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we gladly feast on those who would subdue us | sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc


Revolutionary Leaflets and Comrade Things

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 17:23:46 +0000

In his recent Anti-Book, Nicholas Thoburn finds the communist escape hatch leading out of the fortified gulag of commodity-book production. Review by Anthony Iles   Revolutionary leaflets and kindred things: they look as though they have been overtaken by catastrophes, even when they are no older than 1918. Looking at them, one can see that what they wanted did not come to pass. Hence their beauty. – Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Bibliographical Musings’1   Anti-Book is giving me a lot of trouble, it's coming on like a communist headache, the aspirin for which I have been waiting too long. Aside from the superficial problem that it is indeed very much like a book and not an anti-book,2 my main problem is that every time I open it I make so many notes that were I to read it like this in its entirety I would end up in possession of a document longer than the book itself. This confounds any attempt on my part to provide a summary, though I find myself trying to write one nonetheless. Image: New York City Public Library copy of the Olympia Press 1977 edition of SCUM Manifesto defaced by Valerie Solanas. In his preface to Anti-Book, Thoburn outlines the project’s ‘communist intent’ to sketch an outline of a field of self-critical publishing. That is publishing which takes issue with the standardising form of publishing conventions and produces instead what he calls, after Rancière, ‘hieroglyphs of the anti-commodity’.3 This may raise the fear then that these printed objects, books, pamphlets and magazines will be framed within a logic of a bourgeois anti-capitalism, one which seeks to champion and amplify the exceptions to capitalism in order to undermine it and prefigure other social relations. However, Thoburn is anxious not to lead us down this rosy path paved with communes founded on private land and bourgeois commoners, instead, he argues that if his theoretical objects put communism at stake, ‘it is a communism that would draw attention to [...] contradictions and not make as though its intent can lift it from the world of capital’.4 Therefore, the projects Thoburn surveys tend to render from the determinations of print form barbed and spiky negations of readers’ expectations, popularity, even readability, print conventions, and the ‘transposable’ feigned universality of the book as a commodity. These attacks offer up the conventions they negate to critical examination, indicating not only the gaps between socially necessary labour and its potentially non-alienated counterpart but also non-alienated labour’s impossibility under capitalism and how a published product directed towards purportedly universal utility and accessibility must participate in a chain of deformations in order to become a bearer of exchange value. Thoburn argues that many small press projects, indeed many pamphlets, have a price but no exchange value, this does not necessarily make them exemplary of non-alienated labour. Rather, through a sequence of specific moves which denature wage labour and engender critical thought about their own manufacture, they unsettle ‘work and its identities’.5 The flight from labour is not a model, but an antagonistic standpoint from which issues the production of singular allegorical objects through which to think communism as a movement of negation and non-identity. This is, in Thoburn’s words, ‘a communism immanent to the social relations of capital’ and through it we travel through the concepts of ‘literary communism’6, ‘communist writing’ to an ‘expanded communism of printed matter’.7 Image: New York City Public Library copy of the 1977 Olympia Press edition of SCUM Manifesto defaced by Valerie Solanas The Anti-Book develops this ‘communism of printed matter’ primarily with reference to projects which mostly began their life in the world after the spectacle which was presented to us as the ‘fall of communism’ in 1989. As such, the book covers some of the more unusual left writing and publishing projects: Infopool, London Psychogeographical Association, Unpopular[...]

Chump Change: Decrypting Bitcoin & Blockchain

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 16:05:18 +0000

Artists and academics are jumping on the blockchain bandwagon and talking up the potential for cryptocurrency and distributed ledgers to mitigate austerity capitalism. Attractive as techno-monetary fixes may seem they come at a dangerous ideological cost, argues Andrew Osborne reviewing David Golumbia’s The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism   At the 9th Berlin Biennale, artists Simon Denny and Linda Kantchev presented Blockchain Visionaries (2016), an exploration and celebration of the blockchain phenomenon. Denny, a self-professed enthusiast described the blockchain as, ‘a great model for dreaming dreams and telling a diverse and divergent set of new (and not so new) stories about how the world might organize in the future’.[1] Similarly, in his New York show Blockchain Future States (2016) Denny set out to investigate ‘three financial companies at the forefront of Bitcoin’: Ethereum, 21 Inc. and Digital Asset.[2] In the press release his gallery stated: At a moment when public debate spotlights a global governance system that seems to ignore the needs of many of its participants, starkly contrasting visions for alternative political systems are emerging. What would a world look like where the collusion of an elite few would be rendered technically impossible? Can a truly inclusive global future exist? Whilst expressing a political vision familiar from any article on cryptocurrency, the bland inferences about a tech fix for ‘elite’ power read as a bromide. On closer inspection some of these assertions have a lineage that is far from emancipatory, however. The art world is ardently advocating for Bitcoin and other blockchain technologies. For instance, it has recently been suggested that the blockchain might ensure a system by which artworks are provided with trustable provenance (‘a spreadsheet in the sky’); or used to enforce contractual obligations; or to establish a ledger so that artists are paid any royalties due.[3] There is even a scheme to encourage small investors to acquire tiny portions of famous masterpieces – a form of fractional ownership that is clearly derived from the Bitcoin paradigm. Behind the digital dreaming much of this ‘utopianism’ appears as an effort to shore up value in the art market, which has been sagging ever since the 2008 crisis. None of this is particularly surprising given that art has long been a form of speculative investment, but this indicates how Bitcoin and blockchain boosterism regularly disguise baser imperatives (whether the boosters are themselves aware of it).   Simon Denny, Blockchain Visionaries, 2016   Denny exalts the blockchain as having, ‘the potential to change some of the most fundamental societal building blocks from which our world is built’.[4] However, among artists, writers and curators there is very little scepticism about this ‘world-changing technology’; a technology that, exorbitantly, claims the capacity to abolish or at least seriously diminish the powers of the nation-state. Instead, within the current art market, the blockchain and its numerous derivations are celebrated as inherently innovative, democratic and progressive. Like many blockchain evangelists, Denny sees the possibility of ‘a more distributed global future as more people become dissatisfied with key institutions such as governance and finance.’[5] However, as we’ll discover, this runs quite contrary to many of the founding assumptions of Bitcoin. It is these that are interrogated by David Golumbia in his book The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism (2016); posing a series of compelling questions about whose dream we are being asked to dream and whose future we are expected to build.   Bitcoin, Digital Culture and Right-Wing Politics David Golumbia begins his book The Politics of Bitcoin with a challenge to the leftwing users of the cryptocurrency: how can Bitcoin be progressive? Rather than directly answering this initial question, he instead explains why Bitcoin and the implicit pol[...]

