Monthly Archives: May 2007

Black Hole


It is 250 years since the Battle of Plassey. Why this atrocity? One among many… And what did it leave us historically? Clive, then rampant, was later to top himself, devastated and doddering, back in England. But not before the manufacture of that story about Calcutta that many know and mention, even if thy omit/forget/forge the details. The details are, at least by some accounts, seriously suspect.

Plassey was retaliation by the English for the Black Hole of Calcutta ‘incident’. Since the story of this Black Hole must be told, it can be in a critical version: Marx calls the incident a ‘sham scandal’ (Marx 1947:81). In an extensive collection of notes made on Indian history, Marx comments that on the evening of June 21, 1756, after the Governor of Calcutta had ignored the order of Subadar Suraj-ud-duala to ‘raze all British fortifications’ in the city:

“Suraj came down on Calcutta in force … fort stormed, garrison taken prisoners, Suraj gave orders that all the captives should be kept in safety till the morning; but the 146 men (accidentally, it seems) were crushed into a room 20 feet square and with but one small window; next morning (as Holwell himself tells the story), only 23 were still alive; they were allowed to sail down the Hooghly. It was ‘the Black Hole of Calcutta’, over which the English hypocrites have been making so much sham scandal to this day. Suraj-ud-duala returned to Murshidabad; Bengal now completely and effectually cleared of the English intruders” (Marx 1947:81) 

Marx also reports on the subsequent retaliation against and defeat of Suraj-ud-duala by Lord Clive (‘that Great Robber’ as he calls him elsewhere Marx 1853/1978:86), and Clive’s 1774 suicide after his ‘cruel persecution’ by the directors of the East India Company (Marx 1947:88). There seem to be very good reasons to conclude that the black hole incident is counterfeit. The single report from a ‘survivor’ some months after Clive’s savage response to Suraj-ud-duala’s occupation of Calcutta – the massacre which was the Battle of Plassey – reads very much like a justification forged to deflect criticisms of brutality on the part of the British forces.

There is a confernce about Plassey on 24th June, 2007, in Whitechapel. Organized by the Brick Lane Circle. For details contact 07903 671787

For more on this black hole fakery, see Macfarlane, Iris 1975 The Black Hole, or the Makings of Legend, Allen and Unwin, London.

Refs:
Marx, Karl 1947, Notes on Indian History, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow.
Marx, Karl 1853/1978 On Colonialism, Progress Press, Moscow.

A Radical Education.


Education is not a model good.

I went to hear a pretty interesting discussion from Irit Rogoff, Florian Schneider and Kodwo Eshun as part of the build up to their Berlin Education Summit. There’s been quite a bit of chatter about this on various lists, which is fine, but this was the first time in a while I’d really tuned in (battling a debilitating sense of we’ve been here before and before and before [for sanity's sake I've disabled the previous three links]). Irit kicked off with comments on two tendencies in thinking about education in Europe, the Bologna Process aiming at some sort of compatibility conversion coherence across degree offerings in the EU countries. The second tendency a proliferation of self-organising Arts School formations, or what Florian called ‘non-aligned initiatives converging around “education”‘. Education here is becoming a ‘model’ for various initiatives, where the key terms are, it seems to me, ‘new methods’, new initiatives, new models, ‘radical pedagogy’, ‘collaborative work’ and proposals ‘to change the terms of the debate away from a purely bureaucratic engagement with quantitative and administrative demands and from the ongoing tendency to privatize knowledge as so-called “intellectual property”‘. So far so good. I guess. The Summit is the coming weekend.

I did not take accurate enough notes at the talks, but I was a little uneasy even where I welcome these ideas and where I have a lot of ground on which to agree. The problem is that when we think of Education as a model, I want to retch for my gum. What is it to promote education as a model in the new economy – creative economy, culture industry – context of the abstracted immaterial multitudinous spaces of net-activism et al? I am not convinced.

Here, for example, a key sentence I would like to discuss:

‘The model of education has become central to a range of creative artistic practices and to a renewed interest in radical pedagogy. As a mode of thinking an alternative to the immense dominance of art as commodity and display as spectacle, education as a creative practice that involves process, experimentation, fallibility and potentiality by definition, offers a non-conflictual model for a rethinking of the cultural field’

Seems to me there are several things going on here. Not all of them thought through as radically as might be. Forget the ‘non-conflictual model’ since this is relegated to the cultural field and we know that class conflicts are not operating there, correct? The ‘thinking as alternative’ to art really does grab me. An alternative to commodified art, though, would be what? Fabulous possibilities distract me – Popular votes on which pictures hang on the walls. The Tate Modern emptied out. No more National Gallery souvenir postcards. Free access, and free coffee, to all museums? No, that is not what is meant – what we have is a renewal of experimentation, creative practices, process and potential. Although interestingly the word ‘fallibility’ cuts diagonally across these invigorating, but you have to admit, fairly standard educationalist terms, I am not concerned too much with the threat this model will pose to commodification. Confined to the cultural field or not, this is, surely, just what the smartest employers want – new thinking, new opportunities.

Rather, it seems, the model of education needs to be rethought, since this kind of modelling is perhaps one of the main ways in which the promotion of education is a promotion of some pretty old modes of thinking. This thinking is smuggled in at the very moment that it claims to be new. A radical pedagogy in a context where education is seen as a good model, is still education that has not thought through the ways this very model operates to train operatives for hierarchy within the cultural economy and hierarchical society at large. Education as a model has not yet thought through the ways education is not simply or unproblematically a social good.

There is another view; someone might be forgiven for insisting that education is more often about affirmations and consolidation of eurocentric, patriarchal, hierarchical class-based, systems of Fortress exclusion. The playground as learning curve, leaning towards the tuck shop, the in-group, the out-group, the fashion parade, the Cinderella School for Creative Types, the finishing School for corporate dining, the Endomol drill surveillance routines, the preparatory sessions for international diplomacy, the wanker complex, the God complex, military formation, alpha drones, beta drones, innovation and incubation centres, career prospects CV padding, cultural studies clubs and Diners’ Club, life skills, open day – these and many more ‘lessons’.

