Category Archives: elephant

Giraffes Africa-India-China – and other exchanges.

GiraffeValmik Thapar, in Exotic Aliens: The Lion and the Cheetah in India, reports that Jahangir was gifted a giraffe. Anand Yang in Bazaar India: Peasants, Traders, Markets in Bihar, reports that ruler of Bengal [it was Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah (reigned 1413–1414)] gifted a giraffe to the Chinese Emperor. What a gift to give, a giraffe! The gift of a giraffe by Bengal to the court of China in 1414. Got to also get hold of an article by Sally Church ‘The Giraffe of Bengal: A Medieval Encounter in Ming China’. I’m afraid I have little to add on this but awe. Giraffes! Even if I also know the trade in long necked beasts goes back some time before these Mughal exchanges with Africa – here, a photograph from Konark temple near Puri, 11 century C.E.

Meanwhile, I am also reading reading Murari Kumar Jha, 2013, The Political Economy of the Ganga River: Highway of State Formation in Mughal India, c. 1600-1800. Seeking out Danish smuggling/piracy back in the day…

fn 97 The first reference to opium purchase by the VOC at Patna come in the year 1652, see W. Ph. Coolhaas, ed., Generale Missiven van Gouverneurs-Generaal en Raden aan Heren XVII der Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, vol. 2, 1639–1655 (’s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), 622, Reniers, Maetsuyker, enz. VII, 24.12.1652. But even before the VOC started buying opium from Bihar, the Muslim merchants seems to have been purchasing this commodity for Southeast Asia. This becomes clear from the cargoes of one of the two ships which both were captured in 1649 by Leyel, a Danish commander, before they reached Balasore. The ship with opium was destined for Aceh, see Coolhaas, ed., Generale Missiven, 2:348–49, Van der Lijn, Caron, enz. VIII, 18.01.1649. In 1641 the VOC was already buying some opium at Surat for the Malabar Coast, see Coolhaas, ed., Generale Missiven, 2:145, Van Diemen, Van der Lijn, enz. XVII, 12.12.1641

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.


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.


The Malignant Teaching Factory

[Meant to put this up ages ago, after finishing the second half, but that is going so slow this just needs to be tucked away here out of sight (! – some of the phrasings of sentences used on this blog already have been quoted back to me recently in forums that, well, were a surprise)]

In a period of little over thirty years, higher education has ventured quite some distance from the old collegiate hierarchical system of privilege, scholarship and esoteric research. It has transformed, by way of Government policy, market demand, commercial opportunity and participant compliance into something quite unrecognizable. A global education industry, intertwined with business and investment, productivity targets, enterprise and creative accounting. Transactional rather than vocational, career rather than idea, commission rather than mission, we have seen the exchange of the old gown for the negotiated compact and a bottom-dollar traffic in interested investigation (e.g., product trials). Speculative education has replaced the old and frankly moribund idea of speculation as such.

There is nothing redemptive in harking back to the old ways. But it is unseemly that the privatized educational system of today has turned teachers into vendors, students into shoppers, researchers into hired mercenaries and senior colleagues into grotesque parodies of corporate greed. Too often otherwise admirable scholars become shiny-suited administrators, hawking student numbers and research contracts around as if they were baubles of divine election and not merely the last dusty job-lots of a faded glory now peddled out at cut price – everything must go! – discount rates for a shop-soiled emporium of decay.

How did it happen that an aspiration for education for all turned so quickly into a market fluctuation? The privatizating and commercial imperative shaping curriculum and content was not born fully formed in the current period, but has been a long time coming. Indeed, the history of the classroom could be construed as a struggle over just this. From the early efforts of the Factory Inspectors – Leonard Horner – and the imperative to school the great unwashed, all the better to fit them to machines – through to the idea of education as a vast instrument for class mobility, widening participation and access to employment – itself a mixed fortune.

In capital, volume one, chapter ten, Marx narrates a class struggle that continually impinges upon the question of education, though fittingly, the site of the action is the factory. The Factory Acts, of 1933, 1844, 1847, 1850 etc., were in effect an effort of the factory owners lobby to mitigate, undermine and evade the constraints imposed by a concerned, if ill-informed, philanthropic tendency in parliament. The Factory Inspectors, such as Leonard Horner, reported upon the conditions in the factories where children worked, sometimes 12 and more hours per day, and it is instructive to consider the elaborate machinations employed by the factory owners to circumvent requirements that these children receive a modicum of schooling. Two hours per week in the first instance (1833 Factory Act). Among the quaint lobbying practices the owners extended to the inspectors as they made their way to inspect the factories were invitations to dinners, visits to country club and horse gymkhanas, the comfort of suitable lodgings, and suitable carriage to the said inspections, including eminently helpful factory guides and fulsome explanations of any anomalies and answers to questions (Horner, Diary).

