Radical Philosophy #166

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166 Editorial collective Claudia Aradau, Matthew Charles, David Cunningham, Howard Feather, Peter Hallward, Esther Leslie, Stewart Martin, Mark Neocleous, Peter Osborne, Stella Sandford, Chris Wilbert







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philosophy march/april 2011

Commentary A Tale of Two Worlds: Apocalypse, 4Chan, WikiLeaks and the Silent Protocol Wars Nicolás Mendoza............................................................................................. 2

Keyspace: WikiLeaks and the Assange Papers Finn Brunton.................................................................................................... 8

Contributors Nicholás Mendoza teaches in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, and is founder of the KJF Initiative, www.keepjournalismfree.org. Finn Brunton (http://finnb.net) works on digital media – adaptation, modification and misuse – and issues of publicity, privacy and anonymity. He will take up a post in the School of Information at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in the autumn. Antonia Birnbaum teaches in the Philosophy Detartment at the University of Paris 8, Saint-Denis. Her latest book is Bonjour Justice Walter Benjamin: Le détour grec (Payot, 2009). Mathieu Potte-Bonneville is currently président de l’Assemblée collégiale at the Collège international de philosophie, Paris. His books include D’après Foucault (with Philippe Artières, Les Prairies ordinaires, 2007) and Foucault (Ellipses, 2009).

articles Between Sharing and Antagonism: The Invention of Communism in the Early Marx Antonia Birnbaum......................................................................................... 21

Risked Democracy: Foucault, Castoriadis and the Greeks Mathieu Potte-Bonneville............................................................................. 29

reviews Hans Radder, ed., The Commodification of Academic Research: Science and the Modern University Eeva Berglund ............................................................................................... 39 Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities Matthew Charles........................................................................................... 41 Susan Hekman, The Material of Knowledge: Feminist Disclosures Alessandra Tanesini....................................................................................... 44 Dawne McCance, Derrida on Religion: Thinker of Difference Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe Steven Shakespeare, Derrida and Theology Sas Mays........................................................................................................ 46 Nick Couldry, Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics after Neoliberalism Mark Fisher.................................................................................................... 49 Randall Williams, The Divided World: Human Rights and Its Violence Anne McNevin............................................................................................... 51

Copyedited and typeset by illuminati www.illuminatibooks.co.uk Layout by Peter Osborne Printed by Russell Press, Russell House, Bulwell Lane, Basford, Nottingham NG6 0BT Bookshop distribution

Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin, War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War Joyce Goggin................................................................................................. 53 Stanley Cavell, Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory Áine Kelly....................................................................................................... 54

UK: Central Books, 115 Wallis Road, London E9 5LN Tel: 020 8986 4854 USA: Ubiquity Distributors Inc., 607 Degraw Street, Brooklyn, New York 11217 Tel: 718 875 5491


Cover image: Marx Lounge, Liverpool, 2010

Escalate.......................................................................................................... 58

Pow! Nina Power..................................................................................................... 56

Occupations and Their Limits Smells Like Teen Spirit

Published by Radical Philosophy Ltd. www.radicalphilosophy.com

Emily Clifton ................................................................................................. 60

Obituary Captain Beefheart, Vorticist Artist (1941–2010) Ben Watson ................................................................................................... 62


Radical Philosophy Ltd


A tale of two worlds Apocalypse, 4Chan, WikiLeaks and the silent protocol wars Nicolás Mendoza


here is something eerie about the WikiLeaks logo. It works as a sort of graphic manifesto, an image of dense political content stating a notion of ample consequences. A cosmic sandglass encloses a duplicated globe seen from an angle that puts Iraqi territory at the centre. Inside this device the upper and darker planet is exchanged, drip by drip, for a new one. The power of the image lies in the sense of inexorability it conveys, alluding to earthly absolutes like the flow of time and the force of gravity. The WikiLeaks symbol can be read as a bullish threat that grants the upper world no room for hope. The logo narrates a gradual apocalypse, and by articulating this process of transformation through the image of the leak, WikiLeaks defines itself as the critical agent in the becoming of a new world. What has become manifest since late November 2010, with the release of what is now known as ‘The US Embassy Cables’, is that the narrative implicit in the WikiLeaks logo, that of a world disjunct, not only fits the WikiLeaks saga but describes a greater struggle of global power, held diffusely by transnational corporations and enforced by governments around the world. This power is under attack by a relatively new actor that can be called, for now, the autonomous network. The conditions that allow the network to challenge the power of governments and corporations can be traced to the origin of the Internet and the Cold War zeitgeist that made the network we know possible. It was only because Cold War strategists had to narrate to themselves the unfolding of what was known as the ‘worst-case scenario’ (the moment after a thermonuclear apocalypse was under way) that a computer network with the characteristics of the Internet was implemented. The idea of the apocalypse was so extraordinary that it allowed for the radical thinking that resulted in the TCP/IP computer protocol suite, a resilient network protocol that makes the end user of the network its primary agent. The design philosophy of the Internet protocols represents a clean break from the epistemes and continuums that had historically informed the evolution of Western power, as traced by Foucault and Deleuze from sovereign societies to disciplinary societies to societies of control. The main goal of the early Internet was to provide a survivor with a versatile tool that could make him an empowered agent in an utterly hostile post-apocalyptic world. The TCP/IP protocol suite structures the network around three exceptional characteristics: (1) it essentially bypasses the need for central structures, establishing a network based on the principle of end-to-end (or peer-to-peer) communication; (2) it provides maximum resilience of communication in a hostile environment through the model of distribution; and (3) it is neutral to the information being distributed. These characteristics at the protocol level defined the network as, literally, out of control.


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‘The early Internet was so accidental, it also was free and open in this sense [as a commons]’,1 Steve Wozniak says. To produce a commons is indeed an accident for Empire. Dismissed as a never-meant-for-the-masses autonomous zone, by and for the military and academia, it was allowed to evolve out of control. But this accident that happened because of daydreaming an extreme future never stopped happening. It evolved. At some point it gained an accessible graphic interface, and spilled all over the globe. By then it was too late to disarm what is now the increasingly contentious co­existence of two worlds, as the WikiLeaks logo registers. One world is a pre-apocalyptic capitalistic society of individualism, profit and control; the other a post-apocalyptic community of self-regulating collaborative survivors. The conflict arises from an essential paradox: because the web exists, both worlds need it in order to prevail over the other. The ‘cyber war’ announced so spectacularly (in the Debordian sense) in the days following WikiLeaks’ US Embassy Cables release is not really about the DDoS, ‘denial of service’ attacks that barely obstructed access to the MasterCard website for a few hours. If anything, the ephemerality of the disturbance leaves the sensation that Anonymous, the group that launched it, is anything but a structural threat. What journalists around the world have failed to narrate is the tale of a network that increasingly challenges, bypasses and outcompetes the global corporate-government complex.2 A struggle about the obsolescence of the very idea of the nation-state, and an almost unanimous coalition of governments, led by the USA, fighting furiously to regain control by exerting legal, financial, symbolic and, perhaps most concerning, technical violence on their adversary. The reasons for this failure of journalism are structural. As Bourdieu noted, journalism is a weakly autonomous field. In Foucault’s terms, its governmentality sets meaningful structural criticism beyond what is thinkable. The legacy of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is in this sense (so far) to replace the journalistic structures that curated the critical figure of the whistleblower with the autonomous network, thus redefining not journalism but what journalism perceives as newsworthy reality.

Rogue episteme Approaching the history of the Internet through the Cold War zeitgeist helps us see a sort of Schumpeterian quality in the network. Essentially a destructive entity that, like the Terminator, comes from the future (the imagined end of civilization), it is loose in an arcane environment (the present) that fights back. Perhaps the fact that Anonymous defines itself using tone and vocabulary that closely resemble the description of the Terminator in Cameron’s 1983 film is not a coincidence but a sign of the epistemic coincidence of two postapocalyptic entities. Your feelings mean nothing to us. … We have no culture, we have no laws, written or otherwise. … We do not sleep, we do not eat and we do not feel remorse. We will tear you apart from outside and in, we have all the time in the world. (extract from entry on Anonymous in the Encyclopedia Dramatica) Listen. Understand. That Terminator is out there. It can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be bargained with … it doesn’t feel pity of remorse or fear … and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead. (James Cameron, director, The Terminator)

Network-native structures and their resulting communities are fuelled by hybrid motivations often alien to the material struggles seen by Marxism to lie behind the motion of history. In his book Hacking Capitalism Johan Söderberg proposes the notion of ‘play struggle’ as


opposed to ‘class struggle’ as the force that drives hackers as well as diverse realms of the network society. Similar to labour in that it is a productive engagement with the world, play differs in that it is freely chosen and marked by a high degree of self-determination among the players. At its heart, the politics of play struggle consist in the distance it places between doing and the wage relation. Play is a showcase of how labour self-organizes its constituent power outside the confines of market exchanges.3

Söderberg proposes that play is labour within an exchange system external to the autocratic determinations of materialism. With the notion of ‘play struggle’ we can understand Anonymous and its instant response in the wake of the WikiLeaks attack. Anonymous emerged spontaneously from 4Chan.org, which has a curious set of features: (a) anonymity, (b) ‘lack of memory’ (as opposed to ‘cloud computing’, no record is kept in its servers but rather in the collective memory sedimented in the minds and hard drives of its users), (c) emphasis on visual conversation (through the intervention of images), and (d) a non-censorship policy that is only afraid of the police (as opposed to the market). Therefore, Play: these characteristics are all instrumental to placing in 4Chan an insurmountable distance ‘between doing and the wage relation’. Its unique policy, its origin, ownership and ethos, and its substantial and highly engaged community make 4Chan the Internet’s most prolific semiotic laboratory. It is telling that the software used to perform the denial of service attacks on MasterCard, PayPal and Amazon is a relatively simple program called LOIC, for Low Orbit Ion Cannon, a fictional weapon in the Command & Conquer series of video games.4 Play drives Anonymous. It is the glue that ultimately holds it together, and the threat of state/corporate control triggers its reaction. Serious play is at the core of the rogue episteme. When play follows only its own logic it necessarily escapes commodification. To play seriously is often counterplay, 5 to set the system itself as the locus of play (even 4Chan has been victim, because it is funny, of its own DDoS attacks). Remix of pop culture imagery in 4Chan can be understood as a case of inverted absorption. Instead of commodification by the mainstream, it is 4Chan which exploits the mainstream deconstructing its text, inverting and problematizing its original intentions in a way that exceeds fan culture. 4Chan.org is a primary node in the fundamental clash of the centre and the indigestible fringe of contemporary digital culture. Anonymous is one of countless iterations of a vibrant digital fringe, an unprecedented source of cultural production situated outside of the regular conducts: those regulated by governments and exploited by corporations in order to standardize identity and stimulate consumption. What is unprecedented is not only the method but also the subject of production. The method and subject are one: the de-localized collaborating community. Anonymous is an open provocation from the rogue episteme of the collaborating community. Not only incomprehensible to the corporate episteme, more importantly it is repressed, excluded and policed; handbook procedure on how to deal with cultural production that cannot be absorbed into corporate imagery. For the average individual, visiting 4Chan, and particularly its main forum called simply ‘/b/’, can be either repulsive or disappointing. Its content is distasteful to sensibilities constructed by the twentieth century’s mammoths of consumption-driven mass media, and their resulting version of reality. But we cannot fully understand the true state of contemporary culture, and the future of cultural production (that scary euphemism), if we do not understand 4Chan. Yet 4Chan does not feel any need to be easily understood. Its autonomous project requires a stage of disorientation because its method is continuously to produce and evolve a language of its own. After all, how can autonomy be claimed while using the language of the oppressors? How can a new epistemological commons come to be if not by the crafting of an alternative language?


Early impressionist paintings were abhorred as well: they were thought to be an insult to the high art of painting because they were being read through the very categories that were being subverted. The digital fringe assists in solving the problem of disorientation by establishing a parallel knowledge apparatus, analogous to the one that currently dictates reality: knowledge regarding this branching episteme of the anonymous collective is articulated, while still using its own terms in Encyclopedia Dramatica, at www.encyclopediadramatica.com. These two sites constitute a robust strategic node in the unwritten project of autonomous Internet aesthetics as a commons, or, as it is often called, ‘the hivemind’, an entity composed of myriad human and nonhuman actors that fosters what I’ve called above the rogue episteme. Perhaps 4Chan is not exactly what Sean Cubitt had in mind when interrogating digital aesthetics, but it is certainly a model that seems to holds its ground against the ‘insidious blandness’ of the corporate site: Digital aesthetics needs both to come up with something far more interesting than corporate sites, and to act critically to point up their insidious blandness and global ambitions. Sub­ version of the dominant is inadequate. In its place, it is essential to imagine a work without coherence, without completion and without autonomy. Such a work, however, must also be able to take on the scale of the cyborg culture, a scale beyond the individual, and outside the realm of the hyperindividuated subject. By the same token, aesthetics must move beyond the organic unity of the art object and embrace the social process of making.6

Anonymous and 4Chan currently play a strategic and necessary role in the struggle: the construction of an alternative episteme based on the commons of play rather than on consumption and commodities. Yet their political impact in the specific case of the WikiLeaks saga has been blown out of proportion. Mainstream journalism focused on the ultimately symbolic skirmishes starred by Anonymous, hyping the spectacular narrative of a cyberwar fought by an otherized and widely misunderstood cultural movement that cannot really be called ‘hacktivist’. Although the idea of two parallel worlds sets the stage, it is really the over­ simplification of a fuzzy, ambiguous and entangled field. Even the idea of the leak itself establishes a relationship, a flow that connects the two worlds.


Beings in a digital nexus Julian Assange defines himself as a being in nexus: ‘I’m an activist, journalist, a software programmer and expert in cryptography, specializing in systems designed to protect the defenders of human rights.’7 It is a common mistake to think that 4Chan’s imagery is contained and endlessly reconfigured exclusively inside the 4Chan node or any of the other peripheral cultural nodes of which 4Chan is merely the paradigm. The vapours of the 4Chan cauldron float freely through the web, through other media, and often into physical reality. As meaning flows towards the mainstream through diverse curatorial platforms, the abnormal is filtrated, sanitized and relegated to the appropriate realms, which are ultimately defined in function to the semiotic needs of the corporate world. Fully mapping or theorizing these flows is beyond this article, but two major points should be noted. First, this process of flow is also transformative: at the same time as some of the content is discarded (as it is curated) by realms that are less daring, more commercial, or more ‘family oriented’, these very realms find themselves dealing anyway with a new language which is in a gradual process of adoption, and which subtly transforms them. Second, a taxonomy of autonomy is necessary to theorize these secondary realms. While 4Chan is outside of the corporate cultural production, it is at the centre of a hybrid mediascape that features different degrees of epistemic autonomy. These taxonomies encompass the media as a global phenomenon and go all the way to the most corporate environments of mass media, of which mainstream reporting of Anonymous is just another example. The flow and the destiny of fringe cultural inventions are determined by vectors inherent to the media, and these vectors need to be understood through a taxonomy that looks closely at their structural elements and the role they play in enabling or constraining autonomy. Cubitt has noted the ideological construct hiding in the catchphrase ‘cloud computing’, a term that obscures the fact that the ‘cloud’ is really made of thousands of dense cargo containers filled with computing equipment that consumes more energy than the airline industry. Cyberspace, outside the mind of the user, does not exist. Therefore, the operation is to consider and analyse cyberspace as a semiotic construct. Perhaps the more meaningful notion here is the plasticity of the semiotic ethos of cyberspace: how its inhabitants adopt the social norm of each specific virtual space while at the same time exploring its boundaries. If practices of content creation are substantially different from 4Chan to Facebook, it is not, as one tends to imagine, because the individuals are different but because the interface and the overall environment are different, and impose a determined set of values on its members/users. Individuals accordingly adjust their digital selves. All the aspects that result in the actual interface, whether evident or not, that constitute an online collective collaboration (like website origin, ownership, interface, aesthetic, demographics, moderation, business model, hardware, etc.) play an equally significant role in determining the ideas that will inhabit its space as well as the turbulences through which they will evolve. The notion of an entangled media, where the autonomous and the corporate, the fringe and the mainstream, the centralized and the distributed seem engaged in a shapeless mesh of cultural production, ceases to be contradictory by understanding the simple reality that they are all the cultural objects of the same individuals. Media channels multiply faster than demographic segments and interest orientations. The real scenario is that the Anonymous ‘hacktivist’ is also a nice Facebook user, has a few favourite television shows, participates frequently on websites like Slashdot, Digg or Reddit, votes, and so on. All this is done while plastically adjusting his (it is usually a ‘he’) very cultural identity according to the context. Existing in a multidimensional media nexus, he does (we all do) a sort of hyperspatial jumping to parallel existences, constantly choosing to participate in different communities and different realms.


Coup de net ‘There is no remote corner of the Internet not dependent on protocols’, Laura DeNardis insists.8 What DeNardis stresses is the ultimate preponderance of the technical over the social protocol. Lessig inaugurated this line of thinking when he famously stated ‘Code is Law’. But protocol runs deeper than software: if code is law then protocol is the constitution. This is why, as long as attention is diverted towards anything spectacular (like tactical and superficial DDoS attacks), governments can start the demolition of the protocols that grant the possibility of autonomy to the network. In reaction to the release of the US Embassy Cables, the UN called for the creation of a group that would end the current multi-stakeholder nature of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to give the last word on Internet control to the governments of the world. The almost illegible resolution calls for the UN to convene open and inclusive consultations involving all Member States and all other stakeholders with a view to assisting the process towards enhanced cooperation in order to enable Governments on an equal footing to carry out their roles and responsibilities in respect of international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet but not of the day-to-day technical and operational matters that do not impact upon those issues.9

I have emphasized the fragments where the meaning hides: to ‘enable Governments to carry out their roles and responsibilities’ is of course a nice way to talk about enabling the surveillance, censorship and control that the current protocols still make porous. After Hillary Clinton stated that the leaks are ‘an attack on the international community’, the move to gain control of the IGF is unsurprising. It fits the conflict outlined by the WikiLeaks logo. Even if the motion is defeated, which is currently possible, a card has been shown. More moves of this nature, on all possible fronts, will follow until the coup de net is complete. The IGF episode matches Douglas Rushkoff’s analysis of the ongoing ‘net neutrality’ debate: ‘The moment the “net neutrality” debate began was the moment the net neutrality debate was lost. … [the Internet] will never truly level the playing fields of commerce, politics, and culture. And if it looks like that does stand a chance of happening, the Internet will be adjusted to prevent it.’10 Protocols are the defining battlefield in the struggle between governments and corporations and the autonomous network. The UN’s attempt to take over the IGF is a true act of cyberwar with the strategic warfare plan of hacking the Internet to finally eradicate its aspirations for autonomy. The notion of protocol describes not only computer protocols, but also social, cultural and political conventions that inform the behaviour of societies. In an ambivalent world that is simultaneously exploring new territories of freedom and being subjected to heightened measures of control, the gradual reclamation of the commons is the crucial operation. Scholars like Michel Bauwens and David Bollier articulate how the Internet fosters processes of decommodification that effectively challenge capitalism. Rather than being the result of a violent class struggle, the end of capitalist hegemony might be the result of a slow Internet-enabled process of migration, a dripping (to abuse once more the WikiLeaks logo) towards societies that organize around commons. What is interesting is that WikiLeaks, after all, is still up. Someone still hosts it (poetically, a hosting company located in a Cold War era anti-nuclear bunker), and because someone still hosts it, someone still processes their fund-raising, so that allows whistleblowers to keep on leaking information, and so forth. WikiLeaks is an example of how a rogue can still thrive against the will of Empire, supported by an emerging ecology of more autonomous actors. MasterCard, PayPal and Amazon don’t need to be shut, just bypassed or outcompeted. As the autonomous ecology evolves, it allows for more complexity. This is where the war stands to be won: in the building of autonomous structures of all sorts (structures that bypass and outcompete existing ones) on top of other new structures until the entire old world is unnecessary.



1. www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/steve-wozniak-to-the-fcc-keep-the-internetfree/68294/. 2. Except for John Naughton in the Guardian: ‘the first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the internet. There have been skirmishes before, but this is the real thing.’ See www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/dec/06/ western-democracies-must-live-with-leaks. 3. Johan Söderberg, Hacking Capitalism: The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Movement, Routledge, London, 2007; emphasis added. 4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LOIC. 5. Thomas Apperley, Play and Counterplay from the Situated to the Global, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 2010. 6. Sean Cubitt, ‘Digital Aesthetics’, Theory, Culture & Society, SAGE, London, 1998, p. 142. 7. Le Monde’s article on Julian Assange as ‘Man of the Year 2010’: www.lemonde.fr/documents-wiki­ leaks/article/2010/12/24/julian-assange-homme-de-l-annee-pour-le-monde_1456426_1446239.html. 8. Laura DeNardis, Protocol Politics: The Globalization of Internet Governance, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2009. 9. See www.isoc.org and www.unpan.org. 10. Douglas Rushkoff, The Next Net, 2011, www.shareable.net/blog/the-next-net.

Keyspace WikiLeaks and the Assange papers Finn Brunton


ears ago, Julian Assange considered solutions for an unusual problem, the kind of thing cryptographers discuss: how can you make sure a message only becomes readable at a certain time, not before, such that no human frailty or mechanical error interferes with the schedule? He came up with three answers, which display his knack for odd lateral thinking, an unremarked gift that turns up throughout his work. One solution: encrypt the message, and then broadcast the key to the code out into space, to ‘distant astral bodies’, as he puts it, and wait for it to be bounced back. You can publicize the body, the distance, the coordinates; the satellite dishes of Earth will be oriented at that hour of that day to pick up the bounce and your message will be read. Another solution is quite baroque, with space probes passing a key stream between them, ‘using space as the storage medium’, before sending decrypts back to Earth. The last is by far the most elegant solution, the most difficult to realize, and in some ways the cruellest. ‘If you can predict the future cost/CPU speed then you can create a problem which can’t be solved with current technology at a reasonable price. The future isn’t predictable enough to do this over the longer term.’1 You can embed the solution in the future, sealed against every human force but the curve of increasing processing power – the present can only build, and speculate. What Assange and his colleagues have built, what WikiLeaks embodies, is a kind of photographic negative of this last project: current technology has created a set of profound opportunities – and problems for the existing order – waiting for the arrival of human arrangements capable of making use of them. WikiLeaks is a preliminary


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solution, an initial sketch of a world in which the potential within these technologies has been unlocked. In cryptography, ‘keyspace’ is the realm of possible solutions for the keys to an encrypted message. If we can construe the problem, the question, of how we are to use these machines and algorithms we have built, WikiLeaks is a narrowing of the keyspace, clarifying some borders, edges and areas of possibility. It is far from the only solution. WikiLeaks is more a model than it is some irreplaceable object. There are already diverging approaches. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who was one of the crucial facilitators of the release of the ‘Collateral Murder’ video, has expressed concern with the emphasis on ‘megaleaks’: leaking as a high-visibility international media event, as opposed to the targeted release of information to relevant activist campaigns and organizations best positioned to make use of it.2 A related critique has lead to OpenLeaks, run by an ex-WikiLeaker, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, which separates the submission of documents from their publication, providing secure drop boxes for anonymous submissions to websites, so any group can have their own channel for leaking. Country- and region-specific WikiLeaks-inspired organizations are proliferating: IndoLeaks (for Indonesia), BrusselsLeaks (the EU), Rospil (Russia), ThaiLeaks (Thailand), BalkanLeaks (the Balkans generally), PinoyLeaks (the Philippines – with the spectacular slogan ‘Those who engage in Monkey Business should beware of the Monkey-Eating Eagle’), PirateLeaks (the Czech Republic), TuniLeaks (Tunisia). The copying and reinvention of the *Leaks structure (to use an asterisk as programmers do with ‘*nix’ for any flavour of operating system similar to Unix) will be far more significant than any specific disclosure on the part of WikiLeaks itself – though for now the latter has the benefit of a core team of highly skilled programmers and administrators, working relationships with major publication outlets and a few trustworthy ISPs and governments, an articulate public face, and a number of unexpected allies, like the roving volunteer band of activists and troublemakers that constitutes Anonymous. WikiLeaks is a single organization, with a number of visible flaws, and more undoubtedly apparent to insiders, but encrypted drop boxes and distributed digital publishing are powerful and established technologies only now beginning to find the extent of their purpose. (It will be interesting to see if the local/national model in *Leaks projects so far is supplemented by more domain-specific groups – devoted to leaks concerning banks and the financial industry, universities, pharmaceuticals, or agribusiness, for example.) WikiLeaks is not the last word but the first, and it demands analysis as such. Similarly, Assange is not the sum of the *Leaks project – there is deep concern within the ranks of WikiLeaks about his leadership, and indeed concern about the role of ‘leaders’ generally in such an organization – but he remains a vital figure for understanding the political role and the possibilities embedded in the current technological infrastructure. In his writings, which include a blog, papers and drafts of papers, a book for which he did much of the research, and postings to various mailing lists (primarily concerned with cryptography), we can find a set of ideas to illuminate the present event of WikiLeaks: the application of computational thinking to politics, a sustained consideration of the relationship between secrecy and publicity, a strategy for automatically rewarding open organizations relative to closed, and, perhaps most surprisingly, a philosophical engagement with logic and phenomenology that becomes a model for a politics that compensates technologically for human cognitive deficits. To understand the trajectory of these ideas, we must also understand the culture and the ethics of hackers and cryptographers in which they were nurtured – a culture that prizes elegant solutions to complex problems, transparency for organizations and privacy for individuals, and the free circulation of knowledge, all of which we find embedded in WikiLeaks. This article was written at two speeds: the slow pace of reading and reflection – about that slowness, more in a moment – and the velocity of the urgent and exigent


problems of the present situation. For the latter, this article’s conclusion includes problems to be resolved and steps for immediate action if we are to sustain the techno-political future of which WikiLeaks has been the preliminary stroke. For the former, that slowness, what the moment demands of us here, in the pages of Radical Philosophy, is not more speculation as to Assange’s character or the inner workings of the organization, nor further reminders of the revelations (or their lack) in the cables, nor more political oratory. Those things are all being done elsewhere, in volume and at length, by people and institutions on all sides – and duplication of effort is antithetical to the hacker ethos whose mindset we are seeking to understand. What a philosophical space is in a unique position to provide is interruption, contemplation and slowness. In the midst of the global 24-hour pulse of news and analysis, we can pause, to comprehend WikiLeaks as a historically and technologically embedded event, a gathering of many forces that we can draw apart. We have an opportunity to be ‘true to the visible and the invisible’, as Assange has said of his own work on the history of hacking, examining both present forms and the underlying fields of force that shaped them.3 The conversation of cryptography, Assange’s milieu, often comes back to cosmic scales of time. Long strings of numbers are always present; sometimes these are hashes or public keys, but often they are years, the inconceivably long spans it would take to crack a particular code by crude means. The immediate business of crypto – so often protecting yesterday’s secrets or today’s mail – exists in the shadow of epochs and kalpas of potential computing time. So it is with ‘insurance.aes256’, the 1.4 gigabyte encrypted file posted to the WikiLeaks page for the Afghan War Diaries in late July of 2010. ‘Insurance’: it is, presumably, meant as a dead man’s switch, in the event of something truly dire happening to the organization or its leader. After a certain number of days without logging in to a system or responding to an automated ping, the key will be made available (sent, automatically, to large groups of reporters and sympathizers, posted to blogs and Twitter, and so on). There are few more intensely contemporary digital objects than this opaque file: an unreadable document that is the focus of intense public scrutiny, the intersection of publicity and secrecy – indeed, a ‘public secret’ if ever there was one, an informational threat turned into a distributed protection scheme, made available to all, first by download and then shared on peer-to-peer networks, accumulating interpretations, and containing… what? Clearand-present-danger information, Top Secret rather than merely classified, a scorched-earth response to damage? Or is it empty, just noise, a bluff – a contemporary version of the apocryphal telegram, suggestive but content-free (‘All is discovered; flee at once’) with which Arthur Conan Doyle claimed he could send any pillar of society rushing out into the night without even a change of clothes? Some in the crypto world see it as a challenge to the National Security Agency to reveal that it has known how to crack the Advanced Encryption Standard (the ‘.aes’) all along – since why would they approve of an encryption method to which they didn’t have a back door? All of this speculation plays out in the immediate foreground of a timeline that stretches beyond the end of the universe. The ‘256’ in .aes256 means that decrypting the file requires a key 256 bits long. To guess this key by trying every possible combination, a ‘brute-force’ attack, means searching through a vast keyspace. Every popular discussion of cryptography involves a few back-of-the-envelope Fermi estimates with


