Sonic Warfare

Steve Goodman’s book Sonic Warfare (2010) is full of interest and a vibrant new language for making sense of the sonic politics and affect – perhaps we should/must say attention – economies of contemporary capitalism. It also offers a useful note of prudence for those who too readily celebrate the sonic underground as opposition. ‘Global ghettotech’ is the agential site of an important potential, it remains to see whether Kode9 or the role of lecturer carries the day. I am not able to judge the inner dynamic of bass stylings over against scholarly erudition, but I have enjoyed much of the book. Especially so, where the discussion at the end takes up the thematic of piracy, just where perhaps the questions of solidarity and Party organization might have been placed in another kind of analysis. Nevertheless, as I prepare for a different kind of party tonight – at the Black Flag anarchist branded drinking house alongside Goldsmiths – Goodman’s examination of the pirate metaphor for business deserves a listen.

‘piracy… some commentators have noted … has become just another business model. When the most banal popular music is simultaneously mobilized as a weapon of torture, it is clear that sonic culture has reached a strange conjuncture within its deepening immersion into the environments of the military-entertainment complex’ (Goodman 2010:190)

The proposal Goodman has in mind here is the suggestion by Matt Mason that we think of piracy as the business model of choice for late capitalism (he means very late capitalism). This argument, more fully manifest in The Pirate’s Dilemma, sounds to me as if it is a logical extension of the capacity if Capital to adapt to hybridity by hybridizing itself. We have head this routine before. Romantic attachment to the newest so-called innovations of expanding capital has a pedigree as old as capital itself. Not for nothing was old beardo sticking it to the bourgeois professors who deserved nothing less.

Today, the attention economy is the pedestrian versioning of an explanation for hybrid or pirate capital, a development perhaps advancing on the neo-liberal parrot-talk of accellerationism and speed fetishism, but still unable to provide a diagnostic adequate to an opposition that could win. Insert details of Mao’s Party programme here/disregarding any disconnect consequent of the Badiou and Žižek auto-poetic personality cult (see the comradely love-letter to SZ at the end of Badiou’s latest Communist Hypothesis 2010).

Piracy of the creative high-seas low-fees kind is of course the navigation beta chart of future commerce lanes.

Indebted to Mike Davis’s problematic books Ecology of Fear and Planet of Slums, Goodman is at least full of interesting detail when he links pirate radio, pirate media, online file sharing, and ‘ubiquitous, decentralized insurgency networks such as al Qaeda under the slogan ‘piracy funds terrorism’, deciding that ‘the early-twenty-first century is a strange time to be an audio pirate’ (Goodman 2010:179). But this is a broad and abstracting brush nevertheless. The trouble with the import of Davis’s ideas on slums and cities is the undifferentiated mass flow perspective of the source commentator – like Žižek’s gloss on the slum as well, there is no nuance of distinction – the mass remain a mass of the old type, or even less organized. Hardt and Negri’s multitude are waiting in the wings and all we are left of wonder from afar at the coming conflagration. The migration of the ghetto-tech massive is celebrated as a threatening mutation of the global nervous system, a ‘rhythmachinic takeover of space-time’ (Goodman 2010:173) but not much more. Where this is dangerous is that there is an elevation of the commentary over the participation – the cult status of the DJ over the crowd, the named glory of the author is not far away. Badiou proclaims himself the last Maoist in France – a frankly Quixotic gesture. Davis does about the same for L.A. The real ecology of fear is, I think, a guilty anxiety of those intellectuals interpreting, while also wanting but unable to organize, that greater mass of those who will change the world. What we get here is a strangely familiar distanciation of the commentary, which of course then is readily lined up to do duty for the transformation and restoration of a new mode of capital.

‘Youth culture has reinvented, or rejuvenated, capitalism to the point that piracy has now become just another business model, a mutation from subversive cultural weapon to business plan; the situationist projection of art into the everyday becomes merely branding’ (Goodman 2010:181)

It is to Goodman’s credit that he is fully alert to these dangers: ‘sonic war machines’ he says,  ‘may emerge out of turbulent, underdeveloped urban ecologies, but their bottom-up nature does not in itself constitute an index of a moral or political higher ground. Caution should be shown … in celebrating the pirate economies of music cultures’ (Goodman 2010:194).

