Category Archives: commodity

Centrifugal Citation Conformity Machine

I was recently in an information briefing (which was very useful) about Web of Science and citations/searches. Here are some thoughts on how the system at present breeds conformity. Or at least, this is what I said, pretty much. very slightly odified to remove some names:

On Metrics as Tools

My concern – something I have discussed with a few others – is how there are some serious gaps in the Web of Science coverage for some areas of the social sciences and humanities.  I wonder if you are interested in this discussion as well. I think there are a few important things to consider, or if they have been considered, make the thinking clear as to how they have been handled.

I work (and think) in a variety of different ways that sometimes seem to me to be specifically designed to fall between the cracks of the indexes. This started with noting that the journals I really admire, were not making it from ESCI to SSCI, or rather, some were even choosing not to. I don’t think I should say which ones, but a few I have had some reviewing or editorial exchange with have said they are pulling out of the indexing ‘game’ as metrics was both too blunt and too normative. There are also a few things, discussed especially, that were not being indexed. Smaller magazines for example, museum catalogues and artist books, visual research (I had taught ethnographic film for many years) and political pamphlets are falling by the way in the face of a normative centrifugal force.

The blunt version of the argument here is that the new Incites tools do not ‘incite’ enough – but rather encourage heading in the same direction that everyone else is heading in – collaborate with those who are most likely to collaborate with you, cite those who cite you, read those who read you etc. Sure, that perhaps has its merits in terms of group cohesion, but academic work should surely be, at one level at least, not about that at all. It is disagreement and difference we should seek, not everyone heading towards the same spiral of universal chanting “ISI ISI” as if a group of characters from a Thomas Pynchon novel had spring off the page in full riot gear. Doesn’t the tendency to seek out the most popular make it harder for new and novel ideas to get a hearing? At what point do the top citations, top metrics, top index procedures need to be disrupted by ideas might not even be recognised by ‘metrics’? Ideas that disrupt the play of uniformity, conformity, safety and repetition? Obviously, I am setting this out starkly to make the point clear, but I think there is a fundamental problem when we have 50 million papers that are there because, as you said, ‘we want to make the world a better place’ but some could argue that the world is demonstrably becoming less better, or at least a significant set of indicators would suggest that. maybe the 50 million need to not refer more and more to the centre, but seek more and more the alternative, angular, oblique and even opposite/oppositional ideas. Ahh, we are communist after all (though in communism there is also a tendency to centralisation, of course – as I said, overstating to make the point).

What mechanisms can be demonstrated within your presentation, or within the tools, that cater for the need to engage in a ‘ruthless criticism of everything’ as old beardo would have us do. The old man with a beard also saw himself as on the road to science, but that it was no easy path, there was work to be done. What could be entered into the search algorithms to ensure the critiques of normative and even hegemonic ideas in each area are challenged? What mechanisms in the search can be dysfunctional for the ongoing business model that is, frankly, no longer really fit for purpose in a degraded and entropic world…

I would love (ironic and hysterical laughter – cackle cackle hee hee hee) to see some explicit attention to how critical disruptive thinking could be built in as potions for the indexing process. I know indexing cannot be neutral, but can the biases run the other way sometimes? can you say how these questions might be addressed? And what great possibilities would be there if 100 flowers contended with 100 schools of thought in bloom…

cheers

Just to confirm that referentiality takes all kinds, my most often cited ISI works (ISI articles cited by ISI journals) show interesting trends. (All available on the download texts link in the sidebar).

Authors:  John Hutnyk 

Authors:  John HutnykSanjay Sharma Published:Jun 2016 in THEORY, CULTURE AND SOCIETY DOI: 10.1177/02632760022051211

Authors:  John Hutnyk  Published:Jun 2016 in THEORY, CULTURE AND SOCIETY DOI: 10.1177/0263276406062700

Authors:  John Hutnyk  Published:Jul 2016 in CRITIQUE OF ANTHROPOLOGY DOI: 10.1177/0308275X9801800401

Authors:  John Hutnyk Published:Feb 2002 in FUTURES DOI: 10.1016/S0016-3287(01)00032-5

Mother of Pearl

Moving from detective fiction in Thailand to commercial reproduction makes sense when its Angela Savage. This is my next non-work read:

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Some review snippets lifted from Angela’s blog:

Marian Woolf’s review A gripping story of surrogacy, sisters and power dynamics in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald

Surrogacy and the complicated moral and ethical questions around commercial reproduction is a minefield. The decision to use a surrogate, to become a surrogate, or to facilitate a surrogate pregnancy, are all examined in Mother of Pearl.
However, Savage is interested in more than the individual, and uses surrogacy as a lens through which to probe the differences between Third and First World choices. She tiptoes into frustration at the inward nature of Australian charity, our generosity towards our own relatively wealthy society while seemingly immune to the already poor elsewhere.

Ultimately … Mother of Pearl is a book about relationships – between people, countries and cultures – between those who have, and those who have not.

Linda Jaivin reviewed Mother of Pearl for The Saturday Paper.

‘At times, each character veers dangerously close to stereotype… But author Angela Savage is too skilful a writer to deal in clichés. As the narrative of this, her fourth novel, develops, each of the women reveals herself to be more complex and capable than she first appears.’

Savage, who writes with a tough mind and tender heart, tackles the moral and ethical issues around surrogacy with an unsentimental yet sympathetic eye: this is a novel, not a polemic.

Ken Hayley in the Courier Mail, writes:

‘Even a hard-bitten old codger like myself found certain passages of this work tearful going … Authorial attention to technical detail combined with raw emotional honesty and cross-cultural empathy has produced a narrative of resounding depth … This book is a window opening onto an intersection of economic choices and biological imperatives. We have here a rough literary equivalent of the Mexican movie Roma, except that Savage sees the view, with equal clarity, from both sides.’

And then from the transit lounge sales page for the book, the blurb followed by a review by Christos:

A luminous and courageous story about the hopes and dreams we all have for our lives and relationships, and the often fraught and unexpected ways they may be realised.

Angela Savage draws us masterfully into the lives of Anna, an aid worker trying to settle back into life in Australia after more than a decade in Southeast Asia; Meg, Anna’s sister, who holds out hope for a child despite seven fruitless years of IVF; Meg’s husband Nate, and Mukda, a single mother in provincial Thailand who wants to do the right thing by her son and parents.

The women and their families’ lives become intimately intertwined in the unsettling and extraordinary process of trying to bring a child into the world across borders of class, culture and nationality. Rich in characterisation and feeling, Mother of Pearl and the timely issues it raises will generate discussion among readers everywhere.

‘This is a story of family and motherhood, and also a story of culture and exploitation that asks us to think through the costs of our insatiable desire in the West to have everything. What I find remarkable about this novel is how it refuses easy and lazy judgement, how it takes seriously questions of loss, longing, and our human need to connect with each other.’

Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap

and finally:

‘A beautifully crafted novel from an incredibly gifted writer. Angela Savage explores the ethical minefield of international surrogacy through the stories of three women, desperate but determined to repair the broken parts of their lives The prose is as precise as it is poetic, the characters so deftly drawn. I read this book compulsively, racing to its poignant conclusion with my heart in my throat.’

