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Mute Vol 2 #16

Vol 2 #16

In this issue of Mute we look at the systemic requirement to appear, to have an identity, to become intelligible – as an individual, a face, a body, a set of affects, a data-set within biopolitical capitalism. This recurrent demand to appear is both extracted and seduced out of us by the apparatuses of state and spectacle, the system of property and images, the simultaneous need to harness labour and manage the unemployed. In this issue we also look at the deeper shifts in capitalism which trigger the intensifying management of life; a crisis of abundance is brought on by industrial and technological developments converting the majority of the earth’s inhabitants into a ‘surplus’ population to be managed and ‘warehoused’ in jails, workfare schemes or that open prison known as Web 2.0.

Vol 2 #16 June 2010

On Edge Stefan Szczelkun talks to artist Alexa Wright about how her work breaks down the self Rumours of War Paul Helliwell rhythmanalyses Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare and the group work Noise & Capitalism Artificial Scarcity in a World of Overproduction: An Escape that Isn’t The ‘production of innovation’, writes Sander, is no replacement for the production of value Eliminating Labour: Aesthetic Economy in Harun Farocki Benedict Seymour on devalorisation in a high-tech cinematic oeuvre

Clandestinity and Appearance John Cunningham takes up the case of clandestinity and resistance in the age of biopolitics Is the Brickburner Still the Same? Neinsager opens and shuts dissident writer and migrant labourer B. Traven’s identity file Casa Pound and the New Radical Right in Italy The Moyote Project discusses the strange case of fascists imitating anarchists to popular effect University Struggles at the End of the Edu-Deal George Caffentzis pieces together an emerging plane of struggle

Real Life Training

The Wealth of Negations Artist’s project by CVA Group


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Mute Vol 2 #16

Published by Mute Publishing Ltd., 2010 No copyright Š unless otherwise stated

IN MEMORY OF DAMIAN ABBOTT This May, during a rare spate of sunshine and a confetti of blossoms, our dear friend and contributing editor Damian Abbot died. He had suffered for many years, with an astonishing lack of resentment, from Crohn’s disease. He was a former member of the Inventory collective, and spent his short life generously, imaginatively and irreverently contributing (art, texts, conversations, digs) to the sense that we can and must ‘Smash this Puny Existence’. Damian, you will be sorely missed.



Josephine Berry Slater <>

Howard Slater T: +44 (0)20 3287 9005 email: <> web:

E D IT O R IA L BOA R D Damian Abbott <>, Josephine Berry Slater, Matthew Hyland <infuriant@autistici. org>, Anthony Iles <>, Demetra Kotouza <>, Hari Kunzru <>, Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Benedict Seymour <ben@metamute. org>, Stefan Szczelkun <> and Simon Worthington M U T E P U B L IS HIN G A DVIS ORY BOAR D Ceri Hand, Sally Jane Norman, Sukhdev Sandhu and Andy Wilson PUBLISHERS

DISTRIB UTIO N UK Central Books, 99 Wallis Road, London, E4 5LN T: +44 (0)20 8986 4854 F: +44 (0)20 8533 5821 email: <> DISTRIB UTIO N NO RTH AM ERICA Please contact: Lois Olmstead <> T: +44 (0)20 3287 9005 CO NTRIB UTING


Mute welcomes contributions of all kinds. Email <> with your ideas. You can also publish on Mute’s website []. Post news, texts, events and comments, or upload media. The views expressed in Mute and Metamute are not necessarily those of the publisher’s or service provider’s. Mute is published in the UK by Mute Publishing Ltd. and printed by OpenMute [] print on demand [POD] book services.

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W E B S IT E is powered by Drupal and CiviCRM FLOSS Software, with additional software services by our very own OpenMute T E C H S U P P O RT Web infrastructure: Darron Broad <> P R O J E C T A S S IS TA N T C O-OR DIN ATOR Caroline Heron <> IN T E R N S Omar El-Khari, Leo Merz, and Mamiko Nakano OFFICE Mute, 46 Lexington Street, London, W1F 0LP T: +44 (0)20 3287 9005 email: <>

CVA Group <> SPECIAL THANKS Thanks to Max Reeves for supplying the photo of Damian Abbott, and to Blip for giving us the keys to Soho and all its culinary delights. Farewell, too, to Lois – fact-mining won’t be the same without you! ISSN 1356-7748 - 216 ISBN 978-1-906496-49-4


6 Editorial 16 On Edge Stefan Szczelkun talks to artist alexa Wright about how her work breaks down the self


30 Rumours of War Paul HelliWell rhythmanalyses Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare and the group work noise & capitalism 46 Artificial Scarcity in a World of Overproduction: An Escape that Isn’t the ‘production of innovation’, writes Sander, is no replacement for the production of value 54 Eliminating Labour: Aesthetic Economy in Harun Farocki Benedict Seymour on devalorisation in a high-tech cinematic oeuvre

66 The Wealth of Negations an artistâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s project by cVa GrouP 74 Clandestinity and appearance JoHn cunninGHam takes up the case of clandestinity and resistance in the age of biopolitics

88 Is the Brickburner Still the Same? neinSaGer opens and shuts dissident writer and migrant labourer B.travenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s identity file 96 Casa Pound and the New Radical Right in Italy tHe moyote ProJect discusses the strange case of fascists imitating anarchists to popular effect

ConTenTs 110 University Struggles at the End of the Edu-Deal GeorGe caffentziS pieces together an emerging plane of struggle



n retrospect, I-D and The Face magazines’ titles and cover strategies brought together, with somnambulant precision, more biopolitical tropes than you can shake a stick at. The (beautiful) face becomes the magnified signifier of (exceptional) identity, sold to us as something which stands out and resists homogenisation whilst, at the same time of course, providing the ultimate lure for consumption and conformity. We all want to get that look! But, as in the case of I-D, these faces always conform to a single expressive vocabulary: one eye open and one shut, or covered. The resulting wink, the universal sign of cheekiness, works as a moebius strip running together the general and the oh so particular: it becomes obligatory for lifestyle culture to manifest ‘attitude’, to unerringly deviate. These once edgy mags were important vehicles for arranging the marriage between punk, DIY, avant-gardism and lifestyle commodity culture, whose final destination would be the likes of Topshop and Facebook. As Adorno said of the widespread obsession with do-it-yourself home improvements in post-war Europe, its success derives from the feelings of ‘pseudo-activity’ it provides, the sense inspired in the ‘unfree individual’ that we are changing our environment and making a difference, whilst the domination of capital goes unchallenged. The day-glo colours which once adorned The Face, derived from ’60s psychedelic counter-culture, updated via a detour through De Stijl and Bauhaus, create similar surface impressions of spontaneity and rebelliousness, whilst settling down to a predictable conformity which builds to produce that elusive (brand) quality: identity. In this issue of Mute, we engage the biopolitical requirement for identity, appearance and intelligibility, often extracted through the ambient exhortation to express ourselves in all our uniqueness. But, as the Invisible Committee formulate this ambient demand in The Coming Insurrection, the quest for ourselves is the switchpoint of alienation: ‘I AM WHAT I AM.’ My body belongs to me. I am me, you are you, and something’s wrong. Mass personalization. Individualization of all conditions – life, work and misery. Diffuse schizophrenia. Rampant depression. Atomization into fine paranoiac particles. Hysterization of contact. The more I want to be me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I am drained. […] We’ve become our own representatives in a strange commerce, guarantors of a personalization that feels, in the end, a lot more like an amputation.


Mute Vol 2 #16

Josephine Berry Slater

Picking up on this critique and rejection of individual identity by pro-revolutionary groups, John Cunningham asks [p.74] whether anonymity and hiddenness can be more than a voluntarist, even aristocratic, bowing out from conformist self-commodification, or the necessary but debilitating strategy of survival for ‘illegals’. At the core of regimes of identity and anonymity played out upon living bodies, Cunningham insists, stands the requirement to produce and extract labour power – something that Agamben and Foucault’s theorisations of biopolitics often skip over. Stepping outside of this relation is, of course, never a matter of individual choice. This notion is given further consideration in Neinsager’s exploration of revolutionary, itinerant seaman, migrant labourer and writer B.Traven [p.88] and his ‘character assassination’ at the hands of a BBC documentary film-maker. In his enthusiasm to psychologise Traven’s lifelong anonymity, William Wyatt fails quite spectacularly to understand the relationship between class and identity. For those with citizenship and property, not to mention celebrity-fixated careers in journalism, identification can only be a boon. For those without this cover, who pit themselves against its exploitative foundation, the ‘truth’ of one’s identity could resolve into a death sentence. In his review of film-maker Harun Farocki’s recent retrospective [p.54], Benedict Seymour reminds us of a key underlying dynamic feeding the intensifying governance and assimilation of living beings today: ‘devalorisation’. This is the process by which constant development in the forces of production gives rise to a crisis of value creation for capitalism, as labour – its source – is increasingly expelled from the system. The more devalorisation renders the majority of humanity surplus to requirement, the more are labour, production and technological ingenuity applied to ‘the warehousing, surveillance and/or destruction of one fraction of the class by another’. Techniques and technologies of viewing and visualisation become a critical part of this; an instrumentalisation of vision that Farocki self-reflexively places at the heart of his film-making. As the art project by CVA Group in this issue sharply reveals, in the post-crisis age of austerity, a great deal of work is also being done to find ways of extracting labour from those newly outside, or at the margins of the wage relation through the ongoing process of ‘primitive accumulation’. Through the application of a combination of force and ingenuity, aggression and seduction, living beings are ‘inclusively excluded’ from production, a manoeuvre which comes to typify life in the ‘social factory’. Capitalism, after all it seems, is the one flashing the cheeky wink, as it finds yet more strategies to stave off its (identity) crisis. But could all this just be yet more ‘pseudo-activity’ for a system whose underlying crisis remains perennially unaltered? Josephine Berry Slater <> is Editor of Mute

Mute Vol 2 #16





Financial Markets, Social Struggles, and New Political Scenarios EDITED BY ANDREA FUMAGALLI AND SANDRO MEZZADRA TRANSLATED BY JASON FRANCIS MC GIMSEY Crisis in the Global Economy is the latest and most innovative collective reflection on the state of global capitalism, developed during the months immediately following the first signals of the current financial and economic crisis. It constitutes the first organic and interdisciplinary attempt to analyse a crisis that is not merely financial in nature but implicates globalisation and neoliberal capitalism. The book invites us to consider exit strategies from the current crisis — strategies that may lead us toward a post-capitalist era.

£13.95 • paper • 301 pp. • 978-1-58435-087-3 • Distributed for Semiotext(e)




TRANSLATED BY ALEXANDER R. GALLOWAY AND JASON E. SMITH In its first book to be translated into English, the French collective Tiqqun sets out its views on contemporary society. Exploring civil war as a technique of governance and disorder as a means of maintaining control, Tiqqun investigates the possibility of a new practice of communism, emerging from the ruins of society.

£9.95 • paper • 231 pp. • 978-1-58435-086-6 • Distributed for Semiotext(e)


A Concise Philosophy of the Machine as Social Movement GERALD RAUNIG TRANSLATED BY AILEEN DERIEG Gerald Raunig provides a historical and critical backdrop to a concept proposed forty years ago by Guattari and Deleuze: the machine, not as a technical device and apparatus, but as a social composition and concatenation. This idea of the machine as an arrangement of technical, bodily, intellectual, and social components subverts the opposition between man and machine, organism and mechanism, individual and community.

£9.95 • paper • 120 pp. • 978-1-58435-085-9 • Distributed for Semiotext(e)


Toward an Art of Evolution GEORGE GESSERT “Green Light is a richly articulated argument that aesthetics is an evolutionary force at work in bio art, biotechnology, and ethics. This splendid book is replete with the sensual details of plants and other critters who are entangled with artists, breeders, scientists, and the rest of us in the ongoing evolution of terran life. Gessert’s comprehensive arthistorical knowledge and his own innovative aesthetics and art practices invite non-anthropocentric response to the myriad living beings becoming with each other on this vulnerable earth.” — Donna Haraway, University of California Santa Cruz, author of When Species Meet

£18.95 • cloth • 256 pp. (30 illus.) • 978-0-262-01414-4

The MIT Press tel: 020 7306 0603 • orders: 01243 779 777



Flesh Edited by Josephine Berry Slater and Pauline van Mourik Broekman

Mute and Autonomedia are pleased to announce the publication of

Proud to be Flesh:

A Mute Magazine Anthology of Cultural Politics after the Net Edited by Josephine Berry Slater and Pauline van Mourik Broekman with Michael Corris, Anthony Iles, Benedict Seymour, and Simon Worthington ‘Proud to be Flesh provides an invaluable guide to the past fifteen years in the evolution of art; a period during which the boundaries between art, culture and technology have been eroded and re-consolidated in ways that are both troubling and promising. Mute’s writers remind us that there are always real bodies, and consequences, behind the gleaming abstraction of ‘new’ media. They have managed an almost impossible task: to remain both substantively critical and accessible to a wide readership.’ - Grant H. Kester author of Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art ‘This collection of articles from the many incarnations of the Mute project is a great read, and a summation of that remarkable period of recent British history running from 1994 to 2009. Reading over it, it is compelling that Mute is a wholly post-Cold War operation, whose contributors and editors are untroubled by the political baggage that dogs much of the more traditional left’. - James Heartfield, Spiked Review of Books ‘At a time when recent advances in digital technologies are still considered innovative and are yet an unexplored field for many of us, Mute can already claim scholarship in this area. I think Proud to be Flesh is an invaluable reference tool for my own research and it should be on the desks of all digital media curators and educationalists.’ - Nayia Yiakoumaki, Archive Curator, Whitechapel Gallery

Compiling 15 years of Mute, Proud to be Flesh offers 624 pages of the magazine’s best writing, artwork, and design

Hardcover Softcover

£49.99 £24.99

Proud to be Flesh can be purchased at all fine bookshops, or preview and order online at Or call our credit card hotline +44 (0)20 3287 9005 further inquiries contact Lois at Published by Mute in association with Autonomedia Softcover ISBN 978-1-906496-28-9 Hardcover ISBN 978-1-906496-27-2 Supported by the Arts Council of England and The British Academy

No Room to Move: Radical Art and the Regenerate City A New book from Mute Magazine

Alberto Duman, Demostaph, 2001-05, Leicester city centre

Interviews with Alberto Duman / Freee / Nils Norman Laura Oldfield Ford / Roman Vasseur

Buy it online at A fistful of research on the state of critical public art in the maelstrom of New Labour’s regeneration programmes. As the Creative City model for urban regeneration founders on the rocks of the recession, and the New Labour public art commissioning frenzy it triggered recedes, Anthony Iles and Josephine Berry Slater take stock of an era of highly instrumentalised public art making. Focusing on artists and consultants who have engaged critically with the exclusionary politics of urban regeneration, their analysis locates such practice within a schematic history of urban development’s neoliberal mode. This investigation consistently focuses on the possibility and forms of critical public art within a regime that fetishises ‘creativity’ whilst systematically destroying the preconditions for it in its pursuit of capital accumulation. How, they ask, is critical art shaped by its interaction with this aspect of biopolitical governance? Colour illustrations / Published April 2010 / £9.99 / ISBN 978-1-906496-42-5

front ads:article_view 12/08/2009 14:36 Page 10

Mute Magazine: Graphic Design In the early 1990s, long before the internet became an integral part of life, a handful of pioneering magazines took it upon themselves to imagine the web into existence. Using fiction, interviews, speculative theory and experimental graphic design, Londonbased Mute wielded an influence disproportionate to its scale. Nearly fifteen years after its launch in November 1994, Mute’s publication history defines an era, telling the fascinating tale of one publisher's relationship with the ‘digital revolution’. This graphic design history presents a full overview of Mute’s output, including logos, covers and spreads. Introduction by Adrian Shaughnessy, with further contributions from Damian Jaques, Pauline van Mourik Broekman and Simon Worthington. Published by 8books Softback 220 x 220 mm, 144 pages, 250 colour Illustrations

Buy it online at: £ 19.95 + p&p

The Mute Archive - a special box set of Mute magazine back issues Original copies of nearly every issue* of Mute from 1994 to the present - 42 issues, including special inserts, CDs, software and artworks Mute has been publishing on culture, politics, and technology since 1994, earning an international reputation for originality, humour and intelligence. The first incarnation of Mute was a barely disguised replica of the Financial Times, printed on the same distinctive pink newsprint. Since then Mute evolved into a colour, highly graphic magazine, and finally into the hybrid print/web publication it is today.

Spanning over a decade of turbulent cultural politics, the Mute Archive is a great addition to an academic or personal library.

The Mute Archive includes: The Broadsheet: Issues pilot - 7 (1994-1997) The Glossies: Issues 8 – 24* Coffee Table: Issues 25 – 29 POD: Volume II, issues 0-10

£200 + p&p Order online at Institutional and credit card phone orders contact +44 (0)20 3287 9005 Skype or email for enquiries *we regret that issue 9 is sold out

WWW.METAMUTE.ORG the Politics of the soundtrack by Nina Power

reading the imperceptible tremors of an unimaginable future content/the_politics_of_the_soundtrack

by Mark Fisher

When film soundtracks take the form of an iPod on shuffle or a non-stop brass crescendo, do they make alienating cinema more human or alienated lives more cinematic? Mute Music Columnist Nina Power risks removing her earmuffs

Will stratford replace rome as the eternal city? by Alberto Duman content/reading_the_imperceptible_ tremors_of_an_unimaginable_future Must anti-capitalism necessarily involve dialectical thinking? Mark Fisher engages with Fredric Jameson’s monumental effort, Valences of the Dialectic

don’t Panic, organise! a Mute special on struggle in education today content/will-stratford-replacerome-as-the-eternal-city node/13308

In his project Memory Marathon, involving a 26-mile, collaborative walk around the Olympic zone, Simon Pope brings into collision official claims on history with the anarchy of private memory. Review by Alberto Duman

A Mute Special on struggle in education today featuring writing by George Caffentzis, Evan Calder Williams and Raoul Paled alongside interviews with Unison, organisers of last year’s Tower Hamlets College strike, and staff at London Metropolitan University


e zin a ag M ute /M m .co s u cio i l de

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On EdgE

16Image: Alexa Wright, ‘I’ 3, 1999

Mute Vol 2 #16

Stefan Szczelkun and Alexa Wright

The production of a normative human body is a vital means of social control. In an interview with Stefan Szczelkun, artist Alexa Wright explains how her work experiments with the defended boundaries of the human/self, and the affects unleashed by their transgression


or the last 20 years or so, artist Alexa Wright has focused on questions of identity, interrogating the boundaries of what we consider it is to be human. Through interviewing a variety of subjects (including people with disabilities, opera singers and convicted murderers) her work often investigates how affect, embodiment and notions of humanness relate. A recent work, which I saw at her doctoral retrospective, explores the particular potential for abjection to disrupt our normative sense of identity and order. Although the dimension of affect tends to be expunged from academic paradigms, the aesthetic dimension lends itself to such investigations. However, too often the competitive forces of the art market lead artists to use facile shock tactics, which only serve to inoculate us rather than enable us to think. Alexa Wright’s work avoids sensationalism and takes a more serious and useful approach to this material. Affectivity is at stake, the capacity to feel and be impassioned into revolt, to have feeling destabilise ourselves enough to risk the making of an ‘unnatural’ difference... – Howard Slater ‘Burdened by the Absence of the Billions’1

Mute Vol 2 #16


On Edge

SS: I would like to focus this discussion on one or two of your pieces although, as far as I can see, there is a narrative that runs across all your art practice. Could you describe this before we talk about any particular works? AW: Even though my work takes several different forms, including digitally manipulated photography, video, audio and interactive installations, there are clear links between the different pieces. One important aspect of all my work is that it invites the active participation of the audience on some level. I mean that the viewer, or listener, is acknowledged as part of the work, or sometimes even as its subject. Sometimes people actually see themselves, as in the interactive installation Alter Ego, which is a kind of virtual mirror. But even when it is not that literal I am interested in trying to force people to become aware of how the work impacts on them personally. For example, by setting up a spoken dialogue between machine and human user, the most recent interactive installation, Conversation Piece, can give the user the sense that he or she is entering into quite an intimate relationship with an invisible, virtual character. The photographic works ask viewers to reassess their existing values, or at least to become aware of themselves in a more reflexive and perhaps less obvious way.

what causes abjection is anything that disturbs our sense of identity, system, or order

SS: Your interest in challenging ‘norms’ is also evident in many of the works. AW: Yes, that is part of the same process. I suppose I knowingly or unknowingly set up structures that aim to destabilise people. I am interested in investigating and representing what is at the boundaries of what we consider human in one way or another so as to ask individual audience members to reflect on particular social or individual ‘norms’ that they maybe take for granted. The first work in which I consciously attempted to do this is I, made in 1999. In each of the eight photographs that make up this series, a disabled body part is detached from the identity of its original owner and digitally incorporated into an image of me. SS: So there is an idea of what is acceptably human in your mind? AW: Not in my mind. In everyone’s mind! I think we all have our individual and collective notions of what is socially and culturally acceptable or ‘normal’.


Mute Vol 2 #16

Stefan Szczelkun and Alexa Wright

SS: How do you see those ‘norms’ being maintained within society? AW: That’s a big question! How do I answer that? SS: It is a question that interests me quite a bit, in that the idea of what is human seems to be held in place by certain affective processes. I mean, when you perceive that the boundaries of what is human are being transgressed then certain sorts of feelings are evoked. Feelings of discomfort or strangeness, or even something more profound and unsettling. AW: Do you mean when you perceive this boundary transgression in someone else or in yourself ? SS: Either. AW: I think what you are talking about is something like horror, or what Julia Kristeva calls the abject. According to Kristeva, what causes abjection is anything that disturbs our sense of identity, system, or order. Anything, or perhaps anyone, that is in-between, ambiguous or composite. I am interested in exploring the fears and prejudices that set in when we are unable to establish a clear and tangible boundary between what we think of as ‘us’, ‘really normal’ people and ‘others’. SS: It is interesting that those received cultural ideas about who or what is acceptable obviously have practical outcomes – they lead to oppression, and to the creation of social hierarchies. They contribute to a political structuring of society. AW: Yes, in this way I guess you could say that my work is political. SS: But you don’t seem to stick with any particular causes, if you can call them that. AW: No, that’s right. Although I have made quite a bit of work on the theme of disability, I am not particularly interested in supporting any cause as such. I’m more interested in undermining the established values that create social inequalities more generally. Not just for the sake of being anarchic, but really more in order to try to understand what it is we think we are and to get people to look at the structures that put those values in place. SS: But your work doesn’t do that on an intellectual level. It does it by engaging people and confronting them.