Spectres Of Modernism: Artists Against Overdevelopment

Tue, 24 Oct 2017 19:44:55 +0000

Spectres of Modernism is an installation of protest art banners emblazoned with slogans dreamt up by leading artists and writers including Turner Prize winners Jeremy Deller and Elizabeth Price and Booker Prize nominated author Tom McCarthy. The banners will hang from the balconies of flats in Bowater House directly opposite The Denizen, Taylor Wimpey’s planned luxury apartment block on the corner of Golden Lane and Fann Street, close to London’s financial centre. Slogans such as ‘Zombie Investors Take Stock’, ‘Homes for Heroes’, ‘children need sunlight to grow’ and ‘parasites will starve in this carcass of culture’, oppose the new development and draw attention to the failure of neo-liberal economics in Britain’s cities; its legacies of social cleansing, housing crisis, and damage to modernist architectural heritage, as well as the art-washing of urban devastation. The Denizen has planning permission from the City of London council and will overshadow local homes, the adjacent Jewin Welsh Chapel, Fortune Street Park, Richard Cloudesley and Prior Weston Schools and the Golden Lane Children’s Centre. Sunlight is being stolen from children, residents and local workers to create ghost homes for investors who won’t live in them. The community in Bowater House who will lose up to 70 percent of the light coming into their flats have collaborated on the exhibition. The entire installation has been designed by Fraser Muggeridge Studio to appear as a colourful, high impact collage of architecture and text. The exhibition is curated by Clare Carolin. Bowater House is part of Golden Lane Estate, an ensemble of grade II listed social housing designed in the 1950s and occupying a former World War II bombsite. Taylor Wimpey’s development entails the demolition of Bernard Morgan House, a classic example of civic modernist architecture completed in 1960 to accommodate 110 key workers; the new building has no social housing provision to replace any of what will be lost from this stock inside City of London boundaries. The Taylor Wimpey development is massively over scaled and completely out of keeping with world-renowned architecture it will be situated between, the Golden Lane Estate to the north and the Barbican complex to the south. Both these internationally recognised modernist icons were designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Artists: Mark Aerial Waller, Fiona Banner, Deborah Curtis, Adam Dant, Jeremy Deller, Arnaud Desjardin, Margarita Gluzberg, Patrick Goddard, Pippa Henslowe, Stewart Home, Siu Lan Ko, Tom McCarthy, Fraser Muggeridge, Katrina Palmer, Cornelia Parker, Esther Planas, Elizabeth Price, Anjalika Sagar – The Otolith Group, Iain Sinclair, Gavin Turk, Eleanor Vonne Brown. Local art context: The northwest corner of the City of London — including Golden Lane and Fann Street — was recently rebranded Culture Mile by this local authority. Two Banksy murals appeared at the southern end of Golden Lane on the Barbican complex on 17 September 2017; this is 2 minutes walk from Bowater House. 5 minutes walk to the north on Norman Street, Burnhill House is flying hand painted protest banners against the Finsbury redevelopment plan; these were produced by local artists Riah Niaf and Liz Rever working with St Luke’s Community Collective. Spectres of Modernism Part 2: is a second stage of the project in which artists are invited to document the banner installation on Bowater House. Together with the banners their work will be auctioned to fund the exhibition and the Save Golden Lane Campaign. Artists included in Part 2 are: Anthony Auerbach, Zoe Brown, Justin Coombes, Rut Blees Luxembourg, Sarah Dobai, Chris Dorley-Brown, Arturo Soto Gutierrez, Eva Stenram, Nina Wakeford and Students from the MA Visual Sociology, Goldsmiths. Auction:   December 10, Kunstraum, 21 Roscoe Street, EC1 8PT. Fraser Muggeridge Studio: (Fraser Muggeridge, Luke Hall, Jules Estèves, Rachel Treliving, Joe Nava and Elena Papassissa) is a graphic design company bas[...]

A Lesson in Media

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 16:34:06 +0000

A report from the demonstration(s) in Hackney last night in response to the police murder of Rashan Charles  A lesson in media: last night was sad and extraordinary. For the last days the videos of the murder of Rashan Charles at the hands of the police have been circulating widely. Yesterday the SWP (disguised under the name of their front organisation "Stand Up to Racism") called a vigil outside Stoke Newington Police Station. They did this without speaking to Rashan's family or friends. During the course of the day a number of us argued with them on social media about this, to no avail. I didn't much want to go to the protest, but since for a while I've been involved in police monitoring, and helping people in situations of police violence on the street, I decided to go as a Legal Observer, aware that if shit kicked off (because the police attacked the crowd, as they so often do) there would likely be many young people - and mainly local young people of colour - who would be violently apprehended by the police. Despite hating the conditions under which the protest was called, supporting those people at times when police violence is at its most brutal and most unchecked, is important. The vigil became a march and we went down Kingsland Road to the shop in Haggerston where Rashan was killed. After a short time the SWP tried to drag everyone back to the police station. Thankfully it was mainly just the SWP who left, taking the 70 odd police officers who had accompanied the protest in military style with them. What remained was a much more interesting crowd: a whole range of local people from friends of Rashan, to people who worked and lived close by, and everyone from teenagers to pensioners. I spoke with one man for a while about his life for forty years in the area. He said his partner was pregnant and he is terrified about what the police could do to his child one day, and how unbearable the thought is that someone could turn up at his house to tell him his child had been murdered just because they were black. Once the SWP had gone the police mainly kept a distance. A couple of helicopters hovered above us, and vans were parked up a couple of hundred metres away. If this crowd had a single aim it was to keep the police away, and to find some time to express their anger, to grieve and mourn away from the spectre of police violence. At times the police tried to bait the crowd, by driving seven motorbikes up and parking them on the corner, although they quickly retreated after the anger made it clear they were unwelcome. As a gesture towards keeping this space small road blocks were set up with rubbish, old oil cans, a mattress. An ambulance was let through when it needed it. When a police car tried to drive through it was stopped, but no-one tried to attack it as a close family friend had told everyone they didn't want this. Outside the barber shop sits a memorial of flowers and candles in plastic cups.     At some point some white anarchist squatters came past. They decided it would be a good idea to wheel out a massive wheelybin into the middle of the junction and set it on fire. The rest of the crowd were furious with them for this: they said that these were random white people doing something which inevitably the black community would be blamed for. The community didn't want fires and these people had done something which signified that this protest was something quite different from what it was. A number of heated arguments ensued - about blackness and whiteness, about media recriminations. Sensibly a number of people told those who had lit the fire to leave. They explained to the white woman her privilege in the situation and about how the media was wanting to paint the local community, and how it had done this for decades. Her useless response was to just shout at people about about how she "understood her privilege" but would set fires everywhere. Eventually she left. I think there was probably some cultural misunderstanding on[...]

The Luxury of Not Being Burned To Death

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 15:47:59 +0000

Southwark Notes cuts through due process, the wait for 'findings', after the Grenfell Tower diasster to give words to what we know already anyway... From Southwark Notes Blog: This has been the longest week ever for many. The agony of the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire continues. So many lives lost and so many people still unaccounted for. We are all still in mourning.   In the streets below the burned Grenfell Tower this afternoon, everyone’s saying where was the emergency response from Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea? Few council officers have been seen in the multiple help centres local people have run or chatting to people by the flowers, memorials and ‘Missing’ posters. Instead they lock themselves behind closed doors in the Town Hall and wonder why people tried to get in to demand answers.   Yet from a tragedy that had been so desperately predicted by residents in Grenfell Tower for many years, comes a sense that little can be the same again. Listening today at the perimeter to the charred tower to the angry voices from that community has been both sobering and inspiring. It’s been such a long time since working class voices and in particular black working class voices have been heard so loud.  It’s amazing. It’s fresh fucking air finally. We can breathe once more.   We have no particular faith in the mass media to represent those voices. There have been so many instances this week where journalists or reporters cannot simply just let people speak what’s on the mind. But we don’t need balance or to be calm right now. People have been rightly saying from Day One – you can’t depoliticise this! Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever else spreads the word, there has been a massive highly sussed community response to the criminal business at hand.   The Fire in Which We Burn We are still making sense of this crime in the City that we love and that is being destroyed and socially cleansed faster and faster. Every day we come across new injustices, new indignities, new outrages. Many, like this one, have been committed in the name of regeneration, a process steeped in everyday violence against us.  Regeneration has long been publicly unmasked as a massive act of social engineering where profit is the central machine that drives us out. Homes become investments. People get ‘decanted‘. People get Compulsorily Purchased. No longer are we welcome in the communities we have all had a hand in growing. Our communities are airbrushed away in architect’s plans. The other side of the story is disinvestment, our estates breaking down from a planned lack of care and funds. We are stigmatised here there and everywhere. We are told we are shit. We often live in shit – mould, damp, overcrowding. We are felt to be surplus to the remaking of the City as one massive cash machine that dispenses profit making unaffordable homes be they luxury towers or shared ownership apartment blocks. And if much needed refurbishment is done, the imperative of covering and making housing pretty for the area around it leads to criminal decisions, such as using cheaper flammable cladding. It’s tragic that the fire, the terror and the deaths at Grenfell Tower have had to be the final potent symbol of all that has been brought down on our heads in the last 30+ years. It’s like everything has been exposed now – the greed behind gentrification and the greed behind cutting corners when maintaining or refurbishing, on materials and fire safety equipment. It’s as everyone has been saying this week – they don’t care about us!  Well, if they don’t care about us then it’s only up to us to come together and overthrow the rotten system at heart.   The Problem is Not Towers, It's the Greedy Bastards! The liberal chatterers in the press or TV wants us to be silent and wait for ‘the findings‘. The Tory media counter attacks that our[...]

