I have just had a blog post published as the second part of a ten part series organised by the BISA Postgraduate Network devoted to thinking about what it means to teach as a PhD student in the contemporary university, the challenges involved, as well as the transition to post-PhD life wherein teaching experience is so often a crucial factor in securing employment (casual or non-casual). You can check out the first post, which focuses on the BISA PGN Teaching Prize, here. My contribution, which focuses on the political aspect of pedagogy in the contemporary university, can be accessed here. Future contributions will be added in the weeks to come. Thanks go to Tom Watts and Camille Merden for organising, commissioning, and editing this interesting series of contributions which, I think, are necessary and timely insights into the different ways different PhD students deal with the demands of the hyperindustrial university.
I have just had an article published in the new edition of La Deleuziana, entitled 'Stupidity and Study in the Contemporary University.'
In the paper, I consider the concepts of "stupidity" (with Deleuze and Stiegler) and "study" (with Harney and Moten) in relation to the contemporary university. I argue that the university functions within, and perpetuates, systemic stupidity through corporatised management structures and regimes of governance of research and teaching. Further, I consider some projects of study which might be developed in the university-to-come in order to escape such systemic stupidity.
The full reference is as-follows:
Heaney, Conor 'Stupidity and Study in the Contemporary University', La Deleuziana, 5, 2017, 5-31
In September 2015, Hollie Mackenzie, Dr Iain MacKenzie and I hosted the first iteration of Learning, Exchange, and Play at an event hosted and organised by PLANK (Politically Led Art & Networked Knowledges) at King's College London. I blogged about this previously following the subsequent release of the first LEP film, LEP I, here.
Following this event, the team at PLANK sought contributions for a zine based around the day's events, which was launched/released in June 2017. In it contains a short piece by myself, Hollie, and Iain discussing and reflecting on some of the ideas and practices in this first version of LEP. You can download our short contribution here.
The full reference is:
MacKenzie, Iain, Mackenzie, Hollie, and Heaney, Conor, 'Learning, Exchange, and Play: Practicing a Deleuzian Pedagogy', PLANK Zine, Issue 1: Techniques of Art and Protest, 2017, 41-45
If you want to find out more about PLANK, and the other activities and events they're involved with, you can check out their blog here: http://plank-network.blogspot.co.uk
I have just had a book review of Gerald Raunig's recently translated Dividuum: Machinic Capitalism and Molecular Revolution Vol. 1 published in New Formations. The book is an (Deleuze and Guattari inspired) attempt to both historically trace and develop anew the concept of dividuality and its place in both the politics of the present and in trajectories of potentially revolutionary politics-to-come.
The full reference is as-follows: Heaney, Conor, 'Inventing New Lines', New Formations, 89/90 (2017), 268-271
Myself and Hollie Mackenzie have just had a paper published in Compass: A Journal of Learning and Teaching in a special issue on the Teaching Excellence Framework (which I have blogged about previously), which the Conservative government are seeking to introduce into the tertiary education sector, and which would see the creation of new university league tables centred around teaching-based metrics.
The abstract for the paper is as-follows:
In this paper, we argue that Success as a Knowledge Economy, and the Teaching Excellence Framework, will constitute a set of mechanisms of perpetual pedagogical control in which the market will become a regulator of pedagogical possibilities. Rather than supporting pedagogical exploration, or creating conditions for the empowerment of students and teachers, such policies support the precarisation and casualisation of both. We develop these claims through a reading of these policies alongside Gilles Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control, and situating it in the context of what Gary Hall has termed postwelfare capitalism. We conclude by reaching out to others in the tertiary education sector and beyond to ask if this really is the direction we wish to take this sector in the UK.
The full reference is as-follows:
Heaney, Conor and Mackenzie, Hollie, 'The Teaching Excellence Framework: Perpetual Pedagogical Control in Postwelfare Capitalism', Compass: A Journal of Learning and Teaching, 10 (2), 2017
The Economist published an article entitled 'Lifelong Learning is Becoming an Economic Imperative' this month.
Gilles Deleuze's Postscript on the Societies of Control was first published in 1990 in L'Autre journal (which, as far as I'm aware, no longer publishes).
Here are excerpts from both placed alongside each other.
(Continuous re-booting - software updates - is what The Economist recommends for us all.)
I have just had an article published in Ethics & Global Politics entitled 'Revising Sangiovanni's Reciprocity-Based Internationalism: Towards International Egalitarian Obligations.'
The paper considers aspects of international capital ownership and interstate trade and argues that these practices, under my modified version Andrea Sangiovanni's of 'reciprocity-based internationalism' (which attempts to account for when and how egalitarian obligations might be generated through social, political, and economic relations), themselves generate egalitarian obligations. I also work with Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century in this article.