Mute Vol 2 #16


On Edge

Image: Alexa Wright, Killers at Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast, 2002

AW: Yes, it seems important to engage the audience aesthetically. Maybe because if the work provokes a visceral experience, that can be a more genuine response, which is difficult to ignore or to rationalise. For example, when I was making I it was very important that the images were aesthetically strong and at the same time sort of gently confrontational. SS: So there is a conscious strategy behind what you do? AW: Actually it is not conscious. I am only beginning to understand what I have been doing in retrospect – looking back at the work I have made over the past ten years or so. I am not sure what will happen now that strategy is becoming more conscious. SS: Certain sorts of knowledge are not well expressed in an academic way – in the form of words and concepts. For example, social problems, both on a big scale and a local scale seem to function on a visceral level that academic knowledge is not very good at engaging with. It seems to me that your work accesses that non-verbal level of communication. AW: Well yes, that is…


Mute Vol 2 #16

Stefan Szczelkun and Alexa Wright

Image: Alexa Wright, Conversation Piece at ISEA 2009, Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast

SS: But that also creates a problem in terms of a critique of your work. It is difficult to translate those kind of embodied, affective processes into words or to rationalise them. AW: Yes, I think that might be true. But when people do see the work they often have very strong reactions. For me it is very important that I am working on a visual level, even when I am using the spoken word. SS: When you say visual I think you mean visceral. AW: I suppose so. I think maybe aesthetic is the right word, because it is to do with the senses in general. SS: Another word I came across when I was thinking about doing this interview is ‘trauma’ – if you define trauma as an experience that overwhelms one’s ordinary emotional abilities – something that is too difficult to process with the resources you have at the time. AW: Maybe I make traumatic work!?

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On Edge

SS: Well, yes. Often trauma has a sense of drama about it, but actually it can happen in the most mundane way, if it just means that one’s ordinary emotional abilities to process an experience are overwhelmed at the time. AW: That’s interesting. SS: If we think that the academic framework supplies us with everything we need to know about, there is a big section missing which is to do with how we feel. AW: It is also something to do with bodily intelligence. Thankfully the Cartesian idea of a complete split between mind and body is going out of fashion now, but we still seem to hang on to the idea that the mind is the ‘intelligent’ part of us. I believe that the body has physiological reactions to emotive events that are intelligent, but pre-linguistic, or maybe outside of language. SS: So it is not that the mind is not involved – there is still judgement involved. AW: Of course. I don’t believe that mind and body are separate. SS: Perhaps it would be good to talk about your installation Killers now? Could you describe this? AW: Yes, that is actually quite an old work, made in 2002. The installation consists of between four and eight wooden booths. They are a bit like polling booths, or confessionals. People sit one at a time at a booth, which is like a little desk in a language lab. There is nothing to see, just a pair of headphones on the desk. When you put these on a microswitch triggers a soundtrack to start from the beginning. In each booth there is a different person telling you about how he or she murdered somebody and how they felt about it. The narratives last between about six to ten minutes. Because you are sort of encased and on your own with the narrative and it is clear that what you are hearing is not the voice of an actor, but the ‘real’ person, you can’t help but be affected by it. It feels as though you have quite an intimate relationship with the person who is telling you their story.

Maybe I make traumatic work!?

SS: I think what you get from that relationship is a really discomforting involvement with another human being who is obviously troubled. This is even more disturbing when the person doesn’t sound troubled, even though you know they must be because


Mute Vol 2 #16

Stefan Szczelkun and Alexa Wright

of what they are telling you. You have to engage with the voice on a number of different levels. AW: That’s right. You also have to deal with the emotions that it evokes in you. When I was recording the interviews I felt a great sense of empathy for each individual because their stories are so human, but of course you also can’t help feeling they are different because they have killed someone. I wanted to put the listener into exactly this position, where each person would catch him or herself in the act of creating a distance from the narrator at the same time as empathising with him or her. I wanted to put people into a kind of moral dilemma – not to condone killing of course, but to get people to reflect on the way that we judge one another. SS: … and in so doing to gain knowledge of those processes. It seems that there is not enough work done to understand people who have committed such anti-social acts. AW: Well, these are not serial killers. They are all people whose crimes were circumstantial and you really do get a sense of the events that led up to what happened, so in a way the crimes seem more understandable. At first anyway. When I was interviewing people in prisons we were just sitting on either side of a table, usually unsupervised, and people really did seem to want me to hear their stories. As I said, I did feel a lot of

Mute Vol 2 #16

empathy, particularly with the women. But then when I was editing the tapes, listening to them over and over again, I noticed that things didn’t always add up. I came to realise that the stories weren’t quite as straightforward as I first thought. I’m not sure how much that is evident for listeners in the gallery situation, but for me it was an interesting aspect of the work. All these ambiguities make it more difficult to pin down and to define your relationship with the subjects. SS: This makes me think of my time sitting on a jury… Another key aspect of this is ‘the voice’. I mean that ‘the voice’ contains a whole realm of communication in timbre and rhythm and so on that is lost in text-based academic discourse. AW: Yes, the voice is crucial; Killers wouldn’t work as a text piece. Roland Barthes writes about the significance of the voice in his essay ‘The Grain of the Voice’, which I have only discovered recently. SS: The voice is definitely more evocative. AW: What is interesting to me is that it is an embodiment of language. This work is not just concerned with words, but with embodied words. SS: Because this is an audio piece, not a visual piece you don’t get the visual performance, you just get the voice by itself.


On Edge

AW: Yes, and that is very important. At first I thought the installation needed a visual component. Obviously I couldn’t photograph the prisoners themselves, but I did shoot a lot of video footage of the backs of heads that I was going to project in the space around the booths to give some sense of physical presence. But then I realised that this was too much information because actually as you listen to the voice you embody the person anyway. You can’t help but form some kind of mental picture of the person in relation to your own experience. SS: Let’s move on to a more recent project. Can you describe the piece you are working on at the moment? AW: Yes, I am one of four artists who, in 2006, were invited to participate in an interdisciplinary study of the psycho-social effects of heart transplants taking place in Canada. We have all been asked to make some sort of interpretive material. For various reasons there have been a lot of delays with the project, and it seems likely that it may not now go ahead in its anticipated form. But the research I have done so far has led me to quite an interesting place, so I am planning to make a piece of work anyway. I am thinking about the literal image of taking in someone else’s heart – incorporating it into your physical being – as a metaphor for other sorts of intimate relationships. I am hoping to be able to video a heart transplant. I’m in the process of trying to get permission to do this at the moment, but it is not easy. I have been watching videos on YouTube as part of my research – there is one where you can see the surgeon put his hand into a person’s body and pop the heart out. It is quite amazing, and does provoke that visceral response we were talking about earlier. At the moment I am looking for ways of combining that sort of imagery with short audio clips of people talking about intimate relationships and the effect of these on their sense of self. I mean all sorts of intimate relationships that call for a readjustment of the boundary of the self – sexual relationships, mother-child relationships and so on. I am hoping to combine footage of the literal incorporation of the heart of another, in which the me-you boundaries are physically broken down, and then trying to look at that on an emotional level as well.

In each booth there is a different person telling you about how he or she murdered somebody

SS: So this is all about the mythical connotations of the heart in our culture?


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Stefan Szczelkun and Alexa Wright

AW: It is partly to do with that. The heart is obviously a fascinating symbol. I find this work a bit difficult to talk about because it is still in the early stages of development, but I think this project is also about the relationship between image and language. At the moment I’m trying to figure out what kind of language to use. I have developed a way of working for many of my projects that involves interviewing affected individuals with first hand experience and using excerpts from those interviews in the work in the form of either text or voice. But I am not yet sure how this will work in this project. It is very difficult to access any of the material I need, so I am still preoccupied with practicalities at the moment. SS: I find it interesting that there is such a problem with interviewing heart transplant patients. Why is this? AW: Partly because the whole process of transplantation can be very destabilising for someone’s sense of identity, particularly when it is the heart that is being transplanted. There are cases when people have been interviewed for medical purposes following transplant and then the interview has led them to a breakdown. So the medical profession is very protective of these patients. Even though I am a sensitive interviewer there is obviously a concern that the questions I would ask might lead the heart recipient to a difficult place. Transplant is a very traumatic process – apart from the physi-

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cal effects of the drugs and so on the psychological and emotional implications of having someone else’s heart living in your body can be quite profound. SS: Heart transplants have been going on for a long time though haven’t they? AW: Yes, since 1967. But this study I am involved in is interesting because it suggests that now scientists are starting to look at the whole person instead of looking at the heart as a purely mechanical device that is separate from the mind and the emotions. Having said that, the idea of organ cell memory still provokes a lot of outrage. This is the idea that if you take someone’s heart and put it into someone else’s body it will carry with it some of the personality traits or sentiments of the donor. People either passionately believe this or they are very dismissive of it. SS: So you are performing another kind of surgery – trying to differentiate myth from science? AW: Well, the imagery I want to create will be quite bloody and brutal: looking into someone’s body, seeing their heart being ripped out, but I’m trying to find a way to show that and combine it with narrative reports that will be emotive but not sentimental. SS: I think this is a good time to go on to talk about your collaborations with scientists. You have been working with scientists for a long time haven’t you?


On Edge

AW: Yes, for nearly 15 years now. In particular with Professor Alf Linney at UCL. We have collaborated on three projects over the last 12 years. SS: So your work has been part of a dialogue between a scientific approach and an artistic approach. One of the more recent pieces that came out of your collaboration with Alf is Conversation Piece. Can you describe this installation? AW: Conversation Piece is an interactive computer installation that mimics human social relations. In the installation a disembodied synthesised voice that we have called ‘Heather’ tries to engage individual audience members in dialogue. Each interaction is focused around a small sculpture displayed on an exhibition plinth. When you walk up to one of the plinths there is a system that tracks you visually. This triggers the disembodied voice of Heather, who tries to catch your attention by saying ‘Hello’, or ‘Excuse me’. Then if you approach one of the sculptures Heather will try to engage you in conversation. She might ask you what you think of the sculpture, comment on what you are wearing – the system can see you – or ask you out for a coffee. The installation uses speech recognition and synthesis software, concealed microphone arrays, a dialogue management system and a directional sound source, which means that only the person at the plinth can really hear what Heather says. If you are standing somewhere else in the room you only get to hear half the conversation. If you are standing in exactly the right place it sounds as though the voice is inside your head, which is quite strange. It is important that the interface is transparent and that none of the technology is visible because this helps to give the illusion of a personality who is listening and responding. It encourages people to attribute human sensibilities to the machine, even though there are no visible human features. Sometimes it really feels as though there is another person there, at other times the conversation is a bit more tricky. It really depends on two things – how well the system recognises what you are saying and how much you are willing to invest in making the conversation work. So it takes a bit of understanding on the part of both the person and the machine! SS: Isn’t that the idea – that at first you find yourself just carrying on as if there is a person there and then suddenly you realise this is stupid, I am talking to a machine – what does this machine know? You have to start to think about what kind of relationship you want to have with the machine! AW: Kind of, but sometimes it is difficult to rationalise because it is actually quite compelling to talk to Heather. There is a strange emotional process that goes on in talking to a machine that appears to understand you in some way. It is very


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conversational. She can flirt with you, or get annoyed with you or tell you her problems. You still feel something even when you know you are talking to a machine, particularly when she is more

Transplant is a very traumatic process – having someone else’s heart living in your body can be quite profound provocative. I find that interesting. At the moment Heather can’t very often deal with questions, and people do like to test her by asking questions. But even though she either ignores the question or doesn’t give a satisfactory response, most people seem to be compelled to keep talking to her. To me that is quite interesting because it parallels what we often do in human to human relationships. SS: Carry on talking you mean? AW: Well, we keep trying to make the conversation work. I think this demonstrates the degree of empathy involved in any conversation. SS: But it also makes you more aware of your own feelings because there isn’t actually anybody there. AW: Yes, absolutely. There is no em-

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bodiment – the machine voice has some modulation, but this doesn’t give much away. In fact, there are some better synthesised voices now than the one we are using, but I didn’t want it to be too perfect because I want to cause the kind of emotional confusion you are talking about. SS: How does the scientist relate to the aesthetic interests of the work? Is he just in it for the science? AW: Alf is quite a particular sort of scientist in that he also makes sculpture and has a strong interest in art, but since the beginning of our collaboration he has been interested in the way I push his thinking. Somehow the ideas I or we come up with always demand some new scientific or technological research and he finds that interesting. Usually at the start of each project Alf and other scientists say that what we are proposing can’t be achieved, but each time we have achieved it in one way or another. Alf is also interested in what the installations can tell us about ourselves. SS: ‘In one way or another?’ What do you mean by that? AW: Actually at the moment Conversation Piece is not really very intelligent – the system uses a very complex tree structure from which it selects pre-determined responses, or makes up sentences from a range of pre-existing components. We did plan a mark 2 of this project that would use artificial intelligence more


On Edge

thoroughly, but this would be another big and expensive project. It is do-able, but it hasn’t happened yet. It will depend on improved word recognition. At the moment the system only recognises one word at a time. SS: It seems to me that the interests of scientists and artists are very different. Your artwork is put into a public space and people interact with it. This brings the knowledge out into the world and people can do with it what they want. Hopefully they gain something from that experience. Whereas scientists are usually interested in publishing the knowledge as a report that is discussed with other scientists. AW: Well, not always. That is research science, but sometimes science is applied! SS: Your work almost seems to supply the dimension that’s missing from a lot of science, the affective dimension, the visceral effects. AW: Yes, I have been collaborating with medical scientists since the mid 1990s so I have become quite familiar with the scientific approach, and recognise that I do approach the representation of what is human in quite a different way. It is not about discourse, but it is about affect, as you say. In an essay on visual culture, Irit Rogoff talks about what she calls ‘new objects of inquiry’ that ‘go beyond analysis towards figuring out new and alternative languages which reflect the contemporary


awareness by which we live out our lives’ – it seems to me that this ‘contemporary awareness’ involves a level of reflexivity, both on the part of the artist and the audience. This is part of what I find exciting about making work – that it is, hopefully, bringing a new way of looking at things and a new understanding for the audience on an emotional level as much as on an intellectual one. SS: With that in mind, do you prefer to show your work in what might be recognised as mainstream ‘art’ contexts, or in contexts like the Wellcome Trust gallery, where a piece of your work is in the semi-permanent collection? AW: Nowadays I prefer to show in galleries. However, the Wellcome is a very particular case. It is an art-science context, but it is also one that is increasingly being taken seriously by the art world. Years ago, at the start of my career as an artist, I was most interested in making work for non-gallery sites, but nowadays I definitely prefer to show in what you call ‘art’ contexts. I am not sure how much that is to do with my own expectations for the work and how much it is to do with more general changes in the way that value is assigned to artworks. SS: Ok. AW: Maybe I feel that in an art-science environment, or even any other nongallery context, my work is not taken so seriously. I think I feel that when work

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Stefan Szczelkun and Alexa Wright

is seen in a science context in particular, it is more likely to be seen as instrumental in some way, rather than as a statement in its own right. SS: Maybe I see your work as bridging the gap between science and art in a way that is too restrictive? AW: The relationship between science and art is well established, and in a way I don’t want to dwell on that aspect of the work. SS: I can see why you want your work to function in relation to the art world. It is to do with legitimation isn’t it? AW: Yes, I think it is. SS: This question of context is more complex than I thought. There seem to be two factors that inhibit public recognition of your work. Firstly, the close association with science, which effects its legitimation in an art world that is not that interested in science, and secondly the affective dimension that we were talking about earlier. I mean, the value of your work resides in the area of affect, which could be related to certain feminist discourses. As yet this doesn’t seem to be recognised. AW: Well, yes. There are all sorts of political positions that are not mainstream in our current commodity culture and which might be more accommodating of the sort of work I make, but this all sounds a bit defeatist! SS: No, I don’t think that is a negative thing – it is a problematic to be engaged with. Info Alexa Wright’s interactive installation, Alter Ego (2005) will be showing as part of LOCATE ME at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin, 22 May – 08 August 2010 Footnotes 1 Howard Slater, Burdened by the Absence of the Billions, Metamute, September 2008, Stefan Szczelkun <> is an artist, living in South London, with an interest in open artists’ collectives and networks

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RumouRs of WaR from dubstep to free improv to noise, people turn to music to express something about the world that words alone can’t. How well, then, do two recent books – steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare and the group work Noise & Capitalism – serve their listener-readers? a double review by Paul Helliwell


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In case of sonic attack on your district follow these rules… – ‘Sonic Attack’, Hawkwind/Michael Moorcock, sometime in the 1970s.1


he twenty-first century started with a bang’ says Steve Goodman (nearly) at the start of his 2010, MIT published Sonic Warfare. Taking us to the darkside of sound, Goodman focuses in on vibration, on a politics of frequency rather than volume; in particular the ‘bad vibes’ from the infrasonic bass frequencies of dub sound systems to those that engender fear and dread from military special weapons.2 He replaces the linear speed – a conjoined marker with the war and noise of the Italian Futurists at the start of the 20th century – with the angular velocity of afrofuturist music’s rhythmic vortices at the start of the 21st century. Sonic Warfare moves an optimistic reading of Deleuze, based on flows, to one based on the vortex, ‘the model for the generation of rhythm out of noise […] (that) blocks flow while accelerating it […] the abstract model of the war machine.’ The vortex changes noise into rhythm, futurism into afrofuturism, and enables a hijack of the academic discourse on noise from within. But for Deleuze and Guattari ‘a war machine tends to be revolutionary, or artistic, much more so than military.’3 Why then does Goodman read it so literally?4

War – What is it Good for? Music is joy. But there are times when it necessarily gives us a taste for death […] music has a thirst for destruction. – Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 19805

For an activity that so many people pin their hopes on, the philosophical position of music seldom rises above it being a distraction, and claims for its radical potential seem to be made more out of habit rather than real belief. As a weapon of war Goodman may believe he has found an example of sound working directly that cannot be ignored. If Deleuze’s philosophy is one of connection then Goodman uses it to draft the usual noise/war/speed suspects Arthur Kroker, Paul Virilio, Manuel DeLanda, Friedrich Kittler and many others into his own war machine.6 There is the omnipresent ecology of fear of the war against terror but also a militarisation of theory here; war – what is it good for? Kittler, in tracing the roots of almost all media technologies to war, would say that it is the father of all things; like the Italian Futurists he must admit its value in shocking

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Rumours of War

passeists, the ‘has beens’.7 As does Goodman, whose Sonic Warfare is both Deleuzian nomadic war machine and literal state war machine (this is a contradiction in Deleuzian terms but not an insurmountable one – the state may absorb the nomad war machine by capture).8 This gives the book a somewhat queasy affective tone – one too dark for music, but too flippant and celebratory for sonic warfare. For Goodman these proliferating ‘Black Atlantean’ musics (dubstep, crunk, grime, baile funk, reggaeton, kwaito, hyphy) are a better fit to Deleuze and Guattari’s theories than the modern composition, literary, artistic, and B-Movie examples that litter their work, and more interesting than the improv, guitars, and above all noise music that hog academic debate. In academia, music has been thought of in a number of ways. First it was understood (musicologically) in terms of the score, with black, popular and dance music discussed only as directly sociological documents largely in terms of lyrics, and only later coming to be understood as sound. Goodman is still fighting this war against the lyric, and he acknowledges his formation in that Deleuzoguattarian swarm incubator, the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), at Warwick University. Curiously, Goodman and the CCRU’s reliance on music’s (or noise, or rhythm’s) formal properties is little used by Deleuze and Guattari who are much more interested in its content ‘a child dies… a woman is born… a bird flies off ’.9 Badiou dryly observes that Deleuzian concepts are often transported to another field only ‘to say that they function well’.10 How has Goodman used Deleuze?

The book’s tone is queasy – too dark for music, too flippant for sonic warfare

Wardance One key CCRU debt would be to Erik Davis’ over a decade old essay ‘Roots and Wires’, a reworking of John Miller Chernoff ’s writing on African polyrhythm. This reading is the still present fossil-seed of the rhythmanalysis Goodman conducts. Erik Davis took Chernoff ’s work on African polyrhythm and used it to provide a theory of the then current UK music jungle/drum and bass in terms of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition.11 When listened to, danced to, polyrhythm immanently appears as a steady metering beat (repetition), with a beat playing off it between these beats (difference). When composing or reading (viewed transcendentally) it appears as the interplay of a number of rhythms running in different time-signatures or perhaps at different metres (speeds). Rhythm here is an active relation of different regions, a productive tension. Crucially, what you take to be


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the metering beat can change â&#x20AC;&#x201C; but no one dancing is going to thank you if you actually do this to them while DJ-ing. Repetition and metre are key in our collective mobilisations on the dance floor, in military drill, in the orchestra, in synchronising emotion, in synchronising labour â&#x20AC;&#x201C; repetition and obvious, pulsed metre are the popular, the low, machine-produced prole-feed, and art music becomes itself by appearing to eschew them.12 Art reacts against the machines and views repetition as fatal and inhuman, we react with the machines, viewing the repetition they offer as cyclical and generous. What Goodman is looking for here is perhaps not a theory of an already obsolescent musical style, but a means of connecting polyrhythm with Deleuze and Guattari. Surely, though, they should have commented on it themselves? He stumbles over this key problem in moving from the examples of modern composition examples used

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Rumours of War

by Deleuze and Guattari to other musics.13 For Goodman the musical sources they draw on rule out a collective mobilisation. One example they use is Oliver Messiaen whom Goodman disparages for saying jazz and military marching are not rhythmic (but metered) and accuses him of being part of the ‘European musicological elite’ (with Adorno – Ouch!), but a few lines later he must also acknowledge that Deleuze and Guattari say exactly the same thing. Goodman goes no further than to bemoan their snobbery, and then apply them as if nothing were the matter. But perhaps Goodman is on more orthodox ground than he realises. In Messiaen’s music, elaborate strategies are adopted to produce a non-pulsed time – the Aion; for Deleuze and Guattari this is an elusive, fluctuating ‘time out of joint’ in which new events may happen as opposed to the pulsed Chronos of steady metering historical time. In Deleuzoguattarian terms the time of the virtual is the Aion, its smooth space is of the nomadic war machine. But Deleuze has ignored the fact that metre is still relied upon by the musicians to produce an experience for the audience of non-pulsed time (how else could the musicians act together?).14 The distance between Deleuze’s non-pulsed time and polyrhythm is, Goodman thinks, unbridgeable, so he passes on quickly, but they may not be as far apart as he believes.15

Rhythmanalysis We have already seen the substitution of the vortices of a (black) afrofuturism for a linear speed of a (white) futurism, retaining the tropes of noise and war and a refusal of the original musical examples of Deleuze and Guattari. But Goodman also attempts a rhythmanalytic opening up of Deleuze and Guattari themselves, of their own influences/connections (not Spinoza but Lefebvre, Bachelard, Bergson). Of the three inventors of rhythmanalysis acknowledged by Goodman, it at first looks as if Henri Lefebvre’s 1980 work will be marginalised in favour of an unpublished 1931 manuscript by Pinheiros Dos Santos, but of the three Lefebvre is ultimately the most discussed. Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis arrived late in the Anglophone countries due to a 20 year gestation and a 28 year delay in translation. There is a further hangover – even Stuart Elden, in his translator’s introduction, cannot see Deleuze and Guatttari as adopters of Lefebvre’s technique, as if the writing on repetition and difference did not exist in both. To rephrase Lefebvre, is not a part of Deleuze and Guattari’s project a criticism of reification in the name of becoming, is it not taken up in what is most concrete; rhythm?16 This would be Goodman’s strongest argument – a way to overcome the view that (other than the refrain) Deleuze uses musical examples only as a metaphorical explanation of his arguments. Brian Massumi (the translator of A Thousand Plateaus) licenses us to make analogies from these when he enjoins us to treat that book as a


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record, as something that can be dipped into rather than read as a whole. In contrast Ian Buchanan and others argue we must build a properly Deleuzian theory of music – high or low – using Deleuze’s own tools.17

