Click on the boot to download and read the full report, or here EdCommReport1
Re-read Spivak’s Ghostwriting for this week’s lecture on Capital.
Spivak uses the occasion of Derrida saying ‘hello to Marx’ (Spivak 1995:78) to make some key points about women in the contemporary condition of financialised capitalism, and offer a reading of Assia Djebar’s Far From Medina and the ghosts of many women that must be retrieved from this text on Islam. I am not able to engage with Fatima, like Spivak I am no Islamic scholar, and anyway you must read both Spivak and Djebar. I also consider Spivak more interesting on fianacialisation and women than anyone else writing on this. It is curious that few Marxists take this up, as class conscious ‘future socialists’ we cannot ignore the need to work through such questions, as we shall. Spivak insists:
‘According, then, to the strictest Marxian sense, the reproductive body of woman has now been “socialized” – computed into average abstract labor and thus released into what I call the spectrality of reason – a specter that haunts the merely empirical, dislocating it from itself. According to Marx, this is the specter that must haunt the daily life of the class-conscious worker, the future socialist, so that she can dislocate him herself into the counterintuitive average part-subject (agent) of labor, recognize that, in the everyday, es spukt. It is only then that the fetish character of labor-power as commodity can be grasped and can become the pivot that wrenches capitalism into socialism’ (Spivak 1995:67-8)
In Capital, the tale of Robinson is used to show that the operations of use-value are not somehow prior or isolated from exchange as relations of production. Even alone, Robinson calculates. It is not an innate nature, but a social condition (that can be changed).
‘The first example is Robinson Crusoe, to demonstrate that the relations of production can be known even in a situation of “pure” use-value’ (Spivak 1995:76)
Immediately before this, in search of Ghosts, Derrida finds that the translation occludes the literal ghost in referring to the ‘magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour so long as they take the form of commodities’ (Marx 1867/1970:76 L&W Pen-169, Derrida 1993/1994:164). Necromancy substitutes for spuk and Derrida wants to stress the apparition, that the ghost is something like Marx’s familiar, that he wants to exorcise and retain.
But Spivak notes that Derrida ‘goofs a bit’ here:
‘the passage quoted on page 164 [by Derrida] does not directly refer to the socialist future, as Derrida seems to think. Marx’s point is that simply to see the relations of production clearly is no big deal’ (Spivak 1995:76)
The discussion of Robinson on his Island, keeping books, being a proper Englishman, is Marx having his fun. The next moment we are to ‘transport ourselves from Robinson’s island, bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in Darkness’ where the hierarchy of serf and lord, compulsory labour, services, payments in kind, entails a society where the social relations are personal, and ‘not disguised under the social relations between the products of labour’ (Marx 1867/1970:77L&W). We need not go back to examine the different forms of common property, though Marx shows he has the scholarship to do this, but we can see the distribution of the work and consumption of produce in the peasant family is not one organized by commodities, but subject to arrangements of age, sex, the seasons, a spontaneously developed division of labour, etc.
Then, suggesting something different, but not yet the only possible difference, Marx asks us to ‘picture to ourselves, for a change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common’ (Marx, 1867/1970:78 L&W), social labour-power and social product, planned distribution, surplus consumed according to – in this, again not the only possible assumption – and distributed according to input of labour-time.
‘The social relations of the individual producers, with regard to both their labour and their products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and with regard not only to production but also to distribution’ (Marx 1867/1970:79 L&W)
There may be different forms in which this distribution is organized, according to the level of development of the productive forces, and a future communism would not assume distribution according to labour time but rather to each according to need, yet this scenario where production has stripped off its ‘mystical veil’ [this veil stuff is from Schiller’s The Bell, as Prawler shows, 1976:322) and is ‘consciously regulated’ in ‘accordance with a settled plan’ comes only at the expense of ‘a long and painful process’ (Marx 1867/1970:80 L&W). Marx’s point in the next pages is to show that the commodity as bourgeois form has everything reversed – like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing who things ‘reading and writing come by nature’ (Marx 1867/1970:83 L&W Pen.177, D.98).