Melanie Cheng, author of Australia Day and Room for a Stranger

 

With reviews like this…

How to guides… Poppy cultivation

This amazing detailed description is from a book I had been battling to get hold of for a year or more – Amer Farooqui’s “Smuggling as Subversion” 1998:

Once the ground was ready, poppy was sown at the rate of 2 to 2. 5 ser of seed per bigha. The seed was sown broadcast. Apart from the several waterings already referred to, much weeding and loosening of soil had to be attended to in the following months. Besides, when the plants were five or six inches above the ground they had to be thinned to distance of three inches.

As much if not more demanding for the peasant was the extraction of opium. Opium is the ‘inspissated juice obtained by scratching the unripe capsules’ of the poppy plant and ‘allowing the milky sap, which exudes therefirom to dry spontaneously’ This job requires considerable expertise. Lack of skill incoUectmg the jiuice (chik) from poppy capsules could ruin the crop. The peasants ofMalwa were reputed to have sufficient expertise in collecting juice from the poppy by the of the 19th century. 

So much so that when it was found in Gujarat that ‘unskilful management’ by novices ‘in extracting the juice from the pods and preparing the opium’ was leading to a considerable Ioss the ‘assistance of a few Experienced Cultivators from Malwa’ was sought.

When the capsules were half ripe between January and early March, they were punctured with a small trident formed in an instrument of three short prongs on blades at a distance of about the fourth of an inch asunder. Using this instrument three vertical incisions would be made upwards in capsules.

Weather conditions prevailing between January and mid March were a critical factor in determining the nature of the harvest . Even minor variations in weather at this stage could tell on the poppy.

For collecting the juice, the practice in Malwa was to divide a field into four parts and take up ripe plants of two portions in a single day. Since the collection of juice had to be preceded by scratching of the unripe capsules the previous evening, on any given day juice would be scraped off plants of the first part (which had been operated on the day before), while towards evening incisions would be made on plants of the second part to permit collection of their juice, the coagulated latex, the next day and so on. The poppy capsule should properly be wounded late in the evening after sunset. It has to be left overnight after scarnfication and its opaque narcotic juice is collected next morning. The poppies could be bled three to four times for collecting their juice, and thus the entire operation had to be repeated as many times‘.

‘Citizen Marx/Kane’ in “Marx at the Movies”, 2014

Citizen Marx/Kane’ – Hutnyk

This chapter addresses the question of how, today, to start reading that rich book that is Marx’s Capital — of which an immense, even monstrous, accumulation of commentary on the Marxist mode of literary production appears to have already shaped its elementary forms. In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it is usual to say it is good to start at the beginning — not always of course, but usually to start with what is immediately at hand. Commentaries, primers, prefaces, intros, first sentences and first chapters start at the beginning and continue on from there. This is itself debated, but my argument is that we can only approach Capital through the already existing commentary, even as we would like to start as if the book were new. And the commentary that exists is not only that which is explicitly marked as such, but also includes all the ideas we have already received about so many things — about Marx, capitalism, communism, exchange, commodities and so much more. A vast accumulation of things filter reading, so it would be naive to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, even if it makes sense to start with commodities, the objects that are the souvenirs or detritus of our lives.

Keywords

Capitalist Class Capitalist Mode Moral Testimony Commodity System Film Poster 

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Innovations… Conference 4-5 October 2019, TDTU, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

http://issh2019.tdtu.edu.vn/

Innovations in the Social Sciences and Humanities

4th and 5th of October 2019.
Ho Chi Minh City, Socialist republic of Vietnam

Welcome to the website for the conference Innovations in the Social Sciences and Humanities, jointly organised by The University of Trieste, Italy; the Universität Leipzig, Germany; National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan; University of Warwick, UK; College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (CHESS) at Purdue University Northwest (PNW), USA; and Ton Duc Thang University, Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Conference Venue – Ton Duc Thang University

Address: 19 Nguyen Huu Tho Street, Tan Phong Ward, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Invitation and Call for papers:

For the International Conference 4-5 October 2019 at Ton Duc Thang University, HCMC, Vietnam, we would like to hear from those working on innovative approaches to public engagement in the social sciences and humanities. Methodological, empirical, archival or conceptual-theoretical work is encouraged, especially where a keen interest in application, consequence, practice or outcome is involved. Sometimes this is called impact on the one side, or intervention on the other, but we are nevertheless interested in all inquiries and investigations which advance the emancipatory possibilities of scholarship in a radically changed global context.

Social and cultural practices in both modern life and in the preservation of historical memory, could suitably connect sociology, social work, history, ethno-anthropology (museums, exhibitions, fairs, monuments, collective ceremonies), cultural tourism, eco-preservation policies, and other urgent contemporary social issues. Comparative studies are welcome, but not the only focus. We are especially interested in deep and detailed studies which have wider significance and suggestions for ‘best practice’. After many years of ‘interdisciplinarity’, or at least talk about this, we are interested to see examples where this works well in practice. We can assume all studies are comparative and interdisciplinary in a way, and all certainly have consequences, implications…

We are especially keen to hear from those working in three overlapping areas of engaged activity: these may be people working as anthropologists, historians, museum and preservation/heritage studies; cultural geographers, sociologists and in cultural studies; or on border studies, migrant labor and workplace and institutional inquiries. Our themes will interact within the structure of the conference, but we are keen in particular to go deeply into each area.

With Innovations in Public Engagement we anticipate discussions of the ways scholarship might best go about communicating in public the experience of the past and of human, cultural and environmental diversity, including technological and bio-political innovations and their contemporary reshaping of pasts and presents. Challenges to questions of who produces scholarship and why, for whom and by whom, can apply to past and present uses of knowledge, where the models of research and inquiry are actively reworked in the face of new public demands.

With Historical/contemporary practices and policies we seek to address issues related to contemporary forms of social conflict, including unequal citizenship and new racisms, the rise of right-wing populist movements and infiltration of religious power in secular governmentality, migrant workers as neoliberal slavery, questions of human trafficking and refugees, developmentalism and environmental pollution, crony capitalism and geo-economic zoning politics.

With Innovations of methodology, training and new skills for the future it seems to us crucial that our work respond to rapid reconfigurations of the very possibility and consequences of engaged social sciences and humanities scholarship. Whether the changing context is imposed by governments by industry or by civil society, when we deal with institutional change and competitive and imperative demands, we do need to develop new tools for knowledge(s) and new sensibilities/sensitivities. Education, reform and responsiveness, new skills and objectives, new modes of investigation and teaching in general. An urgent and targeted focus on how scholarship might remain relevant and critical in the face of global trends – funding cuts, social constraints, new demands, new conservatism, and crises of certitude.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam will be our venue, but it need not necessarily be the context or focus of all papers, nor are comparative, or East-West or ‘post’ or neo-colonial framings always to be foregrounded in the papers. We are interested however in papers that encourage us to think anew about the implications of where we are and about how to re-orient humanities and social sciences scholarship in contexts where rising tensions in East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia call on us to innovate and apply once more.

On acceptance of your paper, we will provide you a letter of acceptance or an invitation letter for your visa application to Vietnam or financial sponsorship from your institution. Therefore, you are encouraged to submit your paper at the earliest time possible.

Language:

The conference proceedings and papers will be in English.

Important dates:

  • Abstract Submission: By February 28th, 2019
  • Notification of Paper Acceptance: Before March 30th, 2019
  • Full Paper Submission: By May 30th, 2019
  • Registration and Payment by: August 20th, 2019 (early bird discounts apply)
  • Conference Dates: October 4th– 5th, 2019

We look forward to receiving your contributions and kindly ask you to disseminate the call to your colleagues who may be interested in participating the conference.
Please do not hesitate to contact us at issh2019@tdtu.edu.vn if you need any further information.