Life During Wartime For me the smooth ride of Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant than the Sun (a sonic f(r)iction where musical example and Deleuzian text are in a state of mutual excitation) has not been achieved – the full torque Deleuzo-speak and the balancing statements required of academic writing don’t hold each other in constructive tension like the elements of a good polyrhythm ought to. The book claims to be in a state of oscillation between ‘dense theorization’ and ‘exemplary episodes’ but none of these are from the author’s own experience as dubstep producer, record label manager and DJ, Kode9. He never intrudes upon his own text and there are no equivalents of the ornery improv musicians who stifled Ben Watson’s monograph, Derek Bailey, in their emphasis on praxis. He takes us to a pirate radio station but don’t go expecting to meet the massive – it is as if the rapture has already happened. There’s no sweat, no sex, no dancing, no bodies, no violence, no records and little MC chatter. We are offered the rhythmic nexus but not the cash nexus. There is no testimony from the victims of sonic warfare either; most examples are internet rumour, urban (warfare) myths, Men Who Stare at Goats.18 War here is remote, bloodless, simulated; war as we are increasingly offered it while our armies wage it at the peripheries – another training simulation of the Military Entertainment Complex.19 Why this repression of example? When Melissa Bradshaw reviews Sonic Warfare in terms of Goodman’s recently released Hyperdub 5 compilation, he advises against it saying he is more interested in the inconsistencies and divergences between the book and the label.20 It’s not just the women who are missing from the book, she notes, it is humanity as a whole. She sees its being anti-anthropocentric as a good thing.21 Having recently watched the UK reggae sound system film Babylon I cannot agree. Shorn of the people who improvise the combination of records and lyrics, there is no understanding of the political economy of the sound system and why it has gone global. There is no understanding of these increasingly local scenes without recourse to the local and particular. Goodman has committed the cardinal

repetition and pulsed metre are the low, machine-produced prole-feed art music apparently eschews

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Rumours of War


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Deleuzian sin of talking about communication rather than engaging in dialogue. The book that Goodman meant to write, the one full of global Ghettotech, is announced in the foreward and then banished to the footnotes, exiled by an editor as something that can only travel across the Black Atlantic steerage. When, nearly at the end of Sonic Warfare, Goodman enjoins us to ‘(listen) […] for new weapons’ he also shies away from making ‘grand claims regarding the spontaneous politicality of the so-called emergent creativity of the multitude’ – this is the discussion he can no longer have with us because we are no longer there and neither is he. The everyday is simultaneously the site of, the theatre for, and what is at stake in, a conflict between the great indestructible (cyclic) rhythms and the processes imposed by the socio-economic organisation of production, consumption, circulation and habitat […] a bitter […] dark struggle round time. – Henri Lefebvre and Catherine Régulier.22

Noise in This World Noise and Capitalism has the 11 authors’ experience built in (rather than designed out) – and after Sonic Warfare we might expect gains from this. Six of the authors I’ve met, two play free improv, two play other kinds of music,

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(Mute editor) Anthony Iles is a dubstep fan, Nina Power likes noise, (Mute editor) Matthew Hyland reviewed the same copy of Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation that I did (and still has it), but then I’ve also met Steve Goodman (at the Noise Theory Noise conferences at Middlesex). Can these two books be brought into a productive tension?23 First off the title, Noise and Capitalism, suggested by Ben Watson, (nearly) does what it says on the tin. The connection between noise and capitalism is the book’s problematic, it is a provocation designed to annoy the Wire, but the strengths of the essays on improv pull the book in that direction. Are there problems in this doubling of improvisation and noise, last attempted in Jacques Attali’s Noise? Nothing happens without noise (says Attali), but little happens without improvisation (that is why the ‘work to rule’ is so effective). Both partake in the avant-garde fusion of art and life, one that, as Howard Slater argues, has become central to capitalism. Nonetheless, before it can be compared to anything else, Noise and Capitalism must be brought into some kind of productive tension with itself. 24

There’s no sweat, no sex, no dancing, no bodies, no violence, no records

If the free liberated without a doubt and in the poetic way in the 1960s, today it is only liberal. – Free Improv’er Noël Akchoté

For Mathieu Saladin the improv scene is composed of both Boltanski and Chiapello’s ‘social critics’, who are concerned with equality and denounce both exploitation and individualism, and ‘artist critics’ who resist the oppression of standardisation and commodification. If these currents were furthest apart in Dada and Italian Futurism, arguably the precursors of improvisation and noise, then May 1968 was the moment when these two were closest together. If the subsequent years have been marked by a recuperation of ‘artist criticism’ to the point where it has become ‘the new spirit of capitalism’, then ‘social criticism’ has also had its share of defeats. Against this Saladin seeks, again, the improvisatory moment and Rancière’s degree zero gesture of ‘dissensus’ – that each work of art, or each such moment is a politico-aesthetic re-ordering of (not just) what can be said but (crucially) who can say it. The actually existing scene’s defects await new improvisers and a new audience to come. This separation of scene and practice, genre and concept that Mathieu


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makes is ahistorical, (and improviser Radu Malfatti is clear that without time/history we cannot assess stagnation or progression), but in holding them apart he at least makes the practice visible again. But if the improv was free, so now are the recordings. Mattin’s investigation of copyright and Myspace, with Walter Benjamin’s Author as Producer in one hand and his Critique of Violence in the other, leads him to a call for improvisation ‘changing the conditions in which the music is produced’ in such a way as to refuse the law (and violence) that guarantees copyright. In his interview with Radu Malfatti and in a recent Mute article, Mattin reveals this would require the annihilation of free improv: We are forced to question the material and social conditions that constitute the improvised moment – structures that usually validate improvisation as an established genre.

These genre conventions he now views as normalising strategies to be overcome, with Brechtian alienation technique, improv to impro. In many ways this is a working through of many of the critiques contained in this book.25 Even the cover – notes of a dialogue between Her Noise exhibitor Emma Hedditch and Mattin as to what the cover should be – is made to do work, extending the dialogic of free improv outwards to make the process and critical thinking involved in the graphic design for the book visible.26 Similarly, Matthew Hyland investigates Derek Bailey’s formation as a jobbing musician in the provincial dancehalls before the need to sound like the records put him out of work.27 Hyland notes that for musicians, once we were waged labourers and now we’re our own mini-brand with a career development loan, and this is the change in capitalism as a whole and for all of us (at least in the West). It is far from ‘idealism’, as Andrew McGettigan’s review of Noise and Capitalism in Radical Philosophy maintains, to question the centrality of the recording at the moment that capitalism dissolves it as a commodity, nor at the moment when it was being installed.28 Howard Slater’s is perhaps the article that approaches Sonic Warfare most closely; his ‘War of the Membrane’ is about affect, but he is willing to venture into a discussion of capitalism and politicality in a way that Goodman is not. McGettigan bemoans this saying ‘It must make life more exciting to think that one’s listening habits are per se engaged in a war over instincts and perception’, but music is more than our individual listening habit, a fact obscured by its omnipresence. To dismiss music’s collective political (or psychoanalytical) effects as ‘a fantasy’ is a denial of what music is capable of. If it is a fantasy, it is a planet-wide one. The problem here is in how Slater ends music, in a comfortable therapeutic silence no longer fear-filled: ‘one day there will be no music, just possibilities’, but this is a return to the Aion.29

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McGettigan recommends reading the essays by Prévost, Watson, Brassier and Saladin, and dismisses the rest. Prévost calls on us to resist scientism, authority and celebrity and to dive straight into the potent mix of self-assertion and collectivity that is free improv; one, he tells us, capitalism cannot acknowledge. Prévost is still fighting Stockhausen’s scientism, Cardew’s Maoism and Derek Bailey’s celebrity – faced with Messaien’s Aion he would twitch aside the curtain to reveal those musicians enslaved by the score. For Prévost, improvisation is an opportunity ‘to do rather than be done to’, a self-invention, something quintessentially human, about choice, and he has no time for its renunciation in Cage, Cardew or David Tudor’s preparation of an Aion-like mental state. But is there not something automatic and machinic in that moment of improvisation anyway, a randomness even of the notes that the tam-tam (Prévost’s instrument) produces when struck? Prévost looks to the work necessary to reincorporate this sound once made both musically (in the dialogue with other improvisers) and socially (in its relationship with the audience). Ben Watson’s defence of the band Ascension against revisionist critical approval is in some ways a rerun of his Noise Violence Truth pamphlet – a defence of noise. As a critic Watson has Adorno’s way with an aphorism (when not enjoined to Beckettian reticence by his negative dialectics), and yet when he soars with enthusiasm over the radical universal power of music he remains curiously unpunished by McGettigan.30 Brassier’s investigation of accumulating genre conventions in noise doesn’t really do it for me (form is sedimented content – genre conventions change and grow, there is noise within genres over time as well as between them). McGettigan thinks the editor should have teased out the difference in the concept of experience between Brassier and Watson – but I think it’s minor. For Brassier, noise is over, ‘fatally freighted with neo-romantic clichés about the transformative power of aesthetic experience’, when the commodification of experience is ‘a concrete neurophysiological reality’ that cannot be defeated by criticism. But Brassier is good on what genre frustrates, even when it is hard to believe his musical examples can actually overcome it. Anthony Iles, it seems to me, has done sterling work in his introduction which pulls together the common problematics from these essays. Resisting the siren song of totalising theory, Iles pulls the argument down to street level, to the gentrification of Hoxton. If improv is a muddy ditch where things can grow

for Prévost, improvisation is an opportunity ‘to do rather than be done to’


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then so was Shoreditch (or at least its arts venue, Foundry). Ultimately the proper engagement with these problematics is to be found in Mattin’s new work, but the decision by Kritika to make it freely available or available for trade both as a download and a physical copy is exemplary and performative. Sadly Nina Power and Csaba Toth’s articles are little more than well referenced reviews, but interesting nonetheless. Toth dutifully references Attali, Barthes, Lacan (and the less usual Guy Debord) in constructing his ‘Noise Theory’. He follows Barthes (via Jeremy Gilbert), finding the radical potential of noise in jouissance which, like the improvisatory moment, is a moment that overcomes everything – it is a black hole, an aesthetic sovereignty in reduced circumstances, a fetish of the moment. Does noise music really have that effect on people listening to it five times a week? There is no ‘going fragile’ here – no admission that music or noise or even theorising them can fail. As with Sonic Warfare, the maximalist claims for the direct effect of sound derive from the philosophical weakness of generalised claims of music. Nina Power offers us machines dreaming of the deft hands of women workers, women building synthesizers, wartime women rebuilding Waterloo Bridge – taking as her cue a comment of Mattin’s that factory workers were among the earliest players of noise. Countering her appreciation of musician and synthesizer maker, Jessica Rylan (surely just a peg for the article?), McGettigan lists radiophonic women but omits the mother of them all, Daphne Oram. ‘The sirens of unpleasantness continue to seduce the male noise imaginary’, says Power, hearing these as merely imitative rather than annunciatory; you’ve been in the house too long she says and shoos us out into the fresh air.

soundclash – The Philosophy of Improvisation or… McGettigan’s review is also a double review and, if not that helpful for Noise and Capitalism, it did help me with the review for Sonic Warfare. It starts by reviewing Gary Peter’s book, The Philosophy of Improvisation, improvised a half page at a time.31 McGettigan seems resistant to philosophical improvisation – what about Alain’s Propos? – but what really gets his goat is the failure to cite musical examples (and the idea that a philosophy of improvisation has little to offer improvisers).32 I have a similar problem with Sonic Warfare, the obverse of my usual problem that too much faith is placed in musical example; musical examples date fast (Goodman’s problem), and if I don’t like the music I’m less likely to be convinced by the argument. Even if I do, it may not be for the reasons given. The mutual excitation of text and music – the sonic f(r)iction – crashes on take-off.

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McGettigan argues that, because Gary Peter’s book gives no concrete examples, no philosophy of the practice of improvisation can be generated, and a model of abstract aesthetic production is imported in its place. He then turns to Noise and Capitalism as a native informant to find accounts of practice that would enable him to generate such a philosophy, but finds people already busy theorising (and sometimes importing). McGettigan’s disappointment is palpable, and he focuses it on the lack of consistency between these accounts. This is right but not, as he seems to think, because more consistency would produce a truer argument but because it is this lack of consistency that interests – other reviewers also found the lack of agreement frustrating – but I find it heartening.33 The conflation of the genres noise and improv by the book’s compilers and McGettigan is productive, but just because they can sound the same doesn’t mean they are. The conflation of their concepts, objects and eventual aims, hides more than it reveals. Similarly the conflation of the genres of noise and industrial hides their differences (the demolished factories, the changes in work). Musicologist Susan McClary once complained that to understand music we are told we must renounce our emotional reactions to it, refusing to do this she picked Attali over Adorno, and for the same reasons Ronald Bogue picked Deleuze. McClary also made her choice to route round what she took to be Adorno’s high culture bias – just as Goodman picked Erik Davis.34 The repetition of these gestures surely says something. These two books do not allow us instantaneous access to the truth of all noise but to theoretical and practical conjunctures – problems of the relations between philosophy and practice. McGettigan may complain that the referencing is scholastic – ‘if Adorno says it, it must be true’ – to the point of denial of experience, but the same is true of Sonic Warfare. A whole cultural studies industry exists solely to publish ‘neat ideas’ shorn of their philosophical ‘procedures’ for use by undergraduates wanting to write about what excites them. Beyond this, the whole thrust of the work of Derrida, Deleuze and Rancière is to question what it is these procedures do – philosophy is not some neutral activity. It is not enough to reclaim praxis as a mere term or to police the borders of philosophy with a bigger dog. The problem of theorising why music matters so much to so many people, and of not having to renounce emotion to do it, remains philosophy’s problem, not music’s. Music continues to move the crowd.

The sirens of unpleasantness still seduce the male noise imaginary


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Info Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear, MIT, 2009 Mattin & Anthony Iles eds., Noise & Capitalism, Arteleku Audiolab (Kritika series), 2009

Footnotes 1 2 See for a double review comparing Sonic Warfare’s sonic ecology of frequencies and intensities with Gordan Hempton’s sonic arts and ecology project to creats quiet ‘reserves’ – a politics of volume.

3 Gilles Deleuze, Pourparlers, Editions de Minuit, 1990, pp.50-1. 4 For a succinct discussion of the concept of the ‘war machine’, see:


5 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Athlone Press, London, 1992, p.299. 6 And a whole series of books proclaims that it is, not just John Rajchman, The Deleuze Connections, MIT, 2000. 7 The best criticism of this was probably made on 15 July 1917 by mutinous Italian squaddies of the Cantanzaro Brigade who machine-gunned the inn where proto-futurist poet Gabriele D’Annunzio was believed to be staying. John Woodhouse, Gabriele D’Annunzio: Defiant Archangel, Oxford University Press, 2001, p.306.

8 Deleuze and Guattari, op. cit., ‘Treatise on Nomadology – The War Machine’, pp.351-423 and elsewhere. 9 Ian Buchanan, ‘Introduction’, in eds., Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swidoba, Deleuze and Music, Edinburgh University Press, 2004, p.15.

10 In Jean Godefroy Bidima, ‘Music and the Socio-Historical Real: Rhythm, Series and Critique in Deleuze and O.Revault d’Allonnes’, in Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swidoba, op. cit., pp.192-3.

11 Erik Davis, Roots and Wires, But are jungle records (composed on computers, out of loops, programmed on a grid to a fixed tempo) really polyrhythmic in the sense of African drumming? Perhaps when danced to, perhaps when listened to, perhaps when mixed together, but not of themselves.

12 See William H. McNeill, Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History, Harvard University Press, 1995.

13 Jeremy Gilbert notes ‘when writing about music they almost invariably write about composers’, Jeremy Gilbert, ‘Becoming Music: The Rhizomatic Moment of Improvisation’, in Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swidoba, op. cit., p.121. See also ‘from the vantage of the artist rather than the audience’ Ronald Bogue, Deleuze on Music, Painting and the Arts, Routledge, 2003, p.3. But is this true? – surely what Deleuze focuses on is the experience of music (its affect) rather than its production.

14 In the ‘does-what it-says-on-the-tin’ Quartet for the End of Time, a 17 beat musical phrase is repeated against a 29 beat chord pattern, the shifting relationship between the two refuses to settle down and as these are both prime numbers the earliest that the piece can begin to repeat itself is 17 times 29 beats later. At last music you can play at a rave and not be busted by the cops under the Criminal Justice Act. Ronald Bogue, ibid., p.14 onwards. Quartet for the End of Time is another technology produced by war having been written by Messiaen in a German prisoner of war camp.

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quired to make those connections beyond himself but did not and compares Deleuze unfavourably with his college friend Revault d’Allonnnes who made studies of rebetiko and other minority musics. This should keep Matthew Hyland happy as he plays a variety of rebetiko with his band Philosophie Queen. All in eds. Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swidoba, op. cit..

18 Interestingly Steve Goodman’s blog does all this much better,


15 In Deleuzian terms, pulsed, polyrhythm cannot

wars/ and

produce the Aion, it produces a striated space rather


than the smooth space of the nomad war machine.

20 10 January

Lefebvre however notes another kind of time. People


may be distressing themselves unnecessarily about

21 It follows a tendency begun in Deleuze and


continued in More Brilliant than the Sun, where Paul

16 Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis, translated by

Gilroy’s Black Atlantic, a study of real transatlan-

Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore, Continuum, 2004,

tic patterns of affiliation and connection in Black


Culture, is sunk beneath the waves to become a Black

17 Translator’s foreward; ‘Pleasures of Philosophy’,

Atlantis rendered myth.

Brian Massumi, p.xiii, in A Thousand Plateaus, op. cit.

22 Henri Lefebvre and Catherine Régulier, ‘The

We might start from scratch and apply Deleuze’s six

Rhythmanalytical Project’ in Rhythmanalysis, trans-

key concepts to music itself, applying them according

lated by Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore, Continuum

to low music’s own immanent terms, or we might

,2004, p.73.

think about music in terms of Deleuze’s work on

23 This would not be the first double review of the

cinema, or we might think about music in Deleuze’s

book see

terms of royal and minority science (or minority


languages), or we might (in an un-Deleuzian fashion)

24 Improv is prefigured in dadaist and surreal-

attempt to dialectically wrangle music out of him with

ist automatism. There was little to separate futurist

the aid of another philosopher. Arguments made by

and dadaist performance as practice but a great deal

(in order) Ian Buchanan, ‘Introduction’ , Greg Hinge,

separating them as ideology (War or anti-War). See

Is Pop Music?, Drew Hemment, ‘Affect and Individu-

Michael Kirby, Futurist Performance, Dutton, New

ation in Popular Electronic Music’, Eugene Holland,

York 1971 and Richard Huelsenbeck Memoirs of

‘Studies in Applied Nomadology’, Nick Nesbitt,

a Dada Drummer, University of California Press,

‘Deleuze, Adorno and Musical Multiplicity’. Jean

Berkeley, 1991.

Godefroy Bidima calls for both of these last two in,

25 See Mattin’s recent article ‘Against Represen-

Music and the Socio-Historical Real: Rhythm, Series and

tation: A Revolution in Front of You’, Mute Vol

Critique in Deleuze and O.Revault d’Allonnes. Bidima

2 #15,

points out that Deleuze is, by his own philosophy, re-



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Paul Helliwell

and Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the

34 Ronald Bogue, ‘Rhizomusicosmology’,

Theatre, Routledge, New York, 1992. While keen

Substance 66, University of Wisconsin, 1991, pp.65-

to avoid involving us in the unpaid labour that is

101. See

relational aesthetics (so happy together) isn’t this


production of a problematised situation (sociabil-


ity as blockage) potentially similar to the work of Santiago Sierra?

26 and

27 It was there that Bailey acquired the muscle memory to ‘bodge’ songs he had not learnt previously nor had access to the sheet music for. This, together with his studies of atonal musics, were the underpinning of his ability to improvise.

28 Andrew McGettigan, Begin the Beguine, in Radical Philosophy, Issue 160, March/April 2010, pp.46-49.

29 And curiously similar to the self-communica-

tion of Attali’s idea of ‘composition’.

30 Like Nick Nesbitt in Deleuze and Music he

wants to convince us that Adorno would have dug John Coltrane but I don’t see any evidence for that. Noise Violence Truth text available online at http://

31 In McGettigan’s account this is a pseudo-

(Derridean) philosophy because it has not taken account of Derrida’s hostility to using ‘origin’ to determine the ‘proper’ (I may be misunderstanding something here).

32 Chartier

33 has the

reviews plus some of the work traded for copies of the book. Paul Helliwell <phelliwell2000@yahoo.> does not improvise but does record and would like to direct people to his blog on the MySpace page of his ‘brother ass’ horsemouth:

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ArtificiAl ScArcity in A World of overproduction: An eScApe thAt iSn’t the one strategy open to crisis-ridden capitalism that doesn’t risk class antagonism is the creation of artificial scarcity through regimes of intellectual property. Sander explains, however, that the ‘production of innovation’ is no replacement for the production of value


hether today’s global overcapacity is seen as cause or effect of the economic crisis, one thing is certain: it isn’t easy to make a profit in a world awash with overproduction. Capitalism is born in conditions of scarcity and is unable to function outside of them. So it seems logical that the crisis creates a tendency to restore these conditions artificially. But how does this affect the chances of the global economy to find a way out of its present predicament? Most analyses of how the present crisis arose focus on the mechanics of the formation of bubbles. Debates are raging about what measures need to be taken to prevent them in the future but these are like discussions on how to treat the skin lesions of an Aids patient. The problem lies deeper. Regardless of their specifics, bubbles are always a failure of capital to live up to its promise. The money that fed those bubbles was invested as a claim on future profit. When it becomes clear that this profit will not materialise, the bubble implodes. When this happens in one sector, the blame can be assigned to the mismanagement, delusions and malfeasance that occurred in that sector. In the housing market crisis in the US, there was certainly plenty of blame to go around; likewise in the credit market crisis that followed. And in the car industry too. But by now, entire economies are imploding bubbles. There Image: Unsold cars line an airfield at Bicester, Oxfordshire, December 2008


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are again specific reasons why this happens first here and not there, but the chain of imploding bubbles is getting so long that specific reasons can no longer account for what is becoming a general phenomenon. The underlying problem is no different in Greece than in the housing crisis: not enough profit is being generated to satisfy the claims of the capital invested in it. The debt crisis keeps escalating, despite all the talk about the nascent recovery. Of course the crisis does not follow a course of linear descent but the expectation that a deep recession must lead to a strong recovery just like winter leads to spring is just magical thinking. And it is magical thinking to talk about â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;the stalled economyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; as if it were a car that could be started with the jump lead of a stimulus package. I doubt if there are many economists who really believe in that image. Most of them realise that the anti-crisis measures can, at best, prevent the unravelling for some time, time that will be much needed to restructure the economy. But how? Austerity measures are imposing themselves. Consumers, workers, companies, governments must spend less to make room for future payments to capital because otherwise, the value of existing capital collapses. But all these austerity measures, which will become sharper as time goes by, undercut demand. The overcapacity of the economy increases. Opportunities for productive investment diminish.

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Artificial Scarcity in a World of Overproduction: An Escape that Isn’t

The trend pushes owners of capital towards speculative investment, to the formation of new bubbles of fictitious wealth whose implosions will create new shocks. Governments are inevitably driven to contradictory policies. What they create with one hand, they destroy with the other. Their austerity measures undermine their recovery policies, and the latter, by creating new debt, new claims on future profit, undermine the former. What is the way out of this dilemma?