The caution here should be about whether or not we trust the rendering of youth culture mouthed by the academy (including ventriloquist exhibit a: yours truly). A similar note of caution might be useful for all those scrapping around for a metaphor or a diagnostic code for making sense of the new war economy attention and acceleration hype of hybridized mutant youth digital sonic shared p2p capital2.0 today. To coin the terminology of appreciation is still merely to coin – that is, to offer up a market coding currency to those that will thrive on the ideological mismatch of critical commentary and institutional stasis. New formations of the eversame do not move us towards an alternative to capital; only joining the mobilization of the ghettotech troop surge, the creation and mobilization of the people’s army, can.

Badiou, Alain 2010 The Communist Hypothesis London: Verso.

Davis, Mike 1999 The Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster New York: Vintage.

Davis, Mike 2005 Planet of Slums London: Verso.

Goodman, Steve 2010 Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Masson, Matt 2008 The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism New York: Free Press.

Text for Sokari

Sokari Douglas Camp

I am honoured to introduce this collection by Sokari Douglas Camp.

Sokari’s sculptural works – made in metal but moving fabric – are like an analytical textbook that deals with contemporary issues while also offering a passionate call to arms. The pieces that you can see in this brochure, but which must really be met in the flesh, question and comment on topics of importance and controversy, demanding answers from us all. Confronted with these weighty statements, I feel that, as with the best books and most challenging writers, I am being asked to think differently than I do – perhaps this is the whole point of art, and of reading, and of thinking. Sokari’s works do it over and over – there is much to them and they start a conversation. They ask us all to think why injustice prevails, why (all) people matter, why we have this world and not another?

Anger transmuted into a provocation that stands in the way – on the corner of a patch of grass or on a pedestal in a square, both ornamental and demanding – and more and more she comes with the questions: Why is this happening? Where are the people? Who will care? Do you not recognize yourself here?

These works are not simple reactions to the particular controversies they depict. Their meanings are not contained in terms of ‘straight’ representation of oil spills or racist attacks or similar. They elevate a political diagnostic to the monumental, but also exist very much at a human level. Life-size moulded bronze or beaten steel statues that also celebrate the everyday in a context where global forces – colonialism, oil imperialism, migration and genocide – buffet and wear away at our puny corporeal selves.

This work is an affirmative critique, celebrated in bodies and dress and performance. The huge metal pieces have the power to move.

There is a deep timeliness in Sokari’s art, a relevance and urgency that offers a longer and wider reach into significance than much that is indulgent or, dare I suggest this, complicit and wilfully obscurantist in art today. These issues, read here in metal, are more urgent and the responses more durable than most commentary would allow. We know we need these provocations, and we need them because of and despite the fleeting treatment of ‘issues’ by television news and broadsheet press. Sokari’s work is current affairs in concrete, manifold machine music, solid social science – each work drops to the pavement as perpetual presence and everyday enthusiasm. Her works are joyous, angry, complicated simple conversations with the world now. Planetary interpretation. Asking us to change. Alchemy.

John Hutnyk

Keep Calm talk at Kent – 4:

Keep Calm and Carry On:
Low Level Anxiety in World War Three London
– John Hutnyk
Video provocation – we will watch Sri Lankan Tamil rapper Mathangi Arulpragasam’s recent Romain Gavras-made video promo for her track ‘Born Free’ from the new album /\/\/\Y/\ – so as to discuss the way stereotypes that are knocked down just get up again. We can then consider the efforts, and difficulties, that have occupied South Asian musicians, writers, filmmakers and commentators in the context of the permanent repetition of an ideological “terror” that has to be called World War Three. The talk surveys some of the absurd and worrying scrapes South Asian musicians have gotten themselves into under the new civil (un)liberties environment of the contemporary city.
Consideration of transliteration and repetitions in music – from Edgard Varese’s (mis)understanding of Hinduism, through Adorno and Twelve Tone, the work of Zappa, South Asian Hip Hop, up to Slavoj Žižek’s appreciation of Freudian witticisms – can set the political context of the track in relief. In the video the reference is to immigration crack-downs in the USA; on the album the association is with Sri Lankan army execution of Tamils. Can we think music (musicology, hip hop scholarship, pop) without addressing a wider syncopation? The predicament of Samina Malik, the UK’s ‘lyrical terrorist’, arrested in 2007, will also be noted.
Venue: Corwallis North East bldg, University of Kent – 4:30-6pm Thursday 21st October 2010

CCS PhD Seminar 2010-2011 (CCS only)

