Mao on Professors in 1958 (22 March) talks at Chengtu (p116-7 Talks and letters):
… ‘Naturally, we cannot go out tomorrow and beat them up … we have to make friends with them’
Mao on Professors in 1958 (22 March) talks at Chengtu (p116-7 Talks and letters):
… ‘Naturally, we cannot go out tomorrow and beat them up … we have to make friends with them’
Join us this Saturday 25th of September as we continue to disturb Ahava’s unlawful business, which profits from the sale of stolen goods manufactured in an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
The fascist English Defence League and the zionist federation have promised to show their support for the state of israel, hence this call for a mass mobilisation!
Bring flags (Palestinian and Irish), banners and friends,
In solidarity, Free Palestine Activists, London
Saturday 25th September, 12pm-2pm outside Ahava, 39 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9DD, close to Leicester Square tube station.
For some time now, with varied success and certainly with lively consequences still yet to be fully implemented, we have been discussing the future of research and teaching in CCS at Goldsmiths (see the Attack the headquarters link in the sidebar). All that has been great and the enthusiasm and engagement impressive. I’ve even heard that students in other colleges in London have ‘wished’ they also had the same chance to debate research futures. Well, be careful, it seems now that we are not the only ones with such bright ideas. UCL has a rather different style and tone, and they are further able to advertise for a Senior Post (Vice provost) to implement their plan, but they are on the way towards something pretty special:
A new initiative has been launched today to engage the entire UCL community in discussion of possible future research themes for the university.
UCL Research Challenges invites UCL academic staff, non-academic staff, students and alumni to suggest and comment on research themes at the Research Challenges website. The aim is to inspire fresh new ideas for projects. A board composed of leading figures from academia and industry will review the best ideas and will award grants totalling £50,000 in seedcorn funding to the most promising. This is enough to get an idea off the ground – perhaps to a stage where a formalised project proposal can be put forward to research councils for full funding.
Professor Jo Wolff, head of UCL Philosophy, is the chair of the Research Challenges Board. He said: “We are really looking forward to seeing people’s ideas. UCL has great potential for interdisciplinary activities, and by opening this initiative up to everyone involved with the university, we are hoping to see where members of the community feel we should be concentrating our strengths.”
The project is divided into two main stages. The first, which begins today, is to explore themes for research activity. These could be anything from the environment to political reform, nanotechnology to agriculture – whatever areas people believe UCL should be focusing on in the 21st century. The second stage, in a month’s time, is to draw up a shortlist of themes and invite project proposals based around those themes.
Professor Wolff said: “This is a great opportunity for everyone to have their say in the future of research at UCL. We have funds to support the best ideas that emerge, so it’s well worth getting involved. Who knows – a vague idea in the back of someone’s mind could turn out to be UCL’s next great discovery!”
Community, interdisciplinarity, political reform, nano tech… vague ideas in the back of your mind… This is fantastic! And there is seedcorn funding of not insubstantial amounts on offer. But what are the challenges? Curiously enough, just a few months after the above call it seems the GRAND CHALLENGES have been identified. In the Times Higher Education Supplement of last thursday there was an ad for a new post as ‘Director of Grand Challenges’. Now there is a job title to impress. Ahh, I can almost see the business card with that emblazoned – in embossed gold – across the front (see the scene in the movie “American Psycho”).
Director of Grand Challenges
UCL is rated in the top ten universities in the world and generated �200m in research income last year. Our newly launched research strategy defines four Grand Challenges – namely Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interactions and Wellbeing.
We are now seeking a Director of Grand Challenges to lead, develop, nurture research, education, teaching and learning initiatives within each of the Grand Challenges areas, which engage broad participation within UCL.
Likely to have a background within the higher education sector, the successful candidate must be able to articulate a clear vision which will excite a diverse and multidisciplinary community both within and outside UCL. Experience of policy making and programme development is essential and you will have demonstrated success in the development of strategic responses to diverse and multidisciplinary research opportunities. Outstanding communication, interpersonal and influencing skills are essential as is the ability to deliver change through effective project management.
Heady well-remunerated stuff – dare we ask what the Grand Challenges facing Goldsmiths might be?
One of them could turn out to be childcare. It seems that there are moves afoot to outsource Goldsmiths nursery. I’m concerned by this in general, but also subjectively by dint of being a likely user of the nursery service, for the beautiful Emile (here pictured by popular demand, he’s a week and a day old in this one). Why post on this though? Well, no-one will be surprised that we suspect the rampant monster of privatization seems set to twist its knife yet again. Sure, there is no doubt subsidized childcare is far too grand a privilege in these times, but I know its not just me that sees a continuity between these micro-moments of power and the creeping routinization of every aspect of all life in the teaching factory. From the corpororate-speak that invents Challenging Directorships, to the managerialist tinkering with local services that blink blink blink: from a Union missive sent yesterday:
You may also be aware that management have decided to put out to tender Goldsmiths nursery provision. It has been decided that it is not possible to sustain a viable nursery on-site and it appears that management have identified a local council nursery off-site that may provide an additional nine places. However, many questions remain unanswered about both process and provision: did management explore all options? Did they fully consult with all user groups? Will we have guarantees about fees and places from an external nursery? UNISON (whose members work in the nursery) has now launched a petition (that UCU is supporting) that calls on Goldsmiths’ management to reconsider the future of the nursery. Copies of the petition are available in the Nursery and at the reception desks of the Richard Hoggart Building, the Library and Loring Hall. Please take a minute to go along and add your signature, and encourage colleagues to do the same. (From Goldsmiths UCU)
If you read the booklet of the Centre for Cultural Studies after being at the college for more than one year, you can understand why the institution has invested in developing an image that wallpapers the reality of the college. When one finally sees the gap created by our confused expectations, the university –the institution- looks like a factory and the students become clients.
When this confused experience happens I understand two things. First, why new students-and sometimes old ones- complain about everything and try to articulate their experience of lack and frustration. Second, why the priorities –I mean, what comes first, what comes second- between teachers and students are unbalanced. The members of the staff, most of them teachers and intellectuals, need to write books, apply for funding, write and gives lectures, attend conferences, send emails and among all these duties they have to give feedback and supervise the work of their students. The teacher’s working process affects the students, who have the feeling of being isolated and with no support or guidance. Even worse, the student can sometimes feel that members of the staff do not give proper feedback. In theory, supervision and our own writing/work are intertwined. So the writing operates as a platform that defines the intensity –the quality- of the feedback.
It is still not clear to me if the lack of time or unsettled of priorities is an innovation in methodology or is just a symptom of the excess of work, lack of funding or the inevitable competition among the different department of the college to get more overseas students who pay three times more than local and Europeans ones.
However, I could understand that the Centre for Cultural Studies is in a process of development. Things are improving and will become better.
However, I suggest that if we are client-students, and the staff, teachers-managers, this double role can allow us to think and ask all the questions regarding what the Centre for Cultural Studies might be. The excess of work, confused priorities, lack of time, money and space, consumes our practices and work. Therefore, any question about the Centre for Cultural Studies and our commitment and responsibility towards our research and practices, can not be answered if the excess that we face within Goldsmiths is not considered.
I heard that in this workshop there is a concern regarding the dichotomy between theory-practice. On the one hand, how is it possible to re-think and return to new ways of action (e.g. activism); and on the other hand, consider the shift that practice is thought as production of theory. I mean, that action is related to the creation of new concepts.
Considering this discussion I propose the creation of a laboratory of minor poetics that will be able to face the tension of this struggle, in order to deal with the following paradox: vita contemplativa (action as thought) and vida activa (action as production of strikes).
Basically, this laboratory could be a way to deal with the questions about agency when thought in relation to the tension between contemplation and action. I suggest that to think this tension will move us to the sources of what commitment means. Not only related to our own practices and work, but rather to the contexts that we are facing every day e.g. being busy manager-teacher-intellectuals and clients-and full-part-part time survivors students in London.
I do not have a clear answer as to how to give room for this laboratory. However, I like to think this possible space in the articulation of a value -rather than proposing a new seminar, another activity, a new event- that can give room to some aspects of life that give agency to our thought and practice. These aspects of life should not be assumed and reduced to a social category that would distance itself from the notion of everyday life and informal spaces.
May be this should be think thought as an articulation of new principles for the Centre for Cultural Studies. I mean to add the latter in the booklet and the postgraduate programmes of the Centre.
To conclude, I do think that we need to build new platforms. But, every new platform should be defined considering the real conditions of our system, the Centre, the staff and students. Basically, taking into consideration the excess that we have to deal with.
I think that the writing workshop was a good idea and allowed to raise questions about how to write an essay and a dissertation. How to structure the sections and chapters of a thesis. Models of writing. I know that if we define too much, you close possibilities. However, we do not have to be afraid to define creative guides and encounters to facilitate and open up our work.
I was thinking of the edition and production of an experimental platform that could be a journal, magazine or a website. For me, this means a platform that allows us to articulate better how to listen and read our own work. I mean a space that creates a dialog first among us, then a dialog with others. A platform is not an open collage to paste our work randomly. Rather, it is a space that has to be able to dramatize and unfold who we are. I see this platform in minor terms, like a gym to exercise our thoughts. I was thinking of a place that includes different languages, that gathers what is collected over a period of time, I mean not with a schedule, like numbers per years, and also edited in different formats, depending on the material that we have: it could be a DVD, a CD room, a newspaper, a proper journal.
For me it is very important that every step in relation to the production of new spaces should be negotiated with the headquarters, because this sort of projects requires funding, management and different types of support.
Cristobal Bianchi - London, 3rd June 2008
Since the last Attack the Headquarters I have been thinking about the nature of work… especially with all the discussions about theory, practice, vocational and educational issues.
To start with a provocation: When Stanley Aronowitz spoke a few weeks ago, he mentioned that he saw part of his role as an academic as finding his students jobs. Perhaps if this happened here, students would be less likely to be bought out by Unilever…… how about it John?!
On a more realistic (?) note I was excited by the idea that the workers enquiries that have been written through the MA’s Marx module be published in some form, and I would be very happy to be involved with this.
Over the last year I have also been slowly producing some art works that are loosely connected to the theme of ‘work’, and at the back of my mind, have wondered about organising an exhibition in order to show them.
Thinking about collective activity, it occurred to me that these two projects might fit well together. Perhaps an exhibition somewhere in the local area could provide a platform for distributing a newspaper type publication of workers enquiries, films, discussions and debates (about the nature of work in a wide sense from meaningful activity to wage labour?) and workshops with local community groups. Local working history of the area could be explored, or people excluded from working such as asylum seekers be involved. Perhaps this would in some way be connected to the mapping of Goldsmiths and the local area that we have been talking about or just be a parallel event…..
I have to admit that I have far more doubts and questions than certainties or answers about how the whole socio-economic paradigm opened by the creative industries should be addressed by cultural studies. The public discourse around the creative industries officially appeared in the UK in about 1996 and was heavily endorsed by New Labour related think tanks (such as DEMOS), to be later introduced by government as a model for economic development; now, twelve years later, academia has introduced the creative industries as a subject matter and this has opened many questions that I believe we should address. How are we going to relate to this economic paradigm? What kind of approaches are best suited to deal with the different conceptual issues raised? What kind of workers are we going to prepare? These are some doubts among others that need to be raised. Along the following lines I will try to address some of these questions, trying to reflect on my situation (and double condition) as both a researcher and worker in the field.
We must not forget that the whole creativity discourse was strongly associated with the neoliberalization of the economy, and it emerged as a solution to a number of economic problems raised by the industrial decline and restructuration by part of a conservative government. This was accompanied by an ever growing privatization of culture and its transformation into a leisure focused industry. The creative industries were born as a promise of economic development, as a tool for urban regeneration, as a means for social cohesion and as a sustainable economic model designed to be the basis of the city’s economies. The discourse was also deployed as a way to formalize a big workforce constituted by people collaborating with self-orgs, artists, graphic designers, activists, video game players and people involved in a number of non-profitable cultural activities.
Now, almost 12 years later some voices have been raised alerting us that the estimate growth figures launched by the DCMS were slightly more optimistic that what the facts have shown us. In the report published by the GLA named ‘London’s creative sector:2007 Update’ a different picture has emerged. The creative industries that were conceived to offer work opportunities to a workforce that had been made redundant by the industrial restructuration that took place in the 80’s, only were accomplished this mission on a steady level during the first years that the model was implemented. The study shows us how from the years 2001 to 2005 there was an important downturn in jobs in the creative sector. The initial estimates and targets were never met. The growth projections for the sector were widely overestimated and by no means have the creative industries taken the economic lead in the cities, which depend strongly on the financial, banking and touristic sectors. The year 2005 saw a raise in jobs created in the sector but the DCMS included in this survey creative people who work in non-creative industries (such as a musician teaching maths in a high school).
In a recent talk given by one of DEMOS’ founders, Geoff Mulgan (MIK, 2007), he made it clear that the economic future of the developed nations lied in the health and education sectors, leaving the creative industries way behind in the list of economic sectors. Also we see that with the introduction of schemes of social innovation and mass participation (Wikipedia, Youtube, etc.), society as a whole is starting to be conceived as a creative industry. Citizens are producing FREE contents for televisions, radio stations, magazines, newspapers, etc. This opens a big question that the sector needs to face, because, if society is outsourcing contents for the entertainment and creative sectors, what are cultural workers expected to produce? There is no doubt that with the strong critique to expertise and a growth of a DIY culture, creativity will be displaced from the hands of a few to the bodies of all the members of society.