Kircher, Ars Combinatoria, 1669

How long have you got?

the inevitable conclusion: if we turned all the computing power on Earth to the problem of decrypting insurance.aes256, accounting for the steady increase in processing capacity – every microchip coming out of Intel dropped into another machine to enlist immediately into the work – it would still take longer than the life of the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, before we would get anywhere. The presence of this cosmic length is salutary, offering an opportunity to slow down, to read these events in light of the past, to contemplate. Nietzsche, no stranger to time-delay problems, writing as he often did for ‘readers foreordained’, passport-holders from Hyperborea with ‘new ears for new music’, notes the highest virtue available to the aristocracy – slowness, the ‘slow glance’, ‘to take time, to become still, to become slow.’4 From this comes philosophy’s strength to consider an event like WikiLeaks (we could speak as well of Žižek’s insistence that we wait in the face of immediate crisis, that we seize time to think). The brute-force strategy on .aes256-encrypted files invites us to think of a history before and after our present political and technological forms. To crack the key by force would open the ‘insurance’ file long after the continents had gathered again, the Earth fallen into the atmosphere of the dying sun, and the sun itself collapsed to an extremely dense and faintly luminous white dwarf. Amidst all the din of news and politics we can take some small part of the geological calm inherent in a huge keyspace, and think, slowly and in long perspective, about what is happening now – starting with the utopian imaginary of digital disclosure. ‘I can’t even read my own notes without wondering if I’m trying to send myself a secret message while doing everything possible not to be deciphered by myself’, as one of the cryptanalysts says in Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Turing’s Delirium, a novel Assange cited on his now-defunct blog in 2006. 5 Soldán’s novel, a political thriller devoted to the culture of hackers and cryptographers, plays out the struggle between the Black Chamber, an NSA-like gathering of cryptographers devoted to securing the secrets and information-gathering capacity of the state (and the transnational corporations with which it is partnered in the privatization of the country’s utilities), and the loose team of dissident hackers who release hidden documents and engage in denial-of-service attacks. (In a beautiful touch which feels thoroughly in keeping with our moment of Berlusconi, Murdoch, and Roger Ailes of Fox News, the fatuous state-sponsored news is delivered on television by a Philip K. Dickian virtual avatar, Lana Nova, ‘who has just been given an upgrade and now has twice the number of her original facial expressions’.6 Any real understanding of the situation in Soldán’s setting of Río Fugitivo belongs to those who can attend to the materials online.) The dissidents, led by a gifted hacker whose assumed identity, ‘Kandinsky’, becomes a flexible name another can assume to die in his place, are potent examples of the image of the young inventive programmer snatching secrets from the grip of those in power. But we can go further back for our icons of the present. ‘This has been an unauthorized cybernetic announcement’, concludes the note on the package in John Brunner’s 1971 The Shockwave Rider, a science-fiction novel whose depiction of data liberation provides an instructive contrast to the existing reality and theories underlying WikiLeaks. The main character – another in the long line of supremely gifted fictional hackers with restlessly fluid identities – has gathered every instance of suppressed knowledge in his future United States and seamlessly interpolated it into everyday life, a one-step transition into an entirely transparent digital


society. Financial fraud, featherbedding and an imminent bankruptcy appear in the company’s annual report; an explicit breakdown of item-by-item spending in the backtax demand; every health violation on the ingredients list of the can, and known present carcinogens on the box of cosmetics (and the cost of the out-of-court settlements): ‘This is a cybernetic datum derived from records not intended for publication’, say many of the notes. The protagonist who has launched this scheme says it simply: ‘As of today, whatever you want to know, provided it’s in the data-net, you can now know. In other words, there are no more secrets.’7 The project is a fantasy of rational action based on perfect knowledge – a subject at the heart of Assange’s writings. It is also a fantasy of data delivered appropriately, made into knowledge through automatic processes. The product of the protagonist’s surveillance worm program isn’t some accumulation of raw data, hundreds of gigabytes of text exports, SQL dumps, KML and CSV files: it arrives, in Brunner’s fictional vision, assembled and packaged as it would be by a muckraking journalist and posed in strident terms of bribery, propaganda, environmental degradation, human-rights abuses, and so on, neatly attached to the relevant area of public life.8 Ask a question, and the system delivers you a cogent and polemical answer, outlining clear cases of malfeasance and atrocity – no ambiguous and convoluted financial instruments here, no structures that are disproportionately beneficial to some, no layers of complicity, but straightforward crimes with obvious perpetrators. It’s the data version of Cockaigne, where cheeses fall from the sky and fish leap from the sea to the hungry peasant’s feet. The public reacts appropriately, inquiring into every corner of diabolical mismanagement, and turning their outrage to the construction of a new society for the greater good. (This takes the form of an austere command economy whose logic springs from the detailed economic data redacted and withheld from the populace. It’s a strange amalgam of Allende’s pilot Cybersyn project and the guaranteed minimum income.) ‘Therefore none shall henceforth gain illicit advantage by reason of the fact that we together know more than one of us can know’, Brunner closes, one of the propositions of this new society of permanent data transparency. The layers of fantasy present here – that the secret data will be immediately useful, that social ills are the result of distinct and specific crimes whose perpetrators can be easily dealt with, that a cogent argument can be made to which the populace will respond with appropriate and focused action – are part of the enormous frustration which drove Assange to action, to a nonfictional project in collective data disclosure. This problem of logical speech and rational action runs through much of Assange’s non-cryptographic writing. He has described the goal of WikiLeaks as ‘scientific journalism’ – ‘read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on’9 – with the evidence ever-present. He returns again and again in his writings to problems of argument, evincing the disappointment of the ‘logical reductionist’, as he characterized himself: ‘I once thought that the Truth was a set comprised of all the things that were true, and the big truth could be obtained by taking all its component propositions and evaluating them until nothing remained.’10 Argument is unavailing when it displeases the listener, the axiom of transitivity is revoked, and illogic wins the day. Why do people fail to act in their best interest? How can they condone the crooked, the venal, the obviously false and the wrong-headed? Assange takes notes throughout his blog on problems in cognition, psychology and epistemology: ‘learned idiocy’, measurement problems in physics, emotional manipulation by advertising, the social experience of gifted children, perceptual calibration. ‘How to hack reality? How to pierce the skin? How to find the spot on the wall where the illusion flickers and rip it open?’11 His anger at wilful misperception is intense: And before this [desire for truth] to cast blessings on the profits and prophets of truth, on the liberators and martyrs of truth, on the Voltaires, Galileos, and Principias of truth, on the


Gutenburgs [sic], Marconis and Internets of truth, on those serial killers of delusion, those brutal, driven and obsessed miners of reality, smashing, smashing, smashing every rotten edifice until all is ruins and the seeds of the new.’12

Minus the Internet, Marconi (a technologically conservative fascist, but let that pass) and ‘serial killers’, this would not be out of place in a socialist pamphlet in the tradition of Bakunin – or, with the sentiment slightly toned down, the work of Marxist philosopher of language and information visualization pioneer, Otto Neurath. It is this deep disappointment in the failure of logical argument, of evidence, to spur righteous action, that gives WikiLeaks its two-tier strategy which distinguishes it from the Shockwave Rider fantasy.

‘You throttle it’ A state is a ‘certain relationship’, as Assange quotes Gustav Landauer: an arrangement of humans towards each other.13 The genius of the WikiLeaks model, in all its various adoptions and adaptations, lies in the manipulation of this human arrangement from two sides – we can call them exoteric and esoteric. The exoteric model is the obvious work of a data disclosure project like WikiLeaks: providing the public with knowledge it would otherwise be denied. This carries a few strategic difficulties. First, the data must be manipulated into a useful format and provided with an interpretive and presentational layer for those who don’t want to pore over a few hundred thousand text files, or figure out what ‘CSV’ means. This is the work of journalists, as in Cablegate, and volunteer programmers and designers, as with diarydig.org (now relocated following attacks to, and crowds of readers, as in the Reddit collective search through the 9/11 pager logs (‘We need to get this to Page 1, to increase the number of people analyzing and reporting’14). Second, and far graver, is the rationalist’s complaint, the problem that makes the end of Brunner’s novel such a painfully wishful thing to read: you can provide a public with the information, you can give them ‘scientific journalism’, and they still won’t do anything. They will disregard your evidence, ignore the logic of your arguments, or persist, unsurprised, in acting as they always have. Perhaps they will, in fact, be reassured and heartened by their government’s willingness to disappear and torture alleged suspects, cook evidence and cover up wrongdoing, and engage in secret drone strikes in Yemen. This is, to take a locution from bug reports, a ‘known problem’, the internal threat to social action – inertia, willed ignorance, misrepresentation, distraction, the condition of ‘witnessed, but seemingly unanswerable injustices’, to quote one of Assange’s essays.15 The possibility of public inaction provokes the second, esoteric element of the WikiLeaks strategy. Assange has a very different public in mind as the esoteric audience for the dis­closures of WikiLeaks, or any WikiLeaks-like organization: those who already know the secrets, those who created them. Over the course of two drafts (with different titles) of a document published in the last months of 2006, ‘State and Terrorist Conspiracies’ and ‘Conspiracy as Governance’, Assange outlined what is arguably the primary purpose of a leaks-driven project, with ‘scientific journalism’ being a positive second-order effect.16 It builds on a mathematical discipline called graph theory and a conspiratorial view of politics to produce a computational model of the capture of state power. To be clear, Assange defines ‘conspiracy’ quite broadly – the actions and plans of a political elite which are kept secret to avoid inducing resistance on the part of a public: ‘individual and collective will’ in one draft, ‘the people’s will’ in another. These conspiracies constitute the active political form, the ‘primary planning methodology’ of ‘authoritarian regimes’ – though an example of ‘two closely balanced and broadly conspiratorial power groupings’, the Republican and Democratic parties of the United States, suggests, again, that for Assange’s purpose an ‘authoritarian conspiracy’ is a spacious category.


Given this breadth, and the sheer diversity of possible conspiracies in scale, means, goals and contexts, is it possible to generalize and abstract an anti-conspiratorial strategy? Assange turns to graph theory, a branch of mathematics devoted to the analysis of networks. Graph theory began with the superlative mathematician Leonhard Euler, who perceived within a party game about the bridges of Königsberg (can you cross each bridge once and return to your starting point?) a number of points and lines, nodes and paths. It provides a way to extract abstract diagrams from the messy specificities of real-world networks. Imagine, Assange asks, that we can describe a conspiracy in this abstract fashion: all the participants are nodes, points on the network, with lines of communication between them along which information flows. The edges of the conspiracy are defined by all those from whom these secrets must be kept. The lines of communication within the conspiracy can be of varying ‘weight’, describing the amount of important information being passed along, and nodes can be of higher or lower value depending on the weight and number of their connections to other nodes. This model allows Assange to bracket out the complexities of specific conspiracies, and produce an evaluative metric of ‘total conspiratorial power’ – the power of the group to communicate and plan internally, that is, rather than its capacity to effect change in the world: ‘the ability of the conspiracy to think, act and adapt’.17 (If any curators want to produce a highly relevant retrospective in 2011, Marc Lombardi’s ‘Narrative Structure’ diagrams – intricate hand-drawn maps of conspiratorial projects, in the Assange sense – are crying out for a show.) Assange takes this model further: the conspiracy is a type of device for taking an input, like reports, cables and intelligence, acting on it, and producing an output. A conspiracy ‘computes the next action of the conspiracy’, in his words, and the total conspiratorial power is the clock rate of this device, how fast it can advance to the next step and react to new states of affairs.18 The traditional approach to dealing with conspiracies has been a patient and particular one: documenting their workings, finding the most significant nodes, and removing them from the graph – that is, imprisoning or assassinating people. Ideally, analysing the graph would allow you to target nodes whose removal might break a conspiracy into two separate and weaker units, for example, or abruptly isolate many other nodes. Assange wants an abstract and general strategy suited to his black box input–output model. What is the best way to lower the total conspiratorial power of any conspiracy, whether it’s a political party, a group of insider traders, a terrorist cell, a multinational corporation or a small gang of bureaucrats? You do this by leveraging the Internet’s capacity for anonymity of users and distribution of information. If anyone in the conspiracy leaks, and the information is disclosed anonymously, everyone in the graph becomes suspect, if not for leaking then for negligent security. You don’t need to neutralize key nodes if they stop talking to each other, or if their conversations are so restricted by the possibility of disclosure that their links become far less important. You ‘throttle’ it, which Assange means in the mechanical sense: the fuel decreases, the speed slows.19 The total conspiratorial power is turned down towards zero, the state where no one is talking to anyone else. The ‘blood’ of the conspiracy as creature ‘may be thickened and slowed until it falls, stupefied; unable to


sufficiently comprehend and control the forces in its environment’.20 This is the esoteric strategy, and its goal is a power split into fragments and so locked in purges, silence, tactical internal denials and traceable lies that it is halt and lame, chewing on its own tail. This is a key reason why the WikiLeaks group are not ‘hackers’, in the crude but common sense of people penetrating secure systems to acquire information. To break into a system and steal a document merely provokes an organization to improve its security, and releasing the document is no guarantee of a positive social result. It is vital that the materials are leaks because that will foment suspicion and paranoia among the conspirators. The ideal application of the Assange model is a kind of panopticon turned inside out, where the main guard tower is gone because any given prisoner might be an informer. Furthermore, such an approach places a differential burden on institutions: in a world where leaking is a strategy of redress, more secretive (which, for Assange, is synonymous with ‘unjust’) organizations will be hit much harder than comparatively open groups. In the blog post, from precisely four years ago today, that links to the PDF of ‘Conspiracy as Governance’, he summarizes his argument for the future:

Marc Lombardi, Narrative Structure Diagram

[I]n a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.21

It is this strategy that distinguishes something like WikiLeaks from yet another speculative icon of network politics – the engineer and ‘cypherpunk’ Timothy May’s 1993 proof-of-concept BlackNet project, to which WikiLeaks has been somewhat misleadingly compared. BlackNet was an entirely anonymous information marketplace, built on untraceable digital cash, for people to transact anything that could be transmitted digitally (‘corporate secrets, military secrets, credit data, medical data, banned religious or other material, pornography, etc.’).22 In the long run, the adoption of anonymous, untraceable transactions would be an engine for May’s specific school of anarchism. It would be a government-crushing machine – ‘the real choice is between a total state and crypto anarchy’, May asserted, at least as far as life informationally and life online are concerned.23 WikiLeaks, in the long run, is meant as a way of filtering good/‘open’ organizations from bad/‘secret’ ones, creating an inhospitable environment in which to be secret, and thereby improving governance. Assange is not the nihilistic wrecker-of-civilization fantasized by the American right (who seem to have at last found the Bond villain their impoverished understanding of the world has led them to look for). His work reflects an attitude of intensely moral empiricism, empowered by a programmer’s toolkit for abstraction and breaking big problems into smaller ones. The politics of WikiLeaks is a cybernetic politics, with built-in, auto-correcting feedback loops that tend a society towards transparent institutions and accurate information, because the cost of conspiratorial secrecy is pushed disproportionately high. Assange concludes the latter of the two ‘conspiracy’ papers, dated 3 December 2006, with this sentence:


Later we will see how new technology and insights into the psychological motivations of conspirators can give us practical methods for preventing or reducing important communication between authoritarian conspirators, foment strong resistance to authoritarian planning and create powerful incentives for more humane forms of governance.24

He never got around to concluding the paper – or, rather, its conclusion, those ‘practical methods’, is all around us, a demonstration of his anti-conspiratorial strategy. The domain name for WikiLeaks was registered in October 2006, and the site was publishing documents by that December. That last goal – ‘more humane forms of governance’ – expresses part of the larger project with which Assange is engaged. It is a project that, strange as this may sound given his application of abstract computational thinking to politics, is fundamentally humanist, in a very specific sense. In ‘scientific journalism’ and strategies for exploiting paranoia, in his desire for immediate experience and accurate perception (as he contrasts, for example, the ‘powerful, communicatable phenominological [sic] descriptions of nature’ given by young children against the ‘meaningless answers’ given by older children who repeat what they’ve been told by teachers25), Assange seeks a technologically enabled political system that can compensate for human cognitive limits. He wants an open society not simply because it is less conducive to authoritarian conspiracies, or because it will encourage social justice, but because the circulation of accurate data will aid us in living in our almost unmanageably complex society.

Inky fingers Another thought experiment for cryptographers, another project in human capacities for Assange: how to make a key operative only under certain psychological or physical conditions. Is it possible to create a key that, under coercion, locks the interrogator out of the file, using the limits of the human body and mind as a kind of failsafe? Pain, altered states, impaired cognition could become parameters for decryption. Assange sketched some solutions in a posting to a mailing list devoted to OCaml, a programming language with properties useful to his project.26 Along with recognizing faces and creating meaningful similes (A is to B as…, etc.), Assange suggested a maze-walking exercise: a maze with landmarks that you pass in a certain order and direction to produce your key. This path would be immune to key-logging techniques (which track every stroke on a keyboard) and could draw a different maze every time; only you would know in what order the landmarks must be passed. It might be impossible to explain under coercion. Perhaps walking the maze in one progression would unlock something plausibly revealing but relatively innocuous – and a different route opens the text file with all the safehouses, all the names of colleagues. In any case, to produce the key, the human element needs to be there, at the mouse, conscious and willing. Like this notional keying system, the event of WikiLeaks is only concerned with ‘computer security’ in the most peripheral way. What is actually at issue is the politics of secrecy, anonymity, and online distribution and collaboration – new logics of organization, as Alexander Galloway has put it. The security of the machines isn’t really at issue; it’s the humans that are fragile and dangerous. The term from military aerospace for building technologies that have to involve people, the ‘man-in-the-loop’, works perfectly here. You want to minimize the harm the man, in-the-loop, can do to your system: so slow, so prone to black out under high G-forces, so inclined to momentary hesitations, to calls of conscience, to leaks and confessions. A decade before Assange laid out the theoretical architecture for turning the people inside a conspiracy against one another, he was collaborating on a project named ‘Marutukku’ (a Mesopotamian god, ‘master of the arts of protection’), a deniable cryptography package. 27 ‘Deniable’, in this case, meaning that you can provide a passphrase to decrypt some portion of your


data without revealing the whole thing, or that there’s more to reveal. Marutukku was also known as Rubberhose, after the old crypto joke about ‘rubber hose cryptanalysis’: decrypting a file by beating the key out of someone who knows it. Marutukku was designed to provide both cover (you could plant some secrets to satisfy your interrogators – the maze-walking key was to be one notional part of Marutukku) and the deeper deniability of ignorance. You could receive a thumb drive, and a key to some portion of it, unaware that there are others, thus minimizing the informational damage that even torture can do, and working around human frailty. WikiLeaks, and what it portends, is all about working with and managing our points of failure and overload, as human minds and as social creatures. Assange’s particular design intelligence has always been about taking advantage of the irreducible humanity within computational processes, from our visual capabilities (another keying method he proposed involved generating moirés of color whose variations would be visible to a single individual’s unique sense of hue) to our paranoia, our social arrangements, our difficulties with reductionist logical argument. On Sunday, 30 July 2006, apropos of Finland’s transparent taxation system, he wrote an introductory comment that provides the context not only for WikiLeaks and related projects, but for our current dispensation, the horizon of the political thought that WikiLeaks represents: Society has grown beyond our ability to perceive it accurately. Our brains are not adapted to the environment in which we find outselves [sic]. We can’t predict important aspects of our societal environment. It’s not designed to run on our brains. We’re maladapted. In our evolutionary history we spent a lot of time tracking the behavior and reputations of small number of people we saw frequently. If we want some of the social benefits that a small society brings then we need computational crutches so when A fucks over B any C considering dealing with A will know. A society that can ‘think’ in this way is able to route goodness to people who do good and away from those people who generate hurt. The decision as to what is good is too complicated to be formulated in regulation and elections are a very coarse expression of what people think is good. Any paper formulation will put power in the hands of a political and technocratic elite. Robust routing decisions must be made by individuals and individuals need tools to manage complexity enough so they can make them effectively in a modern society.28

We can discern in this that ‘society’ is a larger version of Assange’s conspiratorial structure: an information-processing system, computing next steps and, ideally, routing towards the good and away from the bad. What society, understood like this, needs most is tools to circulate data, and to ‘manage complexity’ – such as an organizational


model and a kit of technologies that will, theoretically, edge a society always towards increasing the flow of accurate information available to all eyes. From 1990 to now, the night that I write this, the power of a given computer has increased by a factor of about 8,000. Storage capacity relative to cost has grown still faster.29 The release of the Pentagon Papers – another regular WikiLeaks comparison – was an event of extraordinary paperwork. Daniel Ellsberg’s task primarily lay in arranging the reproduction, movement and storage of thousands of pages, using relatively rare photocopy machines, one page at a time (‘To speed up, I tried to program my motions’30), and workflows of folders, scissors, glue, suitcases and cardboard boxes. The particular affordances and constraints of paper are intimately intertwined with the shape of bureaucratic governance, from Charles-Hippolyte Labussière – the clerk whose covert destruction of documents (using public baths and the Seine) created for the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror saved much of the Comédie Française from execution31 – to the dossiers of the Stasi, the in-trays of the Eichmannian Schreibtischtäter, and the ‘Vietnam War Study’ folders Ellsberg pulled from the filing cabinets at RAND. To intervene in the flow of paperwork is still a heavy, toner-streaked, physical matter, requiring someone with Ellsberg’s access over time coupled with a willingness to go to prison. Even given these characteristics there is no possible way for the most dedicated renegade diplomat, working with paper, to collect 250,000 confidential cables and make them available to journalists or the public. That’s a lot of reams of paper, and pallets of documents, to transact secretly. Digitally, it’s a thumb drive, a CD, a zipped file uploaded to a server. It can be forgotten in a taxicab, lost in a messy office. And it can be circulated with complete anonymity for the leaker. (Bear in mind that PFC Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker in the Cablegate case, was apprehended based on the advice and chat transcripts provided by Adrian Lamo, to whom he apparently confessed much of his activity.) New forms of information storage, distribution and analysis can enable new political arrangements – new apparatuses of surveillance and capture as well as publication, organization and resistance. The promise of these new technologies and the new arrangements they could enable relies on more general action, our action. As I’ve suggested at the opening, WikiLeaks is only the first such object, and one of its most valuable contributions is the provocation to further work. I’d like to close this article with a direct address, at present speed rather than reflective philosophical slowness – a contemporary version of Fourier’s chapter at the close of the Théorie des quatre mouvements, where, having presented his arguments for the political-ecological transformation to come, he provides hands-on counsel for those who would be prepared. We could even give it the same title: ‘Advice to the Civilized Relative to the Coming Social Metamorphosis’. Given WikiLeaks and the boom in *Leaks organizations, given our capacities for anonymity, data storage and distributed publication, what is to be done? Fourier’s advice included ‘not to sacrifice present good for future good’. To this we can add the following, which is only a starting point, welcoming further additions and conversation. • If you understand and can deploy the technologies – and you should take this very seriously, as the safety of any potential leaker relies on it – you can launch your own *Leaks project. If you aren’t in a position to roll them yourself with complete confidence in your security, keep a close eye on OpenLeaks, which, at the time of writing, has a promising approach to providing secure drop boxes for other organizations. As with blogs, the most successful leak sites will probably be those with quite specific subject domains, which can attract journalists and skilled crowds to their analysis and make sure stories particular to that area are heard. Any project like this is going to involve experience in the editing and redaction of releases, and painstaking internal security and ethical reflection – Geert Lovink and Patrice Riemens’s thesis 11 of their ‘Twelve theses on WikiLeaks’ provides a concise overview of these issues. 32


• There are numerous projects of infrastructural significance which need contributions. These are not reactions to WikiLeaks itself but to the very real problems with authority, control and rule of law online which it provoked into high visibility. They include: new cloud services (following Amazon’s deplorable plug-pulling of the WikiLeaks resources on their servers), of which OpenStack (http://openstack. org) provides a good starting point; new Domain Name System (DNS) architecture, so people can type in a human-memorable name (as opposed to a string of digits) and get the Web site they want regardless of what parties may seek to make the name unavailable or unreliable – there are interesting proposals being mooted for a peer-to-peer DNS system that would decentralize addressing (see, as a starting point, http://dot-p2p.org); and on the farther horizon new systems of funding, to ensure the donation and asset freeze-out directed against WikiLeaks by PayPal and the credit card companies cannot continue to be a problem. • There are a number of social and legal issues. While well-run *Leaks projects can provide anonymity and protection to the leakers with methods like encrypted connections and anonymous proxies, the human need for solidarity, empathy and companionship, especially on the part of one of who is running serious personal risks on principle, is profound – as the grim case of Manning, currently spending twenty-three hours a day in solitary in the Marine Corps brig, will attest. Some method to enable community and alliance without discovery seems warranted. As does assistance with how to talk to the media in the release of a leak – a means to counteract the inevitable spin, message management and public relations deployed by institutions to marginalize any potentially damaging information. One grave legal concern is the protections available to ‘mirror sites’. A site like WikiLeaks, coming under attack, relies on volunteers hosting mirrors on other servers, so people seeking the site’s information can reliably find it elsewhere if the main site is unavailable. Hosting a mirror is currently a legal grey area, however – especially for hosts within affected countries, like the United States. Will a mirror host face pressure from the state, their employers, or others, and what is their recourse to pressure? • A massive document-gathering like that of the SIPRnet cables was probably lucky, and will not be repeated. Systems of logging access and document requests will make it far more difficult to collect material anonymously. Solutions for undetectably copying documents are needed.


Research for this article was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (CNS/NetS 1058333) and the AFSOR-MURI Presidio grant. It would not have been possible without the help and suggestions of several persons who would prefer to remain anonymous. Thanks to you, my friends. Hone-o oru! To simplify the process of future researchers, I have followed the different time/date formats used by the different online resources cited below. 1. Julian Assange, ‘time-delayed release of information’, post on the cypherpunks list, 2002–03–23. http://marc.info/?l=cypherpunks&m=101686313723681&w=2. 2. As interviewed on www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2010/12/06/dec-610–--pt-1–julian-assange/. 3. Julian Assange, ‘Researcher’s Introduction’, in Suelette Dreyfus and Julian Assange, Underground: Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier, Mandarin, Port Melbourne, 1997. Available electronically at www.xs4all.nl/~suelette/underground/. 4. Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Preface’, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, ed. Maudemarie Clark and Brian Leiter, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, p. 5. 5. Julian Assange, ‘Turing’s Delirium’, post on iq.org, 22 September 2006. Assange’s blog was shut down some time ago; this and all other blog citations from the version archived on the Wayback Machine: http://web.archive.org/web/20071020051936/http://iq.org/. 6. Edmundo Paz Soldán, Turing’s Delirium, trans. Lisa Carter, Mariner, New York, 2007, p. 207. 7. John Brunner, The Shockwave Rider, Harper & Row, New York, 1975, p. 219. 8. Conversation with those involved makes clear that creating a useful – that is, hyperlinked, searchable, reasonably fast – front-end for even a relatively constrained set of materials, like http://diarydig.org for the Afghan War logs, is not a trivial matter. 9. Julian Assange, ‘Don’t shoot messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths’, op-ed in The Aus-


tralian, 8 December 2010; available online at www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/wikileaks/ dont-shoot-messenger-for-revealing-uncomfortable-truths/story-fn775xjq-1225967241332. 10. This particular thought actually appears twice, almost unchanged, in the final entry of his blog, as well as about a year earlier: 29 August 2007 and 12 July 2006. 11. Julian Assange, ‘How can we untie the unknot?’ post on iq.org, 3 August 2006. 12. Julian Assange, ‘Iirationality [sic] in argument’, post on iq.org, 29 August 2007. 13. Assange quotes Landauer at the beginning of the last version of his homepage at iq.org, as preserved at http://web.archive.org/web/20071020051936/http://iq.org/. 14. See the Reddit thread ‘Conspiracy theories commence: WikiLeaks to release over half a MILLION text messages from 9/11’, submitted 24 November 2009, comment by ‘xyroclast’: www.reddit.com/ r/reddit.com/comments/a7xpt/conspiracy_theories_commence_wikileaks_to_release/c0gatuc. 15. Assange, ‘Conspiracy as Governance’, p. 1 n1. 16. Both drafts were released as PDFs, originally linked from Assange’s blog and now hosted by John Young at the website Cryptome: http://cryptome.org/0002/ja-conspiracies.pdf. 17. Assange, ‘Conspiracy as Governance’, p. 4. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid., p. 5. 21. Assange, ‘The non linear effects of leaks on unjust systems of governance’, post on iq.org, 31 December 2006. 22. Timothy C. May, ‘Untraceable Digital Cash, Information Markets, and BlackNet’, presented at Computers, Freedom and Privacy 1997; available online at: http://osaka.law.miami.edu/~froomkin/ articles/tcmay.htm. 23. Ibid. 24. Assange, ‘Conspiracy as Governance’, pp. 5–6. 25. Julian Assange, ‘Tale of the Tesla coil, or learned idiocy’, post on iq.org, 26 June 2006. 26. Julian Assange, ‘call for ocaml volunteers’, post on the Caml mailing list, 2000–08–14; available at: http://caml.inria.fr/pub/ml-archives/caml-list/2000/08/6b8b195b3a25876e0789fe3db770db9f.fr.html. 27. A basic overview of Marutukku/Rubberhose is available. See Suelette Dreyfus, ‘The Idiot Savants’ Guide to Rubberhose’, available at: http://iq.org/~proff/rubberhose.org/current/src/doc/maruguide/t1.html. 28. Julian Assange, ‘Transparency in the cold light of Finland’, post on iq.org, 30 July 2006. 29. A few days ago, IBM’s Almaden Research Center published demonstrations of the soundness of the physics underlying a new form of memory, ‘Racetrack’ – which uses the spin of individual electrons to move data along magnetic nanowires – pointing towards eventual production. Racetrack, or any number of other experimental models of memory, will lead to increases, relative to cost and electrical power, still more dramatic than what we’ve encountered so far: enormous libraries of data on a mobile device that can be accidentally put in the wash. 30. Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, Penguin, New York, 2003, p. 302. 31. Benjamin Kafka, ‘Paperwork’, Cabinet 22, Summer 2006; available at www.cabinetmagazine.org/ issues/22/kafka.php. 32. Geert Lovink and Patrice Riemens, ‘Twelve Theses on WikiLeaks’, as posted in Eurozine, 2010– 12–07; available at: www.eurozine.com/articles/2010–12–07–lovinkriemens-en.html.

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www.radicalphilosophy.com 20

Between sharing and antagonism The invention of communism in the early Marx Antonia Birnbaum

London calling Why talk about communism today? A first point everybody will be agreed upon: the spectre of communism is not haunting Europe, nor for that matter any other region of the world. The only place where ‘communism’ is a positive name for anything is China, where it designates the ruling party of one of the most powerful capitalist nations of the world. In the immediate conjuncture, there are no real forces or conflicts that directly call for a reappraisal of communism. However, certain questions linked to its reappraisal do appear to be at stake in conflicts that are taking place. For example, is it not the case that violence of the oppressed is a strategic political means? Is it not time to question its permanent disqualification, which goes hand in hand with the aggravated monopoly of state violence? This is a question raised by Slavoj Žižek in a recent article in Le Monde diplomatique. How can social conflicts once again become conflicts outside of the realm of law? This question was raised by Jacques Rancière a few months ago. Speaking on the radio about the USA, he argued that conflicts take legal form so rapidly there that they are immediately deactivated as politics. We need to situate politics back within social struggle. I would like to add another question: how do we deal with the prescribed logic of compromise, of ruse, of deferral, that implicates us in the very capitalist dismantling and competition we strive to deflect? In the 2009 university strike in France, the students of Paris 8 wrote in a leaflet: ‘We don’t want a supposedly reformed future, we want a real present, now.’ To that I can only add: me too. *

Such remarks indicate little more than the possibility of looking at the present through the prism of some experiences of the 1970s, now that the capitalist ‘bubbles’ of the 1980s and 1990s have burst. However, such reappraisal has to deal both with the economic and conjunctural aftermath of those bubbles and, more generally, with the aporia of an extensive, global capitalism. This aporia is both trivial – everybody remarks upon it – and self-defeating. Let me put it in the most general terms. The more certain diagnostic moments of Marx’s theory of the contradictions of capital continue to be operative, the less politically actual they seem to become. For Marx, the privilege of antagonism hinged upon the supposedly necessary unfolding of capitalism towards its violent end. We, on the contrary, are caught in a strange limbo of contingent temporality. Knowing that capitalism is neither an inevitable horizon nor a historical stage that will necessarily end, we are constantly thrown back on the lack of an alternative power. Even in the struggles that do take place, there is an enormous, almost insurmountable difficulty in subjectively stepping out of the capitalist framework. So, another symptom: the more frenetically we search for the place-holders of communist aspirations, the more these aspirations seem to fall back into formal, purely potential, even speculative modes. If we turn to the communist tradition, the idea of communism immediately evokes two moments: the moment of class struggle and the moment of a common human capacity shared by all. They answer two different questions. Are we set upon defeating capitalism on the basis of a movement actualizing its contradictions,

* This is a revised version of a talk given to the Research Seminar of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, London, November 2010.

R a d i c a l P h i l o s o p h y 1 6 6 ( M a r c h / A p r i l 2 011 )


preferably in a revolution? (This means that we involve our lives in the struggle against servitude imposed by the market; struggle focuses on opposition.) And are we set upon living that part of our lives which is irreducible to this servitude, on sharing without delay what we have in common, here and now, disregarding the ‘icy waters of selfish calculation’? This pertains to the common, associative moment of communism. It focuses on sharing. Generally, the associative moment is linked to the utopians – Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet – whilst the antagonistic moment is linked to Marx. Rancière, for example, takes up this classical divide in his text ‘Communists without Communism’, presented at the 2009 London conference on the idea of communism. I propose to work on a different assumption. Might it not be relevant for us today to reinstate the mixed logic of Marx’s inaugural encounter with communism? Wasn’t Marx simultaneously confronted with both the violence and the sharing inherent to communist aspirations? And might not this simultaneity at least give us a ‘lame foot to walk on’? (The expression comes from Bataille.) Of course, this inaugural encounter with communism took place in a hopeful period of struggle, before the defeats of 1848, whereas our situation seems devoid of any forceful perspective. Nevertheless, reaching back to this moment may be relevant in so far as it refers to an unconsolidated period of Marx’s thought. By asking how Marx brings different elements into play, we may be able to apprehend some possibilities in our own situation. My questions, then, are the following. How does the dominant feature in Marx’s communism – class antagonism – connect with the associative, fraternal moment? How does this connection come about within his texts? In what ways does this connection take effect, both in the element of struggle and in that of sharing? I will restrict my inquiry by concentrating on the brief sequence that encompasses the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, the articles in the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher and Vorwärts. With regard to the coherence of Marx’s theory, the predominant angle is dialectical class contradiction. Not only does Marx apprehend it as ‘the father of all things’ but he also posits the principled struggle against capital as its basis of intelligibility. Hence his concept of critique, in which the analysis of capitalist conditions is intrinsically linked to their destruction and transformation. Such is the formula of praxis. Nevertheless, in his own thinking the difference between contradiction and sharing does not simply amount to an opposition. Likewise, there is a


gap between destruction and transformation. The difference is asymmetrical, the gap is to be bridged. In Marx’s early texts, the predominance of the theory of contradiction is in contact with a different experience, with a wider, irregular field of praxis. If one looks closely, it seems that moments of shared enthusiasm and moments of anger communicate, without their being a clear determination of their relation. Marx presents them together: he presents us with the enigma of their assembly.

Other people’s discoveries Let us take a short view forward: in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, written in 1848, Marx conceives the communist idea in the perspective of class contradiction. This idea, along with the party, reveals itself through the struggle of the working class, as the most advanced point of thinking in this struggle, which grasps its meaning and its goal. The contradictions between the bourgeois class and the proletariat will lead to a final conflict, a surpassing of capitalist antagonism and the disappearance of all classes in a harmonious organization of society. The communist project points to a final term, an end of all alienation and all domination, humanity delivered of its contradictions and its divisions, without being able to determine this finality in its real content. In this intrigue, the initiative seems mostly to fall on the side of the bourgeoisie, which, in the opening pages, ceaselessly produces the upheaval, the destruction, the constant revolutionizing of all means of production, pushing the proletariat further and further into the realm of negation: the proletariat is nothing; it is this nothing contracted into the fury of negation. Now let us now take a step back again. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, personal notes written before the popular uprisings of 1848, the approach to communism is different. Marx qualifies man as a being whose very existence is immediately a common existence, or a generic existence. He dissociates this social being from any historical teleology that orders it to a project. What is the ‘social being’ – not the communist project – that aspires to such a project? How do we ascertain such a being? For all that he links the communist aspiration to a generic being, Marx never loses sight of workers’ struggles. In his reflections in the Manuscripts, in the articles of the Jahrbücher, Marx pays attention to that dimension of social being that reveals itself in the procedures of struggle, without being part of any programmatic intention. This communist aspiration of our lives – such is Marx’s intuition – points to a

quasi-synonymity of individual being and social being. What is at stake is to grasp the unstable agitation of this common being, both through the figure of class struggle and through the figure of a common being. To grasp this articulation, we will turn to the peopling of the young Marx’s texts, rather than to his rearrangement of anthropology. Let us put aside the function of knowledge (it has already been analysed to death) and focus on the function of speech in this text. To reach it, the first task is to break with the chronological dimension. Linear readings (Althusser notably) have repeatedly stated that the young Marx does not yet have at his disposal the theoretical elements he will develop after 1848, mainly surplus value. These elements are necessary; they alone will allow him to assess the operations of capitalism, to produce its critical science. On this view, the Manuscripts are considered as operating by default, on a ‘humanist’ basis borrowed from Feuerbach. Can the 1844 Manuscripts be thus described as a simple prelude for a science yet to come, a science in which the vital activity of humans and the mutilation of salaried work can at last become coherent in one and the same contradiction? This way of dealing with the young Marx ignores Marx’s own remark that it is not enough that thought compels its accomplishment; reality itself must compel thought. Following this remark, theoretical discontinuity is not a ‘lack of science’; it addresses the reality that jostles theory, especially the reality of conflicts. The statements, aspirations, experiences of proletarian struggle are immediately present in Marx’s text; they impel the cutting edge of his effort. The first statement of the Manuscripts is a conclusion: ‘Wages are determined by the fierce struggle between capitalist and worker. The capitalist inevitably wins.’1 Defeat is assumed before the book has even started, before any arguments can be deployed. Defeat is the loathsome fate that befalls workers in capitalist work production. Defeat is also the cynicism of the discourse of political economy that justifies such relations.2 Against this defeat, Marx’s unfinished text appears as a strange Kampfschrift (polemical writing). He starts the conflict anew, at exactly the point where he signals defeat. Interspering his remarks between long quotations from Ricardo and Smith, Marx dwells on what counters their discourses, breaks up their framework. Inquiries, contacts with workers, writings of French and German socialists (the League of the Just, Weitling), Schultz Bodmer’s analysis of the ideological content of national economy, natural and positive

critique of humanity by Feuerbach. The articulation of a communist trait, of the violent struggles in which the workers are implicated, of the polemic against national economy, all this is amenable to the mix of theory with ‘other people’s discoveries’, 3 with the multiple gaps of perception expressed in the voices of these and others. ‘Other people’s discoveries’: the expression is first used by Marx in the opening pages, which also refer to Feuerbach. Unless we want to consider these ‘exterior discoveries’ simply as illustrations of a theoretical construction, it is clear that the counter-position nonalienated activity and the mutilation of wage-labour is not merely an ‘error’ of the young Marx (waiting to be corrected by the Marx of Capital), but the specific energy, the springing point, of his remarks. These encounters and events, the relation between concurring and heterogeneous elements, are the very impulse of Marx’s undertaking. In his effort to counter national economy and its fiction of cupidity as the originary state of humanity, the philosopher proposes to come back to ‘the fact of national economy’ taken in all its complexity: he works simultaneously with the facts and the refusal of these facts. This complexity produces a ‘giddiness of causality’ that the philosopher first discovers not in the ‘social being’ conceptualized by Feuerbach, not in the pages of a book, but in a workers’ meeting. When communist workers gather together, their immediate aim is instruction, propaganda etc. But at the same time they acquire a new need – the need for society – and what appears as a means has become an and. This practical development can be most strikingly observed in the gatherings of French socialist workers. … Company, association, conversation which in turn has society as its goal is enough for them. The brotherhood of man is not a hollow phrase, it is a reality, and the nobility of man shines forth upon us from their work-worn figures.4

On the occasion of the organization of struggle, the goal ceases to be the end, the means cease being subordinated to such an end. The goal is transferred into propaganda, doctrine, association, to the point of becoming one with them. This strange oneness does not produce an identity between the worker’s life and a life of combat; quite the contrary, it introduces a double take. A new relation appears between workers that begins during their struggle against the capitalists. Thus what Marx calls the brotherhood dimension first appears in a struggle, but is not identical with struggle. These workers are not fated either to be ‘nothing’ or to fight. Their existence is lodged in an unalienable excess that coincides neither with their condition of


exploitation nor with the imperatives of struggle. In this excess, they have already emancipated themselves from servility and hate for the master, two characteristics of the same world. This excess communicates the transformation of gestures and thoughts that give body to an emancipated life. The French workers discover in their political meetings and associations the first gestures of a life irreducible to the waged conditions of reproduction. Marx discovers in the humanity of these French workers a gap between the communication through which they break with isolation and the struggle they conduct against capitalist alienation. The communist feature does not derive from oppression; it indicates what remains in excess, an indetermination that is out of reach of negation. If we look at the quotation, this feature of brotherhood is not, at least not directly, a feature of combat, of ‘class hate’ as it will later be called, nor even of a discipline, but the real anticipation of a different manner of association, a manner that already, here and now, outreaches the oppression of work and competition. But if this is so, how does class struggle relate to this excess? Is there even any relation, in the sense of a necessary relation?

Struggle and the excess Let us recall what Marx underlines: in the logic opposing workers and capitalists, the starting point is the negation or, worse, the defeat of the worker, his intolerable oppression. But the worker has the misfortune of being a living capital, and hence a capital with needs, which forfeits its interest and hence its existence each moment it is not working. As capital, the value of the worker rises or falls in accordance with supply and demand, and even in a physical sense, his [or her] existence, life was and is treated as a supply of commodity like any other commodity. 5

The worker’s own body is private property – live capital – that must be sold at all costs to feed it, clothe it, rest it, in brief to reproduce it. In so far as man is labour-power, man is opposed to its own humanity, wears out life to reproduce it. In return, struggle is the negation of this suffered exploitation. In the scene of struggle describing the French workers, humanity is won back through a struggle and a transformation. These moments intersect without coinciding. They are distinct, but not separate. Their heterogeneity is literally packed together in a single knot. Compelled by a strong case of revolt, Marx risks thinking out this knot. He does so in regard to the insurrection of the Silesian weavers in 1844.


Unfolding his position in the debates raging around this event, Marx relays the communist aspiration of the workers, against those who only see in it an uprising without conscience. His analysis appears in Vorwärts under the title ‘Critical Notes on the Article “The King of Prussia and social reform. By a Prussian”’. It is a virulent, caustic, wildly audacious reply to the anonymous article by Arnold Ruge. Marx was furious about this anonymity, fearing the article might be attributed to him. The revolt is restricted, but explosive. The weavers are in a state of extreme poverty, on the edge of famine. Whilst their relations of production are still often those of the workshop, whilst they finance their own looms, they are already subjected to an extensive capitalist market. The introduction of machines, the competition with England, the illegal agreements between bosses to lower salaries aggravate the situation: working fifteen to sixteen hours a day, the weavers cannot live. The revolt starts on 3 June 1844 after the arrest of a weaver of Peterwaldsau, an arrest requested by the Gebrüder Zwanziger. Faced with contempt – they are told to eat grass when they say they have no means to eat – the weavers destroy their houses, their workshops, their titles: they attack the bank, so to speak. They hold bosses prisoner, destroy their workshops. Prussia sends in the army: resisting in face of the order to fire, the insurgents meet the army with stones and axes, obliging them to flee, even though they experience severe losses. They are repressed in a bloodbath the next day. In their song ‘Spottlied Blutgericht’ they propose to transform all men into poor men. Hunger revolt, revolt against the machine, against certain loathsome bosses, for a ‘just salary’: such arguments were trotted out to play down the uprising. Marx, on the contrary, stresses the communist energy of the event. We have seen: a social revolution possesses a total point of view because – even if it is confined to only one factory district – it represents a protest by man against a dehumanized life, because it proceeds from the point of view of the particular, real individual, because the community against whose separation from himself the individual is reacting, is the true community of man, human nature. In contrast the political soul of revolution consists in the tendency of the classes with no political power to put an end to their isolation from the state and power.6

In the situation of heightened European agitation, these remarks are directed against Ruge and his position: that the German poor (the revolting weavers) are only ‘poor Germans’, captives of their interests, provincial, without any relation to politics. For Marx,

on the contrary, the direct attack of capitalist property – that does not seek a mediation with the power of aristocracy – attests a strong conscience of communism. Marx’s starting point is his confidence in those who enter the struggle. What holds his attention, what is important, is the process of radicalization that unfolds in the revolt. ‘Hence, however limited an industrial revolt may be, it contains within itself a universal soul: and however universal a political revolt may be, its colossal form conceals a narrow spirit.’7 Here Marx is already working out the untimely dialectics of a revolution that he locates within several countries. The German bourgeoisie has not participated in revolutionary freedom; it has known nothing of it but restoration and defeat. The new proletariat knows nothing of an allegiance to the citoyen; it starts out where the French and English workers left off, with a social revolution. Marx stresses that, contrary to the revolutionary opposition of the French bourgeoisie to aristocracy and clergy, this workers’ revolt is no longer determined by a workers’ will putting itself in tow of the proprietors, nor even by a will to appropriate power for their own class. The weavers protest against exploitation in the name of their common humanity. This unprecedented universal feature detaches itself during the revolt. They start with a refusal of the extreme degradation of their life conditions, of the dispossession of their work tools caused by capital. They go on to designate wage-labour itself as an abomination. All men are poor. Poverty is not the matter of a community of need, but of this: nothing can belong to some more than to others. In this sense, the ‘real human community’ that

the weavers declare in their revolt ceases being that of a certain category of workers (weavers of linen, of cotton) at the same time that it is already without any link to the perpetuation of their existence as a class opposed to the class of proprietors. Their militancy reclaims a principle of ‘any equality whatsoever’: they are placeholders of a ‘for all’ that is not identical with any effective group of workers, nor with any particular propriety of the human. What Marx deciphers is an agency linked to dazzling speed: as soon as the proletariat appears, there appears also its most extreme interruption, the dissolution of the proletarian condition itself: force of anger – dissociation with power – excess over the logic of need. In the brief, explosive sequence of this struggle, the anger first focused by the enemy, the demands compelled by the needs of reproduction alter themselves, projecting themselves towards their own extremity. The violent energy of class struggle produces an exteriority beyond class opposition. In this sequence, the communist feature of sharing does not present itself as a mater of a structural linkage to class contradiction. It rather presents itself as a case of acceleration; an acceleration gathering momentum in the process of contradiction, but immediately detaching itself from this process. The ‘particular, real individual’ and the real worker are co-originary and co-originally distinct. The excess carries itself beyond the constraint that gives rise to it, becomes consistent in a dimension that Marx will posit as ontological. Heeding the point of intensity of this struggle, Marx rediscovers this dimension in the


proletarian experience. The refusal of the workers to be robbed of their lives crystallizes a refusal upheld in the name of the fact that we are all commonly human. Marx is confronted with an initial generosity, a communist ‘trace of immediacy’ that relates our very being to a common existence. This tendency compels him to put the negative logic of conflict into parentheses, to set out for a more uncertain region, where the need to survive or to reproduce life ceases to be the given of ‘humanity’. Of course, this does not mean that needs are not essential to human life. It means that these needs are not a material necessity, as opposed to the superfluous. Their relation is the unstable hinge of a life for which nothing is reduced to nature. Marx explores the irreducibly common element of this life, an element set outside of alienation and the opposition to alienation. He tries to distinguish between a nonalienated ‘vital human activity’ and its division with itself, its reduction to waged labour-power. Here, then, Marx borrows from Feuerbach.

