Mark Fisher’s excellent Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Zero, 2009) is now available in pdf at libcom.org.
Stephen Turner, “Settler Dreaming,” Memory Connection 1.1: The Memory Waka (2011): 115-26. Available here.
Augustus Earle, Distant View of the Bay of Islands, New Zealand (c.1827-28).
Rex Nan Kivell Collection, The National Library of Australia (nla.pic-an2820815).
This article focuses on collective memory in a place that has been radically transformed by settlement and where memory itself is part and parcel of the make-over. Remembering isn’t passive or received but active, and forms a process of settlement too. For visitors, says Walter Benjamin, a new country is exotic, and the object of an exoticising gaze, whilst for natives the place is perceived through layers of collective memory. The problem for settlers is that the place they come to consider their own is originally exotic to them. They now have a memory of a place made-over in their own exotic image of it — at first a picturesque landscape occupied by a disappearing indigenous people. Just how an exoticised experience of landscape and its indigenous inhabitants became “us” New Zealanders is forgotten today in declaring settler nature — “our” identity and character — to be of nature, now primordial and pure, and quite organic. Benjamin’s formulation suggests a corrective to cultural organicism and the constructed public memory of popular national identity.
The exotic place of settlers’ perception, even when familiarised and domesticated, is the lens though which settlers view history. Their collective remembering makes- over the place in terms of the experience of its difference to them, not in terms of Maori experience of European difference to Maori. The gap in perception is foreclosed by the make-over, which itself constitutes national popular memory. The remembering activity of settler culture makes all the more real a made-over place while occluding its making over. An industry of historians, or memory machinery, is needed to support settler place-making, working to shape and contain memory, and to secure it against real knowledge of the making over of place. I will explore how it does so by explaining three components of national popular memory: re-enactment, remediation, and cultural plagiarism.
John Barr Clarke Hoyte. The Bay of Islands (c. 1873). Watercolour. Christchurch Art Gallery: Te Puna o Waiwhetu.
My wing is ready for flight,
I would like to turn back.
If I stayed timeless time,
I would have little luck.
Mein Flügel ist zum Schwung bereit,
Ich kehrte gern zurück,
Denn blieb ich auch lebendige Zeit,
Ich hätte wenig Glück.
‘Gruss vom Angelus’
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating [my emphasis]. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (257-58)
Paul Klee. Angelus Novus (1920). Intaglio printing with acidic watercolor on drypoint. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Simon Critchley, “Mystical Anarchism,” Adbusters, 1 June 2012.
Politics is perhaps no longer, as it was in the so-called anti-globalization movement, a struggle for and with visibility. Resistance is about the cultivation of invisibility, opacity, anonymity, and resonance.
A draft of an essay with Stephen Turner. See the finished version at Inquire.
University of Auckland Owen G. Glenn Building (a.k.a. the Business School)
We are asked to address the university today in the local context of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, where we live and work. On the one hand, this is an educational setting at the ends of the earth, exotic and exciting (perhaps); on the other, and rather more apropos, this is a university much like any other. Very much wanting to be Melbourne, it is probably also rather more like Minnesota (no disrespect intended). In any case, the difference between all three, in terms of their globalising design-drive, is negligible. The league tabling of universities worldwide has produced an uncanny genericity — universality, even — of aims, objectives and outcomes, which is to say, university mission statements (UMSs): excellence, enterprise and efficiency. And it has greatly increased the importance of the measures (“econometrics”) that assure us that these ends, to which all who work in universities are now thoroughly devoted, willingly or not, have been achieved.
Econometric education (what David Weinberger calls “accountabalism”) is often couched in terms of the word “experience,” as the emergent property of the three E’s, so to speak, and as if it too were simply measurable (and as if universities actually cared about their clientele). It describes a “good” at our university in the same way that the word permeates the prospectuses of our (league-table) poor city cousins AUT University and Unitech: that is to say, our “experience” is better than yours because league tables say it is so — or, rather, make it so. Actual experience of an institution, a community and a place is systematically devalued. Class warfare has not so much migrated to the tertiary sector as embedded and enhanced age-old discrimination. The trick is that “discrimination” today refers to “improved” systems of measure — their increased ability to slice and splice space, time and value (see Hoskin and Frandsen on “space/time/value machines” [p. 1]) — rather than to social status, so making university environments appear class-free. (The capping of student intakes — by raising entry criteria — at our university has greatly nonetheless affected the ability of those most poorly-off in our society, in particular, indigenous Maori, to participate.) What we can report, therefore, is that our university here looks very much the same as your university there and indeed universities everywhere. This sameness, for us, spells the death of education in any non-cosmetic sense of “enhancement,” which is to say transformation by collective imagination, or “democracy” (Rancière 2010 45ff.). The word enhancement itself is now metricised (as are many of its synomyms: “improvement,” “growth,” “evolution,” etc.). Imagining itself is subject to systems of measure, such that it is difficult to imagine things being different; this is the ascriptive force of systems of measure at work: what isn’t measured, or strictly measurable, doesn’t count for anything.
Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man (c. 1487)
If anything, the New Zealand university is more generic in the world-excellent sense, though this may be special pleading (New Zealanders are notoriously modest in their narcissism). Our colonial past, however, makes us super-globalisers (settlers are avant-garde in their capitalism): we act out the historical design-drive of globalisation in our “fast-following” tendencies — our inherent slavishness to metropolitan models (Skilling and Boven 40-41) — and consequent genericity and “B+-ness.” The Occupy movement, and accompanying student unrest at the University of Auckland throughout 2011, which ran alongside a protracted dispute between unionised academics and our corporate-minded Vice-Chancellor, begs the question of the deeper “occupation” of the country by Pakeha (non-Maori) settlers and its radical transformation by colonising capital. In the context of on-going educational “reforms” (a.k.a. restructuring of university units and programmes for the sake of greater efficiencies), it cannot be surprising that Maori stand to lose most. What connects our colonial history to globalising imperatives of enterprise and has affected universities everywhere is a logic of replication that is as old as the nation itself but that now assumes a pedagogical guise. Given that knowledge itself, or more properly information, has became the commodity of commodities, and immaterial labour has displaced material labour, colonisation today takes the form of pedagogical “enterprise,” with the university as its flagship.
A little history is unavoidable if we are to understand the local development of the university, and not simply replicate the imperatives of globalisation (enterprise, excellence and efficiency). Historically, the globalising design-drive of settler capitalism initially worked to subsume the long history of indigenous inhabitation to the short history of the settler’s make-over of place (Turner ); we inhabit its continuous present (or future anterior: its always-already-will-have-been [Hill 193]). To retool some Marxist terminology, “formal subsumption” may be considered the formal alignment of the new country with the capital interests (in land, population and export) that its settlers represent, and the extension in and through their enterprise of an imperial economy (see Marx 1019-38). Those “forms” include land titles, property rights and wage relations. “Real subsumption” makes such forms the actual content of lived local relationships. So settlers replicate the propertied society of the mother country, but also, over time, adopt a local identity in terms of which the interests of the colony and the metropole have been fully aligned. (That settlers consider themselves not to be English simply masks the unexceptional nature of their settlement, and the fact that local public culture largely comes from other Anglo-settler societies, with Maori called upon to fill the local uniqueness deficit [Fairburn].) The result is a political economy of identity — an identitarian economics — in which to be a “New Zealander,” or “Kiwi,” itself signals the success of the enterprise of settlement. Local universities are not just determined by this logic but are its flag bearers.
Today, the logic of replication drives the production of local knowledge, and explains the country’s highly generic fast-following tendencies, albeit masked by our Asia-Pacific branding. The transformation of the older brick and mortar university (the Oxbridge University 1.0) into the steel and glass — and fibre — university (the transnational University 2.0) has been enabled by the new econometrics of knowledge. The technical capitalism of “improved” measure, delivered by a raft of business school devices (like Total Quality Management), drives the “universalising” of world-excellent universities. Due to the new infrastructure of managerialism, the content of education — indeed the very “idea” of the university — has undergone a process of abstraction, making enterprise the sole horizon of human possibilities, and thereby limiting different imaginings of our collective future. It is not that the economy has become more productive but that systems of measure have reoriented its operation, likewise the mission of universities: academics are incentivised to research rather than teach, to network globally, and to post outputs in world-leading journals, mostly outside New Zealand, while students are incentivised to gain the transferable skills that match openings in the market. Teaching merely ensures that the aims, objectives and outcomes of courses, properly aligned with those of the department, discipline, faculty and university — the nested capitalism of its micromanagement — are ticked off by student evaluations. Altogether more important — for universities and other “stakeholders” at least — is the national measure of academic performance (PBRF or the Performance-Based Research Fund), which has us academics competitively discriminating and counting outputs, googling for peer esteem — and discounting non-countable activities.
