Here the Poster and announcement of the symposium I am organizing, starting tomorrow!

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Matter, Memory, and the More-than-Human

Relational Aesthetics and Politics in the Age of the Anthropocene

Symposium: 16:00-19:00, Room 5.K12 (Nov. 27, 2014)

Workshop: 10:00-12:00, Room 5.K03 (Nov. 28, 2014)

In times of renewed debates on the status of the object and the real in the arts the question of a new radical empiricism is at stake. How is experience not human but always more-than-human or ecological? We ask: how such an ecological approach is political and what are its aesthetics?

Current enthusiasm about new forms of realism, like speculative realism, strikes the art field with immense force. What we perceive is a certain return of the “object,” similar to architecture’s return to the sketch-board, after three decades of conceptually driven discourse and its discomforting pitfalls. Finally, some might argue, we overcome the predominance of discourse and encounter “things” beyond language. What seems crucial, is the status of the real in these new aesthetic and philosophical debates.

With this symposium we want to extend the rather dialectic procedure with which this debate continues and investigate how the relations between matter, memory and the more-than-human enable a multi-shaded formation of the real, inclusive of the materialist sensibilities of Marxist, post-structuralist and radical empiricist philosophies of the last century. Making such an inquiry an aesthetic concern motivate us to reconsider the status of the empirical in relation to the experiential. Rather than following phenomenological traditions the symposium puts particular attention to early pragmatist philosophies like William James, Alfred North Whitehead and Ralph Waldo Emerson, providing a different, radical empiricist, version of the real.

Finally the question would be, how such a take on realism in the age of the anthropocene affords us to re-assess what a more-than-human politics might look like and what forms of organization are in need for its realization.

Speakers:

Heather Davis (Penn State University)

“Ancient Archives of the Future: Strange Temporalities of Plastic”

Ridvan Askin (University of Basel)

‘Every pumpkin in the field, goes through every point of pumpkin history’: Emerson and the Memory of Matter’

Stamatia Portanova (independent scholar)

“The Genius and the Algorithm. Reflections on the Postdigital Aesthetics as Capitalist Neurosis”

Joel McKim (Birkbeck University of London)

Object, Matter, Energy: Towards a Philosophy of Infrastructure

Organization: Christoph Brunner (ZHdK)

Link

Where: Zurich University of the Arts, Toni-Areal, Pfingstweidstrasse 96, 8005 Zurich

Themes:

Accelerationist Aesthetics

Digital Aesthetics and Affect

Ecologies of Practices

Aesthetic Politics

New Materialism

Process Philosophy

Anarchitecture

Speculative Realism

Relational Aesthetics

Activist Philosophy

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I am co-organizing with Dimitrina Sevova a symposium entitled The Diagrammatic Practice of the Micropolitical – the Spatio-temporal Expression of Play between Power, Knowledge and the Aesthetics of Existence at Zurich University of the Arts.

Here are all the infos:

International Public Symposium at Pfingstweidstrasse 6, 8005 Zurich, ZHdK, 14/15/16 November 2013, around the notion of play, its processual (diagrammatic) and political and aesthetic potential in times of cognitive capitalism and its mechanisms of control over life and the urban environment.

Left: "The Playground, a Vacant Lot," Hale House, Boston, Mass., c1903, Social Museum Collection, Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museum.  Middle: Seattle Potlatch Parade showing float, 1912. Right: Nuria Vila + Marcelo Expósito, Tactical Frivolity + Rhythms of Resistance, video still, 2007.

Left: "The Playground, a Vacant Lot," Hale House, Boston, Mass., c1903, Social Museum Collection, Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museum. Middle: Seattle Potlatch Parade showing float, 1912. Right: Nuria Vila + Marcelo Expósito, Tactical Frivolity + Rhythms of Resistance, video still, 2007.

SPEAKERS: Paolo Caffoni, Giusy Checola, Binna Choi, discoteca flaming star (Cristina Gómez Barrio & Wolfgang Mayer), David Dibosa, Anja Kanngieser, Maurizio Lazzarato, Isabell Lorey, m-a-u-s-e-r (Mona Mahall & Aslı Serbest), Carmen Mörsch, Daniel Morgenthaler, Roberto Nigro, Susanna Perin (S.M.U.R.), Gerald Raunig, Adrian Rifkin, Kerstin Schroedinger, Marco Scotini, Diego Segatto, Joshua Simon, Kuba Szreder, Axel Wieder, Espace Temporaire (Magdalena Ybarguen).

RESPONDENTS: Jens Badura, Christoph Brunner, Karmen Franinović, Roberto Nigro, Romy Rüegger, Dimitrina Sevova.

PERFORMANCES: Chiara Fumai, T. Melih Görgün, Michael Hiltbrunner, Franziska Koch, David Maroto.

SCREENINGS: Marcelo Expósito, Silvia Maglioni and Graeme Thomson, RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co).

MICROPOLITICAL WORKSHOP: Wiktoria Furrer & Sebastian Dieterich in cooperation with Elke Bippus.


Throughout three intense days the symposium will be an experimental space for expressing and sharing ideas – a place for intervening, investigating and provoking collective discussions on how to re-activate play’s potentiality in urban space, considered as a playground of deskilled, affective and precarious labor.