A new paradigm for Growth? There is none, as far as I can see; at least none that avoids a steep devalorisation of capital, with devastating consequences for the reproduction of society. The best we can hope for is that this traumatic experience will make it clear that the very foundation of the world economy, production for profit, has become obsolete. But if you’re a politician or an economist working for a think tank or a government, you have of course to believe that ‘yes, we can’, that the shocks can be absorbed and that a new paradigm for growth can emerge from them. From this hope, three strategic priorities follow. None of them is new, but the present situation gives them a new urgency. 1. Raise profits by lowering wages. More specifically, combine as much as possible Fordist production (mass production based on assembly-line labour) with the lowest possible wages. That means intensifying globalisation. Use the oversupply on the global labour market, enlarged by the crisis, to push wages wherever possible under the value of labour power, that is, under the cost for the wage earner to reproduce his life. There is no limit to that except the resistance of the working class. The fact that paying wages under the value of labour power destroys labour power is not a limit when that labour power is abundant. As any overproduced commodity, labour power must devalorise. This cannot be resisted from within the logic of capital. Resisting thus becomes in practice refusing to be a commodity, rejecting the value-form. 2. Raise profits by cutting faux frais, by shedding as much as possible superfluous constant and variable capital. That means getting rid of unneeded factories, machinery and workers and lowering as much as possible the costs that the management of the superfluous population entails. Not an easy task of course. The help of the trade unions, who by their function as managers of labour power understand that what they deal in is a commodity that ultimately must bow to the logic of the market, will be indispensable. 3. Raise profits by artificially creating conditions of scarcity. Develop a global, parallel economy centred in the most advanced countries that is sheltered by its exclusive


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market positions from the deflationary trend that inevitably engulfs most of the world. That entails shifting the centre of gravity of the economy, of profit making, from the production of goods to the production of innovation, of new knowledge for the production of goods; a shift away from economies of scale (whose yield turns negative as overcapacity grows) to the goal of constant adaptation, constant recreation of scarcity. The limits of those first two strategic goals are not objective; they depend on overcoming the will to survive of human beings, on defeating their capacity to imagine themselves as something other than commodities. But that is not the scope of this article. It is the development of the third goal and the limit it encounters that I want to look at in the rest of this text.

‘the tao of undersupply’ Let’s return to the question of how to make a profit in a world awash with overproduction? Hugh MacLeod formulates the problem this way: For every mid-level managing job opening up, there’s scores of people willing and able. For every company needing to hire an ad agency or design firm, there’s dozens out there, willing and able. For every person wanting to buy a new car, there’s tons of car makers and dealers out there. I could go on and on. I could also go on about how many good people I know who are caught in oversupplied markets, and how every day they wake up, feeling chilled to the bone with dread and unease. So maybe the thing is to get into ‘The Tao of Undersupply’. If only 100 people want to buy your widgets, then just make 90 widgets. If only 1000, make 900. If only 10 million, make 9 million. It isn’t rocket science, but it takes discipline.1

It takes more than discipline though. And sometimes it takes rocket science too. The problem with Hugh’s strategy is that when there is a hole in the market, capital will fill it. Someone else will make those widgets, unless there’s a way to prevent him or her. There is. There is the blunt weapon of protectionism, but the blowback more often than not defeats its purpose. Then there is the market control achieved through the concentration of capital. That is of course a constant tendency throughout capitalism’s history but it accelerates in periods just before convulsions of major proportion: around the turn of the 19th and 20th century, in the late 1920s and in the past decade. The present crisis conditions further facilitate the concentration of capital. Stronger companies buy up embattled rivals at bargain prices and tie others to them

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Artificial Scarcity in a World of Overproduction: An Escape that Isn’t

in so-called ‘strategic alliances’ that establish control over the market through networks rather than through outright monopolies or explicit cartel-agreements. In many sectors the number of decisive players has been so far reduced that de facto monopolies (diamonds) or oligopolies (oil, bauxite, aeroplanes) have a tight grip on the global market. This tendency is perhaps most visible in the production of finite, raw materials, but is present throughout the economy, from software and banking to processed foods and retail. For those giant conglomerates there is no need for an explicit collusion in order to exercise their joint capacity to fix prices above the value of their products and to jointly reduce supply in support of that goal (such as when the major oil companies reduced their refining capacity in the past decade).2 While the unprecedented degree of concentration of capital assures that the ‘traditional’ way of obtaining surplus profits through monopolistic or oligopolistic control over existing markets will remain important, there is another way to those surplus profits that is more striking, more typical of our times: the commodification of knowledge.

A World of patents A company that introduces a new commodity (or a new method to produce commodities, which itself is a commodity) in the market, has by definition a monopoly over it and thereby the opportunity to set its price above its value, as high as the market can bear. In this respect, it doesn’t matter if the newness is real or artificially created. Through massive propaganda, Nike succeeded in convincing consumers that an Air Jordan is something different and better than other sneakers, for which it could charge a price unrelated to the value created by the workers in Indonesia who produced these shoes (whose wages, by the way, were but a fraction of the money it paid to Michael Jordan for appearing in commercials for the product). Image: The Chumby PCB assembly factory in China has dozens of lines filled with Fuji chip shooters which, working faster than the human eye can see, can place around 10-20,000 components per hour per machine.


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Of course, such marketing campaigns cost money that also has to be calculated into the price, but at the same time they serve as thresholds that keep smaller companies, unable to spend so much on marketing, out of the market. As a result, marketing claims an ever larger share of the total costs of big companies. When Apple recently introduced its iPad, the newness was more than a perception but the same mechanism applies. As the exclusive seller of this product, Apple is able to command a price far above what it costs to make the product in its factories in China.3 Nobody else can make an iPad. Its production is protected by patents. The search for artificial scarcity is both a cause and a result of the vertiginous growth of information technology, biotechnology and other knowledge-based development and their widespread application in all branches of industry. As a result, the growth of patents, after following a slow but quite steady course since the late 19th century, exploded in the 1980s. Intellectual property rights became a keystone in the international trade agreements concluded since, and both American and European authorities repeatedly lengthened the duration of patents and copyrights. There are patents on everything. In total there are more than 32 million of them, and almost two million new ones are filed every year, including the right to use, develop and sell technologies, programs, products, methods of research and production, procedures, even scents and colours, by anybody but the patent-owner and those licensed by them. Even a large part of our genes now fall under patents and cannot be studied without paying a license to their â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;ownerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. Obviously, that is quite profitable to the latter. Patents last on average 20 years and can be renewed, while it takes a pharmaceutical company typically one to three years to recoup the R&D costs of new products. The wild growth of patents is not limited to sectors where you might expect it, that are geared towards the development of new consumer goods such as pharmaceuticals. In the field of electrical machinery for instance, between 2002 and 2006, companies filed 92,082 new patent applications in the US; 264,686 in Japan, 49,477 in Germany, 24,514 in China and 8,757 in the UK.4 As the British economist Arnold Plant wrote:

this road to surplus profit takes armies of researchers and, even more so, armies of lawyers

It is a peculiarity of property rights in patents (and copyrights) that they do not arise out of the scarcity of the objects which become appropriated. They are not a consequence of scarcity. They are the deliberate creation of statute law, and, whereas

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Artificial Scarcity in a World of Overproduction: An Escape that Isn’t

in general the institution of private property makes for the preservation of scarce goods, tending […] to lead us ‘to make the most of them,’ property rights in patents and copyrights make possible the creation of a scarcity of the products appropriated which could not otherwise be maintained.5

Microsoft declared in 2004 (quite shamelessly, since many of its own products such as Word and Excel are derivative of unpatented inventions by others) that its goal was to file 3,000 new patents a year, an increase of 50%. The company is right on target. Toyota obtained more than 2,000 patents on its Prius alone. Its goal is to make it impossible for others to develop hybrids without paying a hefty price to Toyota. These examples explain why the pace of technological change is much less impressive than the steep increase of patents would suggest. Since they cover so many things, they effectively prevent the development of new products by unlicensed competitors. Many patents are not even applied to new products. Their owners simply wait until others develop something similar in order to extort a fee. This road to surplus profit takes armies of researchers and, even more so, armies of lawyers to enforce the artificial scarcity which is constantly under threat, since knowledge is by its nature communicative and derivative of other knowledge. Only big powerful companies can afford them, so this is another threshold that keeps unwanted competitors out. More generally, it also requires real armies, the power of states to maintain a world order in which artificial scarcity is protected.

At the centre of the trend towards an economy based on artificial scarcity stands it

no Way out At the centre of the trend towards an economy based on artificial scarcity stands IT, which has driven capitalism’s tendency to lower the value of commodities to its most extreme point. Since it costs next to nothing to reproduce digital goods, their social value, in Marxist terms, is also next to nothing. They are in effect abundant and can only be made profitable by sabotaging the law of value, by limiting competition to prevent the market from establishing their prices freely. Other companies that base their profit strategies on artificial scarcity express the same tendency. Their actual production costs are usually very low but their profits are not. But what is the source of these profits? Since it requires ever less labour time to reproduce their commodities (the cost of R&D may be high but has no bearing on the cost of reproduction),


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Image: Unsold cars in Spain

the part of it that is unpaid, surplus value, must fall too and thus cannot explain the rise of their profits. The profit is surplus value but it comes from elsewhere: it is paid by the customers. That’s why it is a fallacy to think that a global advanced economy based on artificial scarcity could function on a parallel level, sheltered from the general crisis. It sucks value from elsewhere and thus effectively taxes the rest of the economy. The more it takes in, the heavier the tax. It is therefore dependent on the capacity of the rest of the economy to pay that tax, and thus on its ability to create new value. That doesn’t look good. So despite the desire of capitals based on artificial scarcity to extricate themselves from the mess (highlighted by Germany’s reaction to the debt crisis in Greece), there’s no way out. On the contrary, by siphoning off capital to production with relatively little value creation, it aggravates the general problem. However, it is to be expected that capitals geared towards artificial scarcity will continue to reap higher than average profits, even when the average rate of profit continues to decline. Thus production of these commodities will attract more than its share of capital. That makes it a prime candidate for the formation of new bubbles (as they have been before), heralding new shocks for a system desperately clinging to scarcity. Footnotes 1 2 See 3 Just recently, the 2000 workers of ‘United Win’ in Suzhou, China – a contractor for Apple Computers – waged a strike to protest the cancellation of their annual bonus and the poisoning of workers as a result of the use of the chemical substance N-hexane, used to clean touch screens. See

4 All figures on patents come from the database of the World Intellectual Property Organisation


5 Arnold Plant, ‘The Economic Theory Concerning Property for Inventions’, quoted in http://blog.mises.


Sander <> is an editor of the review Internationalist Perspective ( He lives and works in New York.

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Eliminating labour: aEsthEtic Economy in harun Farocki reading across the expanse of harun Farocki’s oeuvre at his recent raven row retrospective, benedict seymour discovers a profound engagement with capitalism’s ongoing crisis of devalorisation. how, he considers, does the eye/machine of Farocki’s cinema operate on and within this process?

As if the world itself wanted to tell us something Harun Farocki, ‘Workers Leaving the Factory’ in Nachdruck/Imprint, Berlin 2001


gainst What? Against Whom?, the retrospective of Harun Farocki’s video installations at Raven Row in London, was an overdue opportunity to explore the German film-maker and writer’s work. Intelligently curated by the gallery’s director Alex Sainsbury, the show comprised of Farocki’s two-or-more-screen video pieces, from the first, Schnittstelle (Interface, 1995), to his latest, Immersion (2009). It was accompanied by a season of Farocki’s films at the Tate Modern and the publication of a new book of texts and essays on and by Farocki edited by Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun. In addition, Raven Row made available a good selection of his films which could be viewed on a monitor in the entrance of the gallery. This constellation of exhibition, publication and screenings, not to mention audiences with the director and his collaborators during the course of the show, was quite a revelation. The range and continuity of Farocki’s concerns across different media and over several decades became apparent in the matrix of interrelated ‘themes’: the symbiotic relationship of (image) technologies across military,


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consumer and productive spheres, the centrality of technological and pedagogical simulation in an increasingly performance-based capitalism, a rigorous and selfscrutinising investigation of the language of cinema and television. But beyond this there was an unexpected, and timely, re-encounter with some fundamental questions concerning (image) technology that have, by and large, been overlooked or marginalised in film studies. Whether Farocki would endorse this approach to his oeuvre I’m not sure, but the essays by Alice Creischer and Andreas Sieckman, Tom Hollert and Diedrich Diedrichsen in the book, and the simultaneous availability of the gallery installations and films such as Zwischen zwei Kriegen (Between Two Wars, 1978), Wie man sieht (As You See, 1986) and Bilder der Welt und Inschrift der Krieges (Images of the World and the Inscription of War, 1988), encourage a reading of Farocki as above all an analyst and practitioner of ‘devalorisation’ – perhaps the most consistent or possibly even the sole example in cinema. Broadly, devalorisation is the Marxian name for the loss of value from productive assets arising through the technological displacement of labour, the depreciation of existing capital by more efficient technologies, and the failure to realise products’ value on the market. Devalorisation can also be used to denote the technological-social-economic process of production/destruction whereby capital deals with its contradictions at the expense of people and things. From restructuring to crisis to war, devalorisation is both the result of and response to the contradictions of advanced capitalism.

Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Inextinguishable Fire, 1969

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In their form and content – not to mention their cultural and institutional context – Farocki’s films and writings inscribe and are caught up within such processes of devalorisation. They begin with the multiple stigmata of this process, principally, perhaps, film itself as an agent for the displacement of labour from the process of production. Faced with the tendency of technology to undermine the very basis of profit in the exploitation of human labour, capital seeks to recompose value and so avoid a self-deflating downward spiral. This happens first of all by the reconfiguration of production and the re/production of the worker, and then, when this strategy is played out, by laying waste to human and infrastructural capital. In normal parlance it is Keynesianism, but since this lays the stress on the monetary inflation and consumer economy which is necessary to the first stage of the process and tends to overlook the destructive second phase (though Keynes and his German precursor Hjalmar Schacht did not), devalorisation is a more useful and less euphemistic name. Naming and renaming, as the Farocki retrospective and its title – Against What? Against Whom? – made plain, is also an important part of devalorisation: how we divide up reality and allot agency to parts of a social process is part of the constitution and re/production of that process. Capital has often had to ‘change up’ and repackage its product, and both innovation and adulteration, spin-offs and start-ups are part of the process. The theme of devalorisation is explicit in Farocki’s early films such as Nicht löschbares Feuer (Inextinguishable Fire, ’69) and Between Two Wars, but persists and finds ever greater immediacy in his subsequent work. After an overt Brechtian staging of the problematic (coded vignettes, soldiers scratching the true terms of real subsumption into the soil with their bayonets), devalorisation is progressively sublimated into the very texture of video works composed, as they are, out of ‘readymade’ military-industrial images of consumption/destruction. The author is, in a sense, himself steadily displaced from production. In his latest videos and installations, Farocki’s sensitivity to and inscription of devalorisation is so refined that it bleeds from the interstices of the shots; rather than directly announcing his subject as narrative or theme it is there in the very instrumental (Farocki dubs them ‘operational’, as opposed to expressive) images of which his films are constituted. In works such as Auge/Machine III (Eye/Machine III, 2003) a two-screen work in the Raven Row show, the progressive recomposition of value is evidenced by the cut from the aesthetically embellished, animated cartoon of a second world war flying

Film itself is an agent for displacing labour from production


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Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Eye/Machine III, 2003

bomb made for the instruction of German pilots to the zero-degree aesthetics-byaccident of a Cyclopean cruise missile’s ‘suicide camera’. Progressive abstraction and instrumentalisation of the image, from aerial photography to CCTV and modern missile targeting software, means that the ‘inscription of war’ is already the inscription of devalorisation. The film-maker responds in a kind of Brechtian self-amputation, rather than re-enacting these processes as narrative or searching for an image to represent them, he lets the images interrogate themselves. No need for CCTV camera players: the draining of narrative or mise-en-scene is already the truest index of the deepening alienation of the world. Here human labour has been reduced to the occasional monitoring of machine images (the ‘Eye/Machine’), a step sideways from production (and indeed, destruction) which Marx foresaw in the Grundrisse, but whose enormity and perversity long since outstripped 19th century anticipations, not to say 1960s dreams of a ‘leisure society’. The film-maker mimics this elimination of the human, of labour, becoming a kind of latter-day Flaubertian artist-deity (or artistengineer), absent from his own works, from the field of battle, but for occasional

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high precision textual or verbal fusillades. Unlike Benjamin’s programme of converting authors into producers, however, this is authorship in an age of advanced non-reproduction. Farocki’s authorial ascesis corresponds to a development of forces of production which are increasingly non-reproductive – innovations which eliminate the worker from the processes of (advanced) production while undermining the overall process of reproduction of the collective worker. Farocki’s formal economies coincide with innovations in imprisonment, security, finance and systems of control. The latter contribute to the policing of the post-industrial reserve army or support the reproduction of a growing (but vast) minority of non-productive servants of capital. As such they are ‘non-productive forces’, or overtly destructive as in the case of the missile tracking systems in Eye/ Machine III. Farocki’s films map the growing indistinction of technologies of reproduction and destruction, the concomitant suppression of productive forces apparent within even the most advanced technologies. Farocki’s large corpus of writings, particularly his essays in the now defunct Filmkritik, exist in a complementary relation to his films’ apparently growing verbal reticence. Found images converse together, punctuated by measured, not to say minimal interventions that subtly underscore, nudge or counterpoint the patient, self-effacing work of montage. The author survives


the demise of production as a shimmer of irony haunts every shot, reinflecting otherwise bald images of command/ control with a kind of ‘grin without a cat’ critique. If nothing else, Farocki manages the sarcastic refunctioning of neoliberal teaching films, ‘capitalist Lehrstück’ as Kodwo Eshun and Antje Ehmann term them. A vast collective mis-education is turned against itself in films such as Leben – BRD (How to Live in the German Federal Republic, 1990), the tragedy of corporate pedagogy turned into a grotesque but often highly amusing farce. Farocki’s economy finds a solution to the old Adornian-Brechtian enigma of how to represent society without reducing its complexity and softening its horror by simply applying direct cinema techniques to capitalist Lehrstück. In the process both direct cinema and Brecht are dialectically transformed. Filming and montaging the theatre which capitalism itself is perpetually staging and restaging in an era of accelerated restructuring and destruction turns it into satire, wordless auto-critique. If devalorisation is Farocki’s great theme, its primary cause, the elimination of living labour, seems to me to be the key leitmotif of his films. From the imposition of abstract labour in the phase of formal domination to the present ‘surreal subsumption’, capital progressively evacuates and, tendentially, displaces work from re/production.1 This theme is repeated across different cinematic registers and modes, from

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the symbolic and graphic figure of the worker’s absent (dead) body outlined in chalk on the ground at the end of Between Two Wars (the post-WW1 revolutionary ‘Gesammtarbeiter’ first displaced from production, then murdered by capital) to the lone worker silently superintendening the automated pre-fabrication of a brick wall in contemporary Germany in Vergleich über ein Drittes (Comparison By a Third, 2007). Farocki presents this process of (technological) displacement dialectically, and globally, however – hence there is none of Negri or Baudrillard’s one-sided totalisation or euphoria here, no simple ‘end’ or ‘dematerialisation’ of work. Instead what disappears at one pole of production is discovered remerging at another, running in strict (combined and uneven) parallel. Comparison is a hypnotic two-screen work contrasting the almost completely automated production of a brick wall in a cutting edge European factory with the very social and highly labour intensive process of wall building in Africa. True to Farocki’s notion of ‘soft montage’ discussed in the essay of the same name reprinted in Against What?, one image is questioned and interpreted by another, held in a dialectical tension which forbids either nostalgia or unmediated technicist enthusiasm. Neither the celebration of ‘appropriate technology’ and ‘community’ nor the worship of high tech and efficiency that is its counterpart in the global constellation of devalorisation prevail. The two poles posit and presuppose, and here also interrogate and criticise, each other. The complete absence of commentary in this work is exemplary – the viewer is left to do the intellectual labour of reading and mediating the contrasting images. Since the ’80s, Farocki has increasingly worked under a self-imposed taboo against the staging of material, instead relying respectively on a very particular form of direct cinema and found footage:

Farocki responds in a kind of brechtian selfamputation, he lets the images interrogate themselves

No actors, no images made by myself, better to quote something already existing and create a new documentary quality. Avoid interviews with documentary subjects; leave all the awkwardness to the idiots you distance yourself from.2

Farocki’s unalienated labour, vanishingly thin as it becomes, is continually played off against the alienated labour his films scrutinise and seek to understand. One might question to what extent – here and in other aspects of leftist politics and

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Image: still from the Lumières’ Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon, 1895, used in Farocki’s Workers Leaving the Factory, 2006

culture – this ascesis is a dialectical challenge to capital or merely its double. Does minimalism shade into a moralised militantism, formal economy as ‘negation of the negation’ acting to produce a parallel politico-aesthetic devalorisation? Or, insofar as minimalism can helplessly undergo transubstantiation into the stuff of luxury (Raven Row is no third world building site), is an aesthetic of poverty – like other leftist cinematic propositions such as an ‘aesthetics of imperfection’ – not doomed to become its niche marketed opposite? Farocki is ahead of such criticisms insofar as he explicitly thematises the contradictions of his work’s own productive forces. His withdrawal from narrative cinema is at the same time, in parallel with capital’s penetration of the personal, affective and communicational worlds of the (former) worker, the exploration of a vast new world of (un/productive) images. Farocki pioneers new fields and forms of image analysis by scouting the emergent scenes of capitalist devalorisation – supermax prisons, combat simulators, maternity class and police training exercise, or venture capitalist negotiation session. Capital’s growing interest in training and rehearsing, simulating and re/modelling every inch of the ‘social factory’ appears in Farocki’s work as a project not of simple ‘expansion’, but rather, I would argue, of involution and contracted social reproduction. Increasing precision is applied to increasingly


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unproductive and outright destructive functions. For example, Ich glaubte Gefangene zu sehen [I Thought I was Seeing Convicts, 2000] presents us with images of the Corcoran supermax prison in California as a site where guards effectively rehearse and stage gladiatorial combats between the inmates, then shoot them down. The prison becomes a kind of (CC)TV studio churning out state snuff movies. Capital combines ceaseless re-education with the progressive scuttling of material existence. The Raven Row archive of Farocki’s works revealed a film-maker confronting capital’s tendency, beyond a certain point in its development, to wipe out not only over-valued exchange values (as in our current economic crisis) but, increasingly, the very forces of production – machines and humans, mental and environmental resources. Already in Inextinguishable Fire (1969), Farocki had examined the emblematic scandal of Dow Chemical, a company whose own technical efficiencies oblige it to turn its surplus (domestic, productive) output into materials for destruction and war – i.e. unsellable petroleum becomes napalm, shipped out to Vietnam where it is used to flay the bodies and environment of the ‘communist’ antagonist. Rather than propaedeutically expose his audience to images of napalm’s horrific effects, Farocki uses a kind of institutional tracking shot to make visible in one movement the inseparability of the productive and destructive arms of a single company. Famously, Farocki, in the guise of a TV announcer, begins this movement by stubbing a cigarette out on his own forearm while the voice-over explains that napalm burns at 3,000 degrees Celcius, a cigarette at just 400. This gesture has captured most of the discussion, but it is the succeeding sequence, based around a mock up of Dow Chemical’s internal division of labour, that makes good the initial gestus. The film is a study in the right hand’s carefully constructed ignorance of what the left hand is doing, of a (self-)alienation which is not simply epistemological or ethical but institutional and systemic. Hence Farocki’s self-wounding gesture is not an actionist coup de théâtre but rather a characteristically economical and accurate physical synopsis of the self-destructive (and necessary) separation that the system is predicated on. The ensuing analysis reveals that Dow is no isolated malefactor but rather simply one exemplary node in a vaster system of production/destruction. It is identified as a potential site of struggle and refusal – were the scientists employed there to start thinking their activity in its totality and practically refusing it in concert with other workers at different points in the division of labour. Overt exhortations of this kind are notably absent from the director’s later work, but the focus on the ambivalence of capitalist ‘rationalisation’ remains a constant. In Farocki’s films capital is a system of production, but above all of production through and at the cost of intensifying destruction. In Between Two Wars (1978) Farocki draws on Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s Marxist analysis of the economy and