It then should be noted with no little irony that in the university today, and indeed throughout the education system, the descendents of the Factory Inspectors are guided just as much by the care with which managers attend to questions of presentation, access and quality assurance in a new era of evaluation. Aside from the media event that is an OffStead visit, in effect a form-filling excursive, and the Quality unit of the Department of Business Innovation and Sport, with Universities governed under the same budget lines as commerce and the Olympics, we are not dealing with inspections as such, so much as reports and tabulations – drawn up according to the new guidance whereby Government turns education into a vast factory-like programme, with productivity gains and training regimes of course factored in, and with global reach.




Maybe it makes sense to reflect, in the quiet aftermath of a period of activity, in order to gear up again for more, necessarily thinking this never stops, that the to and fro alternation of theory and praxis is never only rhetorical.

The protest at Millbank in 2010 was both organised and a surprise because it exceeded an official NUS-declared ‘end’ of the rally. The surprise was the palpable shared and active demonstration of intent that contagiously and somewhat spontaneously led thousands of protesters to the same end. Even if the Police also wanted to make a point about the erosion of their conditions under austerity, and so stepped back so as to underline by that withdrawal, the significance of their potential service as protectors of Capital.

Subsequent arrests were not as significant as the events – a raid on the headquarters of the ruling class party offices of course gathered world-wide attention – but less than ideal was the lack of support given to those arrested, and that as a response to austerity and education policy changes underway, this was all rather late.

In the December 2010 rallies, a massive success of mobilization and catching the mood of the nation. Significant positive media reportage in the run up to the rallies, though this turned towards a search for sensational images and descending into farce as the tactics of Police kettle and the staged sacrifice of a Police Van on Whitehall, and perhaps the Prince Consort and his ride in Regent Street were simply front page ‘splash’ journalism. On the one hand protesters learnt that a passive response to kettling at the beginning of the kettle was a trap, on the other hand multiple separate actions – University for Strategic Optimism, Precarious Workers Brigade etc – and groups leaving the rally to roam central London provoking multiple encounters did symbolically threaten and frighten those in charge of the Capital.

In the context of Tunisia and Egypt and the so-called Arab Spring, the March 2011 trades union called rally was too long in coming, and followed a predicted route, also for too long. That the anarcho bloc followed a visibly different route and tactic was impressive, and the proliferation of multiple groups and actions, despite co-ordination problems and sometimes lack of leadership or direction, including a foolhardy self-kettling media grab high-end shopping trip (Fortnum and Masons), meant that enthusiasm and attention were high. Much of this energy then took organisational form and coincided with a resurgence of zine and samizdat publications, citizen journalism and blog posts, public meetings and the like. The anti-cuts groups and the plethora of other campaigns and issues – libraries, interns, pensions – indicated a visible left culture ascending.

August 2011 – the culmination of the proceding year and undoubtedly London’s response to the counter-revolutionary machinations in Egypt, Libya,  etc., and a co-ordination of concerns about policing, deaths in police custody (the death of Smiley Culture was also part of the story, as well as the immediate catalyst of the Tottenham uprising, the killing of Mark Duggan), bank bail-outs, austerity, youth unemployment, ruling class privilege, and the arid cultural alienation not mitigated by endless television talent shows and vacuous celebrity tittle-tattle. The media sensation of burning buses and police vehicles, followed by ‘opportunistic forms of aggressive late-night shopping, leading to a heavy-handed and last-ditch severe law and order crackdown, especially after the protests moved towards slightly more affluent suburbs on the third day, like Ealing, still requires discussion. Three days in August showed how fragile the bourgeois social compact was, and the clean-up broom teams in Clapham and the subsequent hand-writing of press pundits, as well as the excessively harsh sentencing of offenders for very minor crimes, have not eroded expectations that this fragile compact will crack again. Considerable effort by researchers (the Guardian/LSE) and institutional programmes, youth, social care, police liaison, council (inner city cleansing) and local government does not, with the evidence of a double-dip recession and ongoing austerity still in place, mitigate the expectation that things will kick of again soon.