Spivak, 1995 Ghostwriting, Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2. (Summer), pp. 64-84
Review by Sophie Fuggle – click the title to go to the page and see the book cover and Mdm Mim cartoon.
At the end of In Defence of Lost Causes, Žižek calls for a return to the egalitarian terror of the Stalinist regime as the only option for circumventing the imminent expiration of the planet. His deliberate misreading of Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s ‘enlightened catastrophism’ along with his avowal that this will most likely fail (in accordance with the Beckettian maxim) does little to convince despite his compelling argument for being done with the weak thought that has paralysed the intellectual left for so long.
This seems to be just a substitution of one set of atrocities for another. And at the same time I am also left wondering whether much of the apparently incendiary remarks made by the intellectual left – calls to revolution, insurrection and terror à la Robespierre as a response to the cuts, crises and general fucked-up state of the world under the shadow of neo-liberalism – don’t actually continue to embody the ‘weak’ thought of the 80s and 90s.
First off – it seems highly unlikely that today’s tenured academic has the wherewithal to organise anything other than a seminar series and sometimes even that proves too much. Or the guts to carry out the systematic violence demanded by the type of revolution they appear to be advocating. Standing up to a colleague in a departmental meeting or writing a nasty book review is not tantamount to operating the guillotine. Academic discourse takes place within certain conditions of possibility and strives to maintain these conditions which is really a safe playground where a lot of overgrown children can kick sand in each others faces, fight over whose turn it is to go on the swing and still be friends when the bell rings.
Second, and this is really the point being made by Vattimo and Zabala, is revolution or insurrection a genuine possibility and, moreover, genuinely desireable? The police brutality during the protests over tuition fees in the UK at the end of 2010 and more recently at UC Davis during a rally against, erm, police brutality should make it clear that there are more than enough mercenaries for hire prepared to do the dirty work of those with power and wealth.
Coupled with the continued growth of the war industry, that marriage of convenience between global, deterritorialised flows of capital and nation-state building, anyone planning a serious affront to capitalism needs to think carefully about the tools or weapons at their disposal. Security, torture and imprisonment are now all part of the service industry and as such can all be outsourced to the cheapest bidder. Someone, somewhere will always be willing to do the job. Even Macbeth managed to put together some sort of army against MacDuff.
Direct physical opposition which while it might begin peacefully enough must eventually lead to violent confrontation in the form of evictions, arrests, kettling, pepper spraying, water cannons and beyond. The bottom line of fighting back is that capitalism has the missiles and is happy to use them.
So where does dispensing with the ‘might is right’ principle leave us? Back at ‘weak’ thought, it appears.
Here I can’t help but think of the fight between Merlin and the witch, Madam Mim, in the Sword in the Stonecartoon. As Madam Mim transforms herself into increasingly larger, more threatening creatures, Merlin’s somewhat ad-hoc magic turns him into ever smaller, more useless animals. The weak thought in the face of the ever-growing, fire-breathing monster of capitalism.
Where we are repeatedly reminded by Vattimo and Zabala that ‘the weak are the discharge of capitalism’, weakness should not simply be taken as a state or position of passivity. Instead what is at stake is a process of weakening which needs to be carried out upon existing political, social and economic structures. And herein lies the role of hermeneutics. Interpret the world again and again in order to resist prescriptive forms of truth which have totalising function. This means engaging in conversations not staging dialogues (which always presuppose given positions and conditions of possibility).
The failure of communism in its earlier manifestations is due to its being underpinned by a will to power which can only lead to despotism. What happens once the revolution is declared complete? The (re)imposition of the very power structures that were the ideological basis for revolution in the first instance. Communism must thus always be considered a process which whilst based on utopian, romantic desires as opposed to the quest for scientific, totalising truth can never be declared complete.
Hermeneutic Communism is compelling in its pursuit of a postmodern project long considered ineffectual and self-defeating. However, it unfortunately does little more than go through the motions with the obligatory rehabilitation of Heidegger as voice of dissent against totalising systems of truth. More interesting perhaps is the discussion of emergency – highlighting the precise lack of emergency as precisely what is wrong in contemporary society. An antidote to all the empty claims of urgency by the intellectual left which are thinly disguised marketing strategies for selling more books. Again, Capitalism is not in Crisis, it is crisis. War does not stop industry, it is industry. There’s nothing human about human rights. And so it goes on.