________

Assoc. Prof. Le Thi Mai, Ph.D
Head of  Sociology Department

 

Screenshot 2018-11-26 at 16.03.23http://issh2019.tdtu.edu.vn/

Smuggling – of tea to Scotland?

The Commission of Customs Scotland to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, reporting on the subject of trade with India, in 1812, examined Earl, Osborne and Ferrier (traders) on the question of smuggling ‘tea’. The answer is instructive – smuggling will increase if EIC ships are permitted to trade in Scottish waters. That is, lets be clear, English ships smuggling ‘tea’ to Scotland. Recall that these ships mostly carry other goods than tea, but in smuggling, the trick is not to declare. Records reported elsewhere – I think in Judt, have to check back – indicated some half a million pounds worth or goods a year was ‘pilfered’ from vessels in the Thames at London – that’s half a million of the declared consignments. The need to read between the lines – what does other ‘East India Goods’ really mean, and what does it not mean? The remittances off the books was a healthy trade for, in Feldbaek’s examples, for Danish shipping out of Serampore.

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Miniaturization is trinketization.

This looks great and would have been a good thing to attend, but my diary window – and budget – is far too small:

*Small Interventions: Studies in the Miniature*

Numerous theorists have engaged with the idea of the miniature, including
Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Susan Stewart, and Andreas Huyssen. As
they and other thinkers have shown, the complex and contradictory nature of
the miniature speaks to issues of nostalgia, a desire for control and
containment, and gender and other norms. In popular culture, miniatures
crop up in diverse forms: from dollhouses to mini-Frappuccinos, from
spyware to nanotechnology, from closed ecosystems to manmade islands. The
proposed panel is interested in thinking about the status of the
miniature–whether a tiny book, photograph, or memento–as an object of
cultural study. We aim to ask how the miniature might (or might not) be a
useful genre or category with which to intervene in our traditional
disciplinary assumptions, our pedagogies, and our practices. How might
thinking about the miniature expand our possible objects of study? Might we
consider it a bridge to other fields? Possible paper topics might address
issues related to the miniature within the following contexts:
environmental, postcolonial, and cultural studies; photography and visual
culture; digital humanities; close reading and poetics; or urban planning
and architecture. This list is meant to generate ideas and is by no means
exhaustive.

 

We are soliciting individual paper proposals to include in a
pre-constituted panel to be presented at the Sixteenth Annual Cultural
Studies Association Conference at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, from May 31-June 2, 2018. Interested presenters should send
their name, title, affiliation, email address, and a 150 word abstract. All
presenters must be members of the CSA to participate. Membership and other
information can be found at http://www.culturalstudiesassociation.org/.
Please direct inquires/ submissions to Shannon Winston at skw2@princeton.edu or
Helen Kapstein at hkapstein@jjay.cuny.edu no later than
Sunday, February 11, 201

English heritage trinkets

Apparently on sale at National Trust sites are mugs with this marking underneath. 


Thanks Katherine S for the pointer. My view is to welcome this as an historically accurate statement – English heritage was made in China, also known as profiting from the Opium trade. First time I’ve seen this NatTru admission but it has to be welcomed. There was no-one willing to discuss this at Powis Castle (home of Lord Clive) when we visited.

Brand PhD. #gnnnngg

Can’t imagine the mad thinking behind this branding. In several ways a sign of the downward spiral. Or, a niche marketing gambit. What next: administrative razor blades, higher Education band-aids? I know there’s been a fashion chain called Anthropologie for a long time, but this. Pfffttt!

.
Now with Belgian chocolate

And as a flapjack:

Waste as Global Crime, Waste as Global Business. Containerised travels of Charmaine Chua

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 12.41.55I’d followed this story from the start, but as the journey dragged on I was only catching up much later, usually a month or so after the fact. This is the last of the series which follows a container ship on its travels – a HUGE container ship – as a meditation on ethnography and much else besides. Great project. Read back to some of the earlier posts, especially the first ones, for commentary on size. But this bit on waste is also worth retaining:

One of my first conversations with the captain when we were still in Oakland was about this very vexing problem of waste: as we experienced longer and longer delays at the US ports, the primary question on the captain’s mind was what to do with all the garbage the ship had accumulated. Recent US environmental regulations prohibited the release of these wastes into the 24-mile coastal waters off the US shoreline, and their presence was starting to give the captain a headache. “Grey water” – the collected dirty liquid from laundry machines and shower stalls, was nearing capacity in the tanks, so the laundry room had to close. Sewage could not be disposed, and food waste, biodegradable and otherwise dumped into the ocean every three days, was gathering the smell of rot and decay into corners of the deck. “Apparently,” said the chief mate, “the US does not want to shit where it eats.” – and so it protects its waters from waste, making the world’s ocean into its toilet bowl.

There is some rich irony in all this: environmental regulations declared a ‘victory’ for communities in the US may have alleviated the blight of pollution in US territorial waters (itself somewhat of an oxymoronic term), but this only means that that garbage is disposed of somewhere else – received, recycled, cleaned, and ingested by populations unable to escape from its detritus. I think often about this circulating image as an allegory for the inequalities of the global economy: boxes full of garbage, wastepaper and scrap travel east and are recycled to keep China’s manufacturing and packaging industries humming, while those same containers travel back west with goods made cheap by indentured labor – goods soon to be discarded in a yawning hole and brought back east again not long after they are purchased: computer chips, 6 month-old iPhones declared irrelevant upon the release of newer models, barely sturdy furniture, dollhouses, plastic utensils, etc. etc., the whole rejected flotsam and jetsam of our ravenous, bulimic society in giant landfills, representing a grand dialectical tussle between value and its antithesis.

In China, however, waste is business. Not only are a ship’s eastbound containers laden with refuse and scrap; the endlessly traveling ship is itself a massive waste-producer. As we neared the Chinese ports, the chief engineer and captain ran over the long list of overhauls and waste management procedures they would have to accomplish on top of the rush of cargo operations. In Hong Kong, I watched as a crane lifted a hulking mountain of garbage collected over a month at sea into a waiting barge below, the smell of heavy fuel and rotten food mixing together in the humid air. In Yantian, a sludge disposal company with a freshly-painted barge drew alongside the Ever Cthulhu in the harbor in the afternoon, and I watched as it lifted a pipe by crane onto the ship’s deck, and pumped 75 tons of sludge from the engine room’s tanks into the barge waiting below. The business of sludge management is “so lucrative”, the chief engineer says, that while companies in the EU charge shippers for its disposal, in China, companies purchase this black, sticky mess. When put through a refining process, half of this sludge is usable as fuel; the other half is burned off in a waste plant. So profitable is this business that after they were done with the job, the company sent gifts: the Chief Engineer received a few beautiful calendars, and the crew ten boxes of Tsing Tao beer.

Read the whole post here:

The earlier posts via here.

My May 2007 comment on Marx and the Theory of shit is here and a later follow up here.

Shopping is civil war in Hate mag.