Subsequent rallies saw the mobile kettle tactic keep apart the Occupy movement, the Sparks, and the Trades Union rally. An aggressive campaign of overpolicing and militarisation of London in the lead up to the Olympiss, means public dissent takes different forms. This builds upon the need for organisation and the effervescence of new political thinking and critical experiments, in the groups that formed around Arts Against Cuts, UfSO, Precarious/Carrot Workers collective, The Paper, Anonymous, The Indignatios, the flourishing zine and samizdat culture, and the significant inter-relation between the Occupy movement and critiques of its neglect of race in its 99% slogan. The efforts of astute protesters to plan in an alternative and longer frame – rejecting the lesser austerity of the Labour Party, the merely reactive anti-cuts tailism of the Trotskyite Left or the rejectionist grunge-fashion posturing of the Anarchists there is a renewed will to build a communist future for London, Britain or Europe. More than Occupy, more than Uncut, more than a defence of the now corporatized University, more than an anarchist t-shirt slogan, more than a newspaper-seller from hell, more than a conference on ideas or a guest-speaker series, more than the talking heads of Marx Reloaded, more than a moan about the precariousness of all wage labour, more than this rotten system and its corrupt leaders, its greedy pampered bankers, its degenerate and deviously biased newspaper magnates, its criminal tax-avoiding luxury-yacht, racehorse owning ‘captains’ of industry, its mining industry-funded pompous bastard monarchy, its endless dull spectacle of Beckham and Circuses, its broken, abject, pointless routine of surplus and the wrong sort of excess. Everyone agrees Another world must be built, and in the last years its architecture has been put in place – the political events of the last two years point the way.



The still slower work of reading to prepare and analysis is not to be dismissed as indulgence. There is no time for this now, the need to act is greater. Urgency, however, breeds contempt, half-cocked adventures that seem useful but end in recuperation, at best, reinforcing the repressive apparatus and defeat more often. A salutary reading of the Eighteenth Brumaire or Herr Vogt should temper any expectation that things were easy. If that were the case, by now word will have gotten round. It is no surprise that the ruling classes find organisation and mobilisation of their defences a matter of slow but deliberate decision. They have long practiced the forms at which their defence will proceed – from the manuals for counter insurgency – COIN – written to aid the military with ethnographic and sociological data, to the officer training schools that teach a total war against Islam scenario that entails the bombing of Mecca (May 10, 2012, Wired[1]). In the institutions that replicate the class hierarchy, through to the military budgets that approve tanks, warships, ground-to-air missiles and global weapons sales, the platitudes of humanitarian tolerance pale into comedy when we consider just how far Capital will go to defend the privilege of its best of all possible worlds.

It is important to take analysis and organisation together, asking what are the current conditions and what are the possibilities? What are the composition of class forces and their relations? What are the tactically vulnerable points at which the analysis of forces might open up potentials. An assessment of conditions is necessarily framed alongside questions of capacity – of what is, and what is needed.


Repressive state apparatus and global militarism

–       police power, terror war

–       security state, governmental/control society

–       global crisis, constant anxiety, volatility

Media Corral

–       infotainment as news, reality TV, celebrity, comedy, talent shows, sports

–       social network, capture of new media by corporates, privatisation

–       alternative low budget and low impact blogosphere, zine, samizdat Lefts


–       weapons industry, lords of death

–       mining, climate, sweatshops,

–       border control, labour flow management, ethnic cleansing

Privatised Institutions

–       education geared to national industry

–       health in the lab-coat pocket of Big Pharma

–       transport and communications infrastructure automatised, digitised.

The repressive Police power and terror anxiety maintained by constant station announcements, overt Police presence, anniversary security scares – another underpants bomb, May 2012 – requires channelling hostility to cuts and austerity measures to protect banks and capital. Focus upon salaries of executives and shareholder meetings as if these were forums of democracy. Those who don’t have shares vote by remote for Britain’s Got Talent. Meanwhile, deportations, institutional racism, general racism, anti-Muslim and reinforced blanched hierarchies of opportunity, despite, or even reinforced by, liberal sentimentality.

Media narrowcasting under threat by new platforms and possibilities engenders a massive effort to monetise and control, and corral, the social network, itself already at the start a military asset. The prospect of critical journalism undermined by the appearance of even-handed reportage. A focus on excessive bonuses or expenses obscures the inequity of any bonuses or expenses for millionaire entrepreneurs at all – the creation of a climate of unfocussed public disapproval carefully managed so as to avoid focus upon war, mining, pollution, class, race or violent crimes. In the universities, the pressure for academics, and by extension students, at least student activists, the SU and postgrads, to themselves become the malignant and parasitic managerial class is operative here. Becoming self-regulating means complicity in several modes. The university now demands managers to present as petty bourgeois shop keepers, marketing specious wares; or as entrepreneurial visionary explorers tasked with terra-firming new vistas of corporate training, consultancy and product placement; as public brand-uni sprukers of tele-genic ‘ideas’ and Verso-controversy coffee chat radical publishing… etc. Privatisation as a system wide strategy is not examined by the episodic and sectoral focus of both mainstream investigators – Offcom, Offstead etc are not the investigators we need, trades union sectoralism is insufficient. The malignancy here is an emergent but hollow expertise of those who are not just measurers – if all they did was bean-counting we might more readily discount their dodgy deals.