The full reference is as-follows:
Heaney, Conor, 'Revising Sangiovanni's reciprocity-based internationalism: towards international egalitarian obligations', Ethics & Global Politics, 9, 2016
I have just had a book review published in Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory. I reviewed Dominic Pettman’s recently released interesting text, Infinite Distraction: Paying Attention to Social Media, published by Polity Press. The book is another attempt within contemporary social and cultural theory to consider what we might think and about what we might do in relation to our contemporary algorithmic entanglement with digital technologies.
The full reference is as-follows:
Heaney, Conor, ‘Pettman, Dominic, Infinite Distraction: Paying Attention to Social Media. Cambridge: Polity, 2016’, Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, 63, 1 (2016), 75-77
Arthur Winfree was a theoretical biologist whose work, among other things, focused on the connections between organisms and the "time-worlds" through which they navigate their "life-worlds." Considering, for example, mosquitoes, Winfree experimented with how certain “time shocks” were reacted to by the objects of the experiment. Manuel DeLanda, in his famous Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, writes the following in relation to Winfree’s research:
Winfree’s main result is, basically, that a singular, critical stimulus applied at a singular, sensitive moment has a destructive effect on the sleep-awake cycle of organisms, giving a population of mosquitoes, for example, permanent insomnia. (2013: 106-107)
In other words, Winfree’s results suggest that certain modifications in an organism’s life-world can rupture the internal relationship that organism has to itself (its rhythms, habits, and so on). This is not, in itself, surprising. Humans tend to obey circadian rhythms, it would seem, partially due to the fact that natural selection tends to “select” modifications that enable the continual development of organism-and-life-world (where the unit of evolutionary selection is not “the organism” but “the organism and its environment”). The human life-world is one experienced largely in terms of the temporal cycle of day-and-night. It makes sense, therefore, that the human-as-organism would come to regulate itself in relation to the life-world (of day-and-night) that it inhabits.
But this self-regulation of which humans (and all other effects of evolutionary processes) are capable of doesn’t always occur quickly. Sometimes there are historical developments or ruptures which off-set the balance and force new adaptations to the fore. Technological innovation and development has, in many – though by no means all – urban areas rendered the distinction between online and offline increasingly problematic or increasingly inapplicable. In sites where this permanent online-ness is operative, we see an expanse of strategies of surveillance, a more pervasive and individually targeted virtual landscape of advertisements to fend off, resist (and often submit to), and the permanent opportunity to be “working.” The erosion of the online/offline distinction bears the potential of eroding the labour/leisure distinction: one can always be consuming and one can always be producing. Indeed, the social injunction is that one ought to be doing precisely these two things, at all times.
When is there time to sleep? That contemporary labour relations wage a war on sleep – where sleep is only valued to the extent that it replenishes calorie-dependent, appetite-dependent, taste-dependent, and liquidity-dependent supplies of human capital, potential productivity and consumption – is no new thing. But let’s say that the “new digital landscape” wages war on sleep in a new way, and therefore commands new responses. The imbrication of neoliberal capitalism and advanced digital technologies tends towards a culture of permanent production, consumption, and, as such, permanent collective insomnia. Has the critical stimulus to produce this collective insomnia in us already been applied, like to the mosquitoes in Winfree’s experiments?
DeLanda, Manuel, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013)
On 15th and 16th January 2016 - as part of the 'Transforming Moments: Dissonance, Liminality, and Action as Learning Experiences' conference at the University of Kent, Canterbury - myself & Hollie Mackenzie constructed a second iteration of the 'Learning, Exchange, and Play' space. We worked with Ben Cook from Anti/Type Films who directed and produced this excellent short-film on the experience. We invited participants into a classroom configured as a space of encounters.
This film was premiered at the conference 'Undisciplined Environments: International Conference of the European Network of Political Ecology (ENTITLE)' at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) (Stockholm) in March 2015, as part of the panel 'The Affective in Political Ecologies: Arts as Ways to Cultivate Resistances'.
The 'Learning, Exchange, and Play' Series is a series of experimental films produced as part of an ongoing campaign which seeks to open up the space for creative, alternative, and non-instrumentalised pedagogical stylistics in the face of the neoliberal homogenisation of teaching possibilities in contemporary education.
On 6th November 2015, the Government released a new Green Paper, comedically or mockingly entitled Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. This Green Paper was open for public consultation until 15th January 2016. In other words, this consultation was pushed out and pulled back in again during what is simultaneously one of the busiest periods of the academic year, and one of time wheres terms end, and people take time off, for an extended period. It would be no wonder, therefore, if you had never heard of it.