South American communism. Having already rehabilitated Heidegger, the final part of the book is focused on giving Chavez a bit more positive spin than he tends to get in the mainstream press. In my view, this section promises much and should be the selling point for the whole hermeneutic communism argument. But the discussion feels vague, tacked on as an afterthought. This is the kind of writing I warn my students against –shoving in a case study at the end of an essay is an exercise in bad faith. Sadly, Hermeneutic Communism does little to further debates around the various political regimes currently operating in Latin America. Chavez et al. seem to have been fetishized simply because they offer alternatives to the CIA-imposed governments of previous decades. This is not to say there are not useful, contemporary models to be explored here but this can’t be done in 20 pages or so.
So in a sense Vattimo and Zabala fall short of their own maxim – more interpretation is needed…
I like this review a lot, but I have issues with the ‘failure of communism in its earlier manifestations’ paragraph.
‘The failure of communism in its earlier manifestations is due to its being underpinned by a will to power which can only lead to despotism. What happens once the revolution is declared complete? The (re)imposition of the very power structures that were the ideological basis for revolution in the first instance. Communism must thus always be considered a process which whilst based on utopian, romantic desires as opposed to the quest for scientific, totalising truth can never be declared complete.’
- in what sense do we think that early communism was a failure? – I mean compared to the wreck that is capitalism, communist successes – 1917, 1949, 1959, 1975 – were quite something. Incomplete yes, but that was always understood, at least by Lenin, Luxemburg, and even the renegade Trotsky, but pretty near everyone else as well, especially Mao with the GPCR, insisting on permanent revolution. Mao and the ‘gang’ of four died at the hands of those who declared the Chinese experiment over (well, Mao also died a bit from old age I suppose). Yet it seems you mean to say something more/different than that the Chinese restoration of Capitalism was ‘re-imposition of the very power structures that were the ideological basis for revolution’. By suggesting communism always, unless its just an ‘idea’ (pace Zizek), ends up in trouble is effectively regurgitating the despotic as scare-mongering and this is not useful – to then contrast this despotism with some flighty utopio-romance version of communism is flakey. The alternatives are not hippies v Stalin, its socialism or barbarism.
Capitalism and Cultural Studies – Prof John Hutnyk:
tuesday evenings from january 10, 2012 – 5pm-7pm Goldsmiths RHB 309 Free – all welcome.
No fee (unless, sorry, you are doing this for award - and that, friends, is Willetts’ fault – though the Labour Party have a share of the blame too).
The lectures/seminars begin on Tuesday 10th January 2011 between 5 and 7pm and will run for 10 weeks (with a week off in the middle) in the Richard Hoggart Building (RHB 309), Goldsmiths College. Students are required to bring their own copy of the Penguin, International Publishers or Progress Press editions of Karl Marx Capital Vol I. Reading about 100 pages a week. (Please don’t get tricked into buying the abridged English edition/nonsense!)
Note: The Centre for Cultual Studies at Goldsmiths took a decision to make as many as possible of its lecture series open to the public without fee. Seminars, essays, library access etc remain for sale. Still, here is a chance to explore cultural studies without getting into debt. The classes are MA level, mostly in the day – though in spring the Capital course is early tuesday evening. We usually run 10 week courses. Reading required will be announced in class, but preliminary reading suggestions can also be found by following the links. RHB means main building of Goldsmiths – Richard Hoggart Building. More info on other free events from CCS here: http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/what-is-to-be-done:
Update: Please ise this form to send a course evaluation to Sonia.Ali [at] gold.ac.uk Here.
