Black Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Radical Education.

Education is not a model good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amitava Kumar writes again

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

Home Products
February 2007

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

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

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

See his weblog here

current mood: frowning at weekend’s end.

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

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

I Don’t Like the Geldolfs

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

Poignancy in Space

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

“Saturday 16 December 2006

galactica: my friend the blob

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

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

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

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

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

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

resonance beyond text

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


Hey AHRC folks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Feedback:

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


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

The AHRC framework consultation document is here.

Show Trial Traffic

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

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

Ha ha ha.

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

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

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