I totally agree that the old collegiate model of Education should not be protected, worn and frayed as it is. But to renovate that model with a ‘radical pedagogy’ without questioning the projected model as model is also suspect. For conflict then. For delinking from Capital, since breaking the divisions between those inside and outside the old model can also prepare the ground for even greater commodification, commercialization. What if we saw education as a Trojan Horse for exactly that old enemy, and then looked for ways to tow the thing out to Margate and burn it down.

“They have something of which they are very proud. They call it education. It distinquishes them from the goatherds” – Nietzsche, I think from the fifth section of part one of Zarathustra.

Kodwo of course then started his talk with anecdotes and humour, and thereby twisted all this around in several other directions. I am not so sure his trip to Mumbai, testing (another great educational game) Mike Davis’s formulas about slums by making a film, will work to displace the deeply entrenched prejudices that slum-talk now carries in theory-circles (see here), but his notion of education as creative sabotage is as appealing as his insistence on talking about Scritti Politi and Luciana Parisi from CCS. Futurism, delinking from capital, creative sabotage, fallibility, the pre-emptive unalignement from models and – did I hear a feint echo – the ruthless criticism of everything that exists (Marx to Ruge) were bouncing around even as the model was reinforced. If this is the way the Summit goes, it will be an engaging weekend at school indeed. All summits need a good saboteur.

Amitava Kumar writes again


A new book – a novel! – by my good friend Amitava Kumar. Get it. Don’t delay. See here for reviews and so forth.

Home Products
February 2007

A film director asks Binod, who is a journalist in Bombay, to produce a portrait of a murdered girl, a poet killed by a politician by whom she is pregnant. The director wants a script about small towns, desire, compromise and intrigue. Probably he wants masala. Subtle and articulate, his sensibility shaped by the classic films of a high-minded and austere boyhood, Binod undertakes to draught a Bollywood story. Unlike Binod is his cousin Rabinder, in Hajipur jail and full of plans. Arrested for turning his cybercafe into a porn parlour, Rabinder is a doer, with dreams of entering films.

Home Products is the story of Binod and Rabinder, brought up as brothers, one a man of hope, the other of appetite, whose ambitions unexpectedly intertwine. As it unfolds, a complex world comes to throbbing life, moving from Motihari where Binod was born, and George Orwell before him; to the Bombay of film, imitation and enterprise; via Delhi, its calm shattered by an assassination and riots.

In the broad sweep of this stunning first novel, acclaimed non-fiction writer Amitava Kumar charts a tale of sexual anxiety and anarchic impulses in a society steeped in crime. Detailing the search among its members for order and artistic brilliance, written with extraordinary inventiveness, Home Products brings aglow the struggle against small-town beginnings. It reminds us gently, and incisively, of our anxieties as middle-class individuals in a middle-class nation.

See his weblog here

current mood: frowning at weekend’s end.


Tell me why Bob-’is this it’-Geldolf was on the FA cup TV coverage opening speeches thing? He’s a dancing fool and annoying to boot, plus his daughters apparently graced some fashion show at Goldsmiths last week. Charitable spawn. Give me a good reason why the College should endure visits by a micro-Paris double act?

So I am thinking maybe Weird Al Yankovic could be recruited to do a satirical remake of the Boomies’ only single, rewwwriting the lyrics with the family in his sights (not that I’m gonna shoot the whole day down)…:

I Don’t Like the Geldolfs

The credit card chip inside her purse
is always on overload.
And trixipeach’s not gonna go school today,
cos daddy makes them watch bad shows.
And Bone-head don’t understand it,
He sold Africa for a pot of fool’s gold.
And he cashed her in
with his shit-eatin grin
What reason do you need to be shown on TV? etc etc…

Poignancy in Space

This post from Anti-Popper is brought forward to here to inaugurate a new series of ‘posts from the past’ – historical division – sci fi. Heh heh. The humanity of Adama and Jameson – is doggited.

“Saturday 16 December 2006

galactica: my friend the blob

“I can’t find my ancient copy of Battlestar Galactica 2: The Cylon Death Machine, and it hurts. Of course, because I’m such a fan of the current series, it doesn’t seem likely that a novelisation of the original, cheesy Battlestar Galactica would have a place in my heart, right? I mean, my brother got me Fredric Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions for my birthday — I couldn’t possibly like this kind of trash, which barely passes for “real” science fiction, right? But I was a big fan of the original Galactica, for two reasons:

  1. While it was undoubtedly drab in comparison to Star Wars, Galactica was shown frequently enough on TV to simply work its way, on a rhythmic level, into my playground fantasies when I was seven years old. And it’s not as if I hadn’t found “finer” sf, either — I was also reading Isaac Asimov’s robot stories at the time.

  2. By fleshing out all the aspects of the show that were atrophying under the family-oriented network TV regime of the day, the novelisations made Galactica seem so much better than it really was. Like many media tie-ins, Robert Thurston’s first couple of Galactica novelisations were based on the original scripts, and written several months before shooting. In Galactica’s case, this meant Cylons that weren’t clumsy walking toasters who couldn’t shoot straight (a last-minute change dictated by the network), but murderous lizards who (according to Thurston) thought bitchy thoughts about their superior officers, waited impatiently for promotions, and were driven crazy by the itches that developed under all that heavy armour!

Writing about my loss of The Cylon Death Machine is particularly poignant for me because the event is so recursive. From what I can remember, the novel’s narrative was interspersed with extracts from Commander Adama’s personal log — The Adama Journals — in which he muses about all sorts of seemingly random and inconsequential shit in the middle of the tactical emergencies of the time. Adama’s log is, of course, very bloggy. In this log, he finds the time to mourn how so much Caprican culture was destroyed in the apocalyptic Cylon attack on the Colonies. But rather than honour high culture, Adama chooses to remember pulpy kids’ science fiction: his own favourite childhood book was called something like Sharkey the Star Rover, and featured the insterstellar wanderings of an orphan human boy, Sharkey, and his best friend, an alien blob called — of all things — Jameson. Adama requests of a search of all the archives in the fleet, but alas, the book is lost forever. Just as I’m not quite sure whether I remember this book correctly, Adama wonders if his memory of Sharkey The Star Rover is accurate. Sharkey loves his alien friend Jameson, who receives much racist abuse from other humans. And yet Sharkey also wishes Jameson were a real boy, instead of a blob, so that he could hold him, and thus physically express his love.