Though some will say the crisis is cyclical, I think rather that entropy and disintegration is the unity, the unifying modus operandi, of Capital, not simply appearing or revealed in crisis so much as always thriving on many, multiple, and perpetual, crises. Hence the slogan ‘Capitalism IS crisis’ rings true – Capitalism as a thriving parasitic system of destruction, dysfunction and a necessarily dog-eat-dog opportunism as Gekko/Cartels/Monopolies conglomerate in the highest stage of imperialism… where Capitalism must eat its young to survive, indeed, it survives by eating its young. Whatever unity it has is that every capitalist must stab every other capitalist in the back in the end, ad infinitum.
The three fucking amigos, bastard dingbat flunkies from obsolete piggy pollie parties each singing from the same hymn sheet trying to save face and protect a disgraced plenipotentiary (propaganda wing of Capital). Fuck them. And the faded pundit celebrities lining up to resurrect careers with the odd critical quip, sitting on studio couches alongside spotlight mesmerized reality TV News instant message heroes, with the redhead hung out to twist her curls in the wind as Sideshow Bob while the war rages unabashed. The ferocity of feeling that measures anger, the acute sensibility despite the taunts of crazed coppers, the articulate parallel sphere that insists on the urgent and relevant news not this dumbshow pantomime – give me that. A revolution is brewing, the cauldron is boiling in the wings, the vat will fit them nicely, we’ll pop on the lid and let them boil. Turn off these three stooges of the parliamentary path and lets watch something funny. Parliament, Sporting events, and Kettles are cheap television because the cameras know in advance where the action will be (contained). Close it all down, not just the tabloids and the phantasmagoric sky, we can make it all anew.
Having the assassination cheer squads on heavy rotation on the Jingo channel (BBC news) is embarrassing us all. No critical voice yet on tv, as far as I’ve seen. Worse than the Saddam execution on the Hanging Channel. Who needs media critique when they cartoon it up so bad by themselves? And to think that the rest of the election campaign just inaugurated is gonna be built up on this four-fronts-war led by the Geronimo-killer Kool-aid seller. Thank Obiwan for Jodi Dean, who can at least think past the ‘barbarous variant’ of ‘capitalist anarcho-fascism’:
Cheerleaders, chants, and beach balls are barbaric responses to the announcement of a political assassination.
Political assassination is not an act of justice. It does not bring about justice in some kind of cosmic tit for tat. It is not the doing of justice. Justice is not done when another is killed in retaliation.
Retaliation, retribution, revenge–are these now the common terms through which justice is understood in the US? Do we think that victims are avenged when their assailant is killed? The victims are still dead, still gone, still mourned. Are they brought back in the acts of terror, torture, and imprisonment enacted in their name? Are they memorialized daily in airports as we take off our belts and shoes, as we put our hand behind are heads, spread-eagled, and searched, as we are x-rayed and scanned?
For a moment, the twenty minutes or so when the intertubes were alive with the news and before the president spoke, I felt something–something like relief, the sense of an end, perhaps even hope. It was, I think, the anticipation of an end to the disaster of the last ten years of ritualized humiliation, electronically stimulated fear, widespread surveillance, and the enjoyment of camps and torture.
The television media quickly made it clear that this sort of anticipation has no place: the war on terrorism is endless, total. It won’t stop. We are not the same people. We have been reconfigured in a massive psycho-political experiment in transforming democracy into fascism, or a new barbarous variant of fascism, capitalist anarcho-fascism.
We are now the sort of people who cheer for death and murder, who repeat mindless lies, who glory in inequality–not bread and circuses but cheetos and reality tv. Everything is a game, yet we don’t even recognize the levels on which it is played, the levels on which we aren’t players at all but the targets captured or shot as the real players, hot shots, move on up.
Can we glimpse post-terrorism? Can we use it as an opening to something else, a focus not on war but on global capitalist exploitation? Can it be a chance to remake the decade’s choice for barbarism into a new choice for socialism?
