Archive for the ‘1’ Category

CARTOGRAPHY WITH YOUR FEET

April 12, 2010

Visioning the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor on the Roads to Detroit

Workshop at

Beaneath the University, the Commons

Driven by the pressures of corporate competition, Midwestern capital elites envision a network of highspeed trains linking the scattered cities of flyover land into a dense urban grid. Oblivious to territories, histories and peoples you whisk your way from center to center like a roulette ball spinning through the global casino. What gets lost in the dreams of power are the connections between the city and the country, the earth and the sky, the past and the future.

What kinds of worlds are installed on the ground by the neoliberal planning processes developed in the technocratic universities? How to start building a cultural and intellectual commons that can seep into the fabric of everyday life?

The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor is a call for longer, slower, deeper connections between the territories where we live. It’s a cartography of shared experience, built up by those who nourish lasting ties between critical groups, political projects, radical communities and experiments in alternative existence. Why not help build the commons by overflowing your usual daily routines? Why not make the journey to the US Social Forum into a chance to discover the worlds we can create right here in our own region?

This workshop draws from the inspiration of Grace Lee Boggs and the travels of the Compass Group on the “Continental Drift through the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor.” The idea is to propose an act of collective discovery and creation, carried out this summer by anyone who’s heading to the Social Forum. Multiple caravans each chart their particular pathways and organize their own activist campaigns, artistic exchanges, skill-sharing sessions, solidarity dinners or whatever else they desire on the roads to Detroit, then converge at the Allied Media conference and the US Social Forum to share stories, images and artifacts from their detours through the Midwestern labyrinth. Meanwhile, those with different priorities can invent their own forms of travel and exchange, explore diverging temporalities, set up “stationary drifts” in the neighborhoods they inhabit and continue the projects they’re pursuing, while the moving worlds pass through them.

By taking the time for a conscious experience of the territories we are continually traversing we can build up what Stephen Shukaitis calls an “imaginal machine”: a many-headed hydra telling tales of solidarity and struggle, daily life and outlandish dreams in the places that power forgets, leaving their inhabitants free to remember living histories and work toward better tomorrows. The Compass Group will present images, narratives and documents from their Continental Drift in 2008, then open up the concept to input and debate. With the help of anyone who’s interested, we hope to lay the basis for a collaborative process of self-organization and convergence at the USSF in Detroit and to sow the seeds of future meetings and projects.

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March Fourth Around the World

March 4, 2010

This is the day – at UC Riverside where I am, throughout the California public education system and across the country. There will be solidarity actions around the world for this. Endebted students, underpaid workers, exploited grads, adjuncts tossed from contract to contract, professors who can’t bear to see the insanity of the system, and staff who know from the inside what’s being done to destroy it will join members of the surrounding communities to call for a halt to business as usual and find a new way of running the university. Today people are going out to demand more than just the rollback of tuition increases, furloughs, budget cuts in the departments and closures of schools and facilities. People are going out to demand a more just and egalitarian way of organizing this society, not for corporations and the super-rich, not for the banks and the military, but for us, all of us, black, brown, yellow, white, red and green if that’s the case, the people who institutions are supposed to serve, and who are presently being treated like numbers with no heart and no meaning. March forth around the world!

Shit’s gonna happen today – don’t be surprised when it does. There are a lot of angry people out there and we have not exactly been seeing kinder and gentler police. Don’t be afraid and don’t be apologetic! The crimes are happening at the top, the foreclosure crisis, the cuts in every kind of public service, the transformation of the university into a military R&D system, the tolerance for racism in schools that have given up affirmative action and minority programs, the outright lies about the budget crisis and the lack of transparency about where the money goes. If windows get broken, buildings get occupied and people get arrested, support them in their struggle by continuing with yours! Now is not the time for compromise, it’s the time to take what you know is true and bring that to the public. Use your ears and listen to what other people are saying. Don’t let the media and the administrators speak in your place. In the days and weeks that follow there will be lots of negotiations, lots of dead ends and lots of new beginnings for the movements. Nothing like this has been done in a generation. It’s time to take back our institutions and our lives from the bean-counters who pad their bank accounts while stripping everything out of yours. Beyond the cheers and the fears, after the fire and the tear gas, what’s ahead is the work of creating a better society. Today, the universities finally start doing the job they were built for. Walk out of the classes, off the jobs and try the real thing: public education in the streets!

Neoliberal Appetites

March 3, 2010

A governance recipe in five easy pieces

– talk delivered at UC Riverside –

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1. How Sweet It Is

I want to begin with a few juicy anecdotes. Having lived outside the US for twenty years, one of the things I was curious about when I came back was, what exactly am I gonna eat? The food system in Europe has not progressed to the degree of industrialization that’s common in the US. Things aren’t so uniformly processed, people sit down for lunch, cows still graze and they still let some chickens run around, though that situation is changing. But here, it’s really on another level. And if you know something about current conditions – if you look, for instance, at the meat-packing plants shown in a film like Food, Inc. – then you might start to wonder what’s in your mouth-watering burger. Which makes it a little harder to take that first bite.

When I moved to Chicago, I discovered something new. I call it rich people’s food. Practically everyone with a good job at the universities in Chicago shops at a kind of modernized health-food supermarket called Whole Foods, and what’s more, they call it Whole Paycheck. The taste is delicious but you only find the stores in certain neighborhoods. That’s natural when you consider that in the US now, the top 1% of the population takes about a quarter of the total national income. The top 10% takes half the national income. That doesn’t leave much for all the rest. And you don’t have to get far away from those high-income neighborhoods before the grocery stores look very different.

About a year ago, some of the usual customers started to get a little nervous. The boss of Whole Foods, John Mackey, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal called “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare.” In it he quoted a British lady named Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism,” she said, “is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” This the logic of those who have just taken all your money in the financial crisis. Mackey explained that Whole Foods gives all its full-time employees fabulous benefits, and here he seemed to find the core of the solution to the health-care problem. As he states very clearly: “Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges.” I am just wondering what he would say to the 6.3 million people now faced with long-term unemployment?

This brings me to the question of the day. How does our society get us to swallow the two-tiered food system? How does it get us to swallow a failed health-care system, privatized universities and guaranteed bankruptcy insurance for the biggest investment firms and corporations? How does it get us to tolerate such massive inequalities, across the board, in every domain of social existence?

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UC Strikes and Beyond

February 27, 2010
download poster in pdf format here

Continental Drift:

Control Society/ Metamorphosis

February 17, 2010 by sean – see this webpage

On the weekend before the March 4th state-wide UC strike, we invite you to participatein a two-day theory convergence, a “Continental Drift” seminar with the Chicago and Paris-based theorist, Brian Holmes. Past Drifts has taken a variety of forms in its manifestations at 16 Beaver (2004-2006) in New York, or through the Midwest’s radical culture corridor (2008); and here in Los Angeles it will confront a California whose infrastructure is crumbling, whose government is disfunctional, and whose public education is in crisis from the space of an autonomous education alternative.

Although this Continental Drift is situated here, in a time of occupations and walkouts, it will connect the changes occurring at our universities to the emergence of a neoliberal control society over the past few decades.

The structure of the weekend will be two-days in four parts. Most parts will be structured as participatory conversations, guided by an interlocutor; togetherwe will explore these themes.

On the first day, we try to understand the massive economic and psychological shifts that have occurred since the end of the 1960’s.

And on the second day, we will locate possible territories for resistance, autonomy, or invention. Continuing in the spirit of our collective conversations so far, we are leaving the lecture-Q&A format aside for themed discussions.


Location:

The Public School
951 Chung King Rd., Chinatown,
Los Angeles, CA 90012

UCSD – Racist Incidents, Again

February 27, 2010

After a series of racist incidents occurring during Black History Month at UC San Diego, a noose was found hanging in the library on the morning of February 26. A disgusting and repellent symbol. Students gathered outside the administration complex chanting “Real Pain, Real Action,” then occupied the chancellor’s office, calling for the university to be shut down until their safety and respect for their rights could be guaranteed. I went in there too: an atmosphere of calm and determined dignity, very impressive. Read the reports from Student Activism and the New York Times.

Doctrine – Debate – Defense – Invention

February 26, 2010

Intellectuals in a Social Movement

– talk at UCSD lecture series, “Public Culture in the Visual Sphere”

First of all, thanks to everyone, inside and outside the UC system, who understood why I wanted to come to Southern California just in advance of the March 4 walkout. I want to participate in your struggle, which directly affects me as an inhabitant of the United States. I’m speaking to an art department, but for once I’m going to be iconoclastic. I don’t think this talk should hide behind images. This is going to be about public culture, the basis of it, which is slipping and which will probably turn into something else, for better or for worse depending on what happens.

It’s been obvious for years, for decades, that the existence of public culture in the United States lies under serious threat. Today, when the public character of the university is on the verge of disappearing, when culture is slated to become a definitively private matter under corporate control, to speak of any other issue would be hypocrisy. The taste we may have for politically engaged art, in particular, would turn to ashes in our mouths. I think everyone understands this. The object of our discussion must now be ourselves, the speaking subjects in the room. My point will be that, as intellectuals, we can only define public culture by actions that reshape and ultimately reinvent that which is commonly held to be public. These are speech actions, symbolic actions with consequences, political actions where you can win or lose. They involve a crucial and necessary relationship to social movements, of the kind that are finally beginning to exist within the universities themselves.

Social movements arise in the face of adverse realities, when a state of affairs is felt by large numbers of people to be intolerable. But it is impossible for social movements to take democratic form, or better, to intersect with formal democracy, in the absence of a shared set of beliefs that can be stated as propositions about reality. In a complex society, the role of intellectuals is to shape such beliefs into a coherent analysis, a doctrine. The intellectual, as distinguished from the scholar or the academic, is characterized by exactly this: she produces a doctrine. It’s a big word, an unfriendly one, no one likes it, and we’re not too good at using it on the left anymore; but that’s still the way it works. The fact that in a university, almost everyone concerned is potentially an intellectual, just makes the production of an effective doctrine more difficult and more urgent.

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UC System – The Business

February 23, 2010

“Many of our, if I can put it this way, businesses are in good shape. We’re doing very well there. Our hospitals are full, our medical business, our medical research, the patient care. So, we have this core problem: Who is going to pay the salary of the English department? We have to have it. Who’s going to pay it in sociology, in the humanities? And that’s where we’re running into trouble.”

Mark G. Yudof, President, University of California

transcript here

Intriguingly, one finds almost no information on the net about the UC Center for Nanoscience Innovation for Defense, except the now-vanished page recounting its foundation back in 2002, preserved at archive.org, and a mention of its continuing existence by the National Nanotechnology Initiative — which is one of the many federal centers coordinating the development of so-called “dual-use” technologies with civilian and military applications. Maybe I’m paranoid, or maybe just anti-militarist, but whenever I look into the ways that higher education in the United States is being transformed into a functional innovation system for those profitable businesses that Yudof talks about, it’s the Defense Department funding that catches my eye.

A few years ago I wrote an article on flexibilization, corporatization and militarization in the universities of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. What the investigation revealed was an education system that had become the perfect lamp and mirror of neoliberal management. When Bob Samuels remarks, in a very succinct and useful article, that “research universities like UCLA now spend less than 5% of their total budget on undergraduate instruction,” the questions worth asking are: Where does the rest of the money go, and where does it actually come from in the first place? Why are the administrators so keen to drastically reduce the size of English and Sociology departments? What kind of research is being supported by students’ overpriced tuition? And how did formerly public universities reach the point where their agenda is set by a corporate accountant’s logic grafted onto the priorities of the national security state?

These are some of the questions that we’re going to raise at the upcoming Continental Drift sessions at the Public School in LA, on Feb 27-28, just in advance of the next UC walkout on March 4.

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–> For more insights into the management of the UC business, consider these podcasts and articles on UC Regent Richard Blum — upstanding citizen, construction and real-estate magnate, owner of the $7 billion Blum Capital Partners private equity firm and husband of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. Thanks to Daniel Tucker for sending the podcast:

Richard Blum, Alpha Regent

Richard Blum: The Man Behind California’s “Developing Economy”

Disaster Capitalist University

Solidarity and Deterritorialization

December 7, 2009
Paul Klee, Architecture of the Plane, 1923
Erich Consemuller, Untitled (woman w/mask by Oskar Schlemmer), c. 1926
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These are two posts to the iDC mailinglist that sketch the outlines of a project I might undertake someday, if I have the time and the courage to do the research….

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At a recent conference in New York called The Internet as Playground and Factory I was particularly struck by a talk given by Orit Halpern, on the Hungarian emigre painter and designer Gyorgy Kepes. Her presentation showed the incredible inventiveness of a Central European artist confronted with the technological possibilities of the postwar USA – an artist dealing with the transformed vision of the city from a swift-flying plane, then later with the staggering speed and volume of computerized information flow. Kepes seemed to be claiming an ability to shape and model the dynamics of technoscientific change. However, the very fascination I felt during the talk reminded me of what I think is one of the biggest challenges for artists and thinkers in the core countries today, and particularly in America, which is how to analyze the cutting edge of technological development without becoming strangely weightless, ecstatic with the complexity, caught up in the flow, lacking all resistance to the present. Note that this is not a critique of Orit or anyone else, but an attempt to state a much more general problem, the problem of historical figuration in modernism, which was also present in the talk through a reference to Picasso’s Guernica.

Gyorgy Kepes, Hand and Geometry, 1939

In fact this is an old problem of the 20th century, and Kepes himself hails from the milieu where it was first expressed with utter clarity. After the conference I went to see the Bauhaus show at MoMA. The trajectory there is fairly explicit: once they escape from the Gothic limbo of expressionism, incarnated by the shamanic figure of Johannes Itten, the central aesthetic form and operational diagram becomes the grid, which Gropius makes into the basis of Bauhaus pedagogy. The whole adventure can be seen as one of developing the potentials of the grid, as a sensible and yet also mathematizable mediator between the free-floating imagination and the constraints of the industrial process. The aim is to achieve not just a new relation to materials for the industrial age, but above all a thorough-going abstraction of human identity, promising an escape from the horrors that arose out of the combination of modern industry and German nationalism in WWI. The theme of postnational humanity, of World Man, so prominent in the US after WWII, actually has its origins here in interwar Germany. You can see it in the shocking photo of a woman reclining in a modernist chair, her limbs relaxed, her body fully present in the space – and her face erased by an uncannily smooth, reflective metal mask that depersonalizes her entirely, making her into a foreign being, an alien creature of the grid.

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The Decade to Come

November 28, 2009

Ten Years After Seattle

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It was the heyday of globalization, the high point of the Internet boom and the last gasp of the New Economy: the WTO ministerial in Seattle was meant to celebrate the advent of a corporate millennium extending “free trade” to the furthest corners of the earth. Nobody on that fall morning of Tuesday, 30 November 1999, could have predicted that by nightfall the summit would be disrupted, downtown Seattle would be paralyzed by demonstrations and a full-scale police riot would have broken out, revealing to everyone what democracy really looks like and plunging the city into five days of chaos. Nobody, that is, except the thousands of protesters who prepared for months to put their bodies on the line and shut down the World Trade Organization – as well as their hundreds of thousands of other bodies across the world who learned the potentials of the networked society by participating in the far-flung renewal of leftist, anarchist, social justice and ecology movements that began in the wake of the Zapatista uprising five years before. The 30th of November was their day, our day, a tumultuous day in the streets, inaugurating a movement of movements whose resistance had become as transnational as capital.

The Peoples Global Action was essential to the success in Seattle, having launched the struggle against the WTO at its founding meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in February 1998. The west coast Direct Action Network was essential, for coordinating the non-violent blockades of crucial intersections that stopped the delegates from reaching the meeting. The trade unionists who disobeyed their hierarchies and marched past their restraining marshals were essential, for joining the students and filling downtown with a militant crowd. The Black Blocs were essential, for trashing private property and radicalizing the movement. The nascent Indymedia network was essential, for setting up a new communications system that could bypass the state and corporate media. And all the groups and individuals who had come to Seattle from around the world were essential, for being there to derail the summit and then going home to tell in their own tongues what they had seen with their own eyes: a global protest with its feet on the ground and its fists in the air, ready to challenge corporate capitalism in America itself, with the support of over fifty thousand Americans. Ten years ago the narrative of globalization changed directions, and we are still living out that unfinished story.

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INTO INFORMATION!

November 22, 2009

Reversing History for the Present

Osip Brik with logo of the journal Lef, photomontage by Aleksandr Rodchenko (1924)
 Makrolab on Campalto Island (2003)

Here is the synthesis I attempted to put together at the end of a fascinating conference entitled The New Productivisms, organized by Marcelo Expósito and Jorge Ribalta at the MacBa in Barcelona, March 27-28, 2009. Recordings of all the lectures can be downloaded from the site; the book is forthcoming in Spanish.

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As Dimitry Vilensky explained, the experimental process of the Chto Delat group only advances by “permanently risking a shared madness.” I offer the following in exactly that spirit.

Like the Soviet productivists, we are faced today with immense changes in both the technological system and in the social relations whereby it functions. Since 1989 the capitalist labor force has doubled, due to the introduction of the former communist countries into the international trading system and to massive shifts of rural peasantries to market economics or indeed, to a worker’s life in the city. Whatever name you care to give it – globalization, informationalism, flexible accumulation – this new deployment of capitalism represents a metamorphosis no less sweeping than the advent of assembly-line manufacturing in the early decades of the twentieth century. As I summed it up a few years ago: “Geographical dispersal and global coordination of manufacturing, just-in-time production and containerized delivery systems, a generalized acceleration of consumption cycles and a flight of over-accumulated capital into the lightning-fast financial sphere, whose movements are at once reflected and stimulated by the equally swift evolution of global media: these are among the major features of the flexible accumulation regime as it has developed since the late 1970s.” The new productive regime opens up vast possibilities of intervention to any artist who tries to engage with it – and many have done so. Any look back at the productivists from our position today remains incomplete without drawing explicit parallels to the activities of artists in the tumultuous period of transformation that has unfolded in living memory, and is still unfolding.

These changes in the mode of production could not have occurred without the massification of access to the Internet and to the many technological systems that have converged over the last two decades, via the global hardware networks of cables, servers and routers and the TCP/IP transmission standard that functions as the general equivalent of information. The existence of a new distribution system fundamentally altered the status, potential and responsibility of the artist, or at least, of those artists who were most aware of and most sensitive to the shifts in social relations. The ardently desired opportunity to hook a whole range of publishing platforms and lightweight audiovisual recording devices into the worldwide distribution system gave rise to vital needs for the disalienated appropriation and redeployment of what had originally been a technology of command and control. The networked communications devices emerging from the military and corporate labs had to be grasped in their materiality and in their logical and semiotic structures, in order to reshape their potentials and reorient their uses. This meant leaving the studio, the gallery, the museum and the academy, to take up the tools of the engineer and to explore the infrastructures of globalized industry. After a careful, yet also audacious look back at the Soviet productivists of the 1920s, the agenda of the leftist vanguards in the 1990s becomes clear. It can be summed up in two words: “Into information!”

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UC Protests Continue

November 19, 2009
Actions at Regents'  meeting, Covell Commons, UCLA -- photos by Derek Liu

Fourteen people are arrested at UCLA while the Regents go ahead with their huge tuition hikes. As the second UC Walkout unfolds across the entire system, a text is published from an occupied “Capital Projects”  building somewhere on the Berkeley campus. The events of the occupation aren’t very clear, but the message is getting closer to home. This time it’s not about debt, it’s not about bankruptcy, it’s more essential:

In the university we prostrate ourselves before a value of separation, which in reality translates to a value of domination.  We spend money and energy trying to convince ourselves we’re brighter than everyone else.  Somehow, we think, we possess some trait that means we deserve more than everyone else.  We have measured ourselves and we have measured others.  It should never feel terrible ordering others around, right? It should never feel terrible to diagnose people as an expert, manage them as a bureaucrat, test them as a professor, extract value from them their capital as a businessman.  It should feel good, gratifying, completing.  It is our private wet dream for the future; everywhere, in everyone this same dream of domination.  After all, we are intelligent, studious, young.  We worked hard to be here, we deserve this.

We are convinced, owned, broken.  We know their values better than they do:  life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.  This triumvirate of sacred values are ours of course, and in this moment of practiced theater—the fight between the university and its own students—we have used their words on their stages:  Save public education!

When those values are violated by the very institutions which are created to protect them, the veneer fades, the tired set collapses: and we call it injustice, we get indignant.  We demand justice from them, for them to adhere to their values.  What many have learned again and again is that these institutions don’t care for those values, not at all, not for all.  And we are only beginning to understand that those values are not even our own.

The values create popular images and ideals (healthcare, democracy, equality, happiness, individuality, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, public education) while they mean in practice the selling of commodified identities, the state’s monopoly on violence, the expansion of markets and capital accumulation, the rule of property, the rule of exclusions based on race, gender, class, and domination and humiliation in general.  They sell the practice through the image.  We’re taught we’ll live the images once we accept the practice.

Read the full text: The Necrosocial.

Also check out an interesting video in which a very middle-of-the-road looking student describes the occupation of Wheeler Hall at UCB, following the short-lived occupation of the Capital Projects building (actually the Engineering bldg). What does she hope? That these movements continue in the US and around the world so that student power can be reinvented as a real political force.

–>Here are some further resources, as of Nov. 24, after the really amazing events of Nov 18-19 including serious face-offs with the cops at Berkeley and UCLA, which may radicalize a huge student/faculty/staff movement.

–First, a great segment of Democracy Now, which includes the audio of the statement read from within occupied Campbell Hall, as well as a good interview with Bob Samuels.

Occupy California, from Santa Cruz, has links to all the radical and confrontational groups, whose work has been very successful (no confrontation, no movement!).

Bob Samuels’ blog is worth a read.

–A very interesting post by a UCSB professor, R. Flack, written in advance of Nov. 18-19, where he shows all the conditions that are coming together for a major social movement. This is actually pretty thoughtful stuff.

–Finally, this fairly surreal video on the occupation of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley on Friday Nov. 20 gives a feeling of the intensity of those events:

Is it Written in the Stars?

November 6, 2009

Global Finance, Precarious Destinies

StarsTarot (del presente-por-venir) de Barcelona & Cloud Gate
& Black Shoals Stock Market Planetarium

 

On AT&T Plaza in Chicago’s Millennium Park stands a giant stainless steel sculpture in the shape of an indented ellipsoid, 66 feet long, 33 feet high, weighing 110 tons and glistening in the sun like a drop of liquid mercury. Entitled Cloud Gate by its creator, the British artist Anish Kapoor, and nicknamed “the Bean” by locals, it cost 11.5 million dollars and it immediately became what it was intended to be, an urban attraction photographed by endless tourists, the world-renowned symbol of a creative city. Stand below the arching mass of the sculpture and gaze upwards at the omphalos or navel: your body multiplies into drunken curves, improbably fat and impossibly thin, like in a funhouse mirror. Look back at the sculpture from a few steps away: your diminutive image is crowned by a ring of skyscrapers, their outlines etched against a blue horizon.

Returning home from a recent trip to Detroit and a string of other half-devastated cities, I realized viscerally what I knew intellectually: that Chicago is the incomparable winner of the region, the Midwestern capital of the global economy. It’s the city that pioneered both commodity and financial futures, and after a recent round of mergers it is now home to the world’s largest futures and options network, the GLOBEX trading platform run by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group (the “Merc”). Elite knowledge workers are making tremendous amounts of money in this city. Yet our neighborhood just a few miles from the lakeshore is full of boarded-up houses and lives that have been foreclosed by the crisis. Twenty percent of the city’s inhabitants have fallen beneath the poverty line and a quarter of the population has no health insurance. The municipal housing projects have been destroyed for private development and over thirty percent of the high school students will not graduate.1 On a sunny day you can see the bright blue sky through the rust-eaten girders of the elevated transport system.

This essay describes the workings – and indeed, the work force – of a variety of capitalism that has spread outwards from its Anglo-American core to reshape the entire planet. At the center of contemporary capitalism is a set of financial instruments called derivatives, and a group of people called traders. The text draws links between their highly abstract formulas and the aesthetics of lived experience in the world’s major cities. It inquires into the emergence, over the past thirty or forty years, of a predatory culture built up around global finance, and into the precarious destinies that result from that culture. It begins not with the azurean blue, but with the curve of a dark horizon.

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Four Pathways Through Chaos

October 25, 2009

Research Program & Course Proposal

Malevich_The-Knife-GrinderKasimir Malevich, The Knife-Grinder (1912)

Here I want to lay out the elements of a coordinated research-education-writing proposal and submit them to the critique of anyone who cares, in order to hopefully find some partners for the implementation and realization of what could be a new and more socially significant way of learning and producing cultural/intellectual content. Let me know what you think! – BH

“The revolutionary takes what the people give in confusion and returns it in precision.” I heard that bit of leftist wisdom at an informational meeting for the US Social Forum and realized that at the very least, I could apply it to the 60 or 70 published essays I’ve cobbled together from multitudinous sources over the past ten years. The essay by its nature has the strength of singularity, delving deep into some particular juncture of cultural potential and social reality, of facts on the ground and human aspirations, so as to exceed the determinant forces. The logic of exemplarity makes the essay useful to others: it casts a sharply focused pool of light whose very clarity suggests the immense obscurity of all the depths that remain unplumbed. Yet an essay is never a systematic theory. Its objects, its referential context and its metaphorical structure are too specific to be applied anywhere else. The essay is “writerly” in the sense that Barthes described in S/Z: it stimulates some other writer’s efforts to do something completely different. Yet at a certain point, the sophisticated meandering of the writerly is just egotistic bullshit. What you owe us is a solid theory, man, something other people can understand and apply wherever they need it. OK, so that’s what I’m gonna produce. But not alone.

I want to teach a course but not a traditional one. What appears most promising is to develop a multi-authored networked archive combining simple bulletin-board functions with a specific problematic, a syllabus, lecture outlines, extensive source texts and reference materials as well as links to some of my own texts, and ultimately the finished elements of a complete theory of power, conflict, emancipation and political solidarity in contemporary times. This evolving networked platform — necessarily password protected to elude the limitations that copyright places on the free dissemination of knowledge — would be used as a basis for actual seminars, whether in academic or cultural contexts where I would be paid by some constituted institution, in DIY contexts where the motivation of a group would be sufficient to organize the sessions, or, absent myself, in unforeseeable settings where the strength of the materials and the course articulations could be utilized by whoever so desired and was able to make them bear unexpected fruit. In the best of cases, the seminar would unfold dialogically or multilogically, with other theoretical eggheads who would propose counter-examples, problematizations or completely alternative formulations of the subject, while nonetheless taking care to recognize that there is an original thinking-and-working being in the (virtual) room with them. The students of such a course would obviously be free to develop their own investigations and exceed the reach of their putative and temporary masters (let’s remember that Marcuse did his Habilitationschrift with Heidegger, and published it despite the latter’s utter disapproval). In short, such an endeavor would evince the dignity befitting autonomous men and women in search of the others who can help them on their quest to forge a collective framework of existence.

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Interview with Pelin Tan

October 22, 2009

For Express, monthly Marxist culture magazine,Turkey

Pelin_TanPelin Tan is a generous and irreverent person living in Tophane, Istanbul

Dear Brian, as you might remember when we met last time we were discussing about the question of autonomy in contemporary art practices. In your writings, in terms of this context, you focus on collaborative, ethical-aesthetic and collective art practices. Could you tell us bit about it with some examples of projects, practices and your engagements?

I began as a critic in the mid-nineties, 1994 actually, by working with an open seminar at the Beaux-Arts in Paris run by a professor named Jean-François Chevrier, where we studied the latest Marxist interpretations of globalization and invited people from all walks of society to discuss the crisis of neoliberal restructuring, downsizing, lean and mean corporations, global oligopolies, that sort of thing. The crisis became obvious with the great strikes of December 1995, the largest and longest in France since May 68; so we were ahead of the curve, our work was immediately relevant. Around the same time I started getting involved with the graphic arts group Ne Pas Plier, a communist group located in one of the red suburbs of Paris, called Ivry-sur-Seine. The seminar culminated in the book of Documenta X, a retro-perspective look back over the second half of the twentieth century with a strong focus on economics, including an interview I did with David Harvey. I think the book is pretty good and somehow helped kick off the hybridization of art with various kinds of research into social change. After that, the collaboration with Ne Pas Plier led onward to the cycle of counter-globalization protests, where we were able to bring large amounts of graphic materials and do great interventions in the demos! The Summit of the Americas in Québec City in April 2001 was particularly memorable, we came with twelve or fifteen people from all around Europe, Serbia, Poland, UK, Germany, Spain, France of course, even two people from Argentina… All activist-artists, but Ne Pas Plier also included sociologists, unemployed people, folks from the neighborhood in Ivry. We made 4000 fire-colored masks on the spot and distributed 200 kilos of posters, stickers, etc, turning a gallery exhibition into a gigantic give-away site for the use of the movements. Along the way to the summits there was some pretty amazing stuff in Barcelona, like a week-long workshop on “Direct Action as One of the Fine Arts” in 2000, bringing together over a dozen really funny and virulent activist groups in an anarchist union hall with money siphoned off from the Macba, which for ten years was the most interesting museum in Europe (personal opinion of course). However, there were limits to autonomy in both those collaborations (the limits being the art world and the communist ideology) and I abandoned the Beaux-Arts soon after Documenta and left Ne Pas Plier after our interventions at the Laeken summit in Brussels in December 2001. A text called “Liar’s Poker,” written in 2002, expresses exactly what I was interested in at that time, which was subverting the art scene and encouraging people to more or less steal the resources and work with the social movements developing their transnational critiques, for instance, the No Border movement. Since then I have collaborated with lots of artists and then launched the Continental Drift seminar with Claire Pentecost and the 16 Beaver Group in 2005. The idea was to look at Anglo-American Empire, how it comes together and at the same time falls apart, how the outlines of the continents change along with the way we inhabit them, new regionalisms, Europe, Latin American revolutions, the Chinese rise to hegemony, all those things. Fundamentally we wanted to criticize Bush and show people they didn’t have to sit quiet like zombies. Continental Drift takes the model developed at the Beaux-Arts and makes it much better, fully collaborative, open to the city, focused on art-activism-social theory, critical and oppositional, free of all hierarchical bullshit and institutional ladder-climbing. Here in the US, where I have returned after 20 years abroad, I am finding lots of interest for this way of working and I am about to launch several other seminars. We need a revolution in this country and we lack revolutionary analysis and praxis. I am looking for ways to contribute.

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The CIGNA 7 Get Themselves Arrested

October 9, 2009

What are the rest of us waiting for?

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Outside an opulent skyscraper in Chicago, a white middle-class lady’s picket sign said it all: “She could not wait!” The sign is filled to overflowing with the photo of a radiant young woman. JENNY, 1984-2009, reads the caption. She was only twenty-five years old.

On a cold Chicago morning, some forty or fifty of us had decided that we couldn’t wait for the House and the Senate to pass a mutilated health-care bill. We held signs and chanted slogans in front of the corporate headquarters: “CIGNA profits, people die, Medicare for all.” Meanwhile, seven principled individuals, including health-care professionals and a physician, had gone inside the glass-domed reception hall to sit down on the floor and demand that the giant insurance company immediately approve all doctor-recommended treatments for its insurees. The police was all they got for an answer.

Jenny Fritts was lucky, and then she was unlucky. She was a young married mother with love in her heart and a second baby in her body, but she didn’t have the right insurance. She woke up feeling sick in the world’s richest country, and she went to a for-profit hospital where they couldn’t treat her. Instead they told her to take some NyQuil and go back to sleep. The next day she still felt sick. She went to another hospital, she was admitted, and it turned out she had a very serious infection. It was too late to save her baby and fifty-two days later she died in an intensive care unit. If you live in the United States, Jenny Fritts is your neighbor, your daughter, your long-lost cousin, your friend. She could be black, she could be white, she could be yellow, she could be brown, and she could very easily be you.

There’s a big open space in front of CIGNA, but in reality the sidewalk there is pretty narrow: “That’s private property, you gotta get back,” said the security guards each time we crossed the invisible line. Inside the building, the accountants charged with making money for CIGNA’s shareholders are the ones who constantly draw that invisible line, separating those who paid their bills and will get their treatment from those who paid their bills and nonetheless will be denied. The movement of the line determines the profits for America’s multi-billion-dollar private insurance industry.

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