With its natural delay academia is not only addressing the creative industries from a critical point of view, but has developed a number of courses aimed at generating creative workers ready to jump into the sector. The first question I think we should address concerns the role that the CCS has and how can it relate to the creative industries. Are we here to analyze, critique or to prepare a critical workforce ready to enter the creative sector? Being slightly more pessimistic I think that we could also consider if the sector really does need highly specialized intellectual theorists or if instead it demands people happy to cut and paste and network for long hours been paid low salaries. I believe that once this is clearly addressed, it becomes easier to understand the role that such a subject matter has in contemporary academia and the role that cultural studies can adopt in relation to the field.
To analyze critically the creative industries discourse, cultural studies stands in a perfect position and has a big number of tools and resources ready to be deployed. Its history as a discipline (and as a site for the critical analysis of culture) and its interdisciplinary nature seems to set out an extraordinary framework that can help us to understand the creative industries and their social and economic implications. This can be made from many perspectives; we can use many sociological works that have enquired into the labor conditions, gender roles and social implications of the sector in society. Philosophy has also many interesting insights to offer, starting from the Frankfurt School to more recent authors such as Paolo Virno or Maurizio Lazaratto, who have tried to define the aesthetic and moral dimensions attached to cultural work. Marxist cultural analysts have also reflected on the emerging values attributed to culture, its transformation into a commodity or how it is now envisaged as a resource ready to be exploited by urban planners, city developers, diplomatic agents, etc. The ever growing economic role of culture cannot be taken for granted, culture has entered the economy, but the economy has also culturalized itself. Even though, we must evaluate to what extent can these disciplines help to create a critical workforce ready to enter the sector. We must also ask ourselves if the creative enterprises are interested in hiring critical subjects, I am not that sure that there is a clear answer to this question.
One of the conclusions that I have reached with my work on the creative sector is that it comes to a point in which work and life merge to such a degree that they booth end up being the same. No longer can one distinguish when he or she is working or having fun, when she is networking or just having a chat. In most cases the creative career and the life of the worker end up being the same. This is the reason why I believe that we need to work on an approach able to combine a theoretical but also a practical dimension. This must lead towards a theory of work and life, aimed at addressing a life of work. I think that one of the challenges that the cultural studies is currently facing has to do with stopping to think about work, to instead start thinking through work. I have recently grown an interest on forms of analysis that seem to have become redundant but from which I believe there is still much to be learned from. Some of these include the militant polls carried out by the Operaist activists in Italy during the sixties and early seventies. One of the first activists to use this type of tools was Karl Marx who on 1881 carried out a poll for the Reveu Socialiste in France. These surveys do not aim to interview workers, but to trigger conversations with workers. They do not seek to find answers, but to pose questions that are negotiated between the interviewer and the worker on a collective act of reflection. Recently Antonio Conti from Posse Magazine put it this way “if we accept that the poll, understood as a linguistic work, as the construction of a place in which to talk, to recount and to exchange experiences, constitutes a place for the immediate construction of conscience and a site for communist organization, we see how it becomes a perfect instrument to intervene in contemporary issues, now that linguistic, relational and communicational work has become completely hegemonic”.
I believe that we should consider cultural projects as critical enterprises, and as such, every decision made, every step taken will have important consequences. But how far can academia not think about creative enterprises but think through them? To what degree can a cultural enterprise constitute a space for the production of knowledge and as a critical evaluation of itself? I believe we should consider these questions collectively. Some of the constitutive elements of a cultural project can be addressed and be used as tools for reflection. I believe that intellectual property should not be thought as a set of given laws or as a framework in which to develop work, but as an essential part of any project, it must be carefully thought as a possible space for critical speculation which will infer a specific set of qualities to any given work. We should stop analyzing IP as a subject matter but rethink our works through the porous and undetermined aspects that this legal framework offers. The economic sustainability of a project, its ecological impact, its social benefits or its life span are all questions that can be addressed critically, but also tools that can be used as a space for analytical speculation.
I am fully aware that cultural studies can help us to gain a deep understanding of culture, but this is the moment in which we must question ourselves about the extent to which these can help to think industrial matters. Can someone run a company with the knowledge obtained from an MA in cultural studies? Can this knowledge be compared to that provided by an MBA? I myself keep asking this question thinking about my work, I am really not sure that I am better equipped to run a company than someone trained in management, economics, law… I believe that after going through a MA in cultural studies I am in a better equipped to think about contents, or to have a better awareness of some socio-economic issues involved in cultural production. But I must fit my ability to create contents into the reality of the sector which is suffering a displacement: creative industries are no longer product or objects producers, they are becoming service providers. Concluding, I believe that we should focus on a direction in which cultural studies stop thinking about work, but start thinking through business models, energy consumption, work structures or labor relations, evaluating the impact that each of these decisions will have in the sector and how it will affect the rest of the world.
In the attack the headquarter events there were voices asking for changes. Some were exited, some were frustrated, some were content, some were dissatisfied. What could we make out of that? What comes next after the head quarter was attacked? What if there remains another headquarter with a new dress?
Did we just create something that further justifies our existence and our way of being? We, teaching staff and students, are all fulfilling the request of institutions, since we have been codified by a series of formats, phd seminars, reading groups, exams, panels. The way the programs are planned and carried out already determine our ways of being and codify our identities – both as individuals and as an institution.
We appreciate all the discussions during the 12 hours meeting, we are also impressed by most of the insightful critiques. The wishes for changes, transformations, and twists were, however, not common wishes. They did not have a goal, a direction, or a unified identity. What comes next is still a question?
This is where we can start. Instead of thinking of how to improve teaching and learning, we want to think from the perspective of community. Institution itself brings us into being, but there lies another concern of “being with”, which has more to do with interaction, communication. This does not mean coming behind one cause, under one banner, but it means being together after we have come together. The task is not to define a common goal or to change the institution, because we are the goal and we are the institution.
We are writing to invite your participation to a project, which aims at a more radical way of rethinking the event. We have only one proposition to make: WE HAVE TO TAKE OVER THE CENTRE TOGETHER. The only way to attack the headquarter, is to abolish the headquarter. We, the students and those staff members who are willing to, should take over the planning and the building of the centre (not the money or the jobs) – for one year as an experiment. To “Take over” is not to replace the headquarter, or seize the power, but to conquest the headquarter with a new form of communication – through being together, and starting our thinking as well as our learning all over again each day. There is no power to be seized, there is only power to be or to do.
We look for a communication, which transforms the relations between educator and educatee from a subject-object relation into a process of active sharing of knowledge, experience and intuition. It means deconstructing the hierarchies and identities we have voluntarily taken as students and teachers, as experts and non-experts. We can start it as a project. We can call it minoritarian thinking. We can call it learning with each others, instead of from others.
What are the questions to be asked? Maybe we should not have any predetermined way to do things, we should not do anything if we do not want it. We can ask, who should plan the MA and PhD programs? Do we want a PhD seminar? If we do, who should plan it – the students or the staff, or both? Do we want to read in the seminars, or do we want to start our thinking from somewhere else? How can students take part in the research? How can we make students contribute, give, instead of taking or receiving? How could students run the centre together with the staff, or how can we abolish these identities altogether?
You can say that we have already asked these questions, that we already have more freedom than many others. But our task is to ask, whether this really is the case… Let’s ask ourselves: why do we have readers waiting for us when we enrol; why does the staff know what the students are doing but the students do not know what the staff is doing.
As we all know, the main obstacle for changes in the academia has traditionally been the common reluctance to give up the structures of power and authorities. If we have any trust at all in the CCS, we must believe this cannot be the case here. In other words, this is not supposed to be a student revolt, but creating a coming community for all of us at the CCS.
We, the initiators, call for everyone to take over our thinking, as an opening but not as a ready-made program. We do not have any answers to your questions: the communication should start here: we want to here your responses and meet you next week at Laurie Grove. Meanwhile, all those interested, please, contact us or use the newborn wiki: ccsgold.pbwiki.com
We have been reflecting on the identity of culture studies, in the context of the university, capitalism and the state. In my presentation, I tried to provoke people into considering that the boundaries between all of these things is considerably more fluid than we might prefer, but that this is taking place in a more nuanced way than we often imagine. As we at Goldsmiths and CCS comes under the watchful eye of the capitalist-bureaucratic state, so capitalism and bureaucracy start to engage with culture studies. Moreover, this increasing overlap between culture studies and its object isn’t something that should necessarily be bemoaned or celebrated, but explored.
I mentioned a couple of references which relate to this:
We see aspects of the above in the rise of (what I called) S&M consultancy. Gurus and consultants turn up at conferences and tell the assembled business leaders that they’re doomed, stupid, wrong. Chaos is about to sweep them aside. Innovation is about to destroy them. The purpose of this is to give them a theoretical-discursive battering, in the hope of avoiding a material-financial battering. See for example Matt Mason, whose role in the creative industries is to explain why piracy will change the world… while being paid by large music labels. This is all going on while we theorists have to tick boxes, deliver value, and so on.
As a rough typology, this problematic leaves us with four routes forward:
1. Resistance: rebuild the distinction between critique and its object; resist the commodification of higher education at all costs, and attack the adoption of theory and philosophy that occurs within capitalism. As with the Frankfurt School, this is a knowingly-doomed strategy – modernity makes forces of domination all but irresistible. But the yearning for emancipation leaves the critic squirming in amongst them. As Benjamin says, “only to the hopeless is hope given”.
2. Obliviousness: In Adorno’s time, it was positivists who were oblivious to the potential of knowledge to support domination. This was virtually Adorno’s definition of a positivist. But today there is a new risk: the radical who doesn’t realise how much capitalism approves of radicalism. An unthinking assumption that critique is autonomous, while bureaucratic-capitalism is sheer domination, may lead us into faux radicalism, coupled with excessive fear of (and respect for) the dominating potential of bureaucratic-capitalism.
3. Ironic celebration: One approach to the convergence of critique and its object is to abandon the autonomy of theory all together. Actor Network Theory could be accused of this. By simply ‘following the actors’ and seeking to view the world in their terms, ANT risks holding up an uncritical mirror of the world, abandoning concepts (such as ‘capitalism’) that might seem to perform no role in it. It is no surprise that ANT is popular in business schools. The fact that capitalism is now awash with ideas is celebrated, albeit ironically, by some postmodern sociologists.
4. Explore the headquarters: In my work I seek to ‘go native’ with economic experts working for the state. I can speak to them in their language, while also being able to return to CCS and speak in ‘our’ language. I think one needs to become comfortable with this inconsistency, to embody contradiction as Foucault (presumably knew he) did, rather than seek to express it as Adorno tried (and deliberately failed).
From exploring the headquarters, a couple of things become plain. Firstly, bureaucracies are not totalised forms of domination, but nor are they things we can realistically expect to escape altogether. They are indeed, as Weber put it, ‘iron cages’, but iron cages can leave quite a lot of space for freedom, or equally can be sources of security. Explore them, understand how they work, how they break, and what they require in order to periodically leave you alone. People who set targets and create rules know full well the futility of what they do; the people who have the greatest faith in the efficacy of audit cultures are the radicals who seek to overthrow them.
Secondly, the theory that is at large in capitalism, in business schools, and in consultancy seminars is real theory, it is related to what we do. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t also deficient in lots of ways. Explore it, criticise it, take it seriously enough to try and damage it. There are those in the ANT tradition who might seek to improve it or contribute to it. That might be going further than many in CCS might wish to. But if we don’t at least problematise and reflect on the relationship between ‘our’ critical theory and ‘their’ critical theory, we risk falling into the trap of faux radicalism identified in point 2. This is not a targetted remark, just a necessary condition for safeguarding the critical autonomy that we do possess.
I wanted to add some thoughts after the session on Tuesday. I’ve been a bit slow due to recovering from post-traumatic exam disorder. I perhaps had a slightly more traumatic experience than most, being in the Assistive Technology Centre where the Technology wasn’t at all assistive. (Is it really hopeless to call for the abolition of the exam?)
Hopefulness/ hopelessness is perhaps a key point as it seems very easy to feel hopeless about the general current crisis out there in the outside world/inside the institution. I share spectropoetics hope about collective thinking/action, but notice how quickly this can slip into hopelessness about the current world/educational situation.
I would like to respond to Tom’s talk in which he made a distinction between political practice and the production of culture as “inherently vocational”. Is it possible to separate creative (artistic, filmic etc.) practice from the vocational? They are not necessarily the same thing, although they can and often do overlap. Perhaps it is naive to think that experimental creative practice can exist without being market driven, and certainly it is true that this kind of practice can be more easily subsumed into the vocational than theory. It is also good to remember that the distinction between the vocational and theoretical in education is an artificial one that was initially drawn along class lines. It is therefore important to try to clarify where the overlaps are, how they happen, and whether it is possible to use, resist or subvert them especially if part of the aim of CCS is to develop critical cultural practitioners. As Tom suggests, cultural studies is itself a cultural product.
Responding to an earlier discussion, politics is certainly where we are, particularly in terms of being part of the educational establishment and the current political drive towards training rather than education. It was also good to be reminded by Tom that although there is this present drive at the moment to make education into vocational training, this trend has existed since Marx and the sausage factory. This instrumentalisation of education is what needs to be resisted through learning to think. Creative practice can offer other modes of thinking alongside the purely theoretical.
- Thanks to Jennifer john [! ed :)] for the posting of the UCU conference as being relevant here. I think this also leads to a wider discussion about the more general difficulty of negotiating/resisting compromises when being paid for doing something that most of us will have to face at some point.
Returning to the difficulty and importance of collective action, it has been good to start thinking with other MA students about the possibility of starting reading groups during the dissertation writing period even though this isn’t a long time. As a part time student I realise I have assumed that my involvement in the MA would pause until October but now realise that this doesn’t have to be the case.