The policy push being made here will come as no surprise to those who follow policy trajectories in UK Higher Education. This trajectory, not unlike many others, is one of an intensification of marketisation (in this case, the continual embrace of the shift from publicly funded universities to ones financed through debt) and quantification (the reduction and flattening of qualitative differences between types of research and different types of teaching to quantitative data – the increasing hegemony of the “league table”). In this short post I will just point to three preliminary problems, with the hope on to developing on these problems as actionable points .
- The insidious instrumentalism of which this Green Paper forms a part is one which has been met, as far as I have seen, with overwhelming negativity and scepticism. As if the Research Excellence Framework (REF) (which increasingly governs how academics conduct their work) wasn’t enough of a blow to ‘academic freedom’ (whatever that might mean), the proposed introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) looks set to ensure that that blow is even harder.
Problem One: Does it matter that so many in Higher Education appear to be against this move? Will the Government listen to this overwhelming negative industry response to the proposed TEF? If not – which, we might venture to speculate, is likely - what else can we do?
- The influence of the REF on institutional practices cannot be underestimated. Its effect is widespread, influencing research culture, research content, heightening individual accountability, putting a constant premium on reputation and its maintenance, influenced hiring practices, and so on. Not that the University was without some of these insidious and hyper-competitive elements beforehand, but they were hardly features which needed exacerbation.
Problem Two: What sort of internal atmospheres do these policy drives help create in the University? The increased corporatisation of the University is not surprising: high level scientific, military, and pharmaceutical research is central the functioning and perpetuation of today’s version of capitalism, and the academy is absolutely central to the perpetuation of these hegemonies. Despite this centrality, academics have less and less of a voice in their own working conditions (and, again, this is not to romanticise previous conditions). What resources can those in higher education mobilise to resist these drives towards increased hyper-competitiveness and instead build co-operative, collaborative, and accessible atmospheres?
What insidious and hyper-competitive tendencies might the TEF exacerbate? It is difficult to predict. But we have some clues. TEF accreditation, unlike the REF’s, will not be connected with research funding. Instead, TEF accreditation will be linked to what prices institutions will be able to charge their “service users” (….). Higher TEF “scores” for institutions looks set to mean higher fees: class privilege will, this is to say, remain intensely at the heart of tertiary education. (Note, these fees rises are, apparently, set to be capped at inflation, at the highest. But in addition to this, the language of ‘deregulation’ is omnipresent in the Green Paper.)
Problem Three: Pedagogical Homogenisation: While couched in a language of “incentives to innovate” in teaching practices, in essence such transformation will most likely produce a “drive to standardisation”. That is, the tendency will be one of pedagogical homogenisation around what ever “best practice” happens to be. One needn’t look very deep into this Green Paper to see the purposes of TEF have nothing to do with making University education more enriching and challenging. Their central purposes are productivity growth and the accumulation of human capital (“employability” “transferable skills” and so forth…), which were crucial in the development of the REF and in the infamous Browne Review (2010) which formed the basis for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat trebling of tuition fee caps.
One of the key effects of the TEF will be to drive a further wedge between “teacher” and “student”, to render this relationship increasingly governed by market accountability and impersonal instrumentalism. In other words, one of its key effects will be to solidify the marketisation and impersonalisation of the teacher/student relationship.
Responses to the TEF are beginning and mounting. The Second Convention on Higher Education, for example, are seeking to write an Alternative White Paper. The Campaign for the Public University have also spoken out against it (links to relevant articles are below).
This post is extremely preliminary and will be followed by a number of further posts on this theme (hence titling this "free education series"). If you have any information on campaigns which seek to resist the REF and/or TEF, or anything even tangentially related, then please get in touch (my contact details are at the bottom of the page).
In addition, two of my own papers (see here and here) directly intersect with this current policy climate in UK Higher Education, what this means in terms of how we treat "knowledge" today, as well as how all of this might relate to resistance.
I am currently making my way through Jason W. Moore’s 2015 book Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. In the final substantive chapter, entitled ‘The Long Green Revolution: The Life and Times of Cheap Food in the Long Twentieth Century’, Moore continues the book’s trend of analysing what he argues are the necessary moments of appropriation that couple any movement of capitalist exploitation. Whilst exploitation is related to forms of paid labour, appropriation is related to forms of unpaid labour. Capitalist accumulation, Moore argues, necessitates moments of exploitation to be couple with moments of appropriation. There are a number of examples of unpaid labour that have been necessary for capitalist expansion and accumulation: slave labour, reproductive labour, and the labour of the non-human (whether non-human animals or land). One of capitalism’s central production dynamics is, of course, that of food production, production which is differentially distributed along class lines, generating food regimes and subjecting others to hunger regimes. Moore highlights a worrying statistical trend in relation to the efficiency of food production in the past eighty years:
It took about 2.5 calories of energy to deliver a calorie of food in the 1930s. The ratio then moved sharply upwards, to 7.5:1 in the 1950s, and 10:1 by the early 1970s. By the twenty-first century, fifteen-to-twenty calories were needed to deliver one calorie of food from farm to table, considerably more for globally sourced fruit. (Moore, 2015: 252)
Surely, this raises more than just questions about the “sustainability” of current food production practices. It also pushes against those issues of the differential distribution of what food is produced (i.e. the allocation of food and hunger regimes along class lines) as well as the feasibility of continuing to intensify industrialised-corporatised agricultural production. “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally” doesn’t seem to come close to a substantial response to this glaring failure of capitalist production.