I miss The Cylon Death Machine, and thus, Sharkey The Star Rover.”

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Posted by jebni at December 16, 2006 10:44 AM | TrackBack”

resonance beyond text

Julian and I are clearly going mad. We sit in the pub after work for a pint and instead of watching football or something normal, we plan a response to the new Arts and Humanities Research Council plan to fund research on the theme ‘Beyond Text’. Our troubles with beyond text have to do with its narrow textualist framing even when it mentions sound and objects – the framing seems to be largely in terms of language, reading, vision and grammar. I am not so silly as to quote Nietzsche to the Government (‘you believe in Grammar – you believe in God’), and clearly this first draft is not the one we will want to send either. Good thing this is a weblog unread by the enemy, huh. Still, got to put it somewhere or it will burn.

______

Hey AHRC folks:

We welcome the opportunity to contribute some thoughts to the formulation of the research programme Beyond Text.

We are especially interested to pursue the idea of ‘literacy and competence associated with media other than written text’ because we recognise in this an implication that engages with our research on the possibilities and potentials of different conceptualisations of the formation of knowledge and meaning. In particular we would stress the reconfiguration of thinking about the senses as something we would want to push to be genuinely innovative. We agree that Beyond Text offers many opportunities for this, and we suggest the following concerns be taken into account

- the privilege of the visual concept of knowledge. We suggest that in the second part of subdivision on Text and Image in the Framework document, the question seems too narrowly framed within the visual when it asserts that ‘we read texts: it is a practice of vision’. Certainly this is the conventional conception of texts, but if the aural or other senses are taken as reference, perhaps another tone might be heard. Where the question is framed as ‘how does this visual practice differ from, and relate to, the ‘reading’ of drawings, images, objects and the world itself?’ we would want to ask if there are other conceptions of reading Beyond Text and different to the way the visual structures knowledge (deferring in time, utility, sounding acoustomatics [thanks Brian]) . For example, a critical combative model of knowledge might be asserted, questioning tone, the timbre or tenor of argument, investments in affect etc. This is perhaps to be asserted as different to the register of pointing, indicating and underscoring knowledge, and the visual-geographical division of knowledges into fields etc.

- the privilege of structure. Following on from the above, a literalist model of Beyond text could imply also a geography of knowledge. Starting here, we want to travel ‘Beyond’. We think this can be usefully complicated by thinking of Beyond Text as also implying pre- and outer-, sub- hyper and non-text.

- a privilege of inscription. We are particularly interested to note the reference in some of the documentation to silence. Text includes gaps – these gaps need not be thought of as physical or visual (space between words is time and conceptual difference, as well as a fact of typography). Amplifying the idea of silence and the un-known (known knowns, unknown unknowns etc…) we are interested in the unnameable. We are interested in projects (or abjects) that attempt to find expression for, and address, the unnameable, or the process of articulation of naming the unnameable.

- the privilege of one model of process. Instead of a given order of knowledge, we are keen to assess conceptions of knowledge, memory, performance, (interpretation, reception, witnessing) which do not begin or end with the unquestioned object. Affect, embodiment (embodied knowledges) excess, audiospherics, abstraction, obstruction and deferral (in time, in emotional impact, as decay) are also important. What kind of questions are possible if we reverse the privileges of linearity, order words, ordering grammar, structures of disciplining thought? Is it possible to transmute grammar into registers other than language? We are interested in a grammar of motives (Burke), a grammar of metaphor (Miller), a grammar of excess (Bataille). We are interested in the structuring of knowing bodies (a grammar of embodiment – Ingold, Grassini), and we are interested in the possibility of thinking knowledge as affective, emotive, moving, multiply registered, critical, dialectical, triangulated, post-visual, wild, echoing, algebraic; and we are keen to evaluate resonance, dynamism, proximation, and contrapuntal or atonal notions of knowing. We want to imagine thinking of knowledge through other than the usual ideas about memory, vision, utility, and to reconfigure knowledge as sensuous in relation to music and sound, to touch, fear, cause, consequence, import and consideration. We are interested in the potential of a challenge to things as they are seen to be. We welcome the opportunity to raise these issues.

Further Feedback:

Our research on creativity, diaspora, hybridity, communication and transmission of cultural topi, is governed by our investigation of these themes. We believe a distinct contribution is possible as consequence of rethinking Beyond Text in a radical, critical mode. Our past research investigates how sonic dimensions of migrant and diasporic culture differ from visual and written texts in the expression of subjectivity, affect and identity; and we particularly explore how the ‘embodied’ and ‘performative’ aspects of sonic cultural production register markers of (regional, ethnic, class and gender) identity, which other media are less able to do or must do in different ways. We believe such research challenges the conservative implications of essentialist ideas about migrant identity, and certain current versions of globalisation, creolisation, hybridity and multiculturalism. The innovative character of sonic research enables more productive understandings of the power relations between dominant and diasporic communities, and perhaps enables the creation of new theoretical and conceptual tools with progressive implications for other areas of investigation (e.g., how sonic rather than visual culture informs and constructs other cultural fields and social formations).

_____

blah de blah blah bla… and this isn’t even for the money. More an indication of how anything worthwhile gets twisted when you try to write it into the formulas and forms of research council funding frameworks. Still, underneath the paving stones… the research we want to do… what we do… see the what;s on pages soon for some of it. Now, Wolves v West Bromwich Albion.

The AHRC framework consultation document is here.

Show Trial Traffic

For an example of my getting miffed at lack of attention – see here

And for an example of my getting too much attention, from racists, bigots, fools and looneys in rapid succession, see here.

Ha ha ha.

To a certain extent I could understand the lack of reference to a book you’d read but decided to ignore. Fine fine – chronic paranoia aside, I am mostly only sensitive to the ways recognition, or should I say ego-affirmation, is withheld, in the academy, insofar as it relates to relatively weak buying power in the midst of this core global capital urban mash up city of not-so-cheap diners and astronomical transport charges etcetera etcetera. Reckon I am due a raise for putting up with this, but really, rereading Max Weber’s ‘Science as a Vocation’ essay is always a kind of calming reassurance.