This kind of join-the-dots education fulfils the design-drive of techno-capitalism and obscures our ongoing colonialism. In this context, it is difficult to appeal to “critical” and “creative” thinking, as this is precisely what the world-excellent university says it does. We prefer vocabulary that sits less comfortably with mission-statement speak, and which suggests a renewed role for such off-mission “arts” like wisdom, charity, idleness, chance . . . just talking. As opposed to the capitalistic consonance (“consensus”) of the “creative”/entrepreneurial class ecosystem, we prefer the democratic dissonance of noise (“dissensus” [Rancière 2010 37-38]) and privilege the classroom as the site of its production. In a university whose architectural template is the “built pedagogy” of its flagship Business School (Sturm and Turner), which also has a one-billion-dollar building programme, which also sits within a Auckland City’s newly devised “learning quarter,” which also dovetails with Auckland City’s vision, which also reflects the National government’s management of the country as investment space, we teach, above all, the university (see Williams).
Against research, at once utopian and utilitarian, we emphasis the enduring value of the classroom, the “factor[y] of the future” (Flusser 49-50) and producer of “publics and counterpublics” (Warner). The pedagogy of corporate capitalism, and its arsenal of econometrics, makes of the university a combat zone. In our own teaching, we cross the science-arts divide that has crippled and isolated “literarity” (Rancière 2000 115), or literary reflexivity (language about language, we stress, doesn’t stop at “literature”). We advocate Writing Studies as an ur-discipline that takes in the entwined history of writing technologies and accounting; we teach “seismotics” rather than semiotics (with a view to our earthquake-ridden local landscape and the recurrent shocks of the world finance), an alertness to the way place and its peoples are shaped by geopolitical rumblings from afar. We have no room here to detail such initiatives, but we are concerned to reclaim place from colonisation: it is our claim that people live in a place, not in the air, or airport lobbies, or the airy conference centres of “transcendental capital” (Hage 2001 4; see de Cauter 273). We are particularly interested in occupying these techno-spaces to pervert their protocols and confuse their logics. To use against itself the apparatus of econometric education, haloed as it is by global technophilia, we seek the commotion of thinking together using whatever technological means our world-excellently equipped classrooms provide.
de Cauter, Lieven. “The Capsular Civilization.” The Hieroglyphics of Space: Reading and Experiencing the Modern Metropolis, ed. Neil Leach. London; New York: Routledge, 2002. 271-80. Print. [Available here.]
Fairburn, A. R. D. We New Zealanders. Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society, 1944. Print.
Flusser, Vilém. The Shape of Things: A Philosophy of Design. London: Reaktion, 1999. Print. [See Google Books.]
Hage, Ghassan. “The Incredible Shrinking Society: On Ethics and Hope in the Era of Global Capitalism.” Weekend Review: The Australian Financial Review 7 Sep. 2001: 4-5. [Available in edited version here.]
Hill, Christopher L. National History and the World of Nations: Capital, State, and the Rhetoric of History in Japan, France, and the United States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.
Hoskin, Keith, and Frandsen, Ann-Christine. Where is Strategy? APIRA 2010 Conference, University of Sydney, 12-13 July 2010. Web. [Available here.]
Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. Middlesex: Penguin, 1976. Print. [See Amazon.]
Rancière, Jacques. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. Steve Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2010. Print. [Available here.]
Rancière, Jacques (w. Davide Panagia). “Dissenting Words: A Conversation with Jacques Rancière.” diacritics 30.2 (Summer 2000): 113-26. Print. [Available at Academia.edu after login.]
Skilling, David, and Boven, David. We’re Right Behind You: A Proposed New Zealand Approach to Emissions Reduction.New Zealand Institute Discussion Paper 2007/2. Auckland, NZ: NZI, 2007. Print. [Available here.]
Sturm, Sean, and Turner, Stephen. “ ‘Built Pedagogy’: The University of Auckland Business School as Crystal Palace.” Interstices 12 (2011): 23-34. Print. [Download.]
Turner, Stephen. “Make-Over Culture and the New Zealand Dream of Home.” Landfall 214: Open House (2007): 85-90. Print. [Download.]
Weinberger, David. “The Folly of Accountabalism.” Harvard Business Review 10 Feb. 2007: 24-25. Print. [Available here.]
Williams, Jeffrey J. “Teach the University.” Pedagogy 8 (2008): 25-42. Web.
I was alerted to the first of three great essays on the implications of semiocapitalism for embodied communication from Franco Berardi (Bifo) by Mark Fisher in a piece from New Left Project called “The Privatisation of Stress” (7 Sep. 2011):
- “I Want to Think: POST-U,” E-Flux 24 (Apr. 2011) [pdf];
- “Cognitarian Subjectivation,” E-Flux 20 (Nov. 2010) [pdf];
- “Biopolitics and Connective Mutation,” trans. Tiziana Terranova and Melinda Cooper, Culture Machine 7 (2005).