“The thesis that is being put forth here is that financialization is not an unproductive/parasitic deviation of growing quotas of surplus-value and collective saving, but rather the form of capital accumulation symmetrical with new processes of value production” (Marazzi 2011:48)
“The first important consequence of the new proceses of capitalist valourization is the following: the quantity of surplus-value created by new apparatuses of extraction is enormous. It is based on the compression of direct and indirect wages (retirement, social security cushions, earnings from individual and collective savings), on the reduction of socially necessary labour with flexible network company systems (precarization, intermittent employment), and on the creation of a vaster pool of free labour (the “free labour” in the spere of consumption, circulation and reproduction, with a more intensified cognitive labour). The quantity of surplus-value, i.e., of unpaid labour, is at the root of the increase in the profits not reinvested in the production sphere, profits whose increase does not, as a consequence, generate the growth of stable employment, let alone wage increases” (Marazzi 2011:52-3)
Corporate Watch is launching a new project called Corporate Rule
(http://corporate-rule.co.uk), which they intend to be a dynamic showcase
for some of the best independent, corporate-critical research on corporate
power, sparking debate and provoking action.
Corporate Rule is a web-based resource featuring new and old research into
the relationships between corporations and various social, economic and
political structures and institutions. The project aims to explore the
mechanisms deployed by corporations in exercising and accumulating their
power over the decisions made in what are often called ‘democratic’
countries, with a specific focus on how this plays out in the UK, and the
ways in which corporate ideologies and discourses facilitate this by
co-opting and/or suppressing people’s active democratic participation.
The project also highlights alternatives to this mode of living and
organising, providing examples of real democracy in action and looking at
ways forward in opposing corporate rule. Some of the content might be
published in the future as a series of topical briefings. To find out more
about the project, please see http://corporate-rule.co.uk/drupal/about.
Selma James and Dalla Costa (1972), The power of women and the subversion of the community (pdf)
Selma James et al. (1975), Sex, Race and Class
Ellen Malos (ed.) (1980), The Politics of Housework
Alice Kessler-Harris (1981), Women Have Always Worked: A Historical Overview
Selections from Leopoldina Fortunati (1995), The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital
Mariarosa Dalla Costa & Giovanna F. Dalla Costa (eds.) (1999), Women, Development and the Labor of Reproduction: Struggles and Movements
P. E. Perkins (2000), Feminist understandings of productivity (pdf)
Precarias a la Deriva (2006), A Very Careful Strike: Four hypotheses the commoner (pdf)
Kathi Weeks (2007), Life Within and Against Work: Affective Labor, Feminist Critique, and Post-Fordist Politics, ephemera (pdf)
P. Cunninghame (2009), Italian feminism, workerism and autonomy in the 1970s: The struggle against unpaid reproductive labour and violence, Mute Magazine
links kindly filched from our friends at Generation Online.
The recent UfSO exposé of Coutts & Co saw simultaneous action take place on both sides of the Atlantic. Whilst the UfSO undertook its creative action in the face of upper-class bankers Coutts & Co’s creative accountancy, a coordinated lecture was staged at Coutts’ New York offices.
On the 28th and 29th Jan UfSO featured in an initiative from New York’s The Art School in the Art School, which saw them present work including recent UfSO action in the ‘I know you know I know you know‘ exhibition, curated by the ACE Curatorial Collective at Hunter College’s Times Square Gallery.
In conjunction with this and in solidarity with UfSO the group attempted to gain entry to Coutts New York offices and staged a reading of the UfSO lecture on site. We would like to express our gratitude to them for doing this and encourage similar affiliated actions or autonomous educational interventions from like-minded groups across the globe. Off-shore mobility can be no defence in the face of global action. We call for globalised mass action in the face of a coordinated, world-wide attack on public values, jobs, workers rights and access to education.
This was just sent in to me from wherever the off shore institutional base of UfSO is just now (having done a deal it seems):
Friday, 28 January 2011
For immediate release
Flashmob at Coutts, private bank to the British establishment
Today the University for Strategic Optimism (UfSO), light-heartedly flash-mobbed the head office of Coutts in 440 Strand, London. Dressed-up as wealthy bankers, the group presented the bank with a giant blank cheque representing the bailout it has received from the UK taxpayer. Coutts is a private bank for the super-rich and although almost entirely publicly owned by the UK tax-payer (as a subsidiary of RBS) and its main business is to help its wealthy clients to avoid paying taxes.