The symposium aims at relocating the notion of play from the outdoor to the outside as an ecology and extended space for experimentation and micropolitics beyond spatial confinement. We ask how such an outside emerges through practices unfolding and altering dominant diagrams of power in urban environments. Here, playing-together involves the capacity of forces of resistance to create situations as intensive fields of affection through the micropolitics of diagrammatic practices. Both, playing bodies and the process of learning as a common, a self-productive and living knowledge, perpetuate new forms of social subjectivity and its immanent growth between power, knowledge and an aesthetics of existence.

Bringing together artists, curators, activists and thinkers from the fields of performance, art, aesthetic theory, philosophy, architecture and design, the symposium comprises talks, artistic interventions, performances and screenings.

Curated by Dimitrina Sevova and Christoph Brunner in cooperation with the Bachelor Media & Art, specialization Fine Arts of the Zurich University of the Arts, Elke Bippus, Franziska Koch.

A cooperation with Z+ ‹ http://www.zhdk.ch/zplus ›.

In conjunction with the a-disciplinary project consisting of a platform of irregular non-serial events, screenings, public readings, performances, talks, urban interventions and other ephemera, on the theme of Opportunities for Outdoor Play? Playgrounds – New Spaces of Liberty (The Question of Form) outdoorplay.tumblr.com ›, curated by Dimitrina Sevova at Kunsthof Zürich between March and October 2013 in cooperation with Elke Bippus, Franziska Koch and the Bachelor Media & Art, specialization Fine Arts of the Zurich University of the Arts.

For further information please see ‹ outdoorplay.tumblr.com › or ‹ www.kunsthof.ch .

No registration required. Admission free. Seats limited. Please be on time for each thematic bloc, performance or screening.

[The curatorial text by Dimitrina Sevova and Christoph Brunner, and all other materials, can be found on the project blog, outdoorplay.tumblr.com. And in printable layout as PDF: programabstracts and bioscuratorial text.]

transmutations

The recently launched first number to the brand new online journal Transmutations is out. This issue is working through the ongoing events of the Printemps Érable the Quebéc student strike against tuition hikes which has become a large-scale movement of different kinds - a spring in all its forces: “Frühlingserwachen.”

The issue focuses on performance in relation to social movements and movement as relational force. It comprises a lot of beautiful footage from the protests in Montreal but also films expressing different lines of intensity in relation to how such movements actually move. Texts are also part of the quite promising machine which has finally come to live. Congratulations!

Here is the overview of the issue.

It also includes a piece I wrote: On Relaying and Re-Beginning


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I will be participating in a one-day conference at UCL London on March 2nd, 2013. The conference is based on the latest issue of Third Text (see antecedent post). The format is going to be a kind of open discussion/forum without paper presentations and more conversational developments of collective thinking around the theme of art and ecologies.

Conference abstract:

The Eco-Aesthetics conference marks the release of Third Text no. 120 (January 2013), dedicated to the subject of “Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology,” guest-edited by TJ Demos. The event will include numerous contributors to the special issue, which investigates eco-aesthetics in a postcolonial framework—from global warming in the arctic to oil industry environmental damage in Nigeria’s delta, from conflicts between mining corporations and tribals in rural India to the ecological effects of industrial development in the port of Bahia Blanca, Argentina, from urban farming in Detroit to the Occupy movement’s development of a post-media social ecology. The special issue and conference seek to link international and interdisciplinary researchers, artists, and critical theorists in order to consider the questions of how such politico-ecological developments have been recently analyzed, mediated, and negotiated within the visual cultural of art and activism.

Link


third-text

A new publication by Roberto Nigro, Gerald Raunig and myself is out in the new Third Text issue.

Post-Media Activism, Social Ecology and Eco-Art - Third Text - Volume 27, Issue 1.

Abstract

In his late works Félix Guattari emphasizes the concept of ecology as tool for analysis and pragmatic proposition for contemporary societies. In The Three Ecologies he outlines three tendencies as mental, social and environmental ecologies. All three ecologies play a crucial role in what Guattari conceives as the nucleus for the transformation of society: the production of subjectivity. This article starts from Guattari’s ecological conception of aesthetic practices, which he calls eco-art, to further investigate contemporary forms of activism and their techniques. Through a close reading of the ‘human microphone’ and early footage from Zuccotti Park, the Occupy movement provides the ground for a re-actualization of Guattari’s ecological project. Asking how contemporary technologies integrate into the ecologically open production of subjectivity the authors develop an account of activist eco-art as part of a ‘post-media era’. They propose such a post-media era where technologies as ecological techniques for the production of subjectivity transform the political and social context in which we live.

Here, a direct LINK to the article.

documenta

A bit later than thought, I am positing some images from the collaboration between Martina Fritschy and myself for the dOCUMENTA 13 readers circle we participated in on June 26, 2012. We picked Brian Holmes‘ essay “Profanity and the Financial Markets: A User’s Guide to Closing Down the Casino” from the 100 Notes/100 Thoughts Series. Our idea was not only to read and discuss the text but to change the affective tonality of such a situation toward a less hierarchical and more mutually engaging manner. We started off by facilitating drinks and inviting the members of the Occupy camp outside the Fredericianum to be our guests (thus bypassing entry-ticket checks). After approximately 30 minutes of reading 15 pizzas have been delivered to the main entrance of the gallery allowing all of us to enjoy some food while talking about the text. After about an hour we were asked to vacate the space leading us to continue our exchange occupying the stairs in front of the building.

Questions coming from our experience remain: How can we undo the appropriation of philosophy and political theory by a constantly hollowed out art dispositif? What are the techniques at hand beyond bringing together signifiers and signs? Which vocabulary can we develop for a more gestural approach through “a-signifying processes of existential singularization” (Guattari “Entering the Post-Media Era”)? And how can we move from figures such as analysis and debate toward more open-ended formations of collective aesthetic practices?

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I just found out that an article co-authored with Roberto Nigro and Gerald Raunig has been published in RADAR - MUSAC’s Journal of Art and Thought two months ago:

Towards a New Aesthetic Paradigm: Ethico-Aesthetics and the Aesthetics of Existence in Foucault and Guattari

The article can be read here in English and Spanish.

The entire Journal issue:

Radar #1 - STRATEGIES IN THE FACE OF THE REAL. Limitations and Challenges in Times of Change

and the full PDF: RADAR#1 - PDF.

Our article in full length:

Towards a New Aesthetic Paradigm
Ethico-Aesthetics and the Aesthetics of existence in Foucault and Guattari

Christoph Brunner / Roberto Nigro / Gerald Raunig

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Felix Guattari’s and Michel Foucault’s works on the production of subjectivity investigate the transversal relations of social, political, and ecological bodies in their biopolitical constitution. Both authors, most prominently in their late works after 1980, write in opposition to the conservative backlash that has come to dominate institutionalizing forms of enclosure and impositions of legitimized and impoverished forms of subjectivity.1 For them, the production of subjectivity becomes the very existential territory on which social, ethical, and aesthetic transformations must be negotiated. The subject—or rather a processual subjectivity—becomes the machinic foyer out of which new and more transversal accounts of the socius can be developed. These processes rely on practices of self-governance, forms of practices of the self, and modes of constitution of the subject which are recurrent features of Foucault’s late writings on the care for the self and Guattari’s deliberations on a “new aesthetic paradigm.”

A mode of subjectivation does not create subjects ex nihilo; it creates them by transforming identities defined in the natural and social order into instances of the ex-perience of a dispute. Any subjectivation involves a disidentification, a removal from the naturalness of a place. Technologies of the self or the care for the self are practices to be intended in their very political vocation. Political subjectivation is an ability to produce polemical scenes, conflicts, lines of flight, new modes of existence. It redefines the field of experience and reshapes the organization of a community. Political subjectivation is here to be interpreted as a real political experience or process of experimentation; an experience as a movement that wrenches the subject from itself and from its actual condition, an experience that by acting on the subject changes its ontology. However, this very first movement of de-subjectivation achieves its real consistency only by means of a second movement that, almost simultaneously, comes to overdetermine it. It is what we can define, with the help of Lacan, as a movement of alteration of the subjectivity, consisting of an infinite interplay between the self and an (imaginary) limit that never ceases to move on.

In their consideration of subjectivation, Guattari and Foucault take into account the diagrammatic field of power relations as bounding and capturing agents, as well as the productive aspects of desires and forces as auto-affirming properties of creative production. Guattari in particular emphasizes the transversality under which processes of subjectivation take place. His elaborations in Three Ecologiess are based on the assumption that transformations of the social, as well as practices of the production of subjectivity activating new potentials of formerly harnessed power relations, need to traverse social, mental, and environmental ecologies (Guattari 2008, 28). For Guattari, ecology is not to be understood as an enclosed system but rather as a catalyst for change, a complex open-ended process to be conjured up by different modes of existence (material, social, and mental). All three ecological planes gain new importance in light of the contemporary social and political transformations in the Arab and European revolutions, the continuous increasing machinic production of desires in social media, and the environmental disasters of the present day.

Across these ecological registers, Guattari develops concrete steps to be taken toward a resingularization of subjectivity and its relational status as part of the three ecologies: “The important thing here is not only the confrontation with a new material of expression, but the constitution of complexes of subjectivation: multiple exchanges between individual-group-machine. These complexes actually offer people diverse possibilities for recomposing their existential corporeality, to get out of their respective impasses and, in a certain way, to resingularise themselves. Grafts of transference operate in this way, not issuing from ready-made dimensions of subjectivity crystal-lised into structural complexes, but from a creation which itself indicates a kind of aesthetic paradigm” (Guattari 1995, 7).

For Foucault and Guattari, the concern with aesthetics and its relation to existence has nothing to do with the aestheticization of life from a human perspective or, even worse, with the aestheticization of politics, a project already vehemently dismissed by Walter Benjamin in the 1930s. Guattari’s aim is to grasp subjectivity in the dimension of its processual creativity, instead of objectifying, reifying, or “scientifizing” it (1995, 13). Guattari and Foucault use aesthetics as a way to hint at the creative potential of expression and enunciation that has been silenced by the dominant force of signs and signifiers. In order to allow the three ecologies to traverse the production of subjectivity, Guattari elaborates a threefold development of aesthetic paradigms. The two pri-mary phases (which are still operating as part of current transformations) are 1) “collective territories” of a proto-aesthetic paradigm where creativity is not yet institution-alized but drawn into collective practices of enunciation such as rituals (1995, 101-102); and 2) a modularization of subjectivity, detached from the emergence of values and overcoded by capitalist signifiers (1995, 104-105). While the proto-aesthetic paradigm underlies a prehistorical period, the second phase refers to capitalist structure. In the third movement, which has not yet arrived, we might enter an aesthetic paradigm of processual immanence: “It is a striving towards this ontological root of creativity that is characteristic of the new processual paradigm. It engages the composition of enunciative assemblages actualizing the compossibility of two infinites, the active and the passive” (1995, 116). Guattari explicitly underlines the continued impact of the two earlier paradigms. The processual aesthetic paradigm re-focuses on the production of subjectivity as an aesthetic of existence. In a transversal manner (relating abstract as much as concrete dimensions), the production of subjectivity aims first and foremost to “reinvent social practices” (Guattari 1996, 119). The remaking of social practice goes hand in hand with Guattari’s critique of the ecological crisis that “can be traced to a more general crisis of the social, political and existential” (1996, 119).

From this point of view, the aesthetic paradigm resonates well with the desires and demands of 21st-century activism. In order to develop such activism as part of the new aesthetic paradigm, one must investigate the ecological status and the formation of new subjectivities as part of an aesthetics of existence. For Guattari, the production of subjectivity as motor for the flourishing of such an aesthetic paradigm has to include the active role of incorporeal “Universes of Value” (1995, 99) as much as it includes the function of collective enunciations and things or objects that are pragmatic func-tions of existence (1996, 177). Instead of founding his aesthetic paradigm on a clear separation between objects and subjects or between concrete and transcendent, Guattari folds the dimensions of material and immaterial forces into each other, leaving each of them to a certain extent autonomous and at the same time always relationally entangled with other forces.

The aesthetic paradigm is therefore interwoven with ethical and scientific paradigms: “The new aesthetic paradigm has ethico-political implications because to speak of creation is to speak of the responsibility of the creative instance with regard to the thing created, inflection of the state of things, bifurcation beyond preestablished schemas, once again taking into account the fate of alterity in its extreme modalities. But this ethical choice no longer emanates from a transcendent enunciation, a code of law or a unique and all-powerful god” (1995, 107). The genesis of an enunciation is co-emergent with processual invention or creation, and even in scientific statements forms of subjectivation surface as individual and collective-machinic.2

What Guattari identifies as “chaosmosis” defines a practice and tool of analysis at the same time. It is an immanent activism of ethico-aesthetic relevance taking into consideration and shaping the interplay of the three ecologies. Chaosmosis “is a force for seizing the creative potentiality at the root of sensible finitude–‘before’ it is applied to works, philosophical concepts, scientific functions and mental and social objects” (1995, 112).

The relation between aesthetics and existence in Foucault and Guattari is neither ex-clusively attached to art nor does it involve art as institutionalized practice. On the contrary, aesthetics itself shapes a mode of existence that accounts for the transversal relations between subjects and objects, and between corporeal and incorporeal forces, that together make up the real. Nevertheless, art can function as a useful “entrance” to investigating aesthetics of existence in their ethico-aesthetic impact on how the “real” is constituted (Deleuze and Guattari 1986, 3). Modestly put, there is a chance that art might enable us to surpass antagonisms such as those between orality and writing. Guattari foregrounds performance art and concrete poetry: “… this art doesn’t so much involve a return to an originary orality as it does a forward flight into machinations and deterritorialised machinic paths capable of engendering mutant subjectiv-ities” (1995, 90). From here a new world might be assembled and augmented where new forms and modalities of being can flourish through productions of subjectivity: the deconstruction of structures and codes, a chaosmic plunge into materialities of sensation, an aesthetic decentering of perspectives.

According to Guattari and Foucault, one must account for the transversal and machinic constellation in which all existence is enmeshed. In this regard, aesthetic machines are of utmost importance, because they undermine the general aestheticization of everyday life by generating mutant and heterogeneous blocks of sensation, percepts, and affects. The function of art is one of “rupturing with forms and significations circulating trivially in the social field” (1995, 130-131). Especially in a society where the circulation of images and aesthetic productions of affects and percepts rises, we require renewed expertise in the aesthetic field. The important point is to not consign these modes of creative production to an autonomous domain of art, but rather to consider them in their potential to transform, break, and reinvent trivial affects and percepts. In an essay contemporaneous with Chaosmosis, Deleuze comments in a similar fashion: “Creating has always been something different from communicating. The key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control” (Deleuze 1995, 175). For Guattari, in a similar vein, artistic and aesthetic cognition detaches segments of the real and deterritorializes them to become partial enunciators. The effects of these quasi-animistic language aspects of a work of art are both the remodeling of the relation between artist and consumer and the (in-)formation of everyday existence (see Guattari 1995, 131). Aesthetics as an ethics according to the transversal aspect of the three ecologies and the aesthetic paradigm always relates to modes of existence and of life.

Through his notion of “aesthetics of existence” Foucault conceives of the “bios as beautiful work” (Foucault 2011, 162). In his last years, he investigated this question of an aesthetics of existence in the ancient writings on parrhesia. According to Foucault, artists, especially during the course of the 19th century, have adapted the parrhesiatic forms of life of the Cynics. As a first principle, artistic life gains its relevance in the 19th century through the life of the artist as an enabling condition for an artwork to emerge, or even through the life of the artist as work of art giving relevance to the artistic existence of that epoch: “Art is capable of giving a form to existence which breaks with every other form, a form which is that of the true life” (Foucault 2011, 187). The second principle for Foucault lies in art’s capacity for “laying bare, exposure, stripping, excavation, and violent reduction of existence to its basics” (2011, 188). For Foucault, figures such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, and Manet take on the task of constituting “art as the site of the irruption of what is underneath, below, of what in a culture has no right, or at least no possibility of expression” (ibid.).

The relations between artistic or rather aesthetic practices and existence are part and parcel of the way Foucault and Guattari envision the aesthetic paradigm as a paradigm of resingularization. Both thinkers are concerned with existence as a way to enable new tastes of life and for life, to create a novel smoothness between sexes, generations, and ethnic groups–as much as compositions of virtual ecologies of “unprecedented formations of subjectivity” (Guattari 1995, 91). Concerning the invention of new forms of life and existence, Guattari writes in Chaosmosis: “One creates new modalities of subjectivity in the same way that an artist creates new forms from the palette” (1995, 7). Hence, as Deleuze points out in a commentary, to “constitute ways of existing or styles of life …. isn’t just an aesthetic matter, it’s what Foucault called ethics, as opposed to morality” (Deleuze 1995, 98-100). In their overlapping of ethics and aesthetics, ways of existing underlie rigorous immanent criteria: “Foucault even makes allusion to ‘aesthetic’ criteria, which are understood as criteria for life and replace on each occasion the claims of transcendental judgment with an immanent evaluation” (Deleuze 1991, 163). Foucault’s late formulation consists in the risky Cynic practice of parrhesia as a formation of life. He foregrounds the creation of relational fields between singularities over an emphasis on individualized retreat from society. For us the question then is: What happens if these revolutionary ethico-aesthetic practices define not only a political project but a molecular revolution as a remodeling of modes of life and existence? Such a molecular revolution underlines an aesthetics of existence and/or pairs it off with a political project as “constantly renewed work of giving form” to life (Fou-cault 2011, 162), or in-forming a living-collectively. Existence as bios and form of life, as much as cutting across all registers of the three ecologies, defines for us a major domain of future investigation, extending and reconsidering the propositional outlines provided by Foucault and Guattari. In particular, it is the transversal relation between modes of existence that interests us. For Foucault, the turn to an aesthetics of existence as ethical concern defines a new terrain lodged between general aesthetic processes of formation and a metaphysics of the soul (ibid.). An aesthetics of existence always produces and leaves traces of ways of being. Being, then, is not entirely tied to a world of concreteness available for human encounter. On the contrary, as Guattari points out: “Being is first auto-consistency, auto-affirmation, existence for-itself deploying particular relations of al-terity. The for-itself and for-others stop being the privilege of humanity, they crystallise everywhere that machinic interfaces engender disparity and, in return, are founded by it” (1995, 109).

In its machinic productivity, existence is a process and aesthetics becomes an ethical practice of becoming with the overall “worlding” of existence. The production of subjectivity therefore is neither an exclusively human affair nor entirely detachable from society. To account for an aesthetics of existence offers an investigation of prac-tices of attention and insertion at the heart of a subjectivity that is always with the world and existence instead of in the world. To reconsider social practices on the basis of existence requires an ethics and an aesthetics that are always subjec-tive-objective across the boundaries of mental, social, and environmental ecologies.

1 Guattari expresses a striking example of his critical remarks on conservative developments in the early 1980s in his poignant book title Les annés d’hiver 1980-1985 (The Winter Years).

2 In their last co-authored work, What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari expose the relation between science, art, and philosophy as different modes that all involve processes of creation and creativity (Deleuze/Guattari 1994).

References

Deleuze, Gilles, “What is a dispositif?,” in Michel Foucault, Michel Foucault Philosopher (New York: Routledge, 1991), 159-166.

——, Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

——, Two Regimes of Madness (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2006).

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

Guattari, Félix, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995).

——, The Guattari Reader (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).

——, The Three Ecologies (New York/London: Continuum, 2008).

Foucault, Michel, “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress,” in Paul Rabinow (ed.), Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984: Ethics. Vol. One (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), p. 253-280.

——, The Courage of the Truth (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2011).

Lazzarato, Maurizio, Expérimentations politiques (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2009).

In solidarity with the Québec student strike I interviewed Christian Marazzi, Silvia Federici and Georges Caffentzis on the question of student debt. The whole interview is below and can also be accessed at: http://eipcp.net/

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Debt, Affect and Self-Reproducing Movements

Zurich, May 25, 2012

In the wake of the 100th day of the general student strike in Québec and in the aftermath of passing the so-called Special Law 78, the global rupture these events evoked cannot be overlooked. In solidarity with Québec, its students, activists and the Quebecois people reminding us of the rights for free education, the right for peaceful assembly and political expression, this interview has been prompted spontaneously during a workshop at Zurich University of the Arts. Based on discussions in the work of Christian Marazzi on the shift from real production to what he calls financialization and Silvia Federici’s and George Caffentzis’ conceptual, activist and feminist involvement in the Occupy movement in New York and Maine this interview hopes to put emphasis on the problem of debt at the core of current movements around the globe. Aspects concerning the role of affect and the problem of continuity in these movements are inseparable from the social, political and economic circumstances usually foregrounded in the public media.

CB       –            Christoph Brunner
GC       -            George Caffentzis
SF        -            Silvia Federici
CM       -            Christian Marazzi

CB: The genealogy of student loans and fees in the United States is dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. From the introduction of tuition fees an unraveling process of debt has been taking off. Current conservative opinions concerning the circumstances in Québec often refer to the modest increase of fees proposed by the Charest government and the general acceptance of fees as a legitimate contribution to society. These inappropriate and anachronistic perspectives lack any resonance with the current unfolding of a biopolitics tied to debt as a central part of human existence. Could you shed light on the relation between this process of financialization and its biopolitical development?

CM: What came out of the 1970s in response to a general crisis of the Fordist mode of production is a number of counter-tendencies, like the attack on wages, de-localization, international investments and financialization which have become chronic to the extend of not being counter-tendencies anymore. It is a kind of permanent counter-revolution to the extend that financialization has really changed the relationship between the sphere of production and the sphere of reproduction. Both at the level of modes of production: the post-fordist enterprise is something that has to do very much with the capturing of value outside the direct process of production – outsourcing, crowdsourcing and so on. But also at the level of forcing labor power to assume a number of risks which were circumscribed by the capitalist sphere before the crisis. In this respect Foucault in La naissance de la biopolitique is very interesting because of the passages on neoliberalism where labor power is concerned as an entrepreneurial in itself. This idea that each of us has to behave like an entrepreneur. That’s when the debt-economy comes in because of the double-crisis: First of all the dismantling of the welfare state as a dispositif of creation of additional demand through deficit spending. And at the same time the privatization of this same mechanism through private indebtedness. Every household, every person has become a center of creation of additional demand by means of debts. The financialization has been the way by which profits have been able to be realized thanks to this growing volume of private debts allowing to turn surplus value into money. I think by now the process has reached a point where it is legitimate to talk of neoliberalism as a huge factory of the indebted man. In this respect Maurizio Lazzarato got the point addressing indebtedness as a sort of social condition which functions on the same level as the wage relation and at the same time reminding us of the fact of being wage earners as the general condition throughout the history of capitalism. This poses a number of serious political questions because to be indebted does not only mean to be financially trapped. At the same time, debt in German like Nietzsche said is Schuld meaning debt and guilt which complicates the whole issue: How do we get out of this moral trap? Debt is not anymore what it used to be, that is a way of bridging the present with the future in Keynesian terms. In capitalism debt always had a positive function; debt being a sort of investment into the future. Today debts are accumulating because on the one hand you invest into the future but on the other hand the future is investing in you so that you will never be able to pay back and you will always be trapped in this dispositif. I think here is where you guys come in because you have been with the Occupy movement and what is happening precisely in Québec is a demonstration of the importance of a sensitivity for those phenomena. The only thing that I would also like to add, concerns the fact that this process is similar to what is happening in Greece at the moment: Greece is a laboratory where all the levels, individual, collective, public, political and so on are gathered together. Maybe speaking about struggles and the difficulties that you mention can also be referred to a very concrete situation on a national level like the one in Greece.

CB: One important aspect in the current events in Quebec concerns the question of the production of subjectivity as an indebted man in relation to governance and how governance is responding to these events. Particularly in Québec concerning the special law 78 that they just passed. I am very surprised that a state or rather a province in its governance reacts by imposing a law. It seems very outdated for me and still they believe it’s the kind of means to stop what they call “crisis.” What is going on in this bi-directional mode of governance?

GC: Well, I mean this is not very new compared to what has happened in response to the Occupy movement in the United States which has been tremendously repressive in response to a movement that has been systematically and pragmatically nonviolent. New York city is full of windows and as far as I know not one window has been busted in the long period of the occupation of Zuccotti Park. These laws and the response have been quite clearly very violent and brutal responses both physically and as well in terms of the legal status that has been attributed to it.

CB: Isn’t it a prolongation of debt because of the fines you get which put you even more in dept because of this continuous spiral indebting you and creating guilt?

GC: Yes, the fines are huge!

SF: And now in many states they are considering reinstituting the prisoners. They want to bring back imprisonment. In Illinois it is already in place. In a number of states they found ways or ways of wording the bills so that they can actually put you in prison for that. It is imputing some sort of fraud. A fraudulent way in which you are left taking the loans. That puts prisons back on the agenda.

CB: And of course the capitalist production machine of the university is involved. The highest fines you get are for preventing other students wanting to go to class. So the question of what kind of production does this system seek and what the deployment of that law aims at is the increase of debt because they continue to study because there is no term taken out of the students’ accounts which could happen if students assert that they were not able to go to class. Which would be a catastrophe on the side of the university or the state. How did we come to this point of fees being put in operation in the first place and why are they continuously rising?