Arbeit – Freizeit – Schlaf ist das scheinbar in Stein gemeißelte Triumvirat des idealen Alltags im Kapitalismus. Der Mensch stellt seine Arbeitskraft zur Verfügung, um existenzielle Bedürfnisse zu befriedigen, aber auch um sich Sachen leisten zu können, die ihn in seiner Freizeit von der zu ablenken, damit er möglichst schnell wieder bereit für selbige ist. Der britische Kulturwissenschaftler John Hutnyks hat sich in seinem Aufsatz Shopping is Civil War anhand unterschiedlicher Musikvideos mit dem Irrsinn des Shoppings in der warenförmigen Gesellschaft beschäftigt:

SHOPPING IS CIVIL WAR
By John Hutnyk

Six supermarkets featured in six music videos. In different ways, I can see why these clips go together and it is not merely arbitrary. It worries me that all my life seems headed for the aisles; shopping surrounds me with monstrous collections of commodities.

Read the rest here

image

….

Shopping With Karl: Commodity Fetishism and the Materiality of Marx’s London

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Quentin Lewis has given us an interesting, painstakingly researched to the point of head-scratching impressively-obsessively detailed, study of Marx’s penchant for cigars. Full draft here. The text even berates him a little for supporting this vile capitalist habit. Ha, as if individual contradictions are not a part of all individual mechanisms for self-reproduction – next we’ll have to give up coffee, or cocaine, or mobile phones because they are produced in exploitative ways. Oh, wait, yeah, that IS necessary, but will it happen, or is it better to work on the overthrow of this vile capitalist system that sells rotten blood-stained things as necessities to us from cradle to grave, with many of them explicitly designed to put us there (the grave I mean, killing us all more or less swiftly for profit through alcohol, or overwork). Even the puritans will die of righteousness in this obscene system. But that’s not the point. Here I just wanted to note, and promote, the curiosity of this detailed text on Marx shopping.

Trinkets – Brand – Trinketization??

you can track back through this blog to see I was keen on Russell Brand back in the days when he did his doco on the young BNPs. which was all fair and even handed, like. Ha. Then his Big Bro stuff was good – the movies were like some contagion had stolen (not even taken over) his brain, before the JemPaxman Damascus Highway conversion, and much good that has followed despite the millionaire ‘ordinary’ people conversation with Millicent/Malevolent. OK, NOW, I see its a trinkets thing, I am amused indeed. Since ‘all profit goes back into social enterprise’ can I nominate trinketization as such? Do we need to register as a collective agency (its always been a front). Russ, Russ? Ha ha – I propose CPI M-L TND group as worthy social enterprisers (address n applications). (CPI ML TND = towards new democracy section of Bengal MLs).

trinkts – trinketising – trinketization
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Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 16.34.00TRINKETS

TRINKETS

TRINKETS

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 16.34.16 TRINKETS

TRINKETS

TRINKETS

Quid pro Quo – Subversive Festival, Zagreb (2nd vid)

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My third talk in a series of three on capital was at the Subversive Festival in Zagreb. The second talk is here (Translating Capital in Context) and it makes sense to see the second talk first [the first one in Rijeka was not recorded, but was based on my text on Citizen Kane], not least because it will help explain why the conceit in this third talk has Marx relocated to India, which of course he was always deeply interested in, but he never went, only picking up bits of info, and some myths – eg the horror stories of Jagannath etc – from his wide-ranging and varied reading. I think it is justified to deploy Marx to Calcutta, at least in fantasy, though its true not even Engels took his father’s advice to go to Calcutta to start in business. The old boys were European bound, but this did not mean they did not seek out the revolution elsewhere.

What also should be mentioned (the parts here are – great job – edited and slightly reordered, and the opening by Bernard missed) is that in this talk I set out to look at three different moments. 1) the arrival of Clive in Calcutta after the ‘sham scandal’ of the Black Hole in 1756; 2) the first all-India war of Independence, the so-called ‘mutiny’ 100 years later and; 3) the quid pro quo return of originary capital to the site of the East India Company shipyard in London in present times, under the aegis of the Farrell’s development of Convoys’ Wharf, Deptford, for Hutchinson Whampoa.

I am slowly writing this out as a long, too long, chapter, so this version is pretty schematic, but you will get the drift of new work. Thanks for stopping by. Thanks also to the crew at Subversive, especially Karolina Hrga, and Bernard Koludrović who was chair.

Abstract:

“Marx writing on India is key to understanding Capital. My argument is that we can make sense of Marx today by examining his theoretical and journalistic work together, each informed by an emergent anthropology, by historical hermeneutics, by a critique of political economy and by attention to a global political contest that mattered more than philosophy. Marx reading history, already against the grain and without being able to make actual alliances, is nevertheless seeking allies in a revolutionary cause. Is it possible to observe Marx coming round to realise, after the shaping experience of the 1848-1852 European uprisings, the possibilities for the many different workers of the world to unite? I consider the sources Marx finds available, what he reads, and how his writing practice parses critical support as habitual politics, and how far subcontinental events, themes and allegories are a presence in the key moves of his masterwork Capital almost as if India were a refocused bromide for Europe, just as slavery is for wages. I will take up four cases – the ‘founding’ of Calcutta by Job Charnock (disputed); the story of Clive sacking Chandernagore and going on to defeat Suraj-ud-duala at Palashi/Plassey in 1757 in retaliation for the ‘Black Hole’ (did it exist?); Disraeli verbosely saying nothing about the so-called Indian ‘mutiny’ 1857 (‘the East as a career’); and the question of legalizing Opium in China and the advent of Matheson-Jardine Company after the East India Company comes to an end (‘quid pro quo’). All of this brings us back to the realities of global investment and regeneration in Europe today, as international capital returns to the port of London to redevelop the old East India Company shipyards in Deptford.”

15/5/2014, 21h, Cinema Europa, Zagreb, Croatia
John Hutnyk: Quid pro quo: the East as a career
7th Subversive festival: “Power and Freedom in the Time of Control”
Moderator: Bernard Koludrović

Translating Capital in context, politics, struggles

From Subversive Festival Zagreb, May 2014. 

John Hutnyk: Translating Capital in context, politics, struggles
The School of Contemporary Humanities
moderator: Dunja Matić

 

the dedication, the prefaces, the first sentence, the tenth/eight chapter, the teaching factory, malignant and parasitic, etc…

[errata: New York Daily Tribune, not herald. Fudged Horace and Dante quote, not rude enough about Zombie’s… but otherwise…]

Pantomime Terror #music #politics

There’s a whole section on Wagner in this, and some humour. For the record… (you can order by clicking the cover to get to Zero then look for the sales tab lower right):

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Participation in Museums: Trinketizing the Audience.

Notes for Museum ‘debate’ in Liverpool on November 11.

There is much talk of participation and much effort to remodel foyers, and to an extent interiors, plus toilets, cafes, bookshops and websites, to enable easy access. Asked to be curmudgeon-esque, it seems clear to me that this participation-talk is pseudo-participation. Every participation seems the same, everything alike, repeated patterns, even colour schemes – so many pastels, and fluorescent red plastic chairs. Some of the chairs are little, for kids, or for breaking dad’s back.

How did it get to be that pseudo-participation rules? The dominant culture has no anxiety about having people walk past the exhibits, but do not let them touch you. File on by, stop perhaps for a second, for an hour, but only in a standardized way. Check the visit off on a list. Culture 101.