The peaceful action was carried out by the University for Strategic Optimism, a university based on the principle of free and open education, a return of politics to the public and the politicisation of public space. Its previous activities have included other flash-lectures in banks and shops; interventions on the tube and a conference on violence, presented live from the Parliament Square kettle at last year’s student protests. For more info, see the UfSO blog http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com (video of today’s action coming soon).
As the queen’s own bank, Coutts is very selective of its customers and half a million pounds is the minimum requirement to open an account there. But even if you can’t afford to bank with Coutts, as a taxpayer you are among the majority shareholders of its parent company, RBS. With branches throughout the UK, Coutts specialises in what it calls ‘wealth management’ on behalf of its super-rich customers – in other words, helping them avoid paying taxes.
Coutts, one of the oldest pillars of the British financial establishment, was adopted as the location of the UfSO’s latest action in order to highlight the ridiculously unfair situation of UK taxpayers propping up a financial institution that exists primarily to help the wealthy avoid paying those the very taxes that keep it in existence. Those not rich enough to bank with Coutts are paying through their contributions for a bank that enables the wealthy to avoid them. The injustice of this situation is staggering. What’s even more staggering, is the fact that it seems very few actually realise what it is that Coutts does, and that it received funding from the government bailout.
When the government claims there is no alternative to the ongoing, devastating cuts to public services, welfare and university education, we need only look to Coutts to see that lie graphically exposed. The government is using our own money to prop up a bank, which exists in order to encourage wealthy individuals, whose private fortunes could more than tackle the deficit, to avoid paying their fair share. With its antique wallpaper and private banqueting suites, publicly owned Coutts is a parody of private privilege and vividly exposes the criminal ideology behind this government’s fire sale of our treasured public institutions. The corporate advertising slogan of such a bank should be: ‘Pay your taxes so the super-rich don’t have to’. Whilst the government is using our money to help out these tax avoiders, public services that we all rely upon are being systematically dismantled and sold off. This is the serious issue that the UfSO seeks to draw attention to with today’s action.
IRNA news agency interview:
Do you think the cause of these objections in Britain is increasing university ’s fees or other issues like the government’s policy, economy and other things play role in it? Why the government officials did not fulfill their promises for fixing the fees?
The protesters are angry for sure – and the reasons are clear. Many accept the need for direct action, ranging from graffiti on state buildings, statues, occupations of colleges, to actions in shopping centres and commercial businesses, because this is proven to be the only way to be heard. 2 million people marched in London (1 out of every 30 Britons) against the invasion of Iraq and Tony Blair did not listen at all – instead lying his way toward war criminal infamy. He will not be tried in the international criminal court until there is a mass movement demanding a different kind of Government in the UK. It may be starting here – Blair was Thatcher’s child and now his party is in power, disguised as a coalition, but dragging all politicos into exposure. An alternative is in the offing. It is certainly necessary – the only kind of democracy worth fighting for is the one that fights at home – not bombs other countries on suspect whim and because Jesus has chosen you for a sunbeam!
Trinketization is clearly escalating over the river in Dalston, and I can’t say I disapprove.
I have said before: Shopping is civil war. Here is evidence.
But then, its choice, so do head out to support this venture where you can (perhaps by shoplifiting?)
Point your browser here:
(thanks to Joel McKim for discovering this)
‘A grazing animal, for example, a stag (a forest herbivore …) is vigilant at the same time that it grazes, first with regard to he possible proximity of predators; it can, moreover, even while grazing and protecting itself, also protect its young, as well as its grazing mate, who is herself protecting her young’ (Stiegler 2009/2010:78).
- I am worried that Bernard has only found the bourgeois family reproduced in the Bambi forest scenario, but this is also an opportunity to note that the disturbing picture in The Guardian today of the baby elephant versus the crocodile had a moral narrative – the herd of elephants together made sufficient noise to fend off the croc. For once, perhaps despite itself, The Guardian offers up something noteworthy about popular resistance.
