Archive for the ‘Organization’ Category

Lois Keidan and Cecilia Wee invited me to participate in this past weekends CAPP final conference (after three years of enquiry, cocreating, meetings, and organisational ‘play’) in Dublin. I had never been, know some people from there, now I know why I like them. This is (mostly) what I said on a panel with Barby and Sarah, chaired by Cecilia (thanks all!).

Privilege is a structure of power that affects radical collaborative art in all its processes. For the past three years I have been working with Lada to engage in action research around the role of privilege in Live art practices; more recently, I have also become involved in a project around ‘Managing’ Radical Artistic Labor that will form Lada’s next RRR. Through collectively exploring questions of privilege and labor, race and emancipation, and bodies queering within and against neoliberalism, with artists and communities, Lada has created new forms of commoning research.

In what follows, I want to ask: In what sense is privilege a question of actual (and potential) organisation? And what does a certain Right to Performance do to privilege, rights, and organisation? To privilege the oppressed, as the Boff brothers in Latin America’s liberation theology movement suggested, is merely to take consistently a preferential option for the poor, the subaltern, the marginal, the refugee, or the neurodiverse. In some contexts, this kind of privilege is bestowed by those in relative power themselves, a kind of sympathy as control or civic integration. It is a controlled redistribution of privilege by those with enough of it to shed.

 

Now, what of this power itself? Is there a right that exerts itself before the power of privilege? Privilege always comes to norm the democratic intuition of resistance, as when certain rights are granted to sans papier, migrants, and refugees. This is the synthetic domain of the excentric circular flow of capital. The question of power in what the Impossible Glossary has called the ‘new aesthetic’ is indissoluble from two twinned realities: the memory and emergence of autonomous commons (and so power as psychic and collective capacity); and, second, the neoliberal measure of the world (thus power as abstract diagram of control). (While the IG only momentarily touches on this, being much more central to CAPP’s recent Learning in Public I think—we can see how race might be relevant to a conversation linking autonomous commons to neoliberal measure.)

 

Within and against capital, as the Italian autonomist Mario Tronti once put it, within and against neoliberal control, radical forms of collective enunciation and machinic assemblages have become strategic foci of contemporary radical art practice. My sense is that these resistant collective formations, prior to neoliberal control and its regimes of rights, are constructing what I am calling a Right to Performance. Is there a Right to Performance that precedes everyday life? As much as there is a certain performance of rights in everyday life, in law, and in society, all rights must be performed to be actual. In the sense that I mean it, a Right to Performance would engage the body’s capacity to affect politics and to sense the political.

 

This Right to Performance is an important part of what LADA affirms through its collaborative practices: a right to refuse, express, or mark the multiplicity of force relations, identities, or desiring production constituting our lives. This Right to Performance will have been actualized in singular events throughout an always already queer world, in intuited, stylised, spontaneous or habituated actions of actual and potential bodies.

First, is the Right to Performance a timeless right? A universal human right? Certainly, this in some sense ‘new’ Right to Performance and recognized rights such as the Right to Movement enshrined in Article 21 of the UDHR would need a rigorous and critical synthesis in order for a new articulation or assemblage between rights, art, and the habituated body to substantively emerge. The common resources that LADA co-creates with artists and communities are mechanisms of such a critical synthesis. Second, can we believe in Rights anymore today, after Trump, after Wilders (Netherlands), After Modi (India), Netanyahu (Israel), and the rest of today’s Populist Thieves of the Commons. These masculinised politics proceed through different kinds of performance; one of the most important is the performance of a Rule of Sympathy through different pornographies of pain that contemporary universal human rights discourse authorises and authenticates (and inherited from colonial and imperialist formations of white supremacy); that these acts of authenticating pain become ideological justification for violent imperialist interventions the world over is something we have seen again and again.

 

So we should avoid a naive spontaneism in any cry of ‘Right to Performance Now!’ As I noted at the start, if we can say that radical collaborative art practice happens always within and against capital today, we should recognize that to be within capital is already quite a lot. Over the past thirty years what we have seen is the emergence of an increasingly securitized technological regime of measure that has completely transformed (but differentially!) work and spacetime all over the world; the work of creative production or value added is now increasingly seen as central to all types of neoliberal labor. The corporate fetish for ‘Disruptive Innovation’ is nothing other than this: the capture, or what Massumi calls, the gridding of creativity as entrepreneurial disruption. The contemporary rights regime has emerged within this global system. So in this context the performance of collective enunciations has come to mean ever accelerating Twitter or Facebook feeds and that machinic assemblages can be composed in an App store. [I of course don’t mean to suggest that technology is the central problem to be overcome in this dismal history of control societies—nor do I think it is merely about how humans use technology.

 

Rather, following Gilbert Simondon and Muriel Combes, I would suggest we think of the co-evolution of technology and human labor.] In this world of glowing boxes and neuromarketing, the question of privilege in radical art practice today returns us to the types of power that give access, or grant privilege. In other words, who has access to a Right to Performance? In the Black radical tradition critically affirmed in Fred Moten’s varied work, perform is what the Black body was violently made to do under different necroplantation and media economies. So whiteness has always authorised a certain ‘command performance’. Race in this framework would be a key element in the archealogy of privilege in radical arts practices the world over, an archealogy that would bring various intersections of thought and practice together in a new synthesis of an emancipatory aesthetics of solidarity. More, we see how the concept of social capital—this can be anything from one’s cultural heritage to the schools your family attended (first systematically studied by Pierre Bourdieu)–has come to enter into the policy prescriptions of the creative industries (it’s central to the arts and cultural strategy in UK HEIs, for instance).

 

Who has social capital in the creative industries, and can this question be the basis of a new ethics of anti-privilege in art organisations? First, we see that before the question of rights is ethics: what ethical practice within arts organisations and between soletraders would create ‘resilient’ cultures of anti-privilege? Privilege is brought to crisis through such ethics of organisation. Second, how does one common social capital? Or is social capital uncommonable? We would have to say that there are gradients of social capital in relationship to contemporary radical collaborative art practice: there is the gradient, for instance, of radicality itself—the more radical the practice in certain contexts the more social capital; there is the gradient of time—collaborative art that is very now and impactful, to live art that has consistently been ten years ahead of its time, and so rendering its impact immeasurable; and then there is the gradient of connectivity—networked connectivity as an accumulation of social capital has increasingly become central to contemporary creative industries over the past ten years. In sum, privilege is connected to gradients of power within different assemblages and ecologies.

 

So the question of privilege in this context is still the old question of access and gatekeepers: who has access to a certain Right to Performance? (see: https://mediaecologiesresonate.wordpress.com/2018/06/14/a-right-to-performance-an-open-enquiry/) Possibly this question can allow another construction of a new discourse and embodied affect of human rights today, a practice situated in relations of and to struggle. If contemporary performance studies (see Foucault and Agamben, Butler, Moten and Harney, Butler, Spivak, Spillers, Puar, Davis, Povinelli, Halberstam, and Clough) has shifted the notion of human rights from mere social constructs to how they are experienced in the psyches, ecologies, assemblages, and bodies (these are not ‘separate’ things) of durational processes.

 

The social turn in art referenced often this past weekend at CAPP’s final event in Dublin this past weekend (see here). has created practical solidarities with institutional misfits, the neuro-diverse, ‘minoritized’, de-humanized detritus, subaltern hackers, fugitive and unreclaimed, but still within and against neoliberal austerity–this other discourse and affect would refuse the romantic humanism in this cliched image of resistance by deterritorialising the system of complicity relating capital and the nation-state to the performance of any right whatsoever, and specifically to the performance of Human Rights today.

Who has access to Rights?

Who decides?

Does collaborative live art expand the autonomous range of art itself so that autonomy and emancipation become parts of a contagion of resistance through different communities of co-producers, co-performers—within and against the neoliberal regime of rights?

Isn’t this where the question of privilege and rights becomes fully ontological, or fully processual? That the production of art is about the re-production of its labor (the embodied minds of artists), and social reproduction is about care, rights regimes, and logistics, and so what it means to co-produce radical art in collaborative and live art contexts must engage the capacities and social capital of care networks, cutting across public and private enclosures, and digital and analogue activism across the globe (see Learning in Public: TransEuropean Collaborations in Socialy Engaged Art, 46 onward). Of course, as the brilliant entries in the Impossible Glossary (see: http://www.hablarenarte.com/en/proyecto/id/capp-impossible-glossary) highlight consistently, what remains, indeed returns, to haunt and challenge radical art practice is precisely the radical tradition of the Right to the commons not only in Europe but throughout the world.

 

What Sarah’s work further shows I think is that these informal networks of care emerging under conditions of extreme neoliberal austerity can be strategically integrated into the processes and performances of collaborative radical art. This strikes me as one of the profound propositions of her practice. Barby Asante’s long history in Black collaborative arts practice and education poses another question: what does radical emancipation do to the problem of privilege?

 

To digress slightly: I have recently returned from five months in India where the strong historical links and the conversation between Dalit emancipatory politics and the Black Radical Tradition has taken on a renewed urgency in different parts of the country. So the question of caste and racial privilege as it has historically been related and divergent is very important to me right now. Barby’s brilliant analysis of diasporic African cultural dynamics attends to the privilege attached to different discourses of abolition and slavery, and within the notion of postblackness in the British art world. In linking it to contemporary practices of the biopolitical control of migrants and refugees, Asante creates conditions where different kinds of solidarity can emerge.