Acker, T.L., et. al., ‘Energy Inefficiency in Industrial Agriculture’, Energy Sources, Part B, 8, 4 (2013), 420-430
Canning, P. et. al., ‘Energy Use in the U.S. Food System’, Economic Research Report Number 94 (Washington: United States Department of Agriculture, 2010)
Moore, Jason W., Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (London: Verso, 2015)
Steinhart, J.S., and Steinhart, C.E., ‘Energy Use in the U.S. Food System,’ Science, 184, 4134 (1974), 307-316
Pimental, D., et. al., ‘Food Production and the Energy Crisis,’ Science, 182 (1973), 443-449
Sectarianism is rarely levelled as a term of endearment. It would be difficult (though certainly not impossible) to praise any position for its sectarian virtues. Nonetheless, the centrality of sectarianism to Stormont politics in the North of Ireland / Northern Ireland (whichever you prefer) is such that one’s sectarianism is worn as a badge of honour. Reading, in a different context, Paulo Freire’s Education for Critical Consciousness (discussing the Brazilian political context in the 1950s and 1960s), I stumbled upon and through the following quote:
Unfortunately, the Brazilian people, elite and masses alike, were generally unprepared to evaluate the transition critically; and so, tossed about by the force of the contending contradictions, they began to fall into sectarian positions instead of opting for radical solutions. Sectarianism is predominantly emotional and uncritical. It is arrogant, antidialogical and thus anticommunicative. It is a reactionary stance, whether on the part of a rightist (whom I consider a “born” sectarian) or a leftist. The sectarian creates nothing because he cannot love. Disrespecting the choices of others, he tries to impose his own choice on everyone else. Herein lies the inclination of the sectarian to activism: action without the vigilance of reflection; herein lies his taste for sloganizing, which generally remains at the level of myth and half-truths and attributes absolute value to the purely relative. The radical, in contrast, rejects activism and submits his actions to reflection.
The sectarian, whether rightist or leftist, sets himself up as the proprietor of history, as its sole creator, and the one entitled to set the pace of its movement […] The sectarian wishes the people to be present at the historical process as activists, maneuvered by intoxicating propaganda. They are not supposed to think. Someone else will think for them; and it is as protégés, as children, that the sectarian sees them. Sectarians can never carry out a truly liberating revolution, because they are themselves unfree. (Freire, 2008: 9)
Despite Freire’s over-reliance on ‘rationality’ and ‘thought’, and his demonisation of the affective, this extended quote raises some important questions. Is sectarianism necessarily anti-communicative, rather than the very “stuff” of politics (i.e. conflict)? Could there be a politics without sectarianism? Are self-identified revolutionary sectarians, by definition, self-proclaimed prophets of history? One cannot, at present, imagine a Stormont without sectarianism. Is is it therefore impossible, as Freire argues, for there to be a Stormont with communication?
Freire, Paulo, ‘Society in Transition’, trans. by Myra Bergman Ramos, in Education for Critical Consciousness (London: Continuum, 2008), pp. 3-18
The Life of Pablo is Kanye West’s eighth studio album (including his co-released Watch the Throne with Jay-Z in 2011). Here is some context. Jay-Z’s eighth solo album was the 2003 failed retirement victory lap The Black Album (an album whose brilliance relied in no small part on Kanye’s early production sounds). Nas’s eighth solo album was the strong but, ultimately, back catalogue Hip Hop is Dead in 2006 (which too has Kanye West finger prints). Tupac only released four solo studio albums before his death. The Notorious B.I.G. was involved in two solo projects and one collaborative (as part of Junior M.A.F.I.A.) before his. Eminem’s eighth solo album was 2013’s The Marshall Mather’s LP 2. Very few in hip hop make it this far. And those who do are wrought by inconsistences, failed retirements, character redefinitions and crises, loss of sound, direction, and consistency. Kanye is not any different in this respect, except he has always placed these inconsistencies, crises, and confusions at the centre of his music. There are those who are still naïvely waiting for Kanye to “mature”, though these critics miss the crucial honesty which punctuates Pablo’s creative brilliance: Kanye has always placed himself at the intersection of brilliance and repulsiveness, his very flaws have always animated his innovations. This is not to relativise or dilute Kanye’s dislikeability. This dislikeability is in fact central to his artistic allure. Album opener “Ultralight Beam” almost appears like a pre-emptive apology for how dislikeable Kanye is about to be. Kelly Price’s beautiful gospel lyrics appear as a direct challenge to Kanye:
You persecute the weak /
Because it makes you feel so strong.