On a last note about Tuesday’s session, I enjoyed the suggestion of a mapping of Goldsmiths as a possible/impossible project.
Given that the autonomy of disciplines has been vehemently debated and de facto denied as usefully productive by many, how can cultural studies be the source of any resistance whatsoever without staking out a particularized terrain and theatre of potential operations? (channelling Boris Groys in Art/Power”, 2008)
What would a practice-based PhD look like in CCS that would of necessity claim its territorial, conceptual, and political stakes here as opposed to Visual Cultures, Media & Communications, or Fine Arts? How might this be a useful and even crucial attachment as opposed to merely a convenient academic anchor?
Surely CCS must argue for some particular autonomy (to bring in a much disputed term).
The greater or at least ancillary challenge however would then be to tamper with/expand the existing definitions and formal requirements of the PhD at the level of the university which has very specific guidelines/understandings of what a thesis project should look like.
Who are we? What do we do? How do we do it?
I’m stating the obvious when I say that it’s important to acknowledge that our concerns (collectively and individually) are not necessarily one and the same (something Jennifer notes on her blog entry). The challenges for students and by extension their needs are not identical to those that face faculty as ongoing members of the Goldsmiths research and academic community.
The questions of “who we are” (institutionally as CCS housed within Goldsmiths, as cultural studies in the UK more generally, as researchers—faculty and students) and “what” and “how” do we do the things that we do, must then be continually re-worked and productively coupled with the more urgent question:
“How is a subject of any kind produced in the world”? To attack the headquarters must, in my opinion, place this question at its core.
Seminars & Events
I think its important that faculty have agency in terms if bringing readings forward to the student seminars. This doesn’t have to be an overly consultatively process because its impossible to know in advance what it is that might perturb and/or provoke us – something that may be embedded in the readings themselves or be triggered in the resulting discussion.
I’m not overly concerned in having my own particular interests mirrored back to me but rather am much interested in the unexpected – ideas that enter into the orbit of my universe that I had never considered before or even knew existed.
Real interest can only ever reside in the fact that one does not know a priori what history these discussions will ultimately be a question of.
I can’t speak for my fellow students but feel that it is important to go to seminars and be actively involved in the events at the college because this is generally where life-long networks are established – to remain in the contact zone so to speak, so that we might create new categories of assembly that don’t as of yet exist.
These are emergent processes that can happen both organically as students get together in self-organizing reading groups, arrange screenings, facilitate events etc., but can also be evolved through the structural and formal elements of CCS.
There are PhD programs where one can happily sequester themselves at the British Library for four years but it seems to me that CCS was set up in part to counter this model and provide alternate modes of critical engagement – what these are exactly is what this series of discussions is attempting to figure out.
CCS as a Collective Project
I’m committed to CCS as a collective project but also recognize that it contains within it many heterogeneous subfields of potential. I propose mobilizing small-scale intensive projects under the auspices of CC that can connect faculty, students and ideas to other research/creative clusters (in the UK and abroad). This is not to “go out in the world” as was critiqued last time we gathered because it presupposes that we [CCS] are not of the world but rather to acknowledge our potential to connect with other non-aligned organisations/entities.
For example, the Roundtable in Research Architecture at Goldsmiths has been involved in various conferences, exhibitions, and events under the collective banner of RA. We have even opened up our PhD seminars to the public upon certain occasions.
Could CCS operate as a larger structural device (a kind of resource galaxy), that would consist of smaller subgroups and organisations (cultural constellations) each of which would participate in public events and research activities as specifically named entities? I know that the urgent issue of our of relevance with respect to the college is linked in part to perceptions of visibility and profile. Although these identifiable subgroups would be anchored within CCS and publicised as such, these smaller categorical assembles would allow different constituencies and ideas to move and in out them as needed.
(There are many things I’d like to add after Tuesday’s event to this original version of my provocation. Mainly thanks to Matthew’s presentation – and the way it made me to revisit my ideas on practice – and to some of the comments on theory and the institution. But sometimes it’s good to resist the temptation to modify history: so this is the version originally written for the ATHQ.)
I want to discuss two things. Firstly, how CCS, cultural studies and in the end academic work – instead of being tools or sources of inspiration – are hindrances or hinders for our thinking, our imagination, and our action. And secondly how we are actively betraying our intellectual and theoretical premises or values in our actions or non-actions. Although this might sound bleak, I’ll try to bring forward some propositions as well.
In many ways this is a result of self-reflection, and it is as much self-criticism than any other kind of criticism. I decided to take a self-reflexive approach (first of all because I cannot do anything else), and secondly because after coming here I have experienced a feeling of discontinuity or rupture which calls for reflecting on good practices, bad practices and yet unknown practices. The discontinuity grows out of having first spent seven years in Finnish universities and doing all those seven years political activism, and now having spent some eight months in a British institution and doing absolutely no political activism. The great paradox is that I came here because I felt that I needed a more politicized environment for my research. Much of this can sound like the teenage angst Jeff referred to last time, but I can assure you that engaging yourself in today’s activism or politics is mostly boring and the least adventurous thing one can imagine. So absolutely no glorification here.
So the first question: how is all that I am, or we are, doing a hindrance for out thinking? I remember last autumn, after spending a month or so here, we discussed in the phd seminar Lukacs and the problem of alienation. And the main outcome of the seminar for me was that instead of capitalism or the social order, it was the pdh seminars that were alienating me. I don’t necessarily feel so anymore, but it is mainly because I have learned to know the rules. It is better to quote someone than tell your own impression. It’s better to ask a theoretical question rather than a practical one. Better to talk theory than politics. Etc.
All this of course hints at the never ending debate on the role of the theory in the CCS, and because I don’t want to bore you, I’m not trying to give yet another perspective on the question of whether we should or should not concentrate on high theory, heavy theory, difficult theory or whether we are doing it too much or too little. But instead I want to concentrate on the ways we use theory, we make use of it, we practice it – and how we are not doing it in the best possible way.
I think the first shortcoming was already discussed last time well by James, namely the illusion of total coverage. I certainly agree that we easily hold the illusion that we could or should cover everything, and we should try to get rid of it. But in addition to that I think we should more actively try to get rid of the idea of coverage or knowing altogether – and allow more productive ways of reading through risks, imagination and sloppy reading. Instead of reading carefully texts of theorists and trying to understand what is meant, we should allow more strange, obscure and unpredictable readings. I think it would be itself fabulation, which interested James and Luciana last time. And it would mean, we wouldn’t need a separate center for the studies of fiction (done by others), but rather we would create fiction ourselves through our readings of the theories or other texts.
And now the second shortcoming I see in our ways of engaging with theory. It is the problem of reality. I think we do not let reality interrupt our theories often enough. We don’t let the events happening in the world disturb our understanding or reading of a theory or our work in general.
This brings with it several problems: one is the question of good reading and the other is the question of stimulation. The third one, namely politics, is embedded in the other two.
To take the point of good reading. Because we engage or interact only rarely with the world outside the academia, we are constantly a couple of steps behind of what we were supposed to be analysing, reading, or changing. Once again James touched this by asking whether we are good enough in reading. I think we are not, because we are not actually reading the contemporary reality, this is: we don’t observe the actual object of our research. The lectures or the seminars only rarely take as their starting point something that has happened recently, or something that is happening – be it a protest against China, elections in London, shootings in New Cross, or financial crisis in the US estate markets. If we mainly engage ourselves with written texts, we are all the time behind of the actual world, because of the time difference between an event and a text. This is above all self-criticism, because after coming here I have virtually stopped following the world. After coming here I have no idea what happened to the trade agreement i was campaigning against for two years. Or I have no clue what the new EU treaty consists of, although I worked on the EU constitution for several years. It is of course mainly my own fault, but it looks like there is not much time, space or enthusiasm for this kind of observing in the academia. John said last time that he feels as if CCS was a refugee for many practitioners or activists, who need a break from their practices or time to reflect, and this is what I think as well, but if this means cutting the links to the practice, it cannot be a good way to be in exile either.
And maybe even more important than the issue of good reading, is the question from where we get the stimulus for our thinking. To link this to what was discussed last week, namely fabulation, speculative thought and minoritarian thinking, I believe that what I call reality is all the time fabulating, speculating and creating unrealistic conditions – in a way that theory is not always possible to do or in a way that theory often does only afterwards. And letting these unbelievable things that happen each day to intrude, intervene and attack our theories, work and thinking would in my opinion stimulate our thinking as much as reading theory, or even fiction. Often these are uncomfortable, unpleasant intrusions – but I guess that is what one calls facing the reality.
So if we would start form here, letting the practice intrude the theory, I think we would not encounter the problem Luciana discussed last week, namely that the theory-practice formula means implementing ready made and simplified concepts or ideas to certain practical needs. Rather it would mean letting the practice open up theory.
But this intrusion has to take place constantly, because otherwise we would end up only co-opting certain moments, events or ways of thinking. If we would allow a constant flow of intrusion and impulses outside of our theoretical frames, we would not end up institutionalising – and in that way killing – everything that seems to be new, innovative or interesting.
Letting the reality interrupt our thinking on a constant basis would of course mean taking risks – also for the teaching staff – because no one can be an expert on what happened just yesterday. But without taking this risk, we run the risk of being institutionalised, conventional, and out of date all the time. In practice this could mean doing different kind of readings or exercises in reading. Last time someone pointed at reading fiction in the seminars, which is a great idea. But since I don’t tend to value fiction over other kind of writings, why not read a draft of a trade agreement (they are maybe not always as much fun, but they are as full of fiction as novels), or a leaflet distributed by a police or a document by goldsmiths’ administration, or a building, or whatever, all those things that we are maybe individually reading but almost never together. This would of course mean that the role of the teacher would need to change. Instead of giving us his or her own reading of a text he or she might have been working on for years, the teacher would read together with us something that is as obscure, foreign or uncomfortable for him or her than it is for us. He or she would bring some analytical skills into the situation rather than an authoritative reading. This would most likely also allow the much-wanted interaction to take place more easily. And it would make it easier to say, that I don’t understand anything (the problem Claudia pointed at last time).
And now to come to the third shortcoming I see in our ways to approach theory is the role we give to individual theorists. This might be difficult to verify, but there seems to be a certain cult – not even of theories, ideas or schools of thought – but of individual theorists, academic super stars. And it might be that in the end this is the biggest hindrance for thinking. Because instead of engaging with the reality, an idea, or a problem, we engage ourselves with the thinking of someone else. At its best this can of course be a fruitful relation where something new occurs, but too often it is making a fetish out of someone else’s ideas. It is also a perfect strategy for making everyone feel that one is not competent to speak before he or she has an MA degree, a PhD, a lectureship or a professorship. I think we should allow ideas to arise just before we think we have understood what this or that theorist meant, not after that, because then the idea is already conditioned by the idea of the other or by the question the other asks. I’m actually dreaming of workshops, seminars or conferences without names. It started as an idea with Yuk of having a seminar where the speakers wouldn’t be announced, but now I’m thinking of academic workshops where one is not allowed to use or refer to any names or theorists. I won’t go further here, because like said the problem is difficult to verify, but maybe what I will say next elaborates on this as well.
So now moving on to my second point, I want to end my provocation with the idea of betrayal. Are we being true to ourselves or to our theoretical ideals? In many ways this links to the already said, but anyway I take it as a separate question. How loyal are we to our own theoretical thinking? If the theories we are reading here (and this is of course only my interpretation of the reading list, and here people might see this differently) if they are all about critique of capitalism, meaning critique of private property, poststructuralism, theories of commons, general intellect, or immaterial labour, networks, collective construction or collective action, the possibilities of politics or communities, postmodernism, interaction, innovations, creativity – if all these are our theoretical starting points: how come that we adore individual theorists (meaning intelligence or ideas as private property), that almost no one writes articles or books together, that most of our workshops or seminars don’t mix post docs and graduates as speakers, that only few people write or act outside the academia, that there is no physical space for encounters or co-operation (the problem discussed last time). Why are we not trying to make our ideas leak out of the CCS, why don’t we participate in public discussion? How come that we are trying to read theorists as carefully as possible instead of creating new meanings, encouraging wrong readings. How come, that we reinforce the myth of individuals, the hierarchies between those who are ready to speak and those who are not, that we are actively reproducing the lack of community in our own work. Could it be that at the same time as we see that our problems are collective (be they climate change, the university administration, neoliberal policies, bureocracy etc), we find it more and more difficult to engage ourselves in doing things together, writing articles together, even discussing together. And is this collective action or work difficult, because it would mean compromising our own individual premises, ideas or values.
I think in the end this all comes back to the question of practice or praxis. I have heard that theory is a form of practice, but to be honest, I’m not sure what it means. Especially if there is no one who cares about whether the theory diffuses or leaks outside itself or the academia. If we do not engage ourselves with the society, the community or even the university, we run the risk of both restricting our own thinking (the question I discussed in the beginning) and not seeing our deeds as part of collective adventures. The challenges are numerous and work on several level. Why are we not fighting college fees? Why are we not opposing the differentiation between oversees students and eu-students? Why are we not discussing the counter terrorism acts taking place at New Cross station? Why are we not fighting against the CCTVs that were just installed in the library? Or if all these are too difficult questions to tackle with, why are we not even demanding that we should be allowed to eat our own food at loafers? Of course some of this might be happening, not in the form of direct action, but in the parasitic way Luciana was discussing last time. Let’s hope it does, but the question still remains how effective this parasitic or camouflaged action can be, if it is something that remains in the realm of individuals, if it is not something that can be joined and done together.