But these other, anonymous, right wing, anti-student, anti-education (full fees because students benefit! – spare me, what about employers who benefit much more from the added value corporate leaders ask us explicitly to put into the heads of our clearly automated charges… grrr) lunatic fringe, god-botherin’, Islamophobic, middle of the tarmac, shitbrains… are accurate and informed about very little. Except that they are right of course on the tragic fact that I take myself far too seriously, mum.

PhD students who might dare think for themselves within the CCS are of course subject to show trials. With text/phone-in voting for the verdict. Stay tuned (and thanks for visiting).

More on Hybridity

Nabeel makes some very good points in response to my post yesterday on Timothy Taylor’s discussion of hybridity. Especially interesting bit about seeing things through the peculiarities of your local predicament. He also pointed out a book I did not know – Marwan Kraidy on Hybridity as the cultural logic of late capitalism. I’ve published much on the idea of hybridizing capital, so will read Kraidy with interest. For the record, here below a little more on hybridity as such – an attempt to systematize my problems with the term. This was for a ‘Box’ that was eventually dropped from our book Diaspora and Hybridity:

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Perhaps in the end we can identify the main parameters of a ‘career’ of the term hybridity as it has been discussed here:

– implications of biological and botanical heritage, the mongrel as infertile mix contrasted to the creative splicing of horticulture
– the term redeployed and reconfigured for culture and creativity
– creativity more often than not located at the margins, where the mixing ‘is’
– hybridity implies an anterior pure, a centre, or a tradition
– or it implies that everything is hybrid, and if so, what is gained from using the term when the old categories of race, class and gender are not exhausted?
– the term as noun is
essentialising and fixed, processes of hybridization suggest agency
– the term does duty to exclude a more adequate attention to politics, social inequality, economics, the South
– but what sort of politics can be founded on hybridity that might be adequate to oppose the cultural logic of capital, co-option and commercialization?

Does it matter what model or structure is used to map these terms? Is identity a double play or a network? Is hybridity a mix of two or more? To what degree are these terms interwoven? Is it clear that difference is relational, if not necessarily binary in terms of self and other, or of identity and difference, so if there is a range of relations at play and the term implies a positional dramaturgy? Could this argumentation be repeated for each of the terms under discussion in the culture salons? Does it matter that the specificity of these models remains opaque? The social construction argument is old and tired, however attractive, surely it offers nothing more than a means of erudite self satisfaction? So what does it mean to say cultural identity is fictional, constructed, a socially agreed illusion? And then to recognize that it still has its effects? This is a necessary but ultimately barren step if it leads only to the consequence of appreciation of some sort of complex reality: so what? It has become commonplace to declare that meanings are always translated, interpreted, negotiated and contextual – not fixed, but shared – so does greater awareness of the context of these translations offer a possibility? Any possibility? Is there a potential intervention around race to come in these discussions of identity, difference, hybridity and translation? Why are there so many that claim so? Is it impertinent to want to make a critical evaluation of these claims and to do so with an ambition that would both reject and extend them?

****

And finally, I’ll also carry forward these references from the comments page after the Taylor post. My response to Nabeel includes this:

I found you can read the first chapter of Kraidy here: Kraidy pdf. I had not seen this when I wrote my bits for the book “Diaspora and Hybridity”, but those bits can be seen in short form here: as Contact Zones, or here, and in fuller form in the journal ‘Ethnic and Racial Studies’, Volume 28, Issue 1 January 2005 , pages 79 – 102.

My other favourite texts on hybridity are mostly pretty well known, but I list them here anyway:

Brah, Avtar and Coombs, Annie 2000 “Hybridity and its Discontents”, London: Routledge.

Garcia Canclini, Nestor 1995 Hybrid “Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity”, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Papastergiadis, Nikos 1998 “Dialogues in the Diaspora: Essays and Conversations on Cultural Identity”, London: Rivers Oram

Papastergiadis, Nikos 2000 “The Turbulence of Migration”, Cambridge: Polity Press. Lowe, Lisa (1996) Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics.

Beyond Exoticism

Timothy Taylor has a book out with Duke, 2007, called Beyond Exoticism. I asked him if he’d seen my book Critique of Exotica from 2000 – I note that he cites an early edited version of what became the first chapter – but he says it did not get in. Damn. So I wrote him while I was reading his chapter on hybridity and what he calls ‘Bhangra Remix’.

Of course I told him I thought it a pity he’d not discussed mine, given similarity of title and some themes – so it goes. Pique pique. But then also asked him if he also knew the Graham Huggan book out the year after mine, The Postcolonial Exotic, 2001? And David Toop’s earlier Exotica? All are interesting. Of course then I looked back at Taylor’s book, and saw the Toop volume is mentioned there. That’s good.

Anyway, as I’ve just read Taylor’s chapter on hybridity, I want to start a debate… he briefly discusses work that a group of us have been doing for some 15 years now. So, given his comment that we ‘set aside’ important political aspects of the music (this is not the usual criticism we get), I’m disappointed he didn’t get a chance to see that we have often explicitly discussed Asian Dub Foundation et al., in terms of a black politics, and that we did so especially in the 1996 book (Dis-Orienting Rhythms), again in the two journal collections (that I’ll list below), and again in mine (Critique of Exotica, chapter 2). There, black politics is not at all ‘set aside’, but rather is a very important guiding framework for our work. Sanjay Sharma and Shirin Housee also wrote a very important piece in the book Storming the Millenium that contextualises this discussion. How could all this work be overlooked? I think there are reasons, and will explain below. But before I do, lets admit its true that there are perhaps ways in which someone writing today – seven years after Critique, and more than ten years after Dis-Orienting Rhythms – might need to discuss the shifts in politics occasioned by increased attacks on Asians in the wake of the War On Terror. Such writing is of course underway – and much discussed at our conference in December last year at Goldsmiths. I’m disappointed Taylor does not adequately address these shifts (that some might think of as a shift away from a ‘black’ politics, but I am not convinced – the category black as a political term is not a skin tone), but at least it is a welcome change to be tested on this score by a musicologist, rather than always hearing complaints that we ignore the music in favour of radical leftism.