Tools of the Trade: The History of British Restraints

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 15:57:57 +0000

What form of technology is the police? Rees A offers a forensic analysis of the tools of jurisprudence and policing   yu cyaant awsk Clinton McCurbin bout im haxfixiasham an yu cyaant awsk Joy Gardner bout her sufficaeshan yu cyannt awsk Colin Roach if im really shoot imself an yu cyaant awsk Vincent Graham if a im stab imself – Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Liesense Fi Kill’   This is a history that has to be told in partial memories, fragmented stories, through the remains of broken struggles and broken bodies, in between the lines of public reports. It is not an official history or a victorious history. Maybe the only story there ever is to tell about the police is one of defeat: any other story would be that of their impossibility. This story, then, is another unhappy one made out of many other unhappy ones. It takes place in the gap between lives and the police line and is told with the tools that fill that gap.   Cheiralgia paresthetica is ‘a neuropathy of the hand generally caused by compression or trauma to the superficial branch of the radial nerve.’1 It is commonly referred to as ‘handcuff neuropathy’ due to its usual cause. In more severe cases treatment involves putting the patient under local anaesthetic, cutting through the layers of skin and fat and muscle on your arm or wrist, and decompressing the affected area of nerve. Damage can be permanent. In the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) entry for handcuffs, officers are advised that:   Handcuffs that are not double locked may tighten and cause injury to the detained person's wrist. Handcuffs should be double locked and checked for tightness unless it is clearly impractical to do so. For example, if the detained person is struggling or violent. In these circumstances, steps should be taken to help ensure that the circulation of blood is not restricted and that no unnecessary injury is caused.2   Handcuff neuropathy is one of the more frequent medical problems afflicting those taken into custody. From one point of view it’s the result of the bad application of the cuff: a procedural irregularity that can be done away with through better training. From another, it’s a punishment for resisting arrest, questioning an officer, protesting. What is readable between the lines of the SOP is a counter-indication explaining how to use the tools of the trade to harm and maim. Cheiralgia paresthetica is as much the result of sadism as it is individual incompetence; a sadism that is combined and systemic in the police force. Indeed in an institution that employs tens of thousands of people, and holds responsibility for their level of training, any individual incompetence, multiplied across the force, is itself institutional sadism. A coordinated and predictable accident. hxckid84, suffering from a botched handcuffing and asking for medical advice, described the experience of cheiralgia paresthetica on Yahoo! Answers:   hi all, i was arrested on friday night and handcuffed very tightly. i can't remember much as I was drunk (reason i was arrested). Since then my left arm has been tingling and specifrically the shoulder muscle refuses to work. I have feeling in it but my wrists are very bruised and sore and my shoulder muscle being paralysed is really worrying me. whats the problem? will it be permanent? i canot make it move at all. its no sunday and still no improvement. my whole arm is weak and 'asleep'.3   While role-playing just this arrest scenario with rigid handcuffs, John Franklin – himself a police officer – suffered a similar injury. He was left unable to go back to work and experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety. Ultimately the courts awarded him a payout of £108,137 damages. The damage was done because Franklin was incorrectly treated like any other arrestee on a Friday night. For Franklin as for hxckid84, ‘extreme pain was caused frequently and […] there was [...]

Automate This! Delivering Resistance in the Gig Economy

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 16:33:38 +0000

In the workplace automation and technology have tipped the balance of power greatly in favour of capital but, as Jamie Woodcock explains, workers are contesting this situation, logging out and calling the shots   In my new book Working the Phones,1 I worked in a call centre to try to understand the labour process, management techniques, and new forms of resistance and organisation. This article connects the development of new managerial methods of surveillance and control, often tied up with automation, from the call centre to the new ‘gig economy’. The recent rise of Uber, and new ‘Uber for X’ type companies like Deliveroo, represents a new shift in employment relations, tipping the balance of power greatly in favour of capital. This is reliant on contractually outsourcing labour, a legalistic trick, backed up with new technological methods of surveillance and control. Call centres have provided an important site to understand these changes as they were at the cutting edge of both outsourcing and developing these technologies. What follows is an argument linking the call centre to the new ‘gig economy’, through an understanding of automation and technology, while also presenting some initial findings from a new project with Deliveroo workers.   Automation   Automation has become a particularly fashionable topic of discussion, both on the left and more broadly. Automation has the potential to transform work on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution, creating vast swathes of unemployment, seen for example in the claim that just under half of all jobs are at risk of automation.2 Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams have raised the importance of contesting how automation happens, arguing for a universal basic income as one response.3 The key to understanding automation is that it is not a neutral process: it can serve the interests of the powerful, or enable free workers to spend their time on other things. Much like the application of technology more generally it is a contested process. For example, automation first involved augmenting work in various ways. It has been altering tasks carried out by labour for a very long time, but most often it falls far short of the science-fictional future of sentient robots and frictionless interactions that it promises.   Call centres have developed over time with the increasing application of technology to the labour process. At first, workers manually dialled numbers from sheets of paper, but over time these environments have been transformed into workplaces deeply shaped by the integration of computers and telephones. Automatic dialling resulted in workers making many more calls, reducing to a minimum the time between calls. The scripting of phone conversations took away some of the mental labour involved in the phone conversation, rationalising and regularising it. These greatly boosted the productivity of call centre workers, augmented through technological speed-up. This was successful in call centres because the integration of telephones and computers makes the work particularly susceptible to this.4 Call centres also emerged at a time of deregulation, often in the financial sector in the UK, leading to a rapid growth of sales operations.5   The next stage of automation brought the possibility not only of augmenting how work is carried out, but displacing people from the process entirely in some sectors. This raises the possibility of mass unemployment as a result. But the history of technology in the workplace has been one marked by the contested introduction of new methods of managerial surveillance and control, involving a fight over how work is carried out and under what conditions. This next shift involves increased technological capabilities of automation. Marx makes an important distinction between the ‘tool’ and the ‘machine’ which is useful to consider here. The machine was ‘a m[...]