Creativity Elephant in the Room

So as to be able to post the photograph of the elephant (elephants are a subtheme of this blog, where others would have cats, though I also have cats – and other (political) animals… Elephants are political, cf India, from the Mahabharatha to contemporary Pandals and tourism).

Anyway, the point is to plug Mute and a James Heartfield review of Critique of Creativity:

Manifesto manifestation 28.4.2012 Clapham Common Bandstand

Freee’s Manifesto for a New Public will be at Clapham Common bandstand this Saturday (tomorrow 28.4.2012) at 2pm!

Print this, underline the bits you agree with, and join where you wish, and disagree where you must – for the collective (for example, that second last para about not pointing at the rich… I dunno. Got a big stick?)


Anyway, generalize this (not just ‘artists)…





The UnReality of Fiction or Banks

A Fictional Character in the Dock

Thomas no longer uses the surname Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech. Following a ruling in the High Court last year, the name belongs to a fictitious person acting in Peter Lund’s novels. This was what he tried to explain Danske Bank and the Copenhagen City Court yesterday.

Photo: Jakob Dall
Thomas claims that he is no longer Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech due to a High Court ruling
By Pauline Bendsen

30 March 2012

Keywords: Authors, publishing, identity, human rights

People: Peter Lund, Thomas Altheimer

Institutions: Danske Bank, Eastern High Court

It is really about 197,721 Danish Kroner. This is how much Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech owes Danske Bank. The bank wants a ruling in support of their claim. Thomas wants the District Court to acknowledge that he is no longer Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech and thus not the proper defendant. He just wants to be left alone.

In the small courtroom 3 in the District Court a handful of spectators are gathered to witness the main proceedings in the case. Danske Bank is represented by lawyer Saeed D. Khanlo. He is dressed in a suit with case documents neatly arranged in plastic folders laid out in front of him. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech arrives a few minutes late – without a lawyer – and hurries to put his arsenal of annexes on the table: piles of transcripts, newspaper articles and novels by Peter Lund and Dostoyevsky. And a camera.

“Before we begin the proceedings, I will just ask you: “Are you filming with that camera? It is not allowed,” notes Judge Stine Andersen.

No more reality-based fiction is to be spun in the case of Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech.

A Defendant called Thomas

It all began when Peter Lund published the novel The Sovereign in 2008, which carried pictures and detailed information about Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech – without his consent. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech took Peter Lund and his publisher Gyldendal to court. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech lost the case in the High Court, and was subsequently beset by financial problems due to the sizeable legal fees.

Danske Bank’s attorney begins his presentation with the one fact that the adversaries seem to agree on: “We agree that the defendant is named Thomas. But from there it seems somewhat unclear what the defendant is actually asserting.”

The lawyer refers to email correspondence and conversations between the defendant and his bank adviser, and he uses the defendant’s identification to adduce that the “defendant is the proper person.”

Thomas uses a different kind of reasoning. He references last year’s High Court ruling, which found The Sovereign to be a fictional work.

“The copyright to Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech belongs to Gyldendal Ltd and Peter Lund. This is not just my absurd claim but a legal reality established by the High Court last year. Therefore I cannot answer for Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech’s actions.”

But the lawyer does not appreciate this interpretation of the High Court’s ruling.

“It’s regrettable if the defendant feels that he has been deprived of his identity. But I must emphasise that the High Court has never said that Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech no longer exists as a physical person.” He then goes on to address a question to Thomas:

“Now I would like to hear from you if you are able to remember anything from before the ruling in the High Court last March? Do you remember spending the money?”

“What I am trying to explain here is that I cannot speak for Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech,” he responded despairingly.


“Today, I am the man without qualities, and I say with Herman Melville’s Bartleby: ‘I prefer not to.’ In this context I prefer not to have to answer for another man’s deeds,” says Thomas, instead referring to Peter Lund and Gyldendal A/S as the proper defendants.

After the proceedings, Thomas describes what he learned after going through two court cases.

“What you realise is that the individual is so radically alone with his truth.”

Today’s hearing was a clash of cultures.

“I wasn’t sure whether to bring Bartleby into my final statement. Do you think the judge knows who Bartleby is? Well, now she has it in writing. There is always google…”

– What do you expect from the ruling on 27 April?

“I expect that justice will be done,” says Thomas and elaborates:

“This is a problem, which the court itself has created, and a problem only the court can resolve.”

– Do you intend to make art out of this case?

“Everything is art … I don’t really subscribe to distinctions between art and life.”

Translated from the Danish. Original on: