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Style Without Subversion

Metamute - November 29, 2011 - 11:48am
By Gail Day

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The V&A’s Postmodernism exhibition acted like an industrial trawler, disembedding three decades of cultural artefacts from their diverse ecologies. The result, writes Gail Day, is a deeply conservative reading of this tumultuous epoch

 

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Most people seem to like the exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990. Such, at least, was the evidence on the night I attended (and from much of the general chit-chat one picks up, and from the cheery presence of promotional leaflets spotted in fashion outlets). Admittedly, I went to the museum on a Friday late night opening when, in the V&A’s foyer, a sound system was pumping out music, cocktails were flowing and families were learning a technique for darning holes in jumpers. It was also the night when Charles Jencks was talking to Rem Koolhaas; both have work displayed in the show, so I imagine they must have been in good spirits – and the crowd spilling out from the discussion into the Postmodernism exhibition was generally enjoying the fun of it all.

 

Image: Buzzcocks, Orgasm Addict, 1977

 

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As may be inferred from my tone, I didn’t. Sure, I found plenty of pleasures to revel in – vicarious and otherwise. Tapping toes to Talking Heads, snippets from Blade Runner and The Last of England, issues of The Face, a Buzzcock’s single, and reminders of the Hacienda: it was a retro fairground of an earlier life. Lots of stuff I’d thrown away. My own petty possessions and experiences of the ’80s were raised to a second power under the museological gaze named ‘postmodernism’. At least I had enjoyed using the commodities back then; with their fetish nature transmuted, they looked back at me from their cultic vitrines and display monitors. Interestingly, the temporal economies invoked by the items of popular culture (the mags, the films, the sounds, the looks) didn’t accord with those of the furniture and household objects. If coming across the former felt like rummaging at a jumble sale, the later was more like window shopping in one of today’s emporia, with their Alessi franchises, devoted to designer products. Not all commodities are equal. Of course, for anyone of my generation, the show inevitably had a melancholic underpinning. But, irrespective of when we were born, Postmodernism treated the reminder of death as a deliberate leitmotif. Jencks’ words, stencilled on the wall, set the scene from the outset: if modernism is dead, ‘we might as well enjoy picking over the corpse’. Later, Derek Jarman’s voice-over was used to echo the sense of historical caesura and closure: ‘Even our protests were hopeless’.

 

 

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The V&A’s institutional form shaped the exhibition in two ways. First, the architectural spaces used for the museum’s temporary displays forced a tripartite division and, secondly, the focus of the museum’s collections gave direction to the type of materials used to typify postmodernism (jewellery, furniture, etc.) The first section largely focused on architecture, drawing on the texts written by architects and theorists who were considered to have initiated the visual and material dimensions of postmodernism: Jencks, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and James Wines. (This was not the place to worry ourselves much over Jean-François Lyotard’s, Frederic Jameson’s or David Harvey’s accounts, never mind the arguments of postmodernism’s critics.) The second part was largely geared towards a range of design media (furniture, graphic design, etc.). The last section attempted to situate postmodernism in relation to money and the commodity and included, inter alia, jewellery, craft and examples of a peculiar high-end phenomenon where architects would be commissioned to conceive a ‘piazza’ of coffee accoutrements. This final section abandoned the lightbox signboards of the two earlier rooms (red and green respectively) in favour of an abundant use of shiny-black acrylic sheets. The coloured glow associated with commercial promotions in streets and subways was displaced by reflections that conveyed the air of an aspiring celebrity funeral. The exhibition’s parts narrated, loosely, the three-fold time frames of postmodernism: its coming to ascendancy, its high period and its collapse (‘under the weight of its own success’). As a heuristic device, this seemed remarkably conventional. Methodologically, it was something of a dinosaur, especially with the treatment of the final phase as one of internalised self-regard (remember those accounts of the renaissance giving way to mannerism, the baroque to the rococo… or, for that matter, modernism to the international movement?) This conceptual conservatism also emerged via the show’s subtitle. Accompanied by its subset of associated binaries (theatrical/theoretical, commercial/avant-garde, etc.), ‘Style and Subversion’ was posed as the overarching ‘ambiguity’ – the all round refusal to be categorised – that was (allegedly) postmodernism. Postmodernism, we were told, was ‘a new self-awareness about style itself’. But it transpired that Postmodernism, the show, reduced ‘style’ to an unreflexive, art historical category which was used to pin down a period of 20 years: strange to see because, if the debates over postmodernity did one thing, it was to distinguish ‘ism’ from ‘ity’.

 

 

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One would be hard pressed to know from Postmodernism that the period under scrutiny saw a massive assault on working class communities and labour organisations; significant battles over racist and sexist discrimination, gay rights, abortion rights and anti-Nazi activism; the deregulation of the financial markets; the beginnings (in the UK) of the attacks on free university education and the dismantling of the postwar welfarist settlement. The categorial blanketing performed by ‘postmodernism’ evaded the specificity of the objects qua material objects, let alone the objects as socially situated entities or actors. To reprise the earlier conjuncture: Jarman’s angry lament, eight years into Thatcher’s term, was fundamentally at odds with Jencks’ suave ease and intellectual game playing. It is critically lazy to dub such differences ‘ambivalence’. Postmodernism-as-idea effectively bludgeoned into subjection every object presented. There was insufficient recognition that while some claimed to be postmodern, self-identifying as its promoters, others only became identified as ‘postmodern’ by dint of being turned into the tokens within the arguments of the time. For a good number of the exhibits, the label ‘postmodern’ seemed to be being freshly applied; just being a product of the ’70s or ’80s seemed sufficient. That surrealist inspired Buzzcock’s cover? It was news to find that the youth of the ’80s ‘experienced postmodernism for the first time through issues of The Face and i-D’. No! The curators’ opening statement ducked the point: ‘This era defies definition, but it is a perfect subject for an exhibition.’ Which era doesn’t ‘defy definition’? Clearly, we were meant to answer ‘modernism’. Empty truisms of this sort peppered the show – along with their associated straw target – while reheated paraphrases (‘we are all postmodern now’) fell short of carrying off pastiche.

 

 

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Bricolage was a running theme. Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn’s Big Money is Moving In, from the project ‘The Changing Picture of Docklands’ an intervention in the radical (‘left-modernist’) montage tradition – found itself reduced to an example of ‘postmodern technique’. Working with tenants’ action groups and trade unions to oppose the gentrification and corporatisation of their neighbourhoods, the artists developed a series of large publicly sited photo-murals. Shorn of its resistive voice, its activist identification and its commitment to collective agency, the work just served to underscore the closing section’s ‘money’ theme. Earlier we were told that, while modernism created unified wholes, postmodern montage was variable, apparently ‘embracing the full diversity of the world’. The ‘modernists’ named as exemplary of the ‘synthesised’ mode were Hannah Hoch and Kurt Schwitters. Had the curators actually looked at their work? Along the same lines, we learnt that modernism equates to the grid: a bizarre statement to make when you include, as an example of postmodernism, a celebratory riff on Manhattan’s street pattern (Koolhaas’ Delirious New York). The force of the ‘postmodern’ chopper came down, conceptually cutting history into trite isms and categories. But – despite what the literature promoting postmodernism claimed – the history of montage practices does not divide itself up into an era of unities and an era of fragments; and neither does the 20th century.

 

Image: Charles Jencks, Garagia Rotunda, Truro, MA 1976-77

 

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Nevertheless, it was surprisingly interesting to encounter key tokens from its discourse. Despite serving as postmodernism’s ideological juggernaut (or perhaps because of it), the architectural material proved especially fascinating. Even the reconstruction of Jencks’ Garagia Rotunda, his automotive ‘garden folly’ dressed up in stagey classicist motifs – though it did strike me all the more powerfully as boringly naff – provided a welcome opportunity to see that confirmed ‘in the flesh’. Hans Hollein’s line-up of Doric columns (his Strada Novissima, originally made for Venice’s Architecture Bienniale in 1980) left me similarly unmoved, if still glad to have registered it as a material presence. The clever ironies now all look so earnest, overweening and portentous. The claim of postmodern architecture was to recover ‘meaning’ by using historical references, but this populist move just revealed the vacuity of the gesture – its emptiness both as gesture and as historical intervention. As lived experience, so-called postmodern space is scarcely different from that of the buildings and squares it sought to trump. However, the discourse on postmodernity advanced itself not so much through its constructed realities as it did through architectural photography. Images in glossy journals like AD endowed the examples of ‘postmodern architecture’ with optical allure and faux clarity. The exhibition didn’t give us these, but quite a few architectural models, which captivated in another way, returning us to the moment of imaginative projection; to the particular totalising perspective of corporate clients and to the encounter in which the architect attempted to convince them that one grand vision could coincide with another.

 

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Nils-Ole Lund’s The Future of Architecture (1979) was similarly intriguing. Its collagistic fracture was invariably ironed out by the mass circulation of the printed page and then hyped up further and projected by its circulation as a lecture slide. Both reproductions rendered the work into something that looked like a large photorealist painting, albeit one with some uncanny transitions on its synthesised surface. Seeing the original montage, I was struck by just how small it was, but I was mostly caught up wondering how it had even become a coin of postmodern discourse. It’s so clearly possible to have it read otherwise. Its figure of ‘modernity in ruins’ could just as easily be interpreted as picturesque, romantic or surrealist; comprehended not as modernism’s ‘death’, but as modernity itself. (These days, we might note, the figure is much favoured by polemicising pro-modernists.)

 

Image: Nils-ole Lund, The Future of Architecture, 1979

 

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I came to realise that the cadaver being scavenged was not modernism’s but that of postmodernism itself. Perhaps Jencks’ opening statement approached the status of a larger curatorial conceit? In one of the show’s central rites of passage – its ‘Times Square’ – the exhibition design echoed the mediatised city of Blade Runner; we were taken into that night time world of screens and monitors conjured up so memorably by Ridley Scott, but here it was David Byrne and Annie Lennox who were the ghastly visages bearing down and cynically mocking us. We had only just passed the Blade Runner clips which, in turn, had been placed under remit of ‘Apocalypse then’; all suitably ‘intertextual’. It would be nice to acknowledge such thematic introjection as a piece of curatorial élan; a meta-joke where an object of study became the exhibition’s conceptual motor. Sadly, the pattern of auto-ingestion was too weakly drawn. Instead, what prevailed was a banal subject/object collapse that seemed not to be of anyone’s choosing or staging, but rather the result of a simple failure to maintain critical distinctions or to exercise historical caution.


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Certainly, the role of publications (Domus or i-D, etc.) as disseminators of styles was grasped. But there was also too much uncritical acceptance of what had been read in the canonical books promoting postmodernism. Yet the making of ‘postmodernism’ – via this avalanche of secondary literature – is a history in its own right. It was a publishing category tied to the sale of pedagogic shorthands. (In the ’90s, it used to be said – apocryphally, no doubt – that if you wanted to get your book out, you needed the P-word in the title.) There were allusions to The Language of Postmodern Architecture and Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (primary texts, we might say, and which played their part in the construction of the discourse), but the exhibition’s perspective seemed to have been essentially directed by the mass of generic style surveys produced to support the art and design school curriculum. These synthetic works were reliant on weakly conceived Wölfflin-type schematisations, derived from Venturi and Jencks and shored up by snippets from the heavyweights like Lyotard or Jameson. Studying 3D design? Well here’s how the story goes: Sottsass, Memphis, Studio Alchymia, etc. – irony, pastiche, bricolage, appropriation, quotation. Each segment of the university and polytechnic divisions of labour had its corresponding volumes to enforce and shore up these schema. For all the talk in Postmodernism of deconstruction and reconstruction, of irony and self-awareness, there was little sign that the archive itself had been recognised as form, as institution, as construct or as discursive production – let alone historicised or subjected to critical analysis. The annals were read straight, as direct access to an authentic voice, and then played back.

 

Image:  Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in the Las Vegas Desert with the Strip in the Background, 1966

 

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And yet even the archive was strangely limited. What, for example, happened to the central discussion of the ’80s: the distinction between conservative historicist and critical poststructuralist versions of postmodernism? It is rendered by the curators as postmodernism’s ‘theatrical’ and ‘theoretical’ characteristics, its exciting ‘ambivalence’. Yet, at the time, the differences were articulated as sharp political contestations. From Hal Foster’s essays in the ’80s to the architectural debates of the Revisions group in New York, this sense of embattled opposition was expressed explicitly and repeatedly. We can now recognise these as responses to the Reagan administration’s aggressive imposition of neoliberalism. I happen to think there were problems with these left leaning challenges to postmodernism’s mainstream, but they were certainly not just one inflection within the postmodern ambiguity.

 

Less visible, but implicit in the dates and places – and sometimes in the objects themselves – other stories seemed to lurk; further paths suggested themselves for historical investigation. One friend speculated on the possibility that the Milanese design objects – mostly dated immediately after the repression of the Italian left (the so-called ‘years of lead’) – were symptoms of a ‘Pastel Thermidor’, Italy’s counter-revolution exported and niche marketed. It is tempting to see the pots and kettles as direct symptoms of a new political domination – especially when, like me, you actively don’t like them, and especially when you know whose needs they were designed for – but I suspect their place may well be more complex and contradictory. One would want to consider these human products not merely as semiotic representatives of some idiot ‘ism’, but as material agents within a changing field of social and economic relations. Postmodernism’s veneer of historical analysis relied, however, on media coined buzzwords and soundbites: ‘yuppy’, ‘designer decade’, ‘boom’. History deserves better treatment; so do (at least some of) the objects. The commodities still have their stories to tell. Give the fetishes their due.


Gail Day <G.A.Day AT leeds.ac.uk> teaches in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. She is author of Dialectical Passions: Negation in Postwar Art Theory (Columbia University Press, 2010), shortlisted for the 2011 Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize

 

 

 

Gorky Park

Metamute - November 24, 2011 - 5:06am
By jabber

“Park Gorkogo” is a typical name of an amusement park in most of the large cities of the former Soviet Republics. “Gorky Park” is also a name of the popular Russian rock-band, with disgusting ballads in English – one of the failed export projects of the late Soviet pop-industry. Tailed rock-singers in their late 30s perform on stage glamorous macho masculinity with slight Russian accent.

When I was a child I often visited the one in the centre of Minsk. Once sticky candy floss, chocolate ice-cream and cold lemonade were sold there, now pop-corn and coca-cola replaced them, offering a fast sugar shot.

At the weekends citizens with their children come there to take rest after the working week. They spend time together, sitting on the benches, playing chess, drinking beer, or cycling. During the week young people meet up there usually in the evenings – from nasty looking punks, hip-hoppers and goths to “gopniki”, the lumpen youth. The park is used also for celebrations during the official holidays, when huge stages are built up there. They host the most barking pop-music ever, mixed with staged folk dances.

The park, where sparkling red squirrels besiege the old chestnut trees, is named after the idol of socialist realism Maxim Gorky (Alexei Maksimovich Peshkov). The monument to the writer and poet in his young years is erected in the park; however he had hardly any relations with Minsk city and Belarus.

It is difficult to explain, why he became so acknowledged in the Soviet Union. For me his writings were quite primitive and unimaginative, he used words rather as a hatchet man, than a writer. Probably, his proletarian origin and Stalin’s personal fancy mattered more than his actual talent. I particularly hated to read him at school - his books were a part of the obligatory curriculum. I always tried to keep a straight face while reading his texts in the “proletarian humanism” manner:

„The fat, foolish penguin hides, timid and craven,
In nooks of the cliffs, where it finds a safe home;
Alone the proud storm-finch soars freely and boldly
Above the rough ocean, all hoary with foam”.
(“The Song of the Storm-Finch”)

What irritated me even more is that at the literature classes we had to find the deep meaning and symbolical background of his evidently unintellectual scribble.

Supposedly while he was self-conscious of being weak as an author, he meddled into politics, pleasing Stalin and showing obedience to the authorities. He became a mouthpiece for Stalin’s arbitraries.

I was born in quite “successful” Soviet family; both of my grandfathers were members of the Communist party – as any “respected” man was. This allowed them an access to such resources, as comfortable accommodation, car, TV, prestigious jobs, possibility to travel, extra medical services and good education for their children. It is a myth that the Soviet Union was built on equality. At least the last years of its existence, which I remember myself, were marked with food and clothing deficit, everyday hardships, and the society was consumed with envy.
My relatives nevertheless belonged to Soviet establishment. The loyalty to the authorities, which was their strategy to achieve comfortable existence, played a cruel trick on them – starting as a survival conformism, it developed into the life philosophy, and they accepted the values of the propagated “communist morals” as their own. But each family has its own skeletons in the closet – one of my mother’s uncles was in Soviet forced labor camp, and my father’s mother was from the family of “kulaki”. These facts were always concealed, there were no solidarity with the uncle, who was very poor, thin as a rail and sick after many years of imprisonment in the camp. Despite the rehabilitation, he was never back to social life. His pain and exclusion were the price which my mother’s family had to pay for their own comfort.

Almost each Soviet family had a member who endured repression. While the camps where a taboo topic for the collective subconscious, at the same time the popular culture absorbed the lager culture, with its specific folklore and typical modes of behavior. If we consider the number of people with camp background in the Soviet Union, it becomes clear, why criminal culture became a dominating source for Soviet pop-culture. The attitude to gays and lesbians as to the stigmatized and subservient was an intrinsic part of this camp culture. For instance, the homophobic attitude is fixed in such common insults, as “pidor” / “pider” (“faggot”) or special camp slang “petuh” (“cock”) and “kozjol” (“billy goat”), originating from the criminal slang, and as well in the stereotype of the same-sex intercourse as an act of rape. It was associated mostly with “ opuschennye” (“degraded”, “downcast”, a special slang term for one who has been beaten up, raped and urinated upon). The politics of criminalization of gay people practically during the whole history of the Soviet Union, from 1934 till 1993 resulted into this subconscious interconnection of being gay or lesbian with criminal activity or with criminal background. And this interconnection is not deconstructed up to the present time.

Just after the revolution, at least during the first decade of Soviet rule one could speak about a great improvement in the sexual emancipation and gender equality. For instance, in the Criminal Codes of the RSFSR of 1922 and 1926 there were no articles concerning the criminal responsibility for being gay, since Soviet legislation was unaware of the “crimes against morality”. Hence, this decriminalization was influenced by hormonal hypothesis of an etiology of homosexuality, which appeared after the Steinach-Lichtenstern experiment in 1918. Officially in the RSFSR the approach of medicalization of gay people and hormonal correction of their “anomaly” was chosen. For instance, in 1928 an attempt to pattern the Steinach-Lichtenstern experiment was undertaken by doctor Kirov in Kharkov University at the Faculty of Psychiatry. He tried to reverse sexual orientation of Efrosiniya B. implanting animal ovary sections beneath her right breast. When this sadistic experiment failed, Kirov blamed the false data in the Western literature on this question.

D. Healey in his article “The Disappearance of the Russian Queen, or How the Soviet Closet Was Born” describes a raid on a „pederastic party” in Petrograd on 15 January 1921, resulted in the arrest of 98 sailors, soldiers, and civilians, many of them dressed in drag. They had tagged a mock wedding ceremony and celebrated the occasion with waltzes and minuets. Other guests wore “Spanish costumes” or “white wigs”, and there was a “flying post” for sending messages; one lucky sailor got notes saying “I fancy you” and “I’d like to get to know you”.

According to Healey, the Soviet Union in the 1920s was the most significant example of decriminalization of the male same-sex relations since the French Revolution, while Britain and Weimar Germany continued to prosecute gays and lesbians. Soviet health authorities even courted the left-leaning sex reform movement headed by Berlin sexologist and gay rights campaigner M. Hirschfeld. Biologists and doctors began to investigate homosexuality as a scientific and medical phenomenon, often with loyalty. But M. Hirschfeld himself, after his encounters with Soviet doctors who had the repressive view on gay people, changed his enthusiasm for the Soviet Revolution, which was too puritan for him. With Stalin’s rise to power after 1924 the situation changed dramatically.

In September 1933 the first raid on the suspected of being gay persons was carried out, and 130 people were arrested. Genrikh Yagoda, the vice-chairman of the OGPU (the State Political Directorate) wrote a report to Stalin, informing him that the “dangerous groups of gays” in Moscow and Leningrad were exposed. These groups quasi were building a gay network with a plan to turn later the salons and brothels into the spy cells.

With Stalin’s approval the OGPU prepared the project of the anti-gay law. On 13 December 1933 Genrikh Yagoda send another one paranoid brief to Stalin, blaming gay communities for counter-revolution and complaining about the absence of the appropriate criminal laws to persecute the “pederasts” who supposedly recruit and pervert the healthy youth and the Red Army and the Red Navy men. This conspirological delirium turned shortly afterwards into the reality for the gay people in the USSR - by the end of December 1933 the anal and genital contact between consenting males was considered a crime. It was made in order to destroy the gay subculture and allegedly followed the logic of the anti-prostitution initiatives in the crisis years of the early 1930s.

This hype about the international networks of gays was designed to inseminate the mass consciousness with the idea of connection of being gay with the counter-revolution. The repressions against the “suspicious” Others, including gays, foreigners, former Czarist diplomats, White Guards, Jews, intellectuals, and dissidents were launched.

On 7 March 1934 the resolution “On the Criminal Responsibility for the Sodomy” was pushed ahead at the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR. It was not enough for the Soviet state to control the mind of the Soviet people; their anuses had to be controlled as well. The criminal law determined much harder sentence for the sexual intercourse between two males, than in the pre-revolutionary Russia. On 1 April 1934, Article § 154 (later § 121) had been fixed in the Criminal Code of the RSFSR – according to this law, prepared by the butchers from the OGPU, the voluntary gay sex was persecuted as a crime in all Soviet republics. The notorious Article §121 determined punishment for the “sodomy” with the term of imprisonment up to 5 years, and in case of violence, threat or in case of the minor or with the use of the dependant position of the victim, up to 8 years. Lesbians and bisexual women were not criminally persecuted according to this law.

D. Healey in his article “Unruly Identities: Soviet Psychiatry Confronts the “Female Homosexual” of the 1920s.” mentions several lesbians who registered their marriage and two women “transvestites” who served as Red Army commanders in men’s clothing. Being lesbian was treated in the Soviet Union in general more liberally. Just after the revolution, when the identity of the socialist woman was just in the process of formation, and women moved into education and paid labour, the lesbians where socially accepted. Masculine women were seen then as competent, powerful and in general loyal to the values of the Revolution. However already in the 1930s within the introduced politics to increase the birth rate in the Soviet state lesbian was seen as disobedient. When the anti-gay campaign was launched, the massive criminalization and psychiatrization of lesbians and transgenders started. Hospitalization or isolation in prison clinics was a probable destiny for many of these women who were considered “psychotic” because of their rejection of the heterosexist maternal role.

Especially male femininity was imagined as foreign, primitive, and bourgeois. “Petuh” (“faggot”) is the most vicious insult in the Russian language, undermining the strength of the dominant stereotype of the patriarchal heterosexual man. Besides it bears the connotation of sexual violence and abuse in Soviet prisons, camps and army circles.

Soviet authorities displayed their striving to control the human body and sexuality, following very regressive biopolitics – with prohibition of abortion in 1936, as well as toughened divorce. Since the Soviet state needed new working hands, these were the measures to increase the birth-rate. The family was proclaimed to be a basis of the socialist collective, and, in case of the criminal punishment for the public enemies, the responsibility for their guilt was shifted off on their family members as well.

The article §121 was used not only to punish gays, but also to criminalize dissidents, who were sent to Syberia. Secret lists and profiles containing the information about allegedly gays were forged by the militia. The Soviet state always kept the gays in the awe of arrest: most of them for sure were aware of the arrests of their friends, lovers and acquaintances, and that made them obedient and willing to collaborate with the regime. The disobedient were proclaimed dissidents and sent to Soviet forced labor camps.

In the official press the public campaign against the gays was launched – and Stalin’s favorite writer, Maxim Gorky himself contributed to the justification of the repressions. On 23 May 1934 he wrote in the leading article published on the front pages of the newspapers “Prawda” and “Izwestija”: “Not the dozens, but the hundreds of facts testify the devastating and perverse influence of fascism upon the youth in Europe. It is disgusting to list these facts, and my memory refuses to be loaded with the filth, which is more and more industriously and abundantly produced by the bourgeoisie. I will mention only, that in the country, where the proletariat operates with courage and success, gay people, perverting the youth, are recognized as criminals and have to be punished, and in the cultural land of the great philosophers, scientists, musicians it operates freely and unpunished. A sarcastic proverb appeared: Destroy homosexuality and fascism will disappear”. This appeal was directed against Hitler’s fellow Ernst Röhm, which was shortly afterwards killed by the führer’s order.

It is not clear, if Gorky made it on his own intent, or by order of the above-standing authorities. Prominent Russian gay writer Slava Mogutin in his essay “Gay in the GULAG” reminds one of the popular rumors that the adopted son of Maxim Gorky was seduced by a gay, and the leading proletarian writer took his revenge in such a mean way. The choice for the intellectuals in the Soviet Union was limited: the authorities demanded from them only hymns to Stalin, those, who were critical, paid with their lives. Destruction of ethics and its replacement with ideological dogma happened. When being gay was proclaimed a “crime against communist morals” - it was obviously nonsense, while the unmoral deed could not be persecuted according to the criminal law. This criminal article was not supported with any “valuable” scientific basis. Anyway the lawyers and the doctors in the USSR supported the triumph of “communist morals”, which described being gay as a “foreign disease” and the sign of the “moral decay of the Western bourgeoisie”. This conception justified, however, the massive sexual crimes of the Soviet regime, which took place in every camp and prison without exception.

This aggressive Anti-Western tendency of the “communist morals” could be explained by the analysis of the logics of transitivism by J. Lacan in his text “The Other and Psychosis”. “One child who has beaten another can say - The other beat me. It's not that he is lying - he is the other, literally”.

In 1936 the Commissar for Justice, Nikolai Krylenko, declared being gay a political crime against the Soviet state and the proletariat. As S. Mogutin writes, “The fate of homosexuals in Soviet prisons and camps is unprecedented in the scope of its tragedy and brutality”. Over 25 thousand people were persecuted and end up in the forced labor camps in accordance with this article, which was in power for almost 60 years. It was cancelled in 1993.

All in all in the Soviet Union two state repressive measures against the gay people existed – the first one is the implementation of the criminal article persecuting gays for 5 years, and the second one is the abuse of psychiatry, which allowed, for instance, to psychiatrize lesbians and transgenders. When the parents, teachers or colleagues informed the authorities about the lesbian relationship, the psychiatrist usually manipulated with the diagnosis, which sounded as “personality disorder”. Young women (especially in the age of 15-19) were put into psychiatric clinics for the term of 3 months. During this time they received psychopharmacological medication, which influenced their consciousness and mental development. Afterwards they had to be registered by the local psychologist as psychically ill. This registration gave up for lost their future carrier and the driving license.

Most of the sodomy trials of the 1930s took place behind the closed doors. The militia intervention into the intimate life of individuals was directed towards the destruction of the privacy, which is peculiar to any authoritarian society. Such notions, as “private sphere”, “autonomy” and “self-determination” are still alien to the dominant cultural vocabulary in the post-Soviet countries. This makes the life of an individual extremely difficult there. The dominating stereotypes and prejudgments concerning the “successful” and “normal” lifestyle serve as blackmail in order to compel persons to conform and to be obedient. The collectivist lifestyle, paternalism and heteronormativity which were propagated during the Soviet regime, destroyed the ability of the citizens to make responsible decisions and take the initiative themselves. The intimate sphere and the interpersonal relations’ were also touched upon by the omnipresent control of the jailors of the “communist morals”.

It was very difficult in Soviet times to create intimacy, while the living conditions where so, that one always had to share one’s private sphere with somebody else in so-called “kommunalnyh kvartirah”, where from 4 up to 16 and more people lived together in one accommodation, especially in the big industrial cities. It was impossible to stay on your own there, which impeded the formation of the individuality and independent thinking. Violence, insanitariness and crime were there as a matter of course. Another one variant of cohabitation, a legacy of the village culture, meant living together with parents even in the adulthood, which often created intergenerational conflicts. Such power relations were difficult even for the straight people, not mentioning gays and lesbians, who very rarely lived in partnership. Most of them leaded the double-life, were officially married and even had children in their heterosexual marriages. This means hypocrisy and thousands of ruined, unhappy and unbearable lives.

Extreme density of prison and camp life was a continuation of this transparent communal living, where everyone was always in somebody’s else presence and control, often unintentionally. Even the cattle, if they live in poor conditions and too close to each other, are at the risk of getting foot-and-mouth disease. Soviet authorities were treating the citizens worth than the cattle in the dense stalls of communal apartments, public transport and factory world. This produced frictions, conflicts, paranoia and hatred between the people. The scale of violence and repressions against any imaginary public enemies – “spies”, “parasites”, “perverts”, “prostitutes”, “dissidents”, “conspirators”, “thieves”, “collaborators”, “pederasts” and “dykes” was inconceivable. And very often the arrest and further interrogation and imprisonment were the result of a denunciation, faked by neighbors from the same communal apartment or, worse, the relatives as an act of revenge or realization of the plan to improve their living conditions, occupying the accommodation of the person, who was sent to the camp or a nuthouse.

After Stalin, during the years of so-called “liberalization”, another one, more “mild” way remained to deal with the “public enemies” and “dissidents” - the compulsory psychiatrisation. Soviet psychiatry, based on the behavioral Pavlov’s doctrine, was harsh. The electro-shock therapy and the cheapest psychopharmacy were used there.

Post-Soviet society has not coped yet with its past that vastly embarrasses the rights of the LGBT people there. It still leans to the image of the strong leader, the father of the people, the commander – this authoritarian tendency is cherished by the ruling class. It could explain also the long-lasting political course in Russia, where the ex-officials of the secret service gained the rule. Or the flashbacks of the Stalinist propaganda constituting the symbols of the ideological space in Belarus. Or the frightening growth of the anti-Semitism and nationalism in Ukraine and Lithuania. The Soviet Imperia was built upon the symbols of the military power, patriarchal tradition and atmosphere of the general mistrust and denunciation. This ideologems still hinder the development of democratic societies in the post-Soviet counties.

Most of my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends from Belarus with great commitment struggle against the successors of the Stalin rule who are still in power there.

List of cited books and articles:

Anna Bjutikofer. Gomoseksualizm v Sovetskom Sojuze i v segodnjashnej Rossii. Iz zhurnale "die" (di), No 8, Autumn 1998 g., pp. 6-8.
http://www.savanne.ch/tusovka/ru/pilot/homosexuality-russia.html

Healey D. Unruly Identities: Soviet Psychiatry Confronts the «Female Homosexual» of the 1920s. (in Gender in Russain History and Culture, ed. by Linda Edmondson, Studies in Russian and East European Histoty and Society Series, University of Birmingham, 2001). Pp. 116 – 138

Healey D. The Disappearance of the Russian Queen, or How the Soviet Closet Was Born (in Russian Masculinities in History and Culture, ed. by Barbara Evans Clements, Rebecca Friedman and Dan Healey, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002 NY). Pp. 152 – 171

Kon I. S. Sociologicheskie zametki o gomofobii i sposobah ee preodolenija
http://sexology.narod.ru/info154.html

"Krasnym" po "golubomu". - Sovetskaja vlast' protiv gomoseksualistov
http://www.oliari.com/comunismo/russia4-b.html

Lacan J. The Other and Psychosis (in The Psychoses. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, ed. by Jacques-Alain Miller. Book 3, 1955 – 1956. Translated with notes by Russell Grigg. London, Routledge 1993). pp. 29 - 43

Mogutin S. Gay in the GULAG. Translated from Russian by Irena Maryniak. (in: Index on Censorship (London), Volume 24, No.1/1995)

Publikuju po pros'be Valerija Bondarenko...
http://community.livejournal.com/ru_antidogma/363718.html

FTH: The Savage and Beyond

Metamute - November 22, 2011 - 6:21am
By Howard Slater

Howard Slater grasps at the August riots as the appearance of an ‘unrecognisable demos' which challenges the very ability of capitalist democracy to include or contain the language and acts of its subjects

 

 

One carries in public affairs the spirit of the sales counter

- Pierre Leroux (1834)

 

The consonants F, T and H, in that order, form a trilateral root meaning fissure, chink, opening...

- Jean Genet (1986)

 

 

1. One thing can be said with a modicum of certainty: the recent riots of August 2011 were political. What can be meant by political in this instance? Well, maybe something as straightforward as taking action in the street, getting beyond the idea of a ‘neutrality of living'.1 It's a form of such neutrality that informs those accusations that have it that the riots were ‘apolitical'. These accusations more or less come from a political state (and those professionally invested in it) that proffers an idea of politics as the maintenance of a ‘neutrality of living', as the embodiment of rational common sense, as the legislative thrust of a protective equilibrium. If, as many of the riots' detractors maintain, these actions that overspilled the boundaries of ‘civil society' were not political then we have further reason to surmise that politics for such as these is a technical managerial affair: the management of libidinal and economic energies into a steady state; the making legible of all action into recognisable ‘civil' forms.

 

2. The next step, then, was to brand the rioters as criminals and to see in the rioting a mass outbreak of criminal opportunism. Such labelling brings the ‘overspill' into an understandable civil remit and makes exemplary retaliation possible. Anything else is unconscionable for those who sit comfortably upon us. So, to link the ongoing austerity cuts to the riots as some liberal politicians did, is seen as an outrage, as a breach to the morally consensual re-establishment of ‘civil peace'. This civil peace is however, informed by capitalism's ‘naturalisation' within the state as it creeps beyond a simple integration - that could be echoed by a discipline going by the name of ‘political economy' - towards a takeover of the state political realm - that could ring out in such a phrase as ‘corporate governance'. It is maybe possible, then, to consider the increasing role of the state as an indicator of a corporate takeover - ongoing welfare cuts, bank bailouts, effective corporate lobbying etc. - that makes politicians ‘instinct' with capital and dictated to, in the moments immediately preceding the riots, by the fear of ‘sovereign debt'. Thus they are dictated to by a form of corporate para-political power that wields abstract measurements of a state's wealth and economic standing over and above even these states' belief in a mythic ‘democracy'.

 

3. The moral outrage of the governing political administrators at this disturbance of ‘civil peace' is, then, illustrative of a kind of ‘political theology'. Their god is now capital and those blasphemers against value, property and the entrepreneurial form are sent off to a purgatory of incarceration and classification. In this theocracy it makes perfect sense to jail a youngster for nicking a bottle of water because the greater crime, beyond that of thieving the object itself, is the blatant disregard it shows for surplus value and the exchange value embodied in money. Likewise robbing for the sake of it not only shows up the worthlessness of these commodities - a disrespect for the commodity as much as an indicator of greed - but it is a kind of people's auto-reduction to the ‘naturalised' criminality of ‘markup', ‘profit margins' and welfare ‘bribes'. Of course part of the moral outrage stems from the extent and ubiquity of the looting and this outrage must, by self-preservatory necessity, be blind to the ‘oversignification' of the riots that, in their very chaos, appear as a kind of ‘deforming' mandate that, weirdly enough, complements the politicians presiding over a foreclosure of a by now financialised politics.

 

4. This ‘oversignifcation' is polysemic noise and it is enigmatic to the turnkeys of capital who, seeing the ‘neutrality' of their governmental and ideological forms retaliated against, are set adrift before what Miguel Abensour might call a ‘political moment': ‘the moment most liable to gain an excessive meaning, to go beyond the meaning proper to it'.2 The meaning deemed ‘proper to it', as usual, is criminality, but the excess of this meaning should take in the relationship between crime and poverty, between abandonment and rage, between hope and despair (all inadmissible in a court of law). That the riots are a political moment does not mean that those who participated in them face the political state as an homogeneity; they are not consciously proletarian though a majority are working class (or even part of the ‘surplus population'); they are not all gang members or linked in varying degrees to a more organised crime set up; they have not all been stopped and searched; not all been in prison etc.3 The move to deem all who participated as ‘criminals' - as if to suggest all those who carry convictions are the same ‘type' - is just as much about the refusal to see the politics in hope and despair, in abandonment and rage as it is a refusal to see the politics in poverty. Whilst this latter has a long tradition it is a tradition that, on the whole, has, like the political state, not taken in the affective dimension which were it to do, may have led to a less meaning driven capture of the riots; to a ‘thinking emancipation otherwise'; towards a re-forming of ‘political links' as relational.4

 

5. The outrage of the political class meets the enragement of those subject to austerity, and whilst they are not an homogenous mass, could it be said that, speaking a ‘language of acts' (Pasolini), those out on the streets formed an ‘horizon' for the political state as well as for us politicos; and became a form of ‘unrecognisable demos'.5 No longer an ‘idea as subject' (a definable gender, class or race) these crowds, often called upon to ‘participate', return the loaded inveiglement to speak with a language (as often a blasé beat as a gestural scream) that is untranslatable into the language-norms that would seek to bestill it as ‘criminal', as ‘proletarian', as ‘underclass', as ‘materialistic'. Not fighting for a cause, but fighting against causes, against a dimly perceivable - but all the same felt - overdetermination of their lives by, well, in the immediate past, austerity measures caused by the bank bailout. Not fighting as a ‘body' but fighting for the body, fighting the pressures felt by bodies in the form of abandonment, hunger, desire, aggression, alienation and stoic hopelessness. In Tottenham, that the family and friends of a police murder victim were ignored after requesting to be heard out is an indication of a callousness that comes along with capitalist social relations: the ‘correct channels', the strict form of even a verbal exchange, could not be ‘exceeded'. So these non-relations began to be ‘exceeded' (de-linked) by an at times vicious secession from those very channels; a secession away from the ‘policed' language of politics towards appeasing the demands of instinct for which there is maybe no language except the ‘language of acts'.

 

Image: Trokikhouse, 'The Savage and Beyond', 1991

 

6. Yet instinct, such as rage, is not apolitical. The sexual instinct, the appeasement of which is often negotiatory, a form of communication, is political to the degree that this ‘negotiation' of drives and their timing, their relationality, is political. Rage, present in muted form as the aggressive component of the sexual instinct, is a similarly political moment by means of its modulation of transgression and negotiation. So, like the sexual instinct, rage doesn't just come from anywhere (again the criminality tag helps the forces of ‘civil peace' to occlude the affective dimension), but its causes are a manifold layering of experiences through which a person comes to feel affronted, neglected and unwitnessed (not negotiated with). When these forms of emotional deprivation (lack of care) meet a situation of poverty and the pressures of material survival through which living horizons and future possibilities are extremely foreshortened, then, in some circumstances, when it is felt there's nothing to lose and nothing to live for, rage can stalk the social psyche. So rage, it could be said, comes to be expressive of a lack of hope, a lack of hope that cannot be countenanced or communicated because until the circumstances provoking its enragement are met, this rage exists as immanent.

 

This may well go some way toward getting a handle on some of the acts of ‘concise violence' witnessed in the riots - the burning of inhabited buildings, the hit and run, the assault and subsequent death of a pensioner.6 Even the more embittered revolutionaries would find it hard to condone such ‘savage acts', but it is maybe that writers like Pasolini and Genet, who embrace, neigh love, the ‘savage' and the wilfully abject in its human form, maybe it is such writers as these who seek and accept something else in this rage. Both Genet and Pasolini often get impatient with knowing, as many politicos know, that rage can arise at the sight and feel of exploitation, can come from a conscious felt sense of alienation from the economic and political system, can come from the actions of the police. They sense, too, that both the enraged and the outraged can experience a ‘blackout', a short circuit as impulses takeover. Perhaps this impulsiveness is what comes over when we see footage of folk tearing at the shutters of inconspicuous shops and, as one eye witness described, scrambling in a heap fighting over a spilled tray of looted jewels. And yet, even in these moments Pasolini, for one, would spare the rioters an empathic hearing and spare us too the trap of our ideolectual urge: they ‘appear not only without any logical goal but without even the shadow of an idea: merely expressing with all its strength the general disquiet and restlessness - the anxiety, in fact'.7

 

7. Impulsive? How far does anxiety inform the impulsive? Even so, what can we possibly expect? For Bernard Stiegler, coupling the ‘structurally short term' effects of fictitious capital to the lust of the drive for appeasement of needs (instant gratification), capitalism has become drive based: ‘novelty is valorised at the expense of durability, and this organisation of detachment (unfaithfulness/infidelity) contributes [...] to the spread of drive-based behaviours'.8 Whilst this could possibly gloss some of the more gratuitous looting in the August streets, it also sets this looting against a backdrop of speculative greed and ‘instant returns' on investments of the glorified criminals in the banking sector. The very cuts whose blade could have been close to a riotous skin are themselves short termist and the deregulation, in a wicked inverse, was extended to the deregulation, the temporary de-forming, of the law of the land. So, was it that high streets became the site of an anxiety informed ‘language of acts'? Did they become the scene for a dissociated revenge of dissociated consumers? Was the libidinal energy so sought after by the window displays returned to them as a ‘quick fuck' minus the time of desire? Was it a political indicator that, for some bordering on many, there is no ‘neutrality of living' when life itself is no longer guaranteed and relationships are full of hard to express anxiety? Was it that the broadcast effacement of such neutrality has to be called ‘greed' in order to ground it in capitalist culture, but, at the same time, remove the desperation of poverty from purview and, furthermore, discredit any claim it may have to inhabit the political?

 

8. Just as capital is intermittently faithful to those who can pay, so too the semi- detached state is not faithful to all its ‘subjects'. The resultant evacuation of the political by those learning about their own abandonment is more like an enforced withdrawal. They are barricaded out by a wall of ‘political formalism', procedure and financialised jargon that excludes them. Pasolini again:

 

The communicativeness of the world of applied science [i.e. politics], of industrial eternity, presents itself instead as strictly practical. And therefore monstrous. No word will have a sense that is not functional [...] the autonomous expression of a ‘gratuitous' sentiment will be inconceivable.9

 

And so, maybe it could be said that many of those who were out on the street in an active anti-form way in August are amongst those who are neither admitted nor desire to be admitted into the political realm but who, speaking a ‘language of acts' respond to the ‘monstrosity' with the enaction of an ‘unrecognisable demos'. Such a demos, as Abensour would maintain in his musings about what the young Marx meant by ‘real democracy', is this fissure through which the political state is ‘reduced' from its position as ‘the moment of the political', the dominant instant of the political that keeps the ‘other realms' of life subordinate and silent; deems them apolitical.10 The riots, then, with their ‘language of acts', their amassed expression of social insecurity, posed a challenge to the authority of the political state in its mission to maintain homogeneity and police the uncontainable overspill. They posed a challenge too to those for whom a certain social opacity and indeterminacy are similarly anathema.

 

Such a temporary loss of civil foundations and the move into the streets of an indeterminate body of people displaying an acute restlessness, an at times ‘kamikaze' flouting of the law and a need to be heard in their painful grievance is reminiscent of Claude Lefort's ‘savage democracy'. That which, in the guise of the rageful ‘raw being' of the sans-culotte of the French Revolution, marked a founding moment of the modern western political state.11 Moreover, as Abensour informs us, the ‘right to insurrection' was deemed to be a ‘democratic right' back in these days and, he adds, up to the Paris Commune. That this history, and indeed the events of the Arab Spring, are kept at an ineffectual distance from most western political states, is indicative of the reification of ‘democracy' that can admit of no further instituting ‘discrepencies'. The dream of the rational state as the ‘organising form that passes for the whole' now has capital as this organising form and as a result politics, in the form it is now practised (affectless and technocratic), seems more and more to be revealed as the language of a ‘pseudo totality'.12 The ‘neutrality of living' becomes asphyxiated in its own forms of empiricised communication and the ‘non-totalisable' human becomes thwarted and ‘renditioned'.

 

9. As it could be heard from Tahrir Square so it is heard from the London prisons that ‘our voice has been heard ... we are not animals.' That voice may be indiscernible to some, to others, as a ‘criminal' voice, it should not be heard and it should be stripped of its ‘rights'. But it is a voice that, held in reflux by a structurally informed muteness, may well be speaking the ‘language of acts' and seeking to be expressive of affect rather than being ‘educated' to speak that language that Jean Genet complained about in the 1940s: a ‘language of words' that are ‘weighed down with precise ideas'.13 This weight of the determinate, this exchange value of expression whereby affect (a proto-meaning in itself) should be forfeited for precision with the resultant reward of entry into ‘civil society' and its politics, is in itself a bottling up of the ‘overspill' of affect and a surplus humanness that engenders the ‘savage' as a moment of the ‘species-being'. Pasolini and Genet, with their ‘telling inarticulacy', well understood this ‘language of acts' as a somatic and poetic embodiment, a flouting of the dictatorship of the ‘formal universality' of state sanctioned modes of language. Genet writing of his time spent with the Black Panthers in the early '70s says: ‘the force of what was called Panther rhetoric or word-mongering resided not in elegant discourse but in strength of affirmation (or denial), in anger of tone and timbre'.14 Such ‘word-mongering', ringfenced as ‘aggressive', and ignored as ‘rageful', may well be, in Abensour's view, an instance of an imprecise ‘savage democracy': a political moment in which we can playfully create one another and in which passion as a relational link is once more given a space in contradistinction to a reified democracy. This latter cannot countenance that its ‘subjects' are filled with the discrepencies, contradictions and discords of an uncontainable species-life that, in its ‘telling inarticulacy', seemed, in August, to bring into view an experience of the wobbling of those very institutional foundations that are charged with maintaining ‘civic peace'.

 

10. Despite their ‘criminal' tag, those taking part in the riots formed an opaque body that academic research will now be charged with making transparent. Is this opaqueness, infuriating to the political state, not the very auto-conflictual opaqueness of species life? How often can we be said to be transparent to ourselves? Moreover, is it not an opaqueness through which the enigma of the self and the enigma of the social can no longer be solved accept as a ‘language of acts' that entails the abandonment of forms of ‘ideality' that have blinded us to the (albeit risky) ‘instituting' power of species-being? As Abensour adds in his musing on ‘savage democracy': ‘Every social manifestation is in the same movement a threat of dissolution, an exposure to division and to the loss of self, as if every manifestation were inhabited [...] by the threat of its own dissolution'.15 The riots may well have brought into purview this threat of dissolution of the political state and its ‘precise words', they exposed us to division but in so doing they exposed us to divided selves, to a ‘self-discrepency' between, say, condoning the most savage acts whilst feeling an optimistic excitement at the breach they formed in the ‘neutrality of living'. The riots could be said to highlight such schizo states; states in which the contradictions of living become ‘felt contradications' that not so much bypass thought as bring it into relation with instinct. So, maybe the affective experience of the ‘savage' that the riots permitted could get us beyond a reified democracy whose rationalist ‘pseudo totality' demonises our ‘savage' selves and thus, in line with the myth of productive progress, removes a key facet of our indeterminate species-life and makes us, by means of such devices as guilt, ready to be produced as the financialised subjects required of the political state.16

 

11. This notion of the ‘production of the subject' may well figure the riots as a form of ‘human strike'. Not only in the suspension of the ‘human' in favour of the ‘savage', but as a retaliatory strike against the very apparatus of the production of the subject through such institutional dispositifs as the education system. For Pasolini, who consistently and painfully spoke of the genocide of the working class, the political state had become ‘the new production (production of human beings)'.17 Maybe this could take on an added resonance in that the increasingly noted failure of capital to reproduce the working class leads to a necessity for the subject to be produced elsewhere than the site of wage labour. This hiatus, this dissolution of the working subject and the incursion of state-led control into the ‘bodies' of its subjects, marks a further opaque void for the political state as well as the traditional left. The regulatory mechanism of wage labour is absent for many, perhaps more so for those who were out on the streets in August. Just as the looting, then, flouts the law of the wage relation, so too does the latter's absence remove a main social identifying pole. That for some this is to be welcomed (ne travaillez jamais), for others it may be an instance of the ‘loss of the self' when the ‘self', under the value-form of capital, is encouraged to identify with the various roles that wage labour allots. The ‘meaning of life' is bound up with work but its absence throws us back on a kind of ‘savage' survival and an equally savage interrogation of what it is to be human (a social individual) without the capital-imposed definition of life as a life of wage labour.18

 

As Abensour is quick to point out the ‘savage', as Lefort uses it, is not the return to a state of nature, but a baseline in the forecoming of ‘species existence, the advent of human existence', a socialised nature that must admit of ‘other realms', those other disavowed areas of species activity that should not be compressed out of existent expression by the political pseudo-totality of a reified and financialised democracy.19 The inadmission of the ‘savage' to the demos is of course one sided. The savagery of financial capitalism is, perhaps due to its level of abstraction and its ultra-sublimated mechanisms, admitted poll position (the mechanisms of both are a snug fit). But the ‘beyond' of such savagery is, as Pasolini mourns, nothing less than a genocide, nothing less than the sacrifice of ‘raw being'. An element of this ‘raw being' was sacrificed to the law courts in the weeks after the riots. It had no ‘idea' to defend itself with, only ‘gratuitous sentiment' and the ‘language of acts' that disqualified it from the polis and made its ‘unrecognisable demos' truly opaque. Its sudden speed of arousal left us aghast and, at times, thankfully speechless. Theory, always playing second fiddle to praxis and affect, comes in to temporarily save us: ‘The "ceremony" of the political should be converted to the species-life of the real and total being of the demos [...] that in its people-being belongs at once to the political principle and the sensualist principle'.20 There is, then, some urgency in at least revealing the pseudo-totality of politics to its affectless practitioners (who, as Pasolini maintains in his intervention at the Radical Party Congress of 1975, ‘live their rhetoric with a total absence of any self-criticism').21 Such a pseudo-totality, the happy enterprise of unreflexive selves in an unquestioning relation to the ‘all' of their knowledge, creates a politics without the sensual and savage component of species life.22 It is a stunted totality passing for an ad hominen practice: the remainder that could well overspill the totality with its ‘savage democracy' goes by unnoticed and so too does the ‘can-be of the self-contradicting'.23 Pasolini and Genet had already begun to speak of such an impossible being as a becoming. Beyond the love offered by them to the ‘people-being', their love of the remainder and the remaindered made them hopeful that a ‘politics of anxiety', a politics premised upon an acceptance of both the savagery of species-life and the radical surprise of indeterminancy, would go some step towards blasting up this lifeless ceremony that passes as politics.

 

 

Howard Slater <howard.slater AT googlemail.com> is a volunteer play therapist and sometime writer. His book, Anomie/Bonhomie and Other Writings, will be published by Mute Books in January 2012

 

 

Discography:

 

Tronikhouse: ‘The Savage and Beyond', Incognito Records (1991)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkCKjEUhiAM&feature=related

 

The Pop Group: ‘Thief of Fire', Radar Records (1979)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6Vvlk7UbEo

 

Newham Generals: ‘Things That I Do', Dirtee Stank Recordings (2009)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AUkh-UNhFU

 

Footnotes

1 Miguel Abensour, Democracy Against The State, Cambridge: Polity, 2011, p.34. Much of what follows is informed by this book in which Abensour conducts an exploratory reading of Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.

2 Ibid, p.57.

3 For a take on Marx's concept of ‘surplus population' see ‘Misery and Debt - On the Logic and History of Surplus Populations and Surplus Capital', Endnotes II, April 2010.

4 For ‘thinking emancipation otherwise' see: Abensour, op.cit., p.vii.

5 This ‘language of acts' is maybe far distant from a rhetorical and more acceptable ‘speech act', it is an embodiment, perhaps in this instance, of a spontaneity (itself conditioned by affective layering?) that subtracts from a ‘higher' yet blunted rhetorical explanatory plane and becomes expressive of a suffering (phôné) that is too ‘savage' for the demos and hence ‘unrecognisable'.

6 The phrase ‘concise violence' is Genet's, see: Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers, London: Panther, 1965, p.248.

7 Pier Paolo Pasolini, Petrolio, London: Secker & Warburg, 1997, p.436.

8 Bernard Stiegler, Towards a New Critique of Political Economy, Cambridge: Polity, 2010, p.83.

9 Pier Paolo Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism, Washington: New Academia Publishing, 2005, p.34.

10 Abensour, op.cit., p.92.

11 Ibid, p.102-124.

12 Ibid, p.60. John Holloway puts it: ‘The state, by its very existence, says in effect, "I am the force of social cohesion, I am the centre of social determination."' See John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, Pluto Press, 2010, p.133.

13 Jean Genet, op.cit., p.72.

14 Jean Genet, Prisoner of Love, New York Review Books, 2003, p.56.

15 Abensour, op.cit., p.104.

16 Such musings could be read as ‘primitivist' if we were to believe that our ‘indeterminant species life' is not stock-full of social determinations and conditioning that it is risky to express. The risk emanates from at least two sides: the academic left's wariness of the ‘irrational' and the political state's fear of the unraveling of our capitalist conditioning.

17 Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lutheran Letters, London: Carcanet, 1981, p.109.

18 Becoming a ‘social individual' is itself traumatic (savaging our self) when subjects are produced/taught to identify as individuals and have proprietorial conditions of worth. See for instance Lacan's formula: ‘I is a fortress' cited by Catherine Clément, Syncope: A Philosophy of Rapture, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994, p.122.

19 Abensour, op.cit., p.73.

20 Ibid, p.71.

21 Pasolini, op.cit., p.121.

22 In some senses the Consciousness Raising Groups of the ‘70s Women's Liberation Movement were forums for just such a critique of the pseudo-totality and for an interrogation of the place of (a remaindered) gender within capitalism.

23 Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope Vol.1, MIT Press, 1995, p.225.

Announcement: Is this all there is?

Metamute - November 15, 2011 - 6:59pm
By Open Space, Open Systems

° Is this all there is? | 18 November - 15 December 2011

Opening: 17 November, 19.00 pm

Project curators: Gülsen Bal and Alenka Gregori?

Participating artists:

Guy Ben-Ner
Ibro Hasanovi?
IRWIN
Milica Tomi?

Round table talk/discussion: No(W)Here by Nermin Sayba??l?
19 November, 17.00

Location: Open Space, Open Systems

Additional publication will accompany the project in an Intellect publication, UK.
A special issue: Is this all there is? (coming out in December 2011)
Journal of Visual Art Practice
Editor: Christopher Smith
Guest Editor: Gülsen Bal
Guest Co-Editor: Alenka Gregori?

How can we link the idea that is related with the issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity that traces the non-alignment movement initiated in 1955 with today’s society? So, how can we read the historical roots of non-alignment? How can we escape from being always placed in either East or West or/and North or South without having any influence on basic fact of place of birth? How can one stop this ever going process? We cannot ignore basic facts but we can decide that we don’t want to be faced with an accomplished fact. Can we start to act non-aligned… not being anywhere but being everywhere?

Here there is a need to turn to the “East reading East” coded analyses with the hope to reveal the problematic that arises in its immediate effects on political praxis. For that reason this project aims to create new concepts in its reference to the “new liminal practices, [which] open up the social field to the possibility of manifold instantiations [...] and thereby ensure the proximity of the creation of values and the production of subjectivity [...] between being as difference and subjectivity as processual and transient actualisation”. How, then, is it possible to move beyond the realm of representation in which the relations of agency to the admission of indeterminacy are conceived?

Artist info:

Guy Ben-Ner
Stealing Beauty, Video, 2008
Courtesy of the artist and Konrad Fischer Galerie (Düsseldorf)

Stealing Beauty was shot without permission at numerous IKEA stores around New York, Berlin and Tel Aviv. In the movie the Ben-Ner’s quite naturally inhabit idealized showroom interiors with price tags dangling from furniture, and shoppers occasionally interrupting the family's daily routines. Because of the hit-and-run filming, the traditional cinematic continuity is abandoned and the changing sets are stand-ins for their home. The narrative, however, remains linear as the father offers life lessons on the subjects of economic exchange, meaning of private property, ethics, and family love eventually leading to the children's rebellious manifesto.
His very process - using Ikea room models (in stores in Israel, Germany and the US) as a ready-made for his loosely scripted sitcom, stealing footage before he is chased out - tells us everything about his relation to free trade and international mega-corporations.

Ibro Hasanovi?
Attempt of being..., Video, 2006

In the video work Attempt of being, Hasanovi? sits in a grass field and spontaneously reads Sidonie – Gabrielle Colette's book L’Ingénue libertine (The Gentle Libertine, 1909.) in French, language that he did not speak at the time; trying to create the platform that questions the idea of possible.

IRWIN
Principle of Organization and Action/ The Neue Slowenische Kunst collective (NSK) Chart, 1984/2005
Lambda print, 157 x 203 cm
Courtesy of Kontakt. The Art Collection of Erste Group

The Neue Slowenische Kunst collective (NSK) was formed by three founding groups – Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre, Irwin and Laibach – back in 1984, still within the framework of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Collaboration, a free flow of ideas among individual members and groups, a declarative copyleft, which was not limited even by the indication of authorship, as well as mutual assistance and joint planning of particular moves and actions were key for the development and operation of NSK, although the groups were autonomous in their activities. Awareness of the specific conditions for operation in the field of art in the then Yugoslavia, which was largely defined by the closedness of the art system and a valorization system adjusted to local needs, led to a concentration of critical mass and confrontation with the art system. The antagonism generated in this way, as a consequence, clearly delineated the contours of and subjectivized particular groups and NSK as a whole. Self-evidently, in conditions of strained relationships, the responsibility for art production and its reflection lay solely with us, and it was precisely through steering this confrontation that we established our autonomy. In short, collaboration and common wealth were the basis and the inevitable consequence of Neue Slowenische Kunst’s positioning in relation to the cultural and political reality of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
NSK was formed by three founding groups, concretely by members of this three groups. They confirmed the foundation of NSK by voting and simultaneously agreed upon it’s organizational chart. This is one of few elements in which Noue Slowenische Kunst is objectified, not because it is properly represented by it but because NSK was formed through it.

Milica Tomi?
Black on White: Refracting the whiteness of the whites, 2011
Mixed media installtion

Late ‘50s, Oskar Davi?o, who was a surrealist writer, poet and linguistic genius, as every surrealist worthy of that name must be visited in a occasion of a non-aligned movement "preparation" a certain African country, wherehe spoke to men of letters, politicians, shaman and ordinary people as their guest. He commuted himself sometimes with the help of an interpreter and sometimes in his second mother tongue, French, which was also the colonial language of his hosts’ country. He wrote a book about it called Crno na belo (1963) – literally translated “Black on White”, a Serbo-Croatian syntagm to which the English phrase “in black and white” comes closest, which demands: speak the truth! or testify to the truth! But it also means that the truth is written on a paper, becoming an evidence, a document. The book was a travelogue dealing with the contemporaneous African post-colonial societies.
This work tries to analyze a passage where Oskar Davi?o tells us about the truck journey where a vivid discussion on development of political life in Africa takes place. It is a request to testify and tell the truth about the complex situation of anti-colonial politics, disassembling and decomponizing the WHITE COLOR into the colors of the political parties and organizations and their presence at that time in Africa.

supported by:

bm:ukk
MA 7 - Interkulturelle und Internationale Aktivitäten
ERSTE Foundation

kind support provided by:

cyberlab Digitale Entwicklungen GmbH

In collaboration with the VIENNA ART WEEK

About us:
Open Friday, Saturday 13.00 - 18.30 and open for the rest of the week days by appointment only.
Admission free

Open Space, Open Systems
Zentrum für Kunstprojekte
Lassingleithnerplatz 2
A- 1020 Vienna
Austria

(+43) 699 115 286 32

for more info: office@openspace-zkp.org

http://www.openspace-zkp.org

Open Space, Open Systems - Zentrum für Kunstprojekte aims to create the most vital facilities for art concerned with contributing a model strategy for cross-border and interregional projects on the basis of improving improving new approach.

What Next For Education Struggles

Metamute - November 1, 2011 - 8:29am
By Sarah Taylor

After August’s riots and with a student demonstration on 9 November and a national strike on 30 November planned Sarah Taylor asks, will the contradictions of last year’s student movement resolve or simply extend themselves?

 

Last year was so simple. The government wanted to triple fees and there was a vote coming up. Smashing Millbank made everything seem possible. Demonstrations stopped going where they were told, school students played truant to run riot in Oxford Street, occupations at universities became the norm. But the vote was lost. Tired and cold, we went home and didn’t come back.

 

A year later, the lectures and lessons have restarted and the student demonstrations are planned again. The first is on 9 November – a year since the occupation of Millbank. But what do we do on this anniversary? If it was all about the vote on tuition fees and keeping Educational Maintenance Allowance, then perhaps we should lay a wreath for the lost fight – for the university students filming themselves Twittering in occupations, and for the school students smashing up shops, for dance-offs in libraries and grime in kettles.1 But if it was about something more, and if all these people are still angry, what happens next?

 

Image: Book bloc, London, November 2010

 

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and the Education Activist Network (EAN) called the 9 November protest. The National Union of Students (NUS), now apparently resigned to its insignificance, officially supports the demonstration, and has agreed to provide some resources to help publicise it, although this doesn’t seem to stretch to the use of its website, which currently headlines ‘Freshers’ advice from the cast of Hollyoaks’.2 Filling the hole left by the NUS, the new student organisations are looking a lot like the old left. EAN was never shy of being the offspring of the ageing Socialist Workers Party, and although NCAFC was originally a loose network of students, over the summer it elected itself a National Committee with 14 permanent members and now describes itself as one of the organisations that ‘led’ the student protests.3


It works both ways – the old left also wants to emulate the students. Last year, Unite’s Len McCluskey wrote in The Guardian,

 

Britain’s students have certainly put the trade union movement on the spot. Their mass protests against the tuition fees increase have refreshed the political parts a hundred debates, conferences and resolutions could not reach […] The magnificent students’ movement urgently needs to find a wider echo if the government is to be stopped.

 

But he also thinks that any ‘wider echo’ will need trade unions to give ‘guidance’ to people’s anger, to ‘put it in a manner that will hopefully make the government take a step back.’

 

On 30 November, public sector workers will walk out over pensions, in what is set to be the biggest strike since the 1926 general strike. Education workers are the most obvious point of contact between the strikers and the students. Most teaching unions, ranging from the large and relatively militant National Union of Teachers to the small and conservative Association of Teachers and Lecturers, will be walking out. The higher and further education union the University and College Union will also be on strike. In a show of solidarity, the NUS leader warns, ‘Any action that threatens students’ ability to progress from year to year, or graduate at all, will immediately lose student support.’4 Leaving the NUS to the cast of Hollyoaks, NCAFC and EAN have called for student walkouts and direct action on the day of the strike. A similar call-out for the smaller 30 June public sector strike met with little response, but away from end of term lethargy, and with more workers on strike, young people might be tempted onto the streets. 

 

Image: Occupy LSX, London, 2011

 

Yet, as the last strike indicated, the government is not really fazed by one-day strikes – far from stepping back, it steps over them and keeps on going. Even if students do decide to join in the struggle for pensions, the government is unlikely to feel threatened by 12 hours of adults and children fighting to retire.But you would be hard pushed to find a subject further from the minds of young people than pensions. Even the striking teachers will tell you that it is work and not retirement that really frightens them. The schools White Paper and the higher education White Paper map out similar plans to deepen the privatisation of the education system: both drive educational institutions into the hands of corporations; both see students and parents as consumers looking for ‘choice’ or ‘value for money’; both threaten teachers’ and lecturers’ nationally agreed pay and conditions; and both create a two-tier system in which adequately funded education is reserved for the well informed and well moneyed. 

 

 

The government has engineered the cap on university places in such a way that the Russell Group universities are allowed to siphon off more students with grades AAB and above, and other universities, having lost these students, are encouraged to drop fees below £7,500 to compete with private providers for a pool of 20 thousand extra places. Meanwhile, the government’s ‘free schools’ allow groups of middle class parents to open schools, with education corporations taking over when they find they have bitten off more than they can chew. If that wasn’t enough, Labour’s Academies, increasingly part of corporation or church run chains, have been extended to include primary schools. Senior civil servants (who, incidentally, and confusingly, might also join the strike on 30 November) showed their sense of humour by naming the schools White Paper, The Importance of Teaching and the higher education White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System.

 

But schools are not only subject to direct attacks – they also suffer from the removal of benefits, wages, houses and every other meagre compensation that was previously offered to children and their families. I will take a primary school and secondary school I know as examples of this, but these are by no means isolated cases – the same stories can be heard in schools across the country.

 

 

Image: Anti-Academies Alliance Bournville

 

 

The primary school, where 48 percent of the children are on free school meals, but which is located in a rich London borough, expects to lose half of its pupils once the national housing benefit cap comes into effect – no longer able to afford to rent their own homes, their families will be forced to move from the borough or face eviction. To make things worse, because only 3 percent of primary schools have taken up Education Minister Michael Gove’s generous offer for them to voluntarily become Academies, schools like this one are going to be forced to become Academies next year if they don’t fulfil certain, impossible to fulfil, criteria.

 

The secondary school, based in rural Wales, is facing falling student enrolment as factory after factory in the area is closed and, with dwindling funds from low intake, middle class parents exercising their ‘parental choice’ decide to send their children elsewhere. This school is likely to be one of half the schools shut down in the county under a PricewaterhouseCoopers consulted ‘modernisation’ programme, which will see the end of schools that have been the centre of villages and towns for generations, and will force children to travel for up to an hour on country roads before they get to their first lesson.

 

Once they’ve left school, more and more of these children won’t be able to afford to go to college, let alone university. Many of them won’t get jobs, won’t get benefits, won’t get houses. They can only dream of retirement. The government has something right – students are at the heart of the system – it beats at them from all sides.

 

This was clearly expressed in August when, away from the constraints of term time, articulated demands, symbolic targets and organising committees, Britain’s teenagers went rioting. The same McCluskey who heaped praise upon the student riots described the August riots as ‘the exact opposite of community spirit, collectivism and what trade unionism is all about.’5 While, a year on from the student riots, many of those arrested are still awaiting trial, the August riots saw courts operating throughout the night, getting people off the streets and into prison as quickly as possible. Some of those arrested during the student protests who were unfortunate enough to be tried immediately after the summer riots, found themselves with harsher sentences than students convicted of exactly the same crimes before the riots. The August riots shook the authorities in a way that the student riots did not. Anything that happens next will have to be seen through the smoke of Tottenham, Croydon, Manchester and Birmingham.

 

The difference between the winter’s student riots and the summer’s standard riots is something the student leaders have been keen to reinforce. NCAFC patronise the young ‘victims’, telling them their rioting ‘will not improve the situation’, and arguing that their anger ‘needs to be channelled into tackling the real causes of injustice and inequality.’6 By which we can only assume they mean Topshop, Camilla Parker-Bowles, an office block in Millbank, the windows of the treasury, Barclays bank, parliamentary votes and the police, rather than Footlocker, the Sony warehouse, JD Sports, Carphone Warehouse, jewellery shops, furniture chains and the police. A good riot announces itself with a protest beforehand, has a symbolic target and a view of Big Ben. A bad riot is localised, unplanned, gets you free trainers, and can even happen when politicians are away on holiday. Good riots have uncontrollable fire extinguishers, bad riots have uncontrollable fires.

 

The attempt to divide the good and the bad ignores the fact that the summer riots are a continuation of, rather than a break with, the winter riots. The summer riots happened because the winter riots were never going to tackle ‘the real causes of justice and inequality.’ They happened because the winter riots were survived by a lot of angry people who knew that parliamentary votes had nothing to do with them. They gave up asking for £30 a week – they took what they wanted and destroyed what they hated, and they didn’t need to go to central London for that, because it was right outside their doors.

 

One intrepid reporter of student protest fame spent the August riots ‘huddled’ on the unconvincing front line that is her living room – ‘where I am in Holloway, the violence is coming closer.’ ‘Shell-shocked’ she advises her readers to follow the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter.7 The divide between the university students and the school students, even if now only faintly drawn, could be a sign of worse to come. The video shot during the student protests in which university students grab hold of a boy who’d thrown something burning, and attempt to hand him over to the police, a video which was posted online and subsequently on the Metropolitan Police Wanted list, was reminiscent of those much deeper divides in Paris between the university students and those from the suburbs during the anti-CPE protests. Although NCAFC’s statement on the August rioters is more of a patronising ticking off than condemnation, it shows that the student ‘spokespeople’ fear association with a more uncontainable – unkettlable – battle. It shows the fear, perhaps, that they might be about to lose control.

 

But it is precisely these more complicated, uncontrollable battles that provide the possibility for something more than a nostalgic reconstruction of the good old days of 2010. As people are evicted from their homes, lose their jobs, are beaten up by police, as their schools are privatised, universities go bankrupt and libraries are destroyed, resistance will have to happen there and then – on a thousand front lines, in street battles and marches, in ongoing strikes and occupations. We will only hear the ‘wider echo’ of the student protests when anger can no longer be muffled in days out at Westminster, articulated in simple slogans, or separated into causes – when a riot can no longer be just a student riot, and a struggle can no longer be just an education struggle.

 

 

Sarah Taylor <sarah.taylor55 AT yahoo.com> has just stopped being a student. She now has nothing better to do than write about student protests


 

Footnotes

 

1 Educational Maintenance Allowance is a weekly means tested payment of up to £30 given to young people in further education. The scheme was closed to new applicants from England in January 2011.

2 NCAFC website, ‘NUS officially supports November 9th national demonstration’, 22 September 2011, http://anticuts.com/2011/09/22/nus-officially-supports-november-9th-national-demonstration/ and NUS website, www.nus.org.uk

3 NCAFC website, ‘NCAFC statement on the riots’, 11 August 2011, http://anticuts.com/?s=riots

4 Quoted in John Morgan, ‘Pension action plans threaten NUS-UCU alliance’, 13 October 2011, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.aspsectioncode=26&storycode=417770&c=1

5 Quoted in Toby Helm, ‘Unite leader Len McCluskey calls for protests and strikes against cuts’, 10 September 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/10/unite-len-mccluskey-tuc-strikes

6 NCAFC website, ‘NCAFC statement on the riots’, 11 August 2011, http://anticuts.com/?s=riots

7 Laurie Penny, ‘Panic on the streets of London’, 9 August 2011, http://pennyred.blogspot.com/2011/08/panic-on-streets-of-london.html

Rage - new zine

Metamute - October 23, 2011 - 7:24am
By rage of maidens

http://rageofmaidens.wordpress.com/

 

We now have an abundance of printed RAGE, email us at rageofmaidens[at]gmail.com if you would like to distribute some. xo

Rewire Yourself

Metamute - October 20, 2011 - 11:31am
By Lorena Rivero de Beer p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }a:link { }em.ctl { font-style: normal; 

Liverpool's recent Rewire conference looked to advance new and progressive readings of media art and theory. But, asks Lorena Rivero de Beer, who was it speaking to and in whose interest?

 

I can't start this review without giving you some background about how I arrived at the Rewire conference and the subjective position that it conveys. The latter feels not only important to help you make sense of what I am saying but also an ethical duty, so please, bear with me.

 

 

Rewire took place the week following the Free University of Liverpool (FUL) DIY curriculum building workshop. FUL is an initiative set up as a protest against the instrumentalisation of higher education and the rise of its fees to £9,000. The FUL meetings took place in the dungeons of Next to Nowhere, a radical social centre in the centre of Liverpool. Getting out of the dungeons to arrive at the new, shiny, aseptic, £27 million Art and Design Academy building at Liverpool John Moores University to attend a £150 fee conference, was a shock; straight back to the core of neoliberal academia and its blending of high elitism with customer service culture... Still I was excited about the opportunity to attend the conference for free, with the journalist pass, and the privileged access it gave me to a specific form of knowledge within what was announced as a critical and progressive conference.

 

 

Image: Intuitively cataloguing the Free University of Liverpool Library

 

In our FUL meetings in the damp dungeon, the sophistication, intensity of the interaction and level of discussion was difficult and wonderful. Within our discussions we thought about how to use new technologies ethically, questioning the effects that using them might have, thinking about how they can be useful tools for transnational encounters yet how they can also produce meaningless interactions, how, even though the web is an incredible information resource, issues of accessibility (who can access the net and how people with access to it might process the information depending on their background and skills) are still fundamental problems. So I hoped Rewire would fill me with new conceptual frameworks that we could then apply to our thinking about FUL regarding visibility, media coverage, networks, how to apply or think of new technologies in creative and subversive ways, and most importantly, how to think about accessibility.

 

 

Like most big conferences (even if there are much bigger ones out there), the amount of sessions, panels and papers was quite overwhelming. There were four sessions every day, each of them with three different panels, which had between four and five speakers. Besides this, there were also parallel talks, exhibitions and performances as part of the AND festival taking place in the evenings and following weekend. While being at the different panels listening to papers ‘til I couldn't take on anymore, I kept thinking about why a conference about media art – an art form that critically explores both the inhuman sides of the media and its modes of social engagement, as well as the creation of interfaces that open up possibilities for more sophisticated collective encounters – was carried out in such a conventional way. A way in which access to knowledge was very difficult and fully dependent on a restricted academic language; that is, a logocentric means of communication that secures and conveys hierarchical positions. Of course the different levels of experience of the speakers and some of the more creative presentations made a difference, but still the insurmountable volume of information, the cold and detached atmosphere and that specific use of language made it almost impossible to share knowledge in a progressive and meaningful way.

 

 

 

As an effect of this language it was very difficult to establish the conference's real nature, where the power lay and who was having an effect on the wider discourse. That information would be more or less accessible to the attendees depending on their background and their access to specific networks; so within the apparent choice, transparency and richness of multiple voices, complex forms of power distribution were operating. As a relative outsider to the field with not much to gain from it in terms of networking, I felt in a privileged position to observe its mechanisms. So I experienced the complexity and I felt lost within the seemingly diverse content of the papers that navigated through a hierarchical discourse marked mainly by institutional powers and presenters' publishing records.

 

 

To talk about content and the nature of the different papers in that context I decided to use one of the strategies we used at the Free University of Liverpool to classify the books in the library; a classification aimed at revealing the power hidden in disciplinary divisions and also to reflect upon the subjective positions through which they are made. The FUL library was catalogued as follows: Most important books; Very Important books; Not so important books; Who cares books. Everybody participating in FUL could change the order as they wished and would have to negotiate with others if there was a disagreement. To catalogue/review Rewire I changed books for papers and classified the ones I attended accordingly. Through this approach I intend to generate a space to reflect on the relationship between the discursive normativities operating at the conference and our (hopefully) slightly unruly subjectivities.

 

 

Unfortunately no paper fell into the category of Most Important Papers. This category was created for books we loved so much they deserved a new category. I think some of the papers in a different space might have provoked real love, but the context made it really difficult.

 

 

Under Very Important Papers I included some interesting papers that looked at notions of functionality and failure, desire and technology, opening up a place to consider how media art can support our understanding of notions of subjectivity, new modes of interrelations, and so on. Within them some were backed by progressive philosophies with special emphasis on thinkers such as Gilles Delueze, Jacques Derrida and Rosi Braidotti.

 

 

There were particular presentations that really put their finger on important issues. Through a clear and concise presentation Maria X asked questions about her project media@terra, interrogating what its failures might have been. While questioning the scale of her project she asked: what does it mean for a grassroots initiative to become co-opted by governmental and corporate structures? On the same panel Morten Søndergaard introduced POEX 65 – a transdisciplinary exhibition mounted in Copenhagen in 1965 by a group of 80 international artists, curated by Knud Hvidberg – that aimed at breaking the boundaries of art genres and the autonomy of the ‘work of art' through the active use of technological and mediated platforms. Søndergaard asked important questions about why such experiments faded away and failed to become part of the history of media art. That panel generated important connections between historical failure and meaningful, politically progressive initiatives.

 

 

Image: Robert Corydon's Poetry Machine contribution to the exhibition POEX 65, held at the Free Exhibition Building, Copenhagen, December 1965

 

The presentation by Armin Medosch was excellent. Medosch introduced the early phase of the movement New Tendencies (NT) before it was absorbed by the market. He contextualised his aims politically and defined his project as a research into politically progressive media art.

 

 

Certain papers were particularly important because they managed to reveal through their argumentation the position of power taken by other papers on the same panel. I particularly enjoyed the views of Janis Jefferies, her discussion about breakdown and the aesthetics of disappointment which gave a voice to our human fragility. On that same panel Magdalena Tyzlik-Carver introduced important and problematic questions about curatorial systems that bring contingency to the forefront and questioned the immaterial labour demanded from audiences in participatory art.

 

 

Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio described how their mass media intervention – in which they stole a million public profiles from Facebook, filtered them through a face-recognition software, and then posted a selection of 250,000 profiles onto a dating website called Lovely-Faces.com – gained huge media coverage, a massive public response and a ‘Cease and Desist' letter from Facebook's lawyers. They reflected on how the project exposed the vulnerability of our social identity. This was important as they brought the notion of cultural intervention to the fore and reflected on some strategies to destabilise media-normative social powers.

 

 

The paper by Dot Tuer tracing back alternative histories of media art to the Rosario group in Argentina, and linking them to the recent work Thirty Days of Running in Place by artist Ahmed Basiony, brought in a much needed non-Western and politicised perspective. I wish though she had reflected on the complexity of the position from which she was speaking as a western academic.

 

 

Many papers I saw were interesting, if mainly descriptive. There were some Not So Important ones, and in the worst cases I would say also ideologically dangerous, since there was a near total absence of self-reflection and self-positioning within wider social issues. They somehow managed to avoid the tensions and complexities of their different positionalities. A clear example of this was Jonathan Lessard's paper looking at the way game genre designs are adapted to technology. It was fun, interesting and well articulated; it would be a brilliant introductory talk for anyone selling games.

 

 

There were some particularly well articulated papers that could have opened a space for discussion, but fell short of approaching issues of more central concern. Saskia Korsten's paper for instance, which reflected on our relationship to digital images that hide their relationship to the analogue model, would have been a great if it had ventured a broader consideration of accessibility.

 

 

Some papers felt potentially interesting and transformative but were somehow too obscure so their point was lost in abstract theories that didn't make enough of an effort to reach others. This was the case with Emile Deveraux who introduced an interesting although intricate idea about porousness in technology.

 

 

Image: Thirty Days of Running Place by Ahmed Basiony

 

Particularly lacking in the conference, I felt, were discussions about the role of new media in the creation of alternative communities from the perspective of those communities' members, rather than a detached or managerial overview. The exception (from what I saw) was Benjamin Juhani Halsal who discussed his university project in conjunction with Leeds Visual Art Forum. Through a series of conversations they set up a Yahoo! group to serve the visual arts community in Leeds. He discussed how it supported artists promoting their activities within a horizontal space while questioning the alienating effects of this mediated community. Presenting this kind of project is fundamental and empowering, but the paper didn't critically position artists or question what that horizontal space means in wider society.

 

 

Within this category I also included some papers that explored current artists projects. They were taken from different perspectives like the presentation by Sander Veenhof in which he questioned the existence of Art 2.0 and how audiences become co-producers of their work, or Heidi Tikka's description of her installation Mother, Child and discussion of the mess and failures which occur in media works.

 

 

The position of power taken by certain presenters really pushed me to think Who Cares about what you are saying! Papers such as those presented by Christiane Paul, Margriet Schavemaker or Vince Dziekan, enacted the reproduction of hierarchies in the world of media art by positioning speakers according to the scale of institutional power that backed them. The decision of one of the head figures of the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Margriet Schavemaker, to defend media art spectacles over critical content felt particularly contentious. In a world in which we are swamped by media spectacle that ensures we remain a submissive and consumerist society, isn't it fundamental that we make art spaces remain (or become) a tool for critical reflection?

 

 

Based on the approximately 40 papers I heard out of the approximately 140 papers that composed the three day conference, it's fair to say that the event opened up interesting areas of research and contributed towards the expansion of notions of media art, new technologies and science. It explored the histories of media art by tracing back its origins to interesting and obscure projects that have faded over time, it made visible the movement back and forth between the digital and the analogue, it made links with ‘Other' (non-western) cultural histories, it introduced current projects, and expanded the power of its discourse by looking at it through the lens of important progressive philosophies. I am not sure, though, if it managed to move beyond reinforcing its own canon, or if it benefitted something other than itself by the effort of securing a position for its proponents in a Western History with no sense of shame as to the colonial and neoliberal implications attached to this.

 

 

A discussion around the radical potentiality of new media art and technologies to open up space for real alternatives to exist while also closing them down because of issues of accessibility was not present. In the current historical situation, such discussion is not only central but ethically unavoidable. Judging events from that perspective, many presentations were difficult to take. With a few wonderful exceptions, most speakers talked from positions of extreme privilege, without questioning themselves, and took reductive and patronising approaches to media art audiences.

 

 

The final keynote speaker, Andrew Pickering, finished the conference with a talk that advocated humans becoming aware of their instability and a self which is caught up in the flows and transformations of becoming. Funnily enough he ended the talk with a proposal for a new University that can systematically teach how to think in a new mode of being, one in which the modern relationship between the active subject observing the passive subject is problematised so we find a way of connecting to the world, instead of dominating or framing reality. I agreed fully with that final note, and that's why I am engaged in the creation of FUL. FUL is a protest and has as its main aim the uncovering of the mechanisms through which institutional powers allow some people to develop more than others. It also aims to uncover how institutional powers prevent all of us from flowing and becoming, in order to keep social hierarchies working. To be able to even think of the structural shape of the space that will allow becoming to stay at the core of any pedagogy we desperately need to join forces and think how to create places that help us to flow while providing us with the strength to question and resist the rigid channels of institutional purpose. I wonder how that final talk affected the other people listening to it. To what extent they felt it reflected on their own research and how their research is contributing to building a world in which we, all of us, can understand that we are in the constant process of becoming?

 

 

And a final note, something I found quite paradoxical and I really liked was a sentence written on the back of a T-shirt of one of the main speakers. It said: 'Fear is not an option'.

 

 

Lorena Rivero de Beer <lorenajohanna AT hotmail.com> is an artist and producer based in Liverpool. She is the co-founder of the Free University of Liverpool and Tuebrook Transnational, a company that creates site-specific outdoor performances/interventions collectively with other residents of North Liverpool. She completed a PhD in 2009 at the Department of Sociology of the University of Essex exploring the relationship between cultural politics, representation, aesthetics and subjectivity in relation to the Chicano performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Plaza – Riot – Commune

Metamute - October 19, 2011 - 7:29pm
By Research & Destroy

We are the generation of the abandoned, the betrayed. Tossed up on the shores of the present by 150 years of failed insurrection, by the shipwreck of the workers’ movement, the failure of a hundred political projects. But it is not only our once-upon-a-time friends who have departed. Today, even our enemies flee from us, even capital abandons us: no more its minimum promises, the right to be exploited, the right to sell one’s labor power. Abandoned, we greet the world with utter abandon. There is no longer any possible adequacy of means and ends, no way of subordinating our actions to the rational or the practical. The present age of austerity means that even the most meager of demands require the social democrats to pick up bricks. Betrayed by democracy, betrayed by the technocrats of socialism, betrayed by the dumb idealism of anarchy, betrayed by the stolid fatalism of the communist ultraleft. We are not the 99%. We are not a fucking percentage at all. We do not count. If we have any power, it is because we are the enemies of all majority, enemies of “the people.” As the old song goes, we are nothing and must become everything.

Though it is a key characteristic of capitalism that each generation of its victims has, in its way, considered its persistence beyond a few decades unlikely if not preposterous, the difference between us and them is that in our case it just happens to be true. Now, not even capital’s footservants can paint a convincing portrait of a future based upon markets and wages – all the sci-fi dystopias of flying cars and robot servants seem truly ridiculous. No, the future only presents as ruin, apocalypse, burning metal in the desert. It is easier to imagine the end of life on earth than our own old age.

This is why anxieties over the implicit statism of anti-austerity struggles are baseless. With the exception of a few benighted activists and media ideologues, everyone understands quite well that the Keynesian card was played long ago, blown on wars and bailouts, the victim of its own monstrous success. There will be no rebirth of the welfare state, no “reindustrialization” of society. This much is obvious: if there is an expansion of the state, it will be a proto-fascist austerity state. Nor is there any longer a “Left” in any meaningful sense, as a force that desires to manage the existing world on different terms, in the name of the workers or the people. Those radicals who, tired of the weakness of the loyal opposition, imagine themselves called upon to “destroy the left” find that their very existence is predicated upon this old, vanished enemy. There is no Left left: only the great dispirited mass of the center, some wild and misdirected antagonism at the fringes.

The hopelessness of deflecting the state from its current course; the realization that even a slight reform of the system would require collective violence of a near revolutionary intensity; the attendant awareness that we would be idiots to go that distance and yet stop short of revolution –all of this gives many anti-austerity struggles a strange desperation and intensity. Our hope is to be found in this very hopelessness, in the fact that, in the current cycle of struggles, means have entirely dissociated from ends. Tactics no longer match with their stated objectives. In France, in response to a proposed change in the retirement age, high school students barricade their schools; roving blockades confuse the police; rioting fills city center after city center. In Britain and Italy, university struggles recruit tens of thousands of youth who have no hope of attending the university, nor any interest in doing so for that matter. There is no longer any possibility of a political calculus that matches ideas with tactics, thinking with doing. Do we suppose that French children are really concerned about what will happen to them once they are ready to retire? Does any young person expect the current social order to last that long? No, they are here to hasten things forward, hasten things toward collapse. Because it is easier to imagine the end of the world than retirement. Because anything is better than this.

*

For the neo-Leninist philosophes who build their cults in the shells of the dying universities, such an impossibility of lining up means with ends is nothing but a barrier or block. Where is the revolutionary program in the Egyptian revolution, they ask, where is the program in the streets of Britain or Greece? Who will discipline these bodies for their final assault on the palaces and citadels? For such thinkers, only an idea can guarantee the efficacy of these bodies. Only an idea – the idea of communism, as some say – can make of these bodies a proper linkage between means and ends. But communism is not an idea nor an idealism – it means freeing bodies from their subordination to abstractions. Thankfully, we are skittish, faithless and flighty people. We have trouble listening. For us, communism will be material or it will be nothing. It will be a set of immediate practices, immediate satisfactions, or nothing. If we find discipline and organization, it will come from what we do, not what we think.

By “idea” the philosophes mean something like “the Party.” They intend to make themselves and their ideas mean, as structure and social form. They intend to cement the old pact between the intelligentsia and the workers’ movement. But there is no intelligentsia anymore and there certainly is no workers’ movement to speak of. The entire structure of duty and obligation – Christian in origin – upon which the classical programmatic parties were built no longer exists, because capital no longer needs morality for helpmeet. There is acting for ourselves; there is acting with others; but there is no sustained acting for another, out of obligation.

*

Our indiscipline means that among political ideas only the one idea which is, by its very nature, determined to remain an idea, an ideal, can gain any purchase here: democracy. From Tunisia to Egypt, from Spain to Greece, from Madison to Wall Street, again and again, the “movement of the squares” buckles under the dead weight of this shibboleth. Democracy, the name for the enchantment of the people by its own image, by its potential for endless deferral. Democracy, a decision-making process become political ontology, such that the form itself, the form of the decision, becomes its own content. We democratically decide to be democratic! The people chooses itself!

In the present era – the era of the austerity state and the unemployment economy – radical democracy finds its ideal locus in the metropolitan plaza or square. The plaza is the material embodiment of its ideals – an blank place for a blank form. Through the plaza, radical democracy hearkens back to its origin myth, the agora, the assembly-places of ancient Greece which also served as marketplaces (such that the phrase “I shop” and “I speak in public” were nearly identical). These plazas are not, however, the buzzing markets filled with economic and social transaction, but clean-swept spaces, vast pours of concrete and nothingness, perhaps with a few fountains here or there. These are spaces set aside by the separation of the “political” from the economy, the market. Nowhere is this more clear than in the most recent episode of the “movement of squares” – Occupy Wall Street – which attempted, meekly and rather insincerely, to occupy the real agora, the real space of exchange, but ended up pushed into a small, decorative park on the outskirts of Wall Street, penned by police. This is what building the new world in the shell of the old means today – an assembly ringed by cops.

If there is hope in these manifestations, it lies in the forms of mutual aid that exist there, the experimentation people undertake in providing for their own needs. Already, we see how the occupations are forced against their self-imposed limits, brought into conflict with the police, despite the avowed pacificism of the participants. The plaza occupations – with all their contradictions – are one face of the present dissociation of means from ends. Or rather, they present a situation in which means are not so much expelled as sublimated, present as the object of a vague symbolization, such that the gatherings come to pre-enact or symbolize or prefigure some future moment of insurrection. At their worst, they are vast machines of deferral. At their best, they force their participants toward actually seizing what they believe they are entitled to merely want.

How far we are from Egypt, the putative start of the sequence. There, the initial assembly was an act of symbolic violence, decidedly so, which everyone knew would open onto an encounter with the state and its force. And yet, even there, the separation from the economy – from the ways in which our needs are satisfied – remained inscribed into the revolution from the start. In other words, the Egyptian insurrection was not deflected to the sphere of the political but started there to begin with. And all of the other episodes in the so-called “movement of squares” repeat this primary dislocation, whether they remain hamstrung by pacifism and democratism, as in Spain, or press their demands in material form, as in Greece.

This brings the plaza occupations into relation not only with the entire development of orthodox Marxism, from Lenin through Mao, which places the conquest of state power front and center, but also its apparent opposite in this historical moment: the riots of Athens and London and Oakland, which, bearing the names of Oscar Grant, Alexis Grigoropoulos, or Mark Duggan, treat the police and state power as both cause and effect, provocation and object of rage. Though the looting which always accompanies such eruptions points the way to a more thorough expropriation, these riots, even though they seem the most immediate of antagonistic actions, are also bound by a kind of symbolization, the symbolization of the negative, which says what it wants through a long litany, in letters of fire and broken glass, of what it does not want: not this, not that. We’ve seen their limits already, in Greece –even burning all of the banks and police stations was not enough. Even then, they came into a clearing, a plaza, swept clean by their own relentless negations, where negation itself was a limit. What then? What will we do then? How do we continue?

Between the plaza and the riot, between the most saccharine affirmation and the blackest negation – this is where we find ourselves. Two paths open for us: each one, in its way, a deflection from the burning heart of matter. On the one hand, the endless process of deliberation that must finally, in its narrowing down to a common denominator, arrive at the only single demand possible: a demand for what already is, a demand for the status quo. On the other hand, the desire that has no object, that finds nothing in the world which answers its cry of annihilation.

One fire dies out because it extinguishes its own fuel source. The other because it can find no fuel, no oxygen. In both cases, what is missing is a concrete movement toward the satisfaction of needs outside of wage and market, money and compulsion. The assembly becomes real, loses its merely theatrical character, once its discourse turns to the satisfaction of needs, once it moves to taking over homes and buildings, expropriating goods and equipment. In the same way, the riot finds that truly destroying the commodity and the state means creating a ground entirely inhospitable to such things, entirely inhospitable to work and domination. We do this by facilitating a situation in which there is, quite simply, enough of what we need, in which there is no call for “rationing” or “measure,” no requirement to commensurate what one person takes and what another contributes. This is the only way that an insurrection can survive, and ward off the reimposition of market, capital and state (or some other economic mode based upon class society and domination). The moment we prove ourselves incapable of meeting the needs of everyone – the young and the old, the healthy and infirm, the committed and the uncommitted– we create a situation where it is only a matter of time before people will accept the return of the old dominations. The task is quite simple, and it is monstrously difficult: in a moment of crisis and breakdown, we must institute ways of meeting our needs and desires that depend neither on wages nor money, neither compulsory labor nor administrative decision, and we must do this while defending ourselves against all who stand in our way.

Research & Destroy, 2011

Reposted from: http://www.bayofrage.com/from-the-bay/plazariotcommune/

Occupy London: first thoughts

Metamute - October 18, 2011 - 7:54am
By History is Made at Night

Occupy London: first thoughts
From: http://history-is-made-at-night.blogspot.com/2011/10/occupy-london-first-thoughts.html

The various Occupy actions around the world at the weekend have varied in scale, intensity and political mood. Rioting and huge crowds in Rome, a big demonstration in Madrid, and an extension of the Occupy Wall Street movement into the heart of New York, with a demonstration in Times Square.

Anti-austerity protests based on the occupation of public spaces in the heart of the city have been building for months (Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Syntagma square in Athens, not to menton Tahrir Square in Cairo). This weekend can be seen as a conscious internationalisation and that counts for something when a major trend in relation to the crisis of the global economy is a resurgence of populist nationalism.

The London action was smaller than New York, Spain or Italy, but respectable in terms of numbers - I would say there were a couple of thousand but difficult to be sure, as the crowd was split up by the police cordon. Unsuprizingly, police lines prevented entrance to Paternoster Square, home of the London Stock Exchange, but the crowd did manage to occupy the steps of St Pauls Cathedral. There were some surreal scenes such as people dressed up for weddings in the church making their way through the crowd, and tourists variously frustrated and entertained. I heard one American woman complaining about the protests say that she had come here to help our economy but she wouldn't be coming back!

Compared to previous actions in the City, Occupy the London Stock Exchange felt a bit lacking in energy/intensity. But then again while Stop the City in the 80s and J18 in the 90s aimed to cause havoc for a day and then disperse, the Occupy movement is in for a longer haul, with many people staying there all weekend (and we shall see how much longer). So maybe some conservation of energy was in order.

There was a mix of people there, good, bad and ugly according to your taste. It would be very easy to listen to a few of the latter and dismiss the whole movement out of hand, as for instance Ian Bone does ('One Thousand Cultists Kettled at St Pauls'). But I would say that it is currently too diverse, fluid and open to give up on - there's plenty of room for discussion and development.

And there's certainly plenty to argue about... The adulation of some for Julian Assange, who turned up on Saturday, certainly made me feel uncomfortable, as the guy seems to have a bit of a messiah-complex combined with some incoherent politics (leaving aside the rape accusation - he hasn't been tried yet after all).

A movement without visible leaders is not one that has necessarily solved the problem of leadership, i.e. how to create direction and momentum without giving rise to a self-serving elite (whether elected or self-appointed). Without consciously tackling this issue, the lack of leaders can just mean that the 'leader's chair' still exists even if it remains empty, just waiting to be filled by the first plausible demagogue/celebrity that comes along .

Likewise a movement that disdains politics is not a movement without political assumptions. There is a fundamental shared feeling of 'enough is enough', of the refusal of austerity, and the search for an alternative to a life subject to the fluctuations of the economy. That's all good, but then what?

There are some odd alternative economy models around in the occupations, notions of capitalism without finance capital (the 'real economy'), of monetary reform, of a resource-based economy that is beyond capitalism and communism (this is the line of the new-agey Zeitgeist Movement who had a banner on steps of St Pauls). It is not just that some of these ideas seem to have very little understanding of what capitalism actually is and misrepresent it as a conspiracy by a few rich bankers rather than a global mode of production and exchange. It's far worse than that, because some of these ideas have very murky antecedents and indeed dubious present-day associations.

A lot of 'monetary reform' notions just read like recycled 'Social Credit' ideas, as developed before the Second World War by CH Douglas. As Derek Wall pointed out in his article Social Credit: The Ecosocialism of Fools (Capitalism Nature Socialism, September 2003), Douglas was not only an extreme right wing racist, but his monetery ideas are saturated with an anti-semitic world view. Likewise, the Zeitgeist Movement basically rehash the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, simply subsituting the word 'bankers' for 'jews' (see Zeitgeist Exposed at the Third Estate).

At the Bristol occupation at the weekend this racist conspiracy theory view of capitalism was openly articulated by someobody telling the occupation that 'Zionists want a new world order'. What was disgraceful about this episode was that people dutifully repeated this poison and cheered him rather than kicking the guy out. And that whoever was responsible for 'Occupy Bristol update' on youtube thought this was uncontroversial enough to give the guy a platform.

The 'human microphone' thing in the occupations is in danger of becoming an absurd fetish. In Wall Street people repeated the phrases of speakers to make sure that people further back could hear speeches when a microphone was banned. In most cases where there is no ban it would be surely be better - and very simple - just to set up a PA or use a megaphone, like people have been for years. By the looks of the Bristol occupation, there was no need for anything as the crowd seemed small enough for everybody to hear. It did look like a religious 'call and response' exercise, and involved people in the bad faith exericse of speaking nonsense which on reflection I would hope many would prefer not to utter.

I know that there are plenty of good sound people camping out at St Pauls now, and I think it is very important to get involved and challenge reactionary ideas. To just walk away holding our noses could allow some of these dangerous ideas to get a foothold in the very high profile occupation movement.

Oh yes and this poster on Saturday really got on my tits: 'Go to work, follow fashion, watch TV, spend money, look happy, act normal, repeat after me. I am free'. Patronising activist superiority complex nonsense, looking down on the 'duped' proles. People who work, follow fashion and watch TV (I am guilty on all three counts, your honour) know when we get out of bed every morning that we are not really free, and we know when we have to spend money we haven't got what the economy is all about in a visceral way. And until we move, the 'movement' against capitalism is going nowhere.

Three thoughts on #Occupy

Metamute - October 16, 2011 - 7:12am
By Pierce Penniless

from: Pierce Penniless via http://libcom.org/news/three-thoughts-occupy-14102011

 

At a time when a banner reading Katalipsi! (Occupied!) flies from the Greek Finance ministry, here are three thoughts on the proliferating calls to #Occupy! From Pierce Penniless

Wall Street

I’ve not been to Wall Street. I don’t have to. Though separated from New York by an ocean, half a planet and a different political culture (one in which it is significantly less scandalous to talk about the obvious and total failures of capitalism), I can browse through any number of digital echoes and recordings, each with varying degrees of fidelity and spin. What has been most striking about the media reports from Wall Street is that – if you stripped away the inconsequential affect and incidentals – they really could have been written by anyone with an internet connection.

This leads to the usual overhasty generalisations about the role of the internet and rapid distribution of callouts, data, plans, images, videos, plots, analysis, complaint, trolling and information that attends social movements. The obvious issue here is that these things don’t really transmit ideology, analysis or demand, they simply foreground the ease with which the method can be replicated. This method-as-meme is doubtless linked to the prominence of internet communication between activists and interested onlookers; its proliferation also speaks to a new interconnectedness felt by the disenfranchised, whether in New York, London, Barcelona or Athens. But as DSG point out in that link, the success or failure of a method is if it catches the zeitgeist, if it is passed between and above all replicated by a growing multiplicity of consumers.

Let’s lay this out clearly: the internet makes it possible for images, text and vehicles of ideas to be replicated instantaneously and without expending raw materials in the replication – i.e., if I were to give you a manifesto, a poster or a book, I do not need to give away my copy to do so. Any object is replicable without diminution of the original. Hence, I can propose #OccupyLondon, #OccupyLSX, #OccupyTheMoon, and those ideas might be taken up with greater or lesser intensity within the digital fluxus, depending on how quickly they strike the desires of others.

But what does it mean to propose #OccupyX? On some level, it’s clearly an incitement to organisation, i.e., to move from online assent to physical occupation. It also clearly draws a link between the Wall Street example and occupations elsewhere, the spirit of Tahrir being the most obvious example. But the difference between the digital callout and replication should be obvious: physical manifestation requires the use of finite physical resources, as well as numerous less quantifiable factors, such as the goodwill of the state, the tactics of the police, and the energy or organisation of activists. Those to one side, the #OccupyX! imperative demands a replication of particular features of its most prominent American example. These are the most identifiable:

*A move in the target of occupation. Unlike in Tahrir or Barcelona, Wall Street has served to move the focus of occupation from nominally public spaces to targets intimately linked with international financial capitalism. While retaining the strategy of placing under contention the notion that streets and parks are public spaces – hence, let the public return to them, as they are all we have left – Wall Street adds the intuition that there are very obvious enemies.
*A horizontal organising structure. The inheritance of the anarchist, anticapitalist and environmentalist movements, the horizontal organising structure is now taken as the de facto mode of organisation for popular social movements. The model of the daily general assembly as authorising body is also taken for granted.
*A minimalist programme making no explicit political demands, preferring to lay emphasis on the function of the ‘new space’, the meetings and discussions that happen in it, and the physical fact of occupation as constituting a demand in itself.
*A desire for popular generalisation of the occupation. This distinguishes it from encampments designed to bear witness or shame a space, such as the small line of tents in Parliament Square in London. Thus we see the increasing involvement of organised labour in the Wall Street demonstrations, and the gradual massing of people to the camp.

Minimalism & the 99%
There’s nothing perfect about these hallmarks. I’d obviously choose the side of the occupiers over any rightwing critique, or indeed the lunatic feathering of the chains displayed by the moribund American right. That #OWS has captured the sympathies of many is no doubt due to the totally moribund state of the American left, and demonstrates just how tenuous and easily broken the trance of passivity and inaction is – at least, briefly. But it’s doubtless true that the lack of articulated political, anticapitalist critique or demand has served to build this into a movement where many feel welcome.

Why is this happening? What happens when the fact of economic disparity is so glaringly obvious that it impels action, and yet those impelled to act are emerging from a totalised system in which anticapitalist analysis is non-existent, in which alternative models are held to be either unreal or simply impossible to imagine? Either one’s reaction is to kiss and feather one’s chains, and laud them as the way things should be, or it is to ask the question who is responsible? The question can be answered in two ways, and it depends on whether you see the current situation as capitalism-gone-wrong or capitalism in its full and typical operation. If the former, you will seek for those who have perverted the otherwise perfectly equitable situation, if the latter you will usually answer along the lines that the action of the capitalist class is always to exploit the working class.

It is the former, perversely, I am interested in. These are the people who are responsible for the propagation of the ‘99%’ meme, who have picked it up and run with it. Claiming, in brief, that the super-wealthy 1% have accumulated a vastly disproportionate amount of wealth, and have done so by extorting, legally and less legally, the rest of society, it is a complaint that demands some kind of redress. It suggests personal culpability on the part of the 1%. That’s not something I’d seek to diminish – I don’t believe that the super-wealthy are any less conscious of the means by which they appropriate their wealth than the rest of us. But the lure of blaming inequalities on the agency of the 1% (i.e., proposing a critique centered purely around their moral culpability) leads to a convenient elision: that capitalism structures social relations. Capitalism does not have its headquarters on Wall Street. It is not an ogre that dwells behind the crenellations of the Bank of England. In other words, the question of work, of wage and the extraction of value from labour remains crucial.

But these are well-trod criticisms. What interests me is that the minimal programme of 99%ism – that it is so attractive and so immediate a rallying cry. No doubt some of this is to do with the liberating sensation that one doesn’t need a fully fledged theory of political economy to take part in action. It’s diffuse groups with similarly minimal programmes that have been peculiarly successful here, too – especially UKUncut. Like many, I share a disquiet that hesitancy to voice radical critiques of wage labour and capitalist culture (because we’re scared of spooking the horses) means that these minimal programmes will find themselves as acting, essentially, as parliamentary pressure groups, articulating basically cosmetic and reformist demands. The worst outcome of 99%ism could well be a response to one of its structuring logics – that there are some bad people in the 1%, that they have behaved badly, and that once they’re suitably chastised, we can all go home and return to normal.

That’s certainly a threat. There are other ways to branch out from 99%ism, to extend its logic more rigorously, to use it as a basis to insert other conversations – just as here, too, we might suggest that the actions of UKUncut don’t so much demand a return to the status quo ante but demonstrate that even that is no longer recoverable. From there, we might talk about the brief interlude of a postwar social democratic settlement, the incoming realities of resource scarcity, the way that demands from and action by workers won what little we have – and how, in a period of increased precarity and diminished militancy, it’s all vanishing from under our feet.

The unthought & the margins
Finally, briefly, a touch on two things. One is what you might call the ‘unthought’ of the Occupy! movement – that accretion of dogmas, reflexes and given truths that it inherited from the various activist movements that preceded it. Some of these are good things, doubtless (trying not to make meetings full of over-talkative windbags, trying to avoid co-option or recuperation of the movement, trying to ensure people are not stressed to their wits’ ends) others either lacking or simply quixotic consequences of subcultural creeds (prioritising meditation spaces over, say, a crèche) – but they emerge, to a greater or lesser extent, without much articulation of why they’re necessary, as reflexes. An example might be the general assembly, which pops up as the base unit for organisation – but something which can hinder smaller, autonomous action, can lead to a tyranny less of structurelessness than blandness, and a paralysis in which a move to the centre, to the less militant option, is always given priority. These are precisely the problems of the unthought – without clarity about what a general assembly is supposed to decide, supposed to be for, what remains within its purview – it becomes a repository for all of the contentious and irresolvable conflicts of opinion between those who would like a movement to speak with a single voice. No movement does that, of course.

The second thing: margins. The Occupy! movement is in many senses marginal: its recovery of public space as occupied rather than transitory, its critique from the margins of the city and economy, its insistence that it is the return of the marginalised, and the marginal status (student, unemployed, precarious worker) of many of its key actors. One of the key autocritiques that any political movement should generate is about marginality – about the way in which activists, especially, will lock themselves into an ultramarginalised and ultimately ignored subculture. But it is also true that margins replicate widely. We already see cracks and fractions emerging in the discourse of the movement – the tension between, say, anticapitalists and liberals, between advocates of direct action, or confrontation, and ultrapacifists, between communists and hippies. To paper them over is a recipe for disaster. But marginality also configures the protest’s role to the state – and I think here particularly of Wall Street, and of an essay by Félix Guattari, of which I am very fond, called ‘The Proliferation of Margins’, in which he writes:

Quote:

Integrated world capitalism does not aim at a systematic and generalized repression of the workers, women, youth, minorities… The means of production on which it rests will indeed call for a flexibility in relationships of production and in social relations, and a minimal capacity to adapt to the new forms of sensibility and to the new types of human relationships which are “mutating” here and there (i.e. exploitation by advertising of the “discoveries” of the marginals, relative tolerance with regard to the zones of laissez-faire…) Under these conditions, a semi-tolerated, semi-encouraged, and co-opted protest could well be an intrinsic part of the system.

It is that last sentence which I think should be understood by those occupying, though it is not simply about physical space, but mental and intellectual orientation as well. Any space in which the state tolerates your presence inevitably doesn’t hurt it that much: we saw what happened when the occupation really did try to take on Wall Street proper. Indeed, you may become a token brandished by liberal democracy to prove its plural tolerance of all kinds of dissent – which ‘you wouldn’t get in Iran’ etc. In these moments, margins are essential. What are the margins you can push at that make the situation less simple to predict, that render it more complex? How do you make the conversations had in Zuccotti park transmit from the outskirts to elsewhere, to those people you work with or study with who wouldn’t have dreamed of coming down to the occupation? How do you avoid recuperation? How do you open up margins everywhere? I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, but I certainly have some ideas. I think we live in times in which more things are suddenly looking rickety and contingent than solid, and I think that’s exciting. I’d like to have that conversation, and I look forward to acting on it. I hope some of you will join me.

Fetishism of Digital Commodities and Hidden Exploitation: the cases of Amazon and Apple

Metamute - October 11, 2011 - 6:55pm
By Wu Ming

[The original version of this essay was published on Giap [3] on 26 September 2011, which means several days before Steve Jobs died. The French version was published on Article XI [2] on the eve of Jobs' death. The piece had already received a lot of attention, backlinks and comments when the news arrived. However, it obviously sky-rocketed to the status of "crucial" text as soon as the media landscape was filled with iGrief, and it kept attracting people when anonymous cultural activists "displaced" the discussion on iGrief by creating the "Steve Workers [4]" persona. The present English translation was done collectively on a Wiki page on Mauro Vanetti [5]'s website. Many thanks to Mauro, SandorKrasna and all the guys who gave a hand. This version retains some additional mini-explanations Wu Ming 1 wrote for the French readers. We also inserted a few additional links that weren't in the original text but came up during the discussion.]
.

Last week a Pennsylvanian daily newspaper, The Morning Call, published a long and detailed inquiry – entitled Inside Amazon’s Warehouse [6] – on the appalling work conditions at Amazon warehouses in the Lehigh Valley. The article, resulting from months of interviews and direct checks, is being spread around the world and has gotten coverage from the New York Times and other mainstream media. The picture is grim:
- extreme job insecurity, a mood of perpetual blackmailing and lack of rights;
- inhuman work routine, with a pace that can be doubled overnight (from 250 to 500 units per day, with no advance notice), at an internal temperature beyond 40 Celsius that at least in one case reached 45 °C (114 °F);
- disciplinary actions against workers who slow down the pace, or simply faint (a report of the 2nd of June mention the fainting of 15 workers due to heat);
- “exemplary” immediate sacking, with the guilty escorted outside before the eyes of co-workers.
And there is more. Read the whole piece, it is worth it. The key sentence was said by a former Amazon warehouseman: “They’re kiling people mentally and physically“.

Judging by online comments, many people were taken by surprise, finding out for the first time that Amazon is a mega-corporation and Jeff Bezos is a boss who – as bosses customarily do – seeks profits at the expenses of any consideration for dignity, justice, and safety.
As should have been suspected, Amazon’s “miracle” (super-discounts, ultra-quick shipping, “Long Tail”, a seemingly infinite catalogue) is based on the exploitation of workforce under vexatious, dangerous, humiliating conditions. Just like the Walmart “miracle”, Sergio Marchionne’s FIAT “miracle” or any other corporate “miracle” the media have dished up to us in recent years.

What I just wrote should be obvious, but it is not. These revelations are not about a company whatsoever: they are about Amazon, a sort of Big Friendly Giant always portrayed in uncritical, praising and populistic ways —- also in Italy.
The Morning Call broke a charm. Until a few days ago, with a few exceptions, the media (and the customers themselves) took Amazon’s propaganda at face value, without the hint of a doubt. From now on, perhaps there will be more fact-checking, assertions will be properly verified, potential bluffs will be called. With the crisis getting worse and worse, the ranks of skeptics seem to increase.

The problem of multinational corporations being perceived as “less corporate”, “cooler” and ethically — almost spiritually — better than others regards especially companies that are so tightly associated with the Internet, as to be identified with the net itself. Another typical case is Apple.

iPhone, iPad, youDie

Foxconn is a corporation in whose Chinese plants many digital devices are assembled, including iPads, iPhones and iPods. Last year, a wave of suicides among Foxconn workers caused a brief sensation all over the world, before being silenced and covered up. Actually, suicides started in 2007, and the phenomenon is not over (the last confirmed suicide dates to last May; another worker allegedly killed himself in July). On the whole, about twenty employees have committed suicide. Various inquiries and reports cited as likely causes the unbearable work pace, lack of human relationships in the workplace and psychological pressure from the management.
Sometimes things went beyond psychological pressure: on July 16th, 2009, a 25-year-old employee called Sun Danyong [7] was beaten up by a company security squad [not an exceptional situation, judging by this video [8]] and threw himself from a roof right after. He was suspected of the loss or theft of an iPhone prototype.
What kind of solutions did Foxconn implement to prevent further tragic events? Well, they installed anti-suicide nets [9], for example .
[To dig deeper into this subject, I recommend SACOM's report Workers as Machines: Military Management at Foxconn [10], the links collected in the Wikipedia page [11] and the video Deconstructing Foxconn [12]].[1]

Such behind-the-scenes of the Apple world do not receive much attention, compared to news on Steve Jobs’ health, or pseudo-events like the opening on via Rizzoli, downtown Bologna, of the biggest Apple Store in Italy [13]. In that circumstance, many people spent the night in front of the store, in order to be admitted among the first into the Temple. Those people ignore the entanglement of work and death lying upstream of the brand they worship. Putting the largest possible distance between upstream and downstream is the quintessential ideological operation under capitalism.

Fetishism, Subjugation, Liberation

Whenever we talk about the Internet, the “mythological machine” in our discourses — powered by the ideology that we breathe every day, whether we like it or not — reproduces a myth: the idea of technology as an autonomous force, a subject with its own spirit, a reality that evolves on its own, spontaneously and teleologically. Somebody even had the great idea of nominating the internet (which, just like any other infrastructure and network, can be used for every purpose, including war) for the Nobel Prize for Peace.
This rhetoric conceals class, property, and production relations: we can only see their fetishes. Here’s why the pages Karl Marx devoted to commodity fetishism are still useful (my italics):

«There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things.»

“Fantastic form of a relation between things”. Like the computers interconnected to form the web. Behind the phantasmagory of the Internet lies a set of definite social relations, and Marx means production relations, exploitation relations.
The net rhetoric hides these relations. It is indeed possible to talk about the Internet for hours, days, months, touching only marginally the issue of who owns it, who is really in control of the nodes, the infrastructure, the hardware. The pyramid of labour — including slave-like labour — incorporated into the devices we use (computers, smartphones, ereaders etc.) and as a consequence into the Internet itself, is even less discussed.
Eveyday, corporations expropriate social wealth on the net, and oppress the working class at each corner of the Earth behind the scenes. Nevertheless, they are considered less “corporate” than others.
Until we realize that Apple is like Monsanto, that Google is like Novartis, that praising a corporation is the most toxic narrative we can choose, whether we are dealing with Google, Fiat, Facebook, Disney or Nestlé—-until we realize all this, we will stay in the net like fish.

[Let me put things clear: I do have a Mac, and I work well with it. I also own an iPod, a smartphone with Android, and a Kindle. My job requires me to know and investigate the ways in which culture is shared and the net is used. As I will explain later, this essay does not focus on the behaviour of the individual consumer -- on which a diverting rhetoric has been built in the latest years -- nor it implies any accusation of moral "incoherence" against him or her. What I am discussing here is the necessity of connecting online activism to the struggles that are taking place upstream, during the material production phase.]

Because of net-fetishism, the spotlight is always on the practices of liberation pervading the Internet — ie the kind of practices we Wu Ming have put time and effort into for twenty years —, which are customarily described as the rule. In this way, people dismiss as exceptions all the practices of subjugation , eg using the net to exploit or underpay intellectual work, to control and arrest people (see what happened after the recent UK riots [14]), to impose new idols and fetishes, to spread the dominant ideology, to enforce the same financial capitalism that’s destroying us.
On the net, the practices of subjugation are the rule as much as the others. In fact, if we want to nitpick, we should consider them the rule more than the others, if we take into account the genesis of the internet, which evolved from ARPAnet, a military computer network.

The question is not whether the net produces liberation or subjugation: since its creation, it has always been producing both things. That’s the net’s dialectics, one aspect is always together with the other, because the net is the form capitalism has taken nowadays, and capitalism itself is the contradiction in process. Capitalism developed itself by setting individuals free from the old feudal bonds, and at the same time by imposing new kinds of subjugation (to the controlled time of the factory, to the production of surplus value etc.) Under capitalism, everything works like this: consumption sets free and enslaves, it brings about liberation that is also new subjugation, and the cycle starts over on a higher level.

Therefore, the struggle should consist in fostering practices of liberation to be played against the practices of subjugation. This can be done only if we stop considering technology as an autonomous force and realize that it is moulded and driven by property relations, power relations, and production relations.
If technology could develop outside of these relations, thanks only to its being innovative, the steam engine would have been adopted in the 1st century AD, when Heron of Alexandria invented the aeolipile [15]—-but the antique mode of production did not need machines, since all the necessary workforce was provided by slaves, and nobody could or wanted to imagine any concrete development of that invention.

By fetishising technology as an autonomous force, we remain trapped within the old conceptual frame “Apocalyptic vs. Integrated”. If you make the slightest critical remark about the net, the “Integrated” will mistake you for an “Apocalyptic”, and will accuse you of incoherence and/or obscurantism. The former accusation resounds in such phrases as: ‘Aren’t you using a computer right now?’, ‘Don’t you buy books on Amazon too?’, ‘You own a smartphone too!’, and so on. The latter is expressed in the form of such useless preaches as: ‘Try to picture a world without the Internet…’
On the other hand, any argument about the positive aspects of the net will be welcomed by the “Apocalyptic” as a piece of servile, “Integrated” propaganda.
Let us always remember Heron of Alexandria. His story teaches us that, whenever we talk about technology (and about the Internet in particular), we are actually talking about something else, ie social relations.

Let us ask again then: who are the bosses of the net? And who are the exploited of the Net, and by the Net?
It is not that difficult to find out: it suffices to read the “Terms of service” of the social media you’re using, read the licenses of the software you keep on your computer, digit “Net Neutrality” [16] on a search engine—-and, dulcis in fundo, keep in mind stories like those of Amazon’s warehouses and Foxconn’s factories.
Only in this way, I believe, we will avoid such bullshit as the “Internet for peace” campaign or the horrible, “softly” totalitarian scenario prefigured in Casaleggio & Associati‘s infamous video Gaia: The Future of Politics [17].

Let us not deceive ourselves: only violent conflicts will decide whether the evolution of the net will impose the supremacy of the practices of liberation over those of subjugation, or the other way around.

All the (shitty) work embodied in a tablet

Recently, those who consider Marx’s labour theory of value to be outdated in contemporary capitalism, have been referring to the iPad as an example: the physical work performed by factory workers to assemble a tablet, they explain, is not a big deal, and the tablet’s value depends mainly on the software and apps running on it, therefore on the mental, cognitive work of invention and development. Such work is elusive, unmeasurable in terms hours of work.

This is supposed to question Marx’s idea that — to put it very roughly — the value of a commodity is given by the amount of labour it embodies, or, more accurately, by the work time that is socially necessary to produce it. (By “socially necessary time” Marx means the average time used by the producers of a particular commodity at a given stage of capitalist development).

I’m not a expert of political economy, but they look like two co-existent levels to me. Maybe the labour theory of value is liquidated too hurriedly. I believe that the core of its meaning (its “philosophical” and very concrete kernel) persists even through changing conditions.

Nowadays, work is much more socialised than at Marx’s times and the productive process is far more complex (and capitalism is more conditioned by external, environmental constraints). And yet, those who give this example shorten the cycle and single out the act of assembling an individual iPad. It sounds like a serious methodological mistake to me.
We should take into account the mass of work along the whole productive cycle of an entire batch of tablets (or laptop computers, smartphones, e-readers, whatever). As Tuco correctly said [18] in the discussion thread in which this essay started to take shape:

«One of the essential points is that the whole contraption could never be set to motion to produce one hundred iPads. You’ve got to make one hundred million at least. At first glance it could look like the intellectual work needed to develop the iPad software generates value by itself, irrespective of the rest of the productive cycle. But this would imply that the value generated by this intellectual work is independent from the number of iPads being produced. Actually it’s not like that. Were it not part of a cycle that involves the production with Fordist methods of a hundred million iPads, this intellectual work would generate virtually no value at all.»

Once this point is clarified, in considering how much labour gets embodied in a tablet one can:

1. Start from the retrieval of raw materials like lithium. Without lithium there would be no rechargeable batteries in our gadgets. It does not exist in nature in a “pure” form, and the process to derive it is costly and impacts on the environment. (By the way, 70% of the world reserves of lithium is at the bottom of Bolivian salt lakes, and the Bolivian government has no intention to sell it off. Apart from geopolitical issues, even earthquakes contribute to the mess [19]. This primary stage of the cycle is bound to get more complicated and require more and more labour);

2. Take into account the work (and the harm suffered) by those who work in the petrochemical industry producing the necessary polymers;

3. Take into account the work lacking any safeguard of the toilers assembling the devices (we’ve mentioned above the work conditions at Foxconn);

4. Finally, take into account the (undignified, noxious, almost inhuman) work of those who “dispose” of the laptop’s or tablet’s carcass in some African dump [20]. Being these rapidly obsolescent commodities, and particularly, commodities whose obsolescence is planned, this work is already embodied in them since the beginning of the cycle.

Taking all this into consideration, we will notice that a batch of iPads does indeed embody a large amount of labour (shitty, exploited, underpaid, toxic toil), and a large quantity of working time. Without a doubt, the latter is socially necessary working time: nowadays this is the only way iPads are produced.
Without this work, the applied general intellect that creates and updates software just could not exist. Therefore, it could not produce any value. It takes a tree to make a table, and it takes a factory worker to make a tablet —-and a miner before him, etc. Without factory workers and their labour, no valorisation of digital commodities, no Apple stock quote would be possible. Shareholders and investors trust Apple because it develops, enhances, and sells hardware and gadgets, and sometimes hits big by placing a new cool “jewel” on the market—-and who makes the jewel?

Whether a precise counting in terms of working hours is still possible, I cannot tell. Let me repeat myself: I am not a political economist. What I do know is that when we trash a perfectly working cell phone because a new model can do more things, we’re trashing a good portion of life and toil of a large mass of workers, who are often underpaid and booted in their butt into the bargain.

Collective Intelligence, Invisible Work and Social Media

What I am trying to explain has already been tackled by Marx in the Unpublished Sixth Chapter [21] of the Capital. The excerpt is particularly dense, since it was never edited for publication (my italics and underlining):

«The social productive powers of labour, or the productive powers of directly social, socialised (common) labour, are developed through cooperation, through the division of labour within the workshop, the employment of machinery, and in general through the transformation of the production process into a conscious application of the natural sciences, mechanics, chemistry, etc., for particular purposes, technology, etc., as well as by working on a large scale, which corresponds to all these advances [...]. This development of the productive power of socialised labour, as opposed to the more or less isolated labour of the individual, etc., and, alongside it, the application of science, that general product of social development, to the direct production process, has the appearance of a productive power of capital, not of labour, or it only appears as a productive power of labour in so far as the latter is identical with capital, and in any case it does not appear as the productive power either of the individual worker or of the workers combined together in the production process.
The mystification which lies in the capital-relation in general is now much more developed than it was, or could be, in the case of the merely formal subsumption of labour under capital.»

In a nutshell, Marx is saying that:

1) the collective, cooperative nature of labour is really subdued (the term is sometimes translated as “subsumed”) under capital—-which means that it’s a specific collective nature that did not exist before capitalism.
The “real submission” of labour under capital is set by Marx against the “formal subsumption”, which was typical of the dawn of capitalism, when the capital used to subdue pre-existent kinds of labour: hand weaving, the processes of agricultural labour, etc.
“Real submission” (or “subsumption”) means that the capital turns into productive force a social cooperation that did not pre-exist it, because workers, salaried labour, machines and new ways of transportation and distribution did not exist before capitalism;

2) the more advanced the productive process (thanks to the application of science and technology), the more mystified the representation of productive cooperation.

Let us look now for some current examples of this formulation: the production of sense and relations on the internet is not considered as productive force of cooperating workers; nor does the dominant ideology allow to recognize the work of a single person. All this production is fraudulently, mythologically attributed to the capital itself, to “entrepreneurial spirit”, to the supposed genius of the capitalist, etc. For instance, it is often said that Facebook exists thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s “insight” blah blah blah.

Such production of sense is often considered, as Marx says, “productive power of labour in so far as [it] is identical with capital”. Let’s translate and apply this principle: the exploitation is hidden behind the appearance of an autonomous, non-subordinate work that relies on independent entrepreneurship and free agreements — even if a significant chunk of web content is produced by the subordinate piecework of several “ghostwriters”, hired by such companies as Odesk.com [22].

Does what Marx called the “Gemeinwesen” – ie the tendency of human beings to cooperate and be part of a community – really exist? Yes, indeed. It is always risky to use such terms, but if there is an “anthropological universal”, it is definitely that. “Companionable animal” (“Compagnevole animale“) is how Dante translates Aristotle’s “zoon politikon” —-and neurosciences are proving that we are wired for the “Gemeinwesen” (the discovery of mirror neurons, etc.).
No mode of production has “subsumed” and “made productive” the human tendency to cooperation with the same strength of capitalism.
The best example of this subdued cooperation — and at the same time of an invisible work that is nor perceived as such — is offered by social media.

I am going to use Facebook as an example. This does not imply that other social media are “less evil”. The reason I’m focusing on Facebook lies in its being the largest, the most yielding and (as illustrated by the latest wave of new options and add-ons [23]) the most enveloping, persuading, and expansionist social networking site on the web. It looks like Facebook wants to engulf the whole net to replace it. It is the social networking site par excellence, and therefore it offers us the clearest example.

Are you one of the 700-and-something million Facebook users? Well, it means that you produce contents for the network every day: any kind of contents, including emotions and relations. You are part of Facebook’s general intellect. To put it short, Facebook exists and works thanks to all the people like you. What is Facebook if not a mass of collective intelligence that is not produced by Zuckerberg & Company, but by users?

In fact, you actually work on Facebook. You do not notice it, but you’re working. You work and do not earn—-others are making money with your work.

What turns out to be useful here is the Marxian concept of “surplus labour”. It is not an abstruse concept: it is the part of work that, albeit producing value, is not converted into salary but in profit for the capitalist, since the latter owns the means of production.
If there is profit, it means that there has been surplus labour. Otherwise, if all the labour were paid according to the value it creates—-well, that would be communism, a society with no classes. It is obvious that the capitalist must pay the workers less than the sum he earns with the sale of commodities. This is what “profit” means—-it means paying workers less than the actual value of their labour.
For several reasons, the capitalist may not be able to sell those commodities and make profits. But this does not mean that the workers have not provided surplus labour. The whole capitalist society is based on surplus value and surplus labour.

Your whole work is surplus work on Facebook, because you are not paid. Everyday Zuckerberg sells your surplus work—-that is to say, he sells your life (your sensitive data, your navigation patterns, etc.) and your relations. He makes several million dollars each day, because he is the owner of the mean of production, and you are not.
Information is a commodity. Knowledge is a commodity. In fact, it is the quintessential commodity in Post-Fordism (or whatever you want to call it). It is a productive force and a commodity at the same time, just like workforce. The Facebook community produces pieces of information (on individual tastes, consumption habits, market trends) that are wrapped up in form of statistics and sold to others and/or used for customising ads and any other kind of offer [24].
Moreover, as a representation of the most extended network of relations on the planet, Facebook itself is a commodity. The company is able to sell information only if, at the same time and incessantly, it keeps selling that particular representation of itself. That representation too is generated by users, but Zuckerberg is the one who pockets the cheque.

Of course, the kind of “work” described above is not comparable for toil and exploitation to the labour mentioned in the early paragraphs. In addition, Facebook users do not form a social class. The point is that we must always consider both the toil at the base of hardware production and the continuous, predatory embezzlement of collective intelligence taking place on the internet. As I wrote above, they are two “co-existent levels”. The production of value depends on both activities, and they should be pictured and analysed together.

There is no “Outside” vs. “Inside”

At this point, should somebody ask me, “Do I have to stay outside social media?”, or “Can I solve the problem by using only free software?”, or even “Should I avoid this or that device?”, I would reply that the question is ill-framed.
Of course, it is a good and right idea to create different, grassroots social media running on free software and not based upon the trade of sensitive data and relations—-but so is also holding a critical, informative presence where the majority of people live and communicate, perhaps trying to devise conflictual ways of using the existing networks.
We’ve suffered for too long the hegemony of an apparatus that “individualises” revolts and struggles, focusing mainly on what is or can be done by the single consumer (a subject who is continuously reproduced by specific social technologies): boycott, critical consumption, radical personal choices, and so on.
Personal choices are important, but:

1. Too often this way of thinking brings to a competiton on who is “purer” and more “coherent”. There will always be someone boasting choices that are more radical than mine: the vegan bashes the vegetarian, the raw fruitarian bashes the vegan, etc. Each one claims to be “further outside”, more “independent” from capital —-a picture that is completely delusional;

2. The consumer is the last ring of the distribution chain, and his or her choices are made at the estuary, not at the source. Perhaps we should recommend more often the reading of a “lesser” text by Marx, the Critique of the Gotha Program, in which he criticised the “vulgar socialism” focused on distribution instead of production.

I have being trying for a while [25] to explain that, in my opinion, spacial metaphors (such as “Inside” and “Outside”) are inadequate, because if the question is, “Where is the outside?”, the answer — or lack thereof — cannot but be paralysing, since the question itself is already paralysing.
It could be more useful to employ, and reason in terms of, temporal images. Focus on time, not space.

It is a question of understanding how much time of life – how many times and how many lives – is stolen by the Capital (stolen stealthily, given that such theft is represented as “the nature of things”), becoming aware of the various forms of exploitation, and therefore struggling inside the relations of production and power by contesting the proprietary structure and the “naturalization” of expropriation, in order to slow down the pace, break off the exploitation, and regain pieces of life.

There is nothing new in what I’m saying: once it was customarily called “class struggle”. In a nutshell: the worker’s and the employer’s interests are different and irreconcilable. Any ideology (whether corporatist, nationalistic, or racist) concealing this difference must be fought against.
Think of the dawn of the labour movement. Proletarians work 12 to 14 hours per day in brutish conditions, and the same conditions are shared by children who hardly see the sun’s light. What will they do? They will struggle. They will struggle until they wring eight-hour working days, pay for the overtime, health assistance, right of organization and strike, laws against child labour… They’ll take back part of their time and claim their dignity, until these achievements will be questioned again and a new struggle will be needed.

To realize that our relation with things is neither neutral nor innocent, to find ideology therein, to acknowledge commodity fetishism—-these are all achievements in themselves: we may still be injured and insulted, but at least we are not “injured, insulted, and loving it“. The injury is still there, but not the mockery of believing to be free within frameworks whereas we’re actually exploited. We should always find the dispositifs that subjugate us, and describe them while finding ways to put them in crisis.
The digital devices we use incorporate exploitation—-let us realise it. The Internet stands upon gigantic pillars of invisible labour—-let’s show it, and let’s show the struggles and the strikes. Although still little debated in the Western world, there are indeed strikes in China [26], and there will be more and more [27].
Whenever a loser becomes a tycoon, we should go and check how many heads he stepped on to get where he is, what work he exploited, how much surplus work he did not reward.
When I talk about “defetishising the Net”, I mean the acquisition of this awareness, which is the requirement to stay “inside and against”, inside in a conflictual way.
If we stay “inside and against” the Net, we may find the way to enter into an alliance with those who are exploited upstream. A worldwide alliance between “digital activists”, cognitive workers, and electronic-industry workers would be the most frightening thing for the bosses of the Internet.
The forms of this alliance, of course, are all to be discovered.

Wu Ming 1
2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "Fetishism of Digital Commodities and Hidden Exploitation: the cases of Amazon and Apple"

#1 Comment By a famous historian On October 11, 2011 @ 12:09 am

Thank you – this is not only a brilliant application of Marx but also an excellent critique of the ideology of the net (using a term precisely: ideology, in the Marxian understanding, as a view that does not understand its points of reference are themselves socially, historically constituted).
This is where a critique of the ‘pirate parties’ that have come to prominence in Sweden, Germany etc. needs to start – with their fetishism of the net as a thing in itself, not realising that in a profound sense the net does not exist but needs to be dissolved into the social relations underpinning it.

#2 Comment By sdv_duras On October 11, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

An excellent analysis with a strong critique of network ideologies, nice work

Article printed from Wu Ming Foundation: http://www.wumingfoundation.com/english/wumingblog

URL to article: http://www.wumingfoundation.com/english/wumingblog/?p=1895

URLs in this post:

[1] Italiano: http://www.wumingfoundation.com/giap/?p=5241

[2] Français: http://www.article11.info/spip/Fetichisme-de-la-marchandise

[3] Giap: http://www.wumingfoundation.com/giap/

[4] Steve Workers: http://steveworkers.tumblr.com/archive

[5] Mauro Vanetti: http://www.maurovanetti.info/?q=taxonomy/term/6

[6] Inside Amazon’s Warehouse: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917,0,7937001,full.story

[7] a 25-year-old employee called Sun Danyong: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/technology/companies/27apple.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=foxconn&st=cse

[8] judging by this video: http://shanghaiist.com/2010/05/20/foxconn-security-guards-beating.php

[9] they installed anti-suicide nets: http://www.dailytech.com/Foxconn+Installs+AntiSuicide+Nets+at+Its+Facilities/article18877.htm

[10] Workers as Machines: Military Management at Foxconn: http://sacom.hk/archives/740

[11] Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn_suicides

[12] Deconstructing Foxconn: http://www.youtube.com/v/TZhimLYFStk?version=3

[13] the biggest Apple Store in Italy: http://www.youtube.com/v/OtOMi3FeVxE?version=3&hl=it_IT

[14] see what happened after the recent UK riots: http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=466&doc_id=232806

[15] aeolipile: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile

[16] “Net Neutrality”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_neutrality

[17] Gaia: The Future of Politics: http://youtu.be/9mYgbCW8XNA

[18] As Tuco correctly said: http://www.wumingfoundation.com/english/wumingblog../../../giap/?p=4504

[19] even earthquakes contribute to the mess: http://www.iphoner.it/giappone-problemi-produzione-litio

[20] in some African dump: http://www.terranauta.it/a1791/rifiuti_e_riciclo/i_nostri_rifiuti_tecnologici_armi_di_distruzione_di_massa.html

[21] Unpublished Sixth Chapter: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/economic/index.htm

[22] Odesk.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ODesk

[23] as illustrated by the latest wave of new options and add-ons: http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/facebook-launches-new-features-music-movies-and-more-135050

[24] used for customising ads and any other kind of offer: http://www.abstract-thoughts.com/tech/how-does-facebook-make-money/

[25] I have being trying for a while: http://www.wumingfoundation.com/english/wumingblog../../../giap/?p=4353

[26] there are indeed strikes in China: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/opinion/07iht-eddongfang07.html

[27] more and more: http://chinastrikes.crowdmap.com/

Insect Oriented Media Theory

Metamute - October 6, 2011 - 12:22pm
By Jennifer Gabrys

Jussi Parikka's recent book Insect Media simultaneously expands the field of media theory and the purview of biopolitics by thinking about the more-than-human development of communication environments. Review by Jennifer Gabrys

 

 

Ants and bees, spiders and moths, ticks and praying mantises can be found inhabiting the pages of Jussi Parikka's Insect Media. Arthropods and other bug-like creatures crawl, flap and flutter through this text as provocations for asking how we might read entomology as media theory. On the one hand, this guiding question is informed by the ‘realisation that basically anything can become a medium'; and on the other by the suggestion that the perceptual worlds that exist beyond human sensation and human use of media may begin to influence how we understand media and media theory. We may have grown accustomed to thinking of media as tools of content generation or entertaining diversion, as questions of users and consumer-based subjectivities, but this set of media debates and concerns is sidestepped to consider an alternative view of media as a more-than-human transfer of information that contributes to intensive material and environmental changes. With this material and distributed understanding of media, insects' chemical signals and haptic alerts may be considered media, where exchange of communication and affect is not understood as visual representation (as with human media), but rather as multisensory and more-than-human exchanges. At the same time, the swarming modes of organisation or distributed transfer of messages observed and interpreted within insect worlds may begin to influence new iterations of media technologies, from software to networks - thereby making our media decidedly posthuman in its formation and operation.

 

 

 

Bugs of all types congregate here not as representational ciphers, but rather as assemblages of sensation, event and environment that lead us to consider: what would a thoroughly posthuman media theory involve? As this text is issued through the Posthumanities series edited by Cary Wolfe and published by the University of Minnesota Press, it is a contribution to the various and varied examinations of what posthuman scholarship entails, from the companion canines of Donna Haraway to the Animal Capital of Nicole Shukin. In this context, Parikka mobilises ‘insects-to-think-with' to map out how nonhuman forces, potentialities and modes of sensation both influence the understanding and development of media technologies, and constitute a technics that is beyond the human. Media do not organise in direct or focal relation to ‘Man', in this analysis, but rather are read through swarming, distributed and collective ‘insectlike' agencies and affects.

 

 

The scope of Parikka's analysis spans from the 19th century to the cybernetic zoology of post-war experiments with computational organisms to software objects and clones that organise, reproduce and interact within insect-informed topologies. The book's seven chapters chart the enfolding of animality into modern technics, and make a specific case for insects as contributing to a decentred and distributed understanding of media. Parikka begins his analysis in the 19th century with the modern and materialist rise of Darwinian biology and an interest in the coupling of organisms and environments, followed by the emergence of technical media that capture and reproduce sensations often beyond human sense, and an increasing interest in insects as creatures that inhabit distinct perceptual worlds (here informed by the work of Jacob von Uexküll). With these events in mind, Parikka describes insects as creatures that have informed modern technics. But this development has to do with more than a metaphorical inspiration, since insects can be seen as ‘carriers of affects' (a phrase drawn from Uexküll). Insects describe vectors of becoming that are bound up with distinct relations and modes of communicating within and between bodies and environments. Yet these modes of becoming are multiply located, since the swarms, distributions and machine-oriented analyses of insects as automata emerge as much through situated human observations as conjectures about the specific sensory and relational worlds of insects.

 

 

Through an analysis of Uexküll's famous ‘conceptual animal', the tick, Parikka demonstrates how the distinct couplings of animals and environments, and the specific perceptual worlds at play in these relations, reshape conventional understandings of space away from a static backdrop and toward lived material relationalities that are composed of dynamic exchanges and modes of communication.1 Perception is not attached to fixed organs or a static reservoir of senses, but rather is a meeting of potentialities and multiple ways of communicating. Such an insight moves beyond phenomenology as a fixed process of subject-object decoding, to suggest that interactions with environments are key to the dynamic unfolding of sensation, and to the possibility for ‘an experimental empiricism'. In this analysis subjects, environments and media technologies are not characterised as fixed reference points or data-gathering centres, but rather as generative exchanges that unsettle a typical understanding of what transpires within communication.

 

 

Working across the theoretical contributions of thinkers such as Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Elizabeth Grosz, Sanford Kwinter and Rosi Braidotti, Parikka draws together his insectlike insights with a body of contemporary theory that addresses the dynamic and deterritorialised possibilities for (post-)subjects. Insects, in this respect, can be read ‘as catalysts of relations', where these relations extend not just to nonhumans and their environments, but also to technics and technology, modernity and capitalism. The perceptual worlds at play in this analysis are more than sensory constructs, since they also inform the possibilities of the political and other modes of life. In this respect a biopolitical analysis of insect media is a key aspect of Parikka's project.

 

 

In his analysis of biopolitics, some poignant if unresolved questions emerge as to how this analysis of insect modalities can at once describe sites of potential becoming, while at the same time figuring within a contemporary logic of network control and capitalist economies. As Parikka asks,

 

 

Where, then, lies the potential radicality of swarms and the ‘insect model' when it has already, from the early days on, been integrated as part of the capitalist and bureaucratic models of creation, connected to Fordist models of labour, disciplinary modes of spatialisation and control, and hierarchical political structurations?

 

 

Insect logics of organisation have moved from the ant-like mechanics of the factory to the industrious cities of bees to the swarming patterns of stock markets to the distributed agencies of networks and cyborgian moths implanted with sensors as developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programme.2 Here it is clear there is a careful traverse to be made between the problematic use of ‘biological metaphors' to ‘naturalise' economies and politics, and the incorporation of nonhuman potential as a way to encounter the potentially creative and intensive capacities of other organisms. In order to work through this prickly intersection, where creative potential may also be turned into a capitalist attribute, Parikka engages with Braidotti's suggestion that life is not just an ‘object of power' (or falling within a biopolitical realm, as conventionally understood), but is also a creative force in which technical media are involved, and which also may give rise to new ontologies of life.3 In this analysis, one is reminded of Haraway's cyborgian balancing act, where she attempts to engage at once with the military-industrial complex that was integral to the technologies she discussed, but also seeks to find other possibilities within these new bodies that could not be wholly relegated to stories of control.4

 

 

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Image: William Grey Walter performs a cybernetic experiment with environment and perception using mechanical 'brain children'

 

One wonders then, how the ‘different ecological assemblages' that emerge through an insect media analysis might allow us to ‘summon a different kind of politics' as Parikka suggests, or ‘a politics aiming for the not yet existing in the sphere of bodies, sensations, and ethological relationality.' One way that Parikka approaches this question is by taking up the materiality of media as a site of further exploration. Taking a ‘milieu approach' to media, he suggests that the materiality of media should be rethought through the ‘nonhuman forces' that contribute to media assemblages, and that form distinct modes of materiality. This understanding of milieu and organism draws on Uexküll as well as the ‘cybernetic zoology that can be found in post-war experiments with automated tortoises and other ‘computational organisms' that became the basis for articulating new relations between perception and environmental stimuli, as well as new ontologies of life and information.5 These experiments with feedback are only part of the story, as Parikka suggests, since these insights direct us to move toward a more dynamic conception of environmental relations and, following Guattari, an ‘ecological view of subjectivity.'6

 

 

These environmental couplings are an interesting point of conjecture, since organisms and environments could be characterised as much by distributed responsiveness as by glitch and error. Could it be that the possible range of modes of relating could also be expanded, to incorporate not just organisation but also disorganisation and friction. While bugs in the computer-oriented sense of the word emerge in this study, another discussion of bugs can be found in Terry Harpold and Kavita Philip's recounting of the moth found by computer pioneer Grace Hopper in the Mark II electromechanical computer in 1945. A moth, lodged in the circuits of this machine, jammed a relay and was later found and saved in a log book as ‘the first actual case of a bug being found.'7 The moth is rendered as an intrusion into the spaces of information processing - a material body that is incompatible with the operation of this machine, and so becomes more than an entity to think with. While insects as automata may have informed the development of computational logic, here insects as creaturely bodies actually interrupt media technologies. Yet ‘bug' as a term used to describe mechanical error and glitch has been in use since the late 19th century. Given that this term precedes computer culture, it seems such interruptions and material dislocations could be an interesting way to explore the possibilities for other orders of relationality and cross-relationality, where insects are not just rendered into medial form, but also creep into our exchanges and so become a part of their disrepair or misfiring. Insects in this regard are not necessarily carriers of affect, but rather confuse or disrupt circuits through their distinct material inhabitations, thereby circumventing some transmissions while generating possibilities for other exchanges.

 

 

In a final sense, the turn toward insect-generated sound art and field recordings is a compelling example of how new modes of listening with bugs allows us to experience these distinct media-insect-environments as more than an apparently inchoate world of sounds. Several of these insect sound projects turn up in the epilogue to Parikka's study, which considers how the recordings of crickets and the microsounds and inaudible registers of hatching larvae enter into new media technical arrangements that give rise to new bodies, materialities and ecologies. Environments are then also dynamic contributors to these alternative renderings of media. Another example of such insect sound art that tracks these changes can be found in Hugh Raffles Insectopedia, a bug compendium also released in 2010 that investigates insects from a cultural historical perspective.8 In the entry, ‘The Sound of Global Warming', Raffles describes an arts-sciences collaboration that has made audible and legible the sound of bark beetles in piñon pine trees. The beetles, which are captured by David Dunn in his The Sound of Light in Trees soundscape project, are recorded along with a host of other insects that make strange sounds normally outside the range of perceptibility. By listening to beetles together with pines, however, distinct changes and activities can be discerned and translated that describe altering environments. Greater drought levels contribute to water stress for the trees, which then become more susceptible to beetle infestation. The media technics of insects signalling and working through their perceptual worlds, the dynamic shifts in environments, and the recording and translating of these sounds into other registers of human sense brings to our attention the ways in which posthuman media may also raise questions about trans-species relationships, changing environments, and the emerging politics, possibilities and obligations that may emerge at these intersections.9

 

Image: From Karl von Frisch's lecture, 'Decoding the Language of the Bee', University of Munich, 1973

 

This different type of responsiveness, and the expanded modes of participation made possible within media are a refreshing prospect, where media are not just carriers of versions of ourselves, but are also provocations for more-than-human perceptual relationships. These relationships move beyond the dynamic if closed coupling of organism and environment detailed by Uexküll, and instead suggest possible interactions across species worlds (hinting here at the ethical spaces of posthuman encounters, which are not just or even after the human, but also signal more-than-human residencies in the world). If insect media are not representations of worlds but practices that actively set worlds into motion, then these questions about how to locate and generate more creative counterparts to biopower, which Braidotti identifies and Parikka explores, is a crucial task. In this way, an ‘ecological view of subjectivity' might not orient us toward additional appropriations of insect capacities and attributes for a renewed project of humanism. Instead, it suggests that medial transmissions are sites for forming new collective encounters across bodies and concerns. Such a posthuman view on media and technics is not just a site for articulating existing environmental relations, but also for experimenting with inventive environmental relations through more-than-human perceptual worlds. The ‘intensive capacities' of media, bodies and environments that Parikka suggests allow us to rethink ‘the history of modern media and biopower' might then be understood as offering ways to engage with more-than-human worlds in order to tune more finely our multiple cohabitations.

 

 

Jennifer Gabrys is Director of the MA Design + Environment and Senior Lecturer in Design at Goldsmiths, University of London. She recently completed a book on electronic waste, Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics , and is currently working on a study of environments and sensing technologies, Program Earth: Environment as Experiment in Sensing Technology.

 

 

Info

Jussi Parikka, Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010

 

 

Footnotes

1 Jacob von Uexküll, A Foray in the Worlds of Animals and Humans, trans. Joseph D. O'Neil, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010 [1934].

2 Sally Adee, ‘Cyborg Moth Gets a New Radio', IEEE Spectrum, February 2009, http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/military-robots/cyborg-moth-gets-a-new-radio/0

3 Rosi Braidotti, Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics (Cambridge: Polity, 2006).

4 Donna Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century', in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.

5 The automated or ‘robot tortoises' described here are a reference to William Grey Walter's cybernetic experiments with environment and perception through these particular computational organisms that tested his theories of brain development as a function of ‘nerve complexity'. Nerve complexity for Walter was an indication of the multiple interconnections that allowed for environmental inhabitation and exploration. The automated sensory animals that Walter developed were a way to test responsiveness to environments in order to understand communication as both embodied and embedded in environments. As Parikka writes, ‘This stance implies that communication is actually based in perception, and perception is furthermore conceptualized as an environmental being and a perceptiveness that Walter tried to hardwire into the speculating machines.' The difficulty with hardwiring perceptiveness is that it short-circuits the adaptive and learning-based modalities of environmental perception that Walter hoped to study with the tortoises.

6 Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

7 Terry Harpold and Kavita Philip, ‘Of Bugs and Rats: Cyber-Cleanliness, Cyber-Squalor, and the Fantasy-Spaces of Informational Globalization', Postmodern Culture 11, no. 1, 2000, http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/pmc/v011/11.1harpold.html

8 Hugh Raffles, Insectopedia, New York: Pantheon Books, 2010.

9 Jennifer Gabrys, Program Earth: Environment as Experiment in Sensing Technology (in preparation)

 

 

 

Post-Ramadan strike wave hits Egypt

Metamute - October 5, 2011 - 12:03pm
By Jano CharbelRe-posted from LibCom - http://libcom.org/news/post-ramadan-strike-wave-hits-egypt-30092011

Post-Ramadan strike wave hits Egypt

The first two weeks of September have witnessed a massive wave of strikes, with many more planned for the rest of the month. These are taking place despite the law - issued in April - criminalizing strikes which harm the national economy, and despite regulations issued by the ruling military junta making negotiations during the course of strikes unacceptable.

Hundreds of thousands of workers and employees have launched strikes, sit-ins and marches to protest their working conditions. Among these are public school teachers - who are planning a general strike on the new academic year's first day of classes, 17 September; workers at private and public-sector textile mills; security and custodial workers at the American University in Cairo; farmers; and nurses and doctors in eight different governorates.

These strike actions come against a political backdrop that once seemed encouraging to Egypt’s 27-million labor force.

Shortly after President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in 11 February, over 500,000 workers, professionals, farmers, employees and pensioners moved to establish their own independent trade unions and federations to provide a bargaining mechanism for workers long deprived of negotiating with both the state and the business community. These independent unions are reportedly playing a significant role in organizing protest actions and strikes nationwide.

Yet the recent resurgence of widespread strikes, analysts say, reflect a deep disillusionment with the democratic transition process, with workers feeling more and more that improving their economic and political conditions were but hollow promises from the revolution.

"The primary demand behind all the strikes - in the public, private and informal sectors - is improved incomes in line with increasing living expenses," said Karam Saber, director of the Land Center for Human Rights. Other common demands include the payment of overdue bonuses, incentive payments, fixed or full-time contracts for full-time work, among other demands.

"The interim authorities have made very little progress in terms of raising wages, incomes and salaries; or in terms of putting a cap on the salaries of managerial officials in the form of a maximum wage," Saber said.

According to Saber Barakat, a member of the caretaker council at the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, there are other reasons motivating the working class to protest and strike. One of the main factors causing dismay is the fact that Mubarak's officials and generals are still calling the shots and pulling Egypt's strings. The old guard is still in power.

"The revolution gave workers the impression that their conditions would improve; but reality has proven otherwise," said Barakat. "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has sent signals to investors reassuring them that their interests will be protected and upheld."

In April, the SCAF and the interim cabinet issued a law outlawing strikes, and they have failed to issue a new trade union law to replace the old and restrictive 1976 law which places severe bureaucratic hurdles on independent labor organization. Furthermore, these authorities have insisted they will not engage in negotiations with strikers until they stop striking or protesting.

Egyptian laborers’ grievances are countless, and the fruits of the 18-day revolution that raised the slogans of freedom and social justice are yet to be reaped.

The interim cabinet has been procrastinating over implementing an LE700 minimum wage. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Hazem al-Beblawy said that the government will implement it in January 2012, six months later than originally announced.

Some 700 textile workers at the Indorama Shebin al-Kom Textile Company - which was privatized in 2007 - went on strike this week, and around 400 of them blocked highways, roads and even occupied the Munifiya Governorate headquarters on Monday to demand the re-nationalization of their company, as well as improved working conditions and wages.

In the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiya, over 1000 workers went on strike at the Wool Production Company in the town of Samannoud on Saturday, and on the same day, over 3000 workers at the Nasr Company for Fabric Dyeing in Mahalla City went on strike. Both groups of workers were demanding the payment of overdue bonuses, along with increased incentive payments.

Elsewhere in Mahalla City, over 20,000 workers at the Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving threatened to launch an open-ended strike this past week. Workers at this massive textile mill (the largest in the Middle East) demand increased bonuses and food allowances. They also demand increased investment in public sector textile enterprises in order to save the industry from collapse.

"All of Egypt's workers from Aswan to Alexandria are exploited and under-paid. The interim government and SCAF should set a just and adequate minimum wage, for workers in all sectors of the economy, which is in keeping with rising living expenses," said Mohamed al-Attar, a veteran labor activist at Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving.

"Workers are tired of empty promises. Workers gave the authorities seven months to address these common grievances and have seen little to nothing in terms of actual reforms. We are reaching boiling point.”

On Thursday, Minister of Manpower and Immigration Ahmed Hassan al-Borai said that labor unions’ elections will be postponed till after the parliamentary elections slated for November, yet another blow to the aspirations of independent labor organizations which have been trying to legally consolidate their emerging structures.

"The interim authorities are treating workers and the general populace just as Mubarak did. If they do not change their course then another popular revolt may break out," Attar said.

By Jano Charbel. Originally from Al-Masry al-Youm.

Announcement: Drifting Identity Station

Metamute - October 3, 2011 - 6:40am
By Open Space

° Drifting Identity Station | 12 October - 5 November 2011

Opening: 11 October, 19.00 pm

Project curator: Stefan Rusu

Participating artists:

Marina Naprushkina
Kristap Gulbis
Stefanos Tsivopoulos
Société Réaliste (Ferenc Gróf and Jean-Baptiste Naudy)
Tilmann Mayer-Faje

Seminars and workshops: DRIFTING IDENTITY STATION by Gulsen Bal and Stefan Rusu
Location: Institut für Kunst und Gestaltung, TU Wien
11 - 18 October 2011

Round table talk/discussion: De-linking, de-coloniality by Marina Grzinic
Location: Open Space, Open Systems
3 November 2011, 19.00 – 20.30 pm

The Drifting Identity Station uses a model of former Soviet Polar Stations, which was a trend in the 50's to explore the arctic environment while experiencing extreme cold. Station operates in the harsh climate associated with “political winter,” while researchers interested in the socio-political environment by deploying various devices and methodologies in order to collect and monitor the data that is relevant to the given context. While exploring the frozen landscape, researchers analyze old trajectories (derived from the former USSR political construct and a new formation in European Union progress) to identify what characterizes the mapping of states and identities in an attempt to determinate the intensity and temperature of the political debates connected to ongoing process of EU enlargement. The process of formation of European Union have polarized the issue of the identity of the states and its inhabitants in certain contexts.

The underlying idea of National Costume of the European Union developed by Kristap Gulbis is a starting point for a debate concerning the identity within a European context and the adjustability of various EU directives and regulations to its historically and mentally diversified regions. Belarus in figures by Marina Naprushkina is part of of a larger initiative Office for Anti-Propaganda is focused on the critical examination of the contemporary Belarus state which is authoritarian ruled by Alexander Lukashenko; The opposition is oppressed and marginalized, the media are brought into line. Because of this circumstances Belarus is also an outstanding example of how to establish a modern dictatorship and how the western democracies handle this case. Lost Monument by Stefanos Tsivopoulos takes upon a controversial monument, a statue of former American president Harry S. Truman located in downtown Athens that appears as though it were a still unidentified archaeological find. The Truman Doctrine shifted American foreign policy toward the Soviet Union and historians often use it to mark the starting date of the Cold War. Societe Realiste (Ferenc Gróf and Jean-Baptiste Naudy) shows two maps extracted from the collection London View. One is a map superimposing the political frontiers that existed at the turn of each century between year 0 and year 2000 on the European peninsula and its surroundings. The other graphic is a colorimetric map of European segmentations, where every single portion of land divided between these frontiers has been associated to a specific taint, averaging their respective trans-historical surrounding frontiers.

Dulcification Measure by Tilmann Mayer-Faje examines how people nowadays live in the huge skeleton of the industrialized urbanization that took place in the Soviet time and analyse how the functions of micro district could be transformed to the contemporary life and needs of the inhabitants. While reproducing the ornaments as they where stamped on the houses in order to indicate a local identity, he plays with the failure of this machinery.

The Drifting Identity Station is initiated as a research platform to monitor and preserve the data related to the evolving state of identity in a given context, here in the context of European Union and the countries of Baltic region and neighbouring countries of the Eastern Partnership (Belarus, Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan).

Visual art projects and other contributions that will be on display in the Station comment on the evolution of the social engineering project of European Union, as a political construct in progress and the political identity of the neighbouring countries at its current state. At the same time the artists assume the posture of researchers that collect the samples from the field in order to preserve the residual traces that re-articulate the post-socialist condition. The area of research is extended to Mediterranean region that most recently become a fertile ground for the export of European democracy.

Artist info:

Marina Naprushkina
Belarus in Figures, mixed media installation (wall intervention), 2011

Belarus in Figures is a serial of diagrams, which are compiled from the numbers taken from the annually statistical reference book „Belarus in figures“. This book provides information on the socio-economic situation in the Republic of Belarus and is put together by the National Statistical Committee, the institution which is a part of the authoritarian system build up by the Belarus government. The figures should give the right and proved information about the agricultural produce, industrial products, education, number of employed, the population size and should provide a very stable image of Belarus State to its citizens. The diagrams done by Naprushkina pretend to be the real official diagrams, a part of state propaganda. These diagrams show the forged results and demonstrate how the state manipulates its institutions. The serial is a part of the archive of Office for Anti-Propaganda, it consists of app. 40 pieces and is updated every year. “Office” produces an archive of videos, texts and picture material on the subject of political propaganda. Belarus political model can be transferred to some other East European and Latin American countries from which Belarus gets political support. Belarus is also an outstanding example of how to establish a modern dictatorship and how the western democracies handle this case.

Kristaps Gulbis
National Costume of the European Union, Printed Magazine and 9 photographic prints, 2009

The aim of the initiative is the creation of a new attribute of the European Union – a national costume designed for all EU citizens. The European Union already possesses many of the attributes of a sovereign country: a Parliament, a Central Bank, a currency, legislation, a flag and an anthem.
Just as the front side of Euro coins is common throughout the whole of Europe, the National Costume of the European Union also has a common element – yellow stars on a blue cloth background. Similarly to the reverse side of the coins, designated for memorialising important symbols of each Member State, the National Costume of the European Union is also based on different designs for each country, using the historical national costumes of a particular territory as a basis. The garments’ details are borrowed from the national costumes in a stylized way and adjusted to the rhythms of modern life, thus indicating the wearer’s country. The costumes are suitable for different climate zones and can be worn for important European-level official, festive occasions.
A voluntary union of diverse, historically independent states and citizens has never existed on the continent of Europe and this aspect makes it unique. Economically and politically the EU functions as a single organism. However, the various cultures and traditions of European countries, as well as diverse mentalities determine the multi-nationality of this geopolitical cultural space.
Inhabitants of European countries have always taken pride in their statehood and cultural traditions. The latter also include their national costumes. Even though their topicality and usage have changed over time, they still remain relevant during various cultural activities and events, and even nowadays in some European regions they still serve as festive dress.
The official costume of the European Union, that is, the National Costume of the European Union will become another symbolising attribute of the union of these countries. It is planned to submit a draft law to the European Commission, to set regulations for the use of these national costumes and legally approve their design and pattern.

Stefanos Tsivopoulos
Lost Monument, Single channel video, HD cam, 16:9 Colour, 27 min, 2009

Lost Monument takes upon a controversial monument, a 4 meter bronze statue of former American president Harry S. Truman. The monument is located down town Athens, Greece next to the historic triangle of Acropolis, Greek Parliament and Panathinaiko Stadium. Ever since its erection in 1963 as a commemoration to the Truman Doctrine, the monument has been a favourite target of citizens wishing to express their opposition to the very idea of placing a US president’s statue in the capital city of a country whose civil war was decided thanks to that very president’s intervention.
During the film the statue is discovered by two farmers in a field and it seems not possible to identify who the man in the statue is. Moreover it has no value which is obviously why got it thrown away. From that moment on the statue starts a journey, almost like another Ulysses, which sends it to several different sceneries in Greece and Turkey where the individuals involved have no knowledge about the statue and eventually want to get rid of it. The people and landscapes we see in Truman’s Homeric wanderings are absolute, and bordering on stereotypes, in order to highlight the metaphysical dimension of displacement which the four views that constitute the film take forward and intertwine.
Lost Monument do not just concern a key passage in the history of Greece but also, in a broader sense, a particular post-war moment in Europe, which is undoubtedly still closely linked to the present. The symbolic start of the Cold War with the intervention of Truman in 1947 and its corresponding historicisation not even twenty years later with the erection of a monument dedicated to him in a public place in Athens, both reveal a desire to superimpose one memory on another in an antagonistic manner. This takes place within an area of discourse in which the conflict remains open and where, by its very definition, the artefact of power shows the signs of its visual ineffectiveness.

Société Réaliste (Ferenc Gróf and Jean-Baptiste Naudy)
Transitioners: London View, two large photographic prints, 2009

In 2006, Société Réaliste launched Transitioners, a “trend design agency” specialising in political transitions. Transposing the principles of trend forecasting used by the fashion industry to the field of politics, the project questions «Revolution» as a central operative category for contemporary Western societies. Depending on the present political atmosphere, Transitioners defines formal climates in which future social transformation movements will take place, in order to maximize their efficiency. Every year, a new trend collection is based on a referent historical event.
In 2009, Transitioners developed for showcases in London, Berlin and Novi Sad its collection “London View.” Inspired by the 1848 “Spring of the Peoples”, this collection approaches this “Year of Revolution” and the new political paradigm experienced in those days: the scheme of a synchronous and continental revolutionary attempt. From the first students and workers demonstrations in Paris in February 1848 to the end of the Hungarian Civil War in December 1849, revolutions took place all over Europe. Forty European cities have been the theatres of major collective events that continue to interrogate today’s political context: collective spontaneity, poly-centric organization, international collaboration by means of communication and horizontal strategies.
In February 1848, Marx and Engels published the “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, an essay marking the beginning of the Hegelian Marxism theoretical leadership on the European revolutionary forces. Transitioners: London View questions specific points in Marx & Engels' analyses of the political situation, in particular the inaccuracy of their Londoner theoretical point of view in regard to the complex multiplicity of the revolutions happening concurrently on the European continent.

Tilmann Mayer-Faje
Dulcification Measure, mixed media installation, 2011

Tilmann Meyer-Faje is looking for individual expressions that are possible within a dominant structure. He examines how people nowadays live in the huge skeleton of the industrialized urbanization that took place in the Soviet time. He is analysing how the functions of micro district could be transformed to the contemporary life and needs of the inhabitants. Thereby he discovers a lot of similarities especially from recent time although the dominant system failed long ago. He holds an image database with a lot of exchangeable spots from the former Soviet territory. (how people behave, what they wear, the billboards, micro business, garage boxes and so on) Actually he does not have an explanation for that phenomena. Maybe an after effect of the Soviet doctrine might still works in peoples genes, ore a new sovereignty took it over to supply the daily infrastructure? In his performances and installations Tilmann Meyer-Faje is linking the daily routine to the concrete mass production how the prefabricated flats where build. He reproduces the ornaments as they where stamped on the houses in order to indicate a local identity. He plays with the failure of this machinery. The decorative part proposed to create an identity supposed to become the most exchangeable part of the building and the scribes caused by the frowzy constructors becomes more dominant than the actual design. At the European Ceramic Center EKWC in Den Bosch he staged a whole manufacture where workers produced standardized flat buildings.

Supported by:

bm:ukk
MA 7 - Interkulturelle und internationale Aktivitäten
ERSTE Foundation
European Cultural Foundation (ECF), STEP beyond
Mondriaan Foundation

kind support provided by:

University of Vienna - Department of Meteorology and Geophysics
cyberlab - Digitale Entwicklungen GmbH

In Cooperation with Institut für Kunst und Gestaltung, TU Wien

Squatting law is being misrepresented to aid ministers' reforms, claim lawyers

Metamute - September 28, 2011 - 8:29am
By Guardian

This is the same argument Andrea Tocchini was making in his Mute article which pipped the Guardian to the post..... miraculous.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/25/squatting-law-misrepresented-claim-lawyers  Squatting law is being misrepresented to aid ministers' reforms, claim lawyers Letter from 160 leading legal figures says law change is not needed and accuses ministers of fostering 'ill-informed debate' Grant Shapps, the housing minister Squatting law reforms led by housing minister Grant Shapps aim to make squatting in an unoccupied building a criminal act. Solicitors, barristers and legal professors have accused the government of misrepresenting the law and misleading the public to push through reforms on squatting. The 160 lawyers, who represent tenants and landlords across England and Wales, say the housing minister, Grant Shapps, and justice minster, Crispin Blunt, are "obscuring" the law and accuse them of "sensationalist misrepresentation" during recent debates on squatting legislation. The letter, published in the Guardian, says that ministers' obfuscation and media misreporting have created "fear for homeowners, confusion for the police and ill-informed debate among both the public and politicians on reforming the law. [In] failing to challenge inaccurate reporting, ministers have furthered the myths being peddled around squatting". "As the proposals would have far reaching consequences for many vulnerable people, there is a need for informed factual discussion rather than a response based on sensationalist misrepresentation," it says. The letter adds that ministers should make the effort to "correct any statements they have made which are likely to have confused the public". Solicitor Giles Peaker, who was one of the letter's organisers, said the signatories were fed up with the persistent misconstruing of the law at the highest levels of government. "We know what the existing law is and I think people are actually extremely annoyed that it is being misrepresented … in the course of this particular proposal. The ministers must know [the law] and if they don't then that's severely worrying," he said. The letter's signatories – who include a QC and a land expert from Oxford University – say the law already covers cases where squatters move into properties where residents live or intend to move into and a change is not needed. Shapps and Blunt say new legislation is necessary to deal with such cases such as that of Dr Oliver Cockerell and his pregnant wife. At the start of the month police told the Cockerells that they could not help them after their new Hampstead home was invaded by up to a dozen squatters before they were due to move in. On 13 September Shapps told BBC Radio 4 that when it came to a case like the Cockerells, "The police don't act because the law does not support the police acting … it's not fair, it's not working and it is creating an enormous amount of heartache." The group of lawyers also pointed to a comment by Conservative MP Mike Weatherley, who wrote in the Daily Mail two weeks ago that "Thanks to one of the most pernicious loopholes in British law," residents had "no powers" to throw squatters out of their homes. The Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on a white paper until 5 October which seeks to criminalise squatting of buildings where there is no resident. Under current law this is a civil offence. The government's white paper, which has a signed foreword by Blunt, recognises the criminal nature of squatting someone's home. "It is therefore a criminal offence (under section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977) for any person who is on residential premises as a trespasser … to fail to leave those premises on being required to do so by or on behalf of 'a displaced residential occupier' or 'a protected intending occupier' of the premises," it says. The letter has been backed by housing charity Crisis whose chief executive, Leslie Morphy, said the reforms to criminalise squatting of unoccupied buildings would cause further suffering to the homeless. "With so much at stake it is disheartening to see elements of the media, and even the government, spreading misinformation about squatting and the laws already there to protect homeowners," Morphy said. "We know 40% of single homeless people escape the horrors of rough sleeping by squatting, mostly in disused properties, and we fear they will be hit hardest by a law change, so we can't allow it to happen on the basis of myths." Figures on statutory homelessness this month showed a spike in those being helped into housing by councils – up by 17% on the same quarter last year to 11,820. Responding to the lawyers' letter, Shapps said: "The guidance I published earlier this year makes clear to homeowners where the law stands on squatters, however commonsense suggests there should be quick and tough sanctions available when someone's home is squatted,without the homeowner necessarily needing to bring a civil case. "That's why we're consulting on making squatting a criminal offence, to shut the door on so-called squatters' rights once and for all, and end the misery and expense that homeowners can endure."

Reflections on the Arab Spring

Metamute - September 22, 2011 - 3:40pm
By Anustup Basu

Twittering teens or absolutist ayatollahs, men we can do business with or loony autocrats? The media's proliferation of polarities is a strategy to fragment the connectedness of events and disavow western Realpolitik. Here Anustup Basu reveals the transnational composition of a Spring that is now an Autumn

 

In a column published on 25 May, 2011, The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman issued a pious call to Palestinians. In the wake of the Arab Spring, he invited them to learn from the Egyptian insurrection and adopt the ‘Tahrir Square Alternative' (TSA). That is, to announce every Friday a ‘Peace Day' and march, in thousands, to Jerusalem, holding an olive branch and a plea for Palestinian statehood, written in Arabic as well as Hebrew, just to avoid any tragic misunderstanding. Implicit in Friedman's conscientious liberalism is a desire for a game-changing symbolic event, one that would insert itself into the sea of information about the uprisings and bring to the fore the image of the peace-loving Palestinian, finally cleansed of the stigma of pathological fundamentalism attributed to formations like Hamas. The TSA would thus be a transformational strategy that would not just win the hearts and minds of Israel and the world at large, but also ‘surprise' Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in Friedman's self-admittedly ‘crazy' universe, sits in some future anterior moment, reading the column and laughing with characteristic cynicism: ‘The Palestinians will never do that. They could never get Hamas to adopt nonviolence. It's not who the Palestinians are.'i Friedman of course did not clarify whether the ‘surprise,' for ‘Bibi,' would be a pleasant or an unpleasant one.

 

 

Secondly, Friedman, in his ardent paternalism, assumes or gratuitously pretends that the said strategy has not been already thought of and tried by the Palestinians themselves, including those in Gaza who currently reside in what could well be the largest open air prison in human history. Peter Hart, writing for FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), has pointed out to Friedman that as a matter of fact Palestinians have, and have for a long time, relentlessly practised the non-violent option without managing to ‘surprise' Netanyahu. Such efforts have largely been met with swift and uncompromising repression; they have been responded to with tough love, in the form of arrests and detentions, stun grenades, tear gas, and gunfireii. As a 2005 study by Patrick O'Connor established, Palestinian non-violent movements have been overwhelmingly ignored by the free press of the western world.iii The onus is thus perpetually on the Palestinians, no matter what they do, to emerge - with agon, sacrifice, and endurance beyond human finitudes - as a people capable of some form of newsworthiness that has nothing to do with suicide bombings or crude Qassam rockets.iv Friedman's invitation towards peace and non-violence emerges from a powerful theme of mainstream American and Zionist commonsense that is already weaponised: that Palestinians specifically, and Arabs in general, by virtue of their existence, pose an existentialist threat to Israel and that all their actions hitherto have been met by Israel with the solemn purpose of defending itself, no matter what the undertaker says.

 

 

The current scenario in Gaza is one of a grotesque human catastrophe perpetrated in slow motion.v It is the outcome of a half a decade long vice-like embargo and mayhems like the IDF's Operation Cast Lead that, between 27 December 2008, and 21 January 2009, left about 1,400 Palestinians dead and countless injured. And yet, it is this beleaguered 1.5 million strong slice of humanity - plagued by crippling poverty, disease, toxic water, shortage of food and medicine, absence of basic infrastructure, and acute unemployment - that seems to relentlessly threaten, not just border security, but the very existence of Israel itself. There can therefore be no authentic freedom or exercise of democracy for them without that either bolstering American-Israeli interests or keeping the existent status-quo.vi As a matter of fact it seems that there can actually be no recognisable ‘people' or territorial notion of ‘home' unless these conditions are met. The Death Laboratory of Gaza was a geo-political creation of Israel itself, when Ariel Sharon ‘disengaged', removing Israeli citizens and settlements from that space in 2005. With it left the last vestiges of imperially recognised ‘peopleness' from that space, one that could be attached to humane concerns about peace, neighbourliness or hospitality. It was that strategic withdrawal that created the possibility of reinventing Gaza as a pure ground zero of ‘bare life' as Georgio Agamben would say, where, following a long standing Zionist theme articulated by Golda Meir and many others, the Palestinian people (or for that matter any people) do not exist. What exists is a pathological biomass, an absolute spectre of Islamic terror that needs to be defended against, with the old, infirm, and infantile to be dubbed ‘human shields.' It is this weaponised and mediatised defensive redoubt that holds paramount status, especially when it comes to territories illegally occupied by Israel, from the West Bank to the Golan Heights.vii

 

 

The Spring of the Present and the Long Hot Summer Otherwise

 

I have begun this essay with this grotesque picture from the recent past for three primary reasons. The first one should be fairly evident - that American mainstream media responses (which I will largely focus on) to events like the Arab Spring are guided by a curious mixture of an almost onto-theological commitment to abstract, totemic ideals like ‘freedom' and ‘democracy' and a Realpolitik one to American strategic, monetarist, and security interests in the Middle-East. In the overall flow of informatised commonsense, the two lines of reckoning are rendered inseparable. Democratic structures of representation anywhere in the world cannot be disruptive in relation to networks of governance and financialisation stipulated by the Washington Consensus. Democracy must yield ‘liberalism' in its neo-incarnation; it cannot give us Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood instead. My second reason is that the ‘Arab Spring' is still unfolding in front of us with a long rumble. It is always difficult and dangerous to ‘read' the present, for any understanding of it is already belated. The present has to be grasped in a manner that is open to the many imaginative and political possibilities - of self-making, sovereignty, or antagonism - that it brings. My invocation of the Israeli-Palestinian situation has been intended to illustrate a habit of neoliberal statist thinking that, in the name of security, stability and combatting terror, threatens to kill us anyway. It is this murderous habit of thinking that imperils, more than anything else, the exhilarating possibilities of the Arab Spring.

 

 

All images: from the Anonymous pamphlet How to Protest Intelligently, c.2010-2011

 

The third reason pertains to an obvious paradox: unlike the Egyptian or Iranian youngster who apparently just wants to be an American teenager and tweet in peace (much like the American who waited to jump out of every Gook in Vietnam, according to the emphatic Colonel in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket), non-violent democratic activists in Gaza somehow have not been able to twitter themselves into the spotlight. Curiously, neither have democratic activists brutalised and jailed in countries occupied by the United States or its allies: Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Sulemaniyah Iraq, Afghanistan, or the United Arab Emirates. Media focus on popular outrage expressed on Twitter or Facebook seem to be disproportionately trained on enemies of the West, like Iran, Syria, or Libya. It is not that there were simply no tweets from Bahrain when Saudi and UAE forces, armed with their latest military acquisitions from America, marched in to crush the insurrection; it is just that such voices were not deemed ‘newsworthy'. That is, they were evaluated as such when ‘news' itself in our informational world, as the late Derrida astutely observed, is that in which ‘actuality' tends to be ‘spontaneously ethnocentric.'viii It is this instantly consumable, informatic and industrialised ethnocentrism that encompasses not just state policy, but also a media space dominated overwhelmingly by about half a dozen giant conglomerates devoted to global metropolitan interests.

 

This is not to say that in a world of horizontal connectivities other voices, evocative images of alterity, or testimonies of anguish or pain are not registered and shared across the world. The point however is that increasingly, in our occasion, statist dominance over the media ecology is exercised not so much in axiomatic, top-down ways through censorship and elimination (although some such efforts exist: George Bush bombed the Al Jazeera offices in Afghanistan in 2001; Ben Ali banned YouTube, dailymotion and Takriz; Mubarak shut off the internet and cell phones; China, at one point, prevented recent images of insurrection entering its media space). Instead, dominance is achieved by absorbing errant images and sounds to already there, massified structures of feeling and perception: orientalism, race, terror, security, stability, Islamophobia, pious concerns of Clintonian multiculturalism, or anxieties about immigrants. The point therefore is not to shut out, in a total manner, images of disturbance, but to absorb them as fresh noises into an overall clamour already enveloped and dominated by axiomatic myths about free market and freedom, and about America being the reluctant behemoth of good in a dangerous world. This is how questions of human dignity and liberty become tied to a presiding onto-theology of capital. This is also how relations about Egyptian youth protests are enframed and tempered by the Realpolitik fear and loathing of insidious energies hailing from that nebulous thing called the ‘Arab Street'. Ergo, it is to be lauded that the former want democracy, but with the latter around, perhaps that might be too soon.

 

It is this already techno-deterministic template of information culture that encourages one to unquestioningly distinguish between greater evils and ‘practical', ‘indispensable' ones, between rhetoric of necessary change and a metropolitan strategic silence in which all of us are invited to be complicit. Bahrain has been ruled by the Sunni Khalifa dynasty for well more than two centuries now. If the world was to turn upside-down and the hitherto repressed Shia majority was to gain political prominence, Bahrain, as per a realist-statist world-view, would inevitably tilt in the direction of Iran. That would not bode well for the greater cause of freedom in the world since Bahrain houses the US navy's fifth fleet and is strategically important for the control of the Suez Canal and the Straits of Hormuz through which almost a quarter of the oil supply passes. Similarly, despite the fact that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled Yemen for 33 years and has had untrustworthy flirtations and friendships with Russia, Iran and Saddam's Iraq, his brutal efforts to strike down dissent in his country did not attract as strong condemnations as did Assad's in Syria. While the Obama administration and the Gulf Cooperation Council Bloc has pressurised Saleh - presently convalescing in Saudi Arabia after an assassination attempt in early June - to step down and allow the Yemeni people to fulfill their ‘aspirations', it remains amply clear that the broader template of regional ‘cooperation' cannot allow such aspirations to disturb American military interests in this impoverished Arab country due to its location near the major waterways and Somalia. Saleh has been a faithful soldier in the ‘War on Terror', he has allowed the Obama administration to open - along with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya - a fifth theatre of conflict in Yemen, in which there have been repeated drone attacks to kill the few hundred members the Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) supposedly has.

In contrast, the ‘Arab Spring' has provided a wonderful opportunity for the West to topple Muammar Gaddafi in Libya; until recently this eccentric tyrant must have been envisioned as a sobered-up version of his cold-war self, for he was deemed trustworthy enough to be granted weapons worth $470 million by the European powers in 2009 alone. For its part, before the calls for change became strident, the US government was working on a weapons deal worth $77 million, just to top off the $17 million it provided in 2009 and the $46 million it supplied in 2008.ix Perhaps too much eccentricity or too much tyranny is not how Gaddafi overplayed his cards. Perhaps he has come to regret the statement he made in January 2009, expressing a desire to nationalise the Libyan oil industry.x

 

Friedman's pious articulation of the TSA of course does not take into account either the fact that the United States and North Atlantic powers have been supporting dictatorial or authoritarian regimes in Cameroon (Paul Biya), Turkmenistan (Berdimuhamedow), Equatorial Guinea (Nguema), Chad (Idriss Deby), Uzbekistan (Karimov), or Ethiopia (Zenawi) apart from the usual suspects in the Gulf, or that it has also been providing many of these regimes the arsenal to prevent or exterminate the TSA. Perhaps it slipped Friedman's mind that the Arms Industries of the West (dominated overwhelmingly by the United States) have been consistently supplying these regimes with weaponry that have been used not against foreign threats, but almost totally to keep domestic populations in check. It is the West that has been giving them ‘deep packet inspection' technologies through firms like Narus, Ixia or Sandvine to police the airwaves and throttle dissent and subversion. Hence it was not just the ‘Made in USA' tear gas canisters used in Tahrir, and dolefully pondered over by talking heads in mainstream American media, but also the live ammunition, armoured cars, helicopters, and tanks used to crush the TSA in the Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain. In this case, it was not just the people gathered to protest, but the Square itself that was eliminated.