An art of contingent contacts Contrary to struggles that proceed from their opposition to exploitation, vital praxis precedes out of a strange antecedence. Not being anything given, it is subtracted from alienation. It is not a negation of an oppression, but the affirmation of an untamable part of our common being. In the Manuscripts of 1844, Marx does two things. On the one hand, he locates this common being outside of the dialectics of contradiction. On the other hand, community becomes a question of being only in so far as ontology becomes unrecognizable to itself, a praxis. This generic existence is called by Marx an ‘objectified being’. ‘Objectified being’ is opposed to ‘spiritual being’: human being is a nature, a sensibility in the grasp of the material reality of the world. It belongs immediately to this being that it is in relation to others and to nature. Humans only live by giving expression to this being, by elaborating it, objectifying it (which is different from alienating it). Vital human activity is not a means in view of satisfying needs, it is not ordered by a goal beyond this expression. Far from being instrumental, this activity itself is a vital need. In this activity, or praxis, gestures of immediate survival are not opposed to what takes form as art or science, since generic being is nothing other than being in nature.8 Marx stresses that what opposes the function of need and that of superfluity is the wage situation, not the essence of vital activity: The result is that man (the worker) feels that he is acting freely only in his animal functions – eating,


drinking and procreating, or at most in dwelling and adornment – while in his human functions he is nothing more than an animal.… It is true that eating, drinking and procreating are also genuine human functions. However, when abstracted from other aspects of human activity and turned into final and exclusive ends, they are animal.9

In vital activity, the articulation between animality and humanity is not founded on an organic necessity, as a supposedly final point of reality. It pertains to the exteriority of the relations that make for our bodily being: ‘The practical creation of an objective world, the fashioning of inorganic nature, is proof that man is a conscious species-being, i.e. a being which treats the species as its own essential being or itself a speciesbeing.’10 Marx stresses the ‘disunity’ of our life reality: ‘the whole of nature is the inorganic body of man.’11 So far as it is inorganic, human naturality has no given form that can simply be fixed in its physical existence. The human body possesses no stable determination, its reality is intrinsically decentred: human life expresses itself and gives itself consistency through conscious transformation of the world and the relation to others. This means that the being of the world and of man are not hostile a priori. Their perpetual adjustment is a sign of their common naturality. Man being seized by the power of praxis in bodily existence, vital human activity is an articulation of senses and thought that all humans partake in. Together, they partake in the non-evident, unpredictable risk of this fashioning. Marx stresses the conscious moment in the fashioning, the objectifying, of our generic being. If, however, we are to account for the displacement of ontology through praxis, then there is no longer any reason per se to privilege this conscious moment.12 The non-evident aspect of our lives does not only concern its consciousness, it concerns the relation between its bodily and its intellectual moments: they connect in unpredictable ways. Marx wants to consider our lives outside of alienation, to express an objectifying that no longer pertains to an accomplishment of self through negation, but to a tension between selves, to collective universal being. The difficulty is to conceive of a fashioning of our lives that is heterogeneous to the total dominance of one function by another, that does not reinstate a regular, necessary form. This is what Bataille attempts when he invokes the connections of all elements of our lives through ‘chance’ and ‘play’. Though Marx declines to explore this difficulty, there are a few intuitions in his text. Let us quote another passage from the Manuscripts.

All his human relations to the world [of the integral man] – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, contemplating, sensing, wanting, acting, loving – in short, all the organs of his individuality, like the organs which are directly communal in form, are in their objective approach or in their approach to the object the appropriation of that object. This appropriation of human reality, their approach to the object, is the confirmation of human reality. It is human effectiveness and human suffering, for suffering, humanly conceived, is an enjoyment of the self for man. Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it, when it exists for us as capital or when we directly possess, eat, drink, wear, inhabit it, etc., in short, when we use it.… Therefore all the physical and intellectual senses have been replaced by the simple estrangement of all these senses – the sense of having.13

Non-alienated vital activity includes both passivity (or suffering) in the eminent sense – outside of consumption – and activity in the eminent sense, outside of an instrumentalizing of nature. In this list of our vital activities, Marx’s text does not privilege production of nature and self as the essence of the human. It does not privilege any one sense or orientation. It deploys a horizontal, combinatory logic. What is thus heterogeneous to wage-labour is also heterogeneous to the negative – Hegelian – dialectic of labour. Vital human activity runs through indetermination, subsistence, superfluity. Rather than praxis in the limited sense, it is a play of life itself objectified in a play with the world and others. This play is also the moment of its distance. For this vital human activity does not proceed out of antagonism; nor does it derive from the sphere of work; and we can see a more obvious affinity of the activity with literary, artistic, or scientific communities, and the community of love, than with the activity of proletarian struggle. Once again, the question of the relation between this praxis and class struggle compels us, but this time in the reverse direction, from the generic perspective itself. Let us be clear: the impetus of praxis can occur in any of us, through any human act or passivity. It can occur outside of any scene of struggle. However, this common generosity can only break with the isolation imposed by wage-labour if it does not in turn isolate itself from the struggles against oppression. Its affirmation coincides with the incompleteness by which it maintains itself open to the contradictions of the situation it has ripped itself out of. There can be no completed figure of non-alienated praxis. In short: if the ‘for nothing’ of being, its unconstrained, impertinent groundlessness, can distend its relation to struggle, it cannot ignore it. Otherwise its freedom

simply becomes a ‘spiritual supplement’ or a place of evasion, an ‘oasis in the desert’ that is incapable of making a world. This means that, notwithstanding their affinity, this ontological dimension does not pertain to the community of love, of literature, art or science, any more than it does to that of proletarian struggle. The relation between generosity of being and struggle has no necessary form: both exist only in the contingent forms of their vicinity. Assuredly, class antagonism for Marx proceeds out of an oppositional, dual logic. In this sense, the ‘we’ of the proletariat possesses a trait of oneness, that of struggle, but without fixing itself in this trait. For what the proletarians cannot tolerate, what they strive to emancipate themselves from, is precisely the condition of wages. Thus there is a connection between nonalienated praxis and struggle, which operates in various ways – from the closest to the most distant – between class struggle and the dissolution of all classes. The connection between opposition to capital and a generosity outside of general equivalence is displayed in an art of improper, contingent contacts, which borrow from action, possibility, division and play, without ever becoming one with any of these registers.

A lame walk In the prism of the connection of sharing and struggle, Marxist communism decentres itself from itself. If we consider the chronology, this decentring is inaugural, whilst its exclusive centring on antagonism is a later development. The decentring envelops both the contradictions of struggle and the free agencies of praxis. An inextricable, highly unstable mix, or, in Bataille’s words, a ‘lame walk’, experimented within the contingencies of its own improvisations. To become what it is – a manner subtracted from oppression – excess must articulate its vicinity to the negation of this oppression. To become what it is – a destruction of capitalist power – opposition must exceed itself towards the possibilities of a generic life. To hold on to the untimeliness that produces the oneness of these two moments: this might give at least an indication for a political praxis. Of course Marx put the stress on the contradictory, dialectical unfolding of struggle, especially after the workers’ defeat in 1848. However, nothing obliges us to do the same, nor for that matter to reduce Marx to his major expression. After all, for Marx himself, this figure hinges on the idea of a necessary destruction of capitalism; its strategies are laid out in regard to a final cut. After the defeat of ‘real’ or ‘historical’ communism, it is no longer relevant to refer to such a cut, and strategy no longer has a fixed horizon: it has to


make the path it walks. Reconsidering the ‘lame walk’ of the mix between antagonism and sharing might be one way of spelling out strategies in which the intuition of a communist future is always itself a present.


1. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, in Karl Marx Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1974, p. 282. 2. On this point of defeat and on many others, see the excellent book by Anne-James Chaton, L’Effacé. Capitalisme et effacement dans les Manuscrits de 44 de Karl Marx, Éditions Sens & Tonka, Paris, 2005. 3. Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 282.

4. Ibid., p. 365. 5. Ibid., p. 335. 6. Karl Marx, ‘Critical Notes on the Article “The King of Prussia and social reform. By a Prussian”’, in Karl Marx Early Writings, p. 419. 7. Ibid. 8. What is translated here as ‘generic being’ (Gattungswesen) is translated as ‘species-being’ by Rodney Livingstone. 9. Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 327. 10. Ibid., pp. 328–9. 11. Ibid., p. 328. 12. In a very classical metaphysical gesture, Marx distinguishes our fashioning of our lives from that of animals, who are without conscience. 13. Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 351, emphasis added.

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Risked democracy Foucault, Castoriadis and the Greeks Mathieu Potte-Bonneville

The delay involved in the publication of lectures or seminars has strange effects: what comes late and in a different time to its own is research and words which were caught up – more so than the books – in the historical circumstances of their elaboration; and the text that is finally published, with the reflections of the author and the remarks of the audience, carries something of the historical situation that produced it. This documentary dimension is sharper still when there appear together works undertaken in the same period by two thinkers between whom, at the time, no debate took place, and who appear to have been totally unaware of each other. An outline appears, in the background of their preoccupations and intellectual trajectories, which we could call, following Frédéric Worms, a specific ‘moment’ in which political history and the history of thought are mixed. Thus, in 2008, the traces of two research paths that were very unlikely to meet were published, and their conjunction is striking: on the one hand, we have the series of classes given by Michel Foucault between 1982 and 1983 at the Collège de France, under the title The Government of Self and Others;1 and, on the other hand, we have the seminars conducted by Cornelius Castoriadis between 1983 and 1984 at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), in the context of his vast cycle ‘what makes Greece’, entitled The City and Laws.2 The pure coincidence of the publications brought to the surface what might seem, over twenty-five years later, also to be a coincidence: that two French thinkers should, in the same period, have felt the need to explore, each in his own way, the Greek corpus and the question of democracy; and that they should have returned to neighbouring texts (the tragedy of Ion in Foucault, and of Antigone in Castoriodis), and to common figures (first of all, and above all, that of Plato, the proclaimed adversary of democracy, which the one and the other question, as we shall see, in a roundabout way).

So, we have a number of coincidences. It is obviously possible to reconstruct for each philosopher the different path that brought him to the vicinity of Athens. In Castoriadis, the reflection gathered in The Imaginary Institution of Society (1975) is continued from 1979 in an examination of the link between the Greek polis and the creation of philosophy as the opening of a space of thought linked to the experience of a particular relation, in the human world, between the imminent organization in the city and the disorder that continues to underlie it, which it knows it cannot entirely avert. Foucault’s bringing to light of the motif of governmentality would, from 1978, involve a vast restrospect, from the period which was most familiar until then (between the classical age and modernity) back towards medieval thought, towards the Church Fathers, and then towards Classical Greece. Nonetheless, these different returns only reinforce the suspicion that there is meaning in the coincidence – the impression, to use a Greek expression, that the latter is as much blind automaton as it is tukhè – a concept which Aristotle used to describe coincidence, inasmuch as it allows human activity and agrees with it, in politics in particular, and weaves with them a sensible practice. The questions could therefore be the following. What does this concern for Greek democracy, shared by Foucault and Castoriadis, tell us about the singular historical moment in which they experienced it, each in his own way? And what lessons can we learn, in this moment which is ours, from their respective research? It would be easy to conclude: return and continuity. Return, in authors that had somewhat returned from their radical wanderings in the 1970s, towards the more traditional examples and problems of political philosophy, whose influence on modern writers Castoriadis ceaselessly insists upon, in order to claim to follow them (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) or to distinguish oneself from them (Benjamin Constant): ‘the invocation of ancient democracy has indeed played

R a d i c a l P h i l o s o p h y 1 6 6 ( M a r c h / A p r i l 2 011 )


a fundamental role in the fight against monarchy and for the establishment of citizens’ rights’ (CL, p. 31). Continuity, therefore, of a preoccupation with intellectual sources whose contemporary regimes are still proclaimed, and with regard to which historical knowledge has, for twenty-five years now, continually progressed. (Philipp Raynaud, in his preface to Castoriadis, insists on the progress of archaeology regarding the birth of the Greek city, and we could say as much for the philosophical exploration of concepts mobilized by Foucault). Such a diagnosis might be unfaithful to the teaching that the two authors claimed to offer, and that consisted in insisting not on the continuity of political philosophy but on the effects of rupture, of discontinuity, which exploration of the Greek sources makes it possible to uncover, with regard to our present. In answer to the search, in Foucault, for a ‘historical ontology of ourselves’ (which the first lecture of GSO already mentions), we find, in Castoriadis, the concern to disengage from retrospective illusions vis-à-vis the Greek corpus: The ancient constitutions serve as screens upon which are projected the ideological needs of the present, and thus by the same token a whole collection of important aspects disappear – important not from the point of view of exactness, let us say ‘philological’, but really from the point of view of significations. (CL, p. 27)

If we follow this lesson, the reading of these texts changes: we see less a stage on the way to the slow reinstallation of political philosophy in its timeless space and canonical references, and more the play of a double discontinuity or of a double interval. An interval, first of all, in this strange period at the beginning of the 1980s, characterized by what Michel Feher suggests calling an ‘interreign’. Prior to that was the exhaustion of the communist and revolutionary lexicon in which the radical experiences of the 1970s were formulated, and towards which Castoriadis and Foucault always remained sceptical (not only for doctrinal reasons, but because it seemed to them that this interpretation was profoundly inadequate for describing the newness of social movements born of May 1968). Further down the line, from the second half of the 1980s, lay the establishment of democracy as an evident horizon of the new world order, and the tension [mise en tension] between democratic demand and the republican model; in other words, the affirmation that democratic societies must protect themselves from individualistic or communitarian temptations by becoming vigilant with regard to objective and stable


forms of life in common (dignity of the law, abstract citizenship, nationality). The texts of which we are speaking are to be found in the interstice between these two crushing bodies of reference, in a moment where the experience of dissidence in the Eastern Bloc made the motif of democracy emerge as a critical motif – posing the problem of knowing whether and how the democratic demand can also play a questioning role in the West; in a moment, therefore, when the affirmation of democracy can no longer be satisfied with the opposition, imposed by Marxism, between ‘formal’ democracy and ‘real’ democracy, but where at the same time it is less a question of invoking democracy as a principle than as a practice, which no principle could replace and which demands, on the contrary, the questioning of all principles. As a result, from that very singular moment of our recent past (an almost invisible moment, since it is so easily forgotten in the teleological reading of history), the question comes back to us, challenging the identity of our very present: what should be done, in this period in which the signifier ‘democracy’ has been compromised in imperial adventures and neoliberal globalization, but also in which what Jacques Rancière calls ‘the hatred of democracy’ could not take the place of politics? What should be done with democracy? I will try to support a simple hypothesis: what we learn from the crossed reading of Foucault and Castoriadis is that there is only a risked democracy, where the verb ‘to risk’ means at the same time ‘attempt’ and ‘threat’ or ‘hazard’. There is no democracy that is not committed to inventing its own institutions and procedures, on the basis of a radical uncertainty – this is what we learn from Castoriadis; but there are no institutions or procedures that can exempt citizens from an exercise that is always in excess of the rules that contain it – and this is what we learn from Foucault. Between the one and the other, therefore, appears the outline of an idea which goes against the foundational movement by which political philosophy, regularly, goes from politics as a contingent activity towards ‘the political’ which is supposed to give it its foundation and dignity.

Bifurcations Let us begin by remarking that Foucault and Castoriadis seem to borrow, with regard to Greek democracy, certain profoundly divergent reading strategies. The central object for Foucault, as we know, is parrêsia, that attitude seen successively in the courage of Pericles and the insolence of Plato; an attitude that he describes at the same time as a manner of speaking

the truth, the taking of risk regarding oneself, the constitution of a relation to oneself centred around that very risk, and the attestation of a free act. The manner in which the examination of parrêsia seems today to integrate naturally into our knowledge of Foucault’s work hides perhaps the signification and the radical nature of the gesture that consists, in Foucault, in making that dimension appear, and of thus destabilizing the established understanding of Greek democratic mechanisms. One must remember here that if Foucault used the term ‘archaeology’ with regard to his own research, he did so by playing against each other the two possible etymologies of this word: the archè of the philosophers (as timeless origin giving its foundation and its justification to experience) and the archive of historians, as a material whose historicity, multiplicity and absence of hierarchy profoundly question the identification of a possible foundation. Thinking, in Foucault, is therefore to grasp the central significations of the terms that philosophers claim to raise to the dignity of an essence, but in order to make appear in the centre of that centre an invisible dimension, considered to be secondary, which will allow the philosophical categories to submerge in a history that they do not master. This is precisely what is achieved in the lectures between 1982 and 1983, on at least two levels. First, in relation to the idea and word ‘government’: the government, in the vocabulary of contemporary philosophy, as in public space, is a quasi-synonym for executive power, to the extent that the examination of the manner of governing seems entirely contained and explained by the institutional context in which power is exercised. The displacement operated by Foucault, by examining the way in which the government of others implies a government of oneself, consists, on the contrary, in undoing that subordination, and in showing that the art of governing (and of governing oneself) is under-determined by the constitutional system in which it is exercised. Second, it is inside this strategy, present since the very first works on governmentality, that the examination of parrêsia finds its true meaning. It has to do less with completing the traditional understanding of Greek democracy, defined by the notions of isonomia and of isegoria, by means of the adjunction of a third term, than with ‘de-completing’ or de-totalizing this understanding itself. Parrêsia, indeed, has a status that is profoundly heterogeneous with that of the isonomia and of the isegoria. It is not a determination of similar level. As Foucault remarks in his commentary on Euripides’ Ion, ‘parrêsia is, in a way, a discourse spoken from above

[d’au-dessus], which comes from a higher source than the status of the citizen, and which is different from the pure and simple exercise of power’ (GSO, p. 104). Where isonomia and isegoria appear to contain reflection on democracy in the circle of a double reference to the law and to rights, parrêsia brings into play the supplemental aspect of an attitude and a practice which no institutional framework could organize on its own, and which can, and which can only, vouch for itself through action – in other words, through history: ‘parrêsia, which is of course underpinned by isègoria, refers to something a bit different, which is actual political practice’ (GSO, p. 188). On the other hand, this attitude does not simply amount to a knowledge of truth, which it attempts to tell: it is not measured against the value of the truth of the enunciation that is supported, but rather the type of relation to oneself that is established through its formulation. It is therefore a double displacement: of government as institution towards government as activity; and of Greek democracy as ordered system of rights and duties towards parrêsia as attitude towards a truth whose pre-existence in no way promises that one will appear to be ‘parresiastic’. It is the play of mirrors of democratic modernity that is broken: its institutional definition of government, its juridical-formal conception of democracy, and the gesture that consists in justifying the latter in the name of the former, in affirming the sufficiency of modern institutions in the name of the truth and authenticity of the Greek model, as though the invocation of this founding model sufficed to call us democrats. To be democratic ‘in truth’ is, on the contrary, according to Foucault, to displace the examination of the reference to a true model of political order towards the problem of the relation to truth, which conditions the exercising of democracy. It is to suggest that a democracy is worthy because of the capacity of subjects to take risks in words. As such, the reflection on parrêsia is not only an archaeology of critique, going back as far as its Greek models (‘we could … see the appearance of a third figure of the dramatics of true discourse in the political domain, which is the figure of, let us say, “critique”’, GSO, p. 70); it is, just as much, an example of archaeological critique, regarding any pretension of democracy to founding itself in a regime whose truth or authenticity might serve as its model. In a sense, Castoriadis’s approach can in this way seem a lot more traditional: it brings to the fore the Greek experience that Foucault leaves deliberately to the side. If Castoriadis evokes parrêsia in passing (‘the obligation to say frankly what one thinks regarding


public affairs’), it is in order to underline immediately the fact that this outspokenness ‘obviously is not guaranteed by the law, but … is considered self-evident for everyone’ (CL, p. 84), to the extent that parrêsia is considered to ‘cover more or less the same semantic field and the same political function as the isègoria’ (p. 289n). Above all, parrêsia is inscribed on the grounds of the ‘formal and informal institutions of the city’ that the laws contain and that is embodied in the principle

organs of democracy (ecclesia and boulè) as well as in its procedures (for example, ostracism). In response to this choice of an institutional reading comes the echo of a long development that Castoriadis devoted to Clisthenes’ reform; that is, to the reorganization of the administrative division making it possible to divide transversally, through territorial units and social groups, in a way that tears the egalitarian definition of citizenship from the hold of geography and of lineage. The question adopted by Castoriadis is therefore that of the institution, of the way in which the city is established and affirmed collectively like a political community in action, opposed to the pre-political forms that constitute the tribe, the family or the village, in a sort of reactivation of the Aristotelian investigation. However, this return must not create an illusion: in Aristotle, the ‘jump’ from the village to the city is interpreted and justified by the specific end that the latter pursues (not living, but living well), an end that appears retrospectively as the cause tending to actualize itself through the successive forms of human community, to the extent that the polis appears less like an event than an accomplishment. In Castoriadis, the institution of the city is the extreme opposite of such a search for essence – and the mutation to which he subjects the word ‘institution’ is related, in its radicality,


to the forcing that Foucault impresses on the idea of government. Where philosophy defines institutions as collective rules whose stability founds the political community, by giving a civil translation to the natural needs of man, it is defined by Castoriadis as the whole of the representations of systems, together, by which a society attempts to give itself a figure – that is, tries to overcome in an imaginary way the fact that no single natural or transcendent reason justifies its existence or its continuation. This was already the lesson of The Imaginary Institution of Society: all of the necessities ordinarily invoked to explain that a society exists (whether these necessities are biological, economic, etc.) are still not enough to justify the fact that we live together, that we form a ‘we’. Collectivity finds its source in a contingency and a vertiginous absence of foundation; hence the fact that all societies produce an ‘imaginary supplement’, guaranteeing social existence on a superior authority (tradition, divinity or meaning of history); hence also the fact that communist society, which sought to be the pure translation of material necessity, should have produced a radically transcendent and proliferating imaginary – this is the lesson learned from totalitarianism. The institution is therefore not a framework, but (to borrow a phrase from Foucault’s Madness and Civilization) a ‘profile against the void’, which leaves a question open: what form could a society take when, rather than repressing its own contingency under an imaginary transcendence, it assumes its own institution, its own self-creation, in the manner of a ‘we’ which would claim to belong neither to any before, nor to any other, to no being, nor to any ‘it’? It is in this perspective that the reflection on Ancient Greece comes into play: it is not a question of elevating Greek democracy to the level of the foundation of modern systems. It is, on the contrary, a question of examining Greek democracy as an example of a society that confronted the dizziness of its own absence of foundation, and of asking of a society made to maintain itself, when it rests precisely on the idea that the way of life depends on nothing other than the will of its citizens: Now, from what does this people of equals in the eyes of power and of the law pose and utter rights? The greatness of democracy consists in recognizing this fundamental philosophical fact: it poses and utters rights from nothing. … nothing: this means

that the law cannot be deduced from anything else, that it is not the commentary of the Decalogue nor a consequence of the theory of Plato on being. By the constitutive act, the people are self-instituted as legislator; this act describes the forms in which the legislating activity must be accomplished to be valid, forms that are valid for as long as that selfinstituting act lasts. (CL, p. 203).

From this perspective, the reference to the laws profoundly changes meaning; the latter appear less like the base from which the action and the management of the collectivity become actually possible, than like systems aiming to introduce an order inside a contingency which is, knowingly, strictly impassable. This decentring brings back into question, no less than in Foucault’s work, the idea according to which Greek democracy could constitute a mode: for this it would need to have constituted a stable ‘state’ in the manner of a thing on which it would be possible to lean: this is, of course, a more than criticizable view, strictly metaphysical in the worst sense of the term: Greek democracy is at no single moment a state of things but rather an historical process by which certain communities are self-instituted … as communities for free citizens. The process of democracy … is at no time a ‘constitution’ given once and for all. (CL, p. 41)

Let me summarize. If, upon a first reading, the approaches proposed by Castoriadis and Foucault seem opposed to a ‘legal’ or ‘extra-legal’ reading of ancient democracy, these interpretations seem in reality instead related and complementary. Related is the manner in which they discourage any attempt to take Greek democracy as a model, by gleaning a

radical critique of the idea of model from the interior examination of this democracy: the parresiast cannot allow himself truth value for what he says to guarantee what he says ‘in truth’; the democratic process is that of a community which is instituted in the eclipse of any model. These readings are also complementary, in the sense that, according to inverse trajectories (Foucault ‘descends’ from institutional frameworks to the ordinary activity of the citizen; Castoriadis ‘comes back from’ the system of laws to the absence of any base upon which they could lean), they discover finally two symmetrical insufficiencies: in Foucault, the principles do not suffice to guarantee that one will behave democratically; in Castoriadis, it is not the insufficiency of principles that is revealed, but rather the insufficiency as principle, which democracy is indeed obliged to count on. From both sides, the origin of democracy is by itself open upon history.