Rubber Boats & the Planetary Class Struggle

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 14:30:10 +0000

The global border regime excludes from transport those who most need to travel, with deadly consequences. While migrants resist and overcome state control of movement, the dominant sense of the 'refugee crisis' forecloses a perspective of class struggle. Richard B analyses the production and distribution of rightless non-citizens by national capitals acting internationally, to recover a sense of the challenge to capital migrants pose as a proletariat   Introduction   If 2015 will be remembered for many as a year of the great escape, 2016 ought to be chronicled conversely as one of new experiments in walls, prisons, deportations, isolation and abandonment. In the laboratories of their islands and enclaves, European powers have been fixing the breaches in their dams, their experiments covered by a haze of humanitarian rhetoric about fighting the Smuggler on the one hand, and cloaked in the dystopic fear of the Terrorist on the other. Yet while the Aegean boats have been blocked, and tens of thousands of Syrians and Afghans have been trapped in Greece, and despite the dangers, the rejections, the drownings, the imprisonments and expulsions, the number of people attempting the journey from Tripoli seems only to have increased. Death’s numbing cipher looms over all the metrics and narrations alike: over 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean en route this year alone, each zero a thousand hang-man’s nooses. Many more will have died before reaching Libya, and through the forms of enslavement and captivity in a land periodically overcome by gunfire and desperation. In the face of all these dangers which have, in one way of another, been imposed upon them, 150,000 people have already made it to Italy this year – and, unless a new government in Libya can be formed and bought off, another 150,000 will arrive next year as well.   Why are some forced to make such a perilous journey to enter the continent, rather than using the safer routes utilised by the vast majority of those finding their way to European states for either short or extended periods? How has the ruling class over the past year reacted to the resistance to the border regime? And most importantly, how has the struggle of the working class shaped these transformations, and what can we, all of us, learn about the nature of freedom from the material struggles or these hundreds of thousands who are breaching the borders?   To answer these questions, a brief history of the current Mediterranean crossings is given below, and an account of the methods by which the EU and member states have attempted to retake control of the means of movement over the past year. This is necessary to appreciate, as explained in the final section, how proletarian Africans and Asians have gradually but effectively broken the asylum system designed to manage them.   * * *   Much of my perspective and information is owed to the West African migrants in Sicily. If there is an emphasis at times of the Gambian experience here, it is for this reason: not, I hope, to any detriment, but partly to provide some balance to a discourse which, when not dominated exclusively by a white European standpoint, has focussed on the Middle East and, less frequently, on East Africa. While the reach of this essay is broad, it is not comprehensive: I say nothing about the conditions in refugee camps and hostels, about the strikes by paperless workers who have no recourse to courts, about the struggles to build a life. (Indeed, to this extent, such a thing as ‘migrant politics’, would be as broad and far-reaching as a ‘citizenry politics’). This essay is a small anti-capitalist contribution to a fathomless history of entering, surviving and not being sent back.*   1. The Age of Untransport   The romance of migration runs deep in European culture. Charting the routes between cities, the steam covered p[...]

Policing the Knowledge Quarter

Sat, 01 Oct 2016 16:41:54 +0000

Sam Dolbear takes a walk through the oppressive reality of Brexit era London   Granary Square is open to the sky but it also feels like a sealed model of how a future-London sees itself. There is a Waitrose with a wine bar, artificial hillocks in synthetic turf that resemble Teletubbyland, a canal occupied by slow-moving boat-parties adorned with bunting, an art-school with ping pong tables outside and fountains in which, at least, children can play. The website reads: 'KQ IS THE NEW KNOWLEDGE QUARTER AT THE HEART OF LONDON. We are the focal point for one of the greatest knowledge clusters.' It is a place that encapsulates New Labour, even after its death, as a persistent and strangely archaic vision of the future.   For about two years now I have worked as an assistant to a man with autism. He lives in Kentish Town and likes to go for walks around London.  One Thursday afternoon in mid-July we found ourselves in Granary Square where we sat on a large platform, between a block of officially-graffitied portaloos and a reclaimed 1950s caravan that is actually a coffee-hut. It was a quiet spot and we sat there for an hour or so. At one point, the man I assist signalled to go to the toilet and I took him. Whilst I was outside the disabled toilet door, I could see that a security guard had approached my colleague and fellow-carer. When I came out, I asked him what had happened. He said the security guard had asked if there was anything wrong to which he replied no, as there wasn't. After which they said: 'Well, if we see anything or are alerted to anything suspicious, you know our first response has to be physical force.'   Although this threat was stated hypothetically, the police and security firms have a history of acting with such force against people with autism and their carers. Only a few days before this incident, Charles Kinsey, a black care-worker for a 27-year old autistic man in Florida, had been shot three times in the leg, despite the fact that Kinsey was holding his arms up in the air. The police officer had reportedly mistaken a toy truck for a gun. In Luton in February 2014, Faruk Ali had been pursued and beaten up by two police officers, PC Christopher Thomas and PC Christopher Pitts, as he went to put out the bins in front of his home. Despite evidence that the officers were laughing and taunting him, the same adjective reoccurs in their evidence: Ali's behaviour was 'suspicious.'     It might be claimed that this is particular to autism, given it is a disorder on a spectrum without any particular physical manifestation. But these incidents reflect a structural problem with police and security firms more generally, who can do nothing but equate 'suspicious behaviour' with assumed guilt. This assumed guilt is the basis for the legitimate act of physical force. But the problem is that which defines “suspicious behaviour” is subjective at the same time that it is already constituted by objective and institutional structures of racism and discrimination. The police and security firms attribute guilt to 'the suspicious' but those who are 'suspicious' are already defined for them. The way the security guard spoke is revealing. 'If we see [...], our response must be....'. Even if she didn't speak for the company's official position, she did speak on behalf of the implicit logic of the security companies. We must act to make you safe.   The recent release of two new mass-market books on autism — Neurotribes (2015) by Steve Silberman and In Another Key (2016) by John Donvan and Caren Zucker — reflects a growing interest in the condition. As vast surveys of autism's history, it is remarkable the extent to which each book largely ignores the relation between the condition and everyday violence and the anxiety of the threat of that violence everyday. Silberman’s history especially reads[...]

Exit Strategies: Danny Hayward’s Pragmatic Sanction

Thu, 21 Jul 2016 09:19:45 +0000

'What if our possibility is grounded in the uncoordinated?', asks Pragmatic Sanction, Danny Hayward's ambitious long poem. Among other things it undertakes a scarifying assault on the kind of 'thinking' constituted and compelled by the Government's 'points based' Work Capability Assessment system. Ed Luker works through and illuminates the dizzying deadlocks of a contemporary communist poetry that is neither reconciled nor resolved, but inexhaustibly compelling   Although it is perhaps too soon to say to what extent and what the consequences will be, it is not yet too early to say that poetry is finding a new value. There has been a resurgence of interest in the non-prosaic in literary and art worlds. This is perhaps most clearly seen in a large turn towards the word as a part of art practice. This is perhaps not surprising: the word is relatively ‘cheap’ to produce in comparison to other forms of art production, where the means to digital distribution are often immediately at hand for those savvy (or lucky) enough to afford it. Within the world of poetry itself there have been a myriad of discussions around whom poetry is for and who gets to write, or what we even might deem the function of poetry to be.[1] In the wake of the Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place controversies, it seems that these questions come at a time when the task of the historical avant-garde is being re-assessed, perhaps in part through an identification that the work of some of its most currently well-known practitioners seem to run antithetically to the most pressing concerns of our present moment. Last year, David Marriott wrote that the very concept of the avant-garde has slipped into a commensurability with the historical category it was always attempting to negate. Marriott, however, also defends the tasks that the avant-garde set, ‘those European and American avant-gardes posed a question about the relation between the reading and practice of poetry that goes beyond the category of the avant-garde itself.’[2] For Marriott, whilst the term that denotes the organisation that would overcome history may not be to up to task, it is still necessary for history to be sublated. These discussions around the task and function of poetry in relation to the methods of the avant-garde are important. Without getting into a rather circular and unhelpful set of questions around what is or is not a contemporary avant-garde poetry (a term that perhaps should be consigned to history) we, as Marriott prefaces, need to think carefully about whom and what poetry is for, what kind of questions our poetry is asking, and what kind of tasks we set for ourselves within the realms of aesthetics and politics? Within a North American context it seems undeniably true that a vanguard that set itself in opposition to mainstream cultural practices has become little more than a market appendage, a boutique aisle on the shopfloor. However, this historic failure is not an essential aspect of poetic experimentalism but rather a contingent element of a certain moment. The entrenchment of certain figures, such as Goldsmith, within the establishment does not undermine the thrillingly necessary work of experimentation currently being done by poets as various as Fred Moten, Anne Boyer, M. NourbeSe Philip, or Rob Halpern, to name but a few. In Britain, the situation is somewhat different. Whilst there are a small number of poets who can proffer their experimental work within the small presses in relatively small circulation from the confines of their academic office, they sit uneasily within ‘the establishment’. From the GCSE syllabus, to ‘Poetry Please!’ poetic taste is bound up within a conservatism of limited ambition. It has felt, until recently, like ‘British Poetry’ has still not overcome the anti-modernist anaestheti[...]