From “Cognitarian Subjectivation”:
Semiocapital puts neuro-psychic energies to work, submitting them to mechanistic speed, compelling cognitive activity to follow the rhythm of networked productivity [a.k.a. automatism — or the digital reprogramming of sensibility]. As a result, the emotional sphere linked with cognition is stressed to its limit. Cyberspace overloads cybertime, because cyberspace is an unbounded sphere whose speed can accelerate without limits, while cybertime (the organic time of attention, memory, imagination) cannot be sped up beyond a certain point — or it cracks. And it actually is cracking, collapsing under the stress of hyper-productivity. An epidemic of panic and depression is now spreading throughout the circuits of the social brain. The current crisis in the global economy has much to do with this nervous breakdown.
For a useful review of Bifo on such matters, see Michael Goddard’s review.
For the implications of semiocapitalism (“automatism”) for labour relations (“autonomy”), see Bifo’s essays
- “Info-Labour and Precarisation,” trans. Erik Empson, Generation Online (10 Feb. 2009), and
- “Welfare State and Democracy: Getting Free from Illusions,” . . . ment 1 (2011): 6-12.
Franco Berardi Bifo is a contemporary writer, media-theorist and media-activist. He founded the magazine A/traverso (1975-1981) and was part of the staff of Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976-1978). Like others involved in the political movement of Autonomia in Italy during the 1970s, he fled to Paris, where he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalysis. During the 1980s he contributed to the magazines Semiotexte (New York), Chimerees (Paris), Metropoli (Rome) and Musica 80 (Milan). In the 1990s he published Mutazione e Ciberpunk (Genoa, 1993), Cibernauti (Rome, 1994), and Felix (Rome, 2001). He is currently collaborating on the magazine Derive Approdi as well as teaching social history of communication at the Accademia di belle Arti in Milan. He is the co-founder of the e-zine rekombinant.org and the telestreet phenomenon [of pirate mini-TV stations].
See the Wiki also.
For more essays, see Generation Online. His most recent book in English is Precarious Rhapsody: Semocapitalism & the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation, ed. Erik Empson & Stevphen Shukaitis; trans. Arianna Bove et al. (London: Minor Compositions, 2009; New York: AK Press, 2011) [pdf].
In an interview with Alexei Penzin, amongst many other insights, Paolo Virno argues that the kind of micro-collectives characteristic of post-Fordist production, i.e., immaterial labour (see Chukhrov), “socialize the entrepreneurial function” to foster the kind of “social cooperation” that works against the monopoly of the state (86-87):
Micro-collectives, workgroups, research teams, etc. are half-productive, half-political structures. If we want, they are the no man’s land in which social cooperation stops being exclusively an economic resource and starts appearing as a public, non-stately sphere. (86)
In other words, such groups work together to make stuff, but they also work against (↑) the state monopoly on power (↓).
If examined as productive realities, the micro-collectives you mention have mainly the merit of socializing the entrepreneurial function: instead of being separated and hierarchically dominant, this function is progressively reabsorbed by living labor, thus becoming a pervasive element of social cooperation. (ibid.)
Entrepreneurship ceases to be a way for the state to drive workers (↓) — and the prerogative of enterprising individuals — and instead enables them to work together (↑ or rather ↔).
We are all entrepreneurs, even if an intermittent, occasional, contingent way. But, as I was saying, micro-collectives have an ambivalent character: apart from being productive structures, they are also germs of political organization. What is the importance of such ambivalence? What can it suggest in terms of the theory of the organization? In my opinion, this is the crucial issue: nowadays the subversion  of the capitalistic relations of production can manifest itself through the institution of a public, non-stately sphere, of a political community oriented towards the general intellect. (86-87)
The model for such micro-collectives are artists’ collectives, artists being the “virtuosos” of immaterial labour, exemplifying what Penzin calls “the flexible, mobile, non-specialized substance of contemporary ‘living labor'” (81).
- “institution”: “Institutions constitute the way in which our species protects itself from uncertainty and with which it create rules to protect its own praxis” (85); the State has no monopoly on institutions.
- “general intellect” (a.k.a. the “social brain”): the human capacity for “public or interpsychical” cognition through communication (“thinking with words”). It is the “main productive force of matured capitalism” (84), i.e., work is now virtual — hence the phrase immaterial labour. It could also constitute the “foundations of a [non-stately] republic” (84).