Convergences This strange intertwining reverberates through the strategies of reading that our two authors adopt, when the concern for defining democracy in another way brings them to pass through neighbouring references: let us say, quickly, that in their reading of the ‘obliged passages’ of the Greek corpus, Foucault and Castoriadis meet in questionings that have nonetheless radically different styles. I will refer to two examples of this convergence. The first example concerns, of course, Plato. A history could be written on the ambiguous space occupied by Plato in the debate on democracy (from Spinoza to Badiou or Rancière); an ambiguous space, first of all, for the adherents to a moderate democratic model. On the one hand, Plato is in a way the model of models. He is the one who claimed to found the political order on the reference to a rational transcendent and fixed norm (an operation that Jacques Rancière calls, in Disagreement, ‘archipolitical’ and that according to him secretly haunts any attempt to reduce politics to a pedagogy consisting in bringing citizens to the recognition of the validity of the political order which is imposed). On the other hand, Plato is of course a counter-model, in so far as the rigorous development of his ontological options made him adopt anti-democratic positions. Hence the fact that the adherents to an ‘open society’ against its enemies (to borrow the phrase from Karl Popper) should have come to define democracy against Plato,


without ceasing, however, to borrow from him the gesture that consists in refusing the radical historicity of democracy, in order to found it upon something other than itself. If we admit, on the contrary, that Foucault and Castoriadis intended to propose a radically historical conception of democracy – that is, one that exists only in the immanence of its self-institution and in the vigilance of its practices – we see that the ‘problem of Plato’ presents itself to them in a symmetrical and inverse way. It is a question, on the one hand, of skirting what, in Plato, refers to the ontology of the eidos and of participation, of leaving to the side the philosopher of models, and, on the other hand, of detecting in Plato’s anti-democracy something other than a simple authoritarian temptation, of which our democracies should be very wary, as though this opposition sufficed to justify them and to define them. This is why, from one text to another, we see the outlines appear of two versions of what we should call an ‘anti-anti-Platonism’: two ‘roundabout’ readings in which the Platonic reference is reinterpreted, torn from those mirror games to become not a model or a counter-model, but a paradoxical illumination of democratic experience. This reading is only sketched in the text of Castoriadis that is available to us. (The central seminar of 8 June 1983, in which he dealt with this question in conclusion to his year of classes, has unfortunately been lost.) The elements available to us make it possible, however, to guess his reading strategy. First, Castoriadis returns to the classical reading of the Republic and the Laws, according to which Plato would have sought to found the city on a radically transcendent order: ‘it is just such an absolute that Plato seeks, a measure of the law, a norm of the norm, an extra-social standard of society’ (CL, p. 206). But he adds immediately: ‘the genius of Plato, obviously an immense genius, was therefore to find and to make explicit the only other term of the alternative, the only one which contrasts with democracy, that is, theocracy or, if we wish, ideocracy, but it is the same thing’ (CL, pp. 206–7). Praise for the genius of Plato is only paradoxical here in appearance: what Castoriadis suggests is that Plato did not want democracy because he saw in it a radical experience that ordinary democrats most often refuse to see. In other words, it is not a question of defending democracy against Plato, but of defending democracy according to Plato against those who would be tempted to confuse it with some model of society – as though there were in the anti-democratic Plato a more acute and sharper consciousness of the radical immanence of democracy that is not the case in his


moderate adversaries. Second, to this abstract analysis Castoriadis joins a historical hypothesis: if Plato did not tolerate democracy it is because it did not tolerate itself (in the double sense in which it could not stand itself and became intolerable to him). This thesis refers in Plato, on the one hand, to the Peloponnesian War, to which I will return later; on the other hand, it refers to the condemnation of Socrates, whose questioning represents a passage to the limit from the free democratic confrontation of his opinions. The Socratic elenchos is at the same time brought into question from democracy (where everyone can freely question everyone) and a bringing into question of democracy, by demonstration that ‘strictly no one knows the meaning’ (CL, p. 212). Castoriadis concludes: ‘democracy must be able to assume the risk of this demonstration. And most of the time it did assume this; it accepted the sophists, the philosophers, etc. But it did not accept Socrates.’ As such, the Platonic search for a callipolis would constitute the resuming and inversion of the Socratic hybris, which consisted in exercising one’s democratic right to control and contesting the opinion of others, but without proposing anything in its place. Thus, writes Castoriadis, ‘one places oneself outside of the game of the city, one transgresses one its fundamental unwritten laws but that is no less the most important of them all’ (CL, p. 211) – with the law consisting in bringing back through the exchange the immanent order of opinions which interweave the existence of the city. In other words, not only does the negative conception that Plato makes of democracy outline what it effectively and radically was (a state without a model); it is also an inheritor of democracy when the latter collapses from exercising itself to the full and from no longer believing in itself. This motif of inheritance is found precisely in the place that Foucault assigns to Plato, through his reading of the history of parrêsia. One finds in his commentary, first of all, another way of tracing the oblique vis-à-vis the traditional reading of the Platonic model. Where Castoriadis reads, in Plato’s ‘ideo­cracy’, the underside of a democratic self-creation that the latter recognized and refused, Foucault insists on the irreducibility of philosophical practice, as Plato conceives it, regarding the contents and norms that it takes as objects, which it endeavours to know and to apply. The reading of Letter VII, and of Plato’s judgment of Dionysius of Syracuse, is strategic here: it is a question of underlining, against the haste of Dionysius to raise himself to truth and to transcribe it in a treatise, that the philosopher assumes an attitude or an activity, an occupation (Foucault underlines the

word pragmata) which conditions access to the truth, and whose truth itself cannot exempt the thinker. In other words, where Dionysius claims to reduce Platonism to doctrine, Plato reminds us that the truth is inseparable from ethics. Nietzsche entirely rejected the Plato of ‘hinter-worlds’, but showed his admiration for the style of Plato. Foucault shows, for his part, that to attain the transcendence of the hinter-worlds supposes a stylization of existence which is in no way given by the latter, an exercise of philosophy of which nothing, outside of the conduct of the philosopher, guarantees victory. Although these remarks only indirectly concern democracy (in a mode that I will indicate in a moment), they seem to come from the same preoccupation as Castoriadis’s. In both cases it is a matter of reading, in the philosopher who is known for having entirely submitted the practices to a norm of truth which overhangs it, the affirmation of an irreducibility of practice – irreducibility perceived and refused according to Castoriadis, in a political order, and claimed, according to Foucault, in the philosophical order. Yet, and this is the second fundamental element of Foucault’s reading, this philosophical order is in no way foreign to the political horizon: not only will ‘the test of philosophy’s reality with regard to politics … not take the form of an imperative discourse in which men and the city will be given constraining forms to which they must submit for the city to survive’ (GSO, p. 255 – we could not better brush aside the vision of Plato as a defender of models, and of the ideal city), but this demand of the relation to self is in a sense nothing other than the democratic demand, in a way enveloped and folded back in the figure of the philosopher. Witness to an exemplary transition, of the failure of democracy and its disintegration in tyranny, Plato becomes the one in whom truth-saying, a condition for common speech, becomes the solitary duty of the adviser and critic of the Prince. It is again a question of inheritance – the life of Socrates plays the role here not of a crisis which would have encouraged Plato to radically reject democracy, but of a mediation which displaces the exercise of parrêsia outside of the field of shared speech: [the parresiast] is no longer simply, solely or exactly that citizen among other citizens and a bit in the forefront of them. He is, you will remember – we saw this with Socrates – a citizen, of course, like the others, who speaks like them, who speaks the language of everyone, and yet who holds himself, in a way, aside from them. (GSO, p. 341)

Such a reading has two principal effects. On the one hand, it has to do with making the freedom of

thought an avatar of the freedom to speak. On the other hand, it makes the subject of the philosophizer not an autarchic self, but an implicated subject who exists only if he risks confrontation with power. Where Castoriadis treats philosophy and politics in parallel, the one and the other supposing that ‘chaos and cosmos coexist in nature and in the human world’ (CL, p. 8), Foucault makes the philosophical parrêsia a relay of political parrêsia: The disappearance of democratic structures does not mean the total disappearance of the question of political parrêsia, but clearly it greatly restricts its field … And as a result, philosophical parrêsia, in its complex relationship with politics, can only assume greater importance. (GSO, p. 342)

Tragedy We find these complex relations between the demands of shared speech and the constitution of the subject in the second example that I wish to examine: the readings that Foucault and Castoriadis give of tragedy. If the reading of Plato focused on the very definition of democracy, tragedy obliges our two authors to confront the general question of history, its signification and the manner in which the actions of men are tied up with the fate that carries away the community. It is a question which, traditionally, leads philosophers to increase the value of the dimension of the meaning (what does tragedy teach us regarding the events of which men are the actors and the victims?), to the detriment of the event that tragedy constitutes in itself (what is a tragedy, as historical and civic practice, and what does the institution of this practice have to do with the birth of democracy?). This amounts, says Castoriadis, to seeking the political dimension of tragedy ‘in the political positions of poets, which amounts to transforming tragedies into thesis plays’ (CL, p. 139). There is an increased value, we could say, of the tragic utterance regarding the enunciation and of the manner in which, on the stage of Ancient Greece, a new manner of saying and of presenting oneself as actor of one’s speech arose. It is on this very terrain of the statement that we find Foucault and Castoriadis. Thus, the long reading of Euripides’ Ion is an opportunity for Foucault to deploy an actual genealogy of citizen speech. If the matter is to understand how Ion succeeds in achieving the right to speak, the stages of this conquest appear like so many avatars of the act of speaking. We find, first of all, the truth-saying of the oracle, as a speech that is at the same time transcendent and masked – Foucault’s analyses quite directly echo, on this point, those of Marcel Détienne in Les


maîtres de vérité dans la Grèce archaïque (a reading whose importance for Foucault has not been sufficiently underlined, and which can be detected between the lines of the 1970 ‘The Order of Discourse’). The speech of the oracle constitutes the very model of speech reserved, where truth is authenticated by its inaccessibility to those who do not have the necessary status for speaking it. This transcendence is reversed, second, in the truth-saying of the humiliated woman. This time, it is the powerless speech of the weak that acquires the capacity to turn against the powerful and to denounce their injustice: this complaint of injustice hurled against the powerful by someone who is weak, is an act of speech, a type of spoken intervention which is recorded, or anyway perfectly ritualized in Greek society. (GSO, p. 133)

We cannot help thinking here of the intervention written by Foucault, in the same years, at the foundation of an international Committee against piracy, to help the boat-people: ‘Who then nominated us? No one. And that is exactly what gives us our right.’4 The cry and the imprecation seem to be the condition of democracy – more precisely, the foundation of a democracy that does not allow, for speech, any other foundation than itself. It is on this basis that the parrêsia of Ion can finally appear, and the guarantee that the god (Apollo) gives him appears finally less like the restoration of a transcendent justification than the ratification of a right which men, first, by themselves, seized: ‘the cry of humans was needed to extract from the silent god the discourse which will rightly establish the power to speak’ (GSO, p. 152). As a result, the citizen’s truth-saying will be struck by a sort of constitutive ambiguity: it appears like a statutory privilege, sanctioned by a divine guarantee which will give it its power and make it the depository of truth and of justice. But it appears also like an exercise which nothing guarantees definitively that it will be exercised in the right way, and whose peculiarity is to be shared between its competing citizens: ‘the use of parrêsia presupposed a series of problems, or rather exposed the person who resorts to parrêsia to risks and dangers” (GSO, p. 156). The structure of parrêsia that Foucault brings to light is that of a position that is always in excess of the right and status that it can insist upon, and in that way always likely to be contested. This structure does nothing other than deploy, in the conflicting space of the democratic deliberation, the contradiction between


the different modes of enunciation successively brought to light in the tragedy of Ion. It is precisely this contradiction, not between the transcendent laws of fate and the actions of men, but between the power upon which political speech can insist and the absence of transcendence which is peculiar to it, that Castoriadis brings to light in the reading he proposes of Sophocles’ Antigone. This reading does not actually dwell on Antigone and on the superior demands that she claims to assert, but rather on Creon and on the error that he committed. At the centre of the interpretation that Castoriadis proposes (and that he makes ‘the political lesson of the play’, CL, p. 145) is the argument that the son of Creon, Hemon, repeats in order to try to make his father change his decision: ‘we must listen to the point of view of the other, and … no one is ever right alone [phronein monos]’. Castoriadis underlines the fact that this argument is used by the one who (precisely because he is his son) cannot directly contest the authority of his father: ‘a son does not tell his father that the latter has made a mistake’. It is therefore at the moment when the authority of Creon, his statutory right to exercise power, is recognized, and by the one who is not in a position to deny it, that the condition of intersubjectivity of political speech is recalled. (Castoriadis comments: ‘even if one is right in one’s reasons, to listen only to the reasons one has is

already to be wrong.’) As such, the tragedy constitutes an element of the democratic institution because the latter demands that individuals, at the very moment when they are emancipated from all transcendent authority, at the moment when they acquire power on themselves, continue to control themselves against a background of chaos. We can see the convergence at work with the reading of Foucault: not only do the two authors

displace tragedy from its ‘said’ towards its ‘saying’ (adopting, regarding the latter, a point of view that we could call ‘pragmatic’), but they also bring to light the complementary and contradictory conditions of speech and of democratic decision. There would be no democracy if men could not claim a relation to

the true and a capacity to decide to be independent from all forms of transcendent discourse – even if, as Castoriadis remarks ironically, such a statement of fact resembles a sort of defence of Creon and of tyranny (CL, p. 145). But no democratic speech can take its authority from a foundation which would exempt it from opening up to the possibility of another speech, by claiming a sovereign and exclusive right to truth. On this point, the Foucauldian analysis of parrêsia intersects exactly with what Castoriadis considers to be Creon’s error: [parrêsia] is a discourse spoken from above, but which leaves others the freedom to speak, and allows freedom to those who have to obey, or leaves them free at least insofar as they will only obey if they can be persuaded. (GSO, p. 104)

Democracy risked To conclude, first of all we can see how Foucault and Castoriadis both define democracy as an exercise. If there is no democracy without institutions and without procedures (Castoriadis), none of these procedures could exempt citizens from inventing the way

of making them play and of being defined by the way in which the citizens situate themselves in relation to them (Foucault). In short, democracy is not a regime that exhaustively defines the fundamental laws and the statuses that it distributes. Second, this exercise can be defined as the constitution of speech acts, and of a subjectivity that is susceptible of taking charge of them: the subject of democracy does not exist before it, but is defined by the manner in which, in the immanence of history, it effectively does politics, and in so doing produces itself. In this regard, we could perhaps say that Castoriadis and Foucault are not on the same level. With Castoriadis, the subject of democracy is first a ‘we’, a collective affirmed outside of any superior reference (‘we are the instituting body, we are the source of the institution’, CL, p. 200). With Foucault, the attention is, rather, focused on the democratic ‘self’, on the particular type of individual subjectivity that democracy brings forth, and that it needs. But this opposition is relative: from the moment that the ‘we’ is freed from all transcendent norms, not only is the community of equals defined by the participation it allows of the ‘selves’ in the democratic debate, but it could not by itself put forward its unity outside of the effective confrontation of opinions and of the possibility for everyone to prolong, modify or contest the speech of the other. This is what, a contrario, the example of Socrates shows, where his hubris consists in mobilizing in order to show the emptiness of the doxa, the ‘self’ that democracy needs. Such a risk would not exist if the ‘we’ of the community could maintain itself outside of the exchange between subjects: ‘its truth, if there is one, is constructed (by democracy) through its confrontation, opposition, the dialogue of the doxai; and it could not exist if the idea, or rather the illusion, of a truth acquired once and for all became socially effective and dominant’ (CL, p. 211). Vice-versa, the ‘self’ which is constructed in the exercise of parrêsia is not an autonomous or monadic subject: not only does Foucault show how the question of ‘government of others’ assumes a ‘government of self’, and how ethics is thus enveloped in the exercising of politics (this is the frequent interpretation of his later works); he emphasizes how much the ‘self’ thus constituted is worked from the inside by the agonistic game in which it is involved, a game that at the same time founds and dismisses its capacity to speak the truth. The ‘we’ of Castoriadis and the ‘self’ of Foucault do not simply fit snugly one into the other; nor do they simply contradict each other dialectically. They exist only in the tension that links them, each time that the democratic exercise is undertaken.


We are touching upon the last lesson to be gleaned from the confrontation of our two authors: what I propose to call the idea of ‘risked’ democracy. In Castoriadis, this constitutive risk of democracy comes directly from the absence of an exterior norm, which would contain the decisions taken within reasonable limits, as illustrated in the Peloponnesian War: that democracy does not contain an assurance against its own excessiveness is shown in the form of an effective historical tragedy which will last for twenty-seven years, in the democratic city par excellence that is Athens. … The failure of democracy in and through the Peloponnesian War seems to show that the people are not capable of self-limiting, of posing and of saying rights, of correctly governing themselves. (CL, pp. 204–5)

Castoriadis’s phrase, which introduces his reading of Plato, is ambiguous. It suggests that, if Plato was wrong to seek the essential norm capable of putting an end to this risk, he was right to think that hubris always haunts democracy (‘no one and nothing can secure us against ourselves’, CL, p. 205). If we stopped there, we could conclude that democracy must watch, above all, over its forms, and be all the more vigilant with regard to its institutions if the latter are alone in protecting us against chaos. (This is the reading that a certain number of French authors from the ‘republican’ movement glean from Castoriadis. Marcel Gauchet, for example, in whom the respect for objective forms of the Republic must be preserved, above all, because they preserve us from the dissolution tendentially brought about by democracy.) This is where the reading of Foucault goes further. For Foucault does not simply describe how the democratic procedures are instituted on the basis of a risk that is always present, or call upon us to confront this risk lucidly: he shows how this absence of guarantee, this precariousness, is not simply a fault in the background of institutions, but an internal condition of the democratic game, an element that is indispensable to its functioning. The play of parrêsia is indeed inseparable from a tension since it articulates three dimensions: (1) true discourse is necessary to democracy; (2) democracy threatens true discourse (through the temptation of demagogy); (3) true discourse threatens democracy (by recognizing in some an expertise and a knowledge which gives them an ascendancy over others). Parrêsia cannot therefore regulate the exercise of democracy by confronting a whole series of disturbances that are born not from the absence of transcendent norms, but instead from its own norms. The risk exists that the people will no longer stand the ascendant critique


exerted by a few. But the risk nonetheless exists that some will use their critical posture in order to raise themselves above others. There is a risk in allowing just anyone to speak; but there is just as great a risk in not letting just anyone speak. And there is a risk in lacking the necessary courage to speak the truth; but there is also an opposite risk in using truth to mask one’s absence of courage (which is done, often, in politics, by those who invoke ‘realism’ to avoid having to get involved against injustice). It is not only, therefore, that democracy is a thing that is as precious as it is precarious, as Castoriadis emphasizes; Foucault adds that this precariousness is in itself precious, since it makes democracy both possible and impossible as a game of truth. Translated by Shane Lillis


1. Michel Foucault, The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1982–1983, trans. Graham Burchell, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2010, cited in the text as GSO. 2. Cornelius Castoriadis, La Cité et les lois, Le Seuil, Paris, 2008, cited in the text as CL. 3. Michel Foucault, ‘Face aux gouvernments, les droits de l’homme’ [‘Facing Governments, The Rights of Man’], Libération 967, 30 June 1984, in Dits et écrits, Vol. IV, Gallimard, Paris, 1994, p. 707.; trans. at http://ajplyon. files.wordpress.com/2009/06/foucault-facing-governments.pdf.


Strictly come researching Hans Radder, ed., The Commodification of Academic Research: Science and the Modern University, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2010. 350 pp., £44.50 hb., 978 0 82294 396 9. This thirteen-chapter volume claims to be the first book-length analysis, from a philosophical point of view, of the trend towards the commodification of higher education, combining philosophical analysis with empirical accounts of the current realities facing universities and academics. No longer do philosophers have the luxury of pretending that there might still be time to discuss threats to cherished values and practices before the worst happens. Damage beyond what was imaginable only ten or fifteen years ago has already occurred. Yet, as academia convulses with change, people in and around it have also found resistance remarkably difficult, perhaps because these changes are usually presented either as non-negotiable or as ‘responses’ to the pressures of what alarming numbers of people blithely talk of as a new ‘knowledge economy’. Those who write about these problems almost invariably start from personal experience and The Commodification of Academic Research is no exception. In its introductory chapter, Professor of Philosophy of Science and Technology at VU University Amsterdam, Hans Radder, writes that the dominance of economic thinking has made it possible for university administrations to completely ignore substantive arguments about what constitutes high-level international research. In preparation for restructuring the university, arguments put forward by philosophy faculty in Amsterdam, detailing why ‘the proposed reorganization could not be expected to lead to an increase in the quality of the philosophical research’, were simply overruled, as only supposedly economic criteria had any impact on the university administration. Radder’s anecdote sets up the book’s theme: that commodification isn’t just about direct market transactions. Elsewhere in the volume, though, personal anecdote sometimes masquerades as ‘ethnography’ or inspires unwarranted claims. It is good news that philosophers of science and social and political philosophers, as well as experts on research ethics, have risen to the significant philosophical, political and moral challenges posed by what is happening to higher education. Let me start, however, with some peculiar features of the volume.

First, unlike other critiques of the current fix, the authors place great emphasis on – and maybe have even greater hopes for – Mertonian ideals of gentlemanly science; a stance that Radder elaborates upon in a chapter framed as a critique of the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). Perhaps this tendency to turn its back on much of the recent sociologically inspired literature on science accounts for a second oddity in the book, namely how most of its authors seem to endorse ever more stringent ethical codes and other forms of regulating research – the proliferation of codes and regulations is rarely celebrated in this way by critics of the new academic conditions. At the same time, with intellectual property questions at the book’s core, its authors do articulate some sophisticated critiques of how quality is ‘translated’ into quantity, exactly the manoeuvre exploited in audit. But given its practical concern to find better ways of regulating academic research, it also seems odd that the book ignores the ways in which audits are already promulgated as ways of injecting ethics as ‘transparency’ into potentially corrupt practices, and how they have made most universities into institutions that an accountant can understand, and so inflicted considerable damage in the process. Despite this, The Commodification of Academic Research reads as a rather unusual but still valuable contribution to the wider critical debate. In his introduction Radder notes that the root of our problems lie in ‘economization’, his term for the world-view that sees and enacts life as a simple calculus of benefits and losses. But he also reminds us of what any observer of the real world knows: that life’s ‘patterns are never a matter or all or nothing’. Taking their cue from this, all of the book’s contributors offer careful empirical as well as theoretical analysis. However normative it may be – and much of this book is outspoken about its ethical preferences – philosophy can still revel in all the straggly bits that ‘economization’ cannot or will not acknowledge. (In general, the book shows a refreshing insistence on grappling with older and slower questions by using philosophy’s specialist tools, and by indulging – as it might appear from a social science

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perspective – in a philosopher’s privilege to meander.) Carefully spelling out what one hopes is self-evident for anyone interested in the transformation of academic research, Radder notes that ‘a critique of commodified science need not presuppose the existence of, and a wish to return to, a paradise lost’. The other chapters indicate further that the shift towards commodification has not been imposed from the outside alone. Things are hence complicated where the ‘economization’ of academia is concerned, and in this book are thankfully treated as such. If, then, its authors hardly agree on what the problems are, let alone what the remedies should be, the volume does productively limit itself to a fairly precise issue. It is concerned with the broad dominance of market thinking throughout the university and in its operating environment, rather than focusing exclusively on commercialization – that is, on practices that draw private money into the universities. In short, it offers philosophical perspectives on research as intellectual activity. Its authors take great care to differentiate between distinct activities and phases of research, bringing to the debate a precision that can sometimes be lacking in sociological analyses, not to mention commercialized science in the medical field. Several authors discuss the differences between applied science, vocational teaching and technology transfer; others develop their analyses by reference to concepts from the philosophy of science; a few even use the vocabulary of science and technology policy. Many of the chapters mention the usual complaints about commercialization in higher education (huge class sizes, the corrosive effects of commercially driven recruitment, and so on) but do not dwell on them. Many of the authors do tell surprisingly gripping stories. Equally, all the contributors, however obliquely, also identify new cultural conventions within research institutions that could be expected to affect epistemic quality as well as to alter the relationship between university researchers and society at large. Scientific research, the volume’s chapters suggest in different ways, has become extremely responsive to its environment, but what constitutes that environment – the public good, society or the community, or business – is very much up for debate. Most of the examples in The Commodification of Academic Research are drawn from the life sciences; that is, from areas of enquiry whose relevance to human well-being is not in doubt, and where economic benefit and public good are easy to confuse. Although I am familiar with the critiques, and aware of some of the realities of contemporary laboratory research, I was still shocked by some of the descriptions of


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routine practices offered here: outright manipulation of research outputs (David B. Resnik), restricting (by various means) access to significant data (Sigrid Sterckx, James Robert Brown, Sabina Leonelli), and the old but nonetheless deplorable corruption of medical research by the pharmaceuticals industry (Albert W. Musschenga, Wim J. van der Steen and Vincent K.Y. Ho). The somewhat bewildering concluding chapter (Harry Kunneman) concerns psychiatry, making some hopeful observations about the complexity of human life and the inadequacy of currently dominant ways of thinking. As illuminating as these examples are, however, it is a shame that so little attention is paid

here, except in more abstract terms, to the fate of the humanities or social sciences. For, as Radder’s introduction argues, commodification involves everyone in academia. What Steve Fuller sees as the mutation of academic work into ‘knowledge management’ applies across the disciplines, not only in those fields where patents, licences, royalties and profits operate (even if the influence of the commercializable sciences is felt more clearly by everyone). Nonetheless, the book’s examples are certainly eye-opening as well as eyebrow-raising. For example, Henk van den Belt’s chapter explicitly concludes by observing how scientists’ ‘freedom to operate’ is curtailed under current conditions, a conclusion drawn in various ways by many of the other contributions also. Through discussing the practicalities and the justifications for intellectual property rights, the book presents the reader with a a variant of the tragedy of the anticommons (as developed in M. Heller and R. Eisenberg’s Science article ‘Can Patents Deter Innovation? The Anticommons in Biomedical Research’), where an over-eager application and development of property rights results in existing resources remaining unused.

Whether because of a patent, or because a scientist can’t speak freely over coffee at a conference for fear of competitors finding out too much, the capacities of science are clearly being stifled. The tragedy, of course, touches us all. Many authors in The Commodification of Academic Research note this in passing, and some – particularly Mark B. Brown – develop arguments against it using concepts from ethics and political philosophy. Coming towards the end of the book, Brown’s chapter presages, I hope, a continued and increasingly confident engagement with these issues that manages to speak to a readership outside of philosophy. The volume may lack the catchiness of critiques elsewhere, and it is a shame so little positive acknowledgement is given to the systematic and often very inventive and epistemologically challenging research in science and technology studies (STS) and the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). But by training its focus so resolutely on the university itself and on research work, the book nevertheless manages something quite radical: an incipient self-critique of academic work as such. In many institutions – and not just among the global elite – the academic life is potentially a wonderful life, at least for a particular kind of person. It is, at its best, a remarkably comfortable existence, in terms of both practical arrangements (with the significant caveat that it does involve routine exhaustion) and how easy it is to keep a clean conscience, while feeling you are doing something worthy and important. By the same token, many academics are highly ambitious and creative people, and they can be good entrepreneurs and svelte operators within academia’s reward systems, whether based on esteem or money. Not every academic finds scientometrics an insulting term, and, as the book indicates, a good many are adept at reaping advantage through it. For those who are, however, unhappy with scientometrics, this book at least begins to seek better grounds for making judgements about what is actually going on in contemporary universities. Decisionmaking by number, by establishing audits if necessary to render all things measurable and comparable, has seized the public imagination to the point of hollowing out politics as well as academia. The early twentyfirst century offers us endless opportunities to judge; quickly and harshly, if pointlessly. Other people’s ballroom dancing or parenting skills are as easy to damn by text message as rail services or medical care via a feedback form. As such, it really is time that philosophers sought to engage more openly with the implications of the current transformation of universities into human-fuelled economic machines. In contrast

to their close colleagues in the social sciences, philosophers of science appear, however, to have been slow in taking up the issues that the commodification of everything throws up, including the commodification of academic research. New tools and good arguments are needed to defend other ways of doing things, and, while it may be a lot to ask, who better to promote the benefits of clarity of thought and stubborn rigour than philosophers? Eeva Berglund

Carry on campus Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ and Oxford, 2010. 178 pp., £15.95 hb., 978 0 691 14064 3. The publication of Lord Browne’s report on higher education last October and the British government’s subsequent proposals to implement unprecedented cuts to teaching funding, alongside the trebling of tuition fees, threatens to place English institutions in the unenviable position of being at the forefront of the ongoing neoliberal experiment with the university, potentially leapfrogging the USA in the scale and depth of its ambition to fully privatize higher education. As proved by the recent closure of Philosophy at Middlesex University (as well as a number of other humanities departments across Europe and the USA), this transformation has been aggressively pre-empted by many institutions, mindful of the cuts to public spending that have been announced in Greece, Italy, Ireland and California. It has already provoked a range of theoretical responses from those seeking to defend the value and importance of the humanities: most significantly, if not uniquely, threatened by these changes. What often unites these responses is the desire for a recuperation of the public function of the humanities (and philosophy in particular) on the basis of its civic potential, a desire which establishes the agenda for debates about the value and necessity of such disciplines within education. This can be seen in Britain, for example, in the University of Warwick’s appointment of the first Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy and in the formation of The Philosophy Shop, a not-for-profit organization encouraging and facilitating the teaching of philosophy in schools; as well as, internationally, in UNESCO’s Intersectoral Strategy on Philosophy from 2005, which

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promotes the study of philosophy at all levels of education through activities such as the introduction of a World Philosophy Day. It is also evident in Martha Nussbaum’s polemical tract, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Nussbaum situates her intervention in the context of a ‘world-wide crisis in education’, but singles out British education (even prior to the Browne report) for exceptional criticism for remodelling its universities according to the narrowest principles of economic growth – leading to the outright closure of humanities departments or mergers with more directly vocational courses – and for subjugating academic research to the demands of ‘impact’ borrowed from the natural sciences. For Nussbaum, in contrast, philosophy and the humanities educate students to be critical of tradition and authority, endowing them with the rational autonomy necessary for democratic governance. Her model of education is one structured not ‘for profit’ but ‘for democracy’. Problems emerge, however, as she reveals the extent of the values essential for democracy and therefore the myopia of her democratic vision. Although she injects a more strenuous cosmopolitanism into the account, her developmental narrative largely conforms to a bourgeois pedagogic theory of late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liberalism, starting out from the psychological assumption of an essentially narcissistic infant and orientated towards the political task of producing autonomous, responsible and tolerant citizens necessary for a stable global democracy. Drawing predominantly on aspects of the work of Rousseau, Nussbaum assumes a ‘widely shared narrative of human childhood’ in which the ‘struggle for freedom and equality must first of all be a struggle within each person, as compassion and respect contend against fear, greed, and narcissistic aggression’. The function of education is to manage the infantile narcissism that results from our awareness of such helplessness, so that individuals mature into well-rounded human beings. This favours a liberal social democracy with a strong emphasis on fundamental rights, protections for political liberty, freedom of speech, association and religious exercise, and an entitlement to education and health. Democratic educational institutions should therefore promote the virtues necessary for good citizenship in such a society: primarily the capacity for rational autonomy and critical thought, social cooperation and sympathetic imagination, and aesthetic, sensual and bodily confidence and integrity. For Nussbaum, philosophy, the humanities and the arts are the cornerstone of such an educational project and as such remain essential for democratic society.