Nothing without regulation – aims and outcomes carefully calibrated on a planning form that no-one reads, inside a system dominated by the same malignant and parasitic bureaucracy that has overtaken health and education in the hyper-administration. The bureaucracy does not even administer anything today, just keeps the forms in circulation, and the school groups filing through the doors.

And it is this pseudo-routine that must be thoroughly tested. We must know our audience, using the very latest in dumbed-down questionnaires that even newspaper-selling leftist street-vendors would disavow except as props. This is not even market research – so long as the school groups keep on marching past in tight formation. Participation in the most bland formal sameness – Adorno pointed to a sexual lozenge at the heart of the culture industry, and for sure he also meant the museum as pseudo-education. Where everything should be clean. ‘Nothing should be moist’.

We are so far from education here except education as reinforced class privilege. Education is not a two-hour visit – give them 20 hours, even 20 weeks – and they must read in advance. Here cultural exposure is not instruction but packaged ‘culture’ – and education is not a social good, but ‘education’ as national programming. An articulated system for inculcating national ideology and the flat flat flat dissemination of British identity and imaginary pasts. Books in the bookshop on popular themes – tea, crockery, swords. The empty materials that can be rearranged for some groups to dominate others.

Because commodification is the new rule, just like the old one. Different levels according to price, knick-knacks or bespoke jewelry, a café and a bistro, a members room. The collection is sacrificed to the expansion of the foyer, the t-shirts and tote bags carry the branded museum like a picture on a mug. There is no room for the collection, but room aplenty for postcard reproductions. The collection is not a collection, not a research effort, not a scholarly project, but a beauty contest.

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Three props – a toy wooden horse, my gilt-edged copy of Arabian Nights, and a carved wooden Ganesh idol.

Participation cannot be a Trojan Horse, smuggling the old kings of the elite cloister into the pockets of a population plundered and left to rue the day. Participation is not a flash mob.

Neither should we rest with the admirable storytelling device of Scheherazade from the epic One Thousand and One Nights. She tells stories every night – Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin – to ward off the threat of the despotic ruler Shahryar, and through her stories eventually she turns him to good. But insofar as this leaves the storyteller as the one with power, and the king in place, the population remains a distant audience, titillated, but fundamentally untouched. Great stories they are, but the structure of interrogation remains, she could be telling her stories to the despotic king, or in Guantanamo today to the CIA interrogators, or the national press. What she needs to do is teach others to tell stories, and this also takes time – perhaps 1001 nights, sometimes more, different in each case and not a blanket solution. Democracy is not an occasionally vote.

What if it were Ganesh that ran the museum. Tasked with writing down the epic Mahabharata – 100 thousand verses – as it was told by the sage Vyasa, Ganesh’s pencil wears down and in order to keep transcribing he snaps off his tusk and dips it in ink to continue. He is the patron of all studious soles, dedicated to a popular scholarship, unending. He is not an occasional visitor on a joy ride.

What we need perhaps is the best of all three of these figures. Enticement into the museum, by horse if need be, then good stories that undo the games of dominant power, and a celebration of scholarship that is not just a two-hour visit, but a lifelong commitment. Museums might be this. With these patrons.

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Stagnation and iPhone 5c #iphone #speed #trinket

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With no real movement in the austerity capital that was imposed through fear, the iPhone candy coloured stagnation dream baby is the must have trinket for go-nowhere fast slow capital. Trillions could be invested but is sitting idle waiting for finance market opportunities that will not arise, bonus culture keeps a fraction of the ruling class in clover, but forced austerity for the rest all keeps the squeeze on what might otherwise be a full employment economy. Full employment would mean no leverage and threat on jobs, no need to dangle shiny baubles of distraction before those with false spending power future credit/debt and no need to manufacture a proto-fascist military policing at home and abroad to keep the peace pieces. Your trinket is the symbol of a stalled and broken system, afeared of development because Chinese and Russian capital would swoop, afeared of employment because the demand would soon not just be for a 1940s style welfare compact but root and branch transformation, afeared because its clear, from August 2011 for example, that the facade of Olympic glory, new sports channels and iPhone video streaming will not be firewall enough to contain the coming revolt. The iPhone five is the shiny bauble of a frozen momentum, a deep coloured snow globe of ice where we will be thinking of fire. Light up folks, light it up.

written on my mnemotechnical retentional device baby
#iphone #speed #pantomime #trinket

Marxism for Beginners

blocksWhy when I look for trinkets for the kids can’t I find the things I assume would be best sellers in a certain bourgie corner of London?

For example, a set of building blocks with pictures of Marx, Engels, Mao…?

 

 

 

Update: And Giles is first with a design, though I had to get him to swap M.N Roy for his inclusion of Gandhi
http://bookleteer.com/publication.html?id=2808

block

Zurker the Zucker(berg) punch…

Still a lot to be worked out but OK, why not gamble on FB not even being here in 8 years (as reported in the SMH today) and join this other (maybe nicer) pyramid scheme social networking site. I’m happy enough to say my invite is from Stewart Home – so get in early enough and it might not fall over on you – link page here: http://www.zurker.co.uk/i-226925-yvgyvoykwn

The piece-rate Worker

Turning our lives into sausage factory grunt work and mere value extraction. This is all too common. Before electronic rights became a standard in publishing contracts I used to scratch out that part (eg for my Calcutta book, and for ‘Dis-Orienting Rhythms’ – only the latter is online for free – see sidebar to download – since scanning the typeset pages of ‘Rumour of Calcutta’ is so far beyond me. Later books other people have made available, and I point to them where I can – also sidebar). Increasingly the clumsy copyright assignment thing seems an issue to fight since there is something truly obscene about making people who work for free for large journals, where those journals are owned and run as sausage factory style conglomerates. Having to sign away ‘rights’ – as if that really was the key concern (not all journals are like this and open access is a real boon) is something tenured profs can take or leave, but anyone else in need of a publication for validation and employment prospects, ever diminishing, has to swallow it whole. Or do they? Sometimes I’ve just forgotten on purpose to send in the rights form – but then some poorly paid staffer, or even unpaid intern, has to chase it up. So I am watching this little episode, described by Steve Shaviro below, since it is a further fold on the sorry tale. Follow the post to the original at the Pinocchio Theory site and watch the comments to see if there is a resolution. Good luck Steve.

Work for Hire?

Here we go again. I was asked to sign a contract for an essay I have written, which is scheduled to appear in an edited collection. Let’s leave aside the fact that I wrote the essay — it was solicited for this collection — in summer 2010, and yet it will not appear in print until 2013. I think that the glacial pace of academic publishing is a real problem. But that is not what is bothering me at the moment. The contract that I was asked to sign, so that my essay could appear in an edited volume published by Oxford University Press, contained the following clause:

WORK-FOR-HIRE. The Contributor acknowledges that the Publisher has commissioned the Contribution as a work-for-hire, that the Publisher will be deemed the author of the Contributior as employer-for-hire, and that the copyright in the Contribution will belong to the Publisher during the initial and any renewal or extended period(s) of copyright. To the extent, for any reason, that the Contribution or any portion thereof does not qualify or otherwise fails to be a work-for-hire, theContributor hereby assigns to the Publisher whatever right, title and interest the Contributor would otherwise have in the Contribution throughout the world.