In order to allow this subversion, the distinctive features of post-Fordist production (the valorization of its own faculty of language, a fundamental relation with the presence of the other, etc.) demand a radically new form of democracy. Micro-collectives are the symptom — as fragile and contradictory as they may be — of an exodus, of an enterprising subtraction from the rules of wage labor. (87)
This “radically new form of democracy” is non-representative. It doesn’t work through a parliament but through soviets, i.e., workers’ councils, as “tools for democratic self-organization” (82) [soviet, совет, Ru. "council, advice, harmony, concord"]. It suggests the possibility of a “democracy of the multitude,” of a “public sphere that is no longer connected to the State” (90). So,
the monopoly of decision making can only really be taken away from the State if it ceases once and for all to be a monopoly. [Thus, t]he public sphere of the multitude is a centrifugal force. (90)
Of course, we must avoid “the cancerous metastasis of the State,” i.e. bureaucratization, centralization, and “the glorification of labor,” i.e. collectivization, that happened in Soviet Russia (90). Communism need not signal a massification (→ a people’s revolution). And we must remembers that micro-collectives represent “both a danger and a salvation”: they could signal a fragmentation of society (-) or its politicization (+). Communism can instead signal a democracy of the multitude (→ the soviets of the multitude)
Chukhrov, Keti. “Towards the Space of the General: On Labor beyond Materiality and Immateriality.” E-flux 20 (Nov. 2010). Web.
Lazzarato, Maurizio. “Immaterial Labour.” Trans. Paul Colilli and Ed Emery. Generation Online. 6 Mar. 2008. Web.
Penzin, Alexei. “The Soviets of the Multitude: On Collectivity and Collective Work.” Interview with Paolo Virno. Mediations 25.1 (Fall 2010): 81-92. Web.
A conventional narrative of the evolution of civilization suggests that society has gone from a highly collective, as it were, centripetal society to a less collective, centrifugal one: “the centre cannot hold,” etc, etc. — hence narratives of modernity as individualizing, increasingly multicultural, relativist.
For example, in Liquid Modernity (Wiki) Zygmunt Bauman elevates “individualization” to the defining principle of modernity, describing it this way:
“individualization” consists of transforming human “identity” from a “given” into a “task” and charging the actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the  consequences (also the side-effects) of their performance. In other words, it consists in the establishment of a de jure autonomy (whether or not the de facto autonomy has been established as well). [. . .] Needing to become what one is is the feature of modern living — and of this living alone. Modernity replaces the heteronomic determination of social standing [via "estates," i.e., "locations of inherited belonging"] with compulsive and obligatory self-determination [via "classes," i.e., "targets of manufactured membership," in the first wave of modernity or roles in the second wave]. (my emphasis; 31-32)
This principle is a symptom of a larger historical movement of de- and reterritorialization, of uprooting and transplanting:
Early modernity “disembedded” in order to “re-embed.” While the disembedding was the socially sanctioned fate, the re-embedding was a task put before the individuals. (32)
Bauman remains skeptical about his re- or the trans-: in “second” or “reflexive modernity,”
no “beds” are furnished for “re-embedding,” and such beds as might be postulated and pursued . . . often vanish before the work of “re-embedding” is complete. There are rather “musical chairs” of various sizes and styles as well as of changing numbers and positions, which prompt men and women to be constantly on the move and promise . . . no satisfaction of “arriving,” of reaching the  final destination, where one can disarm, relax and stop worrying. (33-34)
Nomadism — ethnicity, tribalism, and other loose or minimal collectivities — becomes the norm in modernity. Or, to switch the metaphor from solids to liquids, we moderns are taught to value liquidity: solvency, fluidity, rhythm — the dissolution of (old) bonds and the permeation of barriers.
To extrapolate (and to put a little pressure on the metaphor), a liquid tends to seek its level: it is “democratic.” But it can be pressurized: a steady state — like a ideal loose collectivity — tends to be transient (if that’s not a contradiction in terms).
But what if civilization were evolving in reverse? What if the drive to individualisation, etc, in modernity were just a reaction to the increasingly collective and centralized nature of society? The principal force in modernity would be connectivity — and thus collectivity.
Marx and Engels called it interdependence:
In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence in every direction. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. (The Communist Manifesto, sec. 1)
Leaving aside the not-so-implicit colonialism of this assertion of a connective commons, perhaps we moderns, then, would be better to value entanglement: networks, evolution and involution, threads — the forging of (new) bonds and the enfolding of layers. If entanglement is the sine qua non of interdependence, whether it is seen to emerge from independence (like the “mastery” of the old West — or the newly mega-rich) or dependence (like the slavery of its Others — or those other than the mega-rich), we cannot ignore it, so we might as well embrace it.