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class structure of fascism to posit an analogue between post-WW1 Germany and consumer capitalism after ’68. The key image of capital’s self-destructive ‘recycling’ in Between Two Wars is presented in a scene in which one worker tells another his dream, of a bird that hatches then eats its own egg. The second worker replies with the story of the scientist Kekulé. One night while he was working on the problem of the molecular structure of benzene Kekulé dreamt of a serpent eating its own tail. This archetypal image of regeneration gave him the key to the circular structure of benzene. Spiritual figure became topology, a real and practical model for material production. The worker similarly finds in the image of the bird eating its own egg a formula for immanently overcoming capital’s problems. He imagines reorganising production such that the waste products of one industrial process are put to work to help power another: ‘a network of pipelines’ could use exhaust gases from coking to heat blast furnaces for smelting. As the film goes on to show, however, this first ‘constructive’ phase of devalorisation stores up a second, destructive one. As Sohn-Rethel showed in his analysis of the German steel industry of the ’20s, this very ‘rationalisation’ resulted in an increasing contradiction between production and consumption as capitalists were unable to realise the value incorporated in products on the market. This leads capital to a new ‘solution’: the non-reproduction of workers and the production of non-reproductive commodities – chiefly weapons. Having first broken the resistance of the working class with the help of the unions and socialist parties, militarisation of the economy and, ultimately, war proved necessary to bring the market and the productive forces back into alignment. Nazism is presented by Farocki as the only political form capable of securing continued capitalist accumulation, a process of social self-cannibalisation. Farocki’s film refuses the comforting notion of a possible return to some social democratic ‘alternative’ – instead it suggests the proximity of the workers’ movement and fascism, of the left and right wings of a (productivist, and nationalist) socialism. Like the different branches of Dow Chemical, socialism’s productive and destructive arms are inseparable, mutually constituting. The recognition may hurt, like a self-administered cigarette burn, but if one wants to stop reproducing the tragedy of capitalist ‘development’ one must try and grasp it. Farocki’s later work explores how, from the birth of cinema and the rise of socialism down to the present crisis, the affirmation and elimination of labour is as

capital combines ceaseless re-education with the progressive scuttling of material existence


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Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Between Two Wars, 1978

integral to cinema as it is to other machines. In the Raven Row show, the installation Zur Bauweise des Films bei Griffith (On Construction of Griffith’s Films, 2006) explored the logic of Taylorism operating in cinematic form. The introduction of the shot/reverse shot, we are told, gives us two sets for the price of one and enormously increases the transferential ‘productivity’ of film grammar in the process.3 The dialectics of (abstract, industrial) labour in cinema are pursued again in Workers Leaving the Factory. A row of 12 monitors showing excerpts from 11 decades of feature, documentary and promotional films, Workers does what it says on the can and shows workers leaving factories. It is not only a document of the evolution of film and of factories but, as Bert Rebhandl puts it in Against What?, it posits the continual ‘reappearance’ of the Lumière’s first film – the primal scene of workers exiting the inventors’ photographic factory in Lyon (Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon, 1895). Without commentary, the installation implies that the cinematic apparatus

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Image: still from Harun Farocki’s Between Two Wars, 1978

is founded on a constitutive disavowal of production, both the world of industrial work from which the cinema classically posed an escape, and its own fantasmatic production line – the Taylorist, 24 frames-per-second machine behind and within the projected image. What Hollywood screened out – the factory – and socialism deified – the worker – it simultaneously destroyed. Devalorisation made visible what it sought to eradicate, simultaneously consigning much of the labour force to the status of invisible non-people. The elimination of the worker coincides, in the phase of Fordist devalorisation, with a cult of the worker as identity and a cull of those identified as non-workers. If the process begins with the birth of cinema – with the image of workers leaving the factory – in the present moment of crisis this displacement has come full circle: the (social) factory is closing down all over the shop, everywhere we look the doors are being forcibly levered open and the worker expelled – by capital.


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Rather than running for the exit, workers may think of occupation, or indeed of new forms of solidarity capable of turning this new ejection to their own advantage, a step – or leap – toward their self-abolition as capital. Increasingly, as Farocki’s films suggest, one is dealing with a combination of ‘surplus humanity’ and ‘guard labour’ – the warehousing, surveillance and/or destruction of one fraction of the class by another. Farocki’s images of a world inscribed and disfigured by value in crisis remain pertinent as we enter an era in which the assertion and abolition of the working class must arguably converge if the workers of the world are not to undergo another, drastically intensified, phase of devalorisation. Info A full length version of this article is available online at Against What? Against Whom? was at Raven Row, London, 19 November 2009 - 7 February 2010. This project was linked to ‘Harun Farocki. 22 Films 1968 – 2009’, a season of single-screen films and events at Tate Modern, 13 November–6 December, curated by Stuart Comer, Antje Ehmann and the Otolith Group. Kodwo Eshun and Antje Ehmann, (eds.), Harun Farocki. Against What? Against Whom?, commissioned by Raven Row, published by Koenig Books, 2010.

Footnotes 1 See my ‘Drowning by Numbers – The Non-Reproduction of New Orleans’, in Proud to be Flesh, A Mute Magazine Anthology of Cultural Politics After the Net: ‘After devalorisation, that is the destruction or ‘‘non-reproduction of labour power’’ through (Fordist) recomposition, today we have the final stages of devalorisation through its PostFordist decomposition. After the ‘‘real subsumption’’ of the worker under capital, we have surreal subsumption: the return of absolute surplus value extraction in formerly relative surplus value centred economies. […] capital now attempts the destruction of already reduced standards of living and expectations on the part of already ravaged communities of workers.’

2 Harun Farocki in a note to Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun, August 2008, quoted in Harun Farocki: Against What? Against Whom?, Koenig Books, 2010.

3 ‘With the introduction of shot-countershot, the room was divided into two, making two sets out of one, just as

the introduction of industrial production introduced the evening shift’ – Harun Farocki, ‘Shot/Countershot: The Most Important Expression in Cinematic Law of Value’, quoted in ‘A to Z of HF or: 26 Introductions to HF’ by Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun in Against What? Against Whom?, ibid.. Benedict Seymour <> is a contributing editor to Mute and is currently working on a film treatment about a popstar who survives a serious car crash to discovers that he can suddenly see the price of everything he looks at

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May 6, 2010 Dear Stakeholder, CVA GROUP is conducting an all-round strategic review of workflow structure at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (MNCARS), with a focus on the potential for synergies through horizontal convergence and OUTHOUSING. We would welcome your contribution to the consultation process. Please fill in the attached consultation form and return it to CVA GROUP, 10th Floor, London, WC1B 4BS, to arrive no later than May 30, 2010. The results of the consultation and the final recommendations will be submitted to the Trustees of the Museum. Dr. C. Hulbeck Chief Innovation Officer CVA Group is an independent Crisis Management consultancy and Social Enterprise, established with support from the 10th Floor, London.

The Wealth of Negations

by CVA Group

CONSULTATION DOCUMENT EVERY COOK CAN GOVERN (C.L.R. James) and every governor can cook INTRODUCTION The global financial crisis and the resulting need for fiscal consolidation both in Spain and internationally have made efficiency, transparency and best governance more crucial than ever for public cultural institutions. In particular, a world-leading Museum such as MNCARS, tasked with representing Modernity, must demonstrate responsiveness and a capacity for innovation. Fortunately MNCARS is in a strong position to meet these challenges. Elements of organizational creativity were already introduced on some levels before the present fiscal crisis began. If these resources are fully leveraged, they should allow the Museum to overcome public sector structural rigidities and assure itself of a sustainable future. SECTION 1. The competitive advantage held by MNCARS in an era of global ‘structural adjustment’ lies in the flexibility that already exists at several distinct levels of workflow structure. In turn, this organizational creativity serves and reflects the Museum’s fundamental commitment to cultural innovation and radical critique. We believe that the ‘crisis’ can indeed be turned into an opportunity for MNCARS, if the various ‘hot spots’ of creative instability within the organizational structure are allowed to converge. As well as leading to financial synergies, the process of convergence should drive change in attitudes and habits among MNCARS people, building up a dynamic momentum strong enough to sweep away entrenched special interests. SECTION 2. Specifically, the two most dynamic and flexible layers of the organization should converge in a single workflow unit. Curators and other strategic professionals should share tasks and expertise directly with outsourced logistical support staff (gallery attendants, cleaners, caterers). Operational and financial responsibility for the new unit, with its unique pool of skills and knowledge resources, should be devolved to the most efficient of the outsourcing contractors currently providing the Museum with logistical services. We refer to this in-house convergence of cutting-edge outsourced services as OUTHOUSING.

SECTION 3. The concept of OUTHOUSING draws both on successful international practices of Public-Private Partnership, and on contemporary ‘Demoradical’ theories of life and work in the service and ‘cognitive’ sectors*. These theories highlight the affinity between the two skillsets recommended for convergence here, based on their shared experience as ‘early adopters’ of the kind of innovative working arrangements that will need to become the norm if Europe is to maintain its competitiveness in a fully global, post-crisis age. CONCLUSION The move towards a new way of working must inevitably involve some short-term pain, especially for those whose current jobs or remuneration packages sadly prove not to be sustainable. However we firmly believe that the convergence of workflow segments (cognitive and logistical, paid and unpaid) through OUTHOUSING represents the fairest** way to ‘spread the pain’, optimizing efficiency while deepening empathy between members of the organization. Convergence between job categories with historically different ethnic and gender mixes should also boost the standing of the organization in Diversity indices. OUTHOUSING allows MNCARS to turn a global crisis into a true opportunity, by leveraging its strengths as an organization and seizing a unique ‘primitive accumulation’ moment in the emerging world of work and culture. *See for example: < > **On the importance of the perception of fairness in people’s acceptance of necessary change, and in particular the link between fairness and punishment, verified by peer-reviewed science, see George A. Akerlof & Robert J. Shiller, Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism, Princeton UP, 2009.

CONSULTATION FORM Given the efforts already made by the logistical outsourcing contractors at MNCARS to eliminate unsustainable jobs and wage levels, many of the sacrifices essential to the OUTHOUSING process will unavoidably be borne by strategic professionals. This is why you are the first group to be approached for consultation. We are particularly interested in your feedback on an option which could serve to soften the impact of OUTHOUSING at professional level. The practice known as ‘bumping’ allows an employee facing redundancy to nominate a more junior colleague whose job s/he would be willing to assume, so that the more junior employee becomes redundant instead. (This system is now regarded as best practice in the US, while in the UK employers who resort to redundancy without considering ‘bumping’ may be subject to penalties imposed by an employment tribunal.) Please indicate below: (1.) Whether you would be prepared to invoke the right to ‘bump’ a junior colleague if faced with redundancy (2.) Which job or jobs lower on the MNCARS pay scale, if any, you would be willing to move to through ‘bumping’ in the context of a wider programme workflow convergence

France Télécom acknowledges the existence of an internal ‘social crisis’ after media coverage of 35 suicides & several more attempts among workers within two years. Management claims in its defence that this rate is not all that unusual at the company or in French industry in recent years. But the suicide notes repeatedly blame restructuring, aggressive management and forced job transfers. 20,000 jobs have been lost over three years, with ‘reclassification’, eg. from engineering to call centres, offered as the only alternative to ‘voluntary’ redundancy; other employees were rotated reguarly between jobs and parts of the country under a Human Resources policy called ‘Time to Move’. Now that ‘workplace stress’ has acquired a media profile, the state shareholder steps in: Stéphane Richard, a political fixer from the finance minister’s office, is lined up to replace CEO Didier Lombard, who made an unfortunate quip about a “fashion for suicides”. ‘Time to Move’ is temporarily suspended as the new boss promises “consultation on stress”. This turns out to mean hiring consultancy firm Technologia to draft a 165-page ‘stress questionnaire’ for 102,000 workers to fill out in their own time. The consultants process 85,000 responses and duly produce a document about “declining company loyalty”, “weak identification with the business”, etc. Richard promises a “new social contract”, with a “charter of rights and responsibilities for all employees”. 2010: Job transfers are restarted as some unions sign up to a deal putting them on a ‘voluntary’ basis. Not voluntary are transfers to a new ‘zero suicides’ headquarters in Seine Saint-Denis (where the 2006 banlieue riots started): sealed windows, ‘secure’ staircases, no access to terraces... Under the “new social contract”, management bonuses will be partially assessed on ‘social’ criteria: rates of absenteeism, number of strike days, recourse to employment tribunals, etc. A labour inspectorate report attributes several suicides to management methods, explicitly blaming Lombard and other senior executives rather than subordinates. Prosecutors file manslaughter charges against ‘persons unknown’. April 2010: At least 12 more France Télécom workers have killed themselves since the beginning of the year, apparently unmoved by management promises to ‘listen’. *Curse 9*

[Dec. 2009] Poland declares a State of Emergency after the ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI’ sign is stolen from the gate of the Auschwitz tourist attraction. World leaders clamour for urgent action to restore ARBEIT MACHT FREI (‘work makes [one] free’) to its proper pedestal. *Curse 30*

[through 2009 and ongoing] ‘Austerity’ thrives in central Asia: in the course of 2009 the Kyrgyzstan government installed by the ‘Tulip Revolution’ has imposed retail price increases of 100% on electricity and 500% on central heating. These ‘necessary structural reforms’ raise domestic utility bills to the approximate equivalent of $40 a month, against an average monthly wage of $134. Late in March 2010 heavy streetfighting breaks out in Bishkek, leading to dozens of deaths, and the government fleets the capital. The ‘provisional government’ proclaimed by ‘dissident’ former ministers promises to reverse unpopular privatizations, but is silent on utility prices, apparently preoccupied with pursuing ‘looters’.??

[mid-2009] A Marseille supermarket fires 19 workers ‘on suspicion of allowing people to leave without paying’. The next day around 40 masked ‘proletarian shoppers’ arrive, loot thousands of euros’ worth of luxury food and drink and electronic goods and walk out. The police are waiting for them outside, but are pelted with stones and other missiles from surrounding housing blocks, and the reappropriators escape. *Curse 15* [July 2009] Tonghua, Jilin province, China.

30,000 work-

ers at the state-owned Tonghua Iron & Steel Group protest against takeover of the plant by privately-financed, Beijingbased Jianlong Steel Holding. A Jianlong manager orders the workers to stop the protest, and is attacked.

An ambulance

is not allowed through and the manager dies.

Local authori-

ties immediately cancel privatization of the steelworks.

*Curse 45* *Curse 27*

Criminality picks up in a recession. So yes, we’ll have a little bit of negativity around more robberies on our trucks. But on the other hand, there’ll be a bigger increase in crime and more civil unrest, so we’ll get more business in that respect.” – Nick Buckles, chief executive of G4S, global ‘security’ firm specializing in prisons and immigration detention.

Clandestinity and appearanCe is there more to the refusal of identity than the romantic escape fantasies of certain anarchist cells or the necessary survival tactics of the ‘illegal’? John Cunningham takes up the case of clandestinity and resistance in the age of biopolitics

Closedness and Openness Sometimes the detritus and trash of contemporary commodity capitalism can reveal more than is intended. A recent advert for the BMW mini-convertible, plastered on billboards throughout London, carries the slogan ‘Closedness Bad’ alongside its dualistic correlative ‘Openness Good.’ Below ‘closedness’ is a sealed book bearing the Monty Python approved title ‘The Meaning of Life’ and, below ‘openness’, a gleaming mini-convertible that’s completed underneath by the advertising pay-off, ‘Stay Open’. Where Benjamin glimpsed a utopian trace of the classless society in ‘a thousand configurations of life, from permanent buildings to ephemeral fashions’, this advert gives us a glimpse, underneath the infantilising language, of a hidden dichotomy within the culture of contemporary capitalism.1 ‘Closedness’ and ‘Openness’ might be said to act as place-markers for the opaque and the transparent, clandestinity and identity, silence and communication. A trace of the clandestine emerges in the embodied dead labour and banal straplines of an advertising billboard, but where else might it be glimpsed? Michele Sinapi, in an unpacking of the etymology of the term ‘clandestine’, writes that whereas ‘a secret presupposes an almost absolute separation […] what is clandestine is what is most […] intimate.’ She links the clandestine to ‘an interiority that cannot be appropriated, of a resistance to being seized.’2 Clandestinity


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is intimate to the body politic of contemporary capitalism and different forms of the clandestine drift into discourse only to recede again out of visibility. These forms are in no way homogeneous. Worlds of difference separate the economic and political clandestinity of ‘illegal’ migrants from the tactical appropriation of anonymity by the black bloc, the everyday as a form of resistance, or the clandestine exodus of ‘phantom organisations’ and the self-exile of individuals from political and artistic milieus. Yet all these forms of clandestinity are ‘intimate’ in the sense of being the object of dispositifs of surveillance and discipline, and the diffuse apparatuses that (re)produce identity and subjectivity within contemporary biopolitical capitalism. Another intimacy they share is in being subject to an economic appropriation of every human capability – the body, generic communicability – within the regime of biopolitical capital. The latter, as theorised by Foucault, Agamben and Virno amongst others, can be loosely defined as the management of life as such within capitalism. The desperate clandestinity of exclusion for economic migrants, wherein clandestine existence is imposed by

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capital’s need for a reserve army of labour, is paradoxically mirrored by the refusal of productive subjectivity advocated within more radical anti-capitalist circles (the Invisible Committee, et al). Might an examination of clandestinity illuminate the apparatuses of subjectification and appearance as well as the potential forms of de-subjectification that arise through an oppositional clandestinity? Or is such an attachment to the game of disappearance nothing but romanticising an impotent resistance that’s unable to escape the instauration of capital as a social relation?

Facial apparatus What, though, might there be to flee from in having a face, having a visage, in being (re)produced as an identity? Security state operations such as the ‘Green Scare’ in the US and the Tarnac 9 ‘pre-terrorism’ case in France point to obvious reasons for anyone engaged in anti-capitalist activism to evade all too easy identification within the current paradigm of manufactured terror.3 However, the (re)production of subjectivity within contemporary capitalism points to other, less immediately pressing reasons to desire invisibility. Agamben writes that ‘the transformation of the species [a term that originally meant to ‘make visible’] into a principle of identity and classification is the original sin of our culture, its most implacable apparatus.’4 Whereas I’d be tempted to say wage labour is the primary ‘original sin’ and even then want to jettison the theological language, the post-autonomist professor is undoubtedly digging away at something in our contemporary biopolitical misery. Agamben suggests there are two sides to the compulsion within contemporary capitalism towards identity. One is overtly disciplinary, related to surveillance, biometric ID cards and the production of a state sponsored ‘zone of indistinction’ wherein legal and illegal, citizen and criminal merge into one another.5 Related to this and equally imbricated within our everyday is the appropriation of our generic capability for communication and affective capacities that are not predicated upon identity – i.e. ‘species’, ‘special being’, ‘whatever singularity’ – within the apparatus of spectacular capitalism. ‘Whatever singularity’ is the immanent, non-specific potentiality that is compressed and constrained within current social relations – a pure means. Such a ‘pure means’ in its essence is not based upon individual identity but is generic to humanity as such. This is appropriated through a more subtle, pernicious form of identification predicated upon making oneself visible and being made visible through various apparatuses. Following Foucault, Agamben defines an apparatus as literally anything that has […] the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control or secure the gestures, behaviours, opinions, or discourses of living beings.6


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The apparatus might be institutional such as the prison, factory, or internment centre, a space of consumption such as a shopping mall or orders of relation like advertising campaigns or social networking sites. An apparatus is composed of bodies, technologies and discourses, traversing the traditional materialist categories of the economy and ideology while incorporating less quantifiable aspects such as affect. As much as value is extracted from my body by the tools I use at work (computers, languages, numerals) and the structures and strictures of an economic system (capital), the (re) production of myself as a subject is also mediated through aspects of an apparatus such as workplace training courses around topics such as interpersonal skills. Such attempts to induce and quantify particular subjective traits can induce little but cynicism and dread, but this is not an argument against their efficacy. Affect, personality and individuality are put to work even in my spare time, as I gaze at the individuating apparatus of a dumb car advert or signpost my identity on Facebook. The latter serves as an example of one apparatus among many that will aid an examination of some of the hegemonic traits of possessing a face and being a subject. A myth of anonymity recurs around social networking sites, the notion that they produce a play of identities. However, a recent psychological study suggests that what you see is what you get, a book of faces that are purely transparent and

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less opaque than the traditional CV.7 The subject is constructed through the appropriation of ‘pure means’, a generic human creativity and opening onto the world. This is then articulated through the dissemination of self-images, providing useful pointers for marketing, potential employers and ‘friending’. Within biopolitical, spectacular capitalism an oddly mutable, normalised and separated self is (re)produced that comfortably dwells within alienation.8 While much of this can sound like a humourless primitivist denunciation or paranoid ranting, it’s worth underlining that an apparatus, such as a social networking site, is purely impersonal and functions structurally as the machinic operation of biopolitical capitalism. Furthermore, apparatuses are not confined to media or Web 2.0. If this was so it would be relatively easy to disconnect and buy into the mythology of deep green primitivism. Multiple processes and apparatuses of subjectification are present within contemporary capitalism – factories, universities and discourses of identity around class, race and gender also (re)produce subjects and affects and have been around much longer than new media. However, without falling into the cyber-Marxist trap of placing too much emphasis upon technology, the self-marketed ‘me’ of Web 2.0 captures something of contemporary capitalism’s ideal of a flexible, highly visible self. A self-endorsed brand that stares back at us as an embodiment of a real abstraction operative in the world. As Paci notes

what is clandestine is what is most intimate

The fundamental character of capitalism […] is revealed in the tendency to make abstract categories live as though they were concrete. Categories become subjects, or rather, even persons, though we must here speak of person in the Latin sense, that is, of masks […] The abstract, in capitalist society, functions concretely.9

These ‘abstract categories,’ such as value and wage labour are present in the (re)production of commodified forms of subjectivity and identity. Attempting to delineate the processes of subjectification can end up sounding like notes from a particularly lucid depression, but it’s worth emphasising that the real ‘subject’ operative in this is capital. The ‘concrete’ is composed through the abstractions of capital and any positing of an external subject to this is left searching for an irreducible remnant that can reside only within the breakdowns of various forms of ‘human strike’ or Dupont’s theorisation of ‘species being’ as almost unwilled affective revolt.10 Agamben writes that the individual is produced from ‘the relentless fight between living beings, and apparatuses.’11 This constant reference to ‘living beings’ ,


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while having the virtue of emphasising the universality of the operation of apparatuses of subjectification irrespective of class, race or gender, can also obscure the central component of contemporary biopolitics – that it is the effect of capital. More specifically, as Virno notes, The living body becomes an object to be governed not for its intrinsic value, but because it is the substratum of what really matters: labourpower as the aggregate of the most diverse human faculties…’12

