AtHQ – Defending the Headquarters

Does cultural studies have its own territory that is worthy of being defended?

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.

 Some Basics 

  • we need to stop making distinctions between theory & practice and understand them as mutually affected terms and terrains of culture making
  • we need to refrain from picking and choosing between practices – privileging certain practices over others
  • when we approach a non-textual work entirely through the register of language potential tools for thinking are lost 
  • we need to develop alternate forms of critique and evaluation appropriate to different forms of practice (whether this is the crafting of a philosophic concept or the scoring of a musical composition)
  • we need to acknowledge and articulate the ways in which practice retrospectively performs itself as research
  • we need to reinvent components of the thesis requirements = adaptive structures that allow other temporal and spatial elements (non-textual) to move into the thesis project

AtHQ – Is Reality Fabulating?

(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.

AtHQ – Containment … Gesture … (negative) … excess(?)

‘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?

Public reading of ‘radical material’ that led to ‘terror arrests.

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



Gore Vidal visit.

Oh oh, a post out of sequence (repel athq), but I am well impressed with octogenarian Gore Vidal’s current media blitz. South Bank Show, Hard Talk, the Guardian and the Hay Festival have all recently featured the sci-fi writing, historian, novelist, gayest pensioner, scourge of the dumb and daft (he says John McCain is “intellectually in George W Bush’s league” – tsk). I’ve read most of Vidal’s books by now, numbering over 50, and as a youngster considered a trek to Italy just to camp on his doorstep so as to meet him.

Correspondent with Tim McVeigh (who invited him to his execution – now there’s an A-list fixture) and relative of both Jackie O and climatic Al Gore, I love his epic historico-fictions the best. He had a bit part in the film ‘Bob Roberts’ as a senator and was Director Joseph in ‘Gattaca’, but he should also have been in the West Wing. His inspirational novel Julian is matched by Visitor to a Small Planet and the cross-gendering Myra Breckenridge, but even his recent older-statesman essays deserve considered respect.

Scriptwriter for ‘Ben Hur’ – making Heston camp was exquisite – and in later years a great essayist and memoirist, the present media blitz cashes in on what would in England be called ‘national treasure’ status. Only Vidal deserves it more than the Palins of this world. Read his commentary on Capote and the bird (Tennessee Williams) in Palimpsest for sheer eloquence.

AtHQ – Concerning ‘Attack the Headquaters.’

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?

Please respond.
Thank you.
– Darren Flint.

AtHQ Round 2

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?

AtHQ – Education Privatization – Union Campaign

From the Uuniversties and College Union campaign update:

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: – press release
– Express

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:

AtHQ: Jennifer Bajorek

AtHQ session 14 May

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).



AtHQ: Dangerous Ideas – Jeff Kinkle

‘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?

AtHQ: Blindspots – James Burton

James Burton kicked off the first A-t-HQ session. This is what he had to say:

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’.


[1]  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.

[2] 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).

I’m just waiting on a friend

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.

Geras Marks Marx

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…

Some sort of commentary also tranduced over to Rough Theory, with this. And more on AHQ to come here soon.


From Paolo, a collection of you tube clips of the fire attacks on Roma in Naples. These in the context of the new right crackdown where Italian ‘authorities’ just three days back ‘announced they had arrested nearly 400 suspected illegal immigrants during a week-long series of raids across the country’ (BBC) . Crap as the BBC report is, I’ve added a link to it at the end. Its perhaps this sort of stuff that Gramsci had in mind when calling on communists to build organizations that can win hegemony from the fascists and racists, preventing such outrageous actions. Hegemony would include informative leftwing newspapers, radio and television, which we sorely need. And no doubt Paolo will be amongst the reporters…:

“since a few days in one of the suburbs of Naples (Pontincelli) a major hunt for “Roms” is taking place (see the links below). Chased by angry hordes, people have been obliged to leave their camps in a rush watching their houses and tents being put on fire (under the auspices and celebrations of large parts of the local population and the careless attention of the police).
This is indeed not something regarding Naples nor an isolated phenomenon . It belongs to the wider process of demonization of migrants at large (and of so-called “illegal” migrants and “nomads” in particular) that Italy’s newly installed government has been recently able to promote (also with the silent and indirect support of the parties that today are at the opposition). With a clever use of the politics of fear (directing all thoughts and actions regarding security towards migrants) they have not only won the political elections but been able to install a man grown up politically within the Italian fascist extreme right as the mayor of Rome (after 15 years of centre-left governance).
In order to keep their electoral promises, during the past week the government has enacted controls in 9 Italian regions against so-called “illegal” migrants resulting in the detention of at least 400 people. It has promoted a new migration law that immediately translates “illegal” migration into a crime (leading up to 4 years of jail), the creation of a constant militarized patrolling of the national sea borders (in order to prevent the boats from landing on the shores), the suspension of EU treatises for the free movement of people coming from Rumania and Bulgaria and the creation of more CPT (“centres for temporary reception”) aimed at functioning as specialized spaces of detention for “migration crimes” (proper jails in other words).
Unfortunately this situation, which regards not only Italy, is countered by the silence of the opposition and is probably just at its beginning stages. This is NOT a local problem!”

