Public 55: DEMOS

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We have never been democratic

EditEd by SEan O'briEn, imrE SzEman, and Eva-Lynn JagOE




i NtRO dUCti O N

We Have Never Been Democratic

Visibilities of Exchange Across Forms: A Case Study of The House of Mirth


ShaMa RaNgwaLa

Manifesto for the New Political Pop Song



CathERiNE RyaN 25



Attention’s Deficit Eva-LyNN JagOE

Border, Theory, Contract: An Interview with Angela Mitropoulos


The Unknown Student

Remember the Hoarding: A Public Art Non-Happening gREtChEN COOMbS


Art, Culture and Systemic Change: An Interview with Astra Taylor

Roch Commune 2.0 hENRy adaM SvEC aNd ELEaNOR KiNg

taRa MahONEy 100 47

Choreographies of Binding and Unbinding: On the Drawings of Andrea Bowers haNNah ELLUL


“To Tenant”: Situating the Realtor Within daRREN FLEEt

Climb the Mountain ELEaNOR KiNg aNd hENRy adaM SvEC


Energy Demo(s): Towards a Rhythmanalysis of Capital and Extraction david JaNzEN


EXhi bi ti O N REvi EwS

Writing as Praxis: An Interview with Nina Power CathERiNE RyaN


Performing for the Camera taya haNaUER


“Helter Shelter”: An Introduction to the Poetry of James R. Louden


MaRiaNNa tSiONKi

david ESO 128

Wandering Gramsciwards bO O K REvi EwS

aNgEL ChEN 144

Democracy, Class, and White Settler Colonialism


Beef In The Sea


FRaNCESCa hawKER 158

Creative Publics: Participatory Political Culture and the 2015 Canadian Federal Election


Living in Messy Times: An Interview with Kit Dobson RyaN FitzpatRiCK

Now I Sit Me Down: From Klismos to Plastic Chair: A Natural History, Witold Rybczynski NataLiE gREENbERg

taRa MahONEy 171

The Ordinary Man of Cinema, Jean-Louis Schefer SCOtt biRdwiSE

w. OLivER baKER 154

aaajiao, Remnants of an Electronic Past

Is Toronto Burning?: Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Scene, Philip Monk ESMÉ hOgEvEEN


Cinema in the Expanded Field, François Bovier and Adeena Mey, eds ELi hORwatt

195 bi O g Raphi ES


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We Have Never Been 1

D E MOC R AT IC as liberty is relocated from political to economic life, it becomes subject to the inherent inequality of the latter and is part of what secures that inequality. the guarantee of equality through the rule of law and participation in popular sovereignty is replaced with a market formulation of winners and losers. Liberty itself is narrowed to market conduct, divested of association with mastering the conditions of life, existential freedom, or securing the rule of the demos. Freedom conceived minimally as self-rule and more robustly as participation in rule by the demos gives way to comportment with a market instrumental rationality that radically constrains both choices and ambitions. —wendy brown, Undoing the Demos2 Of what do we speak when we speak about democracy? to what form of rationality does this term actually pertain? a slightly more attentive observation would show that those who discuss democracy today understand this term sometimes as a form of the body politic’s constitution, sometimes as a technique of government. the term thus refers both to the conceptuality of public law and to that of administrative practice: it designates power’s form of legitimation as well as the modalities of its exercise. —giorgio agamben, “introductory Note on the Concept of democracy”3


THE CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS ISSUE of Public are based on conversations held and work developed during the 2015 Banff Research in Culture (BRiC) research residency, “Demos: Life in Common.” Held high in the mountains of Banff National Park, Alberta, “Demos: Life in Common” sought to “bring together artists, writers, researchers, and cultural producers who in their work are exploring the ways in which we might reinvigorate democratic life today—not just ‘democratic’ in its narrow, political sense, but as life in common in which being and belonging engenders the full flourishing of individuals and communities.”4 Twenty-nine participant scholars and artists worked together with the 2015 BRiC faculty, including residency organizers Eva-Lynn Jagoe and Imre Szeman, distinguished scholar and political agitator Nina Power, renowned writer and activist Astra Taylor, and celebrated artist Alex Hartley. Over the course of the residency, the organizers, guest faculty, and participant scholars and artists worked individually and collaboratively on a wide array of research and artistic projects, out of which grew a body of work that we have collected here under the theme, “We Have Never Been Democratic.” The theme of this issue riffs on the title of Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, in which Latour argues that modernity constitutes itself through a dualism between the natural and the social.5 If, for Latour, the modern distinction between society and nature never actually existed, this dossier sets out to challenge the notion that the neoliberal present constitutes a radical deviation from a vibrant history of democratic liberalism, and to assert instead that democracy has since its inception been marked by its own imaginary dualism between the demos and the sovereign.