Barby has for some time been co-creating socially engaged projects collaborating for instance with young people living in Nottingham as coresearchers of an interactive online map. Developing a collective vision of the city’s hidden connections, and unconventional centres of local knowledge about art and culture, Barby integrates action research into her collaborative practice. In Barby and Sarah’s practices emancipation becomes an active problem throughout all the organisational processes of radical collborative art. More, something happens to embodiment and habit in and through the processes and events of collaborative radical art, such as Live Art, that allows us to broaden our notion of emancipation beyond the neoliberal regime of rights. Emancipation becomes a kind of contagion in these socially engaged practices.

 

In Sarah’s work on the neoliberal edufactory in which we find ourselves precarious, through a becoming octopus she suggests ways in which an exit from the regimes of measure and control is a profoundly molecular and political project at once; and Report to an Academy’s workshop and film articulated, shared and re-imagined “bodily experiences of work within institutions of knowledge production” (http://www.sarahbrowne.info/news/report-to-an-academy-at-marabouparken/) bringing to the fore questions of embodied habit (crucial for training neoliberal labor) that I have been suggesting needs more attention, specific consideration. Sarah’s art touches on our very embodied habituations: the ecologies of sensation, affect, and care with and against neoliberal art education. In much of the work collected together in the Impossible Glossary this sense of the dire straights for resistance and radical practices to resonate, to become contagious, is echoed.

 

There is a deep pessimism here, I think, and one that I share. The conditions of solidarity are weaker today throughout Europe, North America, and South Asia—to limit it to contexts I know—than they were thirty years ago, as pernicious forms of precarity and fascist populisms eat away at our collective capacities and imaginaries for commoning what has been stolen, while our ability to communicate effectively, radically, and together is captured as marketing data. Oddly, as private universities proliferate throughout India, students are finding that there are less and less places to study… Privilege reposes the question of power from the prism of transnnational intersectionality or positionality within a broad framework of cultural and historical and nonrepresentational materialism. Sarah’s collaborative workshops as part of the Report and Barby’s co-archiving Black music on vinyl with young people in Peckham seem very different forms of collaborative practice. How does the question of difference and privilege cut across both practices? Returning to the question of commoning, both live artists work through processes that develop their situated practice, developing networks of young people or creatives, commoning resources and developing communities of conviviality.

As a refusal of neoliberal measure, Sarah’s work poses an allied question to Barby’s practice, a practice through which Barby uncovers both the fissures and historical continuities in Blackness and everyday life. These practices proceed through this affirmation of making common, and making in common.

 

Responding to the Prompts: How does your practice respond to the ways that we advocate for, contextualize, and problematize human rights today?

My practice is focused on collaborative research into ecological action. This means that the question of rights is secondary to the question of ecologies of solidarity; usually as I noted here (https://mediaecologiesresonate.wordpress.com/2018/06/14/a-right-to-performance-an-open-enquiry/) rights have mystified the relations of force of the capitalist state the world over. We need only point to the stark example of places that deny certain classes, sexualities, castes, races of the very right to rights. But again as with neoliberalism we are within and against rights-based practices. The point is not only to expand rights, but to change the regime of law and legitimacy that gives the nation-state specific political economic values. In that regard, rights are merely a tactic in broader organisational strategies ultimately legitimized by the nation-state. If a lot of what radical art practice is doing is questioning the limitations of human ecologies, calling for a radical departure from the andocentrism and Eurocentrism of Western rationalism, my question is can there be a non-human-centric right to performance today? Why would this be an important question? My intuition here is that such questions could usefully shape how collaborative performance can have material and long-term effect in relation to the lived and built environments of its co-creators.

 

How has your work as individual artists/cultural thinkers been effected by institutional approaches to representation?

I have been involved in diversity initiatives at all the universities I have taught at since 1995. The enclosure of multiculturalism is based on notions of ‘representative’ or authentic identity that precisely try to suture the fissures that Barby’s work puts into conversation, and that Sarah’s practice makes visible as well. In that sense, we should pose the prior question: where did these institutional approaches to ‘diverse’ representation come from? They came from the resistance of social movements, sometimes limited to campuses of HEIs, sometimes tied directly to a broader formal civil rights movement, and lived in the everyday violence of societies structured in dominance. So that history is what is being institutionalised, i.e. captured in these organisational strategies of managing diversity by administering art, or administering diversity and managing art. What types of challenges and changes need to take place within the arts, thinking of the objects, subjects and locations of representation? Today, identity matters in a way that highlights several things at once: we live in a technologized ecology in which public and private can no longer be contained within stable borders; identity is immediately tied to power, without mediation, but susceptible to its controls; ecologies of identity are always also nonhuman, and so co-evolving with their relations. Rights discourses must come to terms with the anthropocene in a more radical way. But then maybe we need something other than rights?

What needs to happen to the arts in the face of this management of diversity through the administration of the arts—the on-going revolution of self-organisation in radical art, one that LADA is part of and has taken a prominent role in, needs to be affirmed from organisational practices (supervision, management, innovation, marketing communications, programming, etc) through to Board of Trustee approved risk assessments. So what I’ve learned at LADA and my time at Phakama is that the question of social impact, diversity, and self-evaluation must be part of on-going collaborations that sustain the resilience of the ecologies of the organising forces. Key here is to think intensively and strategically of the capacities involved in these organisational processes both in each person and of the ecologies mobilized in each collaboration. Psychic and collective transindividuation, or revolutionary becoming is still a really good idea. It is a common notion: a notion common to two or more multiplicities.

 

From your experiences, how are dynamics of power held between participants?

Especially given different types of knowledge and experience?

This is one of the important lessons I learned in reading the Impossible Glossary, that participation and collaboration are ontologically, that is qualitatively different processes. But of course there are dynamics of power in both participatory and collaborative practices.

 

This can be handled in better or worse ways, and this depends on several factors: 1. An ethical acknowledgement of unequal power relations and their entwined histories within and beyond the organisation/creative assemblage; 2. The politics of attention on the Board of Trustee; 3. The democratic and transparent actualisation of the (ethical) mission of the organisation; 4. The de-fetishisation of ‘expert regimes’ and the binary between intellectual and manual labor. Here the Right to Performance becomes a kind of critical tool in which management, organisational behavior and artistic labor are understood in their performative dimensions, so that they are denaturalised and defetishised in the affirmation of everyone’s equal access to a Right of Performance. This can subvert bullying in the workplace. Finally, I would say that these four areas of practice and organisational behaviour—ethics/power; activist board; mission/organisation; and expert regimes—all these overlapping areas would need to be worked on simultaneously for the question of privilege and power dynamics to be an opportunity rather than a threat to radical arts practice.

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The Library of Performing Rights expresses a radical politics in both space and method. The physical space of the Study Room within which an unprecedented archive of performance and live art has bodied forth different collective assemblages, different kinds of expression of the performance of rights (the right to rights, the right to expression, the right to solidarity, the right to art…the Right to Performance?)

In terms of method, as a concept or approach to research and practice, rather than a distinct collection, the Library of Performing Rights is nothing less than an affective experimentation in practices of archiving live art, and an organisational ethics of becoming collective. “It is available as a place of action, a place of knowledge exchange, a repository of experience, and a context that others can use to support and advance their own work both at LADA and elsewhere.” This method, in other words, repeats with innumerable differences the practice of ‘performance’ and the practice of ‘human rights.’

Is there a Right to Performance? As much as there is a certain performance of rights in everyday life, in law, and in society, all rights must be performed to be actual. But a right to Performance would find another vector in the body’s capacity to affect politics and to sense the political. This Right to Performance would constitute a kind of parallel project of the LofPR: a right to mark, through the intuited, stylised or spontaneous or habituated actions of the bod, a certain right to resist. Is the Right to Performance a timeless right? A universal human right? Certainly, this in some sense ‘new’ Right to Performance and the older Right to Movement enshrined in Article 21 of the UDHR would need a rigorous and critical synthesis in order for a new articulation or assemblage between rights, art, and the habituated body to substantively emerge. The resources of the study room are the proper conditions for such a critical synthesis.

But can we even believe in Rights anymore today, after Trump, after Wilders (Netherlands), After Modi (India), Netanyahu (Israel), and the rest of today’s Populist Thieves of the Commons. These masculinised politics proceed through different kinds of performance; one of the most important is the performance of a Rule of Sympathy through the pornography of pain that contemporary universal human rights discourse authorises and authenticates; that these acts of authenticating pain are precursors for violent imperialist interventions the world over is also something we now know all too painfully.

Is there something (un)Timely in the Library of Performing Rights? Something that is necessary just now, just in this way, in this expression of an urgent Yes! And an insistent, No! …but something that runs counter to our time, against it, and in solidarity with, for the benefit of a time to come? A vector of an indiscernible becoming In the performance of any right whatsoever, and in the right to performance first and foremost? Rather, what Aram’s moving piece “The Work of a Mother” shows is that the will to the Universal, which is what Rights discourse is always based in, is at best a heuristic, a stepping stone, toward another practice. This Other practice would work at the intersections of solidarities as her ethical and aesthetic practice suggests.