In Times of Political Ruin

Tue, 12 Jul 2016 13:51:46 +0000

Some reflections on post-referendum politics from H. Gracchus In these great times, which I have known since they were small; which shall become so again, if they are given time enough for it. – Karl Kraus These are tremendous times. Yet the nervous urgency that shakes every decision cascades into bureaucracy. Restorationists stand on every side decrying the true spirit of the time – one of glorious political ruin. Each party busies itself with finding new leaders in the model of the old ones, only more resilient, more distant, and less willing to conceal their authority. The same fear that guides the hatred of immigrants has caused a country, in a moment of political crisis, to cry out for leadership. Fear clothes itself in resigned hope, urging us toward a more stable future, while blinding us to the present. The demand for authority, in reaction to the exceptional openness of oppression today, threatens to permanently silence the already stifled experiences of oppression everyday. Only in doing politics amid the ruins can this obedient mass-psychology be punctured. Only in action can the conditions of fear be defeated. The commentators speak now of a ‘political vacuum’. They hope that through designating the ruling chaos as nothing at all it will simply disappear. We see it not as a vacuum but as a battlefield, open to both our enemies and us. This chaos is not ours already; it must be won. Now is no time to surround ourselves with friends, but instead enter the moment of danger, and to recognise the work that must and can be done: of change, struggle, and at where necessary annihilation. The glory of political ruin does not shine resplendent: its edges are tinged with the darkness of racism, nationalism and hatred, but its centre burns with the brightness of resistance and the glimmers of a world transformed. We have no choice but to take hold of the ruins, to use them to our advantage. Our task is not to erect new fortresses to protect us from terror; they are bound to collapse on us again, as fractures of hatred spread silently through their walls. Instead the space that has opened up must be used. The ruin of government presents the opportunity to take things into our own hands. Two hundred thousand people have joined the Labour Party to save its leader, so that he might – all too slowly – save us. Momentum reveals itself as inertia. Now is no time for organisation; it is time for collective political violence alone, for righting wrongs in action. If two hundred thousand people instead were to tear down the gates of every immigration removal centre in the country, if every raid were disrupted, if the borders of this island were rendered ungovernable in these ungoverned times, a new politics would be forced into view. We need this new politics, not just new politicians. We must fight not for anti-racist leaders, who promise softly spoken anti-racist sentiments in the pages of the Guardian or Telegraph, while ever more people are attacked. Instead we must fight as anti-racists for a world free from oppression. We must fight not as a feeble mass that begs protection, vainly hoping that the next government will be benign enough to serve our interests just a little more. Instead we must fight instead as the strong mass that annihilates the causes of our fear. [...]

Notes from Non-Existence

Tue, 28 Jun 2016 10:39:38 +0000

Heinrich Haine takes leave of Common Sense with the perverse claim that some of the working class live in Islington and not all are natural anglo-English born. At least they weren't allowed to vote, then. But why does Mute give a platform to Cosmopolitan Scum?   Your country's dead man, but your continent is soiled – Triple Negative, Schengen Wasteman   Jay Gould may or may not actually have said ‘I can hire half of the working class to kill the other half’, but the proprietors of the UK have tested the theory successfully with their EU referendum. Not that you would know it from reading the Guardian, the Financial Times or even, sad to say, Counterpunch and the rest of the Left-wing blogobubble, where a chorus of Influencers is celebrating the 18th Brumaire of Nigel Farage. Let me make clear what I don't mean by that. Of course the likes of John Pilger, Michael Hudson, Tariq Ali and too many others to list are right in principle to celebrate a slap in the face of the EU manageriat and its unctuous cheerleaders. Who other than actual Eurostipendiaries would deny that the EU is an anti-democratic managerial machine built to hammer home labour discipline (sorry, 'Competitiveness') and ease cross-border financial looting? But the point here is not really about whether or not the satisfaction of symbolically slapping a robot outweighs the harm done by an anti-immigrant plebiscite. What cries out louder for correction right now is the myth that the ‘leave’ vote is a victory for THE working class over 'metropolitan elites' and incorrigibly Scottish Scots. This matters a lot, because the metropolitan, multinational working class is being told by all sides, and at the worst possible moment, that actually we don't exist. Worse still, myths like this tend to become self-fulfilling. Which is not to say they come true, but they become trusims to the point that they start having real effects. Like that old chestnut, ‘immigrants are to blame for other workers' immiseration’, which we've just witnessed in action.   Image: ScotLond by @MrMichaelShaw   What actually happened is that part of the proletariat in Britain (along with a lot of proprietors large and small) voted, if not to kill the rest of us, at least against any guarantee of our continued presence here, ‘going forward’. But the very existence of ‘the rest’ is denied outright by all kinds of commentators, so that the pro-deportation voters become THE working class by default. Happily, a few statistics are enough to bring the rest of us back to life, although the numbers are a dozen clicks down on the Guardian website, behind a shitewall of Jonathan Freedland columns. You’ve probably heard that London (c. 60 percent ‘stay’ vote; = Metropolitan Elites) and Scotland (c. 60 percent; = those notorious fops of Dundee, East Glasgow and Leith) stood alone against The Country (= England, Wales and Northern Ireland Loyalists; = THE working class). That's one way of looking at it. Specifically, a way that ignores those yuppie strongholds Manchester (60.36 percent ‘stay’), Cardiff (60.02 percent), Liverpool (58.19 percent), Bristol (61.73 percent), Leeds, Newcastle and Leicester (lower 50s); along with Edinburgh (74.44 percent), Glasgow (66.59 percent), Aberdeen (61.1 percent) and Dundee (59.78 percent) – but those last ones don’t count because they're, well, Scotland; and Northern Ireland (55.78 percent, but apparently only Irish Republicans got out of bed that day). It’s true that the exurbs of everywhere – poor and rich alike – apparently want to get further away from the Great Multicultural Wen, and that Birmingham – the second-largest city and one of several where a large South Asian population would have been partly ineligible thanks to [...]