SF: To me I read the process of financialization in general but in particular applied to education also as a response to the student movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It is a political response that tries in fact to bring a new form of discipline in order to kill the movement. I think the student movement basically dissolved the idea that has been very dominant in the 1950s and 1960s that motivated big investments of the state into the educational system – certainly in the United states but not only there. The idea for example in the US that inspired investment in mass education was that mass education would pay the investment back, that the workforce would be much more productive and also education would function as a lesson of democracy making you identify with the system. The student movement in a sense was a major disappointment in terms of this objective. I think the capitalist class came to the conclusion that this investment will not pan out. So, you have financialization beginning to provide the mechanism for this major transformation. In fact there is a reversal of the ideology of these optics resulting in the imposition of fees. By the end of late 1970s open admission was eliminated. The introduction of fees first started on a small scale and then continuously increases and outplays all measures of inflation. The way the change has operated is based on the assumption that investment in education will not pay back in the future. Accordingly, education is transformed into an immediate point of accumulation. This is one function of the introduction of fees: to make education pay right away. Instead of the state investing, giving the student the resources to educate themselves now you force them to perform accumulation, to produce profit immediately, to produce surplus immediately. The other objective is of course the discipline imposed on students while they are in the university. When you have to pay these very high fees you have to find a way of getting out of the university as quickly as possible. You don’t have the time to socialize, you don’t have the time to read the extra book that does the political work. In a sense all your time has to be consumed by getting out of the university as quick as possible to find a job. I have students that even had three jobs. They come to school, they fall asleep and they tell me, ‘don’t take it personally but I had to work until 12 a.m. last night. The discipline is actually a disciplinary mechanism that extends throughout your work time because immediately after you finish classes you have to figure out how to find a job. You don’t have the luxury to decide which kind of job you are going to choose but you have to find out what allows you to pay the debt. What happens of course is that many students have put a lot of investment in the time to go to get this or that certificate to provide them with the good job and at the end they find out they can’t get the good job anyway. Sure enough they realize that the bank will triple the interest rate if you don’t pay your installment in time. Very soon they find themselves in a situation when they cannot pay the debt. And then your life begins to unravel because particularly the private banks have collectors who persecute you, call you, call your mother, call your family. There have been cases of students who have to go underground. I actually know some students who left the country as they did during the war in Vietnam. Because they found themselves in front of an amount they will never be able to pay and confronted with an immense amount of pressure.
The question of debt is extremely important in relation to its transformative impact on social relations.  The ideology of debt rules out any form of entitlement. The ideology of the 1960s was in a way that you as a student contributed to the wellbeing of society and that the university has made an investment in you. This was functional toward your future contribution to society. It was a social contract between you as a social figure and the state. Now things are different. Now we are told that in this neoliberal ideology you are the only person who benefits from these investments. You want to have a better job? You want to have a better life? Well, that’s your business. You are a micro-entrepreneur.  You are a micro-investor. Why should the state pay for you to have higher wages? It is the same kind of ideology that they are now imposing on us in relation to health-care and in relation to pensions. If you want to have a pension, you will have to invest in it. They are telling us as soon as you have a child we have to put aside money for it to go to university.
Everything has become a private matter. This ideology is very perverse because it percolates into the consciousness and the subjectivity of people. It creates people who are consumed by a feeling of guilt that they shouldn’t have allowed themselves to take so much money out of their accounts, etc. Once they leave university they are already outside of a social relation. They take the debt on campus but they confront the payment in a situation of isolation when this ideology can be more effective. The sensation of failure is a very paralyzing feeling.
Fortunately there is a struggle that is taking place on many levels. Canada now is really leading the way. It is very important what is happening there. The students are saying: No! – even to smaller increases in tuition fees because they have seen what has happened across the border. You start with small fees and once you begin that road soon the fees escalate beyond control. In the United States too there is a movement that is growing and it is a movement that has many sources. For example the organization is taking a kind of consumer perspective, saying: ‘what we should fight for is a kind of private bankruptcy.’ Another strategy says: ‘what we should fight for is the cancellation of the debt because this will stimulate the economy.’ Now there is a third movement growing which has been stimulated by the Occupy movement, saying: we are not going to pay the debt because this debt is not legitimate. ‘We have to pay for the right to have a certificate and the right to work. We have to pay in order to be exploited.’ This is a movement that is both by students and teachers. It is a movement that is working through the pledge stating: ‘if another million students are not going to pay their debt I am not going to pay.’ This movement also has pledges for teachers because many like us do not any longer want to be accomplices for an educational system that turns students into slaves.
We don’t find it politically acceptable anymore to teach as if this was purely a matter of transmitting cultural ideas while we are involved in this machine which is basically working on the students’ lives. It is very good that the movement has made a space for that as well.

CB: The question of affect and aesthetics interests me in relation to these movements. Now everyone talks about the new movement and the embrace of difference and radical inclusion as well as the refusal of naming clear demands. They are very important steps to be taken. But also the questions of aesthetic strategies being deployed are of relevance. There is a politics of aesthetics happening through the movements, an affective politics. For me this question pertains much more to the question of affect itself than a mere discussion of affective labor which deals with reproductive forms of labor and the problems coming out of that. What I am interested in is the affective level of something that is felt and through that feeling there is a different sense of collectivity happening which is not just the grouping of people under an ideology or an idea but a felt intensity of something happening. Through this process new modes of expression come to the fore. You mentioned in an earlier conversation that the question of technology should not be undervalued in these kinds of practices. How does that relate to the aesthetic and affective level of these movements?

SF: The way I like to put it if you speak of aesthetics and affective levels is that we have a movement now – whatever its objective and organizational form – representing something new because it brought to the fore this whole issue of reproducing in itself at the center of political organizing. We have seen even before the Occupy movement  – but the Occupy movement has made it visible – the need and desire for a kind of politics that recalls something of a feminist politics: the refusal to separate the political and the personal, the affective and the political. We used to discuss in New York particularly with people of the younger generation of activists the idea of creating a self-reproducing movement. We conceptualize this as a movement that would not continuously surge and collapse, surge and collapse but would actually have a continuity through all its transformations. This continuity would be precisely the ability to also place the needs of people and the relationship of people at the center of the organizing. This is also what you are referring to by affectivity as a sharing of space, the sharing of reproductivity, like the preparing of food, the conversations in the nights or the sleeping together under the tents, of making a sign together, of bringing together this creativity as being an extremely important aspect of this movement. For many people it has been really a transformative experience inseparable from the specific demands, which I wouldn’t actually call demands. Demands imply a passive relationship to the donors weather this is the state of capital or the employer. Whereas if we speak of objectives we speak of something that has an effect in the way it brings people together. An objective maps a terrain on which people can come together rather than mapping a relation of dependence. The way that the movement has insisted on not following the politics of demand and refusing a politics of representation has been extremely important.