For both Virno and Agamben the locus of biopolitical capital is in capturing the generic potentiality or potenzia of the human, a potentiality that Virno more lucidly ascribes to labour-power as the repository of the sum total of human capabilities that can be utilised within wage labour. Emphasising ‘labour-power’ underlines the continued centrality of wage labour and is a necessary corrective to Agamben’s tendency to view contemporary biopolitics as a confrontation between a generic humanity and various apparatus of subjectification. Virno, in locating labour-power as the locus of biopolitics, is essentially making the point that capital was always already biopolitical, concerned with the management of ‘life’ as such. Biopolitics is historicised without falling into the trap of too strict a periodisation or Agamben’s too diffuse emphasis upon sovereignty and the (re)production of bare life as the ahistorical, originary form of domination. While Virno, like most

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post-autonomists, emphasises cognitive labour as being the hegemonic form of contemporary capitalism, his location of labour-power as the originary biopolitical site reminds us that expropriation takes different forms, but its primary form is the extraction of value – even if expressed within the ‘social factory’. The extraction of value from labour is the only constant, whether from affect, communicativity or physical labour. There is nothing especially new in this. Against the post-autonomist claims of novelty, what Negri terms ‘the biopolitical context of the new paradigm’, is just another expression of capital’s invariance, another way of maintaining itself as a social relation.13 What might be viewed as new are the forms of what Foucault termed ‘governmentality’, the (re)production of self-regulating subjects through apparatuses and the careful administration of state power that encourages and guides market ‘freedom’. Agamben’s image for generic potentiality is literally the human face, a face that is the site of a conflict wherein potentiality is subject to appropriation by the apparatus of spectacular capitalism. He writes that it is ‘…only in the sphere of the human face that the mechanism of exhibition-value finds its proper place’.14 ‘Exhibition-value’, a concept Agamben extrapolates from the work of Benjamin on art and mechanical reproduction, is neither exchange or use value but the capture and expression of ‘pure means’ within spectacular capitalism. Faciality is both an emblem and literal expression of such a ‘pure means’, a deliberate poetic slippage


Clandestinity and Appearance

that can make Agamben’s critique of spectacular capitalism more than opaque, though this might also be an attempt to avoid recuperation. For Agamben ‘the task of politics is to return appearance itself to appearance, to cause appearance itself to appear.’15 The ‘face’ is the locus of a ‘pure means’, an exposition of a potentiality not constrained by identity and expressive of the collective ‘general intellect’. As well as being accumulated ‘social knowledge’ that can be utilised within production, ‘general intellect’ is a sensual corporeal form that ‘appears in the materiality of corporeal processes [and] habitual ways of life no less than in theory.’16 Similar to what Marx presciently termed ‘species being’ as an ‘objective sensuous being’, this formulation also underlines what’s at stake in the struggle around ‘appearance’ and its appropriation by spectacle.17 As Agamben writes, ‘capitalism (is) not only […] directed to the expropriation of productive activity, but was also and above all directed to the alienation of […] the communicative nature of human beings’.18 Appearance is appropriated within spectacle, work, commodified roles and identities by the apparatuses of biopolitical capitalism. Appropriated is almost the wrong term. Whereas Debord’s concept of the spectacle describes a social relation mediated through images that are congealed capital and induce passivity, Agamben emphasises the active communicative nature of subjectification within contemporary spectacular capital. No longer projecting desire onto a celebrity or commodity, we are instead encouraged to individuate as an entrepreneurial project that can be facilitated through Web 2.0, the self-help industry or any apparatus that can be (self )productive. Such a mode of subjectification is central to contemporary capital’s governmentality. If ‘the face’, generic potenzia,


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is appropriated as a commodity then might certain forms of clandestinity provide a (non)identity that escapes the faciality of capital and allows potenzia to appear?

Zones of Opacity? Becoming clandestine, or more accurately the impetus towards clandestinity, could be such an attempt to escape subjectification as a productive form. Agamben writes that the individual can be ‘the place of multiple processes of subjectification’ and argues for a ‘profanation’ of apparatuses through which they could be made common and returned to non-instrumental use.19 Becoming (in)visible, the refusal of identity, could be one such counter-appropriation of apparatuses. Strands within contemporary insurrectionist anarchism, such as the Crimethinc, Ex-workers Collective and the Invisible Committee view clandestinity as both a tactic to simply avoid identification and a way to articulate a refusal of spectacular biopolitics and initiate a different form of (de)subjectification predicated upon becoming anonymous and imperceptible; the refusal of the face as spectacular identity. As the Invisible Committee stated recently – in The Coming Insurrection – ‘Flee visibility. Turn anonymity into an offensive position.’20 The most visible sign of such an anonymity, at least in anti-capitalist circles, has been the various black blocs that have formed a masked, tactical presence in most large scale mobilisations since the 1980s. Much of this anonymity is necessary since as the N30 Communiqué put it after the 1999 protests in Seattle: Let’s face it (with or without a mask) – we aren’t living in a democracy right now. If this week has not made it plain enough, let us remind you – we are living in a police state.

Not to mention the emphasis on property damage for which the black bloc is fairly infamous. Without getting into the ethics of smashing windows, the black bloc highlights the uneasy equivocation of a publicly illegalist clandestine politics between tactical necessity and the potential (re)production of a vanguardist political identity. Sometimes, judging by the number of images the tactic of the black bloc accumulates, it can become appropriated into the spectacle to be consumed like any other lifestyle. Even so, the black bloc suggests the tactical advantages of anonymity and the related refusal of the faciality of capitalism as well as suggesting ‘what a body can do.’ As art collective Claire Fontaine says

the relentless fight between living beings and apparatuses

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The term black bloc alludes to a manifestation of desire for collective opacity, a will not to appear and to materialise affects that are increasingly hard to take.21

Maybe the illegalist masks of the black bloc shade into an exodus from the quantitative commodified identities of biopolitical capitalism. This mask has two faces. One is aristocratic and disdainful of those unable and unwilling to wear it, and the other is anonymous and generic – it could be anyone.

Clandestine Bartleby The figure of Bartleby is emblematic of such a refusal. Melville’s scrivener refuses any assigned role as worker with the phrase ‘I would prefer not to’, and any welfare or Christian charity from his bemused but liberal boss.22 How might this figure inform a clandestine politics of foot dragging non-conformity? For Agamben, Bartleby is a figure of potentiality, a quality that is encapsulated in his ability to not enact the gestures expected of him by his employer and – to extend Agamben’s analysis – to not allow himself to become a subject defined through wage labour.23 Bartleby represents an exodus from the appropriation of generic potentiality or ‘whatever singularity’ by the apparatuses of capital, and it’s in this gap that forms of appearance less appropriatable within biopolitical capital might appear. Just as ‘pure means’ is appropriated, it’s also immanent to biopolitical apparatuses as dysfunction and the expression of a non-instrumental refusal. Such a form of refusal underlines the non-coincidence of body and apparatus that can open out into a refusal of wage labour and its attendant subject-forms of worker, consumer or self-mediating identity. It’s clandestine in the sense of being most ‘intimate’ to capital and takes many forms. These are often involuntary, arising from proletarian dysfunction, depression and work shirking as much as the more voluntarist secession as advocated by the Invisible Committee or active acts of sabotage. In a sense both are equally ‘involuntary’ since they are immanent to the social relations of a biopolitical capitalism and structured within it. However, the Invisible Committee and insurrectionist anarchism in general run a risk of confusing resistance with a purely subjective voluntarism that draws a distinction between those who refuse and plebs still interpellated within capitalism. It’s difficult to maintain this distinction when the lines of exodus and refusal always start from the middle of a social relation maintained by capital and are constantly undercut by it. Bartleby is configured by the abstractions of capital and reacts accordingly by stopping. This mirrors the refusal of work as an almost involuntary act and is absolutely generic – Bartleby is no-one special. However, Bartleby is not just self-exiled, but ultimately completely destitute and excluded from society – a danger that pursues anyone who is unable, unwilling or excluded from participating in the regime of appearance.


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It is noticeable that Bartleby makes no demands and retains a strict anonymity – he does not become a face or identity and repeats ‘I am not a particular case’. The refusal of roles and identities in favour of anonymity and pseudonym is a recurrent tactic within anarchist and ultra-left pro-revolutionary milieus. It was practised by Bordiga and Camatte amongst many others as any browse through a radical bookshop’s shelf will testify. While much of this is tactical, Camatte links such an anonymous, oppositional subjectivity to the refusal of all existent forms of political organisation as being ‘rackets’ defined by the logic of capital. For Camatte such a disaffiliation represented ‘the correct sense in which anonymity is posed rather than as the negation of the individual (which capitalist society itself brings about).’24 Effacing oneself sometimes means secession from the apparatuses that reproduce an identity as activist or a particular form of politics that can also instrumentalise and appropriate gestures and face. Bartleby is also a proponent of what Deleuze termed ‘the formula’. This is the twisting of language that the phrase ‘I would prefer not to’ performs through its repetition and the way it then insinuates itself into the language of the other clerks and his boss. Deleuze describes it as ‘(carving) out a kind of foreign language within language.’25 In a way Camatte’s disaffiliation and ‘phantom organisations’ such as the secessionist Imaginary Party advocated by Tiqqun or more playfully Frère Dupont’s secretive Earthen Cup perform a similar task in pro-revolutionary milieus. By insinuating themselves into the linguistic and organisational form(s) of a redundant leftist politics they perform a clandestine, mimetic act of destruction pointing out the limits of supposedly radical politics, the ways it can mirror the (re)production of subjectivity within capitalism. In a similar way collective cultural production that retains the relative anonymity of its participants such as the Luther Blissett Project or the collectively produced Bernadette Corporation’s novel Reena Spaulings do away with the spectacular face of the creative class by a form of mimetic shadowing that restores something of a collective potenzia to cultural production.26 Also, like the scrivener, cultural producers could just stop producing. The clandestine as irreducible remnant and remainder finds its figuration in Bartleby in several ways. The world he walks in is one of the everyday that he haunts like a ghost, in offices and stairwells, as an opaque figure of refusal. If the clandestine is an intimate of spectacular biopolitical capitalism then the everyday is where this intimacy is most exhibited. Blanchot writes, ‘The everyday escapes. Why does it escape? Because

effacing oneself sometimes means secession from the apparatuses that reproduce an identity

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it is without subject.’27 The ‘everyday’ is an opaque, usually urban, space constantly (re)produced within capital but exceeding it.28 The billboard might promise a regime of ‘openness’ and transparency but it’s located in the midst of an ‘everyday’ that’s replete with material detritus that undoes attempts to regulate it. However as Blanchot recognised alongside other theorists of the everyday such as Lefebvre and the Situationists, the everyday is always already subject to capture by spectacular capital and regimes of surveillance and classification. Foucault writes that from the 17th century, ‘a whole political network became interwoven with the fabric of everyday life.’29 Now that would include the biopolitical regime of spectacular capital with its over-determination of identity and classifications, as anyone caught in the entrails of welfare, work, medical and leisure apparatuses could probably testify. Yet this very over-determination also leads to the need for a (de)subjectification. Witness the account of an anarchist forced into clandestinity in the book Incognito: I’ve never agreed with comrades who consider living in clandestinity as the worst thing that could ever happen to you; on the contrary I’ve always […] perceived it as a stroke of luck and a chance to be grasped at once.30

(S)he also adds ‘you only need to become one of the many, nothing more or less…’31 This might just be bravado but it also touches on the continued possibilities of the ‘everyday’ as a site of the anonymous, potentially oppositional subject that Blanchot glimpses and the existential potentiality that can be grasped through it. That Bartleby dies in the workhouse also makes him a remnant in the sense of being homo sacer, the passive residue of ‘bare life’ identified by Agamben as the hidden foundation of sovereignty that is subject to the decisions of sovereign power within the contemporary state of exception. The clandestine emerges as an inclusive exclusion within the circuits of a biopolitics predicated upon labour power and the extraction of value. The paradigmatic example of this is the illegal migrant or the refugee. Sinapi, relating the way the use of the term shifted in France, writes that it begins to be used most ‘insistently’ in the 1930s as ‘a synonym for the recurring expression ‘undesirable foreigners’ and causes the term ‘emigrants’ to disappear entirely.’32 This both undercuts the persistent romanticism of clandestinity and underlines the difficulties inherent for any oppositional forms of political agency it might take. As an anonymous Algerian migrant says in Incognito, It seemed to me that your condition as an immigrant, more than that of clandestinity, affects your life day after day […] Being an immigrant affects every aspect of your life…33


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However, the same text also indirectly calls into doubt the activities of NGO groups such as ‘Strangers into Citizens’ that campaign for a legitimisation of ‘illegal’ migrants justified by a combination of human rights discourse and almost Victorian ‘deserving poor’ rhetoric.34 The same Algerian migrant, after documenting an experience of black economy labour and clandestine everyday life says, ‘if once I was scared I might be discovered as a clandestine and face deportation, my fears doubled after I had papers.’35

Image: Mongrel, Untitled, 2000

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This is because ‘there is this closure, this invisible encirclement that is the fear […] of being deported […]. In fact the stay permit is nothing; it is just a way for the authorities to control you.’ Appearance remains controlled within the circuits of biopolitical capital even and especially when the object is legitimacy and the granting of human rights by the state within the current state of exception. No rights that are granted can be worth that much since they can be taken away again. While Agamben’s concept of the inclusive exclusion of homo sacer is useful for conceptualising this and captures much of the current biopolitical paradigm, there’s a disturbing passivity to it and too sharp a disjunction between homo sacer and ‘form-of-life’, the self positing (anti) political agency that emerges with the negation of ‘forms-of-life’, our identities as worker, consumer, migrant, etc.. The gap is ‘labour power’ as a way of recognising the way that appearance might manifest itself as a ‘form-of-life’ less encumbered by the biopolitical apparatuses of spectacular capitalism. Such a form-oflife would be an emancipatory politics of non-identity that negated identities and representations such as worker, migrant, (self )consumer, etc. This need not be some valorisation of productivity or worker’s identity. ‘Labour power’ is a potentiality and could also be a refusal and even destruction of wage labour and the extraction of value in favour of an expression of a social relation that’s an exodus from capital. ‘Pure


means’ as a means without end, a noninstrumental assemblage of qualities and potentialities immanent to the subject would be expressed in a non-commodified faciality or ‘appearance’ in the noninstrumental usage of these qualities and potentialities as in friendship, the ‘sharing without an object […] that constitutes the political’.36 Bartleby is solitary, but another configuration of the clandestine suggests a community of Bartleby’s. This is the notion of an ‘unavowable community’ developed by Blanchot through the work of Bataille who spoke of ‘the negative community: the community of those who have no community’. Such a ‘negative community’ is the immanent prefiguration of a community that refuses the exigencies of value and all existent forms of ‘appearance’ in favour of a becoming predicated upon ‘the possibility – beyond any utilitarian gain – of a being together.’37 While this retains the romanticism of much clandestine discourse it also might prefigure communisation as a form of appearing. Footnotes 1 Walter Benjamin, cited in Gary Smith, (ed.), Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.p. 218.

2 Michele Sinapi, ‘The Displacements of the Shadow Line’, Social Science Information Vol.47 (4), Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008.

3 See and

4 Giorgio Agamben, Profanations, New York: Zone

Books, 2007, p. 59.

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5 See Agamben’s response to this at

20 The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection,


LA: Semiotext(e), 2009, p.112.

6 Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus, US: Stan-

ford University Press, 2009, p.14.

7 Facebook_users_keep_it_real_in_online_profiles

8 The Agamben influenced ultra-left journal Tiqqun

21 See 22 Herman Melville, Bartleby, available here http://

23 Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities. US: Stanford

University Press, 1999.

configured such a subject as the ‘bloom’, emptied out

24 Jacques Camatte, This World We Must Leave,

of experience and commodified. While there’s an

Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1995, p.33.

acerbic nihilist accuracy to this, there’s also a certain

25 Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, Lon-

disdain towards others’ experience and the valorisation

don: Verso, 1998, p.71.

of an impossible, voluntarist secession out of the social

26 See and

relation of capital. For ‘Theory of the Bloom’: The latter also

performs a mimetic deconstruction of the apparatuses

9 Quoted in Alberto Toscano, ‘Real Abstraction

Revisited’, available here research/cppe/pdf/toscano.pdf


of self-alienation and marketing in its narrative.

27 Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, US, University of Minnesota Press, 1993, p.244.

10 See, Tiqqun, ‘How is it to be done’ available at

28 Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern

World, London: Athlone Press, 2002.

and Frére Dupont, ‘Species Being and Other Stories’,

29 Michel Foucault, ‘Power: Essential Works Vol 3,’

US: Ardent Press, 2007.

UK: Penguin, 2002, p.168.

11 Agamben, What is an Apparatus, ibid., p. 14. 12 Paolo Virno, Grammar of the Multitude, LA, Semiotext(e), 2004, p.83.

13 Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Empire, Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001, p.26.

14 Agamben, Profanations, ibid., p.90. 15 Giorgio Agamben, Means Without End, Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p.94.

16 Agamben, ibid., p.11. 17 Karl Marx, Early Writings, UK: Penguin, 1977,

30 Anonymous, translator Barbara Stefanelli, Incog-

nito, London, Elephant Editions, 2008, p. 86.

31 Ibid., p.90. 32 Sinapi, ibid., p.534. 33 Anonymous, Incognito, ibid., p.75. 34 See Camille Barbagallo and Nic Beuret, ‘Bang to

Rights’, at

35 Anonymous, Incognito, ibid.,p. 74. 36 Agamben, What is an Apparatus, ibid., p. 36. 37 Maurice Blanchot, ‘The Unavowable Community’, Barrytown, NY, Station Hill Press, 1988, p. 30.


18 Agamben, Means Without End, ibid., p.95. 19 Agamben, What is an Apparatus, ibid., p.14. John Cunningham <> is a sometime writer and occasional wage labourer who lives in South London

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Is the BrIckBurner stIll the same?* With his insistent psychologisation of the elusive novelist B. traven, ’70s documentary film-maker and biographer William Wyatt demonstrates a singular inability to understand the political and personal stakes of refusing identification. neinsager opens and then firmly shuts the traven file again Nothing can be more contemptible than to suppose public records to be true.

I decided to retire from private life.


– William Blake

– Karl Kraus

t some point in the 1970s a BBC documentary film-maker named William Wyatt became obsessed with ‘B.Traven’. Traven’s books (which Wyatt misreads egregiously) and the revolutionary activity of Ret Marut amounted, at most, to sources of ‘clues’ for the BBC man’s detective quest.1 With the help of the state broadcaster’s culture budget and the natural titanium-skulled effrontery of the media professional, Wyatt managed after several years to make a TV show and write a book, The Man Who Was B. Traven,2 confirming usefully that Traven and Marut were the same person, and more or less uselessly identifying him with one Otto Feige, born 1882 in Schwiebus, East Prussia (now the Polish town of Swiebodzin).3 There’s no longer any reason to dwell on this feat of subvention-driven detective work, or on any ‘injustice’ done to Traven, even where Wyatt mistakes the Yorikke for the eponymous ‘Death Ship’ in a perfunctory plot summary of the book. What does still matter, though, is the precise aspect of Traven’s work and life that Wyatt failed with almost heroic stubbornness to understand. Because personal ‘identity’ as the documentarist conceives it (the most precious thing to cling to, trade on, etc., unless you have something to hide) is really a police matter, and Traven’s flight from the whole set-up is urgently instructive for everyone within the reach of (state or private sector) institutions.


*From an open letter to the disappeared Ret Marut, by Bavarian revolutionary comrade Erich Mühsam. Cited by W. Wyatt.



What Wyatt was fixated on (even to the point of flicking through the Traven books, or at least getting an intern to do it), was not just the ‘real’ name and biography of the author, but his even more mysterious reasons for going to such lengths to conceal these things: his perverse refusal of the recognition (and much of the funding) that all Creatives crave. As Wyatt saw it, only some deep psychological anomaly could explain Traven’s insistence on living for 50 years in Mexico under a welter of pseudonyms and pseudonationalities, making himself deliberately ‘hard-(if not impossible)-to-reach’ when the world was so eager to reach out to him.4 Didn’t this autistic tic show up symptomatically in the skimmed books, in the form of tall tales of characters’ loss of (or failure to acquire an) officially verifiable identity? Sometimes these outbreaks even came attached to polemics against birth certificates, passports, the sacred symbols of citizenship itself ! Wyatt admitted that Marut/Traven might have had reason to run away from the German police, and to keep running during the Nazi period. But he couldn’t bring himself to believe that there was no more psychological depth to the ‘mystery’ than that. Perhaps the biographer had trouble taking seriously the idea of a Social Democratic death sentence? As a Frequent Flyer on BBC tickets, he may well have struggled to imagine how the border management, public records and

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Is the Brickburner Still the Same?

cultural machinery of enlightened, liberal states could appear as a threat to the person, rather than miraculous means for extending personal freedom. Yet the practical workings of this threat are exactly what Traven’s books describe, most of all The Death Ship, which takes place in a juridical limbo between the USA, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and finally the UK, where the narrator was on his way to be interned as an undocumented alien until the actual Death Ship of the title, the British Empress of Madagascar, sank on schedule, scuttled for the insurance claim. (Fiege/Marut/Traven was interned in Brixton prison and ‘recommended for deportation’ in December 1923.) Wyatt quotes this passage from The Death Ship, but somehow fails to get the point that a particular person’s relation to the civil apparatus of ‘identity’ whether it shelters your status and property or consigns you to ‘bare life’ is a matter of class. The demonstration is clear in The Death Ship, with its accidentally stateless narrator and the ‘Anacharsis Clootz deputation’ joining him in perpetual exposure to ‘workrelated’ death at sea.5 But it also applies in the Mexican novels, where the life of indigenous workers in logging, oil drilling or crop picking is just as disposable inside the ‘national territory’ as that of the coal drag adrift between ports and expulsions. In both cases the disposability of labouring life is guaranteed by the state; in fact the lethal threat from the administration of ‘identity’ is most acutely expressed in the ‘Jungle’ series, where the indentured workers are bound to the logging camps, carreta trains or simple peonage by the debt that endlessly accrues to their recorded names. Having managed to ignore (even while quoting from them) some eleven volumes of writing on the everyday workings of the relation between class, institutions and ‘identity’, Wyatt was left with the impression that Traven’s ‘purist line’, his


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‘overt political views’, were too abstract to be anything more than a ‘theoretical basis for his anonymity’. Real ‘life choices’, especially when so perverse as to cut off the Creative Artist’s life-blood of publicity, could only be explained by ‘some powerful practical[!] or personal reasons supplying the urge for him to construct his rationale’. According to the modern middle-class common sense propounded so neatly here, it’s inconceivable that ‘overt political views’ could have anything to do with immediate material self-interest in matters of life and death. Ideological team colours are a matter of ethical taste, something to be picked out at leisure from the options available, when work is over and danger far away. Once the non-existent riddle of Traven’s deep motive for selfconcealment was formulated, there could be no doubt where the answer would lie. The depth ascribed to the mystery was enough in itself to ensure that the solution would lie in personal pathology, the journalist’s and biographer’s playground. The character assassination defies paraphrase. ‘How’, wrote Wyatt after hunting down the surviving members of Feige/Traven’s estranged family, ‘could he a misbegotten child, torn from his beloved grandparents, prevented from following his destiny, allow a significance to birth and parentage?’ Thus afflicted, Traven ‘denied the importance and even the meaning of such labels, and eventually tore off the ones he had been given, adopting some of his own choosing.’ This cheap piece of analysis might have sufficed to satisfy BBC viewers awaiting a psychological answer to the elusive-writer ‘mystery’. But, lest the casting off of meaningful labels be mistaken for some kind of liberating gesture (or even a tactical, pragmatic one), the childhood complex is connected to the adult anonymity by way of a whole nest of incriminating symptoms.