I found this entirely unbelievable, and unacceptable. Since when has original academic writing been classified as “work-for-hire”? It is possible, I suppose, that things like writing encyclopedia essays might be so categorized; but I have never, in my 30 years in academa, encountered a case in which primary scholarship or criticism was so classified. Is this something widespread, but which I simply haven’t heard about? I’d welcome information on this score from people who know more about the academic publishing situation than I do. But it seems to me, at first glance, that the Press is upping the ante in terms of trying to monopolize “intellectual property,” by setting up an arrangement that both cuts off the public from access and denies any rights to the henceforth-proletarianized “knowledge worker” or producer. I am unwilling to countenance such an abridgement of my ability to make the words that I have written more freely available.
In any case, I wrote back to the Press as follows:

I am unwilling to sign the Contributor’s Agreement for my submission to the Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics as it is currently worded. In particular, I find section 2, defining my contribution as work-for-hire, completely objectionable. I entirely reject the notion that original academic work of this sort can be defined as work-for-hire. I think that this is demeaning to academic scholarship and disrespectful of intellectual labor.

Section 2 of the contract further stipulates that even if “the Contribution or any portion thereof does not qualify or otherwise fails to be a work-for-hire, the Contributor hereby assigns to the Publisher whatever right, title and interest the Contributor would otherwise have in the Contribution throughout the world.” I find this objectionable as well. Even if my contribution to the volume is exempted from being considered work-for-hire, I am unwilling to sign over my own rights to the publisher in this unlimited way. In particular, I insist upon retaining, among other rights, the right to make my contribution available for download on my own website and the right to include this contribution at some later date as part of a self-authored publication.

I guess we will see what happens. I hope the Press backs down and offers more reasonable terms. If that doesn’t happen, I will simply have to withdraw my contribution from the edited volume. At some point, the essay will appear on my website for free download — whether because the publisher backs down and permits me to do this, or whether I give up on print publication.
Not getting the essay into print will mean that I won’t get the credit (or a line in my Vita) for the publication of an article that I am, in fact, rather proud of. This kind of credit matters in academia — salaries, among other things, are based on it. But as a full Professor with tenure I am in a rather privileged position: I can afford to lose the credit. The same is not the case for academics in more precarious positions — who might well be forced to sign away their rights in cases like this, because their jobs heavily depend upon their publication record, and one additional line on their Vita might make a major difference.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 11:37 am and is filed underPersonalPolitics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Collected Marketing Detournements for Goldies

‘I’m quite a fan of the Goldsmiths ad campaign. And I’m sure it’s accurately pitched at the target demographic. I have faith in #goldsmirk’.
‘I liked this the first time round, but my critical theory course makes me think it might be a hoax. I stumble on Goldsmiths’ #goldsmirk
‘I’d like to know just how much this marketing strategy cost. Can tell a numpty came up with it. I mither at Godlsmirths Sachs’ #goldsmirk
‘I’m still marking dissertations from the students that left three weeks ago and the new students are already here. I slave at #goldsmirk’
‘mummy and daddy really wanted me to go to Oxford. And I have a pony. I slum it at #goldsmirk’
‘I’m secretly a power mad fuck, but want people to think I do good so I traded my uzi for a copy of Camera Lucida. So shoot me’. #goldsmirk
‘Imagine there is more horatio in your dream than philosophy, and I trust I make myself obscure, at #goldsmirk’
*Update – and what a good update it is – from here:
and the Razor Award winner for Movember, after rigorous polling, goes to:
s econd prize – a free copy of the cartoon Manifesto (well, actually a link to the youtube url, but hey): 

The £100 Pound Shop

Trinketization is clearly escalating over the river in Dalston, and I can’t say I disapprove.

I have said before: Shopping is civil war. Here is evidence.

But then, its choice, so do head out to support this venture where you can (perhaps by shoplifiting?)

Point your browser here:
http://www.onehundredpoundshop.com/our_promise_to_you.html

(thanks to Joel McKim for discovering this)

 

11 theses on art and politics (#5,6,7)

IMG_2777[Thesis five, six and seven (of eleven)]:

5. Trinketization would be a diagnosis of limited responses to global reconfigurations of commodity fetishism, where affect and shopping disguise an unbroken deal with hierarchical social relations locked in, unchallenged. Where class/race/gender politics was, we now have lip-service mockery of these same themes, articulated by the celebrity/televisual machine. The contradictions of news entertainment stand starkly exposed and still without purchase. Participation in conceptual politics is voluntary and belongs to an economy of contribution (Boutang 2009) or the ‘attention theory of value’ (Beller 2006). Here circulation, valourization and expression are governed as the activity of bees – who are dying out, but architectural reflection on this process is in even shorter supply.

The contribution economy is appropriate to a Google mode of production – algorithms are enhanced by voluntary activity of ‘political’ subjects – even ones professing artistic opposition to the system. Accumulated hits (like bees visiting plants for pollen) are aggregated in the hive mind of the virtual. My attention to images accrues value for some rather than other scenes. A calculus of image and attention operates to place some scenes before us and to erase others – the significance of Mao or of the collapse of the Berlin wall would be examples.

Surplus attention, surplus value and conceptual elaboration are the machineries of representation as productivity. It is no longer a case of ‘they cannot represent themselves’ but that they are represented by way of their own activity – the algorithm is Napoleon. In the 18th Brumaire Marx offered this formula as a critique of the little nephew, not an indictment of the lumpen and the peasantry who were unorganised, but a condemnation of the opportunist organiser – that Louis Bonaparte who stood above them as their advocate, while all the time advocating only himself as Queen Bee.

6. Art engaged with politics must engage with institutions – galleries, art books, colleges, conferences – and commerce infiltrates and orchestrates every corner of this quadrant so as to show over and over again that the connection politics-to-market is reinforced with steel. Evaluations of art are then always invested, and self-awareness a false economy, still for sale, worked by the hive-mind. In London, even the most ‘political’ of (art) institutions – the Stephen Lawrence Gallery – which at present hosts a show called ‘Re-Framed’ contrasting and dialoguing between street artists and conceptual artists – stages its own branding niche marketing commercialization for attention’s sake on the basis of the old high and low art façade. Adorno had stressed that these two halves are neither halves of any particular whole, nor either immune to the saturation of industrial processes that diminish them and threaten that secret omnipresence. His critique of Benjamin should be read in full.

it would border on anarchism to revoke the reification of a great work of art in the spirit of immediate use-values. ‘Les extrèmes me touchent ’ [Gide], just as they touch you—but only if the dialectic of the undermost is equivalent to the dialectic of the uppermost, rather than the latter simply decaying. Both bear the stigmata of capitalism, both contain elements of change (naturally never and nowhere the middle-term between Schönberg and the American film). Both are torn halves of an integral freedom, to which however they do not add up. It would be romantic to sacrifice one to the other, either as the bourgeois romanticism of the conservation of personality and all that stuff, or as the anarchistic romanticism of blind confidence in the spontaneous power of the proletariat in the historical process—a proletariat which is itself a product of bourgeois society.To a certain extent I must accuse your essay of this second romanticism. (Adorno to Benjamin 18 March, 1936).

7. But what is bad art? What judgement will be made of art when if fails in the service of politics because politics fails and falls short in terms of:

– aesthetic excellence, technical competence, significance, relevance, impact

The most political points made inside a certain frame – gallery, exhibition, border, cartoon – invalidates politics to the degree that it is art, even at its most critical. Billie Holiday only sings ‘Strange Fruit’. Bob Dylan’s times did not a change – and it is no real concern that this jingle now sells automobiles at a time when the automobile industry is in disarray.