The Library of Performing Rights then would perhaps be another way into the construction of a new discourse and embodied affect of human rights today, a practice situated in relations of struggle. If contemporary performance studies after Foucault and Agamben, Moten and Harney, Butler, Spivak, Spillers, Puar, Davis, Povinelli, Halberstam, and Clough, has shifted the notion of human rights from mere social constructs to how they are lived in the psyches, ecologies, assemblages, and bodies (these are not ‘separate’ things) of those who find themselves misfits, neuro-diverse, ‘minoritized’, post-de-humanized detritus, subaltern hackers, fugitive and unreclaimed, this other discourse and affect would refuse the romantic humanism in this image of resistance, and so then diagram the ethical system of complicity relating capital and the nation-state to the performance of any right whatsoever, and specifically to the performance of Human Rights today.

This explicit marking of systems of complicity, turning the tools of domination into the conditions of a repurposed emancipation, seems to my mind missing from a lot of contemporary identity work in the arts. This is an important place to begin a conversation. I have done fieldwork in a place called Chor Bazaar, where Dalit men expose their unprotected hands to harsh chemicals in the process of “stressing” jeans down to a murderous chic–all to be exported to the Global north. Thus, part of the system of complicity (as is noted in Aram’s Work of a Mother), running through the practices of the garment industry in California, Chicago and Mumbai links race, gender, and labour exploitation to an international supply chain of disposable clothing the world over.

So how does the The Official Unofficial Voting Station that Aram Han Sifuentes has created relate to what I have been constructing in terms of the Right to Performance, and the Performance of Rights?

The installation is itself a performance of a Right desired and denied–the right to vote and/or the right to (self)representation. In its performative repetition of the tragedy of contemporary Fortress Europe/Trumpeted (un)democracy, the Official Unofficial Voting Station stages in a kind of farcical and critical way the paradoxical and agonistic relation of organisations of resistance (e.g. LADA, independent arts practices, radical activist assemblages) to institutions that would grant access to or deny a Right to Performance. As I suggested above, for me what remains ethically crucial in performance practices that take rights as method and target is that the relations of complicity be explicitly marked; the correlation, even syllogism among rights, performance, and the individualised property-owning citizen of the capitalist nation-state. Thus, when we appeal to the language of rights especially in radical contexts such as LADA, the paradox of the ground, or guarantor of rights becomes legible: is it the commons or the bourgeois nation-state that grounds a radical assertion of rights, eg the Right to the City, to the World or even to Performance? In heterogeneous live art practices, such as the Official Unofficial Voting Station, the role of the white capitalist state becomes (re)markable in ecologies of both universal rights and singular performances.

The recent refugee “crisis” affecting nation-states across Europe has a history rooted in Imperialism + UN Human Rights + Racism + Islamophobia + neoliberalism. Rights discourse, in this regard, is part of the problem, but not necessarily part of its solution. In resonance, Nevins shifts the contemporary conversations on rights and justice by arguing for a “Right to the World” (2017) which would expand rights both as entitlements and sites of struggle: “the right to the world is particularly concerned with freedom of mobility across global space and with a just, sustainable share of the planet’s resources for all” (2017: 1351). While acknowledging that many heroic acts of solidarity and mercy have been performed across Europe daily by white Europeans, Nevins also insists that “the thousands of migrant deaths on Europe’s periphery in recent years—among other manifestations of violence—suggest that there is a crisis of a different nature that is paramount: not what Europe is experiencing, but, among other things, what the migrants have had to endure in trying to reach and pass through the continent. As reports, news articles and media images have made clear, the upsurge in irregular migration both manifests and has resulted in great amounts of human suffering among those fleeing their homelands…the dominant response on the part of the European Union, national elites, and the West and prosperous countries broadly, has defaulted to the bounded, exclusionary logic of nation-states via a strengthening of the boundary and immigration policing apparatus….Regardless, migrants continue to move and to challenge the putative right of nation-states to regulate their boundaries and the human content (in terms of non-citizens or “foreigners”) of the territories they claim. And in a world of growing inequality, persistent violence (of multiple sorts), and increasing ecological instability, there is little doubt that migration by those living on the global margins of stability and wellbeing will continue to attempt to move, climate and environmental refugees being one example” (Joseph Nevins, (2017) The Right to the World, Antipode Vol. 49 No. 5 2017 ISSN 0066-4812, pp. 1349–1367, 1350)

For Nevins, and many others, there is something fundamentally wrong if one embraces human rights. “After all, given high levels of physical, direct violence, environmental depri- vation, and profound socio-economic insecurity that plague many countries (violence, deprivation and instability in which the world’s most powerful nation- states are often implicated), the realization of human rights often requires the ability to go to spaces where the necessary resources are located. These sorts of inequal- ities and restrictions likely compelled Hannah Arendt to speak of the “right to have rights”. If having human rights is part of being human, denying people freedom of movement and residence—and thus the effective ability to access a host of other rights—is to essentially deny their humanity…” Similar arguments have been made from the perspective of postcolonial struggles and queer homonormativity. This right to have rights is reflected in the multiplicity of causes presented to Aram when she would ask her parents why they emigrated from Korea to the United States:

Their ambivalent answers, tinged with both sadness and hope, suggest to me the many ways in which human rights have become a set of predominantly nation-centric practices and discourses that work to “discipline human bodies in ways that contain them within national territories” (Nevins, 2017: 1353-1354).

Aram’s work links specific struggles through a practice of transnational, intersectional, and artistic solidarity. Her work explicitly politicises by relating sites that would otherwise remain mere monads, economic anamolies for a post liberal capitalism that can write these subaltern and postcolonial sites of struggle off as fodder for corporate social responsibility initiatives and neoliberalism’s externalities. Her work speaks to those who have not yet arrived, to those who are outside, those who may need or would like the right to move to “the city of Universal Rights”. In other words, her work allows us to understand the politics of mobility between place through a notion of place as processual, heterogeneous, and unbounded in that a place acts upon, and is acted upon by, other places (Levins, 2017: 1356).

In,

The Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t

Aram notes that there are “91 million people in the United States and its territories who cannot legally vote. This includes: youth under 18, non-citizens, incarcerated, ex-felons, residents of US territories, and people without state IDs. This means that 1 in every 3 people cannot legally vote. 1 in 10 people 18 years old and over cannot legally vote.” This is important from the perspective of the Right to Performance that I argued for above: even prior to the right to vote, political expression is itself and must itself be performed.

As Aram’s Official Unofficial Voting Stations make clear, this performance of the right to vote is especially ironic from the perspective of the undocumented, the discontented and the disenfranchised. No easy Universalism here: “Each station is different. They range from taking ballots into prisons to museum installations to performative events.”

In a Mother’s Work, Aram writes movingly, “My mother and I both sew as a profession but our worlds are vastly different. I constantly question our differences: What is the difference from an artist who sews to reference immigrant labor versus an immigrant laborer who sews as work? I think a lot about our differences in relation to time, economy, access, agency, and the value of our work and labor…Grace Kwungwon Hong in her book The Ruptures of American Capital: Women of Color Feminism and The Culture of Immigrant Labor, breaks down the episteme of domestic space and women’s work as privileged white spaces that are exclusionary spaces, particularly for immigrant women of color. She starts the conversation with the question of who has access to privatized domesticity and who are these possessive individuals? How can we broadly apply concepts of this fantasized domesticity when women of color historically do not have access to private property and have been dispossessed? Or when women like my mother, are absent from the home because she is working twelve plus hour days, and when she is home, she’s sewing other people’s clothing? How does the notion of women’s work apply to my mother when domestic space is built upon it being a private space outside of the surveillance of capitalism, when work for capital and industry enters, contaminates, and infects the home? When the entire family that lives in this supposedly private space has to also participate in sewing other people’s clothing to make money?” In “A Mother’s Work” Aram touches upon what I take to be one of the central projects of both feminism and Marxism: the critique and practical overthrow of contemporary regimes of social reproduction in vastly different but directly or indirectly linked contexts; she shows that the twined circuits of capitalist logistics and ideologies of white supremacy necessitated that women of color literally and creatively develop ‘hacking ecologies’ of social reproduction that were by and large outside of capitalist social relations. There is a lot to say about this, and many many feminist and postcolonial scholars have unpacked the politics and the experimented with the method of this praxis of a postcapitalist social reproduction. I will instead leave you with an ambivalent but insistent image:

“We’d sit in the living room after dinner and watch TV as my mom would work on her alterations. Spending time with my mother meant sitting and sewing with her, so we would all contribute by ripping seams, ripping out bad zippers, sewing on buttons, and mending rips and holes of other people’s clothes. This is where I learned to sew. And it is here, from the beginning, where sewing became political for me and linked to my identity. And I will always see sewing from this place, inside this living room, sewing with my family to make a living as immigrants in this country.”

What Right is being Performed even in its denial? What performance would actualise this right?

Why I am not a Brahmin. A dialogue.

 

Q. [Krodhit svar mein:] Why is it that you think it matters that you are not a Brahmin? The Brahmins certainly are not trying to claim you! And by saying that all you do is hurt the sentiments of one, quite class stratified community? You do nothing to caste Hinduism and its many oppressions through such a meaningless declaration.

 

A. [Garv ke sath:] I am not a Brahmin, I will say it again, I am not a Brahmin. I am a mixed caste, hybrid, anomaly born of the desire to overthrow Brahminism in all its forms.

 

Q. That’s a lot of ideological posturing! What does Dalit emancipation matter to you—you who grew up so privileged in your gender conformity?

 

A. Unlearning caste and heterosexist privilege through caste suicide: these are some of the processes of total emancipation.

 

Q. Caste suicide? Kya okard loge? [What will you uproot?] The caste question is secondary to the class question, don’t you know that yet?