The Demos What does the concept of democracy name? The word democracy derives from two Greek words: it is a composite of demos, which means “the people,” and kratos, meaning “power.” In its most basic sense, then, demokratia names the shared power of people thinking and acting together to narrate and decide the shape of collective life. What passes for democracy today, however, falls far short of the ideal form figured in its nomenclature. Instead of collective, equitable decisionmaking, we have a post-welfare security state, a socially and economically precarious populace, and an underrepresented and disenfranchised electorate. And in a world beset by financial and ecological crises, whatever faith remained in the liberating potential of new technology has come up against a series of increasingly insurmountable limits. This collection asks how we might begin to think through the possibilities for collective life at a moment when the promises of social democracy heralded during the early postwar period have given way to the perils of a neoliberal order seemingly able to endure its own crises, and when democracy no longer seems to exist anywhere. A “demo” also refers to an experiment, a test, or an attempt—as in the case of a musician who might record their own creative efforts and share them with others—that might suggest alternative paths through which to pursue these questions, be they academic, artistic, tactical, or otherwise. To that end, a number of the contributors to this dossier take experimental approaches to the question of collective life in the present. We open the document with Catherine Ryan’s simultaneously incendiary and comical “Manifesto for the New Political Pop Song,” a polemic that buries the bootstrap individualism of so much contemporary pop, advocating instead for the development of a popular music that is properly therapeutic and collective. Mobilizing the melancholia of


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The New Political Pop Song


INTRODUCTION Left Melancholia and Dwelling in the Negative The left, it is professed, is losing, if it hasn’t lost already; our neoliberal present is intolerable and yet appears insurmountable. This argument takes myriad forms. Wendy Brown writes of the melancholia that follows the loss of the “promise that left analysis and left commitment would supply its adherents a clear and certain path toward the good, the right, and the true.”1 Lauren Berlant characterizes the present as a time in which many “fantasies” of the political good-life are “fraying,” including “upward mobility, job security, political and social equality, and lively, durable intimacy.”2 Nina Power puts it thus: It has to be admitted that we have lost, if not quite everything, then nearly…. The struggle continues. But it cannot do so without the admission that we have been and continue to be hurt, time and time again.… For some, many, every day is a continual exercise in the external construction of failure by the state.3

Each theorist acknowledges these wounded situations in order to ensure that the most pressing political challenges continue to be addressed. For Brown, the left must overthrow its “melancholic and conservative habits,”4 its “civilizational despair,” to avoid abandoning its dual projects of “puncturing common neoliberal sense” and “developing a viable and compelling alternative to capitalist globalization.”5 For Berlant, the task is to figure out “how to be with different negativities” so that we can convert “our non-sovereignty or out-of-controllness into an awkwardness that is affirmatively energizing for the work of transforming sociality itself.”6 Power advocates the analysis of negative states, “all the better to make them militant where we can.”7 If it is granted that these analyses and injunctions are correct, then from a practical point of view, it must be asked: upon what foundation can such a project be built, given that so many are depressed and anxious? How do you dwell in the negative without it absorbing you entirely? Without one’s energies dissipating? Without beginning to “fetishize a species of abject hopelessness,” as Laurie Penny warns many left-wing groups and progressives have done?8 It cannot be through sheer willpower alone. Following Keats, we can acknowledge that remaining in negativity requires a capability, a resourcefulness, but we must also insist that such aptitudes for endurance are not innate.9 Dwelling in a negative state is an art, a techne, a labour requiring supportive techniques, practices, and devices. Each individual relies on external help. We must begin by admitting that the means and procedures we presently have—mindfulness apps, positive thinking, self-medicating with booze and Xanax, yoga—are insufficient to the task at hand.

PART ONE: Against Bootstrapism To dwell in the negative is to feel like rubbish. Consider the following quotidian examples: an hour-and-a-half ’s wait to speak to the government functionary who will deny one’s dole claim; or being informed that one must reapply for the job one already has, competing alongside the new, casual employees, who have been brought on to replace existing employees at half the cost. Feeling 16 PUBLIC 55 RYAN

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Attention’s Deficit when he was little, my son would do some slapstick antic and we would all laugh.1 he’d see our faces fill with delight and admiration, and he’d wriggle with glee. blushing but excited, he would do it again. and we would laugh a little less, our interest already beginning to wane. So he would try again and again, each time louder, faster, more frantic. Until we told him to cut it out, and turned away from him. i keep seeing the look on his face as his breathless laugh begins to turn to an anxious and confused look. Faced with the deficit of our attention, he wanted it again. but we only had so much attention to give, and he had used it up.