Or again, Kirk Franklin, at this opening song’s close:
For everyone that feels they’ve said “I’m sorry” too many times /
You can never go too far when you can’t come back home again /
That’s why I need faith, more, safe, war.
Kanye clearly believes redemption is possible – Christianity is omnipresent on Pablo - that admitting his sins in advance can function as a partial absolution. Clearly, Kanye knows that he has a lot of apologies to dish out.
The Life of Pablo is the most multi-dimensional, chaotically layered, and confusing album Kanye has ever released. It might also be his best. The run from 2004’s The College Dropout to 2010’s near-perfect My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the journey through which Kanye went from hip hop outsider status to its focal point: he achieved total mastery of hip hop’s formal elements. Since then, with 2013’s Yeezus and now 2016’s Pablo, Kanye’s schizoid experimentalism instead has set its sights on ripping these formal elements to pieces. Gone are at least semi-predictable song structures and time signatures and gone are comforting refrains: Pablo is a thoroughly destabilising sonic experience.
When Pablo is at its strongest, it feels like Yeezus with lush, atmospheric, and hypnotic melodies (see “Famous”, “Wolves”, and “Facts (Charlie Heat Version)”), a seemingly impossible combination given Yeezus’s stark anti-melodic minimalism. It feels like a joyous gospel congregation participating in the divine experience of music (“Ultralight Beam” and “Fade”). He even channels Lil B levels of ad-libbing on the extended outro to “30 Hours” (a song with a surprising Drake writing credit, yes, a Drake writing credit). But Pablo also feels like artistic expression generated on the limit-point of sanity. Kanye drops multiple lyrical hints to this effect:
I can’t let these people play me /
Name one genius that ain’t crazy
You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than /
This nigga when he off his Lexapro
(on “FML” – Lexapro is an SSRI anti-depressant, the same class of anti-depressants as Prozac)
If I knew y’all made plans I wouldn’t have popped the Xans
(on “No More Parties in LA” – Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication, also used as a recreational drug)
Such limit-points are where interesting art, philosophy, and science often operate: pushing the human-as-subject or the ego-as-subject along transformational vectors through which egos are destabilised and so-called “sanity” is often sacrificed. Whether one can be both a creative revolutionary and still operate within the normalised boundaries of social functioning remains as open a question as ever in Kanye. This notion of the limit-experience is expressed quite beautifully by Michel Foucault’s commentary on his own personal work:
On the other hand, in Nietzsche, Bataille, and Blanchot, experience has the function of wrenching the subject from itself, of seeing to it that the subject is no longer itself, or that it is brought to its annihilation or its dissolution. This is a project of desubjectivation. The idea of a limit-experience that wrenches the subject from itself is what was important to me in my reading of Nietzsche, Bataille, and Blanchot, and what explains the fact that however boring, however erudite my books may be, I've always conceived of them as direct experiences aimed at pulling myself free of myself, at preventing me from being the same. (pp. 241-242)
As such, then, there is Kanye, the curator. As he expresses on “I Love Kanye”, his work has always been more interesting for what it renders subsequently possible (“See I invented Kanye, it wasn’t any Kanyes / And now I look and look around and there’s so many Kanyes”). Another contradiction: whilst the ego (Kanye’s “artistic intentionality”) some times appears central to Pablo, the curatorial aspect of this album’s creation means that the high points are those in which this ego totally dissolves, where he steps aside and allows others to take control of Pablo’s orbit. In other words, the limit-points. Chance the Rapper’s technically mesmerising verse on “Ultralight Beam” is a case in point. Even Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “No More Parties in LA” operates on a different plane to To Pimp a Butterfly insofar as it is hard to see how Kanye could possibly fit onto a Kendrick album. This is the curatorial brilliance of Pablo. The disgusting and stupid lyricisms about “bleached assholes” and Taylor Swift, for example, feel desperate and petulant: all they do is further cement Kanye’s personal dislikeability and fuel the ever-increasing evidence base that hip hop, in its current state, is intensely misogynistic and heteronormative. This dislikeability, as I noted above, is the paradoxical condition of all of Kanye’s work. Are these lines intentionally abrasive, hateful, and self-destructive, or just stupid? It is honestly difficult to tell.