Two Models of Inescapable Shock

Tue, 21 Jun 2016 15:20:18 +0000

Two Models of Inescapable Shock Thursday 7 July 6-8pm   Marina Vishmidt and Anne Boyer in conversation   A Mute launch for:   Marina Vishmidt & Kerstin Stakemeier, Reproducing Autonomy, 2016   Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women, 2016     Richard Hoggart Building Room 137a (main building) Lewisham Way London SE14 6NW   About the books   Garments Against Women ISBN: 978-1-906496-38-8 Boyer tests these conditions, putting their accidents on the page because others will have to go on doing so. She probes and tests, flinching, letting go and pushing on, up and downward. Made sick by ‘the supreme whateverness of upward moving depths’ – by the ‘unconstrained constraints’, the bullshit choice between happiness or infirmity – she senses what lies between the pages of the closed book (‘another veracity that includes conspiracy, corners, shadows, slantwise, evasion, unsayingness, negation, and under-the-beds?’) With her mind as the deadpan-logical mouse in this laboratory, Boyer tries to invert and hollow out the conditions, to lift the real from its carefully constructed frame. – Mme Tlank More information:   Reproducing Autonomy ISBN: 978-1-906496-99-9   Countering liberal conceptions of the autonomous entrepreneurial subject, Kerstin Stakemeier and Marina Vishmidt side with those cast in the role of the heteronomous, such as domestic and reproductive workers. From the vantage point of reproductive labour, Stakemeier and Vishmidt make a compelling case for the ongoing relevance of the notion of autonomy in the context of art, beyond and against modernist accounts of self-sufficient artworks produced and received by self-sufficient subjects. Vishmidt and Stakemeier operate like true feminist materialists, looking more than a little bit closer, and tarrying with thought as a mode of praxis. – Sven Lütticken More information:     Related Events   * 28th of June, 2016 at 7pm * Anne Boyer reading at Booksa in Zagreb   Anne Boyer will read from Garments Against Women followed by a discussion with Dunja Kučinac and Luka Ostojić   Booksa, Martićeva 14/a, Zagreb, Croatia     * Wednesday, July 6, 2016 at 7pm * Berlin launch for Garments Against Women at Anagram Books   Anne Boyer will be reading from her new book Garments Against Women published by Mute   Anagram Books Lausitzer Str.35 10999 Berlin     * Friday 8 July 2016 * MATERIALS READING SERIES POETRY !!! Anne Boyer reading in Cambridge !!! POETRY David Grundy PERFORMANCE Lisa Jeschke & Lucy Beynon, The Tragedy of Theresa May 08 July 2016 7 for a 7.30pm start Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio, English Faculty, Sidgwick Site, Cambridge Free drink *** ANNE BOYER Anne Boyer is Kansas City-based. Her publications include The Romance of Happy Workers (2006) and My Common Heart (2011). Her most recent book, Garments Against Women (2015), has been described by The New York Times, a 'sad, beautiful, passionate book that registers the political economy of literature and of life itself.' DAVID GRUNDY David Grundy's publications include The Problem, the Questions, The Poem (2014), Whatever You Think the Good Home (2014) and To the Reader (2016). 'with no catch to hold / what floods through the door'. LISA JESCHKE & LUCY BEYNON The Tragedy of Theresa May is a sequel to David Cameron (2013).   * Saturday 9 July 2016 7pm-late * Anne Boyer reading with Danny Hayward, Sacha Kahir, Hestia Peppe, Eirik Steinhoff and Keston Sutherland as part of Bad Feelings launch and party at T-Chances   Launching three new books: Black Box: A Record of the Catastrophe, Bad Feelings, Anguish Language: Writing and C[...]

Cesura//Acceso Call for Issue 2

Fri, 13 Nov 2015 14:31:10 +0000

Call for Issue 2. Corrupting Desires! Technique, Performance and Control

Email to:

We are currently accepting submissions for Issue 2 of Cesura//Acceso, to be published in June 2016.

Our central theme will be: Corrupting Desires! Technique, Performance and Control.

We want to think about how music is made and experienced - revealing limits, exclusions, desires, strategies, optimism and pessimism. Frustrations, constraints and manipulations of makers and listeners often condition the ways we can feel or think through our engagements with music. We want to prise these contradictions in music open, revealing some of its fractures, as well as its generative and emancipatory possibilities. Some of these might be related to:

  • What skills are we judged, rewarded or excluded by? Can any technique really make us free? What technique keeps us contained?
  • Whose identities are we expected to perform? What are the demands of an identity (gender, race, class) we did not ask for? What potential do music and poetics have to break or affirm these classifications?
  • The production of authenticity in music: how are we expected to be real?
  • Manipulations of pathos: how can music make a weapon from the excess of our emotion?
  • How does our resistance feel: aggressive pitch, joyful noise, propagandistic timbre, strange dancing, emotional cadence?
  • What conditions and histories can we hear through the voice?
  • Where does the unreachable, refused or exhausted find asylum?

We encourage:

  • essays, in-depth reviews, historical accounts
  • un-rigorous analysis, polemic
  • sequences of images, visual work
  • poetry or lines of poetry
  • interviews
  • responses to music
  • formal experiments
  • intensive and obsessive responses to pieces of music
  • expressive rage, excessive simplicity, impassive speech acts

We are keen not to normalise contribution formats and will accommodate unorthodox submissions. We will accept both finished material and proposals for works in progress.

If you have an idea that prioritises sound, we encourage you to suggest a way we can represent it in print (as a link, or a transcription, for example). For image-based contributions, please submit these with a clear description and instructions for envisaged layout.

We suggest 5000 words as a maximum limit for text-based contributions. There is no minimum requirement for submissions.

For any further queries on submission formats please contact us directly at

The deadline for submissions is 1/12/15

Art’s Economic Exceptionalism

Thu, 12 Nov 2015 13:26:47 +0000

Whilst left critiques habitually relate art to capitalist commodification, few do this on strictly economic grounds, let alone cogently. Josefine Wikström argues that finally we do have a book that fulfills exactly this task   In his 1978 seminars on Karl Marx’s Grundrisse Antonio Negri famously constructed an expanded concept of ‘production.’ Not restricted to Marx’s understanding of it as a specific historical mode through which capital reproduces itself, production, in Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse, comes to mean something more akin to a creative productive force of life in general. Transposed onto the context of art in his later writings, art – like life in general – is understood to be as subsumed as all living labour under capitalist production. Within a different tradition of Marxism, György Lukács, in the 1920s placed art and cultural production under the sign of ‘reification’ to emphasise its commodified character within capitalist production. In diametrically opposite ways and for different conceptual and political reasons, both Negri and Lukács’ understandings of art rest on its complicity with ‘capitalist society’ (Lukács) or its inseparability from ‘life’ (Negri) and therefore upon its entanglement with categories such as ‘commodification’ and ‘subsumption’.   In his new book, Art and Value: Art’s Exceptionalism in Classical, Neoclassical and Marxist Economics, Dave Beech, opposes both these positions by arguing that art, at its base, is economically exceptional. Art, Beech contends, is not as subsumed to capitalist production as other areas and is not a commodity like all others within a capitalist society. Too often, Beech argues, art’s subsumption to the value-form and processes of commodification – are simply taken for granted rather than being economically investigated. This, he explains, does not just go for post-Marxism in its melancholic Frankfurt School version or in its Italian vitalist form, but also for neoclassical, or so called ‘cultural’, economics. The latter, by rationalising market forces makes ‘economic exceptionalism [..] nothing but the result of internal inconsistencies within classical price theory.’ (p.104) The task is then to ask ‘in what ways precisely art is subjected to or remains free from economic rationality and how exactly art enters or resists commodification.’ (p.10)   Beech argues for art’s exceptionalism by tracing the relationship between the idea of ‘exceptionalism’ – a modern term, but a concept which ‘was developed as early as the eighteenth century’ (p.22) to describe products and processes of production which don’t abide to the general laws of capitalist production – and art in the context of classical, neoclassical and Marxists economics. Adam Smith, like other classical economists of his time, set out to ‘establish economic laws, in part, by showing what is exempt from them, and art is one of the key exceptions.’(p.64) Art, similarly to products like rare wine and antique goods, does not follow the general laws of economic production, mainly because it cannot be reproduced in the same way as other commodities. As a result, ‘prices cannot be regulated by the variation of supply in relation to demand.’ (p.89) KP Brehmer, Real Capital Production, 1974   If Smith, Ricardo and other classical economists, understood art and other unique goods to be economically exceptional because of their incapacity to reproduce themselves according to the general theory of labour, neoclassical economists rationalise – or even ‘hegemonise’ or ‘ontologise’ – market mechanisms. As a result, art and cult[...]