 

 

The Logic of Telelocalisation: What is so ‘Arab' about the Spring?

 

From discourses of governance that abound in print and electronic media, it has become apparent that a new Egyptian dispensation has to prove that it is capable of handling ‘freedom' and ‘democracy' responsibly by sticking to some essential things: continuing to be a client state of American-Israeli interests, maintaining the Camp David accords and aiding in the blockade of Gazaxi; keeping the Suez Canal accessible to western powers and closed to Iran; securing the crucial pipeline that supplies natural gas to Israel and other Arab nations. When Mubarak closed the Rafah Crossing more than three years ago to strengthen the deadly embargo on Gaza, it was a deeply unpopular move in Egypt. It is expected that his successor will continue to do such things no matter what the ‘people' say. The ‘revolution' is thus expected to shrink and step back into an already awaiting straitjacket of ‘responsible reform', one that will keep certain planetary structures of financialisation and war in place. It is therefore ‘telelocalised' from the onset, as a local rumble that must eventually be diagnosed, bracketed off and absorbed into the great administration of things. The Egyptians, for instance, could warily look southwards and recall the grotesque overwriting of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress' Freedom Charter by powerful western financial institutions after the end of apartheid.xii They could also remind themselves that fresh, updated versions of the neoliberal ‘shock doctrines' are usually tried out first in the peripheries rather than in the metropolitan centres. Statist neoliberalism, as a matter of fact, was first tried out in Pinochet's Chile after the coup d'état in 1973, more than half a decade before it became the template in Thatcher's England or Reagan's America.xiii There are strong indications that something similar is presently being attempted in Iraq.

 

As per a panoptic point-of-view of neoliberal governance, all forms of self-making, desire and hurly-burly of protest must finally yield to the civic religiosity of North Atlantic market structures. Ronald Judy has identified this planetary form of sovereignty as that which is ‘the realization of perpetual change and a preemption of change at the same time.'xiv The only firmament of transformation that is thereby allowed is that of the ‘free market'. Apart from American-Israeli geo-political interests (and its bywords like ‘security,' ‘stability' etc.), ‘responsible freedom' also means following some already awaiting imperatives of military-industrial finance: the proper handling of the annual three billion dollar US military aid to Egypt and continued issuance of lucrative arms contracts to Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics or Raytheon.

 

 

It was in this spirit that the western powers, encouraged by Mossad, first called upon Hoshni Mubarak himself to be the midwife of ‘change' and failing that, attempted to put Omar Suleiman in his place. Having headed the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) since 1993, Suleiman was not just instrumental in chocking dissent among his own countrymen, but also the chief supervisor of ‘extraordinary rendition' programmes that the CIA delegated to him.xv That too failed and the scenario, under military control, is still an unfolding one. However, it can safely be said that the Egyptian people can expect many such a tip of the hat. Quite a few of them, as Karl Marx observed in a different, but exemplary context more than 160 years ago, will be that of the Napoleonic three-cornered one.xvi For the moment, apart from the geo-strategic concerns already mentioned, the West will be watching with avid interest how, in the new dispensation, the Egyptian economy will be structured, given that the entity in power, the Egyptian armed forces - the beneficiary of more than 40 billion dollars from Washington since 1979 - virtually dominates all its sectors.xvii The International Monetary Fund has already granted a loan of $3 billion to the interim government, after consistently praising the elite kleptocracy headed by Mubarak over the years for pushing through neoliberal measures and devastating the Egyptian population.xviii There are also growing concerns about the future of labour rights, press freedom, and the rights of women and minorities in the new dispensation of ‘stabilisation' and ‘modernisation' that is coming into being.

 

We have long since pondered whether the revolution will be televised; it is only lately we have started wondering about what it means for a revolution to be ‘informatised'. The latter is a relatively new architecture of power in our times; it entails a managing of popular energies and worldly humanitarian and political concerns by ascribing a human face to ‘change', giving a proper name to Mephistopheles (Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh, or Assad) as well as the Messiah (Mohammad ElBaradei or perhaps Google's Wael Ghonim) and then restoring the catastrophic balance of imperial interests. Cranky old patriarchs can have their autumns; people can have their springs; iron death masks of power are eminently expendable or changeable beyond a point; but the planetary military-industrial-techno-financial assemblage is not. The power of informatisation seeks to ‘telelocalise' a milieu of unrest from an almighty metropolitan perspective; it seeks to invent the ‘people' as well as manage, dictate and name its ‘aspirations'.xix This it does by polarising themes (Egypt contra Iran, twittering teens contra absolutist ayatollahs) or collapsing them together (Muslim Brotherhood plus Al-Qaida plus Taliban); making instant and vulgar comparativist evaluations (a ‘secular' tyranny is a lesser evil than Islam/Terror); and curtailing the historical horizons of possibility by drumming transcendent abstractions like ‘security,' ‘order' and ‘stability'.

 

The social power of informatisation draws its powers from a mythical, cosmic perspective it has claimed for itself. It is from these commanding heights that it ‘invents' and represents a ‘locale'. It is necessary to ‘represent' something, because unless something is represented, it cannot be governed. Consider the statement made by Lord Tony Blair in January, 2011 on BBC Radio 4, distinguishing between Mubarak and Saddam Hussein: he said that the two cannot be called comparable dictators because Mubarak has presided over an ‘Egyptian economy' that has doubled in the last decade or so. xx That factor, along with Mubarak's strong military support for western interests beginning with the first Gulf War, therefore makes Egypt a theatre in which only the logic of economism and that of the war against terror need apply. In this majestic abstraction of Egypt in relation to world affairs, it becomes a matter of very small print that officially more than 22 percent of the population live in abject poverty (less than $2 a day), with an equal number very close to it; that the rate of unemployment is close to 10 percent and more than double that amongst the youth; and that common people, in recent years, have been hit by an inflation in consumer prices that perpetually hovers close to 12 percent.xxi Like in many similar scenarios, these official statistics do not account for the current global malaise of underemployment. Shortly before the eruption of the ‘Spring', there were demonstrations in Egypt calling for a monthly minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds; the kleptocratic government full of businessmen could promise only 400 LE, which amounts to about $67.xxii Blair's sweeping statement, in a figurative sense, comes from the same telelocalising heights of American drones in Yemen or Pakistan, whose operators sit in the Creech Naval Base in Nevada or Langley, Virginia and bomb populations after abstracting pictures of ‘terror' through what is known as ‘pattern of life analysis.'xxiii

 

Telelocalising a milieu also means to provincialise its narrative; to make Egypt's story absolutely its own. It is to enwrap the milieu of unrest into cocoons of national, regional or ethnic scenarios and not extend it to a world swept by uprisings and demonstrations from Mexico, Haiti and Honduras, to Madison and California in the United States, to Spain, Britain, France, Italy, France, Portugal or Greece in Europe. Why is it that the protests in Cairo or Alexandria have to be categorically isolated from the Tent City movements in Israel, tribal assertions against the government and mining multi-nationals in India, or the thousands who marched along the Des Voux Road in Hong Kong? Why is it that Friedman's TSA can advance bravely along the Arab Street, but the street itself has to end as soon as it approaches absolutist oil rich allies like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or the UAE? The primary impulse of informational news is to promote parceled accounts of such eruptive events based on ethnographic, already existing diagnoses about which societies are mature enough to make an ‘orderly transition' from authoritarianism to democracy (Iranians, perhaps Egyptians) and which people are clearly not (the Saudis). It is to engraft them agonistically into a singular unfolding narrative of capital in the world and foreclose a possibility of them merging with stories and histories that are different. The logic of ‘information', taken in this special sense, is to present things as ‘already shot through with explanation', as Walter Benjamin once said.xxiv This it does by nulling historical complexity, abolishing critical memory and reducing language to a set of linguistic functionalisms. When was the last time that viewers of Murdoch's Fox News Channel, or even the more ‘liberal' CNN, were reminded that it was only in 1953 that Iran had a democratically elected socialist Prime Minister?

 

So what is so essentially Arab about the Arab Spring? Why are the rumbles in the Arab world and distant thunders elsewhere symptomatic of not just this or that regime's long pending disintegration, but of the planetary narrative of the Washington Consensus itself coming apart in the seams? Is the story simply a vulgar Freudian psychodrama of hitherto infantile but now slightly mature populations killing inclement fathers or demanding dignity or recognition from them? Why are the recent events in London to be deemed absolutely distant from the 60-odd food riots that, according to the US State Department, took place across the world in the last two years alone? In the month of April, 2011, the World Bank president Robert Zoellick said that the global economy is ‘one shock away' from a catastrophic crisis in food supplies, estimating that in the last two years 44 million people had fallen into poverty in the last two years alone due to rising prices'.xxv The United Nations' FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 234 points in June 2011, 1 percent higher than in May and 39 percent higher than in June 2010.xxvi It had reached its peak at 238 points in February. This scenario of devastation is as much the outcome of expanding deserts, falling water tables, droughts and famines, or increasingly hotter summers as it is of deregulated speculation on commodity futures and oil prices.xxvii It stretches from Haiti to Algeria, to India and across up to the Philippines. It is tragically compounded by the fact that while the techno-financial elites of Wall Street and its satellite formations across the world have long since recovered their fortunes lost in the downturn of 2007, according to the International Labor Organization's 2010/11 Report, growth in global wages slowed from 2.8 percent in the beginning of the crisis to 1.5 percent in 2008 and 1.6 percent in 2009; if China is taken away from the picture, the figures come further down to 0.8 percent in 2008 and 0.7 percent in 2009xxviii.

 

 

How indeed can movements in London be insulated from the hot winds blowing in from Cairo? Perhaps the Egyptians may take heart in the fact that despite their tribulations, according to the CIA's World Fact Book, they, in being placed at 90th, rank much lower than the US (39th) and are almost at par with Lord Blair's England (92nd) as far as income inequality is concerned.xxix

 

 

Conclusion

 

There has to be other forms of reckoning with such world-wide eruptions of antagonistic energy and affect. The global landscape of violence has to be mapped in coincidence with an equally expansive map of North Atlantic financial elites, their constable states, satellite plutocracies and techno-managerial oligarchies across the world. This is not just a landscape of gross class exploitation and debt enslavement, but also one in which not just populations, but entire forms of life can be systematically rendered ‘disposable' in an instant, by long-distance speculations, remotely controlled ‘structural adjustments' or, in a more elementary manner, by predator drones. The rice farmers in Philippines perhaps know that instinctively without tracking the intricacies of tariff walls, as do tribal folks in Central India who have been asked to vacate their habitats and the bauxite-rich mountains they have been worshipping as gods for centuries; hungry populations in Ethiopia or Sudan discern that something is rotten when their governments sign surreptitious deals, leasing arable land to distant powers like South Korea or China; the rural people of the Qandahar and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan create their own cosmologies of meaning and affect given the fact that according to a recent poll conducted by the International Council on Security and Development, 92 percent of males (women were not polled) do not know anything about 9/11 and 40 percent believe that the war was on Islam, with the rest concluding that it was on Afghanistan.xxx

 

Arjun Appadurai has talked about a global intuition of poor people.xxxi According to him, the cellular, osmotic powers of the financialisation of the planet operate insidiously, often minus the sound and fury of the clear and present nation state and its vertical instruments of welfare and repression. However, perhaps, at an affective-popular level, the processes and outcomes of neoliberal globalisation are being questioned in myriad ways, bringing them into critical proximity with past horrors of colonial genocide, enslavement, exploitation and development of underdevelopment by the rapid devaluation of local modes of production. I call these formations intense localisms, keeping in mind the etymological variant intendere, which means to intend. Intense localisms therefore, are local cosmologies of justice that emerge from clashes between alien inflictions coming from a distance and rooted customs, juridical and theological perspectives, stories, world-views, solidarities, and affectations.xxxii These determinations of justice are, in most cases, intended, despite the fact that planetary metropolitan narratives of governance, security and news (the powers behind which flout international law with impunity) attempt to overwrite them as directionless, chaotic, or pathologically beholden to ‘terror'. Intense localisms come to the fore in a world in which desire is democratised, but the means to it are acutely monopolised; in which the mobility and bargaining power of labour is brutally restricted, but the movement and reach of capital is extended to the production of social life in and of itself. Intense localisms have thus emerged in an hour of the abject dismantling of the postwar welfare state, the financial subversion of the postcolonial state through comprador elites, withdrawal of social security programs, rampant privatisation of all sectors including health, education and natural resources, the planetary technologisation of agriculture, extermination of the commons, abject formalisations of the very concept of citizenship, and summary destructions of ecological habitats and scenes of nativity. Each of these cosmologies of justice are unique in some way, yet they are also contiguous to each other. In their separate ways, they have called the new world order to judgement.

 

This planetary swell of antagonistic energy undoubtedly takes both good and bad forms. Some of them merge with movements attempting to forge a politics of the new (from vital student mobilisations in Chile to the Indignados in Spain, to youth agitators in Tel Aviv or Hong Kong); others are captured by state machines. Examples of the latter would be the folksy righteousness and suicidal statism of the recently minted American Tea Party, the swarm of ultra-right, racist and anti-immigrant populisms in Europe (the BNP and the English Defence League in Britain, Le Pen's Front National in France, Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom in Holland, the Jobbik in Hungary, Jörg Haider in Austria, or the best-selling neo-fascism of Thilo Sarrazin in Germany), or even, in a different sense, the current undemocratic agitation in India led by Anna Hazare that calls for combatting corruption by the setting up of an absolutist extra-judicial paternalistic authority called the Lokpal.

 

Similarly, it must be said that good and bad impulses of a many-armed, billion strong Islamic faith in the world will indeed intensely shape and influence such local cosmologies and moral economies. How can one justify cynical calls to control transformational possibilities in Egypt or Gaza because of the spectral Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas (which also happens to be the largest and most efficient humanitarian organisation in Palestine) when the American and Israeli democracies continue to be strongly impelled by hard-right Christian groups and Zionist parties like Likud? Affirming the historical and political valence of Tahrir Square is to grasp it without any already-there assurances about ‘security' and ‘stability' and ready-at-hand fears about Iran; it is to be critically open to its possibilities both good and bad. It is, as Alain Badiou recently reminded us, also to approach it like a student and not some stupid pontificating professor, precisely in order to freshly learn the very ways of distinguishing the good from the bad.xxxiii All parties in Tahrir Square - the students, the Marxists, the Nasserites, the incredibly brave women, and indeed the Muslim Brotherhood - have been and will continue to make history. And yet, as Marx observed in relation to a different scenario in the past, perhaps none of them will make it of their ‘own free will; not under circumstances they themselves have chosen.'xxxiv Some such efforts will be tragic, some farcical and some victorious, but if there is indeed hope in the Arab Spring, it is that there will be collective energies that will keep renewing themselves and returning to break the dead calm of things.

 

Making a distinction between good and bad, as Deleuze often reminded us, is not the same as making an onto-theological one between good and evil. The latter is what the techno-determinism of the western informational world does, fragmenting the event into neatly packaged but eminently consumable isomorphic spectacles of twittering teens and shady Salafists; those that were joyous around Anderson Cooper and those that punched him; ones that love America and ones that hate her. Techno-determined information flow is a form of power that seeks to reduce complexity into fungible data. It is there to destroy historical memory, to annihilate imaginative powers, to foreclose different emergent ways of thinking and being in the world. What it tries to abort at every step is a vision of alterity, a glimpse of a different world that is imminent.

 


Anustup Basu <basu1 AT illinois.edu> is Associate Professor of English, Criticism and Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of Bollywood in the Age of New Media: The Geotelevisual Aesthetic (Edinburgh University Press, 2010) and co-editor of Figurations in Indian Film (forthcoming from Palgrave-Macmillan in 2012) and InterMedia in South Asia: The Fourth ScreenHerbert (2005), which won the Indian National Award for Best Bengali Feature Film in 2005-06. (forthcoming from Routledge, 2012). He is also the executive producer of Herbert (2005), which won the Indian National Award for Best Bengali Feature Film in 2005-06

 

 

Footnotes

i Thomas L. Friedman, ‘Lessons From Tahrir Sq', The New York Times, 15 May 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/opinion/25friedman.html

 

ii See Peter Hart, ‘Friedman's Bogus Advice on Palestinian Non-Violence', 15 May 2011, http://www.fair.org/blog/2011/05/25/friedmans-bogus-advice-on-palestinian-nonviolence/, for more analyses and reportage on Palestinian non-violence, see for example Mary Elizabeth King, A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance, New York: Nation Books, 2007, for rare journalistic reckonings see Mohammed Khatib and Jonathan Pollak, ‘Palestinian Nonviolent Movement Carries on Despite Crackdown', 21 January, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mohammed-khatib/post_1615_b_812459.html and Yousef Munayyer, ‘Palestine's Hidden History of Nonviolence', 18 May 2011, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/05/18/palestines_hidden_history_of_nonviolence

 

iii See Patrick O'Connor, ‘Nonviolent Resistance in Palestine', 17 October 2005, http://www.ifamericansknew.org/media/nonviolent.html

 

iv I have no intention of condoning these rocket attacks or other war crimes perpetrated by Hamas (including using the Palestinian population itself as a shield), and the idea of justice should not be understood in terms of symmetric violence. However, as documented by Human Rights Watch, such attacks caused only 15 Israeli civilian fatalities in the course of the decade. Hamas has often stated that the rockets were intended to hit Israeli military installations and not civilian targets. At times it has expressed regret and ‘sorrow' for Israeli civilian deaths. See ‘Hamas "Regrets" Civilian Deaths, Israel Unmoved', Reuters, 5 February 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6143UB20100205. On other occasions it has pointed out a fundamental asymmetry in the issue itself when it came to the aggressor Israel, which has regularly bombed and shelled women, children, and the elderly in Mosques, hospitals, and even schools. In the final analysis, the crudely manufactured Qassam and Grad rockets have no guidance system and have symbolically contributed more to the myth of Israeli insecurity and the concomitant specter of Islamic ‘terror' than achieved military objectives for Hamas. Sometimes the rockets have fallen short and hit Palestinians, as it happened on 26 December, 2008 for example, when a rocket hit a house in Beit Lahiya, killing two girls.

 

v By December 2007 about 90 percent of factories and workshops in Gaza had closed down, primarily due to the lack of raw materials (Israel, at this point, was allowing only one-third to one-tenth of net requirements to pass through, including essential commodities like medicines, food, educational items, clothing, building and industrial supplies). Three-quarters of the Gaza's population was surviving on $2 a day and perhaps a toxic water supply. About 70 percent of agricultural fields in the narrow strip of land that is 45km long and 8km wide had been laid to waste because there was an acute shortage of pipes and pumps required for irrigation and also because Gazans were not allowed to farm in the ‘buffer zone' designated by Israel along the border which is nearly one-third of the total arable land. Fishing has been forcibly restricted to three nautical miles from the coast, even though it should be 20 as per the Oslo Accords.

 

vi In comparatively recent history, perhaps the greatest sin of the Palestinians has been to elect Hamas to power, with a 56 percent mandate, in the Palestinian Legislative Council, on 26 January, 2006.

 

vii Consider Benjamin Netanyahu's recent rebuke to President Obama when the latter, following a long-standing American foreign policy position, suggested that a peace settlement be reached with Palestine based on the 1967 borders. That could not be done, said Netanyahu, because those borders have been rendered ‘indefensible'. In other words, there might arise, in the future, the need for further strategic annexations in order to secure the now indefensible borders themselves. Following up on Netanyahu's assertion, Likud Party member and Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Danny Danon wrote an op-ed in The New York Times that suggested that should Palestinians press for statehood through a United Nations General Assembly vote this September, Israel should preempt this process by completely annexing the West Bank, thus fulfilling a messianic tryst with destiny in the name of Greater Israel, and laying claim to the historic heartland of Judea and Samaria. This proposed annexation would of course be done without extending citizenship rights to Arab-Muslims, who would remain a diminishing spectre of ‘terror', now acutely cramped into areas progressively smaller than the 22 percent of their historic homeland, which is what the 1967 lines would have accorded to them. See Danny Danon ‘Making the Land of Israel Whole', The New York Times, 18 May 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/opinion/19Danon.html?_r=2&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

 

 

viii See Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, Echographies of Television, Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2002, p.4.

 

ix See Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis, ‘Stop Arming Dictators', http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article27753.htm

 

x Linh Dinh makes this astute observation in ‘Heartwarming Massacres from Iraq to Libya', 31 March 2011, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/03/31

 

xi That is, without reminding the world of an essential calling of the Camp David accords, that Israel should withdraw its military presence from the West Bank. See http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/documents/campdavid/accords.phtml

 

xiiSee for instance Naomi Klein, ‘Democracy Born in Chains: South Africa's Constricted Freedom', http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2011/02/democracy-born-chains

 

xiii For an extended, insightful discussion, see chapter 1 of David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism , New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

 

xiv Ronald Judy, ‘Reflections on Straussism, Anti-Modernity, and Transition in the Age of American Force', in boundary 2 33.1, Spring 2006, p.40.

 

xv One of the most significant cases of such ‘information' extraction through torture was of course that of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who, under duress, made the false confession that provided the material for Colin Powell's notorious presentation to the UN Security Council to make the case for the Iraq war.

 

xvi I of course allude to Marx's extraordinary tract The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte in Karl Marx, Surveys from Exile, David Fernbach ed., New York: Vintage, 1974, pp.143-149.

 

xvii The Egyptian military has been described as a sort of General Electric type conglomerate that "virtually owns every industry in the country." See for instance Alex Blumberg, ‘Why Egypt's Military Cares About Home Appliances', http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/02/10/133501837/why-egypts-military-cares-about-home-appliances?ft=1&f=2; and Tom Engelbert, ‘Egyptian Math', http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/02/14-2

 

xviii Mubarak's last Finance Minister, Youssef Boutrous-Ghali, was an IMF alumni who was chair of its policy advisory committee; he has been sentenced, in absentia, to thirty years in prison on corruption charges. Boutrous-Ghali was clever enough to leave Egypt before the heat got too much. See Wael Khalil, ‘Egypt's IMF-backed Revolution? No thanks: Year after year, the IMF praised Mubarak's ‘progress' signing up for its $ 3bn loan now hardly seems a break with the past', in The Guardian, 7 June, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/07/egypt-imf-loan

 

xix I borrow this expression from the oeuvre of Paul Virilio.

 

xx See ‘Tony Blair: Mubarak is not Saddam Hussain', http://www.politicshome.com/uk/article/21498/tony_blair_change_in_egypt_inevitable.html

 

xxi See http://data.worldbank.org/country/egypt-arab-republic accessed 11 June, 2011 and page 13 of the ILO Report accessible at http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_150440.pdf

 

xxii See Amira Nowaira, ‘Egypt's Day of Rage goes on: Is the World Watching?', The Guardian, 27 January 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/27/egypt-protests-regime-citizens

 

xxiii The Pakistani newspaper The Dawn calculated in January 2010 that in 2009 alone, 44 predator drone attacks in the western tribal areas, especially North Waziristan province, killed 708 people, of which only 5 were certified terrorists. See http://archives.dawn.com/archives/144960. The going rate was thus 140 innocent civilians for every dead terrorist. The problem however is that some terrorists like Illyas Kashmiri, reportedly killed in 2009 and then again in 2011, have a vexing habit of coming back from the dead.

 

xxiv See Walter Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov', in Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt, London: Fontana, 1973, p.89.

 

xxv See Eric Martin, ‘World's Poor "One Shock" From Crisis as Food Prices Climb, Zoellick Says' at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-04-16/zoellick-says-world-economy-one-shock-away-from-food-crisis-1-.html

 

xxvi See the World Food Situation Report at http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/wfs-home/foodpricesindex/en/ 

 

xxvii Paul Buchheit points out that in 2008 the publication Price Perceptions said, ‘index funds alone now own about 1 billion bushels of Chicago wheat compared to annual US production of about 500 million.' See Paul Buchheit, ‘How Wall Street Greed Funded Egypt's Turmoil' in http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/02/14-10

 

 

xxviii See the ILO report at http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_149622.pdf 

 

xxix See https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html

 

xxx See Farah Marie Mokhtareizadeh, ‘Over Wo(my)n's Dead Bodies: On Surviving "Liberation"' http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/12/19 accessed 21 July, 2011. See the report itself in http://www.icosgroup.net/static/reports/afghanistan_dangers_drawdown.pdf. Another report by the The International Council on Security and Development shows overwhelming antipathy towards NATO operations:  http://www.icosgroup.net/static/reports/bin-laden-local-dynamics.pdf

 

xxxi Arjun Appadurai, Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger, Durham: Duke University Press, 2006, p. 36.

 

xxxii I am grateful to a group of brilliant colleagues and friends in India (Moinak Biswas, Prasanta Chakravarty, Rajarshi Dasgupta, and Bodhisattva Kar) who, in the course of a stimulating exchange of ideas across continents through Facebook, were of immense help in clarifying and conceptually enriching this trope for me.

 

xxxiii See Alain Badiou, ‘The Universal Reach of Popular Uprisings', http://kasamaproject.org/2011/03/01/alan-badiou-during-arab-revolts-the-universal-reach-of-popular-uprisings/

 

xxxiv Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire, op. cit., p.143.

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