In early 2015, Kanye gave a speech to the Oxford Guild. In this speech, he noted his Picasso-level ambitions, discussed the blessing and the curse of his ego, and hinted towards the communisation of clothing (is there not a political point to be made about Kanye’s “high fashion” Yeezy Season 3 collection as a controversial and subversive attempt to “dress the rich like the poor”?). Kanye has utopian aims:
We have the resources as a civilisation to find a utopia, but we’re led by the most greedy and the least noble […] We were taught to hide our black fingernail polish and put our head down in the back of the class and not notice out of fear that someone might laugh at one of our ideas – that our idea could become a mockery or a failure in some way […] People say I have a bad reputation. I think I’ve got the best reputation in the building. They want you to have a reputation of tucking your black nail polish into your pockets and sitting in the corner of the class, and not fighting for your ideas out of fear of being ridiculed.
Pablo is a confusing, messy, beautiful, and anything-but-humble expression of utopic imaginative ambitions, ambitions consistently marred and undermined by human and egoic greed, pride, and vanity. The creative utopia it envisages is not one of perpetual peace, but rather one of disruption, dissensus, and for the generation of an environment that involves a collaborative push towards those transformational limit-experiences which, for Kanye at least, are the source of meaning.
I have just had a paper published in a new two volume collection entitled Engaging Foucault, a collection which emerged due to the work of the organisers of the Engaging Foucault conference which took place at the Institute of Philosophy and Social Theory in Belgrade (December 2014).
The full reference for the paper follows, as well the abstract and a download link to the paper:
Heaney, Conor, ‘The Academic, Ethics and Power’, Engaging Foucault: Volume I, ed. by by Adriana Zaharijevic, Igor Cvejić and Mark Losoncz (Belgrade: Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, 2016), pp. 185-201
What relationship does, or can, the academic have to herself, today? To what extent can one’s relationship to one self be stylised as a site of resistance in the contemporary university? In this paper, I seek to begin to respond to these questions. I do so, first, through a connective reading of Michel Foucault’s work on (neoliberal) governmentality and his later work on the care of the self. Whilst such a connection was drawn explicitly on a number of occasions by Foucault in lectures and interviews, it is understated in the Foucauldian literature, and at times distinguished by researchers working either on governmentality studies or on his ‘care of the self’. Whilst I do not reject the importance of singular focus in either of these fields, I nonetheless feel that work at their intersection can be fruitful.
More specifically, in this connective reading, I argue that the academic, today – and my focus for this paper’s purposes will be, admittedly, UK-centric - is incentivised to internalise the principles of, and self-govern according to, neoliberal governmentality. Through such self-government, the academic’s everyday practice of ‘knowledge production’, ‘skill transfer’, et cetera, is today in the service of neoliberal governmentality. I cite two examples on this: academic writing and practices of networking. Pivoting on these two examples, I will then suggest and defend two practices of resistance available to the academic today under neoliberal governmentality: writing (again) and friendship. I argue that writing and friendship open up the possibility of resistive and transformational practices of subjectivation.
This post contains multiple spoilers on the film ‘Snowpiercer’.
Snowpiercer is a 2013 film which marked the English language directorial debut of South Korean director Boon Joon-ha. It won a string of accolades upon its release in multiple award nominations and victories, as well as a hugely positive critical reception. As well as its striking visuals, creative plot line, and excellent acting, Snowpiercer is as political a movie as they come. Peppered throughout the film are analogies and thematic elements which direct us not simply to the dystopic future the movie is putatively set in, but to us, here, today.
The Train of Progress
The basic premise of the film is this: following the spectacular failure of a grand scientific experiment to quell the effects of man-made climate change, the Earth enters a man-made ice age. Enter The Rattling Ark, a train in perpetual motion in which the last surviving inhabitants of the earth are forced to consign themselves. The movie is set in 2031, 17 years after the failed experiment extinguished life on Earth (save those aboard The Rattling Ark). The Ark’s habitation structure directly correlates to both the architecture of the train and to the class structure of what remains of human civilisation on it. The Rattling Ark houses a rigidly maintained social structure. The back of the train is exclusively the domain of the lower classes, the scum, who are consistently brutalised, dehumanised, malnourished, and divided against each other (sound familiar?). There have, apparently, been a number of ‘failed revolutions’ in the 17 years aboard the the Ark. The ‘educational’ and propagandistic messages consistently emphasise the futility of resistance, and the impossibility of continued life without the deity-like (but curiously absent) figure of ‘Wilford’ (Ed Harris), a sort of Big Other or despot who assures us that the social structure can be no other way (sound familiar?). The propaganda also assures us that no world outside the train is possible: stay on this modernist train of ‘progress’, he seems to say, there is no life outside of it (sounds familiar, yet again).