I’ve some minor quibbles with Taylor’s description of ADF as hip hop, not drum and bass, or as a ‘could have been Public Enemy’. This strikes me as too easy – a kind of imperious assumption that hip hop is the prism through which all parts of culture production must only be seen – a kind of blinding by bling perhaps, and though we do not ignore it, we do address more dexterous translations of hip hop and other influences – not merely as hybrid mash-up. There is a book edited by Dipa Basu that examines just this. Now, its heart warming to see Taylor endorses some of what I say – about commercialisation of exotica and on radical hybridity for example – but I think he misses a lot of the detail because he is thinking these things through the prism of a west coast musicology frame. Nothing clearly wrong with that I guess, but I would have liked to see some involvement with the politics of these issues, not only scholarly comment. That’s black, that’s not. He endorses my question ‘What would a radical hybridity look like?’, but now I want to ask for a radical scholarship alongside radical hybridity. Yep, this is something I am very keen to promote. Can Taylor fire up? Not everyone has to join the communist party or even sign up with Adorno within the academy – but I am concerned that scholarship slides into knowing quietism. And why does he seem to not like Adorno? – saying at the end of the book that he is ‘not ready to follow the Adorno route’. This of course is not necessarily to endorse the fabricated and erroneous versions of Adorno that prevail in universities these days, but I am curious to know why he felt the need to end the book with the usual ‘Adorno-thought- consumers-were- all-just automatons’ routine? I think its good to remember that Adorno wrote his essay ‘On Jazz’ under the pseudonym Hector Rottweiler

But back to the hybridity chapter – I have issues with words. If Taylor had given us something on Bhangra Remix’s non-London roots, or even acknowledged them, this would have been good. Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester are a very big part of the story. There is a sense that the Anokha clubnight that broke the scene commercially was just the mainstream cash-in on a music that was middle and northern England well before then – as Virinder Kalra keeps on pointing out, most of the interesting early stuff – Bally Sagoo, Malkit Singh, Apache etc., – comes from a one mile square block of Birmingham. So I think ‘Bhangra Remix from London’ is not the best term – and describing early Bhangra as ‘a kind of rock/pop played by South Asians in London’ also erases some important specificities, the Melas, the various clubs, the nights at the Hacienda, Sankeys Soap, etc. Debates about terminology were, as Taylor says, all important – and the bands themselves, at least Hustlers HC, ADF and FDM, were first to insist theirs was not ‘Asian Cool’ (Aki said the only Asian Cool he’d heard of was the street protests in Manningham, circa 1995) and I never heard anything on Nation called ‘Bhangra Remix from London’. I wonder why Taylor settled on that term? I know it later became the phrase most often used in the NYC scene – by Sunaina Maira, for example, in her first article for us in Postcolonial Studies 1998, but even there in NYC, Vivek Bald complicates the terms – see his great film Mutiny. My worry here is that musicology becomes scenic (hegemonic) definition, and engagement in politics, or in the politics of knowledge, gets left aside a little if these things are not continually destabilized. And here is the clincher – it demands a radical scholarship, engaged and involved. As Taylor says in the very last lines of his text, ‘the stakes have never been higher if we are to understand the world and leave it for the better’ (p212). For mine, understanding and leaving it at that ain’t the best way to translate an earlier version of this sentiment. Let’s rephrase the terms: ‘The philosophers [musicologists?] have only interpreted the world [music], the point is to change it’ (11th Thesis on Feuerbach – old beardo, my brackets of mirth]

Ah, now I’ve written this out these seem like minor matters of disagreement on the whole. Even jealousy (clearly). And this is not a book review, not yet – I should say there is much in the earlier chapters that is great, and there is a fun chapter, after the hybridity one, on country music that is very cool. The trouble is that here a critique of hybridity that should have been attractive just did not live up to the billing – it marrs an otherwise pretty good book. So let me just clearly say that on the whole I enjoyed the book very much, especially the early chapters, and most of all the commentary on the opera Schehrezade.

Just to be thorough (this’ll no doubt look like harassment, but its not meant to be) I’ll list some of the relevant stuff we’ve done on Asian musics here:

1996 Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. Zed books, London

1998 ‘Music and Politics’ special issue of Postcolonial Studies Vol 1 no 3, (co-ed Hutnyk and Virinder Kalra)

1999 Sharma, Sanjay and Housee, Shirin ‘“Too Black, Too Strong?” Anti-racism and the Making of South Asian Political Identities in Britain’, Jordon and Lent (eds) Storming the Millennium: The Politics of Change. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

2000 ‘Music and Politics’ special issue of Theory, Culture and Society Vol 17 no 3 (co-ed Hutnyk and Sanjay Sharma)

2000 Critique of Exotica: Music; Politics and the Culture Industry. Pluto Press: London.

2005 Diaspora and Hybridity – authors Virinder Kalra, Raminder Kaur John Hutnyk. Sage: London

2005 Hutnyk, John ‘The Dialectics of European Hip-Hop: Fun^da^mental and the Deathening Silence’ South Asian Popular Culture 3(1):17-32

2006 Ali, Sayyid V.Kalra (eds) A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain – Hurst, London

2006 Hutnyk, John ‘The Dialectic of Here and There: Anthropology ‘At Home’ and British Asian Communism’’ Social Identities 11(4):345-361

2006 Dipa Basu and Sid Lammelle (Eds) The Vinyl Ain’t Final London, Pluto

Cookbook DIY video

Additions to my Pantomime Terror routine. At last, got round to describing the video from Fun^da^mental as previously discussed.