Tue, 20 Oct 2015 17:01:02 +0000

Marx famously described capitalism as mad and inverted. Daniel Spaulding re-examines speculative realism through an Adornian prism to disclose a thought of ‘the great outdoors’ beyond capital that is very much immanent to a world not only upside down but increasingly inside out   In his book After Finitude, published in France in 2006 and in English translation two years later, Quentin Meillassoux refers to what he calls the ‘Great Outdoors’: the wilds of the Real to which philosophy may achieve direct access once it frees itself from the correlation between thinking and being. The Great Outdoors is Meillassoux’s term for everything that philosophy stands to gain from the reversal of Kant’s Copernican Revolution. Except, it turns out, it isn’t, since the original phrase is, rather, le Grand Dehors, which means something more like ‘the Great Outside.’[1] Le Grand Dehors has no vernacular resonance in French; at least, it is devoid of the woodsmanly connotations of its English (or American) counterpart. The difference, slight as it is, may have led certain Anglophones to fantasise about camping trips to the vales of the Absolute, where marshmallows, thinking their marshmallow thoughts, roast in their ineluctable withdrawnness over the flames of unfettered speculation. Le Grand Dehors by contrast sounds rather less adventuresome. Perhaps, also, more intimidating: the dehors is a placeholder for the beyond of all sensuous experience, akin to Pascal’s terrifying infinite spaces. Gemütlich it’s not.             I mention this only because the ‘Great Outdoors’ has come to be something like a structuring trope in a broad swathe of recent philosophical thinking, in which, often enough, Gemütlichkeit returns with a vengeance. We have, over the past decade, been invited to take seriously the prospect of an ‘object oriented cookery’ that would grant full honors to non-human agents in the kitchen (that is, everything but the chef – marshmallows presumably included).[2] We have been informed, of inanimate things, that ‘the same charm is present in foreign cultures, and for all the endless diatribes against ‘Orientalism,’ objects themselves are a perpetual orient, harboring exotic spices, guilds, and cobras.’[3] We have also been told, in a meditation on the September 11 attacks, that an ‘explosion is frightening because it’s ontologically uncanny.’[4] And we have seen the rehabilitation of H.P. Lovecraft as an evidently major figure in the history of speculative thought, as well as much else passing as philosophy that seems straightforwardly reducible to kitsch: Carl Sagan-esque paeans to the wonder and weirdness of the cosmos, for example.             How to make sense of this conjunction between the familiar and the strange – cuteness combined with terror? What is it that its consumers expect from it? My answer is necessarily oblique. As an art historian rather than a philosopher I tend to read this literature with a sense of bemusement, if not bewilderment. Surely no one can care this much about whether objects are ‘fourfold’ or ‘virtual proper beings’?[5] – But then, surely nobody could care all that much about a splatter of paint. I have come to write this essay by way of a collision between adjacent realms of the abstruse.             I can sketch my picture only in very broad strokes. At the moment, the ambient theoretical climate in the art world seems to split the difference between an overheated revival of Enlightenment Prometheanism (this position goes by the name ‘Accelerationist’), on the one hand, and on the other hand a p[...]

Nervous Costume

Wed, 07 Oct 2015 11:00:58 +0000

Madame Tlank digresses from and back to Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women, which is many things. A memoir written by someone without a history. A garment made for no-body. A reproduction fin in a great fleet of sharks   Down With Supreme Whateverness: On Anne Boyer's Garments Against Women   a catalogue of whales that is a catalogue  of whale bones inside a catalogue of garments against women that could never be a novel itself.1    ‘Who eats in a cage? Or with a caged mouth?’ This question leaps in white out of the first two black pages of Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women. In it, the need to eat is shouted out loud. In it, the cage is seen and felt. And it’s made clear that in order ‘to survive survival’, to eat without a cage, it’s not enough to shift the cage (from mouth to just around the body, say): it needs to be ripped away. And fangs regrown.   Kafka’s Hungerkünstler refused the terms of survival that were laid out for him: he put himself deliberately into a cage, on public display, and refused to eat; the worst for him was to be force-fed once every 40 days; the sheer effort of lifting himself up to have food poured down his throat was already too much, so little interest did he have in survival. And why? Because, as the Hunger Artist confesses just before he perishes, ‘I could not find a food that tasted good to me.’2 Because he could see no point in surviving survival. It was all just so much pale grub.3     In Boyer’s writing, of course, the cage is no protection from present conditions, it is the present conditions, as embodied for example in garments and literature: ‘Literature, like garments, had so often been against so many of us, enforcing and sustaining the hostilities of a world with the unequal distribution of resources and the corresponding unequal distribution of suffering.’4 Survival itself requires assenting to those conditions, eating at least, if with a caged mouth. Refusing this survival means not-writing: not (in writing) (re)producing the conditions that would call such survival ‘life’. But accepting this survival also requires not-writing: paid and unpaid work, reproduction, etc. – things necessary for survival produce not-writing too. So that surviving survival, the will to want to live, to write, requires a world turned inside-out. And in Garments Against Women Boyer attempts to ‘imagine, foreshadow, call forth or negatively invoke a [writing] incommensurable with Things As They Are.’ (MH) It is a labour of love & rage.   But who would publish this book and who, also, would shop for it? And how could it be literature if it is not coyly against literature but sincerely against it, as it is also against ourselves? (p.48)   One version of Things As They Are:   If an animal is inescapably shocked once, then the second time that she is shocked she is dragged across the electrified grid to some non-shocking space, she will be happier than if she isn’t dragged across the electrified grid. The next time she is shocked, she will be happier because she will know there is a place that isn’t an electrified grid. […] She will go to the shocking condition – ‘science’ – and there in this condition she will flood with endogenous opioids, along with cortisol and other arousing inner substances. […] how is Capital not an infinite laboratory called ‘conditions’? And where is the edge of the electrified grid? (pp.1-2)   Boyer tests these conditions, putting their accidents on the page because others will have to go on doing so. She probes and tests, flinching, letting go and pushing on, up and down[...]