At the back of the carriage, there is another semi-deity like figure, Curtis Everett (wonderfully portrayed by Chris Evans), whom the scum defer to as the seemingly unanimously agreed upon leader of the next revolution. The imagery of the train as the site of revolutionary politics is fantastic in its subversion of modernism. Modernist metanarratives of history, famously, position history as moving in a teleologically progressive movement: the train of history marches forward with technology, industry, and capitalism to generate ‘development’. Class mobility (i.e., getting to the front of the carriage) is not presented to the scum as possible. (In this way, Snowpiercer's world is much more realistic than our own: class mobility isn’t even a myth there.) Nonetheless, they repeatedly attempt to seize the means of the production, i.e., reach the front of the train. Snowpiercer follows Everett’s attempt to lead the scum-proletariat to a (hopefully successful) revolution. The struggle up the class ladder is depicted as a struggle to the front of the modernist train of history or train of historical progress.
There is an early warning sign, however, in the image of The Rattling Ark as a train perpetually in motion. Although it is always moving, always (seemingly) going forward, it is, in another sense, going nowhere. There is no destination. What progress can be made when one only moves in circles? What will happen if Everett actually manages to make it to the front of the train, and seize the means of production? He doesn’t know, indeed, no one does.
Sovereignty and Bloody Hands
Everett announces the revolutionary struggle with the seemingly united support of his fellow scum-proletariat. The initial struggle is mounted against police-forces at the back of the carriage who do not hesitate to threaten to use their guns. Everett suspects, however, that these guns are empty: he suspects, in other words, that the putative ‘sovereignty’ of the police forces is entirely empty. While the violence of the police forces is very real, its legitimacy is hollow. So little does Wilford think of the scum, it seems, that he appears to dupe them into passivity through empty threats and fear (at the risk of overuse: sound familiar?).
(Everett is right about the empty guns at the back of the carriage, but not further up the carriage, as he proceeds to lead his revolutionary struggle. As soon as Everett poses an actual threat, this is to say, the more ruthless the tactics of violence and brutalisation get.)
But what is clear throughout this exhilarating, and seemingly increasingly successful political struggle is this: there are no clean hands. The more successful the revolution is, the bloodier the hands on both sides. In a chilling scene towards the end of the film, Everett admits as much: “You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.” Material deprivation drives the inhabitants to inhumane treatment almost in correlation to how material wealth and power drives the upper classes to inhumane treatment. In a similarly chilling scene, Everett discovers below the floorboards at the top of the train that children (who are taken at-random and without warning from the by police forces scum) are used as replacement parts for broken machinery. The ‘top’ of the system is also it’s most corrupt: the rulers are also the child enslavers. The perennially important philosophical and political question is thus raised: how do we ethically assess, if we can ethically assess at all, violence perpetrated by those who wish to enforce their position of supremacy in a social structure, verses violence perpetrated by those who have been condemned to the status of scum? Can there be a ‘peaceful revolution’ under conditions where violence is a structure of the system as such?
Pre-programmed Revolt and the Revolutionary’s Choice
Towards the end of the film Everett is, we think, successful. He reaches the front of the train. He meets Wilford in the flesh (who appears calm and unperturbed by Everett's presence) though admittedly surprised he has even made it this far (he is the first to do so).
Wilford though, is unperturbed by Everett’s presence. More than this, in fact. Wilford planned Everett’s presence. Wilford explains to Everett some of the classic norms of governance: it is necessary to divide the people so you can rule the people, it is necessary to conduct some population control when the conditions demand, to generate unrest through food shortages and extra brutality, and so on. The sealed life created inside The Rattling Ark needs constant maintenance, and that entails so-called ‘difficult choices’. The difficult choices Wilford faces are the necessity for further population control, i.e. mass killings, and of his succession (he’s not getting any younger), a succession he wants to hand to someone who has proved he can get the scum behind him: Everett.
In other words, the whole “revolution” internal to The Rattling Ark was pre-programmed. Everett, and the scum, were duped. Wilford is thoroughly convinced that there is no other way to ‘rule’ other than through such aggressive and fear-inducing tactics, i.e., through authoritarianism. Finding a child-slave underneath one of Wilford’s floorboards, however, quashed in Everett’s eyes Wilford’s well prepared and suave relativisation of his own brutal tactics.
There is a struggle outside of Wilford’s carriage amongst scum and police forces, and an explosion which derails the train. Here we reach the end of the film: it ends on a cautionary but thinly optimistic note, as two of the younger characters, Yona (Go Ah-sung) (who was on the revolutionary frontline) and Timmy (the child Everett found under the floorboards) leave the train, the first humans to walk on earth in 17 years. They spot a polar bear, indicating there is, contrary to 17 years of propaganda, life outside the train. One could read this cautiously optimistic (yet still ambiguous) ending as this: there is no revolution within the modern capitalist train, the point is to escape it. Beyond that, everything is ambiguous.