Because personal ‘identity’, as the documentarist conceives it, is really a police matter

Traven moved to the perimeter of life in childhood and observed the activity from there for the remainder of his years. The self-contained child became the anonymous writer, staying on the edge of the throng in order to avoid being hurt... He was not the power out in the sun that he was behind his desk, where he could describe and pronounce upon the world without having to face it.

And: ‘In person he was often a mouse, reduced to sulking when he did not have his way.’ Concerning Traven this is nothing but a barrage of libel, but at the same time it’s a Sierra Madre of revelation about the ubiquitous culture and presumptions of

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Is the Brickburner Still the Same?

media professionalism. The perimeter of life! Not facing the world! In Traven’s case, these refer to: fighting in the German revolution, escape from custody and flight from a death sentence for treason, itinerant labour at sea and on land, prison and deportation, entanglement in primitive accumulation in Mexico... As opposed, no doubt, to a ‘centre’ consisting of international networking, commissioning negotiations, long lunches with informants, business class departure lounges... Traven’s human inadequacy is further illustrated with an anecdote from the filming of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which the writer attended in the guise of ‘Hal Croves’, ‘agent and translator’. ‘Diminutive’ Croves/Traven was ridiculed non-stop by John Huston for his diffidence and seriousness. At one point ‘Croves’ annoyed the great director by displaying incompetence at marlin fishing, and then compounded the offence when he ‘apologised humbly over and over’. Thus Traven’s flight from identification (along with its political ‘rationale’) is not just the symptom of a ‘misbegotten childhood’ complex, it marks him out as an all-round spiritual homunculus. Most damning of all is his failure to ‘face the world’ like a Frequent Flyer, his disinclination to seek centre-stage like a creative entrepreneur, a ‘man of action’ in the mould of Hemingway, say, or Huston, or... William Wyatt. The producer found it ‘no surprise’ that Traven ‘felt comfortable with the Mexican Indians’, for these fellow losers ‘were uncompetitive and with them he was unchallenged’. If competing for personal glory is the criterion of ‘manhood’, and such manhood the measure of all activity, then production itself is nothing; the work is merely a by-product of the struggle for personal affirmation, and insisting on its primacy, as Traven often did, is just an excuse for cowardly failure at self-promotion.6 Perhaps this principle explains Wyatt’s inattentive, to say the least, reading of Traven’s actual books. But it’s more than a matter of misreading. The ‘solution’ to the ‘Traven mystery’ unfolds into a gigantic, almost visionary affirmation of the universal Truth of Public Records, and the duty of the individual to conform to them. This is what gives the otherwise trivial detective story its frightening contemporary resonance. The following passage from Rebellion of the Hanged is quoted by Wyatt as evidence of the author’s pathology.

Perhaps the biographer had trouble taking seriously the idea of a social Democratic death sentence?


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The first thing we must do is attack the registry and burn the papers, all the papers with seals and signatures deeds, birth and death certificates, tax records, everything ... Then nobody will know who he is, what he’s called, who was his father, and what his father had ... What do we want with birth certificates?

‘Traven’, reads the gloss, ‘was pleased with his own cleverness at dodging questions, tricking officials and confusing the files, but by abandoning his true identity he compounded his difficulties and kept the wounds of his childhood sore.’ Thus, ‘with the blind unreasonableness of the obsessed, he hated officials for disbelieving him and for insisting on proof of what he said, when all the time he was telling them lies.’ In other words, ‘the files’, the official records, are always, already, inviolably true: their purpose is to define the truth. So much so that any pretence to dispute or deviate from them will inevitably be punished by the return of the repressed ‘true identity’ in the form of infantile trauma. By now it will come as no surprise that Wyatt ignores the fierce and consistent contestation throughout all Traven’s writing of the definition of ‘truth’ and ‘lies’ embodied in ‘the files’. But a biographer with less of a natural affinity for police work might at least have wondered: does all this still apply when the files make your ‘true identity’ that of a condemned traitor to ‘your’ nation-state (or, for that matter, a ‘benefit thief ’)? And in such a case, will ‘difficulties’ really be ‘compounded’ more by denial of ‘true identity’ than by surrender to it? The real argument against institutional ‘truth’ follows on from these banal points, although it runs quickly out of the reach of journalistic common sense. With furious persistence, Traven shows again and again that public records exist to record property rights, in the fullest sense. The property owned, or not owned, or the debts owed, by an individual. The individual’s Image: Otto Feige aka B.Traven aka Ret Marut

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status as property of a nation state, to be disposed of in war or criminal court. Labour as the property of the employer, whose ‘sovereign decision over life and death’ in the jungle or at sea only follows this principle as far as its logic leads. This kind of ‘truth’ is true insofar as it’s in your interest to accept the definition of ‘identity’ in terms of property. Which is to say, once again, the meaning of ‘true identity’ varies according to class. If the truth inscribed in the files turns you into property, your only options are to compete for some scrap of ownership on the terrible terms given (the near-ubiquitous response in much of the world today, with well-known results for the vast majority of competitors), or to reject altogether the terms and their underlying property-based definition of truth, at which point your ‘true identity’ on record becomes a lie. In practice, however, many of those forced or seduced into at least partially competing discover their recorded ‘identity’ to be so overwhelmingly disadvantageous that they have to disown it just to stay afloat in the game. This is what the terms ‘informal economy’ and ‘grey market’ refer to. These phenomena arise inevitably because the ‘truth’ of institutional, property-based ‘identity’ NEVER represents the reality of the system that revolves around it. By foisting onto the individual sole ‘responsibility’ for what she ‘owns’ and ‘owes’, public records systematically occlude the social process that put her in that position. ‘A debt is a debt’: individual liability for the results of many people’s combined actions is unlimited.7 For this reason, resistance to the ‘truth’ of the files has nothing whatsoever to do with

the meaning of ‘true identity’ varies according to class

Image: Still from John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948


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upholding ‘privacy’. ‘Civil’ liberties are beholden by definition to the database state. Anonymity is necessary not in order to perfect the separation of billions of little monads, but to destroy the shameful fiction of personal agency and responsibility that thwarts perception and practice of human interdependence. Self-abolition is the historical mission of the proletariat, wrote Marx; when the ‘self ’ is the one defined by the (national, financial, municipal, educational, medical...) records, the same thing goes for proletarians. Acknowledgement For the best account of Marut/Traven’s revolutionary activity and writing, taking everything worth knowing from Wyatt’s book while defending political and writerly anonymity, see Ret Marut (another one, but the point is that that’s not the point), B. Traven, ‘An Anti-Biography’, The present article was only possible thanks to this one. Footnotes 1 Marut was a name used by the man who became

July 2008,

Traven from the time of his early life as an itinerant

5 Herman Melville’s term for the multinational crew

stage actor through the publication of his anarchist

of the Pequod, named for the spokesman of the soon-

magazine Der Ziegelbrenner (The Brickburner: Criticism

exterminated internationalist element of the French

of Current Conditions and Disgusting Contemporaries,

Revolution and the Commune of 1793. Apart from

first appearing 1917) and participation in the Bavarian

Moby Dick itself, see Loren Goldner, Herman Melville,

revolution and Räterepublik of 1918-19, until some

Queequeg Books, New York, 2006, and Jules Michelet,

time after his subsequent escape from arrest and flight

Histoire de la Révolution Française, Gallimard, Paris,

from a high treason charge. See the article


cited in the acknowledgement above.

6 In Wyatt’s book, first published in 1980, the ideal of

2 William Wyatt, The Man Who Was B. Traven,

the bold, creative, networking competitor, which today

Johnathan Cape, 1980.

is incessantly drilled into both sexes, appears at the

3 The identification seems likely to be correct, but the

moment of its genesis in an Action Man ethos which

point is if Traven didn’t want it to be known it tells us

is avowed less often 30 years later, now that the hirsute

precisely nothing about his writing or the world he

antics of a Hemingway or Huston may occasionally

wrote about, what is the point of discovering it?

raise a laugh.

for working class refusers of the debt of ‘identity’, see

means in practice, see various writings by Michael

Madame Tlank, ‘The Battle of All Mothers’, Mute,

Hudson at

4 For more on this UK welfare system designation

7 For detailed explication of some of what this mantra

Neinsager languishes in the margin for error

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Casa Pound and the new RadICal RIght In Italy you’d be forgiven for thinking that a group of zine-publishing techie squatters into rock music, baiting the state and defending the working class were part of the anarchist left. But, writes the Moyote Project, Italy’s Casa Pound movement is symptomatic of the radical right’s growing ability to assimilate progressive agendas into a toxic and populist political brew


n 1973 the Italian neo-fascist group Nuova Destra (New Right) started publishing the DIY fanzine The Voice from the Sewer, as an ironic response to the left-wing slogan that incited (neo)fascists to return to the only place that they possibly could have emerged from. Yet now, more than 25 years on, it appears as if the fragmented, contradictory and unrepentant universe of the Italian radical right has crawled out of the sewer and entered the public sphere with its head held high. Armed with new tactics, a rousing new vocabulary and a rehash of old ideologies – and making use of the latest in graphic design – it has carved out for itself a space which is precariously balanced between the street and the various state institutions and are achieving pernicious success in both arenas. It labels itself the non-conforme right and ‘third millennium fascists’.1 Its recent successes and new found abilities in interpreting the moods and swings of our times suggest that its recent, surprising re-emergence cannot be filed away as something symptomatic ,merely, of an appearance of detritus from the past. A closer look at its tactics, ideological baggage and at the role it plays in contemporary Italy is now more than warranted.


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Casa Pound Casa Pound screams: Man needs to be liberated. The market kills the soul. The law of profit sweeps away all obstructions that come in its way. Workers, peoples, communities. Love, joy, sacrifice and diversity. Destroyed. – Casa Pound, ‘Who We Are’2 Image: ‘Extraordinary action, when necessary’, Casa Pound’s student branch in clashes at the Piazza Navona

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Casa Pound and the New Radical Right in Italy

One of the most important and innovative configurations within the radical right galaxy is undoubtedly represented by the movement known by the name of Casa Pound (CP). Our choice to concentrate on this particular epiphenomenon stems from the fact that Casa Pound and its peculiar characteristics represent an important turning point in the Italian neo-fascist historical landscape. More fundamentally, an analysis of this particular social movement can act as a magnifying glass that will allow us to focus on the development of the radical right, the birth of a ‘plural right’ and the political and social circumstances that favoured their contemporary rise in Italy. Casa Pound was born in 2003 from the occupation of a stateowned building in the central and multicultural neighbourhood of Esquilino in Rome, by a group linked to the radical right milieu in the capital. The occupation was termed an OSA occupation (A Scopo Abitativo, ‘for living purposes’), in that a number of families were housed in the building. Besides being a residential squat, Casa Pound also became the base for the activities of the growing movement, and its symbolic locus. More occupations followed, some of them were OSAs and some were born as ONCs (Occupazioni Non Conformi – ‘occupations that do not conform’). The latter ones were conceived as social spaces that were to be open to the public, as spaces for the dissemination of culture, community and sports activities. This, we could observe, mimicked the function and style of left-wing social centres. Their main purpose has always been the creation of a sense of community, the strengthening of collective social ties and the forging of diverse connections within their specific localities. Casa Pound members were in effect reclaiming the normally left-wing activity of squatting and on their web site they announced: ‘the reactionary stereotype that defines the occupation of empty buildings as an exclusive practice of the left is forever shattered.’3 And thus, after establishing itself and taking root in the capital, CP developed as a national organisation and then proceeded to branch out into numerous cities in the country. It opened spaces (both occupied and not) and established for itself a growing platform for political manoeuvring. It now possesses significant political weight in Northern Italy throughout parts of that region which have been characterised by a strong right-wing tradition such as Verona and Milan. Nonetheless its presence in the South is also becoming very significant (Catania and Naples are just two cities where the CP’s presence is substantial).

Casa Pound members were in effect reclaiming the normally left-wing activity of squatting


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However, the first occupations in Rome have remained the most significant ones in terms of their duration and rootedness. One important characteristic of the ONCs is that they have emerged from a desire for a space of collective sociality and cultural production, rather than from an explicitly political and ideological drive. The musical scene that developed around the band ZetaZeroAlfa (ZZA) was absolutely central in this process, acting as a catalyst for the emergence of the movement. ZZA’s lead singer and frontman is Casa Pound’s charismatic leader, Gianluca Iannone. He has long been a major figure in the radical right political scene in Rome and is known to be close to names involved in the ‘black terrorism’ season of the ’70s. This musical scene has helped Casa Pound widen and strengthen its social base; it provides the important link between the subcultural dimension of a youth experience that finds its raison d’être in a generically rebellious and anti-conformist identity, and the experiences of a more ideologically defined political militancy. The ‘metapolitical’, or pre-political dimension connected to musical expression, to culture and to the development of a collective imagination, is key to CP’s ability to fascinate and attract the attention of a growing number of young people. The ONCs host gigs, collective dinners, book presentations, cultural events; they organise mountain excursions and talks about ethnic minorities whose struggles garner popular support (Palestine has been one such example, but the Karen people have also been given attention). In Centri Sociali di Destra, Di Tullio says that, The occupations of the radical right represent a new synthesis between metapolitical drives and a different approach to non-party politics; ones that are less unrealistically projected towards ideologies and closer to the everyday lived realities of the vast majority of people.4 Image: ZetaZeroAlfa’s frontman Gianluca Iannone shares headlines with Britney on this spoof Rolling Stone cover.

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Casa Pound and the New Radical Right in Italy

Despite playing an absolutely key role in the constitution of new right-wing social formations, an appreciation for the metapolitical is nonetheless strongly supported by a political and ideological dimension that – behind the innovative communication strategies and the language used – is in direct relation to themes and issues typical of the anti-bourgeois and state-critical Social Right, the roots of which may be found in Mussolini’s first theorisations and then re-emerging more explicitly in the experience of the Italian Social Republic of Salò (RSI, 1943-1945), as will be seen in more detail below. The political issues that Casa Pound engages with through its educational events and political actions cohere around a few strong themes. These include the right to ownership of housing, struggles against the rising cost of living and the defence of the traditional family (which is understood as the basic unit of the nation). They have included the dissemination of revisionist theories, the critique of usury derived from the work of Ezra Pound and the study of historical and intellectual figures linked to or associated with the Social Right (such as Julius Evola, Alessandro Pavolini, and J.R.R. Tolkien).5 The range of intellectual influences also includes the recuperation of figures traditionally associated with left-wing culture with the most obvious example of this tendency being the appropriation of the work of Che Guevara. All of this is set against an ideological backdrop which is


rife with anti-capitalist and anti-statist tendencies, which include the refusal of neoliberal worldviews and the defence of workers’ rights (although understood to be limited to a nationalist frame of reference). The main campaign on which CP has concentrated its efforts concerns the issue of the right to housing and the proposal for a ‘social mortgage’. Through direct actions coordinated at a national level, CP has tried to bring into existence a housing policy that would guarantee all ‘white’ Italian workers the right to own a property. They have proposed a bill – which the coalition in power is in part considering implementing – that would guarantee access to a ‘social mortgage’ for the purchase at cost price of a property managed by a public institution. The actions that have accompanied this campaign, which were of a symbolic and spectacular nature, have ranged from the hanging of mannequins to represent the Italian families strangled by mortgages, to an invasion of the Italian Big Brother set, which is seen as ‘an insult to all those Italians who are victims of the housing crisis’. CP’s decision to use occupation as a tool has to be read in conjunction with this struggle for the ‘social mortgage’, as an ideological stance and active political response to the difficulty of accessing affordable housing for a large section of the population. There has been a clear choice to concentrate on issues that have the potential to engage the poorest non-migrant sections of society and that

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have the potential to cary the most potent social charge. These choices represent a continuity in ideals with the tradition of the historical Social Right, but if they are seen in conjunction with the parallel attempt at obtaining political legitimacy, they should also be interpreted as symptoms of a fundamental break with the dynamics that the radical right has been part of since the post-war years. It is necessary to look at this historical conjuncture in a more detailed way so that we can appreciate the nature of the shifts now taking place in Italy.

Post-Fascism 1946-1995: guaranteeing order or waiting for the wind of Revolution? The period we will take into consideration in order to summarise the history of neo-fascism – 1946-1995 – has been chosen because it represents the date of birth and of death of the main radical right-wing, Italian political party: the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI – Italian Social Movement). At the end of the Second World War, Italy, still lacerated by the bloody wounds of the fascist barbarity and the Nazi invasion, witnessed the formation of this collective political subject that positioned itself in radical continuity with the ideals of the defeated fascism. The MSI recuperated a so called ‘social version’ of fascists, which had been incarnated in the Italian Social Republic of Salò. One of the main ideological reference points of this political strand was this republic’s Verona Charter of 1943, which in its 18 points called for an absolutist fascist state to be founded on a corporatist model of labour relations where workers would have a stake in the profits of production, creating a cross class unity and a dissolution of class conflict. It championed land redistribution and a highly regulated version of private property relations permeated through and through by various anti-capitalist tendencies – whilst guaranteeing the individual’s right to ownership of a private home. The main objective of the MSI in the immediate post-war years was to offer a comprehensive ideological worldview and a refuge for all the defeated fascists who did not want to leave the ideals of the dictatorship behind. The party thus naturally became the central hub of the Italian far right, and local party offices opened their doors to different groups of camerati, despite the fact that in their midst a myriad

Post-war Italy saw the development of a politics aligned with the ideas of defeated Fascism

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of neo-fascist currents and groups developed. Some of these groups were extremely distant from and even in direct contradiction with official party lines. The post-war Italian landscape relegated fascists to a marginal and isolated position – although this was true more on a social than on a political level. And it was this fact that pushed so many right-wingers into embracing previously denigrated forms of what had once been thought to be specifically ‘radical forms’ of political activism, as well as to engage in their own conspiratorial plots for coups and ‘revolutionary plans’. It has to be pointed out that the internal and international dynamics of Italian political life of the post-war years were extremely complex: Italy was a member of NATO and occupied a strategic position on what might be described as a kind of European political chess board, and it was also home to the strongest and most organised Communist Party (PCI) in the western world. Many, and in particular the USA, had observed the internal Italian social and political situation with growing apprehension given the then international political uncertainty. In this condition of strong social tension and definite class polarisation, neo-fascism can be seen to have taken on a central and ambiguous role. The various groups (some of them armed and terrorist) were ferociously anti-communist and were to became the bloody executors of a strategy of tension that aimed to create chaos precisely in order to guarantee order. The intent was to provoke an anti-communist and authoritarian political strategy by carrying out acts of destabilisation (which were orchestrated in such a way that their political adversaries would be held responsible for them).6 Although these politics of dissimulation and deception were quite forcefully put into play, they were not lauded by some sectors of the radical neo-fascist scene who did not wish to be forced to go along with their prescribed role of being agents for both the Italian state apparatus, its intelligence service and their respective conspiratorial policies. Although these groups did essentially agree with the strong anti-communist ideology of the Italian State and intelligence service, they also manifested their own anti-American worldview, embracing anti-imperialism and opposing themselves to the prevailing image of American society as paradigmatically individualistic and composed of a vast array of alienated subjects. This was theorised by Julius Evola, who became known as the neo-fascist ‘black baron’. These currents started developing a practice of actions that would work against the system and not for its ultimate defence. One of the main formations that emerged

the right had been able to harness the support of precarious and flexible workers


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was Terza Posizione (TP – Third Position), a name that refers to the incompatibility of their ideological worldview with both communism and capitalism, and was summarised in their slogan ‘neither red front, nor reaction’. TP configured itself as a ‘subversive’ group holding to national-socialist and anti-bourgeois positions. Terza Posizione’s practices were influenced by the cultural and political climate of the time, and by a certain contradictory fascination with leftwing movements. This fascination had manifested itself since 1968 – with the presence, for example, of Nazi-Maoist and Guevaraist groups within the Law Faculty in Rome. The expulsion of the trade unionist Luciano Lama from the capital’s Sapienza University had been admired by the neo-fascists who, while continuing with their attacks on ‘comrades’ for the territorial conquest of the streets, had on more than one occasion pushed for an ‘overcoming of the differences’ in an attempt to create a bipartisan convergence of the different-sided political factions against the real enemy: the State.7 One important aspect of all this is that – especially between the ’60s and ’80s – neo-fascist militancy was characterised by a strongly minoritarian and ghettoised social and political position, with groups entrenched in the MSI offices. One of the novel elements of groups like Terza Posizione was their determined attempt to leave the ghetto behind and become involved in the realm of social struggles. A seminal experience in this sense was TP’s struggle in the working class and communist neighbourhood of Palamarola in Rome to support the regularisation of extra-legal housing erected by local residents.8 These centrifugal tendencies within MSI that have gravitated towards a ‘social and anti-statist neo-fascism’, have clashed for years with much more pragmatic currents within the party – the ones that have envisaged institutional politics as the route to be taken towards a reconquest of the ‘unpresentability’ of neo-fascist understanding and action. The statist current was the one that eventually lead the party to its dissolution in Fiuggi in 1995, and that became responsible for a new ‘post-fascism’ that is incarnated in the ‘respectable’ and ‘democratic’ party Allenaza Nazionale Image: Casa Pound projects its ideal self-image in a film-screening poster

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(AN – National Alliance). The initial motivating desires and the radical tendencies of the previous social fascism are not erased in their recent emergence though. On the contrary, from that moment on, they have had to find other forms of expression. It is in the cultural and political climate of the last ten years that these tendencies have found fertile soil for their own rapid proliferation and for their frightening and often successful attempts to establish a national consensus that is germane to their very interests.