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Yet Nussbaum’s political understanding is rooted in a classical liberalism whose limitations have already been exposed in Marx’s critique of the secular division drawn between political community and civil society in what he calls the ‘perfect democratic state’. Of her narrative of pedagogic development we might therefore ask, with Marx: what kind of emancipation is demanded and what conditions follow from this? For Nussbaum inequality and exploitation are misconceived as primarily psychological disorders of the soul, rather than the economic order of the social. She supposes it is our practical weakness and insecurity that make us desire and need mastery over others, such that children who can negotiate well in their environment have less need for servants to wait on them. Conversely, she regards collective action as entailing a de-humanization which results in democratic disorder, rather than being the product of it. The activity that takes place in the space between individuals for Nussbaum is not work or politics, but play: ‘the ability to imagine what the experience of another might be like’. Her paradigm is the liberal arts model of US university education, where students are obliged to take a range of subjects in the humanities. Nussbaum identifies the pressure to close humanities departments in UK institutions with the absence of such a liberal arts model, but admits it cannot easily be implemented outside the USA. The difficulty arises because the state funding of higher education in the USA (already proportionally more than the UK) is generously supplemented through philanthropic donations and endowments (a revenue stream significantly higher than in the UK, which has increased during the recession, aided by tax incentives). Indeed, one wonders whether this is the essence of the active, humane and democratic citizenship that Nussbaum seeks to promote: private individuals giving generously to public projects. At one point, she gratefully praises the ‘cultivation of humanistic philanthropy and basically private-endowed structure of funding’ in the USA, and acknowledges a number of institutions which are either supporters or beneficiaries of such philanthropy. The association between the humanities and philanthropy – etymologically linked via the Latin translation of those subjects in a Greek education that generate the love of humanity (philos anthropos) – resurfaces in the neoclassicism of the German Enlightenment, and was imported into the United States during the ‘Gilded Age’ of post-Civil War industrialism (where philanthropy is evoked as the complement of patriotism). In the UK, these values and the culture of philanthropy they endorsed became superseded

by the labour movement and the introduction of the welfare state, and their continued existence in the USA is predicated on the relative absence of such a movement. Margaret Thatcher’s and David Cameron’s more recent recuperation of the Victorian values of self-reliance, personal responsibility and voluntarism draw on the same civic virtues as Nussbaum in this respect. However, Not for Profit’s insistence that a liberal arts education is not the vestige of past elitism or class privilege is contradicted by the realization that philanthropy and the liberal arts are conjoined in either a ‘virtuous’ or a ‘vicious’ circle in Nussbaum’s thought, and therefore predicated on the accumulation of wealth within a capitalist system. Yet bursaries and subsidies for the poorest students are only the exceptional fig leaf to the perpetuation of existing class divisions. Whilst the Browne review regards philanthropic gifts as an important part of the future of university funding, this dependence will exacerbate not dissolve such divisions. There is no doubt that the Russell Group of elite UK universities can extract donations from wealthy alumni and use this to subsidize access for students from poorer backgrounds. The latter will become a strategic necessity given the levy being proposed for institutions that charge the highest rate of tuition fees, but will nonetheless create a financial disincentive for such universities to widen access for poorer students beyond agreed minimum targets. Ex-polytechnic institutions, however, that serve students from mainly urban and typically socially deprived backgrounds (who cannot ‘choose’ their university, dependent as they are on access to accommodation, childcare and work) cannot rely on the same philanthropic generosity, yet will disproportionately shoulder the cost of subsidizing the education of these poorer students. Nussbaum’s defence of the humanities has an implicit recourse to philanthropy that is not contingent but predicated on an outmoded and reactionary dependence on private–public philanthropy now largely eliminated from European countries and perhaps recoverable only with the deepening of the socioeconomic divide. Its recourse to the language of public good and the democratic, civic virtues of autonomous, critical thought and playful, imaginative sympathy are anachronistically redundant for the shifting concerns of institutions within late capitalist economies beyond the USA. Bill Readings’s excellent 1997 study The University in Ruins (a work that regains a topical vitality now largely absent from Lyotard’s notorious essay on The Postmodern Condition, on which Readings draws), examines the way the modern university of

the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was predicated on the construction of a national identity rooted in language, history, culture and the arts, necessitating the ideological reproduction of a bourgeois class consisting in lawyers, doctors and clergy but also public intellectuals. As the contemporary university seeks in turn to reproduce the social relations of the globalized marketplace of late capitalism, this kind of public discourse has been rendered largely redundant. On the one hand, Nussbaum’s defence of education for democracy threatens to introduce a qualitative distinction within the humanities that may be deployed against contemporary disciplines such as sonic arts and the study of film, television and culture (Not for Profit makes no mention of these subjects). On the other hand, its rhetorical appeal to notions of public good and democratic citizenship render it increasingly irrelevant to the interests of corporations and governments that appear to be abandoning even the semblance of democratic responsibility and political accountability. If there is an element of political realism to Nussbaum’s patriotic insistence that it is liberal democracy that needs the humanities (and this is evident in her corollary argument that business requires the humanities too, if it is to avoid a corporate culture of ‘yes-people’ that inhibits innovation and economic success), it is nevertheless unclear whether the socio-economic interests of late capitalism will continue to need or even desire the democratic legitimacy and active citizenship she promotes (as opposed to, say, global consumers). Indeed, it is possible to regard Nussbaum’s manifesto, like UNESCO’s comparable proclamations on the necessity of philosophy for a cosmopolitan democratic order, as the manifestation of a more general anxiety over the perceived threat to the liberaldemocratic values of a cosmopolitan capitalism from the destabilizing influence of so-called religious and political ‘fanaticism’ over the last decade. Those who seek to oppose the neoliberal transformation of higher education would do well not to retreat to the reactionary humanism of the classical liberal model of the university, since the arguments in defence of the humanities proffered by advocates of the liberal arts anachronistically seek not to overcome but to perpetuate existing inequalities, insolvable by any vision of ‘humane capitalism’. We should not, therefore, seek apologetically to justify the arts and humanities as necessary for the goal of transforming immature students into mature world citizens, but perhaps, first and foremost, defend an imperative to education as an (undialectical) image of unalienated labour. Matthew Charles

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Walk this way Susan Hekman, The Material of Knowledge: Feminist Disclosures, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2010. xi + 148 pp., £45.00 hb., £14.99 pb., 978 0 25335 467 9 hb., 978 0 25322 196 4 pb. This book is intended to bear witness to what Hekman claims is a ‘sea change in intellectual thought’. The sea change is primarily a move away from linguistic or social constructionism and towards a new form of materialism. The first four chapters of the book are intended to describe this sea change in, respectively, the philosophy of science, analytic philosophy, modern European philosophy and feminist thought. The fifth and final chapter is intended to extend the approach to the ontology of the social sciences. Whilst Hekman clearly succeeds in making the case that there is, in some quarters, a growing discontent with constructionism, she only describes in rather broad strokes, but never fully develops, the alternative materialist view that she supports. One reason for this shortcoming, perhaps, is her tendency to present us with little cameo summaries of the views of those philosophers and cultural critics who represent such a sea change. These summaries give a staccato tempo to the book, which fails to gel into a sustained defence of a position. Hekman also fails to specify fully the kind of constructionism that she rejects, leaving it to the reader to figure out the commitments of the view. She explicitly claims that both postmodernism and the strong programme in the sociology of scientific knowledge exemplify this position, but she does not say what about these views makes them exemplars of constructionism. My suspicion is that Hekman’s target is a fuzzy cluster of claims that do not have much in common. I also suspect that to some extent she relies on a caricature of the position she rejects – one for which constructionism is the view that there is nothing outside language, in the sense that there are no entities or events that have both physical properties and causal powers to affect human beings. Yet I doubt very much that anybody has ever consciously held this position. Rather, constructionism, when it has been coherently articulated, has taken a rather different form. In this different form it is best understood as the view that there are no natural kinds – instead, all manners of typing things and events into kinds make a reference to human conceptualization. Being a football or a pound coin are clear examples of socially constructed kinds. The supporter of social constructionism is committed to the view that, for instance, being an electron, being water or being a tiger are also in some


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way socially constituted kinds. As it has often been remarked, the view is most plausible when applied to so-called laboratory science, such as particle physics or genetics, rather than to sciences that are mostly based on observation, such as some branches of astronomy. In these areas most if not all of the phenomena under study only occur under some specific conditions which involve the use of a variety of apparatuses. In so far as their mode of production is definitive of what they are, these phenomena too belong to socially constructed kinds. Once constructionism is characterized in this manner it becomes apparent that Hekman actually aligns herself to some of its supporters. In the first chapter of this book she lists both Ian Hacking and Joseph Rouse as defenders of the view she endorses; it is instructive that they are both supporters of the constructionist view I have outlined above. Further, constructionism, so conceived, is not opposed to agential realism, at least if the latter is defined as the view that things and phenomena have causal powers which make them able, so to speak, to kick back. It is perfectly possible for a thing – a football, a pound coin – to belong to a socially constructed kind and have causal powers, as when the football hits one in the face or the pound coin causes the vending machine to dispense a chocolate bar. If, then, despite Hekman’s claims to the contrary, social constructionism is not really the opponent of the philosophers of science she endorses in the first chapter of this book, what is their real target? They reject a conception of science as being primarily in the business of producing accurate or true representations of reality. Because of their opposition to representationalism, Hekman takes this approach to indicate a move away from epistemology to ontology. I do not find this characterization of the shift to be very helpful since social constructionism is also primarily a theory about ontology. More helpful is Hekman’s characterization of the same shift as a move towards a conception of knowledge in terms of practices. So conceived, natural science is first of all a bundle of practices for intervening upon, manipulating and interacting with reality. Importantly, at least in the case of Karen Barad, whose work Hekman discusses in Chapter 4, this reconception of science as a practice leads to a new formulation of

the ontology of natural science. For Barad the world is not primarily made up of things and their properties but of phenomena which are patterns of the world itself. Hence, we can characterize what is novel in the view that Hekman endorses not as a shift to ontology but as a shift to a special kind of ontology: one that has doings and phenomena as the most fundamental kinds of what there is. It is this broad approach to the constitution of the natural world and to our knowledge of it that is shared by many of the heroes of this book, who include Bruno Latour, Andrew Pickering, Joseph Rouse, Nancy Tuana and Karen Barad. Hekman claims to find similar developments in both analytical and continental philosophy. Her exemplary figures here are, respectively, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Michel Foucault. Contrary to some popular interpretations, Hekman argues that Wittgenstein is not best read as a supporter of idealism and that Foucault does not endorse linguistic constructionism. Both claims are plausible. It is hard, however, to see how her treatment of these authors contributes to the development of the new approach she endorses. Granted, Wittgenstein thought of language in terms of the many practices in which we use it. Speaking, writing and understanding are, for him, all complicated forms of doings. Nevertheless, these considerations alone do not seem to take Hekman further in the development of an account of knowledge as something we do, and of doings as the most fundamental ontological category. The fourth and fifth chapters are the core of this book. There Hekman presents the positions of several feminist thinkers as especially significative of the new form of materialism she endorses. In her view, it is feminism that, above all else, is pushing in a new direction and is the prime mover of the intellectual sea change The Material of Knowledge is intended to highlight. Some recent feminist accounts of the body and of natural phenomena, on the one hand, and of identity and other social categories, on the other, are presented as the most fully developed versions of the new approach Hekman supports. They are characterized by an insistence on interactions (as opposed to linear monocausal explanations) between human beings and material phenomena, and on the reality of social categories such as identity. In these chapters also Hekman hints at two significant features of her new materialism. The first is the idea that reality is able to show itself. This is what Hekman means by ‘disclosure’. The second idea is not foregrounded by Hekman herself but

is an important theme in some of the authors she champions. It concerns the pervasiveness of norms. Whilst Hekman, unfortunately, does not say a great deal about either idea, it is possible to see how they combine to give rise to a novel conception of the cognitive relation between human beings and reality. The best expression to date of this conception can be found in Barad’s work, which is correctly identified by Hekman as truly groundbreaking. For Barad, human practices and actions are co-constituted with what they produce. Natural phenomena, as ways in which the world is, emerge as a result. In this way reality discloses itself by means of interventions that

constitute both the doer (which could be human or not) and what is being intervened in. Further, actions make the world determinate, that is to say conceptually articulated. In this way, the natural world itself is normative because it is constituted when, as a result of interventions, it comes to matter. It matters both in the sense that it becomes matter, since objects only come into existence as being parts of phenomena, and in the sense of becoming intelligible (conceptually articulated) because the intervention has constituted it as a pattern of normative significance. In so far as Barad takes nature itself to be normative, she has produced a genuine alternative to the version of social constructionism which I have described at the beginning of this review. Her departure from this position consists in the idea that nature itself is the locus of norms; social constructionism, instead, tends to be committed to the view that only human beings are capable of creating conceptual articulations. Whilst, in my view, Hekman does not takes her reader beyond Barad’s work, nevertheless this book offers a useful pointer in the direction of some new and exciting developments in feminist philosophy of science which certainly deserve to be explored further. Alessandra Tanesini

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What would Jesus deconstruct? Dawne McCance, Derrida on Religion: Thinker of Difference, Equinox, London and Oakville CT, 2009. xvii + 122 pp., £45.00 hb., £14.99 pb., 978 1 84553 275 8 hb., 978 1 84553 276 5 pb. Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, Columbia University Press, New York, 2008. xii + 256 pp., £34.50 hb., £18.50 pb., 978 0 23114 632 6 hb., 978 0 23114 633 3 pb. Steven Shakespeare, Derrida and Theology, T&T Clark International (Continuum), London and New York, 2009. xi + 233 pp., £55.00 hb., £14.99 pb., 978 0 56718 664 5 hb., 978 0 56703 240 9 pb. Perhaps the most prominent figure in the engagement between deconstruction and Christianity in the United States, John D. Caputo now approaches in his seminars at Syracuse the contemporary continental philosophies of Badiou, Laruelle, Malabou, Marion, Meillasoux, and others. However, if Caputo has thus sought to engage a turn towards ‘speculative realism’ or ‘radical materialism’ in recent European philosophy, in order (following Meillasoux’s affirmation of a speculative grasp of reality in itself figured by the ‘archifossil’) to ask the question of whether différance is a principle of reality or of a ‘correlation’ with reality, it has also been in order to return to the relation between deconstruction and religion itself. The familiarity that now accompanies any such move – as yet another return to the theological – and the suspicion that it may perhaps have reached a certain point of exhaustion, is already made clear though by the publication of a number of survey books in Caputo’s chosen field, including Steven Shakespeare’s Derrida and Theology and Dawne McCance’s brief Derrida on Religion. These are both texts that aim for comprehensiveness in terms of different religious (and to a lesser extent counter-religious) readings of deconstruction, with an essentially Christian rather than Judaic or Islamic focus, and for a delineation of Derridean texts that have subsisted such thinking. Both are, however, also defined, to some degree, by a circumspect retraction (at least, in their own judgement) from straightforwardly identifying the two discourses: it is Caputo who, generally speaking, stands as the strongest proponent not only of an identity between the two, but of the priority of their equation; as in his claim that ‘deconstruction is structured like a religion’. That the ‘reality’ under consideration in such texts is primarily immaterial is indicated by the ways in which both McCance and Shakespeare tend to approach deconstruction through Derrida’s multiple ‘nicknames’ for différance (khora, pharmakon, gift, animality, etc.), which are then treated as more or less abstract ideas – that is, as objects of thought divested of their material dimensions or as schemas


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that might be attached to religious conceptuality. They thus obviate those aspects of deconstruction attending precisely to materialities of, for instance, writing, memory or social institutions. There is therefore very little in the way of an understanding of the materiality of language considered in terms of the politics of its institutional forms – as archival mnemotechnics – in either book. In this sense, both Shakespeare and McCance follow that purportedly ‘deconstructive’ conception of the religious, outlined in Caputo’s own On Religion (2001), as an impossible reality beyond reality. In the ‘religification’ of deconstruction’s ‘impossible’, if Badiou’s Paul is an event of the universal, and Laruelle’s Christ is a radical immanentist, Caputo’s Jesus is then a deconstructor – in that sense given in his 2007 book entitled What Would Jesus Deconstruct: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church. Yet while postmodernism, in its weakest and most relativist forms, might be germane to the Church, things get trickier where post-structuralism and, within it, deconstruction are concerned. So, what would Jesus deconstruct? Despite the possibility of this question for Caputo, and the structural, philosophical and conceptual complexity of the copious writings such questions have produced in attempts to bring together deconstruction and religion, imagine the brevity of the Agony in the Garden had Jesus actually been so inclined: its monologue curtailed, God quickly dissolving in the recognition that the image of the transcendental other out there is just that – a spectral product of that other ‘origin’ of all things, différance. In fact, deconstruction precisely militates against the division of the sacred and profane governed by the classical opposition of the infinites, developed by Hegel in terms of the absolute infinite of the theological Idea and the endless series of the ad infinitum – an opposition that is maintained by theology, metaphysics and (in permutational or structural form) the majority of contemporary continental thought. Indeed, deconstruction poses what might be considered as an axiomatic resistance to such thought: if, as indicated in Dissemination, ‘infinite différance

is finite’, then the polar infinites are spectral products of that more archaic spectral in-differentiation – not transcendental, and neither empirical, but their condition of im-possibility, and not the reverse. Thus, to take Caputo’s question literally, and seriously, would be to end traditional Christianity’s sense of the origin at its origins, and thus to curtail an entire tradition before its own historical emergence. Deconstruction, in this sense, and as a form of poststructuralism, develops the secular notion of language in structuralism given, for example, by Montessori in The Absorbent Mind (1967), where the ‘mystical value’ of language emerges from its separation of and construction of communities. The sense of something above and beyond the individual and group emerges from langage, rather than from any transcendental exteriority. If language, generally speaking, as the Course in General Linguistics points out, is finally unmasterable, then prohibitive laws regarding, for example, fixed gendered roles are, in deconstruction, to be understood as symptomatic of such meanings’ essential instability. Thus, in its legalizing and normalizing function, ‘God’ is one of the names relating to (and latterly produced as a counter to) such slippage. But this does not mean that the name ‘God’ then becomes différance, other than in the sense that all religious thinking is itself deconstructible. That

deconstruction does not obliterate the image of the absolute is clearly the lure for many of those discourses attached to it, but, put simply, the deconstructibility of religious systems of meaning does not entail that such systems, in their affirmation of the absolute qua primordial impossible, are themselves deconstructive, since such primordiality cannot be maintained. In so far as both McCance and Shakespeare intersect briefly with the issue of animality, it might thus be worth mentioning here the moment where the other is, for Derrida, sunk into the eyes of a cat: the tout-autre is not transcendentally beyond, and its distance, given species deconstruction, is not infinite. In terms of such problematized quotidianism, faith ‘as such’ must be seen as a product of those supposedly ‘mediate’ forms of exchange – communicative, familial, monetary and so on – that are said to be the secondary forms of the transcendental. In this situation, a ‘passion’ for the impossible tout-autre is in fact a form of nostalgia, and hence, as Specters of Marx would have it, a kind of endless mourning. Concomitantly, attempts to connect deconstruction and religiosity often appear to operate through an endless efflorescence of detail, interstice or narrative turn – as if there was, at some point, some unspotted secret recess that would open back onto religion. Yet it hardly matters whether one turns to

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‘trace’, ‘pharmakon’, or ‘autoimmunity’ – as Caputo has done by privileging ‘the gift’ – in order to unearth the possibility of a link between deconstruction and religion that might elsewhere be absent, because, in problematic conjunction with their difference, such terms also share a consistent logic; a logic that cannot but refuse a return to any traditional notion of the transcendental as origin. (If one did want to find some macrological meeting point between such exclusive discourses, it might perhaps be sought in claiming the co-originarity of difference and things – as Mark C. Taylor does – but such would no longer be deconstruction.) Nor, as it is not a form of relativism, can deconstruction be invoked in order to bolster postmodernist ideas concerning the proliferation of religions and gods, in a manner which extends the equation of religion and consumerism marked in William James’s ‘many finite gods’ – a proliferation generated not essentially by the multiplicity of the social, but by the supposed ad infinitum of capital. The historical relationship between capital and certain understandings of religion is no doubt significant for opening up questions of the terminology that could be employed in describing religion’s relation to deconstruction: as renewal, redefinition or colonization, territorialization, and so on. But such a relationship operates at a more general and systemic level: capital, like any other system, including religious systems of thought, cannot be other than characterized by the collapse of the ad infinitum and the absolute (as should be clear from the spectrality of the commodity elaborated in Specters of Marx). Furthermore, all systems (which function ‘as languages’, for Derrida, since there is no outside-text), whether ‘natural’ or ‘cultural’, ‘material’ or ‘ideational’, or, indeed ‘mathematical’, while different, are determined by the axiomatics of différance. The relation between capital and the ad infinitum, as a figure of deferral, is of course key to Badiou’s rejection of deconstruction, for one, which appears, on this account, as a discourse of endless procrastination, sunk into the encyclopaedia of existing knowledges that perpetuates the indeterminacies of bourgeois thought, and which contributes to a pathetic situation in which the existence of God cannot be ascertained. Such a characterization of deconstruction in terms of endless deferral is also, for example, a component of Malabou’s and Meillasoux’s thought, among many others. In this sense, the pseudo-deconstruction of an endless religious mourning for an impossible transcendental can only contribute towards the association of deconstruction not only with endless deferral but also with an endless miring in a stultified present and


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an inertial past. In so far as the current situation is characterized by some sense of a becoming-after of the ‘theological turn’ – and, through this, of an ‘after’ Derrida – and, hence, of a return to philosophy characterized by an affirmation of axiomatics and decision, this will no doubt serve only to contribute towards deconstruction’s institutional and critical demise. Yet this would be to forget the axiomatic character of deconstruction in terms of that injunction ‘infinite différance is finite’, which might be thought of as a rule, if it were not also the undermining of sovereignty; a given posited violently, if it were not also the undoing of violence; a law, if this were not also justice. This crystalline consistency of the axiomatic has been maligned in some affirmations of deconstruction, as if it would deny or close off difference; but to ignore such consistency would be to singularize deconstruction’s implacable and nonsynthetic tensions – here, then, between deferral and decision. The complexity of the axiomatic needs to be thought as (dis)conjunction (a complexification itself subject to necessary simplification) with simplicity. Attention to the issue of decision clearly structures Mary-Jane Rubenstein’s new book Strange Wonder, where thaumazein (roughly translatable as ‘wonder’) operates as a differential principle for the (non)origin of thought that both suspends and calls for judgement. Indeed, such attention is indicated in its chapter structure: Wonder (Socrates), Repetition (Heidegger), Openness (Levinas), Relation (Nancy) and Decision (Derrida). In its genuinely detailed, cogent and knowledgeable discussion of such figures, Strange Wonder is informed by an awareness of the overall structure of the infinites, but the way in which their problematic relation is seen to operate in a similar way from the beginning of the book to its end risks dehistoricization, just as, in some ways, the earlier chapters’ conformity to a deconstructive logic appear presupposed by the methodology employed. For example: the Socrates reconstructed here through Theaetetus, as a proponent of wonder, might have been contrasted to those far more didactic aspects of the dialogues and the context of their socio-political formation. The nature of the axiomatic as such is itself of course subject to history and difference. Thus axiomatics always require for their sense of the decisive a complex historical armature of explanatory context, discourse, knowledge (indeed, by inverse ratio: the more minimal, the more maximal), and thus they are strictly neither performative nor constative. Likewise, permitting a relation between the axiom and the performative and the decisive, for deconstruction, as