Kendrick Lamar takes visuals seriously. The immersive and staggering experience of To Pimp a Butterfly is rejuvenated through the release of each musical accompaniment, which brings us into that album’s dizzying experimentalism. The Colin Tilley directed Alright was the album's most impressive until recently. The now-released God is Gangsta (especially its first half) is not far off. It attests once again to Kendrick's combined openness, vulnerability, and artistic ambition through his explorations of alcohol abuse (a thematic topic of his), escapism, and depression. Kendrick feels the weight of his world in his work and his work’s success-to-date. This emotional heaviness, expressed through Kendrick’s opening screams, is reminiscent of Kanye West’s shrieks on I Am a God, shrieks which proclaimed Kanye’s failure to live up to his proclamations of divinity. Kendrick doesn’t claim divinity for himself. Instead, Kendrick brings God to earthly levels (God is Gangsta) rather than raising himself to divine heights. Indeed, he pushes himself further and further down in his depressive and suicidal depths. Kendrick cannot, in his music, avoid the heaviness of life:
I fuckin tell you, you fuckin failure /
You ain't no leader /
I never liked you, forever despise you /
I don’t need you /
The world don’t need you /
Don’t let them deceive you
I fuckin hate you, hope you embrace it
Killer Mike, stage name of Michael Render, has long suffused his music with lyrics confronting the Reaganite legacy which has hegemonised the American political landscape since the 1980s (a legacy which is mirrored by the hegemonisation of the British political landscape by Thatcherite legacy, summed up by Peter Mandelson's famous claim that "we are all Thatcherites now"). In the song 'Reagan' from his 2012 album R.A.P. Music (an album which would be the Killer Mike + El-P spark which would ignite Run the Jewels), for example, he takes a firm aim at, in addition to Reagan, the military-industrial apparatuses, American institutional inertia and in-built democratic deficits:
But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits
Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics
Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison
You think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th Amendment
Involuntary servitude and slavery it prohibits
That's why they giving drug offenders time in double digits
Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor
Just an employee of the country's real masters
Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama
Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters
If you don't believe the theory, then argue with this logic
Why did Reagan and Obama both go after Qaddafi
We invaded sovereign soil, going after oil
Taking countries is a hobby paid for by the oil lobby
Killer Mike has been a consistent and vocal supporter of Bernie Sander's so-far surprisingly successful Presidential campaign. In a recent rally in Atlanta for the campaign, he gave a hugely energetic and provocative speech: isolating the revolutionary legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr, reparations, the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, the war on drugs, and the right to a free education. It's clear that Killer Mike hasn't reneged on his consistently critical and cynical view of mainstream US politics, but the spark of Bernie Sanders is clearly, at least so far, a disruption to that mainstream. Watch the speech below.
The spectacle of Banksy’s Dismaland in Autumn 2015 was the clearest and, perhaps, boldest attempt so far by the artist to instantiate many of the political-artistic ambitions that his/her art is geared towards: forcing viewers to experience their spontaneous relationship to the social world differently (artistic practices which Jacques Rancière would call a disruption of sensible or a practice of dissensus). Dismaland was interesting not insofar as created a ‘fake’ Disneyland, not insofar as it created a Debordian representation for us to gawk at and 'appreciate', but insofar as it attempted to disrupt the very distinction between fakery and representation. In other words, Dismaland’s provocation was that it was perhaps a Disneyland more real than Disneyland itself. It attempted to ‘unmask’ those energies, repressions, and exploitations constitutive of the very possibility of the imaginative environment Disney constitutes under capitalist relations: repression and exploitation as the condition for decadence.
We will only know what energies Dismaland helped to incite over time, if any. Pussy Riot have given us an initial glimpse with their release of this excruciating video – which feels like all too much (in the positive sense) like Death Grips at points – on the ‘refugee crisis’. (A timely release, given yesterday’s grotesque cartoon published by the Daily Mail, here reported by The Independent.) The song is unconfusingly titled Refugees In. Watch it below.
On 18th September 2015 - as part of the 'Techniques of Art and Protest' conference hosted by the PLANK Research Network - myself, Hollie Mackenzie & Dr Iain MacKenzie hosted a workshop entitled Learning, Exchange, and Play: Practicing a Deleuzian Pedagogy. In this workshop, we invited participants into a classroom configured as a space of encounters.
We also worked with Ben Cook from Anti/Type who directed, produced, and scored this excellent short film on the experience.
This space - a first iteration of a larger project on philosophy, experimental pedagogy, politics, and art - would not have been possible without the wonderful people behind The Dark Would at the University of Warwick.