the killer mic bump

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. 

dismaland's reality

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.

learning, exchange, and play I

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.

the ‘happiness industry’ and hope

The Twitter campaign conducted by Verso that surrounded the publication of William Davies’s The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being earlier this year was unsurprising but nonetheless interesting. The campaign crowd-sourced the generation of publicity for the book by finding images which commodified happiness, by finding advertisements which reduced happiness to consumption. It was an ironic method for advertising a book whose central topic is how contemporary capitalism is a mode of (though Davies does not use this term) affective governance. How contemporary capitalism, this is to say, is just not a set of economic arrangements (if it ever were), but rather is a set of social mechanisms bound up with the pleasure and pain of its subjects. Davies targets, precisely, the ‘entangling of hope and joy within infrastructures of measurement, surveillance and government’ (p. 7).

The leaps of contemporary technology in developing mechanisms for measuring ‘happiness’ and the development of techniques designed in order to manage ‘unhappiness’ are read, by Davies, as part of a broader strategy of management and control, a broader strategy which effaces the question of structural conditions of such unhappiness, depression, anxiety, and so on:

‘If a certain physical context (such as work or poverty) is causing pain, one progressive route would involve changing that context. But another equivalent would be to focus on changing the way in which it is experienced.’ (p. 35).

Modern capitalism opts decisively for the latter: governing how the context is experienced rather than the context of experience, enabling a continuation and deepening of extant power relations. This, rightly, isn’t treated as a particularly novel method of governance by Davies, but is identified as altering in light of contemporary technologies.

What the reading Davies forwards is summed up most concretely by the example of the recent surge in mindfulness. Not only can capitalism, it seems, exploit and push bodies to their material limits, but a mindful capitalism ensures that we are happy with this condition. The point is, of course, cynical. It also runs the risk of trivialising those experiences of anxiety and depression and the way in which many have found those techniques (whether they be therapy, ‘mindfulness’, medication, and so on) beneficial or indeed essential. Davies assures us he doesn’t wish to commit such a trivialisation (p. 7), but wants instead to focus on the ways in which contemporary mental health conditions are part of the capitalist infrastructure, and how pathologising and individualising the expressions of these conditions serve to render invisible the structural conditions of contemporary experiences of anxiety, depression, and so forth. So, as well as governing our experiences of unhappiness, capitalism generates much of its apparent opposite both among the precariat, and among those who internalise those competitive-materialist values (p. 253).

The message of the book is a cynical one. Davies is not so much against happiness as against a social context which generates unhappiness and commodifies and exploits attempted escapes from this unhappiness. It ends, nonetheless, with a message of hope (p. 276) which reads more like a desperate, pessimistic plea than a rousing call. He wants us to turn our critique outward at those conditions, rather than inward, and appears in many ways to echo John Stuart Mill’s infamous elitist claim that ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.’ Nonetheless, it is difficult to disagree with Davies’s basic diagnosis. (Though his historical genealogy of the entanglement of the ‘science of happiness’ with Enlightenment was perhaps too condensed, effacing, for no obvious reason, the rich resources available in a more detailed and longer history might have offered, looking at, for example, the history of Christianity.) However, the thesis of hope and outward critique remains as-yet undeveloped. To put this another way: the task of outward critique is only beginning, we can’t start with hope, we have to create it. Not easy.


Davies, William, The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being (London: Verso, 2015)

a politics of reading and writing

For the term [litter] is defined by contrast to human neatness and orderliness in the first instance and to human projections of order in the universe in the second. If litter is an anthropocentric projection, so are the words law, order, and neatness when applied to the world. [William James] also picks out the term to suggest that it tells us something essential about our relation to both our desks and the larger world. Our experience of the world is more comparable to the relation we have to our desks in the middle of a project than to the desk after the project has been completed. There are always subterranean energies, volatilities, and flows that exceed our formal characterizations of being. (William Connolly)

The (classic) polished and published essay or book is one of the most prevalent lies pedaled in academic and literary circles. As is the (classic) polished and complete work of art. Or the neat correlations presented in social, political, and economic statistics. Polish renders invisible the constitutive litter of the creative process. Or, in other words, it hides the confusion, failures, gaps, hesitancies, and frustrations that animate, punctuate, and halt the creative-productive process. Drafting, re-drafting, editing, and polishing may all be vital elements of such a creative process, but it can also have the effect of rendering material inaccessible or unachievable. That is, a potential reader will either not read a paper (say) because it appears too dense or difficult, or read it and ascribe to the author an unachievable level of greatness (“genius”). This is a politics of reading and writing, and it is ripe for challenge and resistance.  

As I begin the process of researching and writing my PhD, I wanted to create a space where this “litter” could be at least partially on display. A space where I could share research and thoughts-in-progress, or conjoined projects, or completely un-conjoined projects. Hesitancies, frustrations and all. Some material might “make it” to the completed PhD, some might not, or perhaps the process will result in a reorientation or abandonment of the project. That can’t be predicted in advance. Hopefully, some interesting things will happen along the way.

Here is where I’ll share whatever it is I find interesting at the time. It could be, like now, a reflection on a quote. It could be an update from a conference, or an idea for a PhD chapter. Even if there is only one reader (me), it will, at least, constitute the building of an organic timeline of research-in-progress. Messy and full of litter.

Conor Heaney