From the Right to the ‘Plural Right’ These more radical inclinations and tendencies have found a space to grow in the processes that led to the affirmation of a cultural hegemony of the right in Italy. Since the profound crisis of institutional politics – which erupted with the corruption inquests in the early ’90s commonly known as Tangentopoli (literally, ‘Bribesville’) – the right in Italy has experienced not only an overwhelming electoral success, but it is also said to have become culturally hegemonic in new ways. The ability to intercept and interpret the changing political, social and economic dynamics at play in the country and the imposition of an ubiquitous racist, identitarian and reactionary order of discourse as a way of explaining these dynamics, has been the foundation on which this hegemony has been built. The capacity to understand the new subjectivities that have emerged out of the restructuring of the system of production over the last 20 years, and the construction of the category of the ‘illegal migrant’, have been instrumental in this process. The fears that have grown among the working class as a result of widening social inequality and rising generalised insecurity have been given a voice. At the same time, the right has been able to harness the support of the new categories of workers that have emerged, specifically those that have been described as ‘second generation autonomous workers’, an expression that refers to the growing class of precarious and flexible workers specific to the post-Fordist productive landscape.9 At the same time, the institutional right has undergone a process that led to its redefinition as a ‘plural right’ – a synthesis was created that allowed different political cultures, which were at times openly at odds with each other, to coexist within the same coalition. According to Caldiron – one of the major analysts of the right in Italy – this process has taken place on two separate levels, one political and one cultural. On a political level this synthesis is incarnated in the figure of Berlusconi who has acted as a catalyst for the successful mediation between divergent tendencies within the right. Berlusconi’s populist ability has been to bring into politics the particular and peculiar power of television to create dreams and lifestyles. On a cultural level the right can be said to have acted as an ‘entrepreneur of fear’. It has done so


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by determining all public debate and inscribing it within the categories of territory, identity and community. This is articulated and produced as a state of emergency, whilst the anxious refrain of the ‘migrant invasion’ is constantly reiterated. It is in this recomposition of the right that phenomena such as Casa Pound find space and legitimacy, albeit in an ambiguous fashion. In the cultural and political milieu defined as the ‘plural right’ the traditional role of neo-fascist militant youth groups has mutated. They tend to adopt a strategy of entrismo, that is, they are given the possibility of gaining a certain degree of legitimacy and of influencing institutional matters whilst preserving their outsider status. In practice – and this is true especially at the local level – the relationships between the radical right and the right-wing parties in power are becoming closer. Representatives from groups of the radical right appear in the electoral lists of the ruling party, Popolo della Libertà (PdL – People’s Freedom), the party that embodies the spirit of the ‘plural right’. Each side is, at times and in fractured ways, instrumental to the other: the radical right gains legitimacy and space for movement in the relation to other political parties – PdL but also Lega Nord (Northern League), the federalist party that seeks independence for the North of Italy. The ruling parties find Casa Pound’s extreme stances useful to push the level of the political debate even further around social control, whilst at the same time widening their electoral and non-electoral reach. Nonetheless the relationship is and remains an ambiguous one, with no stable and univocal connections. A paradigmatic case that exemplifies this complex relationship can be found in the recent revolt of Rosarno (Calabria), an event that dominated news headlines in January 2010. After the umpteenth episode of violence suffered at the hands of the local population, the migrant workers employed in Rosarno’s orange harvest demonstrated and rioted against the inhumane treatment they are subjected to on a daily basis. The casus belli for the riot was the shooting and wounding of two migrant workers. The riot was followed by episodes reminiscent of a pogrom, with local Italian residents relentlessly attacking the migrant workers. The reaction to the events has been a generic condemnation of all ‘violence’, where the shots fired at the migrants and the riots were made equivalent. The ‘social contradictions’ that emerged from the events were minimised and reduced to public order and security issues. The ultimate responsibility for these contradictions was attributed to the migrants, who were once again criminalised and depicted as a new dangerous class.

Culturally, the right have acted as an ‘entrepreneur of fear’

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Image: An immigrant worker walks past a newly painted message in Rosarno, Calabria, during the January 2010 riots

In the days after the revolt, a Casa Pound delegation visited Rosarno to show its solidarity with the local Italian residents who had been accused of racism by the foreign press. The communiqué circulated by CP on this occasion expressed solidarity with the ‘indigenous’ residents on the basis of their assumed ‘Italian-ness’, whilst at the same time it asked for state intervention to punish the exploiters of the cheap and mostly foreign labour force. In the heated climate of those tense days, few other right-wing groups could have shifted the focus of the debate towards identitary positions, bordering on ‘blood and soil’, in such an unabashed fashion, whilst at the same time managing to express their presumed proximity to the workers through the denunciation of the exploiters. The Government’s response was to intervene with a heavy police presence, repression and mass deportations, whilst Berlusconi’s official declarations presented the issues in a heavily racist frame in which illegal migration and criminality were equated. One of the most controversial aspects of Casa Pound’s ideology that emerges is their supposed ‘anti-capitalist’ sentiment, based on a critique of workers’ exploitation and of the commodification of all life, whilst at the same time proposing a corporatist model based on the collaboration between workers and bosses in the name of the supreme good of the nation. What remains to be considered is to what extent CP’s actions can influence governmental decisions, and, more


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Moyote Project

importantly, to what extent they are forging an attitude that is ‘rebellious’ and that can be integrated in the novel and rampant common sense of the plural right.

Metapolitical activism: Being ‘third Millennium Fascists’ Extraordinary action, when necessary. Force the media to momentarily forget about the gossip, forget about the useless soporific chatter of the parliamentary class. – Casa Pound, ‘Political Activity’10

One of Casa Pound’s major accomplishments has been the ability to recompose the fragmented universe of the radical right. In the contemporary political and cultural context, where racist notions are largely tolerated and the identification with the nation to the exclusion of foreigners is endemic, CP has sought legitimacy at different levels, both on the ‘street’ and in the world of media and politics, by putting itself forward as a credible interlocutor on social issues. Casa Pound members define themselves as ‘third millennium fascists’, thereby underlining an ideal continuity with the past, and at the same time signalling their capacity to interpret and intervene in the present. One of the challenges that Casa Pound has taken on has been to become an attractive collective subject for a universe of young right-wing activists involved in other groups or tired of the moderation of the mainstream party, Allenanza Nazionale. But it has also become a convergence point for many ‘street and stadium gangs’ who are close to Nazi/skin groups and to right-wing football supporters.11 Casa Pound has grown in numbers thanks to its attempts to project a radical image coupled with the attempt to gain political legitimacy. After much effort Casa Pound has gained a considerable following among high school students, particularly in Rome and Verona. This has led to the emergence of the Casa Pound student branch, Blocco Studentesco (BS – Student Block), an important reservoir of activists and supporters. The establishment of student groups in high schools has been an unachieved aim of the extreme right since the student movements of ’68 and ’77; so this success is notable. The episode known as ‘the Piazza Navona clashes’ is a clear example of how the strategy of searching for a parallel legitimisation is implemented. In October 2008, members of Blocco Studentesco attempted to place themselves at the head of a massive student demonstration in Piazza Navona, Rome. The slogan used on the day was ‘neither red nor black, only free thought’, a slogan which contains an ideological legacy from Terza Posizione. A scuffle ensued, and the student demonstrators made an attempt at pushing the fascists out of the square. The reaction of the Blocco was organised and prompt. Armed with batons covered in Italian flags, they

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Casa Pound and the New Radical Right in Italy

proceeded to defend themselves and attacked their adversaries. Subsequently Blocco Studentesco tried, with moderate success, to pass themselves off as the victim of barbaric anti-fascist aggression in the media’s narrative of the events. What emerges is, on one side, the desire to project an image of the militants as courageous street warriors – an important symbolic message for both the militants and for their opponents. At the same time the events were clearly orchestrated in such a way that the media and the political world would condemn the ‘aggression’ against Blocco Studentesco on the grounds of the student demonstrators’ supposed ‘anti-fascist bias’. As the attempt to discredit anti-fascist history and action has been a long term project on the part of the entire right-wing spectrum, the Piazza Navona events also helped further this effort. These events are also significant as they reveal the attention that CP pays to the media and the ability it has to use mainstream media mechanisms to its own advantage. Nonetheless it is in the sphere of self-produced media that more innovative approaches emerge. The political legitimation game and the effort to expand the consensus is thus not played out on the street alone. The investment into creating a cultural universe that could potentially have a profound impact is very strong. One online radio and one online TV station (Radio Bandiera Nera and Tortuga TV), two magazines, one regularly updated website and a myriad of satellite websites, are an impressive numbers of outlets for a movement such as CP, and they certainly reveal how important communication is considered to be. They also reveal a desire to project an image of a movement that is very much alive, that intervenes in contemporary events, that is active, and that comments and debates, as it did during the Rosarno crisis. From a stylistic point of view, their media present a solid homogeneity and a carefully designed graphic aspect – capital letters strictly in Verdana font are coupled with intense but limited colours, red/black/white. The language used is vivid and engaging, and it is mainly based on slogans, incitements and abstract concepts rather than on articulated ideological positions, and at times it manifests an unexpectedly ironic streak. As mentioned above, music is absolutely central and helps in the creation of a common identity on which much of CP’s appeal is based. One of their ideological pillars remains the cult of the fight, of physical confrontation and of the discipline of the body which, in conjunction with a rebellious approach and anti-conformism, attract younger activists. Many of the milieu’s activities focus on the creation of a shared cultural and moral universe in which activists can invest the

the riot was followed by episodes reminiscent of a pogrom, with migrant workers relentlessly attacked


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Moyote Project

totality of their lives. The sense of the creation of a community is absolutely central. It is a community that recognises itself in a common identity, one based on a shared lifestyle, on an ethical model, in a national culture. In this sense CP is actively trying to create communitarian responses to drives and needs, both material and immaterial, that do not find answers elsewhere, such as the need for housing, social life, security and a collective identity. We envisage that in the near future Casa Pound will develop from a movement to a more organised structure and will attempt to take part in electoral democracy as an independent entity. How this experiment will turn out is not of central importance nor does it concern us too deeply – what is of greater interest and what will leave a longer lasting legacy will have more to do with CP’s creation of a permanent sense of fear and alarm, and its skill at providing solutions based on identitarian politics. Footnotes 1 ‘Destra non conforme’ is the term that the new radi-

episodes, including the bomb at Bologna railway

cal right uses to define itself, in an attempt to distance

material responsibility of neo-fascists has been proven,

itself from party politics and traditional neo-fascist

these attacks remain largely unpunished and full light

ways of organising. Literally the term means ‘right that

station on 2 August 1980. Despite the fact that the

has not yet been shed on those who mandated them.

refuses to conform’. Since it does not translate well, we

7 The incident of Lama's expulsion occurred in Rome

will use the term ‘radical right’ throughout the article.

when, on 16 February 1977, the secretary of the trade

2 See

union CGIL wanted to rally in the occupied university.


The student movement and the ‘autonomia' had been


critical of CGIL and PCI for some time, and saw the

3 Ibid. 4 D. Di Tullio, Centri Sociali di Destra. Occupazioni e

Culture Non Conformi, Rome: Castelvecchi, 2006, p.34.

rally as a provocation. After scuffles between the union's security and the movement, Lama was famously chased out of the university by students.

5 Tolkien has been historically appropriated by

8 See G. Adolfi and R. Fiore, Noi Terza Posizione,

the right in Italy and inserted into its ideological

Roma: Settimo Sigillo, 2000.


6 ‘Strategy of tension' refers to the co-ordinated

attempt to destabilise the country through a series of terrorist massacres known as stragismo, the first episode

9 See S. Bologna and A. Fumagalli, Lavoro Autonomo

di Seconda Genrazione, Rome: Feltrinelli, 1997.

10 content&view=article&id=69&Itemid=90

of which was the bomb at Piazza Fontana on 12 De-

11 See V. Marchi, La Sindrome di Andy Capp. Cultura di

cember 1969, and continued with numerous bloody

Strada e Conflitto Giovanile, Rimini: Nda press, 2002.

Moyote Project <> are Franco Berteni, Denis Giordano and Caterina Sartori. They spend their time between the deepest North Italian provinces, London and Paris. They manage to survive precariously by typing, researching, filming, sending pensioners to the tropics, serving drinks and answering the phone in no particular order

Mute Vol 2 #16


University strUggles at the end of the edU-deal as students around the world start to take action against national governments’ university spending cuts, george Caffentzis sees a plane of struggle developing; one which acts against the crooked deal of high cost education exchanged for life-long precarity

We should not ask for the university to be destroyed, nor for it to be preserved. We should not ask for anything. We should ask ourselves and each other to take control of these universities, collectively, so that education can begin. – From a flyer found in the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts originally written in the University of California


ince the massive student revolt in France, in 2006, against the Contrat Première Embauche (CPE), and the ‘anomalous wave’ in Italy in 2008, student protest has mounted in almost every part of the world, suggesting a reprise of the heady days of 1968. It reached a crescendo in the Fall and Winter of 2009 when campus strikes and occupations proliferated from California to Austria, Germany, Croatia, Switzerland and later the UK. The website Tinyurl. com/squatted-universities counted 168 universities (mostly in Europe) where actions took place between 20 October and the end of December 2009. And the surge is far from over. On 4 March 2010, in the US, on the occasion of a nationwide day of action (the first since May 1970) called in defense of public education, one of the co-ordinating organisations listed 64 different campuses that saw some form of protest.1 On the same day, the South African Students’ Congress (SASCO) tried Image: Cover of After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California, February 2010


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George Caffentzis

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University Struggles at the End of the Edu-Deal

to close down nine universities calling for free university education. The protest at the University of Johannesburg proved to be the most contentious, with the police driving students away with water cannons from a burning barricade. At the root of the most recent mobilisations are the budget cuts that governments and academic institutions have implemented in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown and the tuition hikes that have followed from them; up to 32 percent in the University of California system, and similar increases in some British universities. In this light, the new student movement can be seen as the main organised response to the global financial crisis. Indeed, ‘We won’t pay for your crisis’ – the slogan of striking Italian students – has become an international battle cry. But the economic crisis has exacerbated a general dissatisfaction that has deeper sources, stemming from the neoliberal reform of education and the restructuring of production that have taken place over the last three decades, which have affected every aspect of student life throughout the world.2

the end of the edu-deal The most outstanding elements of this restructuring have been the corporatisation of the university systems and the commercialisation of education. ‘For profit’ universities are still a minority on the academic scene but the ‘becoming business’ of academe is well advanced especially in the US, where it dates back to the passing of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, that enabled universities to apply for patents for ‘discoveries’ made in their labs that companies would have to pay to use. Since then, the restructuring of academe as a money-making venture has proceeded unabated. The opening of university labs to private enterprise, the selling of knowledge on the world market (through online education and off-shore teaching), the precarisation of academic labour and introduction of constantly rising tuition fees forcing students to plunge ever further into debt, have become standard features of the US academic life, and with regional differences the same trends can now be registered worldwide. In Europe, the struggle epitomising the new student movement has been against the ‘Bologna Process’, an EU project that institutes a European Higher Education Area, and promotes the circulation of labour within its territory through the homogenisation and standardisation of schooling programs and degrees. The Bologna Process unabashedly places the university at the service of business. It redefines education as the production of mobile and flexible workers, possessing the skills employers require; it centralises the creation of pedagogical standards, removes control from local actors, and devalues local knowledge and local concerns. Similar developments have been taking place in many university systems in Africa


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George Caffentzis

and Asia (like Taiwan, Singapore, Japan) that also are being ‘Americanised’ and standardised (for example, in Taiwan through the imposition of the Social Science Citation Index to evaluate professors) – so that global corporations can use Indian, Russian, South African or Brazilian, instead of US or EU ‘knowledge workers’, with the confidence that they are fit for the job.3 It is generally recognised that the commercialisation of the university system has partly been a response to the student struggles and social movements of the ’60s and ’70s, which marked the end of the education policy that had prevailed in the Keynesian era. As campus after campus, from Berkeley to Berlin, became the hotbed of an anti-authoritarian revolt, dispelling the Keynesian illusion that investment in college education would pay down the line in the form of an increase in the general productivity of work, the ideology of education as preparation to civic life and a public good had to be discarded.4 But the new neoliberal regime also represented the end of a class deal. With the elimination of stipends, allowances, and free tuition, the cost of ‘education’, i.e. the cost of preparing oneself for work, has been imposed squarely on the work-force, in what amounts to a massive wage-cut, that is particularly onerous considering that precarity has become the dominant work relation, and that, like any other commodity, the knowledge ‘bought’ is quickly devalued by technological innovation. It is also the end of the role of the state as mediator. Students in the corporatised university now confront capital directly, in the crowded classrooms where teachers can hardly match names on the rosters with faces, in the expansion of adjunct teaching and, above all, in the mounting student debt which, by turning students into indentured servants to the banks and/or state, acts as a disciplinary mechanism on student life, also casting a long shadow on their future. Still, through the 1990s, student enrolment continued to grow across the world under the pressure of an economic restructuring making education a condition for employment. It became a mantra, during the last two decades, from New York to Paris to Nairobi, to claim that with the rise of the ‘knowledge society’ and information revolution, cost what it may, college education is a ‘must’ (World Bank 2002). Statistics seemed to confirm the wisdom of climbing the education ladder, pointing to an 83 percent differential in the US between the wages of college graduates and those of workers with high school degrees. But the increase in enrolment and indebtedness must also be read as a form of struggle, a rejection of the restrictions imposed by the

the Bologna Process unabashedly places the university at the service of business

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University Struggles at the End of the Edu-Deal

Image: Anarchist student solidarity poster


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George Caffentzis

subjection of education to the logic of the market, a hidden form of appropriation, manifesting itself in time through the increase in the numbers of those defaulting on their loan repayments. There is no doubt, in this context, that the global financial crisis of 2008 targets this strategy of resistance, removing, through budget cutbacks, layoffs, and the massification of unemployment, the last remaining guarantees. Certainly the ‘edu-deal’, that promised higher wages and work satisfaction in exchange for workers and their families taking on the cost for higher education, is dissolving as well. In the crisis capital is reneging on this ‘deal’, certainly because of the proliferation of defaults and because capitalism today refuses any guarantees, such as the promise of high wages to future knowledge workers. The university financial crisis (the tuition fee increases, budget cutbacks, furloughs and lay-offs) is directly aimed at eliminating the wage guarantee that formal higher education was supposed to bring and at taming the ‘cognitariat’. As in the case of immigrant workers, the attack on the students does not signify that knowledge workers are not needed, but rather that they need to be further disciplined and proletarianised, through an attack on the power they have begun to claim partly because of their position in the process of accumulation. Student rebellion is therefore deep-seated, with the prospect of debt slavery being compounded by a future of insecurity and a sense of alienation from an institution perceived to be mercenary and bureaucratic that, into the bargain, produces a commodity subject to rapid devaluation.

the cost of ‘education’ has been imposed squarely on the workforce, in what amounts to a massive wage-cut

demands or occupations? The student movement, however, faces a political problem, most evident in the US and, to a lesser extent, in Europe. The movement has two souls. On the one side, it demands free university education, reviving the dream of publicly financed ‘mass scholarity’, ostensibly proposing to return to the model of the Keynesian era. On the other, it is in revolt against the university itself, calling for a mass exit from it or aiming to transform the campus into a base for alternative knowledge production that is accessible to those outside its ‘walls’.5

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University Struggles at the End of the Edu-Deal

This dichotomy, which some characterise as a return to the ‘reform versus revolution’ disputes of the past, has become most visible in the debate sparked off during the University of California strikes last year, over ‘demands’ versus ‘occupations’, which at times has taken an acrimonious tone, as these terms have become complex signifiers for hierarchies and identities, differential power relations, and consequences for risk taking. The contrast is not purely ideological. It is rooted in the contradictions facing every antagonistic movement today. Economic restructuring has fragmented the workforce, deepened divisions and, not least, it has increased the effort and time required for daily reproduction. A student population holding two or three jobs is less prone to organise than its more affluent peers in the ’6os. At the same time there is a sense, among many, that there is nothing more to negotiate, that demands have become superfluous since, for the majority of students, acquiring a certificate is no guarantee for the future which promises simply more precarity and constant self-recycling. Many students realise that capitalism has nothing to offer this generation, that no ‘new deal’ is possible, even in the metropolitan areas of the world, where most wealth is accumulated. Though there is a widespread temptation to revive it, the Keynesian interest group politics of making demands and ‘dealing’ is long dead. Thus the slogan ‘occupy everything’: occupying buildings being seen as a means of self-empowerment, the creation of spaces that students can control, a break in the flow of work and value through which the university expands its reach, and the production of a ‘counter-power’ prefigurative of the communalising relations students today want to construct. It is hard to know how the ‘demands/occupation’ conflict within the student movement will be resolved. What is certain is that this is a major challenge the movement must overcome in order to increase its power and its capacity to connect with other struggles. This will be a necessary step if the movement is to gain the power to reclaim education from the hands of the academic authorities and the state. As a next step there is presently much discussion about creating ‘knowledge commons’, in the sense of creating forms of autonomous knowledge production, not finalised or conditioned by the market and open to those outside the campus walls.

Certainly the ‘edu-deal’, that promised higher wages and work satisfaction is dissolving


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George Caffentzis

Meanwhile, as Edu-Notes has recognised, already the student movement is creating a common of its own in the very process of the struggle. At the speed of light, news of the strikes, rallies, and occupations, have circulated around the world prompting a global electronic tam-tam of exchanged communiqués, slogans, messages of solidarity and support, resulting in an exceptional volume of images, documents, stories.6

Yet, the main ‘common’ the movement will have to construct is the extension of its mobilisation to other workers in the crisis. Key to this construction will be the issue of the debt that is the arch ‘anti-common’, since it is the transformation of collective surplus that could be used for the liberation of workers into a tool of their enslavement. Abolition of the student debt can be the connective tissue between the movement and the others struggling against foreclosures in the US and the larger movement against sovereign debt internationally. Acknowledgements I want to thank the students and faculty I recently interviewed from the University of California, the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and Rhodes University in South Africa for sharing their knowledge. I also want to thank my comrades in the EduNotes group for their insights and inspiration. Footnotes 1 See, 2 Edu-Factory Collective, Towards a Global Autonomous University, Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2009. 3 See, Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, Ousseina Alidou, A Thousand Flowers: Social Struggles Against Structural Adjustment in African Universities, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000, Richard Pithouse, Asinamali: University Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa, Trenton: Africa World Press, 2006 and Arthur Hou-ming Huang, ‘Science as Ideology: SSCI, TSSCI and the Evaluation System of Social Sciences in Taiwan’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 10 2009, Number 2, pp. 282-291.

4 George Caffentzis, ‘Throwing Away the Ladder: The Universities in the Crisis’, Zerowork I, 1975, pp. 128-142. 5 After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California, 2010, Accessed at 6 Edu-Notes, ‘Introduction to Edu-Notes’, unpublished manuscript.

George Caffentzis <> is a member of the Midnight Notes Collective. Together with the collective, he has co-edited two books, Midnight Oil: Work Energy War 1973-1992 and Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local and Global Struggles in the Fourth World War. Both were published by Autonomedia Press

Mute Vol 2 #16


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Mute Vol 2 #16

Vol 2 #16

In this issue of Mute we look at the systemic requirement to appear, to have an identity, to become intelligible – as an individual, a face, a body, a set of affects, a data-set within biopolitical capitalism. This recurrent demand to appear is both extracted and seduced out of us by the apparatuses of state and spectacle, the system of property and images, the simultaneous need to harness labour and manage the unemployed. In this issue we also look at the deeper shifts in capitalism which trigger the intensifying management of life; a crisis of abundance is brought on by industrial and technological developments converting the majority of the earth’s inhabitants into a ‘surplus’ population to be managed and ‘warehoused’ in jails, workfare schemes or that open prison known as Web 2.0.

Vol 2 #16 June 2010

On Edge Stefan Szczelkun talks to artist Alexa Wright about how her work breaks down the self Rumours of War Paul Helliwell rhythmanalyses Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare and the group work Noise & Capitalism Artificial Scarcity in a World of Overproduction: An Escape that Isn’t The ‘production of innovation’, writes Sander, is no replacement for the production of value Eliminating Labour: Aesthetic Economy in Harun Farocki Benedict Seymour on devalorisation in a high-tech cinematic oeuvre

Clandestinity and Appearance John Cunningham takes up the case of clandestinity and resistance in the age of biopolitics Is the Brickburner Still the Same? Neinsager opens and shuts dissident writer and migrant labourer B. Traven’s identity file Casa Pound and the New Radical Right in Italy The Moyote Project discusses the strange case of fascists imitating anarchists to popular effect University Struggles at the End of the Edu-Deal George Caffentzis pieces together an emerging plane of struggle

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CULTURE AND POLITICS AFTER THE NET Vol 2 #16 June 2010 Price GBR £5 Europe €7 US/MX $10 ROW €8.5 Published...