The video itself is pantomime on film. The first verse, about the manufacture of a home made bomb, is performed – as is the entire clip – by a dress-up figure before the camera. At the very first appearance this figure appears wearing a white rabbit head. This is strange and already disturbing, but I think references in some oblique way, a kind of cute or innocent image that belongs to the Britain of pet bunnies, or of the world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. That this innocent quickly transforms into a lizard figure is commensurate with the fear that demands a constant vigilance – the otherwise unassuming neighbour becomes a threat. The lizard figure becomes a Zebra – again invoking a kind of infant menagerie – before becoming again the rabbit. But looking more closely, the figure here is wearing a St George t-shirt, thereby clearly signifying nationalism at one level, but also citing the popular world cup publicity picture of Wayne Rooney as dragon-slaying hero, saviour to English football fans. This complicates any easy ascription of innocence to the rabbit/zebra/lizard, and – without implicating the English striker – it suggests perhaps the home-made bomb is very much home grown.

In between the verses, disturbing flashes of dolls tied up, ransom images that tamper with our comforts. Childrens’ toys blasted into the political scene. A graffitist works on a banner alongside.

In the second verse, the bomb-maker is now a 31 year old PhD disaffected with conventional or domestic means of protest, now gone over to the side of organised resistance. Speaking as if to camera at a press conference, or perhaps as if in a video prepared for Al Jazeera broadcast. This figure is insistent, aggressive. Dressed at first as a twisted student in graduation robes, kaffiyeh and graduation hat, half way through the verse this figure changes into someone in balaclava and the ammunition belt of a mythic revolutionary figure, possibly reminiscent of Pancho Villa or Rambo. This character, the bandit-terrorist, turns the volume of threat up considerably and at the end when the character spins a revolver on his finger and turns to someone in a plain dirty white hooded sweatshirt – ‘it takes a dirty mind to build a dirty bomb’. But this grubby image surely suggests we are mistaken to locate this threat outside of Europe – in the murky theatres of violence, in the lawless badlands. The point here is to underline the hypocrisy of our geo-political conventions, this image indicative of a failure to appreciate the co-constitution of such badlands with the dubious foreign policy decisions of the imperial powers.

In between verses, images of toy cars, computer games, football paraphernalia and other trinkets from our early adolescent pastimes. The graffiti still not readable.

The final verse clinches the argument about militarism. The ‘legitimate scientist’ working at his bench in his white lab coat, sponsored by the research funding of the Pentagon, UN flag behind him, developing the most destructive weapons of mass destruction ever know. That half way through the verse this figure transforms into the sinister figure of a Klu Klux Klan member in white hood and smock, then into suited ‘Lord of War’ wearing a gas mask, presumably only the bureaucrats will survive total war. All this is perhaps heavy-handed, but nevertheless the critical points are not misplaced, the metaphoric substitutions work. The projected indications are sound, the neutron bomb is the violence of racism, of class/bureaucratic inhumanity, the cold clinical cynicism of the (mad) scientist in the employ of even more mad (mutually assured destruction) masters.

By this stage the point is made, finally the full quote is visible from the graffitist. It is a citation from an American president, necessary only to provide a space for reflection while the tune fades. ‘If we make peaceful revolution impossible, we make violent revolution inevitable’ – JFK.

[Watch the video directed by Kashan W Butt, Nation Films, 2006, here: http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xb0hcy
Fun-da-Mental - Cookbook D.I.Y by bbpradi0]

lyrics:

I’m packed up ingredients stacked up my Laptop
Downloaded the military cookbook PDF
Elements everyday chemicals at my reach
Household bleach to extract the potassium
Chlorate Boiling on a hotplate with hate
recipe for disaster plastic bomb blaster
I mix up 5 parts wax to Vaseline
slowly … dissolve in gasoline
add to potassium in a large metal bowl
knead like dough so they bleed real slow
Gasoline evaporates… cool dry place
I’m strapped up cross my chest bomb belt attached
deeply satisfied with the plan I hatched
electrodes connected to a gas cooker lighter
switch in my hand the situation demands
self sacrifice hitting back at vice with a £50 price

I’m 31.. numb …but the hurt is gone
Gonna build a dirty bomb
us this privilege and education
My PHD will free me
Paid of the Ruskies for weapons grade Uranium
Taught myself skills from Pakistan Iran
upgraded its stage two of the plan
Rage… a thermo nuclear density gauge
stolen by the Chechens from a Base in Georgia
I get some cobalt 60 from a food irradiator
so easy to send the infidels to their creator
its takes a dirty mind to build a dirty bomb
The simplicity is numbing genius is dumbing
down the situation to a manageable level
to make the world impossible to live for these devils
a suitcase of semtex a mobile phone trigger
Blow them all to hell for a million dollar figure

I insist I’m a legitimate scientist
paid by the government with your finances
I got a private room in the Whitehouse suite
So I can develop according to presidential Brief
The megaton don Gulf war veteran
The foremost proponent of the neutron bomb
at the centre atomic surrounded on all sides
wrapped in layers of lithium deutaride
the bomb detonates causing lithium to fission into helium
tritium neutrons into Fission
The blast causes shockwaves that melt body fat
uniquely though it leaves the buildings intact
I made the 25 megaton daisy cutter
a great blast radius with very little clutter
There’s less radiation so you get a cleaner bomb
its your money people it cost a billion

Nawaz/Watts. Nation All is War 2006

 

Comedy Terrors

Working out a new angle for a paper for Germany. Feeling like I need to do something with a few laughs. Hence, this opening…

A new figure of fun in British media has an ominous underside, and yet on reflection I think does more politically than the mischief of the usual court jesters. The television comedy of ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and the efforts of Sanjeev Bhaskar on ‘The Kumars at Number 42’ were welcome insofar as they promoted manifestations of ‘multicultural comedy’ as part of a tolerant and inclusive tradition. But this is not the whole story, and I think the popularity of such shows now reveal some disturbing new anxieties. The question of who comes to visit the Kumars at Number 42 is a matter of mirth on television, as various celebrities sat with an ‘average’ – actually quite wacky – family to talk about their latest cultural product: a film, a play, their new book and so on. As a light entertainment early evening format it was a great success. But such questioning of the neighbours and the to-ings and fro-ings of their associates is a much sharper confrontation elsewhere in Britain, especially in the years after the London bombs of 2005. The figure of the terrorist in Asian garb is the new manifestation of the scapegoat; the Asian next door becomes a stereotype and scare-mongering figure. Alongside the Kumars we now also witness special squad investigations and high profile closures of streets; the police cordoning off areas of middle English suburbia; the nightly news interviewing people living on the same streets insisting that ‘he kept to himself’ or ‘they seemed like normal people’; and scenes of the suspects being driven off to interrogation and detention under the anti-terror legislation. I see this as a sinister kind of theatre in Britain today, and I think it can be linked to other seemingly innocent comic aspects of British performance culture. This paper attempts to unpack the scripts… 