FOR ADULTS, EVEN DOTING ONES, there is something unseemly in a child who imitates himself for our renewed attention, and who tires us with his insistence that we notice him. He has a deficit in relation to attention, which manifests in two ways: 1. He lacks knowledge of social forms and their limits. Repetition, loved by children, is not appealing to adults (only the most talented of comedians know how to manipulate repetition in perfectly timed intervals to renew its funniness). So we, his guardians and educators, need to guide him into socially appropriate behaviour that will get him the occasional laughs that he deserves. Our job is to train him in the modulation of humour and desire, so that he will not demand too much of our attention. He needs to learn to experience its withdrawal as bearable and as necessary. 2. The withdrawal of our attention affects him like an abandonment. It is a lack that he will do all that he can to fill. And we know that deficit is always going to be there; that he, like us, will want more—more presence, or love, or fascination—than he can get from other people. What he is learning is that attention is not unconditional, that it can wane and disappear. And we teach it to him because we can never be enough for him. We give too little. And we always will. As he grows, however, the tables begin to turn. We find ourselves repeating our words over and over, trying to get him to listen to us. He doesn’t find us worthy of his attention, and we become the objects of his inattention. We insist that we want him to listen to us for his own good, not for our satisfaction. “Put down your phone, pay attention to us!” We want to speak to a receptive listener. We don’t want to reconcile ourselves to being ignored, to that glazed look that washes over his face whenever we interact with him. This son—he could be a lot of boys; and we adults—we could be any of those people who worry about the plethora of attention deficit in our culture. The fears and fantasies of both the boy and the adults play themselves out in the debates, dialogues, and diatribes that pathologize the rampant problems of (in)attention in our contemporary society. To be in deficit is to fall short, to never quite achieve the reference point of an imagined present full attention. And it is to owe, to not be doing enough, giving enough. Enough of what? In our everyday interactions and habits, we expect to be constantly captivated and captivating. From our technology or our loved ones, we demand, “Keep my attention!” though simultaneously we also plead, “Pay attention to me!” We don’t want to be either bored or boring. Whose deficit is it? Critics, educators, doctors, and pundits diagnose us—as individuals and as a society—with attention deficit disorder. The wringing of hands that often accompanies this pronouncement calls upon a prior imagined moment in which we paid complete attention. This myth reveals much more about the ways in which neoliberalism constructs the idea of the individual than it does about how it ruins that individual. The neoliberal self is one that should be capable of gaining the attention of others and, at the same time, of giving her own with complete control and awareness. What, though, is it that we want when we want someone’s attention? And what are we avoiding when our attention is in deficit? In other words, who is in deficit—the person who doesn’t pay


Excerpt from Rochdale College Daily Newspaper (Toronto: self-published, 1969). Courtesy: private collection.

Photograph of The Unknown Student, no date (ca. 1971). Courtesy: private collection.


Video still from “Come Live With Us,” Fraser McCallum; HD Video, 20:30. Courtesy of the artist.

The lone remaining marker of Rochdale College, Toronto’s infamous experiment in communal living and alternative education, is The Unknown Student,1 a sculpture that sits at 341 Bloor Street West in Toronto at the foot of the concrete high-rise that was previously home to the College. Constructed co-operatively in the Rochdale College sculpture studio, this genderless, featureless body was the student-residents’ first marker of their territory. Upon its installation in 1968, the sculpture faced the college, but was turned to the street after Rochdale closed in 1975.


taRa M ahO NEy

Art, Culture and Systemic Change An Interview with Astra Taylor Astra Taylor makes films about philosophy, writes about politics, organizes the indebted, and plays music with the Neutral Milk Hotel. Watching her films Žižek! and Examined Life will make you want to read more critical theory. Her book, The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, will make you re-think what the Internet should be for, and her work with the Debt Collective will show you how much impact a small group of writers and organizers can have on a problem as seemingly impenetrable as a trillion dollars in US student debt. And if you ever get a chance to meet Astra, her kind-heartedness and quick wit will leave you wondering how she makes such hard work look so easy. Having followed Astra’s work for years, I was delighted at the opportunity to interview her as part of the “Demos: Life in Common” research residency. Her work knits together threads of art and politics in ways that effectively address complex societal issues by keeping them relatable and grounded. During the Occupy Wall Street movement, Astra helped to create a digital newsletter and broadsheet called Occupy! An OWS-Inspired Gazette. Since then, she has helped to spearhead the Rolling Jubilee, a project that crowd-sources funds to buy debt for pennies on the dollar in order to forgive it. More recently, her work with Strike Debt and the Debt Collective brings together a national coalition of debt resistors to call for debt cancellation and tuition-free higher education. Of particular interest to me is the connection she draws between her own creative practice and strategies of collective empowerment. I am interested in finding out what new modalities of political participation are emerging from the cultural realm, and what forms of cultural production support democracy. With such a powerful political strategy, I am curious about what political theories guide a project like Strike Debt, and what Astra sees as the role of artists in creating new spaces for political engagement. Astra’s answers highlight how perhaps the most powerful thing art can do is remind us of our collective stake in building more just and democratic communities.