I do understand that there is another approach, an approach where academics have their own distinctive role in the society and where there are others who take their ideas forward and yet others who turn them into practice and so on and so forth – all the way to the distinction between phd students and those who clean our toilets. But for me – coming from an academic environment where doing critical – not to mention – marxist research is anything but fashionable, where it is a stigma rather than an advantage at job markets, where you rather not do it if you really don’t need to, it has been a surprise to see how easy it is to make a difference between theory and action or practice – in a way where practice would intrude theory. Or how little there is actual interest in spreading our intellect or our ideas outside the academia.
But having said all this, it is not meant to be a moralizing attack on us, not to say that we are simply not sound with our values, that we should be better and more ascetic people, and go to the barricades, but rather to think what would make us stronger. Could it be: doing things together, attacking those who don’t agree with us, letting discussion without theorists take place, letting ourselves be confused with ideas, acting, using our general intellect rather than the private ideas of our pet theorists, and above all letting the impulses coming from reality be more essential part of our thinking.
‘Attack the Headquarters’ has left me thinking about certain themes that I feel permeate much of the debates. When approaching the ‘AtHQ’ event I was energized, as I was hoping that this event would allow a space for the creation/deployment of a clearly articulated and mutually constituted base level of consensus amongst the staff and the varying tiers of the student body. Maybe this was an unfair expectation, as much a product of my own lack of experience of these events as much as it is also a product of a certain spirit of hopefulness I find I cannot yet shake from myself. This belief being an a priori belief in the power brought into being by the collective assembling of human beings around the singular moment. I only feel it necessary to outline this above concern in order to situate my understanding of the ‘AtHQ’ meetings so far as being in some senses in conflict with, but also indebted to my a priori privileging of the coming-together of human beings. It should also be noted that I am as of yet not in the position of posting or proclaiming an absolute judgment on any perceived, on my own part at least, eventual outcome of these events.
I feel that in some senses the concerns that have been raised for myself are broadly to be collected, for my own understanding as much as anyone else’s, within the three notions I have used as a naming for my post. The first concern is not in any way predicated on any kind of assumption of priority, but is merely placed first as a way for me to think through my response. The concern I have is to do with the concept of containment. I don’t deploy this term within a strictly disciplinarian way, I’m not, for example deploying the notion of containment that accompanies the handling of viral outbreak or nuclear meltdown, but rather as the way in which containment could be said to delineate or construct the outer most point of a concept or debate. This may be a fluidic or permeable outer most point, but I feel that there is still an method of the deployment of ideas or debates that seeks to define, and in some sense it is this mode of definition that I want to address.
I have been thinking about the way in which there are ‘concerns’ implicit to the making of an event like this, but I feel in some sense it is also these very concerns that generate the problems in and of themselves. The premise of ‘AtHQ’, at least as far as I am aware, or have been made aware, is that this is some formal point of departure, or an active moment of movement, in which there is a certain degree of expectation that some formal ‘gear-change’ will occur. It seems to me that the debates thus far have operated along the lines of defining the quality/qualities of the varying methods or modes of analysis or encounters offered and taken up by the active participants, of the bodies, present within the CCS as an institution in itself. It seems to me that the general tonal quality of the provocations made within the confines of the ‘AtHQ’ event is a continual repositioning of the goal-posts, so to speak. In a sense, it seems as if there is a continual struggle (in the less than epic sense) over not just what, but how to define the terrain within which ‘Cultural Studies’ is deemed or “allowed” to operate. It is this moment of (silent?) confrontation that I feel is also the causal moment from where the originary process of containment emerges. In the process of defining the qualitative concerns within/under which we as ‘critics'(?) operate I also believe we construct the very conditions for the self-annihilation of any attempts made to ‘change-gear’. It is as if the harder we accelerate the deeper our wheels bore into the mud
What I am advocating here is not a nihilistic inversion of this problematic. Just because we are in the mud, does not mean we are wrong to make the journey. I do not see ‘AtHQ’ as unnecessary in light of the issues of (self)containment through definition, in fact in some senses I think ‘AtHQ’ becomes more of a necessity. But the issue of self-containment I feel cannot be understood without relating it to the second term of my title which is gesture
By the term gesture I also wish to invoke the relationship that gesture has to the notions of etiquette, manners and gesticulation. In this context I view the concept of gesture as having a quantitative relationship to the related terms I have outlined. I see gesture as a delineation of a unit of etiquette and manners. Although I will not remove the qualitative relationship between the terms, I will begin by addressing gesture as a unit of behaviour, or more broadly a unit of action
For me, manners and etiquette are a way of constructing an economy of gestures, a system of exchanges and valuations that determine the relation of one unit of gesture to another. The issue of containment is also for myself a matter of the deployment of a unit of gesture. The moment of definition undertaken in the moment of containment is for myself a gestural moment. It is point at which a relationship between the individuated gesture is brought to market and is given a value based upon its relation to the value embodied in gestures, by way of the previous containment of preceding gestures in the economy of manners. For myself, the containment of definition only seems to present itself as an issue for nihilism, or self-redundancy, in that it can at any moment reinforce the asymmetry of the economy of manners. In this economy of manners, of etiquette, I do not see the notions of ‘critique‘, ‘innovation‘, or ‘institutionalization‘ as bringing to bear any form of non-value, or anti-value. These concepts cannot but participate in the difficulty of the moment of gesture and the process of self-containment through definition. It is for myself rather the relation between these notions as units of gesture and between these parts as parts of the economy of etiquette that recreates the problematic of the defining moment.
It is at this point that I feel that the last term in my title needs to be highlighted. As it may be recognised, the term is itself already included as a problematic, it is the notion of (negative) excess(?). The reason for my listing of this idea in this manner is also a product of the idea itself. By (negative) excess(?) I mean a lack, but which is conditioned by the presence of itself. In this sense (negative) excess(?) is akin to a certain understanding of the notion of ‘forgetting’, but whereas I view ‘forgetting’ as an empty space conditioned by the dropping of a ‘thing’, I view a (negative) excess(?) as in some ways the inverse. It is a nothing that is actively present (this statement should not be read as a statement on the interpretation of these terms made by others, but as my own treatise that is not intended as a contention against the use of these concepts elsewhere). From this ‘definition‘ of (negative) excess(?) I take it as an important concept in the relation of gesture to the problematic of self-containment through definition. The process of self-defining containment as a marshaling of the unit of gesture will, in my view at least, always leave a (negative) excess(?). There will, in the process of the exchange of units in this economy of manners, always be a nothingness that is only there by its presence, not it’s forgetting
In some senses, this is almost a blind-spot, which seems to be a useful gesture of definition generated by this series of events. But I would try to avoid the notion of (negative) excess(?) being a space of ‘not’ seeing, but as an actually present part of what is being seen, in some senses the (negative) excess(?) is what is seen. The process of ‘critique‘ or ‘defintion’ I outlined earlier are in my view at least, struggles (again, the non-epic kind) over where the placement of this (negative) excess(?) should be. When there is a struggle over the deployment of units of gesture in the context of the construction of the necessary cartographic definition of the terrain of the what/how for and of Cultural Studies and the CCS, I cannot but feel the need to insist upon the (negative) excess(?), the thing that is not there but in some senses casts itself as an inevitability
For me, the (negative) excess(?) is a fundamentally ethical and political problematic. When the forces of critique are intended to be brought to bear upon some part of the map, in what sense will that attack only alter the view we have of the part of the map the attack takes place in by simply moving this (negative) excess(?), rather than say an attack that rewrites the very borders in which we find our attack confined and defined. If force is placed anywhere, how can there not be a weak point in the defense in any possible moment of counter-attack? The only solution I can view, and this is only my pint of view, is that this (negative) excess(?) is not merely a hindrance, but is also a key tool for strategically coordinating the attacks we make on the headquarters
As all acts of definition are contained or implicated in the economy of manners, I see our (negative) excess(?) as no less a hindrance for ourselves that the (negative) excess(?) that conditions the counter-attack that we may receive from the headquarters. Thusly, we must understand the gestural methodology employed by the headquarters in its moment of defining its maps, and move against it. The headquarters is part of a system of speculation in the economy of etiquette, defining and applying value to not only this economy on the collective scale, but also at the point of the unit. By containing the individuated unit of gesture within a certain terrain, the headquarters creates it’s own (negative) excess(?), it is here that I see as the point of the map where we should be.
We must always be fighting the method of definition employed by the headquarters by not avoiding their sight, but being the one thing that cannot but be avoided. As the headquarters assembles a map, we must make ours faster, whilst they assemble their forces, we must assemble ours faster, and whilst they prepare for a counter-attack we must already be mounting the next offensive.
And this can only occur, in my view, in the knowledge of the methods of definition of gesture used by the headquarters through it’s participation in the process of the valuation of these selfsame gestures. The methods of valuation we employ are only effective in light of their relationship to the methods of valuation used by the headquarters, not by the divergence of methods employed by our forces in any one of our attacks. It is not how we define the heterogeneity of attacks we make upon this supposed headquarters, but by the commonalities we share that allow for us all the occupy the point of the headquarters (negative) excess(?).
It is here that I feel I can return full circle to my opening remarks about the a priori expectations I came to this event with. It is not so much the defined qualities of our individuated gestures of critique that define the value of the critique. There is not innate value to any critique outside of it’s placement within an economy of etiquette, which are in a sense already predefined by the valuations made in the very moment of the deployment of any unit of gesture. It is rather the commonality, or ‘brought-togetherness’ of these units of gesture. It is the very process of the creation of the singular moment in which an assumed commonality is possible that will allow for us to best formulate the next line of attack, and allow for us to plot out where the headquarters has placed its (negative) excess(?). Although this process of formulation will not be within the worry of becoming stuck in the mud, once we are all here it becomes less a matter of frantic pedal pushing, and more a matter of us all putting on our wellington boots, exiting the vehicle and collective dragging ourselves out of the dirt.
I hadn’t orginally intended to present anything at ATHQ, and ended up doing so as a result of a communication error. As such I was initially a little puzzled as to what I’d say – but after the first session I ended up slightly keener on the idea, and decided that I might want to say something about the relation between the two distinct kinds of practice often spoken about at the centre. These are, to my mind, as follows: on the one hand, the Marxist-radical-lefty-militant-etc. notion of practice, which comes with a whole bunch of attendant neuroses about its separation from its theoretical discussion; and on the other, the kind of practice that was being spoken about yesterday: the actual production of culture itself, and the vocational training associated with it.
In keeping with the tradition of auto-critique:
I think the motivation behind this was my own embarrassment at spending practically all of my time looking at arch, ‘radical’ lefty theory in complete isolation from its instantiation. However, in retrospect, it was also symptomatic of my increasing desire to just float off on a little cloud of theory and philosophy, and to have as little as possible to do with a cultural studies that I find increasingly – sorry folks, but its true – erm…kind of boring.
As a result, rather than a bout of hand-wringing over the divorce between ‘radical’ theory and its actualisation I ended up arguing instead for the separation between such theory and the more vocational, training-oriented, cultural kind of practice. An argument against abstract, isolated theory thus became an argument for its ‘purity’, and for its further separation from any institutional stuff that might taint its supposed (or intended) critical wisdom. …which of course immediately highlights the idealist (in both senses of the word) position adopted, and that in itself perhaps does a better job (albeit accidentally) of presenting the original complaint about academic abstraction than the text itself managed.
Basically, I argue that cultural studies should be critical theory, and that if critical theory is to set about analysing ideology it must first address itself, the tools it works with, and above all the institution in which it operates. Perhaps evidence for that could be found in the rejection of a distinction between theory and practice that may people were arguing for: surely presenting academic, theoretical work as political practice has an obvious ideological function?
The text was written as notes to myself, largely cobbled together the day before (busy writing stuff for the June panels). I’ve tried to flesh it out a little in what follows, but it will still read like a list of memos:
At the last session James spoke about the danger of ‘blind spots’, and suggested that they might arise as a result of the distinction between CCS and ‘real’ cultural studies; ‘real’ cultural studies, he suggested, was in ‘crisis’ because it was no longer trouble maker: what had been an ‘anti-discipline’ had solidified into a discipline, and had thus lost its ability to criticise the separation and fragmentation of others.
Luciana, in her own text, argued for moving beyond fixed disciplines – and I guess what I argue for here is that both the virtue of an anti-discipline, and indeed that of moving beyond fixed positions, might be facilitated by criticising cultural studies on its own terms.
That might be introduced by picking up some of Jeff’s comments from the previous session, which I felt got a little lost in the conversation that followed.
I thought that one could say that there were two distinct positions being articulated last time, and that the distinction between the two seemed – to me, at least – to define the limitations of what this event could hope to achieve. I think it perhaps might also indicate the limitations of cultural studies, and as such it might be possible to try and define a notion of cultural studies on the basis of those limitations.
But first: if I’m talking about a discipline, and about the merits of subjecting it to its own critique, then the first question is as to what cultural studies actually is.
Very schematically, perhaps it can be said that it is the development and dissemination of critical theory on the one hand, and on the other an engagement and interest in the production of culture. On the one hand, a critique of culture and ideology, and on the other, a training ground for its production. Finally (too many dichotomies!), on the one hand critical knowledge, developing which entails political prescriptions for changing present society, or aspects thereof; on the other something that is pursued because those involved want to be employable within that society.
The distinction between the two aspects was perhaps evidenced at the last session. Jeff’s comment about relating theory to practice was – if I understood properly – about militancy. Despite this, the conversation that resulted from it very quickly became a conversation about how to get student’s work noticed by industry.
(NB I make no judgment as to the virtues of one over the other – we’re all in this room because we do, or because we want to get jobs)
Perhaps the distinction between these two notions of practice – and indeed the speed with which the one slipped into the other – pretty much defined cultural studies: oppositional, critical ideas, articulated within an inherently vocational environment.