Centre for Cultural Studies PhD seminar 2010-2011

4 Oct – John Hutnyk – introductory and organizational discussion (no pre-reading)

11 Oct – John Hutnyk –

Mussell: Three pages from “Social and Political Thought”

Adorno: ‘What National Socialism Has Done to the Arts’ from “Essays on Music”

Adorno ‘Critique’ – a 1969 radio address, From “Critical Models”

18 Oct – John Hutnyk

Ronell: ‘The Question of Stupidity: Why We Remain in the Provinces’ from “Stupidity”

Ronell: ‘On Television: the feminization of the World’ from “Fighting Theory”

25 Oct – Scott Lash

Sloterdijk: From “Terror From the Air”

1 Nov – Scott Lash

Badiou: ‘Mathematics and Philosophy/Philosophy and Mathematics’

15 Nov – Matt Fuller

Agre: ‘Towards a Critical Technical Practice’

22 Nov – Matt Fuller

Guattari ‘The New Aesthetic Paradigm’

29 Nov – Alison Hulme

Lefebvre: from “Critique of Everyday Life” vol 1.

6 Dec – Richard Iveson

Derrida: from ‘The Beast and the Sovereign’ and

A.Benjamin: ‘Particularity and Exceptions: On jews and Animals’

24 Jan – Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay

Tarde/Durkheim: ‘The Debate’ from “The Social After Gabriel Tarde”

31 Jan – Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay

Joyce: ‘The Social in Question’

7 Feb – Luciana Parisi

James: ‘The Stream of Thought’ from “Principles of Psychology”

Whitehead: ‘Expression’  from ‘Modes of Thought’

14 Feb – Luciana Parisi

Clarke: ‘Meat machines’ from ‘Mindware’

Bateson: ‘Criteria of Mental Processes’ from “Mind and Nature”

Churchland: ‘Introduction’ to “The Engine of Reason”

28 Feb – Bernard Stiegler

7 March – Bernard Stiegler

14 – March – from this date on – PhD student presentations each monday including into summer term….

Lenin on Writing

I am against non-partisan writing, and, not altogether randomly, want to refer to Lenin to support this, where he writes:

“Down with non-partisan writers. Down with literary supermen. Literature must become part of the common cause of the proletariat” (Lenin 1905 Party Organisation and Party Literature).

In a way that long anticipates the post-structuralist interest in the political importance of the structures of information dissemination, Lenin wrote in 1905 that:

literature must by all means necessary become an element of … party work … Newspapers must become the organs of the various party organisations, and their writers must by all means become members of these organisations. Publishing and distributing centres, bookshops and reading rooms, libraries and similar establishments — must all come under party control (Lenin 1905 Party Organisation and Party Literature – emphasis added)

Still earlier Lenin had placed the founding of the party newspaper at the beginning of the project of founding a party:

“We can and must immediately set about founding the party organ — and, it follows, the Party itself — and putting them on a sound footing” (Lenin 1899 An Urgent Question).

In this text Lenin says that discussion and haphazard or eclectic communist work is ‘amateurish’ when it is not all organised in “such a way that it is reflected in its entirety in one common organ” (Lenin 1899). The whole of What is to be done? takes this up in detail. Lenin offers a deconstruction, or rather demolition, of the arguments of the ‘opportunists’ who opposed the founding of Iskra. The need for such a ‘common’ forum, of course in no way implies the homogenisation of all communist work into the one mold (as if this would be desirable, possible or meaningful at all). But it does demand organisation and discipline.

Marx on Writing

Marx, writing on the Paris Commune, singled out the writings of academic ‘gentlemen’:

the working class can afford to smile at the course invective of the gentlemen’s gentlemen with the pen and inkhorn, and at the didactic patronage of well-wishing bourgeois-doctrinaires, pouring forth their ignorant platitudes and  sectarian crotchets in the oracular tone of scientific infallibility (Marx 1871 The Civil War in France)

This is much more than just a critique of the the ‘science’ of the institutions, and everyone is well aware that all writing is marked with the circumstances in which it is situated. Writing and reading are co-constituted together in a variety of highly charged political contexts and along with paying attention to the institutionalised ‘politics’ of academic writing and of the mainstream media, we are also obliged to look at the ways these contexts bare upon all writing. The trace of ‘objectivity’ is still apparent in so much work from the left, especially academic and journalistic work — as if by some agreement with the higher privilege of serious writing we have forgotten the invective and politics of leaflet and pamphlet styles.