taRa MahONEy (tM): Could you describe some of the projects you’re currently working on? aStRa tayLOR (at): I’m working on a new documentary about democracy, produced by the National Film Board of Canada. As a political organizer, I’m working around the issue of indebtedness, specifically via an organization I co-founded called the Debt Collective, which is a sort of twenty-first century debtors’ union. For example, we’ve been working on a pilot campaign around student debt and trying to help people understand their huge monthly loan payments as a political problem rooted in the lack of free universal education. Our efforts are inspired by traditional labour organizing, but focused on mobilizing people around indebtedness as opposed to the wage, because people are not identified with their jobs or they’re students or they’re unemployed. Fewer people are in stable jobs in which they can be unionized, so debt can be a way of getting people to think about their financial situation and form bonds of solidarity with others who are in similarly precarious, indebted circumstances. Ultimately, the goal is for people who have different kinds of debt to make connections and to become politically active. They can then put pressure on the creditor class and on the state to provide for the public. And as always, I’m doing a bunch of writing and journalism. tM: What do you see as the relationship between contemporary culture and art, and contemporary political movements and political organizing? at: I oscillate. Sometimes I think they are two very distinct things, and sometimes I feel more attuned to the connections between them. It depends what kind of mood I’m in and what I’m railing against. When Occupy Wall Street first started, I was excited that there was a political opportunity in the United States, that there was a social movement focused on capitalism, inequality, and class with some real momentum. My initial sense when I started to get involved in Occupy was that I was going to put my art-making aside and just do political organizing. I was frustrated by the way artists often frame their work as political, but the horizon of their politics is raising awareness or affecting the imagination. In our culture, everybody’s raising awareness all the time, we’re all registering our opinions all the time, we’re all commenting on articles on the Internet. There’s so much opinion-making, there’s so much awareness raising—it just seems to feed into the power structure. We’re all so busy registering our opinions that nothing happens; we’re all so busy raising awareness that nothing ever changes. I wanted to break out of that mode and somehow be a part of something that focused on action as much as awareness. But that was a bit of a naive perspective, because as I got more involved in trying to organize around debt, first through a project called the Rolling Jubilee and then through the Debt Collective, I realized that to get people to join our debtor’s union we had to excite people and convince them on an emotional and imaginative level that it’s worth their time. So that means I put a lot of my more creative skills to use in terms of making videos, creating imagery, conceptual frameworks that are compelling, a lot of writing, sloganeering—all these communicative skills are now in service of a project that is ultimately about building a tactical organization. I’m not interested in doing the communicative stuff if it’s disconnected from a specific strategy and specific vision of building power, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t a key aspect of politics today.


haNNah EL L UL

Choreographies of Binding and Unbinding On the Drawings of Andrea Bowers


A CROWD, PAINSTAKINGLY DRAWN IN PENCIL, listens to anarchist Emma Goldman speak about birth control at a rally in New York in 1916. In another drawing, equally meticulously rendered figures hold a banner: “Fighting for our lives.” They are protestors from the AIDS awareness campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, echoed in other images of American activists in the 1960s abortion rights struggles, or more recent faces from a rally in support of immigrant rights. Elsewhere, a vast series of ink drawings documents the Cuban Revolution, its reception in the mass media, and the revolutionary political movements that emerged worldwide in the subsequent decade. Series of portraits are dedicated to Leon Trotsky, Walter Benjamin, and French communist resistance fighters shot on the orders of the Vichy government in 1941. A drawing of the cover of a 1908 pamphlet issued by the National Women’s Social and Political Union on the “Militant Methods of the NWSPU,” written by Christabel Pankhurst, faithfully reproduces the marks of defacement it has suffered. Pankhurst’s sister, Sylvia, appears in yet another drawing from a protest, animated as she addresses a crowd that we do not see.1 The drawings of Andrea Bowers, like those of contemporaries such as Fernando Bryce, Kate Davis, or Olivia Plender, elaborate a piecemeal, meticulously-drawn iconography of protest. Images and documents of political upheaval, insurrection, and resistance from different periods and places are reworked by hand in acts of salvage.2 Something like an affective atmosphere is limned in scenes and artifacts that may not have lost their capacity to move but nonetheless seem remote today. The collective political desire and will they evoke have, it appears, been overwhelmed by the disconcerting vicissitudes of socio-political circumstance. In light of the long and complex histories of art’s engagement with the political, and the many and various modes of reciprocity devised along the way, what does it mean to be preoccupied with images of political action? To ask as much is to begin to address the complex ways in which such images intersect with and shape processes of political identification and affiliation, the emergence of collective subjectivity, and the desire for political agency. Moreover, it is to speculate upon how these processes take place in negotiation with the histories of collective action. What attachments or detachment are played out here? What choreographies of binding and unbinding are traced in these lines?

Magical Politics We might begin by questioning the relationship between the photograph and drawing in these images. The drawings, with painstaking fidelity to their photographic sources, play on the affective and evidentiary resonances of both mediums, and complicate any distinctions we might want to make between them. They can be seen in light of recent attempts to situate some drawing within an expanded definition of documentary. The interest in what Hillary Chute calls the “hand-drawn document” is part of a renewed attentiveness to and emphasis on the performative aspects of documentary, including the embodied, affective, and reflexive aspects of the documentary image.3 Lisa Saltzman describes Alison Bechdel’s drawings of photographs in her graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) in terms that bear repeating here: for Bowers as for Bechdel, these are “drawings that come so close to their photographic objects that they are, in some sense, their surrogates, their doubles…graphic renderings make the process of (photo)mechanical reproduction an intimate act of reconstruction.”4


SEaN O ’ bRi EN

Border, eory, Contract: An Interview with Angela Mitropoulos Angela Mitropoulos is a political theorist, academic, and activist based in Sydney, Australia. Her work has appeared in journals such as New Formations, Social Text, South Atlantic Quarterly, Borderlands, Mute, and ephemera. She is the author of Contract & Contagion: From Biopolitics to Oikonomia, in which she examines post-Fordism and neoliberalism through a critical history of the contract in relation to the shifting politics of the household.1 In her capacities as both an academic and an activist, Mitropoulos continues to confront the complex and evolving relationships between political economy, border control, and critical theory. Her current project is titled “Infrastructures Of Uncommon Forms.” The following interview was conducted over email between 25 February and 25 May 2016.