That might be illustrated again in relation to Jeff’s talk: Jeff said something about making ideas dangerous, and about the virtues of being shocking and provocative.
…but why? What’s the point? Why should we be shocking? Purely for the sake of it? …isn’t that a little vacuous?
I don’t see any point in making the ideas of cultural studies deliberately shocking if you don’t know why they should be shocking, who it is you’re trying to shock, or what it is that these ideas supposedly threaten. One can’t say that cultural studies should have an a priori political agenda (how to critique ideology whilst subscribing to dogma?) and one can’t adopt such a position anyway, even if it were desirable to do so, by virtue of the discipline’s location within the academic institution.
N.B. This is not to denigrate theoretical, ‘dangerous’ ideas for the sake of some romantic idea of ‘real practice’ [EDIT: rubbish, that's precisely what I was doing, as was surely apparent to all], or to suggest that they can’t ever be ‘dangerous’. Rather, the point is that the assumption that such ideas are somehow automatically dangerous, in the absence of any acknowledgment of their relation to the environment within which they are produced, entails that they are going to be neutered from the start.
In the absence of that kind of self-awareness it seems that the assertion “lets make ideas dangerous again!” can only mean “let’s try and make ideas interesting by presenting them as dangerous!”, …and I think what that really means is “let’s make the environment within which these ideas are produced commercially successful because we’re coming up with such exciting, trendy, ‘radical’ ideas!”
So, again, the problem is the relation between critical ideas and the vocational, commercial environment within which they are developed and articulated.
(as an illustration: when doing my MA a friend used to joke that I was going to “cool school”, a place where people learned to talk incomprehensible rubbish about incomprehensible French theorists. Ironically enough I now really am at ‘cool school': “Goldsmiths, University of London was announced as one of the UK’s coolest brands last night at the exclusive PlayCool event…”)
Having said all this, it seems that suggesting ‘radical’ ideas to be inherently lucrative is probably not entirely fair [EDIT: mainly because I was conflating trendy French theory with political engagement...]. David Graeber, who’s recently joined the anthropology department, pointed out in his review of the Tate’s recent Art and Immaterial Labour conference (at which a selection of famous Italian autonomist theorists spoke) that “It’s a little shocking to discover that scholars of such recognized importance in the domain of ideas could really have received such little institutional recognition, but of course, there is very little connection between the two—especially, when politics is involved.” Graeber knows that first hand, having recently fired from Yale because of his own anarchist politics.
Perhaps this lack of financial success and institutional difficulty is due to the fact that some people think these ideas, and the people who disseminate, them really are dangerous. Stanley Abramowitz was delighted to tell us last week that he features in David Horowitz’s book The Professors – The Top 101 Dangerous Academics in America. Horowitz describes his book as follows:
“The Professors [is] a collective profile of 101 faculty members who confused their academic mission with political advocacy. I argued that roughly ten percent of university liberal arts faculties were made up of professors who regarded political opinions as “integral” to their scholarship.”
Professors who profess! Surely not.
At the very least, I think cultural studies should be about the construction of political positions; after all, what’s the point of just observing cultural and ideological phenomena if you make no judgments about them? The nature of the subject under analysis entails that the judgments made might well have (and arguably should have) political implications.
So, cultural studies should obviously not preclude the constitution of ideas that are at least potentially ‘dangerous’, or at least oppositional. But the question still stands as to the extent to which they are affected by the environment within which they are produced.
With that in mind, I had a look at a course on the critique of higher education that I’d been told about (I thought it was really good: see here). A lot of that course involved getting the students to read Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition, which proved something of a happy accident, as I’d been going through that book again for my review text that morning. I’m sure everyone’s read the book, but as the comments made therein about education may be pertinent it might be worth rehearsing the argument:
Education is no longer presented as a drive towards ‘Truth'; knowledge becomes a collection of ‘narratives’ [EDIT: I got told off for using the word 'narrative' the other day'; apparently it implied I was a 'postmodern relativist'. Am I fuck]; these narratives are understood in terms of performativity (actualising, instituting power through utterance); this means that knowledge instantiates power in some sense, and as a result its production is managed. Some forms will be promoted, others will be denigrated, but all will be managed.
Lyotard claims that: “The moment knowledge ceases to be an end in itself…its transmission is no longer the exclusive responsibility of scholars and students.” p.50
So, this leads to ideas about the management and optimisation of knowledge production; efficiency, productivity, knowledge becoming ever more shaped in accordance with the needs of the social system as a whole. Society as an optimal cybernetic system, etc. etc.
…but as we know, you don’t need to subscribe to trendy postmodern accounts for this; Lukács was saying almost exactly the same thing, albeit by way of a different model, in the 1920’s (as Abramowitz reminded us, albeit by way of a crazy attempt to transmute the humanities into the subject-object of history); Marx equated an education factory to a sausage factory as long ago as 1860. Again, as we know, education is a commodity; as has been noted, we’re all in this room as a result of financial transactions.
So, on the one hand, we’ve got an ideal as to the production of knowledge for its own sake. On the other, we have the fact that this is pretty much (if not entirely) impossible within the present context.
With that in mind, how does does that relate to cultural studies as a discipline? Presumably we want to be able to criticise and evaluate culture and ideology; and yet at the same time, we’re involved in the production of both culture and ideology. Above all, cultural studies is itself a cultural product.
Can prescriptions be made on that basis? The things that make the centre a vibrant, interesting place are the spontaneous, unstructured things that happen on the periphery of the taught and (comparatively) formal stuff. The framework upon which the whole thing rests is obviously the inherently vocational, culture-industry, money side of things. Consequently, the issue is presumably to try and chart a path between the two, and that seems to be precisely what the centre has tried to do (and succeeded in doing) in the past.
But is it the case that in talking about charting a course between two dichotomous positions the relation between the two is missed? If cultural studies (or at least the version of cultural studies that I find interesting) is a critique of ideology – and if it necessarily arises from and produces ideology – then perhaps a key part of it what it does, perhaps as a precondition, should be a critique of itself and of the institution in which it works.
Perhaps a bad way of approaching that is via Adorno, who argues that if all of society is commodified and reified, and if all thought and culture are consequently reified as well, then chipping away at reified thought is itself revolutionary practice. He thus magically transforms philosophy into concrete practice, justifies separated intellectual labour, and returns us to the problem with which this text started.
A better way of dealing with this might be Karl Korsch: Korsch says that in order to criticise ideology one must first pick away at the link between philosophy and the historical and social practice from which it arises. Philosophy provides the tools to criticise ideology, but philosophy must itself be evaluated as ideology (cf trendy French theory, Negri, postmodernism, effacement of class analysis, etc., etc.)
The centre is very strong on theory, and on using theory to analyse culture; perhaps therefore one aspect of what it does, or a precondition for the operation of its critical side, should be an attempt to analyse that theory as culture and therefore as ideology. By extension: cultural studies should perhaps be a little more (but certainly not exclusively) self-consciousness as to its own status as culture, or as a culture, as a discipline, etc.
Some notes as to prescriptions that I didn’t bother with yesterday:
All this necessarily entails capitalizing – both senses of the word – on the spontaneous, interesting stuff that happens at the periphery of the centre.
A lot of that is reading groups
Reading groups possibly unsuitable for MA’s, as they have so much to do in one year
…but perhaps they could be given some kind of semi-official encouragement or endorsement? If reading contemporary texts, could we get the authors to be present at the final session? They do that at Sussex sometimes and it seems to work well.
We don’t have any undergraduates, so the PhD’s don’t get to do any teaching. But perhaps some kind of optional, extra-curricular (and probably fairly informal) lectures could be given by the PhD’s to those MA’s that want to hear them? Good to put on a CV (oh, how very vocational) How to make that work?
Starting a journal?
Demonstration against the deportation of Hicham Yezza and for academic freedom
Nottingham academics to give public reading from Al-Qaeda training manual.
The document had been downloaded from an official US government website, for academic research into political extremism.
Photo Opportunity: Outside the Hallward Library, University Park Campus, 2:00pm, 28/05/08. The reading will be followed by a silent protest to the Trent Building, the administrative building. There will be hundreds of students present many of whom will be symbolically gagged. There will be sales and a collection in aid of Hichams’ legal fees.
The demonstration was originally called to voice outrage and concern over the threat to academic freedom, illustrated by the recent arrest of two innocent people on campus. The focus has now widened to include support and solidarity for one of the arrested, Hicham Yezza, who is now facing imminent deportation.
Hicham Yezza, know to his many friends as ‘Hich’, has lived, worked and studied in Nottingham for the past 13 years. He won a scholarship to study for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and was later employed by the University of Nottingham. He is highly skilled and has made incredible contributions to the University and local community.
Hich’s MP, Alan Simpson, has written to Liam Byrne Minister of State for Borders and Immigration to express his concerns at what he described as an “arbitrary deportation with no right to a proper hearing.” Nick Palmer, MP for Broxtowe said, “I hope that Mr Yezza will have his case fully and fairly considered without any rush to deport him before all the facts are clear.”
Petitions are currently being signed by hundreds of students and academics worldwide, asking the University of Nottingham to lobby for Hicham’s release and to guarantee academic freedom on campus for all staff and students regardless of their ethnic background or political views.
Contact the Campaign:
Phone: 07948590262 or 07505863957
As I wasn’t invited to deliver my thoughts to the meeting (of course I wasn’t – who would have invited me? Who would even have thought to?), I have collected some of them here for review at leisure. Please do REVIEW them – dispute them, second them or second-guess them. That much has been said already by others, but it bears repeating.
I am not really extending a singular argument, but rather, trying to say what may yet be unsaid – drawing attention to various of those ‘blind-spots’ which were referred to at the first meeting. I’m also intervening, consciously, because I can.
There is probably more than one single, coherent CCS in effect already. There are multiple agendas here at CCS, and what already is is being called into further doubt by AtHQ. Dear sweet utopians (myself included)
might dream of consensus, here as elsewhere. However, speaking practically, such liberal sentimentality could effectively handicap the (work, etc.) ethics of CCS (such ethics surely being a – if not the – core issue at stake for AtHQ). It is one thing to uphold standards of mutual respect; it is another to imagine that the democratic platform itself is the royal road to success. In all this I wear my politics on my sleeve. What I am getting at is that I already recognise healthy levels of dissent in the department, and discord as to its nature, its mission(s) and their appropriate means of pursuit. I think that Attack the Headquaters has the potential to increase that dissonance, create factions and thereby encourage the evolution of innovative phenomena. Constitutive homogeneity should be allowed for and properly recognized where it occurs, but it should not be actively encouraged. This is a thoroughly ecological concern (a point which I may expand on request).
Let it also be remembered by all that Goldsmiths and the CCS are already real, mundane social, political structures manifest in the world-at-large. It is certainly prudent to draw attention to difficulties of voice, power, access etc. in their effect upon the practical functioning of the Centre (it is even better to suggest realistic solutions). However, let us not obsess! These problems are NOT specific to CCS. They are endemic to ‘our’ society – even to society as such, I suspect. We/you/they may very well want to think about the
apparent reluctance of some people to stand forward at certain times and cast their opinions in class, meetings or wherever. But for pity’s sake don’t imagine that there is something ‘wrong’ with CCS specifically because those problems occur. Politics and personality are and always have been part of the wallpaper, so to speak, and if they concern you, I urge you to throw your attention towards the whole wall rather than the tiny (potentially self-indulgent) little pattern that describes the CCS. Look, certainly, but don’t stare.
To go further, and to risk sounding like even more of a heartless fascist, some of the problems that have been voiced around these discussions, as problems with CCS, are more accurately personal problems which impact CCS because their sufferers are allied to the Centre. This isn’t to denigrate those personal problems, or to suggest that their consideration is out of place here (I’ve had these problems too); I merely think that
the distinction is important, as it may help us understand the situation more clearly. For instance, I hear that many individuals are experiencing a crisis of purpose with regards their academic lives, their thinking and their presence in CCS. This is hardly surprising for MA candidates at the least, given the (probably quite necessary) structure of the course! But this is NOT the same problem as the similar lack of direction of the CCS as a whole.
Some academics are only really comfortable when proffering their own normative values; others instead only feel comfortable discussing what apparently is rather than what they may feel should be. Still others find no ethical problem here! Perhaps a similar set of judgements faces CCS-at-large through the process of AtHQ. In any case, we may relate our personal problems with CCS to the collective problems of CCS as a whole, and we may even seek to tackle them together – but if we do so, let this be a conscious decision, rather than an implicit assumption (particularly where the one might otherwise be assuaged without recourse to the other).
There is certainly a lack of purpose in the CCS. This may be a strength and a weakness; it is the weakness
that concerns me here. I would like to propose an agenda, a programme, in fact a subjective moral stance for the CCS in addition to the foregoing (practical) ethical concerns. I wish to set alarming precedent for our discussions now by proposing a benchmark against which all further discussion may be judged. I am well aware that this move might make some people uncomfortable, and for a plethora of reasons. Let them voice their discomfort.