 

A. All that is solid has been okarofied. It’s the end of the world, don’t you know that yet? It’s the end of the world, don’t you know that yet? There is a civil war that has been burning, sometimes raging across centuries in different forms, and with different effects, within and against different ecologies of what Ambedkar called custom, and for the benefit of what Du Bois argued was a matter of ‘real’ revolutionary change, for the benefit of a time to come. It is a caste, racial, and class war; its domain is psychic, affective, organisational, and social reproductive.

Here’s Du Bois at the Rosenwald Conference in 1933:

 

[T]he matter of greatest import is that instead of our facing today a stable world, moving at a uniform rate of progress toward well-defined goals, we are facing revolution. I trust you will not be as scared by this word as you were Thursday [Du Bois was referring to the audience’s reaction to a speech by Dr. Broadus Mitchell of Johns Hopkins University]. I am not discussing a coming revolution, I am trying to impress the fact upon you that you are already in the midst of a revolution; you are already in the midst of war; that there has been no war of modern times that has taken so great a sacrifice of human life and human spirit as the extraordinary period through which we are passing today. Some people envisage revolution chiefly as a matter of blood and guns a

 

nd the more visible methods of force. But that, after all, is merely the temporary and outward manifestation. Real revolution is within. That comes before or after the explosion—is a matter of long suffering and deprivation, the death of courage and the bitter triumph of despair. This is the inevitable prelude to decisive and enormous change, and that is the thing that is on us now. We are not called upon then to discuss whether we want revolution or not. We have got it. Our problem is how we are coming out of it. Qtd. and annotated by Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism, pp. 234-35.

Q. What of the question of revolutionary unity?

 

A. No unity without solidarity and no solidarity without radical equality. All emancipatory unity is more and less than itself.

 

 

Q. That’s sheer mystification, surely…

 

A. First, don’t call me Shirley. [Q: Groans.] Second, to continue: Because a preindividual Solidarity is first, all revolutionary subjects mobilized through the multitude constituting a free, insurrectionary, processual democracy assembled through a non-coinciding resonant unity, sometimes a Party and sometimes just a party, an emancipatory transindividuation, or what Deleuze and Guattari called a revolutionary becoming.

 

 

[…the conversation had gone on along this way for some time. Back and forth, fort/da, thesis/antithesis, seemingly locked in an abyssal blah blah. These conversations, our frank and open discussions, they made me sick and nervous, I had to eat pickles to get through them. And drink, how much we drank ya? S/he thought: All of It revolves around the complexities of how suvarna domination and non-suvarna ecologies co-exist in locked but graded antagonisms, hatreds, degradations, violences, intersections of emancipatory and caste power, and processes of expropriation and value capture, synthesising the different kinds of debilitations necessary for caste, gender, and racial inequality to reproduce itself. But the night was wearing on. We had both had our large and small packs, there was just time for ‘one for the road…’…Captain Jack will get us through this seemingly endless night…]

 

Q. [Refreshed and relentless:] Why do you insist that identity and authenticity are not crucial for non-suvarna aesthetics (is there even such a thing? Its like saying subaltern culture? What is THE culture of the non-elite? Surely, its multiple, internally and always divided from itself…identity is only the minimal degree of difference–Gabriel Tarde)… and what of the potential of identity politics for radical emancipation itself and more generally? Why this obsessive focus on technology and the distinction between intellectual and manual labor in Brahmanical life? Why this naïve negation [ahem] of mediation?

 

A. The white boys will always berate you with mediation, just like the Brahmins for not being Indian enough. But that doesn’t mean they can’t know how resonances become. What does Dalit and feminist emancipation in India have to do with technogenesis, that is, a nonlinear co-creation of becoming between material life and social practice, volatile bodies and vibrant matter? This is especially relevant in thinking through the material history of Dalit exceptionalisation and social reproduction: tools, the making of tools, the relegation to tool use, and the exclusion from certain other tool milieus (those associated with ritual and caste purity), the extemporaneous, necessary, and virtuosic stylization of tool-use: technology has been both a poison and a certain cure in Dalit history. It is the materialist tendencies of Dalit studies today that bring out this question of emancipatory technogenesis as a radical ecologism, this critique of and ontological overcoming of the singularly oppressive formation in India of the radical separation between manual and intellectual labor. As always, the question turns on habit and the customs that naturalize and mystify it. A politics beyond mediation is heralded in and indeed practiced throughout this long history of Dalit emancipation, of Black emancipation, even the emancipation of the body. This is Aishwarya Kumar on Ambedkar:

 

…he frequently replaces “fraternity” [solidarity??] with maitri (“friendship” or “fellowship”) in his final writings and, in an All India Radio Broadcast in 1954, equates fraternal sharing (which included the sharing of belief ) with religion itself. But traces of this shift are already evident in Annihilation of Caste. The fearless claim for a politics without territory or ground is already present in that lecture. There is no equality, he argues, without the sharing of freedom (and vice versa), no immortality of politics without a collective respect for the immeasurable singularity of every creature’s mortality. The irrefutable truth of impermanence alone lends politics its immortal value. The moral sovereignty of democracy over all other political forms and activities (or at least, the lack of adequate alternatives that might take its place) stems only from its promise to establish the everyday, even mundane, realm of “communicated experience” as the ethical and political ground of existence. In such a realm, argues Ambedkar, the social exists “by communication, indeed in communication,” and one’s failure is considered as justly sharable with others as one’s success. In true democracy, then, the sovereignty of the self is always mediated by one’s “reverence” toward the neighbor. Any other mediation of the multitude’s action by representatives, agents, priests, philosopher-kings, or demagogues of class war, compromises the spiritual sovereignty and task of the revolutionary subject. There was something profoundly insurrectionary and anarchic in this conception of the political. For here, the political subject came into existence only through incandescent acts of force and martyrdom, through its immeasurable freedom to posit a republic unmarked by the logic of transcendence. (138)

 

 

Inspired by Ambedkar, Dalit movements in postcolonial India have questioned the preformed categories of political theory: individual and society, caste and state, force and morality. A nonlinear counter-memory of these and other emancipatory movements would develop revolutionary diagrams of the preindvidual processes constituting both categories of thought and material reality.

 

Q. This Western High Theory you use–it is so foreign to India. Here, don’t you see, the struggles are about 2019, and only a foriegner like you wouldn’t understand that!

 

A. Spoken like a true authentikit curator.  I understand India by trying to invent a political philosophy that discovers as it composes. Let’s talk movement politics. The Dalit movements in the 20th century—not only under the ostensible, if rather lacklustre organizational leadership of Ambedkar—developed transversal solidarities. And transversal to this context of Dalit emancipation, the question of mediation takes on a charge different from that which it operates in Hegel’s negative dialectic. But more on Hegel another time… Let’s return to Ambedkar at Mahad, Aishwarya Kumar writes:

 

“I may seem hard on Manu,” [Ambedkar] concedes, “but I am sure my force is not strong enough to kill his ghost.” This affinity for force and forcing— and the invocation of ghosts and specters—is not merely semantic or rhetorical. Its sources are Shakespearean, but for that reason alone its logic cannot be seen to be any less concerned with Ambedkar’s politics and ethics than it clearly is with his literary and poetic sensibilities. Quite to the contrary, force was an irrevocable constituent of Ambedkar’s emerging ethics. In 1927, four years after his return from London, he publicly burned at a Satyagraha Conference in Mahad, a town just over a hundred miles south of Bombay, a copy of the Manusmriti. The ghost was now being exorcized by fire in classic satyagrahic fashion. “The bonfire of Manusmriti,” Ambedkar recalled, “was a very cautious and drastic step . . . taken with a view to forcing the attention of caste Hindus. If you do not knock at the door, none opens it. It is not that all parts of Manusmriti are condemnable. . . . We made a bonfire of it because we view it as symbol of injustice . . . because of its teachings we have been ground down under despicable poverty, and so we made the dash, staked all, took our lives in our hands and performed the deed.” (131)

 

Q: You see there is this minimal degree of mediation even here in this ‘event that exceeds Ambekdar’s own actualization’ as you might put it—mediation even if only as a kind of diffuse cultural genealogy of social action. Identity itself is always mediated by the social…

A: Identity has reality effects, it shapes what we think is possible. But it doesn’t really help us to compose with potentialities in mind. All of life’s plasticity makes it infinitely spongy, and if understood through an ethics of joy, infinitely giddy. Identity is also a habit of thought. Identity, Gabriel Tarde once said, is the minimal degree of difference. You just said that? It’s Tarde right? Yes, that same Gabriel Tarde that Ambedkar studied and wrote about. Tarde and Ambedkar: a Dalit monadology? It doesn’t matter, what matters are those hiccups in identity, when a sensory motor habituation goes caput for a moment or forever, when things break down or phase transition, that’s when identities are in flux. The tendencies, parameters of change, and capacities of identities always suggest a preindividual phase space that is better characterised as a non-coinciding resonant unity for singular and collective ontogenesis. Revolutionary ecologies of sensation.

 

Muriel Combes, in her brilliant study, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual puts it in this way:

 

Being “does not possess unity of identity which is that of the stable state in which no transformation is possible: being possesses transductive unity” (IG, 29; IL, 31). That being is more-than-unity does not mean that there is never any unity: rather, it means that being one occurs within being, and must be understood as a relative store of the “spacing out of being,” of its capacity for dephasing. We will call this mode of unity of being, across its diverse phases and multiple individuations, transduction. This is Simon- don’s second gesture. It consists in elaborating this unique notion of transduction, which results in a specific method and ultimately in an entirely new way of envisioning the mode of relation obtaining between thought and being…. (p. 6)

 

Q: There is an ontotheology behind this…pure ideology as they used to say.