On the initiative of Moinak Biswas, Film Studies Jadavpur Uni, Kolkata, and with great input from Rosalind Morris, but initially inspired by the Preservation in Globalization workshop convened by Gayatri Spivak and Jorge Otero-Pailos, an interesting redevelopment seems possible. A disused factory site adjacent the Jadavpur campus was toured by our group in early December. A documentation of the site has begun by photographers invited by the Jadavpur Media Lab has generated some great pictures, see here. The site was left pretty much intact when the factory closed in 2003 – well worth a look.
Now (see below) there is a plan to gut the site and turn it over to the engineering faculty. The site is huge – there is room for something alongside. Hence, the following draft international petition:
For continued innovation at the National Instruments site, Jadavpur.
The redevelopment of the National Instruments site offers a rare opportunity to look forward and back at the changing dynamic of industrial production. The extant materials, documents, personal effects, and machinery (lathes, punch card clocks, work desks) provide a physical record of workplace experience now passing. Jadavpur University, with its reputation, scholarship and global reach is well placed to facilitate an innovative approach that builds upon the proud history of NI and looks forward creatively to new developments.
A simple shroud should not be passed over this accumulated wealth of objects, and labour, from the past. The factory remains might be best preserved by the University in a working space that is devoted to tracking the transformations of industrial production and workplace experience in India. That a museum and art/technology laboratory has been proposed is supported by international scholars, a large number of whom have visited the site and/or noted the initial documentary work produced by Moinak Biswas and his team. We consider this an excellent, exciting and potentially rewarding possibility for joint work and international co-ordination. Scholars would seek international funds to locate research projects on labour history, urban development, new economy (service sector, technology, privatization) and co-research in joint ventures with Jadavpur scholars and students. A truly international project to unite workers of the world might be reanimated here.
The idea is that various people will sign this and it be put to the Jadavpur heads to consider the proposal, from Media Lab and Film Studies, to do something interesting with the site. Well, I think its interesting. I used to work in a similar factory as a grubby teenager. My dad spent a very large part of his life in one – Stanley, Nunawading, Melbourne, Australia. I have a touch of the heebie-jeebie’s looking at the machines, especially the drills where I had spent long low-paid days… (the picture I have used is from a post by Madhuban Mitra and Manus Bhattacharya – with thanks)
Giving some history of National Instruments, and of the original preservation project and future plans, Moinak writes:
The factory started off in 1830 under the name ‘mathematical instrument maker’, then became ‘mathematical instruments office’, both serving mainly the ‘survey of india’ instituted by the east india company. During ww1 it got seriously involved with the defense dept., became national instruments factory; was relocated to the premises you saw in 1957, renamed ‘national instruments limited’ (NIL) as a public sector unit under the union govt. the factory mainly made optical instruments for survey, measurement, photography, etc. and was popularly known for its national 35 camera. It fell into some crisis first in the 60′s, and then into a more serious one in the 80′s, got referred to the board of industrial and financial reconstruction (BIFR). Manufacture stopped in 2003. most workers accepted the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and left in march, 2003. 64 employees remained on campus and witnessed the ruination. In 2009, jadavpur university took over the property with the aim of building an extension campus for the engineering faculty.
the media lab of the dept of film studies at jadavpur undertook extensive photo documentation of the premises in june, 2009. we commissioned 10 young photographers and filmmakers to shoot for 4 months on the premises, covering everything possible. we have a bank of 20 thousand still images and 60 hours of video footage. a blog from the stills (http://darklythroughalens.wordpress.com/) and a couple of films have been made. more projects will follow. we have shot interviews with many ex-employees. it’s now a substantial labour and industrual landscape archive.
but there should also be preservation of a different kind. the university has started renovating parts of the buildings, and will soon remove most of the equipment and files, etc. we were thinking of proposing the creation of a space, using one big room like the canteen you saw, which will preserve their products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, bills, service documents, policy documents, the punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice, including independent film screenings, installations, etc. the major problem is to persuade the university to spare that space. it would pay more serious attention to an international community of artsits and intellectuals. but we should keep in mind what can be sustained and how far, given the public funded university framework in india, and given the fact that anything doing with art has first to prove its vialbility to the engineering faculty dominated.