There are sufficient REAL problems in the REAL world for much of what gets discussed as ‘problematic’ in CCS to be distasteful in the extreme. On the one hand we have climate change, peak oil, food crises and myriad other practical problems gradually making life more difficult for everybody, whilst each one of these REAL problem threatens a phase-shift any day that might suddenly topple us all into dangerous, unexpected territory. On the other hand we have arrived in modernism’s absolute future – not the relative, ongoing future of our own individual lives, but the absolute science-fiction future of the End of History. This is a
fiction, we know, but there is nevertheless an alarming lack of ability to reimagine anything today. I think this is a profound problem for the CCS. We are a microcosm of the global empire that knows that ‘the chips are up,’ that there are too many threats and too much change coming from too many sides at once, but still we are unable to act because we are unable to imagine – or to commit. We know all this, we talk about this at CCS, but we don’t treat these problems with the unique, unparalled respect which they deserve. Any other concerns are secondary. This is my contention. The scholarly reflection on Kierkegaard can wait for a time when the (potential, but very real) collapse of global society, culture, civilization has either been averted or, by conscious preparation, survived. If Kierkegaard is relevant, let him be relevant to these contemporary practical concerns.
I humbly propose that those who can abide by these principles stay with the CCS, and those who cannot, pursue their traditional studies elsewhere. There is the potential here for CCS to do something worthy, unique, and truly historic. CCS is in crisis because the world is in crisis. Every day the media reports the
crises, but the politicians remain out-of-phase. Every day the situation gets worse, and the danger of catastrophic failure grows. Shouldn’t this complex of cultural problems become the explicit focus of CCS? If not, WHY not? And if not us, then who?
People will always have pet projects, and each academic will pursue a different part of the same puzzle. But the benchmark against which a value judgement should be made, for any undertaking in/with/by the CCS, should be as follows: does it contribute to the understanding of, amelioration of, or experimental intervention in, the world-in-crisis as described above? This judgement is often tacitly made already, but it is something new to suggest that it be adopted as the very foundation of a resolved or self-resolving CCS-in-crisis. The ‘critical interventions in creative industries’ alluded to in the centre brochure is already half-way to suggesting a genuine culture of engagement – but I am convinced that formalising the link between CCS and the ‘cultural industries’ is a mistake. That site of intervention is too narrow and although it
offers itself to subversion, it naturally stands on enemy territory. And there IS an enemy.
I have some practical suggestions (partly in response to James and Luciana), and these will follow on later. For now, I’m interested in what people make of my (possibly quite audacious) suggestion of a definitive ‘benchmark’ against which we and the CCS may be judged, in respect to our world-in-crisis. Would people rather stay with unadulterated academia for its own sake? Am I overstating the world’s problems? Where does the people’s glorious revolution fit into all this?
– Darren Flint.
With the second part of Attack the Headquarters coming up this Tue 27th (2-6pm, RHB 150, as before), would it be worth asking if there is anything in particular that participants would like to see happen differently from the first day – in particular in terms of the collective discussions? The provocateurs lined up will surely set the tone and direction of much of the meeting, but I wondered if there were any practical issues arising from the last session that anyone felt needed addressing?
One comment I heard a couple of times after the last session (in amongst all the encouraging feedback and debate) was that some people almost felt afraid to speak up for fear of antagonising others in the room. Now although AtHQ is not the place for direct personal attacks, nor perhaps for purely negative criticisms (whether of selves or others), at the same time people should not feel they have to keep what they see as burning issues bottled up. If anyone feels that there are topics, questions, issues that ought to be addressed but are somehow getting left out, then it is important that everyone present feels they can point to these omissions. In terms of what I was saying in the last session, the very definition of a blindspot is that you can’t see it: we need each other to point them out.
This, incidentally, is also an issue of relevance to every seminar/workshop/reading group… Any ideas on how we can make people more comfortable in speaking out/up? Or indeed, any other practical suggestions for the form of the discussions on the second day?
Challenging the Market in Education – Conference takes the campaign up a gear
More than 120 delegates attended UCU’s conference ‘Challenging the Market in Education’ last Saturday, another indication that this is a high campaigning priority for members. The conference heard Professor Dexter Whitfield providing an overview of ‘marketisation’, how it works and how it leads to, and prepares the ground for, privatisation. Professor Roger Seifert explained how public sector ‘modernisation’ in the form of human resource management is about assisting the process of marketisation and privatisation at the level of the workforce. Dr Ken Spours outlined his vision of an alternative vision of FE, which moves away from the neo-liberal Leitch agenda and toward a democratised system which would enable creative partnerships between colleges, communities and civilsociety organisations. Activist-led workshops analysed the ways in which Academy Schools, Train2Gain and privatisation in HE were affecting members, and began to suggest ideas for increasing and developing our campaigning work. The excellent work done at the conference will now be used to feed into the production of a new campaigns resource for members and branches, a revised cross-sectoral campaigns pack on privatisation and marketisation. Watch this space for more!
At the Conference Sally Hunt warned that privatisation is now growing faster in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, and threatens our proud international reputation for educational excellence. Further reading:
http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=3304 – press release
UCU launches new report on privatisation in Further and Higher Education
The conference was also an opportunity for the union to launch its new report into the growth of the private sector in tertiary education. ‘Marketisation and the growth of the private sector in tertiary education’, uncovers the growth of the private sector in tertiary education and sets it in the wider context of the growing ‘marketisation’ of education. This is full of information about the companies involved and provides a preliminary analysis of what’s happening to our sector. It also contains suggestions for the union’s future campaigning and points for discussion. You can download the report here:
All the news and resources associated with UCU’s campaigning against privatisation are now on a single web page for ease of access. You can download UCU’s new report on privatisation as well as reading the latest news on current campaigns across the UK.
Click here to view it: http://www.ucu.org.uk/stopprivatisation
What I tried to say and would say again:
1. On the Centre as a disciplinary entity versus the Centre as inserted in an institution
I was happy to hear from Luciana that we are done talking about interdisciplinarity! I take this to mean that it is no longer helpful to think about what we do in the Centre or in/as Cultural Studies in terms of disciplinarity either. Maybe we’ll still have to say these words from time to time, in contexts void of actual thought, but they won’t have meaning. This would be the place to open a parenthesis on who we are, as many of “us” will not ever be in these contexts (academic job interviews, writing grant and book proposals, etc.), and so a parenthesis on the divide between “the teachers” and “the students,” to which we should try to be as attentive as possible without succumbing to delusional fantasies that we can make it go away. I was grateful to Luciana for making this clear and to all the others who affirmed after she spoke and in the pre-event posts.
Indeed (on the divide again for one second), it became clearer to me as I was going on about the Nigerian delegation that there may be some static or dissonance around what staff and students experience on precisely this question of a happy post-discipline life. I have this vague impression that students are more likely to feel that they “chose” a discipline and a degree programme with a proper name attached to it whereas I as staff have the luxury of feeling, most of the time, that I have been chosen and even rewarded (or punished…depending on the day) for my refusal to cave to disciplinary protocols. This is partly idiosyncratic but it’s an idiosyncracy clearly shared across the Centre staff. What I’m trying to remind us of here is that what is at stake in commitments to a discipline will be, basically for structural reasons, something pretty different depending on whether one is looking at the thing from the perspective of student or staff. This is part of what gets picked up in the conversations I have sometimes overheard about our relationship(s) to “British Cultural Studies.” Our relationship(s) to it apart from being it (which is the reason, or one of them, I take it why John located our discussion “in the UK”). If the 19th century university gave us these disciplines, that is, these little boxes to shut ourselves up in, it was clearly important for British Cultural Studies to undo all that: the compartmentalization of knowledge, particularly of knowledge as specialization and all of the attendant scientific rationalizations of power.
That moment is dead. We inherit from this project and and we reap the benefits, but the forms taken by these rationalizations are changing all the time and so the responses must also change. We do and we don’t inherit this project. I take that to be the point of the Attack in the first place.
I’m new to the UK. This is part of what I meant when I said I don’t actually know what the institution is. I also meant—and this is what I wanted to say about the Nigerians with whom I met for several hours Thursday morning—is that none of us can afford to be too complacent about knowing or understanding what the institution is. You may think you know what the institution is, but whatever it is it’s going to change on you—and fast. There are proposals getting shot around the College in every department and every centre every day that are similar in intention. Not all the proposals are equal, which is why it is worth thinking about how we can be involved at the proverbial decision-making level. I am not proposing we have to accept the analysis handed down to us (for example, that increasing enrollments and particularly enrollments on the MA programmes is the future and the only way to go), but it does mean we need to be thinking a bit about what the consequences of some of these decisions will be and on a more general level about what is going on. (We could also mention those baloney (Bologna?) accords that will radically change the way our MA courses are taught, and not for the better.)
2. Show me the money
Someone said something during the session about the “stultifying power” of institutions. Maybe they stultify in the sense of make us stupid. But even if this is the case, there is no outside of institution(s) (as the “Critique of Violence” session was basically screaming). I would suggest that institutions are not about stasis per se but rather about the vesting and protection of vested interests. Goldsmiths–if we can accept this name for one level of institutional insertion we share, even if it is not the only one–is under pressure to divest and reconfigure its institutional-libidinal-economy in some pretty radical ways. Students experience this pressure, which is obviously financial but which can be expressed, despite this obviousness, via all kinds of weird displacements, and they respond by lamenting (rightfully) the lack of books in the library or the lack of face time with professors. We as staff experience it in all of these ways, and students are very good about reminding us, and more.
One of the things I have been getting told that my students clearly have not (at least not yet)—and I had just been told it three times in one week by higher-ups in College administration before walking into Thursday’s session—is that the college needs to generate a 2.2 million pound surplus by the end of this year. This in order to maintain status quo. Students can complain to me all day about wanting a smaller seminar, more face time, etc., and I can turn around and try to talk to my “line manager” or to the big boss. No matter what I say, I will get told to go make some money.
We need to think collectively about our future as inserted in (an) institution. Our response could take a thousand different forms and ought to take place, it seems to me, on a thousand different levels. It was helpful, by the way, John, to have that clarification of the Centre’s historical position in terms of staying under the radar. This moment is, or should be, behind us also.
3. There is not only the institution and/or where is the decision-making level?
We are also always more than, or in excess of, institution. Luciana’s reminder about Graham and the projects he is working on with the local Congolese community was about this. There are other institutions, and new ones, in play in that work, and when I told my students in the Text and Image lecture (think it was Hegel?) that knowledge always gets produced in connection with institutions, this doesn’t mean that the institution comes first and the knowledge gets made in it, or that knowledge is appropriated by institutions or whatever. This can be a very loose “in connection with,” and it can remain unknown, or up for grabs, or totally labile.
This is why I cast the meeting with the Nigerian delegation as a possible index of change or as a marker of institutional lability. There could be something there, in that particular instance, to seize or be seized. But it was more as a marker of other possibilities, possibilities that might be invented, to think and work more radically on, or through, the forces (the violences) that also produce the horrible things. At the very least, it serves as a reminder that some things can change within the institution at lightning speed. Perhaps only where people are chasing the surplus, or think they are chasing it. Maybe we decide we can work with this, on it and through it, without compromise, for a different agenda. Maybe we decide we can’t, and we take a different position.
Where is the decision-making level? Is it actually on top? Is it ever really there? Isn’t this just swallowing exactly “what they want you to believe”: hook, line, and sinker? The culture of student passivity (the fear of speaking we touched on) makes me utterly despairing here. The fantasied contact between some of the highly compartmentalized spaces I work in—the things that happen in the meeting rooms of the delegations AND the things that happen in the classroom—is about this. I walk into one room and see totally labile structures, everything on fire, and five minutes later I walk out again and into the next room and see total paralysis. Sometimes the second room is the classroom sometimes it is the first.
That’s the truly excellent thing about AHQ. That it is getting these spaces into contact. Thank you all (and my apologies for being late and unprepared in the moment: we did a session swap thanks to pathogens).
‘A revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief.’ Max Horkheimer
The underlying theme of my provocation today will be the idea of provocation: its relevance, effectiveness, and even possibility. My initial idea was to do something with the Situationist’s text ‘On the Poverty of Student Life’ (1966). I first came across this text – the first text from the Situationist International I ever read, or remember reading – at a point during my BA in Politics at which I was completely disillusioned and bored. It pinpointed many of the frustrations I felt with my program, school, classmates, professors, and myself, and formulated a political way of understanding my disillusionment and boredom, as well as a ‘program’ for reactivating my engagement with the political. As such, however, I associate the text so strongly with a particular feeling of teenage angst and youthful naivety that it is today difficult for me to engage with. Reading it again recently I felt slightly embarrassed. The authors’ attempts to provoke their imagined readers seemed so anachronistic as to be almost cute and endearing. Still, working with the Situationists entails at some point considering whether or not one is utilizing radical politics for careerist ends, devitalizing them in the process. This is something I still haven’t resolved completely and this is part of the reason why I think it’s worth going back to this text, even if I risk getting trapped in a morass of hackneyed discussions about ‘genuine’ radicality, recuperation, and denouncing the so-called radicals funded by the state.
According to its dictionary definition a provocation is: ‘action or speech that makes someone annoyed or angry, especially deliberately.’ ‘On the Poverty of Student Life’ was clearly intended as primarily a provocation (rather than as primarily a nuanced, scholarly essay), and according to the Situationists and their legend it was an enormously successful one, ultimately leading to May ’68. The text was written after a group of pro-Situationists managed to get elected to the presidency at the University of Strasbourg Student Union and contacted the Situationists asking advice as to the best way to destroy the university. Debord gave Mustapha Khayati the task of writing a pamphlet (in discussion with the students) that would ‘provoke an extreme response, possibly even violence, from the university authorities.’ The Student Union spent their entire funds on printing ten thousand copies of the pamphlet in a fancy jacket, its full title being ‘On the Poverty of Student Life, considered in its economic, political, psychological, sexual and especially intellectual aspects, with a modest proposal for its remedy’. This was part of a chain of orchestrated events in which the entire authority of the university was challenged, with revolutionary tracts being put up on walls and distributed and students throwing tomatoes at professors.