A: No, there is an ontogenesis in the thought of this…

 

Transduction is first defined as the operation whereby a domain undergoes information—in the sense that Simondon gives to this term, which we have discussed in the example of molding a brick: “By transduction, we mean a physical, biological, mental, or social operation, through which an activity propagates from point to point within a domain, while grounding this propagation in the structuration of the domain, which is operated from place to place: each region of the constituted structure serves as a principle of constitution for the next region” (IG, 30; IL, 32). The clearest image of this operation, according to Simondon, is that of the crystal that, from a very small seed, grows in all directions within its aqueous solution, wherein “each molecular layer already constituted serves as a structuring base for the layer in the process of forming” (IG, 31; IL, 33). (Coombes, Simondon, pg. 6)

 

In his forward to Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Reda Bensmaia relates this to the context of the politics of Kafka’s writing–illuminating as well for a critical consideration of the politics of something like a Dalit aesthetics: “But rather than ascending to some singular—transcendent—figure or signifier, it is a matter of defining a space, a metastable force that does not refer to a subject but designates a vection, a movement of translation that belongs to preindividual forces. These forces seem to have already been traversed by an immemorial forgetfulness that makes it impossible to reduce the saying to the said and that refers to an experience for which only a collective enunciation can take responsibility…” (xii).

 

With neuromarketing we see how these continuous multiplicities (preindividual fields of multiphased potentialities) are immense and immeasurable, but susceptible to control. This phase space is both aesthetic and ethical—there is no distinction between the two.

 

Q: [Aside: I’ve got him soliloquising, time to pour us another round…] Go on, I’m listening.

 

A: [Watchful, but absent minded svar mein…] This won’t do, this won’t do at all. [Withdraws his glass.] Are non-suvarna peoples freer today that in Ambekdar’s time? This is impossible to say categorically because of the vast class and gender power differences within non-suvarna communities, but there are indications across India that Brahmanical caste hierarchies are as strong today as they ever were, and worse: if seen in linked contexts with the increasing precarity, indebtedness, and extractionism of neoliberal India (Mazzadra, 2014, 2018) which exacerbated already existing hierarchies and tendencies of suvarna accumulation and corporate-focused privatization, we can say that there has been a ramification and intensification of caste prejudice and discriminatory organisational practices. If we take the question of authenticity to be central or most important—as in: are you an Authentic Dalit/Feminist/Queer/Marxist/Indian/Hindu—then the problem of solidarity must be seen as central to any articulation of an emancipatory authenticity or an authentic emancipation. No one is free unless and until we are all free. The individuation of one ecology is bound up with the emancipatory ontogenesis of many others, indeed of all others…

 

Q. [With a rising screech like Arnab Goswami, in prime bullying mode:] This is all well and good, but you haven’t gotten to the crux of the problem, you seem to be skirting the real issue: what is the nature of politics to you? How is a radical and effective politics possible without an insistence on mediation: we want state power, don’t we? We need a revolutionary vanguard for that, don’t you see?

 

A. Why do you bring in the question of mediation, its still too early in the processes we are discussing. Think of Ambedkar, within and against Gandhi’s satyagraha ethics, burning the Manu Smirti at Mahad. How did that event exceed its own actualization, what in other words did that event actually do? It brought the question of power and capacity together for millions of Dalit and non-suvarna peoples in showing the poison at the origins of custom. What power do ‘we’ want? Who is this we? Where? Which power? Why this one and not that one? What is power—the vote, a voice, freedom, but also capacity, affect, affordance, force, movement—after Ambedkar, after his elaboration throughout his works of a profoundly radical concept of political force… Force for Ambedkar and Gandhi was radically embodied; for Gandhi in the service of the simple virtues of a romanticized and mythologized Man of God –harijan—the force of truth and the force of justice came together only after his decisive encounter with Ambedkar’s political ecology. But Ambedkar was a far more complex thinker than Gandhi; he thought of power in its material gradients (the famous thesis of the gradients of Brahminical power), and practiced emancipatory power as insurgent experiments in radical equality.

 

Aishwarya Kumar writes movingly:

 

Custom is not the antithesis of positive law; it is simply that which comes before the law. It is, Ambedkar argues in Annihilation of Caste, the ontological foundation of all authority. For custom, whose ubiquity gives it the appearance of an innocuous (and even civic) restraint, is in essence a regime of injunctions in which law takes its most surreptitious, enduring, and compelling form. Custom, he argues in a classically republican vein, is violence without the police, domination without interference. Custom gives the sovereign’s wish the form of voluntary acquiescence; in truth, it is voluntary servitude maintained by the invisible threat of ostracism and (if need be) police power. In a discussion of the pernicious longevity of the Manusmriti or the “Dharma of Manu [ancient India’s most significant lawgiver],” Ambedkar thus makes a subtle distinction between custom and law, between moral norm and police power. They are, he says, heterogeneous but inseparable. “Custom is no small a thing as compared to Law. It is true that law is enforced by the state through its police power; custom, unless it is valid is not. But in practice this difference is of no consequence. Custom is enforced by people far more effectively than law is by the state. This is because the compelling force of an organized people is far greater than the compelling force of the state.” Here, “the people” (in its organized, juridical sense) is a collective that acts surreptitiously, beneath and beside the state, without a display of force. And in this seeming nonforce of the juridical domain of everyday life are hidden the most visceral, intimate, and measured operations of law over life. Custom, its unsaid obligations and injunctions (dharma), is that through which law passes into life and life becomes inseparable from the law. Ordinary ways and acts of being human are thus made to pass through a maze of punitive ordinances. Touching, the sensory and most radiant core of humanity, the source of its most mundane feelings and sympathies, its greatest gift, is circumscribed within norms of intimacy and distance, approachability and unapproachability, its ethics and humanity sequestered from the shared spaces of civic and municipal life and put under the invisible (but always threatening and compelling) watch of police power. One henceforth touches the other only in the threatening shadows of the law. In fact, writes Ambedkar in a tragic fragment of Waiting for a Visa, the “untouchable” and the Hindu are touched constantly, even (and especially) at death, albeit not by each other but by the law alone. The custom of “not touching,” the norm of keeping distance, thus becomes sovereign among all Indic injunctions, an ironic marker of Hindu etiquette and civility (sadachar), at once mystical like the law and immeasurable like suffering. No God is sovereign enough to override this injunction, no mathematics precise enough to register this catastrophe. (118)

 

You know of course that Ambedkar radicalized Bergson? Ontologized him in a certain (post)colonial theatre of individuation…

 

Q: Solipsisms and blusterings, if not outright blunderings! Ambedkar himself—don’t you know this?—he acknowledged the mystical tendencies of Bergsonian thought. But invoking Ambedkar’s colonial-modernist intellectual genealogy doesn’t get us anywhere. And don’t turn him into a postcolonial critic a la Spivak avant la lettre! At that time, everyone who was thinking was reading Bergson, getting fired by his naive vitalism—–it made it big in SoCal, in fact its apotheosis was the mysticism of the California hippies for whom intuitive self-actualisation became overconsumption. See Adam Curtis’s Century of the Self… In fact, that’s where you should turn to for the great theorist of the 20th century, not Bergson or Heidegger but Edward Bernays, nephew of Frued and the person who came up with branding. We should think about how Ambedkar and Dalit emancipation itself has become a social justice brand, competing with Modi’s Svachch Anand brand…

 

 

A: Certainly, yes. But the question of what kinds of resonances Ambedkar found and with which ones he [but already he was part multitude] was able to compose a constituent power, the complex ways that his political theology of emancipation negotiated the romantic tradition of European thought–this is what is decisive, what made a difference both in the history of India and in the development of emancipatory thought and practice. But you are right: let’s return to the problem at hand: Why am I not a Hindu, sorry a Brahman. Hinduism is India’s First Brand—see the adds for Patanjali (pure, organic, Ayurvedic) products…First…

 

Q: Actually, I think the question has now become….

 

A: …first, there is no Hinduism beyond Brahminism, that’s why Kancha Illaiah’s thesis in Why I am not a Hindu continues to have radical implications for how we understand the forces that is re-organizing caste and class exploitation in India today. Why is there no Hinduism beyond Brahminism? All the terms—euphemisms, to me—that Gandhi came up with (sometimes collectively) for Hinduism were merely ideological mystifications of the primary role of purity in Brahminism. And isn’t this critique glaringly missing in Tharoor’s Why I am a Hindu? It is this organizing tendency toward purity—linked to the one-drop rule of racial purity in the USA not by simple analogy or sameness of the material conditions of struggle, but through a radical and materialist genealogy of social purity in solidarity with both Black and Dalit emancipatory queerontogenesis.

But purity has several aspects today in caste politics and globalized consumerism that overlap and intersect. What are these aspects? Let us return to a simplified notion of purity. Purity is tied to the health of the body (yes that same body-metaphor of Manusmirti infamy). To expel and keep external ‘impurities’ or elements and tendencies that decompose the body would a practice of a kind of [narrow] ecologism. It is this seemingly ideological neutral discursive formation that is the master sign of India’s New BrahmanismTM: The Ayurveda Man.