So, I will try to link this back to music and politics (as usual) as it follows upon my interest in alternative modes of story-telling. Reconnecting with my earlier playing round with Pantomime terror, (at recent talks in Melbourne and Auckland) and delving further into the stories of the Thousand and One Nights. Where our narrator is no longer subject to singular despotic terror, for which her tales achieve an improbable reprieve, but rather I have:

 

“A speculative dream version of the story of Scheherazade herself; whom I imagine has this time been detained, rendered and interned in Guantanamo. Kept on her own in a cell except for a daily interrogation when she is brought before her captors who demand a story. She obliges them with the production of a narrative that provokes ever more draconian civil liberties crackdowns and higher and higher terror alert ratings in the metropolises, but the production of this narrative can never set her free and she will never become queen (the despotic kings are otherwise engaged: Tony Blair and G.W. Bush are already hitched to each other and a legacy in Iraq, and perhaps hitched to history in the same way Nixon was to Watergate and defeat in Vietnam). Of course it’s the case that my dreaming of Sheherezade is only a conceit – even as I cannot imagine what so many years in detention can do to anyone. A thousand and one terrors assail us all”. 

The task now is to find stories for the Kumars. Or find ways to stop laughing at the welcome departure of Tony Blair to the land of television chat shows… the blood dripping onto the sofa… I’m glad he’s not moving in next door to me (though his old next door neighbour is moving to Number 10)… cue that Grundy theme music…

 

Theory of Shit

In Volume III of Capital Marx has a little section discussing the utilisation of ‘waste’ (Abfällen) in the production process. Capitalists search for economies at the best of times (i.e., when they gloat over ever greater extraction of surplus value) – but this becomes more urgent for them when the costs of production increase, by agitation or because of rises in the cost of raw materials. Nothing worse than an event that jeopardises rates of profit, hence protections, tariffs, search for new cheaper sources of material, associations to regulate production, and so on. These are joined with technical innovations, streamlined organisation, adulteration of products to stretch it further, cut corners, various dodges and wheezes and all manner of gains (the wheezing is of those who must work longer hours).

Maybe waste is not always the best way to think of this, or rather it should be thought of more fundamentally, faced more explicitly. Felton Shortall at Goldsmiths last month talked of Marx getting on with writing his ‘economic shit’. I’ve not yet tracked down that reference, but was amused to find on page 77 of the English translation this discussion:

‘The same is true of the second big source of economy in the conditions of production. We refer to the reconversion of the excretions of production, the so-called waste, into new elements of the production process, either of the same, or of some other line of industry; to the processes by which this so-called excretion is thrown back into the cycle of production, and consequently, consumption, whether productive or individual … It is the attendant abundance of this waste which renders it available again for commerce and thereby turns it into new elements of production’ (Vol.III:79-80 L&W)

‘Exkremente’ is the word Marx uses, which is then termed Abfällen in the gloss, ‘so-called waste’. There is something to be said for a critique of recycling that would need to be raised here – I am not anti-environmentalism except where its bosses’ environmentalism – an ideology of productivity gains will not save the planet. Here the recycling is a consequence of increased production as industry expands, and is a direct consequence of the capitalists interest in off-setting the rise in cost of raw materials (perhaps because uppity suppliers of such materials wanted a better deal for their stuff). Whatever the case, the consequence of Exkremental production recalls Marx’s discussion in Volume I where the bread the workers got to eat was shown – by those heroic factory inspectors, such as the immortal Leonard Horner – to be adulterated with all manner of gunk- eg., sawdust, chalk, and worse:

‘Englishmen, always well up in the Bible, knew well enough that man, unless by elective grace a capitalist, or landlord, or sinecurist, is commanded to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, but they did not know that he had to eat daily in his bread a certain quantity of human perspiration mixed with the discharge of abscesses, cobwebs, dead black-beetles and putrid German yeast, without counting alum, sand, and other agreeable mineral elements’ (Vol.I:249 Intnl Pubs)

There then follows an extended discussion of the working conditions of bakers (hungry Marx – later he dwells on a recipe for soup!) and of the adulteration of other consumer products. As he also does later on in Vol III, here he notes that waste products find their first uses in medicine: – according to Parliamentary Commission reports on the adulteration of means of subsistence, even opium was found to contain wheat flour, gum, clay and sand, with several of the examined samples containing ‘not an atom of morphia’ (Vol.I:601n). Bad quality drugs is still too often the rule.

The discussion of waste in Volume III has to do with large scale production and economies at a time where needs must ‘force’ the capitalist to find ways to maintain rates of profit amidst various constraints or while necessarily expanding production – [we are very soon getting to crisis theory and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall etc.,]. I am entertained here to observe that discussions of excrement often come at times of impending crisis and capitalist paranoia.

So I think this excrement-crisis linkage could be claimed as basis for understanding the turn to shit in some of the work of, say, Georges Bataille (World Wars, depression), or Dominique Laport (1960s France, 1968 as a whole – all that horrid tie-die). In popular culture too – Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket springs to mind – ‘you will find yourself in a world of shit’ as the Marines trudge through the wasteland they made of Vietnam – and in the 1980s Salmon Rushdie’s Padma the dung-lotus asks: ‘what’s the point of all your writing-shitting’ (Midnight’s Children). [Another time I need to go back to read Artaud - 'my woks are only waste-matter, once they leave my body they cannot stand up by themselves' in Derrida Writing & Difference].

But do we have a satisfactory theorist of shit who can relate it to crisis and economics? What is all the discussion of pollution, climate change and carbon footprints telling us today about our decrepit world (what’s a carbon footprint if not code for something else?). Mick Taussig’s book Defacement looks closely into the pan to reveal the public secrets at stake – we all shit, we don’t discuss it (but some turd has nicked my copy). Maybe I want a theory of rubbish that treats this global muck. A waste processing theory, a sewer-age. All too predictable (regular) I am sure, but what a wonderful world in which we live.