Rubenstein indicates, decision is fractured by opposing demands: to know everything of a situation and to act regardless. As Rubenstein glosses in the penultimate sections of the book: ‘every decision must begin by accumulating as much knowledge as possible’, but ‘justice … must not wait’. If this describes the heteronomy of archive and action, reason and decision, history and the present, it also pushes towards the instant of decision as madness. Rubenstein’s separation from the argument of Derrida’s The Gift of Death occurs precisely over this point: ‘Derrida flattens Kierkegaard’s Abraham into a subject in this text by resolving his undecidability, installing him and God as discrete and sovereign subjects, and converting faith in the absurd into “faith” in the economy of heaven.’ However, this is, it seems to me, not, as Rubenstein argues, a denial of thaumazein, but a refusal of the equation of the incalculable with the transcendental, and an opening for a reorientation of wonder’s locations in the ‘mediate’: something like ‘the archive’, say, cannot be, for Derrida, a site of pure ratiocination – it too is differential, and thus also of the incalculable. Rubenstein’s traditionally philosophical attachment to thought as against mnemotechnics also characterizes, as indicated, both McCance’s and Shakespeare’s books. In this sense, these texts tend to reinscribe the privileges of philosophical idealism, which are, for Derrida, attached historically to phonocentrism. Derrida’s practice, however, from the ‘early’ to the ‘late’ work, is always characterized not only by a deconstruction of thought per se, but by an attention to various ways in which ‘materiality’ might be implicated in such a deconstruction. In contradistinction to that association of deconstruction with endless deferral, it might be in that very institutional form associated with such delay – the archive, and its engagement, broadly thought – that its counter might be sought. If this is, for the Derrida of Archive Fever and of Echographies, for example, to plunge into the texts denied by the Book, the archive is not only of the past, but of the current – and, in its différance, concerns not just the archiving of the event, or the event of this archiving, but potentiates the event of the future: the possibility of thought, difference and decision. For, if différance differs and defers, it must differ from deferral. The failure to think this aspect of différance, in this context, is perhaps one of the great failures not only of deconstruction’s detractors but of many of its adherents to date. It is thus still one of its great possible futures. Sas Mays

Speak to me Nick Couldry, Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics after Neoliberalism, Sage, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi, 2010. 184 pp., £60.00 hb., £19.99 pb., 978 1 84860 661 6 hb., 978 1 84860 662 3 pb. The issue of voice – who is allowed to speak and what weight their account carries – is clearly crucial to politics, and has been brought into sharp focus once more by the student militancy at the end of 2010. I write this review in the wake of a furious online debate triggered by the Labour Party’s promise to ‘give a voice’ to student protestors. Nick Couldry’s central claim in Why Voice Matters is that neoliberalism can be defined by its suppression of voice, which he characterizes as a ‘reflexive form of agency’. The book draws upon a dizzying range of references, but Couldry’s theory of voice is built from four main sources: Judith Butler, whose Giving An Account of Oneself is echoed in Couldry’s definition of voice as ‘the process of giving an account of one’s life and its conditions’; Paul Ricoeur’s theories of narrative; the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen’s account of freedom; and political theorist Axel Honneth’s neo-Hegelian concept of recognition. Couldry maintains that, under neoliberalism, the market has trumped all other narratives. Indeed, it has replaced narrative itself with what is presented as an inexorable and unanswerable ‘logic’: in the UK and the USA neoliberalism has been ‘embedded as the “new politics”, the “way things are”, “the modern”’. In these conditions, the idea of ‘neoliberal democracy’ can only be oxymoronic, since it aims at the foreclosing of politics as such. Neoliberal ideologue Richard Posner makes this explicit, disdaining what he calls ‘jawing in the agora’, and celebrating political ‘apathy’ because it signals a broad acceptance of the ‘system that we have’. This kind of bullish confidence might have taken a serious knock with the financial crises and bail-outs of 2008, Couldry argues, but neoliberalism is very far from disappearing. Governments, workplaces and the media are still controlled by neoliberal thinking, and as such the philosophical struggle against neoliberal ideology remains as urgent as ever. Couldry gives a succinct and persuasive history of neoliberalism. The worry, though, is that he ends up opposing neoliberalism with a new form of liberalism: one in which, instead of being suppressed, ‘voices’ are allowed to speak. Yet this approach tends to underemphasise the ways in which ideology and the class structure not only stop people from speaking but

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deny them the conditions for developing an ‘account of themselves’ in the first place. The very manner in which neoliberalism has naturalized its own programme means that it disappears as an object of experience and becomes the frame within which experience takes place. Couldry refers to the work of Richard Sennett, but it is not clear that the political value of a book like The Corrosion of Character consists in the way that it ‘gives a voice’ to those whom Sennett interviews. Instead, the narratives that Sennett records point to structural conditions of which they might only be vaguely aware. Couldry goes out of his way to say that ‘voice requires a material form which may be individual, collective or distributed’ (stress in the original), arguing that ‘“voice” as a value does not involve individualism’. Despite this – and perhaps inevitably given the way that Couldry constructs ‘voice’ as a concept – the book is unable to distance itself decisively from such individualism. Couldry wants to disassociate himself from the post-structuralist attack on interiority and agency, but it could be argued that, if anything, the poststructuralist assault on interiority didn’t go far enough in the context of a neoliberalism that, as Couldry himself demonstrates, has colonized the ‘private’ realm of emotions. Throughout the book, Couldry is forced to keep distinguishing his version of ‘voice’ from the voices that neoliberal culture continually solicits. After all, isn’t neoliberal corporate culture endlessly inviting us to participate, to ‘join the debate’, to make ourselves heard? The most convincing and compelling section of Why Voice Matters – the chapter on media and reality television – reflects upon neoliberal culture’s insistence on participation. Here, Couldry traces the ‘overlaps between performance norms of contemporary work cultures and those of reality TV’. Drawing upon the research of the journalist Madeleine Bunting, Couldry shows how work increasingly involves the performance of a certain kind of emotion. Ann-Marie Stagg, chair of the UK Call Centre Managers Association, told Bunting that ‘service sector employers are increasingly demanding that their employees deep act, work on and change their feelings to match the display required by the labour process.’ Or, as the head of Human Resources at supermarket chain Asda more demotically put it, We do have the sense that people in the Asda family live the values – it’s gregarious, off the wall, a bit wacky, flexible, family-minded, genuinely interested in people, respect for the individual, informal.


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That’s what makes the business go – we’ve gone into personality, a family and a community feel.

Couldry draws parallels between these kind of demands and those imposed on participants in the reality-TV ‘gamedoc’ subgenre that includes shows such as Big Brother. Like workers in neoliberalized institutions, gamedoc contestants are subject to an absolute external authority; they are forced into paradoxical forms of performance which demand that they ‘reveal their real selves’; they must always be ‘positive’; and they are simultaneously required both to display ‘team conformity’ and to compete against one another. For all the merits of this kind of analysis, Couldry didn’t persuade me that his concept of ‘voice’ was crucial to the struggle against neoliberalism. That is partly because there is always a slightly strained quality to his account of voice itself. The synthesis of Sen, Honneth, Butler and Ricœur never quite achieves a crisp conceptual consistency. Another major problem is that Couldry uses the word ‘voice’ in an essentially metaphorical way. Despite the book’s title being a play on Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter, Couldry pays little attention to the materiality of voice: to how voices actually sound. In the UK, the charismatic power of both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair – the ways in which they persuaded and irritated people – was bound up with accent and voice. Couldry’s approach, however, continually collapses voice into narrative. In line with those orthodoxies in contemporary theory

which Alain Badiou has labelled ‘democratic materialism’, Couldry nevertheless insists on the importance of ‘embodiment’, with Descartes positioned in his familiar role as the master villain of Western philosophy. But some theorists of the voice, such as Mladen Dolar and Michel Chion, have argued that reflecting on the voice actually entails a form of dualism. (Dolar argues that, instead of being reducible to the body, the voice actually functions much like the pineal gland did for Descartes, as the means by which mind and body are related to one another.) Couldry has some worthwhile suggestions about what a post-neoliberal politics might look like and how we might get there. He puts the emphasis on institutional change, but does not underestimate how difficult and prolonged the struggle to wrest media and political institutions from neoliberal control would have to be. As he puts it, ‘Such institutional structures cannot … be changed overnight by will or imagination. But this should not discourage us from considering the “small acts” and new “habits” from which, even within those structures, a different form of political life can be built.’ Mark Fisher

No such thing Randall Williams, The Divided World: Human Rights and Its Violence, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2010. 192 pp., £45.00 hb., £15.00 pb., 978 0 81666 541 9 hb., 978 0 81666 542 6 pb. It is hard to imagine how even the most ardent supporter of a human rights framework could fail to be challenged by Randall Williams’s erudite portrayal of the epistemic violence of liberal international human rights discourse. The Divided World shows how human rights discourse is embedded in neocolonial relations that not only privilege interpretations of justice and injustice that derive from the global North, but also reinforce racial and class-based inequalities that underwrite the expansion of global capital. In doing so, the book fluidly connects a range of different examples from NGO practice to film and literature in order to capture the varied techniques of liberal ideological production, and while Williams mounts what is in many ways a radical critique, he does so with a clarity that will engage readers both sympathetic and not. Williams begins by asking whether human rights can provide the basis for a progressive politics that can

weigh in against the vagaries of global capitalism. His answer is a resounding ‘no’, arguing by contrast that the postwar institutions of international law, and the human rights framework they promulgate, are ‘part and parcel of an imperialist directed reorganization of relations within and between contemporary state and social formations: the colonial, the neocolonial, and the neoimperial’. The Divided World thus claims that we need to be far more critical of the ways in which human rights frameworks generate and perpetuate injustice, and that we need new conceptual tools to map violence on a global scale and evolve strategies to resist it. The situation calls for what he terms a ‘nonjuridical reckoning’ – that is, extra-legal strategies for acknowledging, naming and counteracting the complicity of international law and human rights discourse in grave injustices at the local and global levels. Williams presents his most compelling case study in the first chapter, which recounts Nelson Mandela’s disqualification from Amnesty International’s list of prisoners of conscience. Mandela’s disqualification was based on his refusal to disavow the use of violence as a legitimate tool against the South African apartheid regime. Amnesty International was determined to maintain its own credibility by only backing prisoners of conscience who were unambiguously non-violent. Williams mounts a convincing argument that the international NGO’s apparent political neutrality was hence based on the necessity of historical decontextualization, and, more specifically, a decontextualization that obscured the specific experience of colonial oppression, whereby no platforms for non-violent negotiation existed. The effect was to depict Mandela (and, by extension, anti-colonial struggles more broadly) as open to violence in general, rather than to accept Mandela’s more nuanced explication of the legitimacy of violence as a last resort. Williams effectively depicts the discrepancy between international normative orders that sanction state violence but disallow the taking up of arms in popular uprisings, regardless of how just the cause might be. He shows, moreover, how Amnesty’s actions instituted the ‘prisoner of conscience’ as a subject category built on a normative order that is deeply tied to the racist and ongoing legacy of colonialism. Other chapters carry his argument into a range of contexts, from the advocacy of a Northern-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (Chapter 2) to narratives built around liberal internationalism and colonial subjects in the films Hotel Rwanda and Caché (Chapter 3), to the extra-legal reckonings of injustice as depicted in the chronicle of

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Argentinean commandos who assassinated the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle (Chapter 4). Williams is a fine storyteller and these highly diverse subjects, in terms of both genre and geography, are pulled together skilfully to make his overall case against human rights norms and for alternative ethical frameworks. No doubt, not everyone will agree with his reading of the narrative messages in the films and texts he discusses. His take on Caché, for instance, in my view understates the effect of the passivity which he identifies in the colonial subjects depicted – although they may be passive in the way Williams describes, the passivity also works in an active sense to maximize the psychological impact on the film’s central ‘northern’ character. Elsewhere in the book, there is also a tendency to reify decolonization as a singular social struggle against a somewhat simplistic reading of Empire or US imperialism. While these are not the book’s core focus, such references obscure a far more geographically complex and disaggregated operation of global power – something that similarly radical critiques posed by Hardt and Negri or the Autonomy of Migration scholars, for instance, have identified, if not always succeeded in portraying. Williams’s book is at its best in critiquing the false idealism of liberal internationalism, in insisting that there is in fact ‘no such thing as non-violence’, and radically unsettling adherence to absolute ethical


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principles. What is less well developed is his advocacy of alternatives that draw on the Zapatistas’ philosophy of struggle (‘from below and to the left’) or Franz Fanon’s defence of violence as a legitimate tool of anti-colonial resistance (Chapter 5). I couldn’t help wondering whether these alternatives, taken to their extremes, would ultimately result in arrangements that avoided injustice, even though it may be injustice of different kinds, served out to different people. And this led me to wonder if the imperfection of international law and human rights norms (and it is indeed a profound imperfection) is enough to warrant its outright dismissal, thus rejecting the various progressive ends to which human rights norms can be put, as Williams himself acknowledges. The argument ultimately left me unsatisfied as to what is to be done; though this may be less a criticism of Williams than a reflection of the ambition of his project and the limitations of a single volume. After reading Williams’s book it becomes more difficult to dismiss those who are violent without asking what reasons they have to take up arms – an important critical task in today’s context as ever. Williams compels his readers to consider whether an injunction to non-violence can be maintained consistently with the effects of liberal humanism that defends such an injunction. Anne McNevin

World of warcraft Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin, War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010. 300 pp., £55.00 hb., £16.99 pb., 978 0 74563 849 2 hb., 978 0 74563 850 8 pb. Addressing the tangled multimedia web of reporting through which most of us experience conflicts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War is a timely book that facilitates our understanding of contemporary media ecology, along with our role as spectators and consumers within such ubiquitous media. While war coverage is an increasingly urgent topic in film, television and new media studies, Hoskins and O’Loughlin’s interdisciplinary contribution to this line of inquiry allows for a mapping of the multifaceted ways in which reporting is conducted, observed and consumed. The authors begin with the example of the Crimean War, now understood as the first ‘media war’ given its dissemination through embedded front-line reporting as well as the photography, works of art and warthemed attractions that it spawned for curious and horrified nineteenth-century spectators. What Hoskins and O’Loughlin aim to uncover in their genealogy is precisely how the waging of warfare is shaped in such a way as to be ‘always already’ produced, banishing any hope of ‘authentic’ or ‘original’ experience. If reporting on the Crimean War signalled a major shift in how war was experienced, in so far as it came to audiences though a fully fledged apparatus of frontline observation assisted by artists and photographers, the current possibility of crowd-sourced reporting has still more profound consequences. As the book aims to show, the mediatization of war through active as well as passive spectatorial practices now gone global gives rise to more diffuse relations between action and effect, and creates greater uncertainty for policymakers. The chaotic and subversive flow of information through an ever-widening spectrum of sources such as WikiLeaks makes flows impossible to control, while at the same time rendering information flows and their affects more radically reflexive. For example, attempts to prevent the diffusion of jihadist materials online ultimately has serious ramifications for the structure and functioning of the Internet as a whole, since any measures taken will invariably affect actors occupying any and all positions in the conflict. At the same time, the random and unexpected movement of people, things (money, viruses and so on) and images makes social order entirely contingent rather than given, while

the resulting connections between ostensibly discrete phenomena set up unpredictable shock waves, and yield unexpected results. The diffusion of war through an ever more complex mesh of everyday sources such as television news, YouTube, Facebook, podcasts, blogs and video games also raises questions concerning spectatorship. How cynical, for example, is the experience of warfare mediated though game interfaces such as America’s Army, at once a massively multiplayer online game and a military recruitment tool? How ‘genuine’ is televisual reporting that relies on a presentational stylization of events, and a self-reflective mechanism that relies on celebrating stories already covered (‘remember when we brought you…’)? What does it mean to glean the details of human suffering by always necessarily observing what the media observe, and what role does mediation play in the process of compassion fatigue whereby audience sympathy for any given atrocity becomes measurable and predictable? Has the spectacle of suffering become a new source of pleasure, a sort of catharsis of being moved, and, therefore, a more insipid form of sentimental self-interest and voyeurism? In this case, shouldn’t users now bear a ‘vicarious responsibility’ as partial collaborators when they click through to catch glimpses of horror that contribute to a particular experience of the sublime? And, finally, how are we to understand the memory of trauma when it becomes prosthetic, coded or templated on the basis of previously reported genocide or massacres? While the authors address questions concerning media impact and spectatorship, their analysis of viewer input is equally detailed and troubling. As systems of mass media become porous – that is, interactive and open to any number of random inputs volunteered by audience members – the question of credibility becomes paramount. Throughout the book the authors return to the reporting on Saddam Hussein’s execution, first in the official Iraqi government video, and then in the form of mobile phone footage that was uploaded to websites and sold on videotapes. While on the one hand the official report sought to convey a relatively orderly execution, and came with viewer warnings concerning violence, the mobile footage offered a more chaotic image of Hussein’s

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death, and the cautionary statements that had framed the official footage were dropped when the mobile video was picked up on mainstream television. Not only does this particular example raise questions of authenticity and credibility while alerting us to the potential of media to become weaponized within a larger political-military context, it also begs the question of acceptable levels of violence for viewers as they become both acclimatized to and fatigued by troubling events such as real-time executions. Although War and Media covers a good deal of well-rehearsed territory – spectatorship, mediation, premediation, and so on – it also does so in a way that makes this a particularly useful volume. For example, while Jenkins, Grusin, Kline, De Peuter Kücklich and others have been writing for some time now about intermediality, group sourcing, premediation fan-based Internet content and the like, War and Media both narrows and broadens currently available accounts. By providing a thoroughgoing and meticulous study of one particular kind of reporting from a number of perspectives, and by incorporating a variety of disciplinary insights, the book is able to revisit familiar topics while moving us further into the digital age. Joyce Goggin

An ordinary philosopher Stanley Cavell, Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2010. 548pp., £31.50 hb., 978 0 80477 014 9. What is the story of a life? And where is the place and what is the form in which to tell it? These are questions given a careful hearing in Stanley Cavell’s recently published autobiography. Renowned as one of the most influential and prolific of contemporary American philosophers, Cavell has moved in his meditations from Shakespeare’s Othello to the late poetry of Wallace Stevens to the dance routines of Fred Astaire. In a philosophical career spanning sixty years, this idiosyncratic philosophical voice has inspired both cultish devotion and disciplinary censure. Little Did I Know is, in part, an accounting for this idiosyncrasy. Given Cavell’s career-long obsession with avoidance, with the disappointingly human tendency always to shrink from offering accounts of ourselves, blocking ourselves from exposure, this accounting is doubly significant.


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Cavell grew up in Atlanta and Sacramento, California. The only child of an artistic mother and an entrepreneurial father, his childhood was marked by constant movement and upheaval as his father’s business ventures consistently failed. Of every place he moved to with his parents, it seemed to the young Cavell that ‘we existed with bags packed and stuff near our hands, poised for departure’. Something of this itinerant upbringing translated to his initial searches for a profession, an intellectual and artistic home. Cavell first studied at Juilliard, before giving up music for philosophy. He enrolled in UCLA as a ‘special student’ then progressed to Harvard, where he found his philosophical calling in the lectures of the visiting Oxford professor John Langshaw Austin. The significance of Austin in Cavell’s philosophical development cannot be overestimated. It was, Little Did I Know suggests, an influence of life-changing, indeed life-giving, proportion. Austin’s stress on the philosophical importance of the ordinary, of careful attention to our words as and when we say them, registered for Cavell as morally and epistemologically crucial touchstones for life and learning. The ordinarylanguage philosopher attends to words and phrases in contrast to language that is, as Wittgenstein says, merely ‘idling’; language theoretically spinning its wheels outside any actual language games that people engage in with each other, in actual things they do in the world. As Cavell practises it, in readings of Shakespeare, Beckett, Emerson, Thoreau, Capra, Astaire and Austen, ordinary-language criticism attends to the specific plight of mind and language within which a human being gives voice to his condition, to the importance of what we say when. Even Cavell’s choice of autobiographical form in Little Did I Know (dating his depiction of events as diary entries) takes guidance from this philosophical inheritance, faithfully remembering Austin’s emphasis on the context of every utterance. Returning philosophy to the concerns of ordinary human persons and showing how it might speak across disciplinary lines of inquiry are not easy tasks, and it is characteristic that Cavell should struggle with his own procedures. Straining to allow even the most incomplete idea or figuration its due and careful elaboration, his philosophy has always held itself open to the fear of inexpressiveness and the anxiety of exposure. Cavell is nonetheless aware of the dangers of over-expression, the pitfalls of obscurity, the many charges (first voiced by Austin, interestingly, who commented that an early prose extract of Cavell’s was ‘a bit purple’) of philosophical self-indulgence. Finding a voice of his own

to live with, or to live by, is Cavell’s own accounting for the heavy difficulty and sometime resistance of his prose, which is not simply explained, as Cavell suspects of Blanchot (or as Cavell’s own critics might claim), by the philosopher’s ‘horror of understanding’. Little Did I Know both acknowledges this self-imposed difficulty and works to find a way beyond it. In Little Did I Know, the awkwardness of living (a fact Cavell associates with the accidentally decisive) is registered at several moments. Cavell sees human lives as inherently interrupted, things chronically occurring at unripe times or in the wrong tempo. He tells the story of his father, then eighty-three, waking up after heart surgery and asking about all the commotion in the hospital room. It’s ugly, his father says, to run around as if an old man’s death were an emergency and not a natural occurrence. Cavell then wonders whether his father might question his philosopher son on the responsibility of a doctor, a wife, or any family member. This is, after all, the concluding paragraph of a memoir encouraging its reader to expect some form of reconciliation between father and son. Cavell had already praised his three children for ‘curing, or curbing, this vindictiveness, this recurring selfdestructive longing to consign his father to hell’. This father, however, falls back to sleep; this son walks out to find his mother. There is no rumination on life and death, no dialectical exchange on duty. Perhaps Cavell offers this final vignette as a kind of empty punchline, a commentary on the perpetual lack of sophistication in everyday events. The great themes of Cavell’s career – avoidance, disappointment, exile, fradulence, grace, redemption, therapy, the ordinary – are taken up and taken further in this, his most recent attempt at autobiography. The first attempt was occasioned by the foreword to his 1994 A Pitch of Philosophy. Of necessity more pointed and more concise than Little Did I Know, this earlier work was but one of many that urged philosophical writing, in general, to follow lines of the personal and the intimately revelatory. Indeed, we might say that Cavell’s writing has always been for and from the private imagination. A tone of moral urgency (Cavell describes the attendant state of mind as one of ‘psychic emergency’) permeates Little Did I Know. There is also a quiet poetry to the book. Writing of his six-yearold daughter, and his own sense of inadequacy as a divorced parent, Cavell pictures father and daughter ‘together lifting the mild sadness for the wind to take out of our hands’. Reminiscences of his children are touching and revelatory, perhaps the most instructive comments, indeed, on the philosopher’s relationship

with his own parents. What is perhaps most striking is the enlivening sense that the philosopher has, in his own words, finally escaped from his work’s judgement of him. It would be misleading to suggest that the judgement of others (though painful to witness) had ever constrained his philosophical voice. Still, perhaps Cavell needed the full licence of autobiography in order to move surely into the poetic register anticipated by The Senses of Walden (1972). There, as in Little Did I Know, the importance of accounting for oneself, of returning one’s own actions to the grounds and tribunals of the everyday, is itself offered to others as a philosophical gift. Cavell’s memoir is the private achievement of a single figure, passing by ‘just this edge of things in just this broken light’; but, most crucially, in fully meaning what it says, it also enters a claim to speak for others. Áine Kelly

research-based master programme critical curatorial cybermedia applications 2011 – 2012 a cross-cultural and transdisciplinary programme which founds its practices on political thought, postcolonial and gender theories, the art of networks and internet culture a bilingual education (english & french) developed by an international faculty of visiting artists, researchers and theoreticians a program open to artists, art historians, critics, scholars and activists, and to those with experience in cultural, artistic and political domains

application deadline : May 13th, 2011 research-based master programme CCC http://head.hesge.ch/ccc – [email protected] HEAD – Genève, Switzerland www.hesge.ch/head – [email protected]

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Pow! Nina Power Before the UK election in May 2010, Conservative think-tanks such as Policy Exchange were suggesting that universities should be forced to ‘sink or swim’ and that private takeover was a very real possibility for ‘failing’ (or even not-so-failing) universities. While the introduction of ‘top-up’ tuition fees in 1998 heralded a shift in the way institutions understood their relation to both the state and their students, the total market vision of universities held by the coalition government crosses a qualitative threshold in the long-standing drive to impose the ideology of ‘measurability’ on the education system, despite the absence of any economic or social benefit in doing so. The tripling of tuition fees, the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16–18 year-olds and the removal of state funding for teaching in the arts, humanities and social sciences have struck many not only as a searing indictment of the philistinism of a government whose members had themselves received a free university education, but also as an inadequate and unsustainable response to the economic crisis. How is reducing university places, making levels of debt so high that they become unattractive and impossible for those not from rich families, and cutting the funding of various subjects going to stimulate the economy? What else, exactly, are those sixteen-year-olds who will lose the EMA, and those potential university students put off by a lifetime of debt, going to do instead? The short-termist venality of government policy, the Liberal Democrat climbdown over fees, the misjudged rhetoric of ‘austerity Britain’, the new philanthropy, the ‘Big Society’ and newspeak claims that ‘we are all in this together’ have made it very clear to the British public that it is they who will have to pay, and pay hard, for a deficit they didn’t create, in the name of a ‘shock doctrine’ approach to the economy that they don’t want. It is no surprise, in some ways, that education, with all its complex forms of constraint and emancipation, would be at the forefront of this ongoing struggle, though it is quite clear that the government (and the police) have so far massively miscalculated the public


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response to their policies, assuming, perhaps, that after decades of ideological warfare, many, even among the middle classes, would find little to be upset about in the destruction of the university, with its supposed distance from the ‘real world’ and uselessness in an era characterized overwhelmingly by an obsession with profit, measurement and financial gain. In many ways, the attack on universities and the EMA has been interpreted, correctly, as an attack on the young, and in particular on marginalized youth. We have in recent months been treated to the absurd spectacle of millionaire politicians telling already impoverished A-level and university students that they should be fixing the economy by mortgaging their future for the promise of jobs that are likely never to exist. Coupled with the institutional racism of a police force who have for a long time felt at liberty to harass and intimidate black and Asian youth in particular, the sense of divide between the rich and poor has become starker than ever. The battle over education, for so long understood as one of the main drivers of social mobility, has taken on a politicized character that had lain dormant in previous years.