 

[Long pause, deathly silence, a gap in relating wherein the impossibility of ‘full’ communication becomes awkwardly obvious. Reeling in the years of feeling foreign…]

 

Q. [Sighing, sipping, wearyingly:] You have missed your second point.

 

A: [Unperturbed, and indefatigable:] …my second point—and this may seem contradictory—is that there is no one Hinduism. Thus, Brahminism becomes a capture-extraction-enclosure regime as protean as capital…the Sufi inspired Protestant Hinduism of the Bhakti tradition so important to the subsequent development of the force of Dalit theology, expresses a broader point: from Sikhism, to Jainism, to Bhaktism, to Buddhism these movements multiply the spiritual sources of purity itself (it is immediately ruptured beyond the enclosure of Brahminical mediation) but also produce ethical diagrams for organising the material resources for protest, insurrection, revolt, and refusal, bringing a crisis of difference (in practice, in processes, in ecologies of sensation) to the purity of Brahmanism. These emancipatory mobilizations were thus in their own ways both epistemological counter-memories and ontological emancipatory practices. For Ambedkar as well, the concept-force of purity was decisive in his radical ‘historiography of force’ (Kumar’s felicitous phrase) in the development of Brahminical domination. So then no Hinduism without Brahminism, but no unified Brahminism without the proliferation of innumerable sites of difference, refusal, and revolt. See the work of Sharad Patil…

 

Q: And so this is why you are not a Hindu? Because Hinduism is Brahminism (invented purity) and Brahminism is a violent unity?

 

[It was almost dusk, an owl hooted outside, as if in waiting.]

 

A. [Startled, as if brought back to attention:] I’m no Minerva, but yes we could say that. Pour another shall we? I was watching an episode of Shat up ya Kunal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVWSgFyaid0&t=1227s) in which Kunal interviews an activist from JNU, Shehla Rashid, and Dalit activist and recently elected Independent MLA representing Vadgam in Gujurat, Jignesh Mevani. Rashid notes we are fighting over crumbs, but still we are fighting over 8000 seats at JNU that the state has a legal responsibility to administer as partly reserved. Having worked in the corporate sector, she sharply observes there is of course no reservations in the corporate sector. Corporates want people with a good personality, by which they mean good English speaking, non-famished bodies. Bodies of privilege. Mevani argues that we need an alternative politics, which will emerge from the people’s movement. Modi comes with karma yogi, he says that street sweepers forcibly working in the gutters get spiritual happiness [anand] from their work. [This is a paraphrase:] “Why doesn’t he come down to the gutter himself and get some spiritual happiness? Our fundamental problem is Brahminical mindset, not Brahmins. It is the caste system that is our problem. The caste system is against the very idea of merit…” This doesn’t stop Brahminical forces from claiming a kind of reservation, elsewhere; Rashid point out that the right wing VHP is stopping the movement to outlaw caste discrimination in the UK by claiming multicultural protections…The two make strong cases against the caste system, but both are wary of how always Brahminism always obscures its own privilege by claiming victimage.

 

The interview poses another question, obliquely, however. When Mevani says why doesn’t Modi come down in the gutter and get him some happy vibes, he precedes that by asking why doesn’t the suvarna state develop technology to ‘humanize’ this demeaning work? So the question of technogenesis and emancipatory ontogenesis in radical anti-caste and feminist politics is linked, and in complex ways. The problem will still remain crucially about the limits and possibilities of human ecologies embedded in emancipatory, but not entirely human ontogenesis across life, matter, and force. The hand, Gandhi’s fetish, became a symbol of ‘honest work’ a celebration of the virtues of simplicity and of use vale (as opposed to the artificial commodities of exchange capitalism—he takes this directly from Ruskin’s Unto this Last!)—the Hand and its intensive sensibility of touch or hapticity is also a reminder of the relegation of certain populations, non-suvarna, ‘broken peoples’ to all kinds of ‘impure’ and hereditary servitude (See Gopal Guru, Patil, Ambedkar, Omvedt), and thus the ritual performance of the caste labor of social reproduction becomes a direct means of reproducing Dalit untouchability, forever sacred and impure. In fact, it is the Dalits of India who invented both aesthetics and technogenesis, in Dalit movements the two are synthesized. Jugaad practices throughout Dalit ecologies synthesize this mixed history of technology and ethics in a non-emancipatory ontogenesis. I say non-emancipatory because there is nothing that wills a free and equal commons in jugaad practice; the will of jugaad is certainly fugitive and extra-legal, but seeking a pure dynamism of connectivity…

 

Q. I must stop you here…

 

A. Why is it getting late?

 

 

 

Continuing from Ethics, Organisation, and Affect in the Creative Industries and Cultural Sector (I).

In the last post, I raised a slew of issues around ethics, organisation studies, and affect in its relationship to the capitalist capture of creativity. This analysis is informed by work in queer and feminist studies, autonomous marxisms, postcolonial and subaltern studies, and new materialist affect studies.

In this post I want to analyse another journal article in this field: What can bodies do? Reading Spinoza for an affective ethics of organizational life by Torkild Thanem and Louise Wallenberg, in Organization 2015, Vol. 22(2) 235– 250.

Here’s the abstract:

Recent attempts to develop an embodied understanding of ethics in organizations have tended to mobilize a Levinasian and ‘im/possible’ ethics of recognition, which separates ethics and embodiment from politics and organization. We argue that this separation is unrealistic, unsustainable, and an unhelpful starting point for an embodied ethics of organizations. Instead of rescuing and modifying the ethics of recognition, we propose an embodied ethics of organizational life through Spinoza’s affective ethics. Neither a moral rule system nor an infinite duty to recognize the other, Spinoza offers a theory of the good, powerful and joyful life by asking what bodies can do. Rather than an unrestrained, irresponsible and individualistic quest for power and freedom, this suggests that we enhance our capacities to affect and be affected by relating to a variety of different bodies. We first scrutinize recent attempts to develop an ethics of recognition and embodiment in organization studies. We then explore key concepts and central arguments of Spinozian ethics. Finally, we discuss what a Spinozian ethics means for the theory and practice of embodied ethics in organizational life.

Almost point for point, this article is opposed to the article I analysed last time (“The naked manager: The ethical practice of an anti-establishment boss” by Bent Meier Sørensen and Kaspar Villadsen (from the Copenhagen Business School) in Organization 2015, Vol. 22(2) 251– 268). Why? Sorensen and Villadsen proceed from a basic confusion of affect theory with post-structuralism as such. Affect theory, or the political ecology of bodies, is not reducible to the standard tropes of post-structuralism: sign, slippage, discourse, the Imaginary, the Other, etc. Sorensen and Villadsen want to willy nilly combine a Levinasian/Derridean alterity semiotics with what they misconstrue as affect theory. The results are desultory.

Do Thanem and Wallenberg provide a way out of this confusion? I think they do. For Thanem and Wallenberg bodies are related in our strivings to affect and be affected by others, and ethics involves enhancing our affective capacities to do so. This is not unproblematic, nor is it linear. “While this appetite leads individual bodies to seek to enhance their power and freedom, Spinoza suggests that joyful and powerful ethical relations can only be crafted and sustained by communities of reasonable individuals who take responsibility for honouring and nurturing the difference and freedom of others. As we embody terrains within and beyond organizations, this compels us to try and understand the limits of our freedom, take responsibility for how we affect and are affected by others, and pursue encounters that enhance our own and others’ bodily capacities” (pg. 248). There are aspects to this project that are quite compelling; the image of thought in it harkens back to the Beautiful Soul, however.

They begin by critiquing Levinas, and his obvious misinterpretations of Spinoza.

It now seems virtually impossible to engage critically with ethics in organization studies without engaging Levinas’ embodied ethics of recognition. Meanwhile, Levinasian ethics is itself an ethics of impossibility. In pursuit of a proto-ethics, that is, an ethics of ethics, Levinas sought to draw up the limits of ethics and establish the primacy of ethics (Jones, 2003). For Levinas, the ethical encounter between self and other is primordial, preceding ontology and politics. Ethics is a matter of fully recognizing the other, and it is the self’s embodied encounter with the other that enables it to do so—to be unconditionally open to the other, to put the other before the self, and to exercise infinite responsibility for the other without being polluted by politics and without first being-in-itself and being-for-itself. Placing infinite demands on the self to be for the other, Levinasian ethics is an ongoing and impossible project because it can never be fully realized and finally completed. (pg. 236)

An open ethical project of incomplete becoming is also certainly compatible with a Spinozist ethics, but the hinge is different. For Levinas/Derrida/Butler (till about maybe 2000?–certainly Judith Butler has been affected by and has affected the ontological turn?) it is the Other that forms the hinge, or lever for ethics. The Other grounds the self in an always open, never ending negative dialectic. It is irreducibly idealistic and transcedent (all things emanate from the Other/God). For the Spinozist tradition (we know who you are, but do you?), the lever is of a material, durational, empirical, and transcendental nature. Affect is immanent to ecological processes (a very great number of feedback loops), pointing to a transcendental empiricism as method. Affect–which is both qualitative and quantitative at once–is a durational passage from one affection to another (Deleuze, 1968).