GF: My sense of the experience of being in the encampments that developed not only in New York but also in Maine. The Occupy movement there showed me that is was by the ability of people to stay at the encampments. When the temperatures went down below freezing and they spent the night there to go to the general assemblies in the middle of snow it was a physically and bodily measure of how fed up these people were in an affective way. People facing tremendous assaults and lots of criticism for demanding to be able to stay together against their own health showed to me that something is happening. It is like the temperature check in the assembly showing that something is really happening, that it’s really hot.

SF: And the joy and the resonance of these tactics, of these bodily tactics, like the mike-check is a symbol of the affectivity you are referring to. The way people speak of mike-check is so powerful. Mike-check has become a kind of statement for saying: “we are together! And we are going to do what we desire weather the others are going to allow it or not.” It has become this emotional solidarity pledge or solidarity expression.

CB: On the expressive level mike-check is interesting because it is not an order-word anymore, it’s a proposition. It is very moving for instance how the “casseroladas” are taking place now every evening in Montréal as such a mode of expression.

SF: Exactly, and how they moved from Argentina to Madrid and now to Montréal. Something that began in Latin America is now circulating through different languages defining a common notion.

CB: And isn’t that part of the continuity you described earlier? Since the 1970s there has been a continuous struggle in Argentina, ceaselessly reproducing and reinventing itself and steadily inspiring similar techniques for struggles around the globe?

SF: Exactly!

George Caffentzis is a political philosopher and atunomist Marxis teaching at the University of Sothern Maine.

Silvia Federici is a feminist theorist and activist living in New York. She is professor emeritus teaching at Hofstra University.

Christian Marazzi is an economist and autonmist. He is the director of Socio-Economic Research at the Scuola Universitaria della Svizzera Italiana

Christoph Brunner is a research at Zurich University of the Arts and PhD candidate at Concordia University Montréal.


Open 23 - Autonomy


In this time of ideological, economic and political crises autonomy is becoming attractive again.

But how does autonomy - the wish to take matters into ones own hands and have significance independent of old structures -  relate to the call for engagement and performativity? This issue, made in collaboration with Sven Lütticken, examines autonomy from the standpoints of art, art history, philosophy, political theory and cultural criticism, and attempts to resolve the bind between thinking in terms of engagement on the one hand and autonomy on the other.

Steven ten Thije delves into the background of The Autonomy ProjectJohn Byrne argues that art must be freed from its current technocratic framework. According to John Hartle, the rightwing-populist criticism of art lacks democratic legitimacy.Willem van Weelden interviews Franco Berardi on theItalian Autonomia movement and autonomy, Occupy, and education. Hito Steyerl makes a plea for isolation in order to think about how life can recapture its autonomy from art.Christoph BrunnerGerald Raunig, and Roberto Nigroexamine new dimensions in current forms of activism. Joost de Bloois comments on the recent protests against government cutbacks, whereby an appeal is made to autonomy. Sven Lütticken investigates the concept of autonomy and its relation to aesthetics and politics in the context of post-war modernism.Andrea Fraser argues for an approach to autonomy from a psychoanalytic perspective. Peter Osborne analyses misunderstandings about the autonomy of art and goes into Adorno’s ideas in this regard. Thomas Hirschhorn andJacques Rancière investigate what the essence of a work of art might be in these times.

Our contribution

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About Open

Open investigates the contemporary conditions of public space and changing notions of publicness in a structural manner in relation to cultural production. This implies an experimental and interdisciplinary exposition of the reality, possibilities, and limitations of the current public domain, in particular from sociological, philosophical, political, and artistic perspectives. Within the framework of this ‘project in progress,’ themes such as safety, memory, visibility, cultural freedom, tolerance, hybrid space, the rise of informal media, art as a public affair, precarity, and privacy have been examined.

Open is edited by Jorinde Seijdel (editor in chief) and Liesbeth Melis (final editing) and appears twice a year in a Dutch-language and an English-language edition. The graphic design is by Thomas Buxò and Klaartje van Eijk. Open is an initiative of SKOR | Foundation for Art and Public Domain, Amsterdam and is published by NAi Publishers.

I received this very fascinating article by Bernard E. Harcourt, chair of the political science department and professor of law at The University of Chicago. His account of the current practices at Zucotti Park, which he calls “political disobedience” is spot on when it comes to the question of “labelling,” ideologizing or instrumentalizing the ongoing protest. From a philosophical angle I would say the protest has taken up formats that finally grapple with difference as an ontogenetical creative force, which demands the constitution of collectives without central figures, uni-directional goals or simplified solutions. It is not about generating another product or solution but constituting the right problems as they emerge and to work with them, in utmost vigilance and without ideological determinations. It is not a utopia beyond capitalism that is at stake but the actualization of new forms of collective action, thought and creation. The resonance chamber of capitalism is a given and needs to be reconsidered, not as an ideology but as Michel Foucault put it a “micro-physics of power.”

Article by Harcourt in NY Times