Rumour – evil Rio Tinto Sucked into vortex of evil – the dark side eats its own kind.

Rio shares surge amid BHP takeover rumour

The Age May 7, 2007 – 5:24PM

Shares in Rio Tinto Ltd surged above $90 for the first time today amid speculation that BHP Billiton Ltd could take out its rival in a $122 billion-plus deal.

The stock closed up more than five per cent after Citigroup analysts fuelled takeover talk about the company.

Citigroup said while Rio Tinto’s strong cashflow could make it an attractive target for private equity firms, BHP Billiton was a more likely bidder given the synergies that could be generated.

“Rio Tinto’s strong cashflow and nominal gearing may bring it into the crosshairs of private equity, but we think BHP Billiton is a much more likely bidder given synergies and nationalistic control issue of Australian assets,” Citigroup said.

“Applying even a modest bid premium means that any party will need to finance $US100 billion ($A121.99 billion)-plus through debt and equity.

“The deal is highly earnings accretive using conservative assumptions, with the major obstacle being concentration iron ore/coking coal market share and lack of BHP CEO-elect.”

Rio Tinto shares surged $4.53 or 5.22 per cent to end a closing high of $91.38 while BHP Billiton put on 96 cents or 3.14 per cent to $31.56.

Rio Tinto’s closing price gives the company a market value of $105.92 billion.

A union between BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto would create the world’s largest producer of coking coal, thermal coal, copper and position the company as the equal largest iron ore producer with Brazilian giant CVRD.

“The greatest gains would be achievable in the iron ore assets in the Pilbara through optimising product specifications, mining fleet, rail distances to the port, etc,” Citigroup said.

“Considering the scale and importance of these businesses to both companies, it is hard not to see $US500 million ($A609.94 million)-plus in synergies and cost savings in this area alone.”

The brokerage said cost savings and synergies would also be achieved at the Australian coal assets, Canadian diamond mines, product marketing, logistics and global procurement.

Apart from competition concerns, Citigroup listed the lack of an anointed chief executive to replace Chip Goodyear as a major near-term impediment to any bid.

The brokerage said the disposal of non-core assets could overcome the competition concerns.

Citigroup ruled out any interest in Rio Tinto from the major oil companies and suggested private equity would need to team up with an existing industry player like Xstrata to formulate a potential bid.

“From a pure market capitalisation perspective, the major oil companies like BP and Royal Dutch Shell have the size and balance sheet capability to entertain such a transaction, but we do not believe they are interested in returning to investing in the Metals & mining sector after exiting the space in the 1980s and 1990s,” Citigroup said.

“Strategic and diversification drivers could prompt other corporates to bid, but ultimately BHPB can pay the most given it has the most synergies to extract.”

Learn To Like It – archival 1990 ……………. . [click to enlarge]

May Day in Kennington

I Link a lot to Transpontine’s Neil, but missed him in the Park. This below is his latest post (somewhat truncated)/J

“Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Workers of the World Relax


The May Day picnic in Kennington Park was fun yesterday, with about 50 people hanging out in the sunshine. The maypole, featuring an imitation surveillance camera on top, was taken in a procession from Camberwell Squat Centre with a banner reading ‘Workers of the World Relax’. Another said ‘Kennington Park – A common place for all’, referring to the park’s pre-enclosure history as a common, where the Chartists gathered in 1848. A leaflet given out stated ‘Today the Park is still being enclosed, this time socially, as groups of people who use the place collectively to hang out and have fun – playing volleyball or football – are being forced out’.

Later down at Brockley Social Club, the Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir hosted an evening of songs including ‘Bandeira Rossa’ and ‘Power in the Union’. I gave a short talk on the history of May Day in South London.

Judging by Baggage Reclaim‘s fine photos, the Jack in the Green procession from the Borough also went well yesterday….”

Gilbert and Shortall

On Monday (30th April) we had two guests to the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths who managed to warp our brains in what we billed as a day school on ‘Contemporary Marxist Thought‘.

Visiting from Paris, Geoffrey Gilbert rightly wondered why and where we came up with the title for the day, and how his talk would fit, but it was nevertheless a good one I think – and the title might be taken as ironic in some ways, – the challenge for us to make Marxism contemporary is always welcome.

Geoff spoke to us of Lukacs on literary realism and a book by Francois Bon called Daewoo (2004), which I admit I’ve not read. The Daewoo book concerns a scandal to do with the Korean company in France and led to an excellent discussion of the character of realism, which clearly had resonances with an earlier Goldsmiths seminar on ‘speculative realism’ and the idea of realism in H. P. Lovecraft, [which I also missed cos I was in Berlin]. There was also much debate about Lukacs’ various recantations and re-valuations of History and Class Consciousness that, to tell the truth, really requires better preparation on my part if I’m to say anything coherent about it. On the whole Geoff’s presentation was engaging and informed (he was well prepared at least) and a very good start to the day.

A little later on I then had the pleasure to introduce Felton C Shortall, author of a book I’d read in dog-eared photocopy format borrowed from comrades in Melbourne. The Incomplete Marx was one of those texts that circulated like a rumour amongst us – at last something that thought and taught an activist Marx that was not a dumming down (I have the introductions prepared by the likes of the ‘thinkers’ of certain Trotskyite groups in mind here as contrast). So, at Goldsmiths Felton presented a potted summary of the argument of that book. I wish we’d had more time, and clearly the discussion was just getting going – with Bhaskar and I arguing about economics and moral bases of Marx’s philosophy, and Felton stressing the importance of alienation, and more that is sure to come up over and over at future meetings…

All in all a great day, which then carried on to a local eatery for refreshment and more practical discussion with visiting comrades from Brighton.. as you can see in the pics.

Thanks to
Tom for getting Felton,
and to Lisa for getting Geoff.

In order the pics are:
- Tom (dark grey shirt) and Felton (grey shirt)
- John (black hat) and Geoff (black shirt)
- the Brighton posse with Felton
- Lisa – and Geoff’s ear (pink).
[OK, so I'm not as good a photographer as Malinowski...]

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