SEaN O’bRiEN (SO): I thought I would begin by asking you about the importance of history in your recent work, which emerges at the intersection of radical politics, classical philosophy, and contemporary theories of finance, migration, racialization, and detention. Contract & Contagion is a remarkable study of the historical relation between the contract form and the oikos, where you situate “the late twentieth century…reorganization of wage contracts and the expansion of precarious work”—what you call “neocontractualism”—within the “longue durée of capitalist dynamics.”2 In your ongoing research on risk, speculation, and borders, I am struck by your attention to the historicity of both the objects under study and the methodologies of analysis at work. Given the complex relationships between political economy and border control, and the life-and-death stakes of migration, clarity of analysis—and of historical specificity—appears paramount. And so I wonder if you could talk a bit about the connections you see operating today between finance capital and the Immigration Detention Network (IDN), considering this Border Industrial Complex (BIC) in relation to its broader histories, and the potential implications those connections may have for political strategy on the left.


aNgELa MitROpOULOS (aM): I am boundlessly curious about processes of classification, how those processes become systems, what it is they do in terms of functions, or are seen as failing to do (which is itself a kind of function), their scope and techniques, if they have changed and how. This is why stretching the historical and geographic lens as far as is possible is crucial. It is the methodical pivot that makes it possible for me to underscore the non-eternal (indeed, nonPlatonist) dimensions of epistemological objects and material processes of classification. And the border is nothing if not a system of classification. While the history of various techniques is far more complex, the consequential historical leap is that the nation-state monopolized control over two things: the legitimate movements of people and money. That has been true since the generalized issuance of passports in the eighteenth century as a regulatory instrument of both identification and the control of movements of bodies through mapped systems and delineated spaces. This is also a time in which paper money became generalized as fixed denominational and national currency, and linked to gold or another metallic standard (so that a paper note could, in theory and by convention, be redeemed for a comparable amount of metal). It is not insignificant that the establishment and eventual collapse of the Bretton Woods system of finance and internationally harmonized exchange rates, and the rise of the US dollar as the de facto global currency culminated, in the second half of the twentieth century, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and, in their wake, a massive reconfiguration of both currency exchange and border control systems around the world. At stake in both money and border controls is a process of conversion, often violent, into a common measure—but what does it imply and involve for there to be a common measure that has no foundation other than that of convention and, increasingly, where the convention is called upon to facilitate the minutia and speeds of arbitrage and accompanied by speculative risk management instruments that also go by the name of the derivative? What we witnessed at the turn-of-the-century was that both financial flows and migration became increasingly regulated not through the lens of classical Newtonian physics (which measure time as the movement of invariable bodies moving through a dis/continuous space), but the development of a metrics and management of risk in the actuarial sense. The prominence of nonuniform space-time is what distinguishes finance from money, and gives weight to the former’s speculative, actuarial dimension, which concerns itself with what might happen in a range of possible and imagined rather than strictly calculable or predictable futures. For instance, the European border agency Frontex is quite explicit about the centrality of risk management, presenting risk management as its key role within a converging system of migration controls, national security, and counter-terrorism. What it means to leverage a racialized fear alongside the practices of financial speculation is an enormous question. As to the implications of these changes, much of the left has yet to grasp that we are dealing with systems of governance in which it is not possible to pull apart the state and money/finance— and I am unconvinced that the distinction has ever been a valid one outside of some remarkably fantastical and deeply authoritarian narratives about strengthening the state’s regulatory power, presumably against capital. But in practice those regulatory powers are turned toward the conversion of movements into commerce, or the control of labour as part of this conversion.


Eleanor King and Henry Adam Svec, Climb the Mountain (2015). Silkscreen print on paper, 57 x 38 cm. Printed at The Banff Centre. Courtesy of the artists and Diaz Contemporary, Toronto.

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Energy Demo(s) Towards a Rhythmanalysis of Capital and Extraction Athabasca Tar Sounds: Scene 1: (Use stereo headphones)

AS A RESIDENT WITH the Banff Research in Culture residency (2015), I began developing a series of research-creation experiments that translate data from the Alberta oil sands into sound. The project started by recognizing that predominant ways of representing climate change limit how we understand and respond to its social and environmental dimensions. In particular, the logic of crisis structured around an imperative—act now or risk catastrophe—reproduces philosophical idealism and social inequality. In spite of its apparent urgency, discourse on environmental crisis privileges “business as usual” while policing and silencing potentially transformative action (as we see with Indigenous, activist, and progressive scientific perspectives). I will argue here for the need for new forms of representing environmental destruction, and introduce the hypothesis that rhythm—broadly conceived as any pattern of stronger and weaker intensities (a heartbeat, annual seasons, the boom-bust cycles of oil markets)—potentially grounds such a framework. While crisis narratives frame the present through a speculative future (the catastrophe to come), analyses of rhythm are grounded in the complex interrelation of ongoing material processes. Over the last 20 years, evidence has demonstrated with ever-increasing certainty that current material conditions are producing catastrophes of geological magnitude. Equally certain is the inadequacy of humanity’s cumulative and projected responses to this catastrophe given the scope and scale of the problem. This gap is evident in scientific literature (for example, greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at unprecedented rates).1 But the problem is not merely quantitative, it is qualitative and systemic. As critical perspectives demonstrate, the gap between knowledge and action is not the result of a lack of data or information, but a problem endemic to a system that depends upon the exploitation of a limited material sphere (planetary resources),