‘Rage of the Girl Rioters’? Yes, please! The increasingly large – and, latterly, ferociously policed – demonstrations of November and December were accompanied by a series of university, college and school occupations involving, in total, around fifty institutions across the country. Although these events took place in direct response to the attacks on education, they should be understood in the context of occupations that took place a year earlier in response to Israel’s attacks on Gaza, and to the brief occupation of Deptford Town Hall by Goldsmiths students on 3 November when the government first announced their intentions to raise fees and cut funding. Earlier actions in support of academic staff should also be remembered: last spring, staff went on strike at Kings College London and students occupied Sussex in protest at planned lay-offs. The international outcry that greeted the announcement of the closure of Philosophy at

Middle­sex University in May last year, and the subsequent occupations of the main buildings and library at its Trent Park campus, coupled with management suspension of staff and students, similarly set the tone for the autumn occupations. Some have begun to call it Winter of Discontent 2.0, reflecting, on the one hand, the return of a more openly Thatcherite political climate (although it was of course Labour who commissioned the Browne Report) and, on the other, the role of new media in disseminating information and organizing the protests and occupations, the scale of which prompted many to compare current student activism to the events of 1968 (plus laptops). There may be some mileage in comparisons to the protests of 1968, so long as they can avoid becoming a nostalgia-fest for those who have long since abandoned

political resistance. But any direct identification fails to recognize the changed nature and status of the student as a political and social being: the blurring of the line between student and worker is far more pronounced now, precisely because the expansion of higher education has created spaces for those whose families do not previously have experience of attending university. Most of my students at Roehampton (and I’m sure the pattern is similar in other post-92s) are just as much workers, parents and carers as they are students, which makes participation in the protests and occupations perhaps even more significant. As does the fact that none of the students who occupied and protested this winter will be directly affected by the fee increases, frustrating media attempts to push their usual stereotype of the lazy, selfinterested student. Another set of characters had to be mobilized: the naive protester simply caught up in the heat of the events (reinforcing the reactionary division between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ protester), the image of a ‘children’s crusade’ coupled with a critique of lecturers who ‘should know better’, and so on. It should be noted that unlike ’68, where all the well-known

student leaders were male, the role of women as organizers, protesters and commentators in the recent protests was central, much to the horror of the Daily Mail in particular, whose ‘Rage of the Girl Rioters’ article (25 November) is already notorious. While National Union of Students and University and College Union leadership were frequently ‘spineless’ – as NUS leader Aaron Porter described himself during a meeting at the UCL occupation – the students’ self-organization and rapid outwitting of police tactics on several occasions should be recognized as part of a new wave of acephalic mobilizations, which, as protests build into the new year, cannot get much further without the support of trade unions, parents and other workers. This is a point made by Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite. University lecturers, who are being increasingly told by management to inform on their politically active students, came in for some serious criticism from the media at various points, particularly those at Goldsmiths who signed a letter defending the student protests (‘Full Marks for the Riot Say Lecturers’ ran the Evening Standard headline on 12 November). The attack on Goldsmiths is not coincidental. It is seen as the symbolic home of everything that’s ‘wrong’ with the university according to current government policy: artsbased, in London (there are simply ‘too many’), renowned (but not in the right way) and far too accessible to students from non-traditional backgrounds. On a related note, the role of ‘art practice’ in recent protests is also interesting, particularly the re-détourning of already assimilated art forms – the way the flash mob turned in a matter of months from an empty social media happening to an advertising vehicle, to a form of popular protest in the shape of UK Uncut’s tax avoidance campaigns. There is no doubt that 2011 will see a continued and increasingly militant anger spreading from students and the young to public-sector workers and beyond. Parents of children and young adults are increasingly and justly antagonized by the punishment meted out on their kids, and further-education and university students involved in the protests have received a rapid education in how not to trust the state, the police or the media. Some of the most articulate summaries and slogans of the current situation have come not from the old revolutionary vanguard, or from the commentariat, but from the protesters and occupiers themselves – and how could it be otherwise?

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Occupations and their limits Escalate Boundaries are permeable. We reach out beyond the police containment zone; our attempt to escape is our attempt to spread the movement into society at large. On the evening of 9 December, journalists are let out just before they hold us for two hours on Westminster Bridge. We are reminded of the futility of tweeting from our smartphones when all the professional reporters have gone home. But, instead of silence, we listen to our own chants. In protest our biggest opposition is the boundary. We reject the boundaries of the lecture theatre, the separation of students from society, the institutions of privilege, the binding of subjects to disciplines, the lines on the timetables that tell us where to be and when. Boundaries are how we are controlled, and in occupying we aim to take control of and remove them. The metaphors abound, and our movement is attracted to them. It is not by mistake that we engage in modes of protest that leave themselves open to poetic interpretation. Virtual boundaries manifest themselves in the physical world. Receiving the legal notice of a possession order against an occupation, we find ourselves presented with deeds and blueprints. The perimeters of the occupied rooms are outlined in coloured felt-tip. The documents tell us that the claimant is ‘The University’, which means its management. In legal terms, the management are the owners of the institution: in legal terms, they control it. Occupiers are depersonalized by definition, defined as ‘Persons Unknown (including students)’. We are expected to recognize ourselves in that dismissive parenthesis. The symbolism of the boundaries marked on these documents at that moment becomes a spectre of physical violence: the threat of removal by bailiffs. This mutation from virtual to physical does not only go in one direction. The police line in front of Parliament or the Treasury becomes an integral part of a whole architecture worthy of destruction. The line becomes a boundary of the spectacle, and then itself becomes subsumed into the spectacle. We form our own line and so the process continues back and forth, between the spectacle of the boundary and the boundary of the spectacle.


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The mass incarceration of protesters in Parliament Square is counterposed by the fences put up to stop people getting in. Boundaries become confused. Are they to pen us in or keep us out? In occupation, we rebel against a particular boundary, but in doing so we come to recognize the social functions of boundaries as such. The space created within an occupation is based on mutual reliance, and the boundaries of the zones become semi-permeable, allowing in the trusted, ejecting authority. In a different way, police containment zones are based on such reliance, in which both police and protesters fulfil predetermined roles. But the protest of trust and permeability occurs twice: first by the police, and then by us. A thousand protesters break the police line on Whitehall. On the other side of the barrier, they reform, then come crashing back into the contained area. The only tactical advantage is an expression of solidarity. For while it might seem that the police containment zone and the occupation are separated fundamentally – by the first being an act of unwanted incarceration and the latter an actively willed space of liberation – this divide is superficial. The spaces are different, but the boundaries remain the same. In essence, both rely on a dynamic of authority and protest. Our practice of disruption physically manifests the continuing assault of daily life upon free-thinking and the practice of resistance. Those students who remained on the outside of the occupations, and those of us within who constantly fretted about every decision and movement, share a state of anxiety. While the first group concerned itself with the potential repercussions of illegitimacy, ours, the second group, was petrified that the legitimacy we had gained would slip away. Such anxiety feels specific to every individual, but is communal. It is the binding collective emotion, the one on which our political movement is uneasily built. It stems not from an individual situation, but from a collective subjection to social authority. Alienation, apathy, depression, fear – these have always been the names of the mental state prior to politicization. Anxiety is the next phase, the one that propels people into new spaces of containment.

The Situationists were already noting in 1967 that the majority of students were destined to become low-level functionaries. For them this was a novelty. For us it is an overwhelming and indisputable fact. The atomization of the campus, the way in which our universities increasingly resemble the service industry – these are not accidents or metaphor, but active correlations between the world of work and the institutions which prepare us for it. What were once seminars are now merely miscategorized lectures, ‘contact’ hours have diminished into minutes, and academics have been ‘incentivized’ to prioritize their research over their pastoral obligations. At the same time costs to students have been inexorably pushed up. Successive UK governments have gradually flattened the appetite among students for intellectual and political opposition. The crisis has removed for the state the need to immiserate us in slow motion. Occupation has indeed re-entered the political vocabulary. But for us it is also a new political philology. The state introduces fees that will dissuade the poor from ‘accessing’ university resources. By seizing and then holding open doors to the fixed capital of which we are currently being dispossessed, occupation demonstrates that we intend to make those resources the possession of all. Be under no illusions: it scares the management. If the university managers do not exercise control, they have no remaining function. They will scratch the itch of occupation: the courts are on their side, the police are on their side. They are desperate not so much for us to leave as for the status of the space to revert to the calm clockwork order of before. We begin to realize that we are trapped between a series of closed doors while we can hear the privileged few on the other side, pocketing the keys and gluing the locks. But, as everyone saw on 9 December, trapped people get angry. Trapped people have to smash their way out. Anyone who isn’t smashing yet doesn’t realize just how trapped they are. The state argues that fees are ‘fair’ on the basis that a university system financed by general taxation is not. When the state makes this argument, it does not mention (which is to say, it conceals) that low-income working people have always paid for HE, and that doing so has involved paying not just for teaching, but also for a decades-long programme of investment in higher-education infrastructure: in research libraries, lecture theatres, seminar rooms, sports halls, residences. In the publicly funded Higher Education Funding Council for England’s 2010–11 budget, £562

million was set aside for ‘Capital Investment’. The new fees will in effect exclude the poor from accessing this material wealth. In occupations, the status of that wealth is contested. The process is quite simple. When we occupy a teaching space, we realize it is possible to participate in the composition of our syllabus without making a £9,000 per annum ‘personal investment’. When we occupy a research library, we realize we can determine who is kept out and who comes in. For the middle-class students who resist fees on principle (and, let’s face it, there are many), occupation is an education in the material reality of property relations. We learn how the spaces we occupy are policed under usual conditions: but we also begin to learn at what cost. The state is orchestrating a large-scale withdrawal of social goods. This creates new and urgent possibilities for class struggle. If occupations have so far failed to include a larger portion of the student body, that failure has taught us how much work still needs to be done if students are to possess a political culture prepared for such struggle. They have also done some essential work towards that preparation. The new open spaces of the occupation offer new modes of understanding. Democracy is experienced by many in ways they had never imagined. Working groups cooperate for a greater good beyond the meaningless and arbitrary production of commodities or predetermined social goods of the welfare state. Dumbfounded by the cogs of our society’s machinery, we break things to participate: the rules, the law, windows, property rights, norms, the officially determined uses of public spaces. Breaking away from our timetables, from our work/play divides, we come together not as producers or consumers, but as friends, in real places, with real tales to tell. The university became both a target and a home. We create our own bounded space when we occupy, delimiting, provisionally, an autonomous space; but we create our own provisional boundaries only in order to explode their more permanent and more suffocating predecessors. Nothing can be locked up at night. We feel that we own a space in occupation, but in fact we understand occupation to be a process that we determine. We don’t want just another classroom, or another police containment zone: rather, we want people to join us and we want to join them. We risk the space becoming a fetish, and all too often it does. But when the occupation ends we continue our process on the streets and in the classrooms. We continue pointing to the boundaries we wish to surpass and destroy. All too often those boundaries follow us wherever we go.

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Smells like teen spirit Emily Clifton

Before I learned about the planned rise in tuition fees in October 2010, my sole experience of political protest was as a nine-year-old accompanying my mother on a thoroughly peaceful anti-Iraq War march in 2003. I’m now sixteen, a student at a South-west London state secondary school. Following the election last spring, my friends and I had begun to talk about politics for the first time. There was a wide range of views. There was an equally wide range of opinions about the government’s imminent plans involving tuition fees, only this time feelings were heightened as the issue was something that we could directly relate to our futures. As the students of the future, we are the ones who will be saddled with massive debts. They will be a huge deterrent for many of us, as we ponder how best to continue our education. I don’t accept that the Con–Dem alliance has any mandate to decide our futures, to reinstate an elitist education system, and to reinforce the class system that underlies it, particularly as the majority of them have benefited from an entirely free university education. Inspired by news of planned demonstrations in London, a friend and I joined the 10 November protest march from Whitehall to Millbank, the Conservative Headquarters, in order to ‘unite and fight’ with thousands of other justifiably irate students from all over the UK. The enthusiasm and motivation of the crowd was phenomenal, with over 50,000 workers and students spanning all ages, united in their view that the contents of the Browne Report were unfair and unnecessary; the energy was particularly exhilarating and heartening outside Millbank, where the chants and banners found an immediate and compelling target. Emboldened by our experience and motivated through the need to raise awareness among our peers and create an impact locally, we then decided to organize our own event in Kingston. We wanted to gain as much support as possible, particularly in secondary schools. Like so many similar groups all over the country, we set up a Facebook event page, giving information and explaining our motives. We planned to stage school walkouts, followed by a local march, to coincide with the National Day of Walkouts to


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defend Education (on 24 November), organized by the Education Activist Network. Through our Facebook campaign (which included accept and decline options) we received confirmation of nearly 600 people intending to participate in the walkouts. We met with our head teacher to discuss organization and safety; we wanted to make sure that staff knew that this was not an action against the school itself. We were allowed to join the protest with parental permission; students in some other schools around the borough had been threatened with expulsion or other punishment for attending. Other teachers in our school had varying opinions about what was planned. One teacher specified she would be ‘very disappointed’ with any student who attended, while others seemed really excited and impressed by what we were doing and said they would have loved to come along themselves. We contacted the president of the Student Union at our local university in Kingston, and arranged for our protest to join up with the university rally planned for 24 November. Through our Facebook campaign, the Kingston Youth Member of Parliament and Youth Council also became involved and promised to attend the rally. On the day, my friends and I were filled with trepidation and excitement at the prospect of what was to come. Having been warned of disappointment (we know that often people promise passionately but then apathy takes over) we set off for school with bated breath. When the appointed walkout time arrived, we were astounded and relieved at the number of our fellow school students who had obtained letters of parental permission – about 300, far above our expectations. We had planned for the walkout from school to begin at 10.30 a.m. and were apprehensive as – armed with our banners, placards and posters – we marched through central Kingston. Encouragement and approving looks from supportive onlookers gave us a sense of hope for our cause. When we arrived at Guildhall, we were met with a great amount of unanticipated support. By this stage around a thousand people had gathered from at least eight different secondary schools around

the borough. Standing in the crowd chanting ‘No ifs, no buts, no education cuts’, we felt an incredible sense of pride and unity. Hundreds of students marched through the streets, stopping the traffic and clearing the pedestrianized areas of shoppers. The atmosphere was exhilarating and overwhelmingly positive. People had brought along musical instruments, and the inevitable police presence felt very good-natured. Onlookers joined us as we proceeded to the university, where various speakers had been arranged to address the march. They voiced the increasingly militant feelings of the crowd, and the protest gained an additional sense of clarity and unity. Watching our protest from inside the Guildhall were various members of the council, including the leader. He sent a representative out to us, who invited my friends and me inside to an impromptu meeting, while others protested outside. We discussed the council’s stance on the policies (Liberal Democrats, they supported free university tuition, opposing the coalition government on this point). We were invited to address a full council meeting two weeks later. We duly attended armed with a petition containing 650 signatures. Two of us argued our case, after which a debate followed. A motion, to lobby Kingston’s two local MPs and encourage them not to vote for the proposed increase in tuition fees, was carried by a significant majority. This was an unexpected achievement, which we saw as important acknowledgement of our generation’s very real sense of fear about our future. We were encouraged by the fact that our councillors seem prepared to engage with us in a democratic process. The council noted at the meeting that their policy was to ‘lobby for the abolition of student fees’ over the next four years, as they believe a university education should be free. The leader of the council applauded the fact

that his daughter (a pupil at our school) had attended the march. My friend Liane Aviram and I have attended various university meetings and lectures, including at the LSE and Kingston University, where we have offered a teenage perspective on the protests and our feelings and motivation about them. We attended the 9 December protest and got caught in the police kettle that afternoon. We were genuinely shocked at the lengths taken to prevent protesters from walking the streets of their own towns – the vast majority of them peacefully. So far as we could tell, almost all of the violence was begun by the police; it was their provocative and aggressive tactics that sparked the relatively isolated clashes that later occurred. We found ourselves shoved forwards and backwards and pushed about without any justification. I had never imagined anything like this before: police bullying sixteen-year-old children in their school uniforms, just because we were peacefully protesting. Being caged in for hours was eventually rather frightening – the continual circling of helicopters overhead leant a sinister atmosphere to the proceedings and the noise made it difficult to communicate. We were eventually freed in the early evening, exhausted by the experience. We are determined to carry on fighting, regardless of the government’s determination to implement most of Browne’s disastrous recommendations. And if the protestors who demonstrated all across the country on 9 December are at all representative of wider student feelings and priorities, then the coalition government should remember that we will all be voters at the next election.

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Captain Beefheart, Vorticist artist 1941–2010


fter 766 pages documenting in exhausting detail the life and crimes of Donald Vliet, aka Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart, author and longtime Magic Band member John French searches for an anecdote that can sum him up:

I remember Don once holding a pair of nail nippers in his hand and saying to me, ‘You are looking at these right now, but don’t ever forget that they are also looking at you.’ It was a puzzling statement for a moment, but I grasped that he was saying there are universes within as well as without, and we are collections of matter moving around in relationship to other collections of matter.1

This statement is pregnant with suggestion for anyone interested in the subject/object dialectics of Western philosophy, particular those who might wish to combine a radical materialism with a dada absurdism sourced from everyday objects. It was not for nothing that in Phenomenology of the Spirit Hegel said: ‘The Enlightenment … upsets the housekeeping of Spirit in the household of Faith by bringing into that household the tools and utensils of this world, a world which that Spirit cannot deny as its own, because its consciousness likewise belongs to it.’ (§486). But how could this extraordinary statement insert itself into the conclusion of a massive biography written by someone who is now a born-again Christian, and who more than once defines Beefheart as a demon? Beyond his silence (no release since the short spoken-word CD that accompanied the Stand Up To Be Discontinued catalogue of Beefheart’s paintings in 1993) and beyond the grave (multiple sclerosis finally took him in December), Beefheart’s heavy influence warps the thought of even his detractors. In drumming for Beefheart and piecing together his bandleader’s hummed and whistled ideas into something other musicians could interpret, not to mention suffering the ‘cult’ aspects of the band’s lifestyle, which included paranoid interrogations, victimizations and even assault, French went through a lot (the reader is spared no detail). The 1960s’ counterculture went wholesale for LSD, subsequently revealed as an invention stemming from US government military research labs, and with ‘freaking out’ and then ‘cybernetics’, it played with other mind-control techniques pioneered by the secret services. In the mid-1960s, Beefheart led bands which sounded like the Yardbirds or Them; by the late-1960s, he was dabbling with the modes of ‘experimental’ social reconditioning which also gave us EST and Charles Manson. No news there; Beefheart was a 1960s’ rock artist. But it’s hard to think of a biography exhibiting such bipolar extremes of love and hate, accolade and accusation, as French’s Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic. Partly, this is to be explained by its genesis: it’s a patchwork of transcribed interview tapes assembled by an author of rudimentary literary skill and ambition. The book lacks intellectual ‘coherence’. But, in a way, that’s appropriate. Like Frank Zappa, who he grew up with and who was a continual point of reference (and/or thorn of irritation), Beefheart was polemically opposed to the literate, educated overview. To moralize Beefheart would be to betray him. What hope, then, a reluctant obituarist? His art. Because it matters.


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Beefheart’s art was Vorticist in the manner demanded by Wyndham Lewis in the pages of Blast, developing the passage in William Blake’s Milton where he inveighed against the banal sense of time instilled by institutional Christianity and exploited by the future-dreams of capital investment and speculation. Blake proposed wide-eyed amazement at nature – in cosmos, earth and our own bodies – as the ‘heaven’ sought by his pious contemporaries, something the mature mind achieves and looks back on, while the unpredictable course of our actual lives on earth becomes the vortex to concentrate on. Lewis amplified this anti-transcendent materialism into the demand that artistic creation should be more than a lifestyle indulgence of the privileged, and actually pack into its physical techtonics the intimation of an existence beyond ideological blandishment. Like Blake in his Preface to Milton, and like Captain Beefheart denouncing the ‘momma-heartbeat lullabies’ of conventional pop-rock, Lewis excoriated the ‘hirelings’ who have corrupted this artistic cause. The Vorticist polemic glowers at you each time you happen upon a Wyndham Lewis in a provincial art gallery; and each time you hear a track by Captain Beefheart. This clanking, uningratiating, unintegrated thing will not serve as decor, or illustration, or ideal, or anything but the assertion of its own irreducible knottiness. Like a burr left by burdock or goosegrass on a silk chemise, Vorticist art is annoying and abrasive, but when made the object of attention, its internal detail and construction make it mind-turning and expansive. In his review of recent biographies of Syd Barrett (RP 165), Howard Caygill analysed the tensions of the counterculture by opposing the art-school destructo-purity of John Latham, Gustav Metzger and Yoko Ono to the corporate commercialism of the later Pink Floyd. Fine art counterposed to rock in this way runs the danger of reproducing nineteenth-century tropes of class: the self-denying entrepreneur maintaining his integrity while he waits for ‘greatness’ at the end of the rainbow, whilst his thriftless employees squander all on beer and skittles. Sure, Syd Barrett the art student faced different ways of making it in the world, but his dilemma doesn’t summarize the 1960s, or how blues and rock’n’roll reconfigured class and cultural value. Let’s swap Career Advice for Materialist Esthetix. Blues form – the voice of the poet recorded directly on tape or disc without the medium of print – challenged literary values. The ‘avant-garde’ (Henri Chopin, say, or Bob Cobbing) responded to this challenge; the ‘mainstream’ pretended nothing was happening, only registering surprise that everything they did became tepid by comparison. The whole history of Black music in America, occluded in an art/rock opposition (as a glance at the pages of The Wire today will reveal), shows that commercialism can deliver artworks of power unimagined by the Lathams, Metzgers and Onos: records by Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and James Brown (to name but three). Vorticist artworks succeed because they do not depend for their power on ideologies of status or distinction, but actively create the spaces in which they are heard, which is why they keep popping back up in the ‘wrong’ social group (Duke Ellington as Easy Listening; the Pop Group bringing James Brown into the heart of post-punk; John Coltrane as Patron Saint of Noise rather than Jazz, etc.). Mere sociology cannot map Vorticist productivity. The fantastic contribution of Captain Beefheart is that his brand of art rock did not occlude the demonstrable power and thrust of subaltern musics available in the commercial sphere. Quite the contrary. It amplified them into a polemic that could then take on the high ground of poetry, art and philosophy. Any survey of radical 1960s’ poetics that doesn’t include Trout Mask Replica is a dead letter: this is where the jazz

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infatuation of Beat shook off its cheerleading role and shaped a music to carry a burden of blazing Blakean ecology. This is where the verbal intoxication of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas exploded into something more than literature: a mode of life! Captain Beefheart took hold of the interview form and made it burst, refusing to stoop to the degraded chat of spectacular consumption, and realizing poetry in the room. Journalists’ earnest questions were thrown back at them in puns which were like living performances of Finnegans Wake. As John French makes us acutely aware, Captain Beefheart’s decision to live with no barriers to his unconscious – to deny no association, pun, thought or impulse – was incredibly taxing on those in his immediate vicinity, but it bore fruit in interviews and albums unexampled in rock. The ideal of the Free Improvisor, in Derek Bailey’s mind at least, is that of an avant-garde griot whose every performance constitutes a thoroughgoing interrogation of the whole point of music. This means that there are practically no tapes of Bailey that are insignificant, every practice and gig was played at a frighteningly high level of technique and will. Fluent in words – a talker who talked everyone around him silent with amazement or exhaustion – Captain Beefheart had no such fluency with musical structure. He learned his lessons from the 45 rpm R&B singles which he and the young Zappa collected. He was familiar with Abstract Expressionism. He conceived the tune as a finished artwork to be trundled out for audiences as accurately as possible. Improvisation wasn’t the point. His singing and can’t-play saxophonism were automatic gestures prepared for by his musical ‘canvas’ so they’d sound wonderful; they weren’t the listening musical responses of the jazz musician. This is why Revenant’s Grow Fins CD box set – a collection of unreleased tracks put together by John French – is so unsatisfying, a bunch of weak sketches, though they do prove how artful and deliberate Beefheart’s albums were. John French has had the difficult task of becoming the curator of Captain Beefheart’s legacy. Whilst aware that Beefheart provided something special, in performance French makes the mistake of trying to supply it himself, coming on like an imitator (Mallard, the Magic Band sans Beefheart, did much better by bringing in Sam Galpin, a Las Vegas lounge singer, on vocals). French’s judgements have become much reiterated, providing received opinion that needs to be challenged by listening to the actual records again. One of them – coloured by his own experiences during recording – is that Spotlight Kid is dry and sterile. No! This is quite simply one of the greatest spookrock albums ever made, a convolute of imagery hacked from direct observation spun in a blue-green vortex of gnomic, minimal funk. Acknowledged as a challenge to rock musicians everywhere (Mark E. Smith is still trying!), Captain Beefheart’s work should also be acknowledged as a challenge to anyone trying to do more than recirculate the already-known, to anyone trying to express themselves, in fact. In the passage of Phenomenology of Spirit quoted above, Hegel goes on to say that the Enlightenment’s challenge to religion broaches the issue of absolute freedom. As well as naming Frank Zappa’s second album with the Mothers of Invention, the attempt to be ‘absolutely free’ was the clarion call of the 1960s’ revolution. The way Captain Beefheart did it – avoiding the airy speculation of the Floyds and Fusioneers in favour of dense compositions which always negotiate the primal thump of the blues – defines freedom in opposition to escapism, which means shattering the illusion that exploiting other people’s labour makes you free. Captain Beefheart’s work was neither art nor rock, elite nor mass, but a protest against those who profit from their separation: not a promise, but its livid example. Ben Watson


1. Don Vliet quoted in John ‘Drumbo’ French, Captain Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic, Proper Music Publishing, London, 2009, pp. 767–8.


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