The text itself is a denunciation of the figure of the student (the most universally despised in France after the priest and the policeman) and the university. ‘The university has become an institutional organization of ignorance; “high culture” itself is being degraded in the assembly-line production of professors, all of whom are cretins and most of whom would get the bird from any audience of highschoolers.’ Its main purpose is to train white-collar workers, despite whatever delusions the professors and students harbor. ‘Being a student is a form of initiation,’ both in that they are being trained for a future in an office and given the time to groom their identity as a consumer. The situation is not completely hopeless as the Situationists point to a small percentage of students that have understood the system and exploit it accordingly, getting grants while spreading the seeds of sedition, and making ‘no secret of the fact that what they extract so easily from the “academic system” is used for its destruction.’ ‘The student cannot revolt against anything without revolting against his studies,’ they conclude, and a revolt against their studies is the first step towards a total rejection of the society that requires these studies.
The pro-Situationists from the Student Union were ultimately brought before a judge who described them as ‘scarecely more than adolescents, lacking all experience of real life. Their minds confused by ill-digested philosophical, social, political, and economic theories, and bored by the drab monotony of everything life, they make the empty, arrogant and pathetic claim to pass definitive judgments on their fellow students, their teachers, God, religion, the clergy and the governments and political systems of the entire world. Rejecting all morality and constraint these students do not hesitate to commend theft.’
The Situationists write in a later commentary on the events surrounding ‘On the Poverty of Student Life, ‘We want to make ideas dangerous again.’ For me, today, the ideas in ‘On the Poverty of Student Life’ do not feel particularly dangerous however. It may still be relevant enough to inspire (as it did for me nearly ten years ago), but it is difficult to imagine it helping spark a chain of events that would lead to anything the slightest bit similar to the ‘Strasbourg scandal’, let alone something like May 1968.
What ideas are dangerous today? Some police agency found it necessary to have a policeman (or agent of some type) watch Sukant Chandan at the Why Mao? Why Now? conference last year, but I don’t think anyone here was particularly provoked (or inspired for that matter). What could ‘provoke an extreme response, possibility even violence, from the university authorities’ (or from John and Scott)? What could even make the majority of this room angry? In his controversial essay Pacifism as Pathology (1986, republished as a book in 1998), Ward Churchill attacks pacifism, not simply as a well-meaning, perhaps beautiful but ultimately ineffectual, strategy but as a racist pathology. Pacifism, or rather the pacifism adopted by most activists in the US, is racist in that relies on people in the third world, or the most repressed sectors of the ‘home country’, to put their bodies and lives on the line while the Western pacifist activist risks almost nothing. Futhermore, all of the victories it has claimed are actually, at least to a large extent, the result of violent resistance (civil rights movement, Vietnam). He claims that if one wants to gauge the threat a particular movement, group, or technique presents to the status quo, one of the things one can look at is the effort the state puts into the surveillance, infiltration, or repression of the given movement, group, or technique. While this is an oversimplified version of a possibly problematic argument, it is certainly a way in to beginning to think about the Headquarters we think we are Attacking and the manner(s) in which we do so. Just as Churchill writes that is laughable to think that one of the pacifist hallmark’s: the allowing yourself to be arrested in a staged photo-op in cooperation with the police, is revolutionary by any means, one could argue that it is laughable to think one is Attacking the Headquarters in any meaningful sense while being funded by the state.
Churchill is particularly interesting because he was recently fired in June 2007 for ‘research misconduct’ from the University of Colorado after a protracted battle. Churchill was a professor of Ethnic Studies with a particular interest in Native American issues and has done a great deal of research on COINTELPRO and the American Indian Movement, among other things. The day after 9.11, Churchill published an essay that later became a book called ‘Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens’. As the title suggests, Churchill argued that the attacks were not only a consequence of US foreign policy, unintended yet inevitable blowback, but that the US got what it had coming so to speak. ‘On the morning of September 11, 2001, a few more chickens – along with some half-million dead Iraqi children – came home to roost in a very big way at the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center.’ Most provocatively, Churchill claimed the civilians who died in the towers and in the planes were ‘little Eichmanns’. He writes, ‘As to those in the World Trade Center . . . they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire – the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly.’
Obviously these claims provoked an angry reaction and calls for Churchill’s job, if not his head, came from across the political spectrum, led by Billy O’Reilly and Fox News, the Republican and then Democratic Governors of Colorado, and Marc Cooper at the left-leaning weekly The Nation. Churchill clearly crossed a line in openly questioning the ‘innocence’ of the attacks victims, but in the aftermath of the attacks it should be kept in mind that putting the attacks into any historical context was considered unpatriotic, as saying the terrorists were motivated by anything other than envy, a hatred of freedom, or even repressed homosexual desire (The Looming Towers) would lead inevitably to the claim that the US deserved it. This is quite interesting in that it is not only the radical fringes of the social sciences whose ideas are considered dangerous but basically any social science in general that doesn’t merely regurgitate official claims.
I am not sure what kind of consequences this might have for the type of research we do, or might do, at CCS. Writing friendly grants and then using the money to ‘spread sedition’? Courses in small arms or seminars on learning chokeholds with fisherman’s thread alongside Sun Tzu and Machiavelli? The swarm and the urban guerilla? If concepts are like makeshift weapons that a convict might tuck into his belt while fleeing, it is clear that neither is anything inherently dangerous, nor are they ever safe: both Hamas and the IDF might read Deleuze to help them fight in Gaza (as Eyal Weisman has demonstrated). So it clearly is not only about the ideas the Centre teaches or claims to espouse but the manner in which we deal with each other, our students, and the outside world. It is also obviously facile to say we should be engaged with research the state wants to ban rather than fund, but in the very least it should lead to an open, honest discussion (like the one we are having over the next few weeks) about what we think we are doing, what role we think we are playing, and what risks are involved. The fundamental questions to which I still don’t myself have answers are what is a headquarters, which Headquarters do we want to attack and for what end, and how can we go about doing so?
Attack the Headquarters #1: Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, 14 May, 2008.
My open question for all of us today and throughout Attack the Headquarters is ‘What are our blindspots?’ In the spirit of autocritique, my hunch is that it is where we are most confident in our strengths that we ought to look for our weaknesses or failings. In this first talk I’ll attempt to identify some of these blindspots, yet undoubtedly there will be others, and there may be those who disagree with the specific blindspots I think I’ve identified. So if you think I get them wrong, consider this talk an invitation to look for others, to re-examine those areas of our activity and outlook at CCS that we most take for granted.
Thinking about today I read a few things about the state of contemporary cultural studies.1 Apparently, the discipline is in crisis. This is news (at least around here). I think this is a crisis that at CCS we are deliberately ignorant of. This is, or has been, in fact, one of our strengths. I want to suggest that – obliquely perhaps – it is also a weakness. In a way, our failing is that we are too good. This isn’t just an excuse for me to talk up our strengths today: I want to point towards this sense of being beyond traditional cultural studies, and the particular ways we seem to be beyond it, as, potentially, a genuine problem with – for – at CCS, even while acknowledging that it is the reason I’m (still) here.2
The crisis I’m talking about, of course, isn’t really a crisis – for us at least. But as I say, this in itself is partly our problem. The crisis I’m referring to is a crisis of or in what is sometimes referred to as ‘Real Cultural Studies’. For the sake of brevity, let’s define this as cultural studies bounded by, and largely restricted to, the study of popular cultural forms.
Now, the reason this is not our crisis, is that we are – and always have been at CCS – beyond Real Cultural Studies. We draw from it, appropriate it, count it in our heritage – but we have never had a sense that there is something essential about prioritising the study of popular cultural forms over any other. It is from this apparent constraint in Real Cultural Studies – which can sometimes even seem like a dogma – that the supposed crisis has arisen. Another way of putting this is that cultural studies was born as the antidiscipline that creates crises – for academia, for the humanities – by recognising contemporary cultural crises – political, social, cultural – in which academia and the humanities are, or had been, themselves implicated to lesser and greater degrees. So the supposed crisis can be said to have arisen, largely, from cultural studies’ institutionalisation – from its successful acquisition of recognition and respectability as a discipline in its own right; which is to say that the crisis comes from cultural studies no longer being the trouble-maker, the one with a privileged ability to highlight, expose and even create crises. All of this may be quite clear, an already tired narrative, to a lot of people here today. But it is the very fact of this obviousness that I want to get at.
A number of key aspects of this crisis are recurringly identified by those partially or fully within it – those concerned about it. One is the negative reaction of some traditional cultural studies against so-called ‘high theory’. For some, theoretical discourses such as psychoanalysis, deconstruction, ontological philosophy (and continental philosophy in general), had to be virtually outlawed (or at the least, domesticated) due to their historical association with ‘high culture’ and in the name of the non-élitist dissemination of academic work. So various voices have cried out for the re-introduction of theory and philosophy – or at least, an openness to their value for the study of culture.
A related, supposedly critical problem, is the establishment of a plurality of counter-canons. Some have commented on the risk that cultural studies’ critique of the politics of the traditional disciplinary canon – especially and typically the literary canon – might result in little more than a reversal of the Leavisite approach to culture, such that instead of Shakespeare, Hardy, T. S. Eliot, we have a canon of women’s literature, of (post)colonial literature, etc. This amounts, again, to an often-stated concern at the institutionalisation of cultural studies – its becoming what the ‘spirit of cultural studies’ was (is) supposed to challenge: the antidiscipline becoming discipline, and losing everything that made it so powerful in the first place.
There are other aspects of the supposed crisis in Real Cultural Studies that I’ll mention very briefly. One is the concern that cultural studies’ demand for interdisciplinarity – which only had such a strong effect because it resonated with desires and concerns already in play in other disciplines in the humanities – desires and concerns which were themselves essential to the rise of cultural studies – …the concern that this demand for interdisiplinarity has itself become a means for the administration of various institutions to combine and thus cancel out departments, disciplines, fields of specific study etc. Another concern that has been voiced is the failure of cultural studies to engage with the implications of new technology, beyond the fact that pop culture is on the radio, the TV, the Internet – that it has failed to engage properly with the ‘digital regime’, the global information society or culture.
Now, if these supposed elements of the crisis in Real Cultural Studies seem obvious, passé, outdated, to most people here, it’s because, as I said, we are and always have been – or have considered ourselves to be – beyond them. CCS, from its foundation, has embraced philosophy and ‘difficult’ theory; we have never been restricted to the study of popular cultural forms; it has been an essential aspect of the Centre that we pay direct attention to the effects of digitisation, information culture and new media, from Scott Lash’s interest in these areas since the outset, to the MAs Interactive Media and more recently Culture Industries that have been central parts of the department. And we take it for granted that (post)colonial critique and the renewal of (post)Marxist thought are essential to the task of adequately addressing the most urgent aspects of contemporary culture. We have even managed to maintain a certain peripheral status with regard to the college and the university, as a Centre rather than a Department (though in some respects the autonomy that might come through further institutionalisation may not necessarily be a bad thing – e.g. the federal university granting Goldsmiths the capacity to award its own degrees; the recognition of “cultural studies” as a subject in which one can produce a PhD thesis). We are unlikely to feel that we are not engaged in the struggle against institutionalisation, in that our staff are constantly battling against the institution, for money, for more staff, for space to teach, study, explore contemporary culture. (These ‘battles’ against the institution – which some may quite pragmatically conceive as simply a necessary part of everyday working life – are not just against Goldsmiths or the University of London, but the whole academic system controlling the awarding of funding and other resources, whose separation from political and state socio-economic structures can at times be impossible to discern).
So what is the problem? What I’ve been saying is that Real Cultural Studies sees itself being flawed (floored?), cast into crisis, by its own success. The success of CCS is in having already placed itself beyond this crisis. But what I think we need to do is reflect on how we are in danger, in our own specific way, of being floor/awed by our own success. It is in looking into these areas where our strengths seem to lie that I want to look for our blindspots.
Let me take two of the central aspects of Real Cultural Studies that I’ve identified. Productive responses to the dangers of becoming ‘too pop culture’ and to the dangers of institutionalisation have involved emphasising terms like cultural analysis or cultural criticism as indicating what is crucial to cultural studies work (rather than, for example, defining ‘good’ cultural studies by the choice of which cultural forms or objects to engage with). Such approaches emphasise the importance of skills – of what is sometimes called ‘good reading’ – over thematics (and this is especially so pedagogically). This partly involves the acceptance of the impossibility of the ideal of coverage – of comprehensively knowing all of one’s subject, the different disciplines and fields of study on which we draw. This is bound up with the concerns over institutionalisation. So extending my open question about where our blindspots may lie into the realm of two putative such blindspots, I may want to ask (us, you, myself): are we as good at promoting, doing ‘good reading’ – and at resisting (our) institutionalisation as we appear, to ourselves, to be?
We should at least consider this. One reason we are outside the crisis of Real Cultural Studies is that we do not prescribe or restrict in advance what cultural forms are worthy of study: rather, we restrict only in the (perhaps unspoken) name of ‘good reading’ – of what will make a good PhD thesis, MA essay or course syllabus. We emphasise means of approach, and relevance to contemporary cultural and political issues, over thematics and objects of study. Or do we? Perhaps we need to pay attention to what objects or thematics we implicitly (unconsciously or semi-consciously prescribe).
Actually, I am not so concerned that we do this – it’s a good thing, of course, that we pass on to one another (and here I am talking about staff and students collectively) our own interests and passions. What I am more concerned about is the possibility of a given individual taking all the interests of others as crucial, and thus becoming overwhelmed. This may especially be an issue for our MA programmes (but also for beginning PhD students, and indeed all of us to varying extents). One small thing I think we could do in this regard is to address the issue of coverage (that is, of the fallacy of total coverage) more directly from the outset, especially of our taught programmes.