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Writing as Praxis An Interview with Nina Power Nina Power is a UK-based writer, lecturer, and activist who has written on a wide range of topics including European philosophy, feminism, art, politics, and music. She teaches Philosophy at Roehampton University and Critical Writing in Art and Design at the Royal College of Art, and is a cofounding member of Defend the Right to Protest, a campaign group that opposes police brutality and the use of violence against protestors. She was a member of the faculty at the 2015 Banff Research in Culture (BRiC). Power’s seminar at the BRiC considered the possibility of resurrecting certain sorts of political writing, particularly the short, assertoric slogan, in order to address the contemporary political circumstance in which there is, she argues, no real public sphere, only an agreeable “ghost” public invoked by the state “in the name of the preservation of public order.”1 Following this seminar, I was interested to find out more about Power’s perspective on the practical and strategic capacities of different sorts of political writing and creative intervention. What considerations might govern, for example, the choice to write in one genre over another? How might recent changes in the media landscape, such as the eclipse of newspapers and television by online media, shape these choices? And what factors might govern artists’ interventions into contemporary political situations?


david ESO

“Helter Shelter” An Introduction to the Poetry of James R. Louden THIS SHORT INTRODUCTION makes no case for the literary value of the poems that follow. Instead, it offers a history of the obscure biographical and political contexts in which the artist composed them. I describe these events as I witnessed them unfold, although one can find further information on the poet’s political activities via the S.O.S. Wapiti Tents campaign, Slum Watch Alberta, back issues of the Rocky Mountain Outlook, as well as the public records of the Alberta Provincial Courts for Yarmoloy v. Louden, 2012. Between the years 2008 and 2013, I organized a writers’ collective in Canmore, Alberta, a town of around 13,000 people on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Over those five years, the Migratory Words collective put me in touch with a wide population of writers and readers living in the Bow Valley and throughout the country—among them, the poet James R. Louden. At bi-weekly sessions of Migratory Words, this poet caught my attention not only for his talent but also for his reserve. He spoke little but exuded receptivity and understanding when fellow writers read their works-in-progress aloud. When Louden contributed original poems, we most often heard pieces spontaneously composed from fragments of the group’s conversation that he had absorbed and transformed. Over time, his concoctions developed into quasi-ceremonious conclusions to the free community meetings, which I publicized in the local newspaper’s events listings. Like many young people in Canmore, Louden worked seasonally. For eight summers, he served as the manager of Wapiti Tents—a municipal campground that provided affordable accommodation for Canmore’s seasonal workers and new arrivals. As a solution to the high cost of living in the Bow Valley, this public program offered a middle ground between Banff ’s over-run, dormstyle staff accommodations and the unsanctioned tent cities now common in the North American west. Beginning in 1998, Wapiti Tents promised to solve the problem of people squatting in forests around the town, a regular practice that posed a fire hazard, sanitation risk, and threat to wildlife. In 2009, then Mayor Ron Casey—prior to his election and subsequent defeat as a Conservative MLA—put an end to the service launched by his predecessor, Mayor Glen Craig. The closure of Wapiti Tents coincided with an upsurge of participation in the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program in Canmore, a program that received severe criticism (from the public and media) for its exploitative practices. In 2009, Louden’s contributions to the Migratory Words gatherings changed. Instead of spontaneous poetry based on the words of his peers, he began to read us letters addressed to his former 120 PUBLIC 55 ESO

Home Sweet Hovel The roof leaking rain and cathedral light makes my Hovel a Home The north sloped floor thoughtfully migrating north makes my Hovel a Home The south facing wall thoughtfully migrating south makes my Hovel a Home The tectonic toilet drifting helter shelter away from itself makes my Hovel a Home The furnace belching death rattles and banshee poetry makes my Hovel a Home The mousetrap rusting clever and never set makes my Hovel a Home

Citizen Zen Knocking on my Saturday morning door they seemed very nice people standing there sunlit and shining tall And I remember saying something like “if I can't laugh I don't want any part of your Revolution� But they just laughed clearly missing the point Closing the door I watched them carry on up the sunny side of the street hopeful with hands full of recycled salvation for my doomed generation


aNg EL Chi a L i Ng ChEN

Wandering Gramsciwards BELOW ARE VIDEO STILLS and voiceover transcripts of a 9-minute video titled Wandering Gramsciwards (available online at This work references Wandering Marxwards by Michael Blum.2 It is a travelogue of somebody arriving at a research university trying to find his position. Accompanying his journey is Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, published almost 100 years ago.3


I picked up Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks when I found out that I was accepted into graduate school at an elite institution. Back then, I was living in New York trying to be an artist. I worked night shifts at a hotel lobby bar in Midtown Manhattan, serving drinks to tech bros flying in from San Francisco for important meetings. Gramsci was an Italian Marxist philosopher who famously said, “everyone is an intellectual.”4 I thought by reading Gramsci I would be armed with a clarity about how to be amongst the elite, without becoming one. Friends were skeptical of my decision to go back to school. One even said, “Ew, that place is all radar and bombs.” But I wanted to develop something substantial.