Noting that Spinoza was knife-attacked on the steps of the local synagogue and excommunicated for his ‘monstrous deeds’, and that Spinozist organisation theory remains both rudimentary and still under attack (Spoelstra, 2007; Thanem, 2011; Lloyd, 1996; Popkin, 1976), Thanem and Wallenberg argue that

From an affective ethics of the good, powerful and joyful life, Spinoza offers radical ways to rework the possibilities and limits of embodied ethics: to reconsider basic assumptions regarding the relations between rationality and embodiment, ethics, ontology and politics; to rethink key ethical concepts of freedom, responsibility, difference and affectivity; and to re-imagine ethical practices within and around organizations. Rather than a moral rule system or an infinite duty to recognize the other, Spinoza asks what bodies can do. However, this does not imply an unrestrained, irresponsible and individualistic quest for power and freedom, but suggests that we enhance our capacities to affect and be affected by relating to a variety of different bodies. (pg. 236)

This has the virtue of clarity, which we need more of not less. So affect grounds an ethics of capacities to affect and be affected by a very great number of different bodies. But what is affect? I return to that question, but the authors usefully summarise the uses of Spinoza in organisation theory and business ethics:

…we argue that Spinozian ethics, which is inseparable from ontology and politics, enables an affectively embodied ethics of organizations more realistic and sustainable than any ethics of recognition. Doing so, we extend our reading of Spinoza into the philosophical works of Balibar, Deleuze, Gatens and Lloyd. This is no obvious choice. Spinoza’s convoluted style and contradictory arguments have enabled several competing interpretations: (i) Spinoza’s geometric method of logical deduction and discussion of the virtues of reason has led mainstream historians of philosophy and analytic philosophers to view Spinoza as a rationalist (Bennett, 1984; Hampshire, 1951; Koistinen, 2009); (ii) liberalist commentators in political philosophy have taken Spinoza’s emphasis on the freedom of thought as a precurse to the 18th century Enlightenment (Israel, 2007) and economic liberalism (Feuer, 1958; Smith, 1997); (iii) neo- Marxists have celebrated Spinoza’s implicit emphasis on class antagonism (Althusser, 1970) while post-Marxists have reiterated the Spinozian multitude as a subject of political resistance and transformation (Hardt and Negri, 2004); and (iv) the affective turn in cultural and social thought has, among other things, utilized Spinoza to theorize social affect beyond the dualism of personal feelings and collective emotions (Seyfert, 2012) (pg. 237)

This is quite helpful, actually, and I’ve emphasised what seems to me of decisive import. Moving affect beyond feeling, into the preindividual (this is the implication, although the authors don’t engage substantively with Simondon or others on Simondon–Deleuze, Massumi, Manning, Shaviro, Parisi–except Balibar, 1997), through a consideration of antagonisms in politics and resistant forms of organisation in the multitude (we should not loose site of the fact that Hardt and Negri’s 2004 book on the subject has been roundly criticised for its various romanticisms of resistance), Thanem and Wallenberg shift our understanding of affective processes by relating it to ‘another reason’ and the politics of embodiment in actual organisations. (I’m glad I’m blogging again, I’ve missed writing necessarily long, multiply parenthesised, turgid English sentences that really want to be in German/Sanskrit. Ah well.)

Arguing against the normative organisation studies separation between ethics, ontology, and politics, Thanem and Wallenberg argue for an affective ethics, and here we can get a better sense of what they mean by both. “…Deleuze (1992: 41-51) teases out how Spinozian rationality, reason and ethics is entangled with materiality, embodiment and passion, from a starting point where everything is generated by and expressive of one and the same primordial substance (EIP11, P15), the source of all things and ideas, which Spinoza called God but possibly meant Nature (Lloyd, 1996)” (pg. 240). Or as Nicholas of Cusa in On Learned Ignorance put it: “God is the universal complication, in the sense that everything is in him; and the universal explication, in the sense that he is in everything” (qtd. in Deleuze, EiP, pg. 175). Deleuze draws out the implications for a philosophy of immanence, which is the vertigo of philosophy itself, with characteristic brilliance:

Expression comprehends all these aspects: complication, explication, inherence, implication. And these aspects of expression are also the categories of immance. Immanence is revealed as expressive, and expression as immanent, in a system of logical relations within which the two notions are correlative. (EiP, 175)

The authors note what’s at stake for Deleuze in all this: a rejection of the mind-body dualism in favour of a strict parallelism between thought and extension, merely two attributes of an infinite God, or nature; a reformulation of ethics as a “theory of power” (Deleuze, 1988, pg. 104) linking essence to a given organisation of capacities in an embodied assemblage.

Thanem and Wallenberg quote Spinoza thus:

…no one has yet determined what the body can do, that is, experience has not yet taught anyone what the body can do from the laws of Nature alone, insofar as Nature is only considered to be corporeal, and what the body can do only if it is determined by the mind. For no one has yet come to know the structure of the body so accurately that he could explain all its functions […] This shows well enough that the body itself, simply from the laws of its own nature, can do many things which its mind wonders at. (EIIIP2S; pg. 240)

The authors note that Spinoza highlights the dynamic capacities of the body to affect and be affected by other bodies through preindividual, non-conscious processes. Perhaps too quickly, they relate these dynamics to the good, powerful, and joyful life (Nietzsche showed us clearly why the Good is in fact more often than not a sad passion–cf Beyond Good and Evil and the Genealogy of Morals, etc.). They clarify: ‘the body is not striving towards the good, but striving is itself good’ (pg. 241). While this is resonant with aspects of Spinoza’s ethics, my sense is that Spinoza was more concerned with individual and collective (the two are inseparable) emancipation from the sad passions, not a liberation from the body, but rather a strategic, political experimentation with what the body can do to turn passive into active affections.

…there are no causes external to God; God is necessarily the cause of all his affections, and so all these affections can be explained by his nature, and are actions. Such is not the case with existing modes. These do not exist by virtue of their own nature; their existence is composed of extensive parts that are determined and affected from outside, ad infinitum. Every existing mode is thus inevitably affected by modes external to it, and undergoes changes that are not explained by its own nature alone. Its affections are at the outset, and tend to remain, passions. Spinoza remarks that childhood is an abject state, but one common to all of us, in which we depend “very heavily on external causes.” The great question that presents itself in relation to existing finite modes is thus: Can they attain to active affections, and if so, how? This is the “ethical” question, properly so called. But, even supposing that a mode manages to produce active affections, while it exists it cannot eliminate all its passions, but can at best bring it about that its passions occupy only a small part of itself. (Deleuze, EiP, pg. 219)

It is this ‘play’ (but not a Derridean play–see the next post where I discuss Deleuze’s notion of relations and encounters) between active and passive affections as a domain of action that defines a Spinozist ethics, and often the way they are knotted together, interrupting each other, in habits that are not entirely of our own making, is what is crucial it seems to me.

Thanem and Wallenberg point to the important political dimension to this play:

The underlying politics here cannot be exaggerated. Not only is a body’s capacity to exist a result of its power (EIP11S3-4): ‘every right of each one is defined by his [sic] […] power’ (EIVP37; our emphasis), and ‘every natural thing has as much right from Nature as it has power to exist and to act’ (TP2/3). However, this further suggests that power, right and the capacity to affect and be affected is unequally distributed. And since the power of each body is ‘infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes’ (EIVP3), bodies seek to persevere by entering into affective relations with other bodies that enhance their capacities (EIVP38). (pg. 241)

This resonates with Deleuze’s notion of ethical becoming through active passions, but with some caveats. Deleuze points out repeatedly (one wonders how the performance of repetition functions as differentiation in Deleuze’s texts, there’s a literary dissertation in that) that the expressive triad corresponding to finite modes (specific bodies with a very great number of extensive parts) comprises 1. an essence as a degree of power; 2. a characteristic relation in which it expresses itself; 3. and the extensive parts subsumed in this relation, which compose the mode’s existence. In the Ethics, Spinoza develops a strict system of equivalences that leads to a second triad related to the first: 1. an essence as a degree of power; 2. a certain capacity to be affected in which it expresses itself; and 3. the affections that, at each moment, exercise that capacity. (Deleuze, “What Can a Body Do?”, Ch. 14, EiP, page 217).

Thanem and Wallenberg draw out political implications of this ethics of the active affections quite different from a Levinasian ethics, “which defines ethical communities as a pre-rational outcome of embodied difference and alterity” (241).

In contrast, the powerful, joyful and ethical life and community Spinoza outlines requires agreement, harmony, and reason: bodies contrary to our nature cause sadness and diminish our power (EIVP30); bodies that agree with our nature are good and useful to our power (EIVP31). However, it is only by living in accordance with reason that people can agree (EIVP35), ‘live harmoniously’ and ‘be of assistance to one another’ (EIVP37, P40). (pg. 241).

This strikes me as a normalizing ethics striving toward a teleology of balance and equilibrium (even though earlier in the essay the authors explicitly reject teleology in ethics). They acknowledge this danger.

The bodily, social and political aspects at play here are significant. First, a body is reasonable insofar as it knows itself and the diverse bodies in its surroundings. Second, reasonable bodies are able to join with other bodies, despite some disagreement, and compose larger, more powerful, yet more heterogeneous bodies, which incorporate the capacities that made them different in the first place (EIVP38): “For the more the body is capable of affecting, and being affected by, external bodies in a great many ways, the more the mind is capable of thinking.” (EIVApp27) (pg. 243)

I find the search for a composition of reasonable bodies hard to stomach. Spinoza, and certainly Delezue (and Guattari, and many others drawing from this tradition), does something to Cartesian reason. Certainly by rejecting the mind/body dualism, but further by bringing reason into the multiplicity of bodies mattering (as Butler and Cheah have it), Spinoza births forth another reason, a materialist and nonlinear diagrammatics of the composition of bodies with different degrees of power.