I would dare to presume that no-one here is content that they have adequate coverage – in terms of knowledge and understanding – of the fields in which they conduct their research, whatever combination of philosophy, sociology, literature, anthropology, media studies, theology (!), political theory this research situates itself in. This is broadly, I would suggest, because this research – nearly all of our research – is ultimately bounded only by the sphere of contemporary culture or culture itself – and perhaps by the inadequacy of our cultural present, its desperate need for transformation. Yet I would also venture to say that there are a number of people here who are fairly comfortable with the impossibility of the ideal of coverage (and I’m aware that I’m straying dangerously close here to the maxim that Goldsmiths adopted in its recent re-branding, ‘comfortable with complexity’; perhaps I’m trying to appropriate back a little piece of what that re-branding exercise appropriated and instrumentalised from its people…). So there are people here who are relatively comfortable with their skills of knowing and finding out, experimenting – and being ready to be re-directed, contradicted, re-thought by their objects of study; and comfortable that these skills compensate for the impossibility of ever attaining the ideal of total coverage. My concern is that we do not pass on to one another, and especially to newcomers, that we have accepted, to some extent, the impossibility of this ideal. Many of our MA and PhD students, I know from my own experience of being both and discussions since, develop great anxiety around what is perceived as this ideal. The confidence of others in their ability to know and learn is often (mis)taken for a confidence in the breadth and coverage of their knowledge of theory, art, culture, media, etc.
A crucial point to emphasise here is the impossibility of total coverage does not necessarily lead to ‘sloppy scholarship’. I think students today are caught between the imperative of traditional disciplinarity – which suggests that there is a canon of essential texts, a range of acceptable methodologies – and the assumed but never explicit fact that today, and especially in a department like CCS, the range of possible concepts, theories, methodologies, objects of study and new seemingly-important texts to read is almost hyperbolically expanding. The net result is that one instantly feels guilty – especially in one is in a hierarchically lower position according to the institution – for not knowing a text, artist, political event that someone else discusses authoritatively, whose significance they advertise. We need to instill a sense that total coverage is neither expected nor regarded as possible: as much coverage is great, and we encourage the thirst for more, and a readiness to draw on any available theoretical, artistic, cultural resources to address the inadequacies of our contemporary political and cultural situation. But this thirst should never become secondary to an imperative of absolute coverage (except perhaps in the final week of revising for the MA Cultural Theory exam).
Very briefly, in relation to this is the fact that CCS continues to attract ‘precarious people’. By ‘precarious’ I mean both (genuinely) crazy people (though I am not referring to anyone specifically, except maybe myself) – and those uncomfortably poised between disciplines, or between the study/criticism and the production of cultural forms. This is something we advertise, in a way, as a strength, but the danger is that one attracts people hoping to find answers to the bewildering complexities of contemporary culture and actually find that they have simply landed amongst a bunch of equally puzzled, crazy people, similiarly flailing about for answers. We need to be clear that this not-knowing, while being willing to explore openly (and together), is a strength. I think this is taken for granted by some, but never clear to some others, thus becoming a source of great anxiety. A little anxiety is good; it allows one to thrive on a sense of adventure and the possibility of new discoveries; too much is paralysing.
How best to do this practically is something we can all discuss. Obviously staff:student ratios, temporal constraints (such as staff working hours, and the fact that an MA usually takes place within a year, while the PhD is gradually also being compressed) are issues. John’s attempts to set up conditions for self-organising working groups among the PhDs – for mutual criticism and encouragement – are something that could be further developed as well as extended to MA students. I’m sure you will have other ideas.
So the fallacy of the ideal of total coverage is one of the possible blindspots I wanted to draw attention to today. The other is how we deal with the institution. Now this is really a question for the permanent staff of CCS, based more on intuition than my own direct experience – so I won’t dwell on it, but just put it on the table. Are we resisting institutionalisation in the right ways? Are we being strategic enough? One of the frequent complaints about institutionalisation is that it slows down change. But a corollary implication of this complaint is that we, the academics, are naturally faster than the institution. It may be a monolithic, unassailable beast, but that doesn’t mean we can’t outrun it. My question is, are we using this inherent ability to outthink and outrun the institution to best effect, or are we partly paralysed by its apparent immovability? Surely the academics here have all been successful to a significant extent in overcoming institutional obstacles in their own careers: both the existence of CCS in its current form, and their presence here, are testament to this. But are we good enough at it collectively? Are there more strategic ways, as a department, that we could make use of our inherent potential for speed and cunning, to stay ahead of the institution? I may be in danger of slipping into quasi-management-speak or unhelpful metaphor here, so I’ll stop – but would love to hear responses to these questions nevertheless.
I have posed some questions about our potential blindspots, in particular concerning the ideals of ‘good reading’ and resisting institutionalisation. Yet my point is not to hammer home a sense of these particular blindspots, but to invite people to identify or point towards more. In think there must be others, and would expect to find them in the areas we most readily and uncritically take to be our strengths. All I have been saying amounts to a suggestion that CCS has internalised and pre-empted the need for autocritique and engagement with new areas whose lateness within Real Cultural Studies has supposedly led to a crisis; but that in overstepping this crisis we have been at risk of losing our own capacity for genuine, difficult autocritique. For this reason I regard Attack the Headquarters as a necessary and ongoing collective activity, one that I hope will continue – in whatever form – well beyond this summer.
Now, although what I have said here does relate to the slogan ‘Attack the Headquarters’, it does not, perhaps, amount to the call for ‘blue sky thinking’ that was also a keynote in the call for this series of events. I would therefore like to end by throwing my own tiny piece of blue sky thinking into the pot that I hope we’ll continue to add to and draw from throughout today and our forthcoming meetings.
If somebody (or some ‘body’) were to offer me half a million pounds for a research project, what I think I would do right now is inaugurate a ‘Centre for Fiction Studies’ (or something like a Fiction Studies Network). This would be based on the recognition that fictions – in an unlimited variety of forms – from the hallucinatory vision to the literary, the filmic, the utopic, from the ideological and the religious to the philosophical, and especially (and in all the above cases) the political – that such fictions condition our cultural present; but the Centre for Fiction Studies would also fundamentally recognise that it is precisely in fictionalising that our capacity to transform this present lies.
Whether the fictions we oppose take the form of commodity fetishes, the conservative religious worldviews that support western neo-liberalism, the discourse of branding and PR, myths of the overcoming of colonialism, of orientalism and occidentalism, the insertion into popular culture of ideologies of meritocracy and individualisation – still the answer would not lie in doing away with fiction per se, in a resort to cultural relativism, political pragmatism, or indeed an embracing of immanence, information or technology for its own sake. Rather we need counter-fictions, new fictions all the time, to imagine other ways the present might be, and to render its transformation conceivable. We need to retain the playfulness and creativity that cultural studies has always had, but without renouncing the seriousness which is required to address the real crises of contemporary culture. This is my very limited attempt at – but also a statement of commitment to – the importance, for us, of ‘blue sky thinking’.
 This ‘contemporary’ is important. The so-called crisis in cultural studies – which I am suggesting we consider ourselves at CCS to a large extent to be beyond – can be said to arise from the conflict between two contradictory ways of responding to the ‘contemporary’ of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. On the one hand there is a veneration of the methods inaugurated by the BCCCS resulting in a near-fetishising of the study of popular culture – which promotes a form of cultural studies that tries to “freeze” the contemporary cultural context of the 1970s so that in the 21st century we would consider ourselves in the same moment, requiring the same critiques, methods, attacks. On the other hand there is the view that staying true to the spirit of BCCCS would require determining our contemporary conditions, and a contemporary cultural studies that is changing all the time. On way hangs on to a fading photograph of what ‘contemporary’ referred to in the early 1970s; the other obsessively takes new pictures digital pictures all the time but loses track of their order or significance. What is needed, perhaps, is the former’s sense of history and the continuity of the past with the present, combined with a sustained appreciation that the contemporary – by definition – constantly changing.
 I have been at CCS as an MA student (2000-02), a PhD student (2003-07), an administrator (summer 2007) and as a Visiting Tutor (2005-present).
So, the idea is that Trinketization will temporarily become, for the next few weeks, a multi-authored blog about Attack the Headquarters at CCS. I will reconfigure the author privileges soon, just waiting on a chance to teach the wordpress code to my co-conspirators. In the meantime, a randomized comment in the wake of the excellent, smart, but somehow wholly frustrating, Critique of Violence day we had in CCS on monday. This is not a thought through position – just an outburst of sorts. Overall, I thought it was one of our very best days. And the presentations were great.
Time, deferral and waiting were prominent themes. These are important to the Benjamin text, but I wanted to see some wider implications teased out (teased out or beaten like a drum?).
I don’t see how, if we are asking why we do things (Andrew), why we would want to wait (Howard), defer or delay. Interruption and waiting are important, in the circumstances discussed, no doubt, but how about in the context of the relentless murder-death-kill on our screens every night (Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, China, London, Oldham [and Jennifer's UN civilian casulaty figures]). here, the idea of an extended theoretical meditation on the varieties of waiting seems a might problematic. I am all for ponderous slowing down when we need to – and no doubt there are several kinds of waiting: waiting for a train, waiting for a train that is late (more frustrating), waiting for the people in the waiting room to leave because its your job to clean the waiting room (frustration and exploitation), etc etc. But really, don’t we wanna drive the train? Whooo whooo.
So alongside waiting I think we also need to develop the conceptual engagements of ‘seize the time’, ‘attack the moment’, and act (up) now.
Infantile Leftism is contagious I guess. But I noticed that on the day we were talking about Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence’ essay, which mentions police power and strikes separately, the parliamentary piggy-pollies of westminster were in a debate that was heading towards new legislation on the right of the Police to strike. I assume this will not at all be a revolutionary general strike – but we should really discuss the cops. I remember somewhere Trotsky said something like ‘a worker in a uniform is just a cop’. Sometimes Leon is not all that bad.
Norman Geras, on Normblog, has offered comment on Jeremy Seabrook’s god-complex in a post that is interesting and positive in the main part, and as it has attracted local interest in South London, I repost my comment here.
“Is it a report card on Marx that we want to have Norman G deliver? He says “Marx got many things wrong. But some he got right”. Thus red pen corrections replace red critique. Lets do a proper exam – where are we on the development of political capacity today? Consider Geras’s list: ‘political capacity: the result of characteristics it [the working class] possessed [past tense] – geographical concentration, trade union and political organization, literacy, technical competence, political and economic experience’. (Nepal aside) I wonder if we can recognise ‘increasing’ capacity today, or just immaterial skills, good typing, complicity and reification. Geras cites ‘populations educated, increasingly aware, competent – and not well-shaped for tolerating being dictated to’. This seems like wishful thinking in the context of the murder/death/kill I see on my screen every night. I of course want to transduce wishful thinking into something more, but we need also to make a real assessment of Left failings. An encouragement grade might be to mark this as: good effort but need to try harder”.
I recognise the terrible pathos of writing like this during exam time, and my efforts to drink sufficient coffee so that I can face the pile of scripts I have to grade, possibly in the sunshine in the bourgeois garden of Toadsmouth, may be making me a bit frantic. But, things are not so simple that we can just unthinkingly nod in assent to those who might like to say that Marx was enamored with capitalism, that there was some sort of dialectical embrace, that the proletariat was a shifting category, that working class political organization is … well, yes, of course all this is worthy of debate on the blogs – but the pathos I mostly feel is that there is also much to be said for being more organized than the simple trade unionism of yore, and didn’t Marx say something like this as well…
In summer term at Goldsmiths we in CCS will have a series of workshops (three x 4 hours) at which some of the PhD students and staff of CCS will present 15 minute provocations on research futures for CCS – the idea being that we will think about organizing a new cultural revolution, inside CCS and for the wider reinvention of cultural studies more generally (slogan: attack the headquarters!). The aim is to begin rethinking and redesigning what Cultural Studies in the UK can and could be. So in your spare moments please also start thinking about that – activism, critique, practice, adventure, engagement, philosophy, technologies, transformation… Make notes, plan to speak, talk about what might be needed.
The idea is that we spend some time reconsidering the kind of “New Cultural Studies” (if we can call it that at all) that we practice at Goldsmiths. Practice based work, activism, philosophy, engagement, criticism are put into play as broad topics. How can we both track the ways cultural studies works through attachments to existing forms of disciplinary production and how do we constitute cultural studies as an open cross-disciplinary space?
The format of each afternoon (dates to be confirmed, but most likely Tuesday afternoons, in summer term, (scheduled for 14th May [was 13th] , 27th May, & 3rd June) would involve presentations by past and current PhD students to start off the first 2 hour session, and presentations in the second two hour session will also include contributions from staff of the Centre.
If we support a global, international, practically grounded/activist/theoretically-engaged strain of cultural studies, what kinds of teaching does it require? How should research be developed and managed? We are interested in tackling these questions speculatively and concretely and at all scales, in the way the Centre works, in what Cultural Studies and what it does in the world.
We have already scheduled most of the days, but offers of short punchy questioning reflective provocations are welcome – please get in touch with John or Matt asap. The event is open to CCS staff, CCS students past and present, and I guess anyone who already has an established association with us – do get in touch [its not a general call as we don't have huge amounts of space, and we are not so absurd as to think we are going to change Cultural Studies everywhere... - though that too might be suggested by some, and we could indeed do some events like this publicly when we get to the ten year anniversary of CCS at Goldsmiths next year - stay tuned].
[Also note: The 'Cinema Division' series will continue to screen at 6 on tuesdays (details here)]