w. O L i vER baKER

Democracy, Class, and White Settler Colonialism IN RESPONSE TO the structural and concrete violence of neoliberalism—the global financial crisis, wealth inequality, privatization, precarious forms of labour, militarism, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the revival of white nationalist movements—oppressed groups of North America have forcefully mobilized their dissent in the form of protests, demonstrations, uprisings, occupations, and blockades. In this moment of renewed resistance, how might oppressed groups weave together their struggles into a collective movement strong enough to challenge capitalist dominance in ways that lay the groundwork for creating genuine forms of democratic social belonging? In posing this question, I recognize that the answer ultimately lies in the spaces of struggle itself, where those fighting for liberation learn through trial and error how to forge solidarity and build alliances. And yet, it must also be acknowledged that oppressed groups do not meet in the spaces of struggle on equal footing. In neoliberalism, oppressed groups relate not through equivalence and commonality but through social differentiation, division, and antagonism. As a result, those struggling for liberation cannot afford to overlook or ignore the structural differences found among them that place real constraints on their attempts to organize an alliance-based politics of resistance. If oppressed groups are to band together against the forces that subjugate them, it will require a critical mapping of the ways in which oppressed groups first come to relate through structural differences. In this essay, then, I want to examine how materialist theories of contemporary capitalism and political resistance today represent the structure of antagonisms among oppressed groups and how such representations can help or stand in the way of effective alliance-building. In recent years, two theories of neoliberalism have taken an authoritative posture on the question of alliance-based politics. The first can be broadly characterized as a critique of neoliberalism through an understanding of the democratic commons as the site of resistance and successful alliance-building.1 Proponents of this critique seek to defend, strengthen, rejuvenate, and/or expand the public institutions and spaces of liberal democracy that neoliberal policies of privatization and austerity have attacked, weakened, and decimated. In its most conservative form, a defence of the democratic commons imagines a return to the welfare state model in


which labour compromised with capital in exchange for a social safety net and increased worker protections that allowed for some workers (who were disproportionately white) to enjoy a more stable and protected life within the wage-labour relation.2 In its most radical form, the democratic commons serve as the condition of possibility for envisioning, pursuing, and creating more emancipatory or genuine versions of democracy. While defenders of the democratic commons acknowledge liberal democracy’s historical role in facilitating colonial, imperial, and capitalist development, they emphasize that it nonetheless continues to hold out the promises of universal emancipation, rights of self-determination, and popular sovereignty.3 A second theory of neoliberalism to gain traction in recent years that offers a model of successful solidarity-building is a class-first analysis best exemplified by the work of theorists like Walter Benn Michaels, Adolph Reed Jr., and Slavoj Žižek, among others. Such class-first approaches treat the political identity of the wage labourer as the paramount site of effective cooperation and political mobilization.4 Class-first theorists contend that organizing the struggles of oppressed groups around the antagonism of labour rather than identitarian categories such as race, gender, and sexuality coalesces the disparate aims of oppressed groups into a singular cause of fighting against labour exploitation. Unlike the accommodationist aims of liberal multicultural identity politics, the goal of a renewed workers’ movement is not to make the wage-labour relation more inclusive, diverse, or sustainable. Rather, the goal is a redistribution of wealth that empowers workers while weakening capital, which makes possible the more long-term goal of ending exploitation and ushering in a post-capitalist society. While class-first approaches are often cast in opposition to the perceived liberal identity politics of the democratic commons, they nonetheless share the same assumption—that alliance-building is a matter of organizing around points of convergence found among differentially oppressed groups. Joining together at sites of shared oppressions, proponents of each believe, not only mobilizes widespread dissent, but, perhaps more importantly, generates the spaces and interactions through which alternative forms of social belonging might be forged and produced in the first place. Still, if the democratic commons and a renewed workers’ movement appear as practical, useful, and necessary models for alliance-building today, they nevertheless exemplify what Manu Vimalassery, Juliana Hu Pegues, and Alyosha Goldstein call “colonial unknowing,” a conceptual failure to represent, acknowledge, and/or map the ongoing and constitutive role of colonial and racial dispossession in contemporary neoliberal capitalism.5 I argue that, because class-first theories and defences of the democratic commons treat colonial and racial dispossession as past stages rather than ongoing structures of domination, the models of solidarity these theories offer remain limited and compromised political projects. That is, since they ignore the ongoing structural antagonism between settler and colonial populations in the political economies and civil societies of North America, the democratic commons and worker-centered politics not only fail to undo or disturb current structures of colonial and racial dispossession but in fact depend upon them. As such, these models of political resistance risk ending in reform and compromise rather than working toward the construction of an alternative future. Through a discussion of the key insights offered by settler colonial studies, Indigenous critical theory, theories of racial capitalism, and Afro-pessimist theory that together, although sometimes in very divergent ways, conceptualize the interlocking histories of colonial and racial dispossession, this essay seeks to trouble both



taRa M ahO NEy

Creative Publics Participatory Political Culture and the 2015 Canadian Federal Election