Hunting the Snark in New X

A Snark Dance specialist of our acquaintance has started haunting South London – the Laurie Grove Baths in particular. Read on for Andre Breton, Hauntology, psychogeography, camera technology, links to CCS’s occasional and spectrally astute visiting fellow K-Punk, and a grandmotherly connection. There is also a video link of exquisite remix strangeness. Do read on:

“There is a long history relating machines and ghosts and the supernatural and technology is definitely an interesting area to explore. Should this be viewed as being more than just a translation of the enchantment produced within us when faced with the finesse of impressive technical achievement?

My project for the Laurie Grove Bath House in November was an installation dedicated to the building’s ghost who was affectionately called Charley as he whistled the Charleston by James P. Johnson. For my installation I recorded someone whistling the Charleston and played it from the top of the stairs in order to lure people to a step, that when stepped on, projected old footage of people dancing the charleston on the walls accompanied by an old big band playing the song. The following video is nice cause it shows the ghosts of Al Minns and Leon James dancing the Charleston to daftpunk:” …. for the rest of this Snarkish post, see here.


Houses with steps outside and balconies galore. People play the guitar twenty feet above the street, rooftop b-b-qs on a fantasy sunshine twilight Franco-bohemian wannabe New Orleans evening (after the flood = after the terrific snows). Singing in bars. Excellent seafood, wide streets, blue sky like Sydney, strange mushroomy aromas in the underpass, beer sold in separate shops to wine and liquor. Ice-skating hockey team tragedy (C-H lost). Ukrainians and Portuguese. Very good coffee, random conversations with relatively deranged beggars, accented French ‘you can’t go wrong with THAT’, histories of amusing god-bothery (tabarnac a term of abuse). Murals on all walls. Painted roofs – some garish. Dogs, great danes and shepherds. Harley Davidsons and all the other trappings of a 1970s aesthetic. Reminiscences of Melbourne, missing only the trams. And maybe a bit more public transport (queues at all bus stops). Enthusiastic students, clean and bright. Souvenir bears.

Critique of Violence, Goldsmiths 19 May 2008

19th May 2008 The Centre for Cultural Studies Presents

a symposium on Walter Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence’.

Four great speakers (30 mins each) and our venue are now confirmed.

This will happen on the afternoon of 19th May 2008 – 2pm – 6pm.
Venue: RHB Cinema – chair: John Hutnyk

2pm Elina Staikou “Force of Name: The Critique of Violence”.

2.50 Andrew Benjamin “On their Difference – Mythic and Divine Violence”.

3.40 tea break

3.55 Jennifer Bajorek “Of Dogma and Decay: The ‘Case’ of Language in the Critique”.

4.45 Howard Caygill “The Worst: Benjamin, Weber and the critique of violence”.

6pm – late – beer – … food… more talk.


Fair warning for Canadians

Fun-da-mentalMay 6 2008

Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies presents:

John Hutnyk, Academic Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London

Pantomime Terror: UK Hip Hop at War (or Paranoia in London: ‘Lookout, he’s behind you!’)

When: Tuesday, May 6, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Where: Room LB 646, McConnell Library Building, 1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd., W.

Performance studies and scholarship on popular culture has found a new more dangerous context.

With terror alerts and constant announcements at train stations and airports in the UK, where the Queen’s subjects are called upon to ‘report any suspicious baggage’; with stop and search security policing focused upon Muslims (and unarmed Brazilians shot on the London underground); and with restrictions on civil liberties and ‘limits’ to freedom proclaimed as necessary, it is now clear that spaces for critical debate are mortally threatened in contemporary, tolerant, civilized Britain.

This discussion addresses new performance work by diasporic world music stalwarts Fun-da-mental and the drum and bass outfit Asian Dub Foundation, relating to insurgency struggles, anti-colonialism and political freedom in the UK.

The presentation will argue for an engaged critique of “culture” and assess a certain distance or gap between political expression and the tamed versions of multiculturalism accepted by/acceptable in the British marketplace.

Examples from the music industry reception of ‘difficult’ music and creative engagement are evaluated in the context of the global terror wars and a new paranoia that appears endemic on the streets of London today.\

The lecture is open to all students and faculty and is co-sponsored by the Department of Communication Studies and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (CISSC).

For more information, contact the Communications Studies Department on (514) 848-2424 ext. 2555.


Seminar: May 6 2008

The Specialized Individualized Programs (SIP) and the PhD in Humanities Program (HUMA) present:

A seminar with John Hutnyk: Marx Writing Money

When: Tuesday, May 6, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
Where: Room H-1120, Hall Building, 1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd., W.

John Hutnyk will lead a seminar discussion of the often read, and very often decontextualized, sections on Fetish and on Money in Marx’s Capital.

In order to make the argument he proposes that participants read or reread some of the framing sentences Marx offers.

A more activist-oriented appreciation of both Marx’s project and his method, as well as evaluating the place of money in his analysis, might thereby be possible — alongside a critique of some prominent commentators similar to the gentle chiding given to Jacques Derrida by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

In this way it is hoped that something of Marx’s style and his engagement will be made apparent.

Participants are invited to read roughly 50 pages from the Penguin English language edition of Marx’s Capital — pp.126-131; pp.163-177; pp.198-209; pp.221-231; & pp.247-257. [And the German if you can, but the seminar will be conducted in English.]

The seminar is open to all students and faculty.

For more information, contact the Communications Studies Department on (514) 848-2424 ext. 2555.
Posted on April 29, 2008