Universal Discredit

Sun, 06 Sep 2015 23:15:48 +0000

This arresting essay presents an in depth account of the so-called 'system-upgrade' of welfare reform in the UKplc: Universal Credit Reposted from:   For the sword outwears its sheath, And the soul wears out the breast, And the heart must pause to breathe, And love itself have rest.   According to the British state, work no longer pays. The reason why it no longer pays is not that wages are too low or too high, that there are no jobs or not enough, or that there are too many people. Nor even is the claim always the one most well-handled by conservative minds joined up to their tabloid opposable thumbs, that welfare payments to individual claimants are prohibitively expensive. The reason why work no longer pays has (according to the British state) nothing to do with words like ‘high’ or ‘low’ and still less with their metonyms ‘rich’, ‘poor’, ‘proletarian’ and ‘bourgeois’, all of which are unpalatable terms best left to the dark ages that set in at around the time of the Norman invasions and lifted abruptly one afternoon in July 1994. For the British Conservative ‘modernisers’ who congealed into power in 2010, the reason why work no longer pays has nothing to do with issues of class at all. The problem was merely technical. On their account, the British welfare ‘system’ was outmoded. It was ‘perverse’, induced ‘mis-direction’, and encouraged ‘systematic abuse’.[1] Dismayed welfare consumers were bamboozled by the intricacies of welfare claim procedures in the manner of iPhone 5 users forced to adopt Atari 8800s while riding backwards on penny farthings. If there did remain nevertheless some few conscientious objectors still holding out against a much needed system-upgrade, it was evident that they were either troglodytes or nostalgists, gone-in-the-tooth hangers-on from an era in which dole offices still had queues instead of open-plan offices and ‘mining’ wasn’t yet something that you did on a computer in partnership with an auditing firm. No thinking person could resist the conclusion that what was needed was a root-and-branch debug, a rationalisation from top to bottom. Back then it didn’t take long for the majority of influential opinion-reduplicators to fall into line with the particular rationalisation scheme that was being proposed. ‘It’s now hard to find a mainstream politician or thinker who isn’t in favour of the universal credit’, bowed and scraped some buffoon in the New Statesman on 9 November 2010.[2] The acknowledgement of former Labour Party Work and Pension Secretary James Purnell, that he too had been in favour of the change, only ‘deepens the consensus’. Great Britain needed a welfare system that was simpler, more modern and domesticated, and less likely to piss ‘wildly’ on the carpet of the national accounts. It was agreed that the conclusion was strictly unpolitical. Five years later, in the middle of 2015, after many reports of catastrophic ‘IT errors’ and similar technical failures, critical commentators are beginning to become concerned. Mainstream politicians are no less persuaded of the bottomless depth of their agreement now that many thousands of working-class people have been forced to lie face down in six inches of it; but, among adversarial TV hosts, Guardian journalists, and policy researchers, a flicker of doubt can be detected. Is the technical simplification promised by the state being misused at the expense of working-class claimants? Might a slower pace of change have been preferable? Has a ‘good idea’ gone terribly wrong?[3] The fo[...]

Building Downwards

Thu, 23 Jul 2015 12:03:55 +0000

In their review of Keller Easterling’s Subtraction, Luisa Lorenza Corna and Alan Adam Smart interrogate an architectural theory that makes an economic virtue of contracted social reproduction   Since Vitruvius’ De architectura, fixity – both in terms of structural solidity and temporal longevity – has been a fundamental criterion of successful architecture. Along with beauty and utility, Vitruvius asserted the importance of creating firmitas in architectural constructions by carrying down the foundations to a good solid ground.1 Despite being, in many ways, the most material and literally technical of Vitruvius’ three key terms, firmness has however proven the most elusive, as architecture is subject to continuous processes of ruination, demolition and destruction.   Subtraction, a new book by architecture critic and theorist Keller Easterling published as part of the Sternberg Press Critical Spatial Practice series, presents an alternative to Vitruvius’ principles (and their failures) by framing removal, destruction and negation as constituent parts of architectural production and suggesting ways that the subtraction of buildings is, or could be, a source of value as important as their making.2 In this reframing, Easterling seeks to posit not only a new conception of architectural ‘production’, but also of the practice of the architect, in a moment when this category has itself been undermined by the disruptive action of neoliberalism and its cultural and theoretical formations.    In the literal sense, Easterling considers subtraction as a synonym for physical demolition or destruction that removes material constructions but produces marketable salvage material. Easterling also identifies subtraction with the ‘negative real estate values’ that radiate from buildings in a state of decay into the surrounding urban fabric, hampering further development or investment in these areas.3 As tendencies they are seen sometimes to work in parallel, or even to reinforce each other, and at other times to be opposed. At its best, the book deploys the openness of dramatic narrative and the discursive register of architectural criticism to give a vivid depiction of these distortions and interferences between materiality and abstraction in ways that leverage architecture’s unique, and uniquely precarious, position between aesthetics and political economy. At other points, however, Subtraction is not able to escape conflations of the material and the abstract, and thus these falls into the traps of ‘formal’ metaphor and reactionary mystification that have been the undoing of so much architectural thought.   Easterling’s struggle with the impoverished language of architectural discourse begins in the early sections of the book in which she discusses one of the most iconic instances of architectural destruction: the 1972 demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects in Saint Louis, Missouri.4 The implosion of the tower blocks was filmed and the dramatic stills widely circulated. These were held up as a positive proof of the ‘failure of modernism’ by a cadre of conservative architecture critics – Charles Jencks and others – seeking to posit ‘post-modernism’ as a new paradigm. In post-modernist accounts, projects like Pruitt-Igoe were presented as exemplars of modernism’s failure when they descended into squalor and social disorder internally and were blamed for leaking, what Easterling terms, ‘negative real estate value’ into the surrounding urban fabric. In reality, housing projects in the United Stat[...]

Capital and Community: On Melanie Gilligan’s Trilogy

Tue, 23 Jun 2015 12:19:35 +0000

In his assessment of the latest film in Melanie Gilligan’s trilogy on crisis, capital and community Jasper Bernes emphasises the necessity and difficulty of distinguishing between the community of capital – its expansive entrainment of the senses – and the unrealised project of a resistant human community   For some commentators, present day capitalism offers a stark choice between a thoroughly capitalist ‘fantasy of individual singularity’, whose origin and destination lies in the market, and ‘a collective desire for collectivity’ that might form the basis for an overcoming of capitalism. Against the relentlessly personalising and individuating energies of late capitalism, the task for those who oppose it, we might be told, is to augment ‘the collective power of the people.’ii Without a doubt, the capitalism we live with today takes its direction from the molecularising energies of the 1960s, an era in which demands for autonomy, variety, free choice, and free desire were leveraged against the massified, one-dimensional societies of mid-century. And yet, the cunning of history seems to function, in part, through the misguided efforts of those who insist on fighting the last war; we shouldn’t lose sight of the long list of bad collectivisms nourished by anti-individualist discourse. As preceding generations knew all too well, the discourse of the people can be used for the most repugnant of populist, corporatist, fascist, or statist projects. In the face of a new capitalism happy to deploy ideas of ‘sharing’ and ‘friendship’, we would do well to sharpen our sense of the distinctions worth preserving. Perhaps the pertinent line of opposition does not run between individuality and collectivity but between different forms of community, forms which imply, as a matter of course, different definitions of the individual: on the one hand, what Jacques Camatte, following Marx, calls the ‘community of capital’, and on the other, ‘the human community.’iii   Toronto-born artist film-maker Melanie Gilligan’s new film, The Common Sense, helps bring these distinctions into focus, by examining the perils of the common and the collective as we encounter them today. The film revolves around the emergence of a new ‘patch’ technology allowing the direct transmission of affect from person to person. As with her preceding film, Popular Unrest, (2010), science-fiction allegory is here a tool to investigate the logical structure of capital, in terms borrowed from Marx and Marxism, as total system and automatic subject. Though Gilligan finds herself among a number of artists and film-makers producing trenchant investigations of the structure of contemporary capitalism – from Hito Steyerl to the late Allan Sekula – no one that I can think of has used Marxist categories in such an imaginative and analytically precise way, nor put them in the service of such a novel critique of emergent aspects of contemporary capitalism. Viewed as a trilogy, the three film series, which began with 2008’s Crisis in the Credit System and continued with Popular Unrest and The Common Sense, presents one of the most powerful reflections on our present age of crisis and revolt that I have encountered.   Her films are not only incisive but have been remarkably prescient as well. Crisis in the Credit System was commissioned at a time when few people had much sense of the severity of what was unfolding. Debuting on 1 October 2008, as stock markets plummeted and massive banking concerns declared bankruptcy, the ro[...]