Art as decoration is a demystifying containment. Desecration of art contains politics for the domestic. Wallpapers design is now as much a historical condemnation as was Duchamp’s urinal, as Jarry’s Pere Ubu. Merde. No-one even laughs uncomfortably anymore.

Art as insult. The occasions where inwardness or introspection makes for art that exceeds its own containment are the points at which we might be interested.

continued: http://wp.me/pcKI3-yS

Kamata

Back in Tokyo. This time staying in Kamata, which is a sort of central urban junction town, hence interesting. Rows and rows of those little bars, sushi and sashimi shops, yakitori, izakaya (居酒屋) and yakiniku (焼肉) places to eat. Most of them with about 12 seats, especially near the station and west (NishiKamata), but there are some much bigger ones. Its no Kabukicho, but the area exhibits a bit of a yakuza/hostess bar presence, porn shops and the like, but more interesting than the Ginza version of the same where westerners are expected to be looking for ‘special massage’ I guess. Here I’m ignored as the probably lost gaijin I am.

Learning a little more Japanese from a woman whose just flown in from Beijing with Japan Airlines on her fourth trip as cabin crew (not hostess, clearly that is another kind of work). She tells me of the Sakura trees by the Shinomi river (late April I guess) and tomorrow I am going to search out Yazawaya – since Tokyu Hands is clearly the popular more expensive version of trinket heaven, or so it seems.

In the meantime, I am happy to wander late at night in and out of little bars – jazz in one, arguing couple in another, drunken salary men who want to talk about football – Australia’s soccoroos were knocked out of the Asia Cup by Japan on penalties, but Japan ‘only’ coming fourth was a disappointment to these guys. Victory to Iraq and a political intervention by the captain… They agree its something.

The other streets in Kamata are gorged with cheap commodity stores, 100 yen shops, clothes, footwear, camera stores, obscure things where people sell things I probably shouldn’t want to buy. I had a dream that there was a river of fish flowing into Tokyo, given the massive consumption of maguro, hotate, amberjack, ika (shiso leaf), and tako (octopus).. yum yum, but sitting there eating and drinking as the road transforms from a street of wandering drunks to a busy thoroughfare for boxes and bundles – its obvious someone has to carry in all these products too, so the river of fish is awash with delivery vehicles and the narrow lanes with elegant lamps are also multifunction furrows of capital dredging for gold through the worn facades of the megacity (Hi Ryan and John).

From my hotel window in the morning I can see the city centre in the distance (I’m just guessing but I think its Rippongi and the television tower visible there) and directly outside my room a mysterious building with no windows at all (see pic 3). I find these aircon specials disturbing, even as the air outside is clearly particle-rich (notice the haze in pic 1).

I’m up early to seek out the movies of Kon Ichikawa. If you have never seen “Fires on the Plain” or “Harp of Burma” (Biruma no tategoto) you shoul, but for mine his great under-acknowledged masterpiece is “The Billionaire” (Okuman Choja 1954):

“Author: Robert Keser (rfkeser@ix.netcom.com) from Chicago
This scathing satire plays like Ichikawa’s attempt to slap Japan out of its postwar malaise. A hopelessly naïve junior tax collector crosses paths with an assortment of quirky characters, including a young woman working on a home-made A-bomb, a spoon tycoon on his way to the U.S., a poor boy aspiring to become a movie star, and a fast-talking geisha scheming to extort corrupt politicians. A running joke throughout is the absurd overpopulation: everyone seems to have an absolute minimum of twelve children. This consistently original work remains fresh and funny, thanks to vigorous performances and Ichikawa’s precise framing.”

Just started reading Eric Cazdyn’s “The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan” – my copy is inscribed on the inside cover by Eric to Masao ‘without whom… nothing’ Feb 2003 (handwritten – pic 3). Masao Miyoshi is acknowledged first for his ‘critical infectiousness’ in a very generous opening paragraph of the text proper. But I bought the book second hand in Labyrinth New York. Anyway – go figure. Looks good so far – Jameson inspired, only a very brief reference to Kon Ichikawa, but an intriging mention on page 32 of the war films of Shibata Tsunekichi, who at the time of the Russo-Japanese conflict (1904-5)travelled to actual locations to film, and mention also of home made “‘docu-dramas’ (fake documentaries about the war)” (Cazdyn 2002:32) which deserve further investigation. But I’ll need to read more Kanji than I do to cope with that. So it goes. Back to Blighty in a week.

A Radical Education.


Education is not a model good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Boggling Trinketization


Very occasionally (why?) I feel the need to restate why it is that I use the word trinketization to refer both to the dessication of all life to mere commodities, and as a word for a critique of the poverty of theorizing that remains at the level of fascination with those commodities. Remembering that Marx in Capital only starts with commodities to tell us they are the fetished and occulted manifestation of social life – the ‘erscheinungsform’ in which wealth appears on the stage of the market etc… there is a need to contextualize and theorize beyond this mere appearance. Hence 3 volumes of Kapital, and a further 3 vols of Theories of Surplus Labour, and then a subsequent effort of theory via Lenin, Lukacs, Adorno, even Debord (thanks Jeff and Tom)….

So, this trinket thing has been my double refrain for a long time now – a critique of those who stop at commodity (who have only read the first chapter) and who eschew any attempt to comprehend, and change/destroy/kill, capitalism. Grinning at the shiny trinkets ain’t enough – even a theory of trinkets will not be enough, and certainly my collecting them for display is only a first step… So, maybe I should start to gather it all together a bit more. Some early formulations:

In the draft intro to a special section on music and politics in the journal Postcolonial Studies, summarizing a joint article written with Virinder Kalra, we described it as:

“Focusing on, Madonna, an overworked cultural icon, who’s recent Eastern turn has attracted wide attention, this chapter compares and contrasts her trinketization to the diasporic music offerings of a more local flavour. By highlighting the theoretical dead end that all identity posturing postulates, the paper argues for a critique based not on spurious ascribed/described/pronounced subjectivities but rather on a not so fashionable materialist analysis”

This was eventually relegated/rendered in print as:

“a discussion of musical appropriations of Asian culture as ‘vogue’, offering a critique of trinketizing exoticisms and questioning the politics of identity in the context of racial conflict and imperial power structures” (Postcolonial Studies, Vol 1 No 3, 1998:355)

And this sort of line was developed a little, in a critical assessment of dearest comrade Crispin Mills of Kula Shaker fame, in a piece in the book Travel Worlds:

“It should at least be clear that the concern with ‘authenticity’ that leads to a critique of (Kula Shaker style) trinketizing exotic versions of South Asian musics is not one which insists upon the purity of traditional forms or the relativistic egalitarianism of an anthropology blind to material inequality. The danger is always that the worries about appropriation and commercialization are contradictory insofar as authenticity critique may sometimes slide into less savoury valourizations of cultural boundedness, nationalisms and conservatism. Instead, the critique of inauthentic and aestheticized versions of South Asian cultural production should be geared towards clearing a space for hearing the ‘secret omnipresence’ of resistance to which Theodore Adorno refers”.

A still less generous use of the term crops up in an early draft of a piece that eventually made it into our book on Diaspora and Hybridity, but in this case reaching back to my long-term interest in a critique of budget travellers:

“‘Going native’ persists in taking the most mundane forms especially where otherwise intelligent gap-year university students return from their travels adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of the trinket markets of the world”.