POLITICAL PARTICIPATION not only describes voting in elections, writing a letter to the editor, going to town hall discussions, or becoming a member of a political party. Rather, political participation is increasingly constituted through expressive and symbolic modes that involve media and cultural production. While cultural production practices were central to social and political movements throughout the twentieth century,1 analysis has often treated these modes of expression as vehicles for communicating ideas rather than as forms of everyday political participation in their own right.2 As new information communication technologies (ICTs) transform how people express themselves and communicate with one another, interrogating the relationship between cultural production and participatory politics is increasingly important. This is particularly so if we are to take seriously the question of how to engage younger generations in public life, generations increasingly in retreat from traditional political institutions and moving toward forms of engagement rooted in digital culture. This article argues for a culture-centric approach to political engagement, and suggests that cultural production should be understood as inseparable from and essential to political participation—operating both as an instrumental action for community organizing and an expressive activity of self-actualization, dialogue, and collective identity formation. In order to make my argument, I first explore new forms of political engagement arising from digital culture and how these have emerged within the context of neoliberalism. Second, drawing on a sample of media and art projects produced by citizens leading up to the 2015 federal election, I argue that, increasingly, amateur art and media production is being used as a prevailing form of political discourse in Canada. I also discuss the risks and contradictions associated with political participation and digital capitalism. Building on these ideas, I draw from a field study I led in September 2015 called Creative Publics: Art-Making Inspired by the Federal Election, to argue that experiences of “political making” provide opportunities for more personal forms of public listening and public voice. These experiences are important because they provide new points of entry into a political discourse increasingly driven by personal action frames. Finally, I finish the article by discussing the need for more study and experimentation regarding this emerging form of political engagement

FIG.1 Creative Publics Check-in Table with the Tin Can Studio at Surrey Central Station, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Tara Mahoney.


RyaN FitzpatRiCK

Living in Messy Times An Interview with Kit Dobson Kit Dobson is an Associate Professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary where he works on Canadian literature, film, and art. He is the author of Transnational Canadas: Anglo-Canadian Literature and Globalization, which tracks the development of globalization in Canadian literature.1 He is also the editor or co-editor of three more books: Please, No More Poetry: The Poetry of derek beaulieu; Transnationalism, Activism, Art (with à ine McGlynn); and Producing Canadian Literature: Authors Speak on the Literary Marketplace (with Smaro Kamboureli).2 His more recent works look at the intersection of neoliberal governance and literary practice. In this interview, we discuss the political potential of literature in a thickly material field, asking how it circulates amidst calls for social justice, how it helps code and decode spatial stability, and how it helps us map the effects and affects of global pressures on the individual subject. This interview was conducted over email from March to June 2016.


RyaN FitzpatRiCK (RF): I want to start with a question about the relationship between space and literature/language, since I know that, in one way or another, that’s something we both work on. In your work, you think through space as it scales from the global down to the body. In your recent paper3 on Rawi Hage’s Cockroach,4 you make the simultaneity of these scales explicit, tracing the state, market, and cultural pressures emerging at multiple spatial scales as they literally transform the racialized body of Hage’s narrator into an insect. At the same time, you argue for the centrality of the discourse around who or what gets to count as human. So I was hoping to start by asking you a potentially huge question about this junction point: how do you conceptualize the connections between the materiality of bodies and spaces, and the discourses that stick to and circulate in that materiality? Kit dObSON (Kd): Your question demonstrates concern for the liveness of human and other bodies, as well as their valence at the contemporary moment (also couched in a nuanced and generous reading of some of my recent work). In a sense, I see you asking a version of the materialism versus discursivity—or Karl Marx versus Michel Foucault—type of question here. Both discursivity and materialism inform my thinking, and I also see them as informing one another (which entails some risks, but I find those risky moments to be, in general, fruitful ones, too). I think that much of my writing about Cockroach—and, in turn, one of the broader projects on which I’m working—arises from reading Foucault’s lectures about security5 and the rise of neoliberalism alongside Judith Butler’s Precarious Life6 and some of her other work from around the time of that book’s drafting and publication. I am, of course, hardly the only one doing so. When looking at contemporary points of crisis, one of the things that repeatedly strikes me is the extent to which naming and discourse have very real, material impacts on bodies. While wanting to emphasize the important differences between all of these moments, we are watching the still-unfolding processes of the Idle No More (INM) movement, the ongoing rise of Black Lives Matter (BLM), and the movements of refugees across many borders, but from Syria in particular right now. Connected to each of these are not only discursive processes—often involving contestations of whose lives are valued and why—that connect to the material existence of those lives themselves. Also at stake in these processes is the liberal, humanist definition of the human, which, as Rosi Braidotti demonstrates in The Posthuman,7 is absolutely tied to Western, European “values.” So in that sense, yes, absolutely, discourse sticks to bodies (and I’m immediately reminded of Sara Ahmed’s thinking around the “stickiness” of affects8), and so discourse has very real, material consequences. RF: Continuing to think materially, then, I’d like to pick up on your gesture to different instances of the political mass, conceptualized in a number of ways—structure, organization, assemblage, ensemble, multitude, etc.—to describe the ways that bodies both produce and are produced. You point to recent upswellings of political collectivity and spatial assembly (INM and BLM, but maybe also the Arab Spring, Occupy, and the printemps érable) that not only emerge from specific struggles, but that also work within a spirit of relational experimentation, arguably one of figuring out more just ways to be together in the world. In contrast to this, you also mention ongoing processes of political and economic displacement, emblematized right now by the struggles of Syrian refugees. These are very different; but, as you suggest, they’re connected through a shared