What would displace the ways people in the music press and mainstream academic community consistently deploy categories that are far removed from the actualities articulated in the Fun^da^mental discussion? These critics appear deaf to ideas. I think it is clear that many misconceptions come from well-intentioned deployment of arguments around terms like ‘visibility’, ‘appropriation’ ‘complicity’ and ‘commerce’. That it is no surprise that intentions and their effects are readily undone is almost a platitude. The solution is not to insist on the correctness of an alternate interpretation (see Kalra et al., 1998, Sharma et al., 2000) and it is equally not the case that insistence on fidelity to the source material will redeem all (but a listen to the albums and a check of the websites is worthwhile – combating sanctioned ignorance advanced through media bias is an obligation we must all take up[1]). These are probably the predictable moves that others have already made, but if raising questions about complacency in commentary adds impetus to the work of showing where a critique of unexamined complicity and marketing zeal restrict possibilities, then the opening is important.

[1] The term ‘sanctioned ignorance’ is from the always-insightful Gayatri Spivak (1999) Critique of Postcolonial Reason Harvard. The ref to Kalra 1998 is a special issue on ‘music and politics’ of the journal Postcolonial Studies. Sharma 2000 is to a special issue on ‘music and politics’ of the journal Theory Culture and Society vol 17, no 3. For other refs just email me.

Time For Revolution

In Japan, they got the message, but they attached cats to it, which I
think is pretty cool I guess. Live the tiger life!

Time for Revolution. Hey hey hey. (Thanks Wade)


Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural Studies, Pluto 2004

Hutnyk packs more dynamite in his sentences than any other writer I know.’ Amitava Kumar, Penn State University

Cultural Studies commonly claims to be a radical discipline. This book thinks that’s a bad assessment. Cultural theorists love to toy with Marx, but critical thinking seems to fall into obvious traps. / After an introduction which explains why the ‘Marxism’ of the academy is unrecognisable and largely unrecognised in anti-capitalist struggles, Bad Marxism provides detailed analyses of Cultural Studies’ cherished moves by holding fieldwork, archives, empires, hybrids and exchange up against the practical criticism of anti-capitalism. Engaging with the work of key thinkers: Jacques Derrida, James Clifford, Gayatri Spivak, Georges Bataille, Homi Bhabha, Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, Hutnyk concludes by advocating an open Marxism that is both pro-party and pro-critique, while being neither dogmatic, nor dull.

Pluto Press 2004


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