Ideally though, there will be better formulations than these. Here from a draft of my chapter in the book Celebrating Transgression:

“The trouble with fieldwork as taught in the credentializing system of the new teaching factory is that it relies primarily upon the assemblage of anecdote-trinkets. Theoretical gestation and contemplation – slow moving – is not well suited to the imperatives of pass rates and research assessment calculation. Trinketization of culture here assigns the politics of interpretation to a place of fast and loose generalities – ritualized reflexive moves that surprise no one”.

The main working out of trinketization as double play was done however in what became the book Bad Marxism. The first version of this published in the journal Critique of Anthropology, in an article called ‘Clifford’s Ethnographica’. Catty it was. Ah well. Still, the phenomenal success of Clifford’s book ‘Routes‘ meant that I figured lucky Jim could handle a few snipes when, as I showed, he got Marx wrong (exchange does not determine production, production determines exchange) and went on about that ‘mind-boggling’ bird of paradise headdress and office tie ensemble worn by James Bosu, as seen on the cover (and cropped, the larger version inside showing James with a stubbie of beer too. If Clifford had gone to visit PNG, instead of a quick sprint through a museum in London – the Museum of Man- his ‘boggle’ might have been less offensive). Anyway:

“The problem is that even if Clifford was not limited to descriptive trinketization in his collecting practice, it is very difficult to imagine how he might want to respond to the complexity of the world. Reading his varied statements on culture, trade, power and so on it becomes possible to wonder what would be needed to provoke an attempt to intervene? What set of circumstances would be necessary to provoke even a preliminary essay on what is to be done? Meekly anguished fascination at the phantasmagoric vista before him seems all we will ever be offered” (Critique of Anthropology Vol 18, No 4, 1988:364 – also appeared in Bad Marxism 2004).

There is more of this to come. To be filed under terminological morass.

four quibbles

Several arguments I’ve had lately have stalled in what I am tempted to call a kind of ‘ontological disarray’. That is, the people I start these conversations with, in affable conviviality (ie in the pub) seem to give up too quick and angry. We each know these are necessarily first moves, so why concede/defer? Is it because I am slurring my words horribly, and threatening to punch people? But I am pretty sure that is not what is going on, at least not every time. Here for the record are the themes:

1. Contemporary art is not revolutionary and smells bad

Artists and critics have merged in a discursive boosterism that promotes ‘contemporary art practice’ as the be all and end all of socio-cultural or intellectual worth. This is at its worst when the boosterism is mitigated by an enthusiastic embrace of, at least a rhetoric of, challenge, critique, interdisciplinarity or conceptual experimentation (these are not ‘the same’). Sometimes the prime pumped place of the artist-critic-practitioner is glorified as disruption, provocation, and even chaos. It seems as if the dilemmas and complicities that stalled Dada and mainstreamed Surrealism vis-a-vis politics (no less than three major exhibitions planned) plots the tempo of the treadmill upon which we are condemned to run forever.

2. Piracy-smear

Pirates have been in fashion for quite a while, despite the efforts of Disney and Johnny Depp. Is it just a shallow question then to ask if they are still worthy of our attention? – either as the forgotten first wave of neoliberal capitalism, or as cool multiculturalist anti-slavery activists with boats. This theme at least has a Deptford connection, and appropriately the argument was on the steps of the Town Hall – and was over the work of another of those celebrants of pirate-chic whom I quote here:

“The decade between 1716 and 1726 was the golden age of piracy, Marcus Rediker informs us. The significance of piracy during these years was twofold – it was multiracial and it was against the slave trade. They blockaded ports, disrupted the sea lanes. The pirate ship ‘might be considered a multiracial maroon community.’ Hundreds were African. Sixty of Blackbeard’s crew of a hundred were black. Rediker quotes the Negro of Deptford who in 1721 led ‘a Mutiny that we had too many Officers, and that work was too hard, and what not.’ They also prevented the slave trade from growing. This was the complaint of Humphrey Morice, MP, Governor of the Bank of England, owner of a small fleet of slavers, who led the petitioning to Parliament and who suffered severe losses in 1719, the year that serious blacking commenced. A naval squadron was sent to west Africa. Four hundred and eighteen pirates were hanged. The conjuncture of apparently very distant forces, struggle for common rights and the Atlantic slave trade, in fact met in intimate proximity” Peter Linebaugh in Mute

Linebaugh has a good line on Daniel Defoe though – and we can hear the echo of Marx’s comments on Crusoe from part one of Capital, which is always fun. Here is Linebaugh again:

“Robinson Crusoe, Mariner was published in 1719. The book dramatises the labour theory of value, glories in the intricacies of the division of labour, and puts the European foot (Crusoe) on the African neck (Friday). Alexander Selkirk, the actual person who was the prototype of Robinson Crusoe, died in February 1721 as a sailor in a naval squadron that was sent to west Africa to extirpate the piracy interrupting the slave trade” Peter Linebaugh in Mute

OK, Let’s discuss.

3. Consmopolitanism yak yak

The debate in Manchester called ‘the conversation‘, where I was lucky enough to share the stage with Mary Louise Pratt, descended into something not quite farce. Is the discursive effort deployed to elaborate an equitable global cosmopolitanism worth the effort? I mean, compared to other efforts to organise and institute an alternative to Capitalism? THe conceptual arabesques around cosmo seem very often to rehearse Eurocentric imaginings (Hedwig was right to say: ‘You, Kant, always get what You want’).Is this Kantianism from outside not quite close to a plan that contains cross-border disruptions in a cultural resource marketing regime? I have yet to consume all though, having just bargain bonus snapped up Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book Cosmopolitanism ‘because’ it has a special extra half-size promo wrap with picture and quote from none other than Kofi Annan. Whoa, bestseller! [Thus, more on this is to come – a longer post on the conversation with M-L-P that I have been saving… too lazy … to write up soon… promise…]

4. “Maoist” Philosophers are hot stuff, shaboody

Alain Badiou as the latest theorist refashioned from obscure secret to the next theoretico-personality cult idol of the chattering teacher-class, as reviewed by Peter Osbourne in Radical Philosophy. I was intemperate enough in my criticisms of this to suggest what those theorists who become publishing fashion (as it has to be said is the fate of AB, no matter how excellent are the efforts of Alberto Toscano et al) are rarely elevated on the basis of their personalities. Rather, the personality cult here is that of the veritable hordes parading amongst the campus seminar cliques carrying aforesaid idols’ books and quoting key concepts like badges. Of course I am not against sloganeering – heaven forbid – but a slower reading and a resistance to the way display table choices shape debates might be welcome. That conversations about Mao, or politics, or borders, or democracy are shaped by a confluence of The Today Show (radio current affairs) and the display of shiny books shelved by author name (in places like the LRB or Tate Bookshops) seems just another sad consequence of the same idolatry because the discussion never gets beyond personal presentation. The latest theorists now, the next ones quick. Shop shop shop. But I am among the worst in many ways – buying books on impulse because of the quality of the binding, because of an innovation in format (Iconoplush!) and other foibles that deserve attention. This is very far from Mao. As is Badiou. Try this instead: Comrade Gaurav at Goldies.

[Pics are Michael Leunig cartoons – from my Saturday paper every week in Melbourne through the 80s and 90s].