This is great stuff – history and potential. But there are also things to debate. University take over of the fading industrial economy has a long track record (see here, here and here). Is it really possible to tamper with such trajectories? Besides drafting the above call at Moinak’s request, I also offered my two pice worth of cynicism earlier in the discussion [note: I was a bit ill at the time]:
Moinak, your sentence on the the creation of a space that will both preserve the NI worker’s “products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, … punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice” is a great start. But I wonder if the museum/archive route is too passive, and might not claim much in terms of physical space in the building (when it all should be kept in those terms - see Mao Mollona’s excellent film on industrial steel machinery in Sheffield, where a fully functioning workshop has been maintained 1890′s era machines in working, and profitable, order). I also wonder if, importantly, the preservation argument does enough in conceptual terms within the overall regeneration/transformation of the economy and the University – a discussion I imagine that must be going on, and needs new thinking.
I am acutely aware that here “anything doing with art has first to prove its viability to the engineering faculty dominated”, and wonder if the focus of what we present might be geared towards this. That said, I am stumped for where to look for initial funds, or clearly marked ‘preservation funds’. It is not my forte. However, ongoing funding could also be geared into the conception.
An Art/Laboratory would probably have pedagogical, research and creative components.
At issue is who inhabits the space, what it provides, and outcomes now and for the future.
Thus, neither a mortuary service for fading industry, nor a hollow art scene doing a ghost dance for dead capital (tried and tested, but too often turned into mere foyer or coffee shop – eg Tate Modern), the project has far greater inter- and intra- disciplinary purchase, and potential as for very wide participation. The former workers, the Jadavpur students, local residents, the city in general, and both national and international research teams across many areas can be drawn into the nexus of this site conceived as instrumental to the transition between older and newer economic modes. Research, teaching and creativity all have a role in transition.
A range of projects, both national and international – but many funded internationally – could locate in dedicated space within the project:
Possible internationally funded Research Projects for Instrument Lab
- changing infrastructure of economies, history and globalization, technology and colonialism, warfare and commerce, education and training history (see journal of the Confernce of Socialist Economists)
- class composition and worker’s inquiry, labour history, transition economies and the transformation of work, co-research with workers of older and newer economic production (this is a project I would like to pursue between Goldsmiths, Queen Mary Business School and Jadavpur – funded by Economic and Social Research Council UK perhaps, the Co-Research would involve workers paid as researchers in both discontinued production such as National Instruments, as well as in new industries in Kolkata such as creative economy, service sector, media and telecoms. They would be researching, documenting and theorizing their own conditions of work – aim initially at a three year project @ £500k for 4 paid researchers on site, plus money for collaborative work).
- precision capitalism, mathematical arts of production, skill, craft and body/machine knowledge: instrument hand and brain, cyborg labs then and now (Fuller/Harwood/MUTE or RAQS?).
- obsolescence and regenerative second life, industrial remains and urban renewal, science and fiction, creative revival as life force in cities (see P.Hall and M.Castells: Technopoles of the World).
- photographic imaging and war/industry convergence (as digital is to analog; globalization is [not] to industry)
- teaching exchange, especially in cultural studies of work, education, training, urban preservation and curating (possible Network Grants at £70k each)
These projects in various ways – there would be many others possible – would be conceived to locate researchers at Jadavpur, employed locally and internationally, and would work with local constituents and stakeholders (workers, researchers, students, local residents, support staff). Each would entail a pedagogical exchange function, as well as a display (installations, museum, art) aspect. The point is to keep this alive to change, the transformation of work, of class composition, or urban environs, and of the university itself (as universities move to project based work, and older models of disciplinary containment are supplemented).
Ahhh, now I have written all this down I think maybe its not strong enough yet to stave off the impending disposal of most of the workplace artefacts, beautiful machines (valuable machines) and other remains, but those remains are the resource and raw material of something potentially great in the future. Our labour can reanimate them – the sweat of our friends to whom we owe a debt (not just of mourning).
Sorry for the Derridisms – the flu drugs again kick in…