Whence these degrees of power? Are they given by God, or nature? Are they ‘naturalised’ degrees of power? This is precisely what Spinozist ethics works against, the supposed transcendence of ethics (pg. 244). While Thanem and Wallenberg, drawing on Gatens and Lloyd (1999), go on to elaborate ‘freedom and responsibility’ as key dimensions of a collectively oriented Spinozist ethics, I want to turn to their consideration of affective ethics in actually existing organisations.

They set the stage thus:

It is more helpful to consider how the questions discussed above are not impossible but real questions with practical implications for embodied ethics in organizational life. They are certainly given a practical and organizational guise in Spinoza’s political writings. Spinoza opens the Political Treatise by promising to show ‘how a community […] should be organised […] if […] the Peace and Freedom of its citizens is to remain inviolate’, and by critiquing political philosophers for ‘conceiv[ing] men [sic] not as they are but as they would like them to be’ and for ‘never work[ing] out a political theory that can have practical application’ (TP1/1). Meanwhile, Spinoza’s Ethics was never ‘just’ an ontological or proto-ethical exercise, but, as Balibar (1998) argues, a foundation and elaboration of his political writings. (pp. 244-45)

And:

Viewing Spinozian ethics in light of these arguments is helpful when considering the implications of Spinozian ethics for the theory and practice of embodied ethics within and around organizations. This does not mean that bringing Spinozian ethics into organizational life is unproblematic. First, Spinoza pursues a dual emphasis on power—as capacity (potentia) in the Ethics (EIP11D2, EIIP3S, EIIIP7Dem) and as authority (potestas) in his political writings (TTP16; TP2) (see Terpstra, 1993)—and it may be argued that applying Spinozian ethics to organizations takes bodies into a setting where power is a matter of authority, of exercising power over others, which undercuts the capacities of bodies to more openly engage in affective relations with others. Second, it may be argued, with Deleuze, that this involves a move from the expressive to the representational, which restricts the expressive capacities of bodies to affect and be affected by others. (pg. 245)

With Deleuze? Where does Deleuze suggest that organisation involves a shift from expression to representation? Indeed, following Hardt’s brilliant Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy (1993) (who the authors cite!), we might say that, for both Spinoza and Deleuze, the question of organisation is precisely and primarily a question of the ontology of capacities distributed through interpenetrating multiplicities and their resonant/disjunctive processes. So Thanem and Wallenberg are pursuing a false problem, or at least a poorly posed one, with a dichotomy that doesn’t come from Spinoza or Deleuze but from inside the confused field of organisation studies itself. This can quickly become ideological obfuscation:

There is no illusion that the self will feel compelled to be completely open to the other, fully recognize the other and take infinite responsibility for the other. Instead, the pursuit of a joyful organizational life requires us to enhance our powers in ways that enhance the powers of more or less agreeable others, for instance by striking alliances with unlikeable colleagues against more unlikeable managers, or getting to know and learn from someone who at first seemed to have nothing in common with us. This may put limits on openness and difference, but also on domination, exploitation and exclusion. (pg. 246).

What does the pursuit of the joyful organisational life mean under heteronormative, patriarchal, and racist capitalism? It’s as if for these authors the problem of Spinozist organisation can be neatly disentangled from the structures of domination and exploitation tied to contemporary capital. Nowhere do they actually mention capital as such, as far as I can tell. Encounter, then, tends to be narrowed to the face to face meetings of individuals, understood precisely as bourgeois ideology would have it, i.e. as isolated atoms colliding. Spinozist categories are abstracted from history, from the material ecologies that give them force and effectivity.

Yet what is maddeningly interesting about this article is that Thanem and Wallenberg seem fully aware of these pitfalls in their own argument! So I’ll end this already too long post in their own, somewhat optimistic, somewhat inspirational, and somewhat naive words.

If Spinozian ethics is misread as a one-way process of crafting harmonious relations by minimizing difference or a selfish quest for freedom, and if too much emphasis is put on his occasional claim that unreasonable people must be forced into reasonable behaviour (TP3/8), it is unlikely to offer much advice for ending unjust practices in organizations. However, if we take seriously the collective responsibility to mutually enhance our own and others’ embodied capacities to affect and be affected, it convinces us that domination, exploitation and exclusion, like individualistic freedom, are not just unethical but unsustainable. As organizations dominate, exploit and exclude people, they treat people in reductionist ways that cut off organizations and those they exclude from opportunities to exercise their full capacities. And as individual employees and managers insist on an unrestrained freedom to do whatever they like, they undermine any fruitful social relations. Excess power and freedom causes harm and suffering and provokes disagreement and resistance, which inevitably decomposes relations between people and organizations. Hence, connections between organizations and people neither can nor should be maintained at all cost. Although excluding initially peaceful others might create further harm and suffering, disagreement and resistance, those same people might gain more power, freedom and joy from cutting or re-negotiating the link. The current resistance against big business, financial institutions and oppressive governments cries out that people are fed up and ready to cut the link with dominant, exploitative, harmful and sad forms of government and organization. And without denying the significance of discursive forms of resistance, it is likely that resistance in organizational life may be reinforced as people feel the pain that these regimes inflict on our bodies—through the poverty they generate, the natural resources they appropriate and pollute, the landscapes they destroy, and the health problems they cause. There are even signs that people again pursue joyful encounters and harmonious relations independently of organizations, whether growing our own vegetables, bartering old clothes and furniture, or exchanging household favours. At the same time, Spinozian ethics sits well with an argument for more diverse organizations— at least insofar as they enhance the capacities of traditionally marginalized groups to affect how things are organized, managed and decided, and not least because marginalized groups tend to have different bodily experiences of joy and suffering, from life, work and organizations. However, such a move is not sufficient to create more joyful and more differently embodied organizations. Institutions and organizations can only become more joyful and sustainable if those who manage them and work in them open ourselves up to be affected by people whose bodies and embodied experiences are truly different from our own. Impossible in homogeneous groups, this instigates us to develop embodied forms of reason in concert with others, which enhance our capacities to remember, critically reflect about and take responsibility for transforming ourselves as well as the conditions that have enabled us to dominate, exploit and exclude others within and around organizations. (pg. 247)

What are the implications of the set of arguments from Part I and Part II of these posts for Creative Industries and the Cultural Sectors? Are the implications the same for both sectors, and if not what is the nature of their differences in regards to ethics, organisation, and affect? Till next time.

Ethics forecloses Politics.

Capitalist Organisation captures subaltern biopolitical production.

Affect as an embodied and infinite capacity to affect and be affected can help to disrupt both.

These are working hypotheses. What do they have to do with the Creative Industries and cultural sectors in the UK?

I am reading academic journal articles in the fields of creative industries, organisation studies, business ethics, and affect studies. In this post I want to address some recent journal articles that seem to be using affect in a way that challenges both disciplinary boundaries and the body’s ontology (whose body, which body, where, when?).

My interest here is in understanding better (that’s an intensive quantity!) the state of play in organisation studies–and in specifically creative organisations–around the materiality of affect, posing questions of affect’s ontology, its ecological processes, its relations of motion and rest, its non-human becomings (Deleuze, 1990, Expressionism in philosophy: Spinoza). Why has organisation studies turned to affect in the past five to seven years? Which aspects of affect theory are they most likely to rehearse or reassemble? What does affect do in the discourse of organisation theory? Do we know yet what affect can do in organisations?

The first article is: “The naked manager: The ethical practice of an anti-establishment boss” by Bent Meier Sørensen and Kaspar Villadsen (from the Copenhagen Business School) in Organization 2015, Vol. 22(2) 251– 268.

What’s this article trying to do? Here’s their succinct abstract:

“This article explores how an allegedly ‘non-hierarchical’ and aestheticized managerial practice reconfigures power relations within a creative industry. The key problematic is ‘governmental’ in the sense suggested by Michel Foucault, in as much as the manager’s ethical self-practice—which involves expressive and ‘liberated’ bodily comportment—is used tactically to shape the space of conduct of others in the company. The study foregrounds the managerial body as ‘signifier’ in its own right. Empirically, this is done through an analysis of video material produced by the film company Zentropa about their apparently eccentric Managing Director, Peter Aalbæk. Contrary to much of the literature discussing embodiment and ethics in organization studies, we do not identify an ‘ethics of organization’ dominated by instrumental rationality, efficiency and desire for profit which is ostensibly juxtaposed to a non-alienating, embodied ethics. Rather, when the body becomes invested in management, we observe tensions, tactics of domination and unpredictability.” (p. 251)

 

First, what’s methodologically interesting is that they are using documentary film for analysis of organisational behaviour. They make clear in the article that film — indeed, any visual evidence — has been a dismissed and marginalised source of ‘data.’

 

Arguments for the legitimacy of films as data source have varied, but most of them view films as components in the construction of organizational reality alongside narratives, symbols, images, charts and other representations. Hence, visual artefacts may ‘create, transform, or stabilize particular “versions” of reality’ (Meyer et al., 2013: 509). Taking inspiration from Derrida and Lacan, Foreman and Thatchenkery (1996) argue that there is no fundamental reality of ‘the real’ organization, but merely a set of signifiers, simulacra or representations of it (p. 46). In this perspective, the pictorial elements in a film are signifiers that take part in the system of signification, the symbolic structure that makes up the unconscious. In a similar manner, Gagliardi (1996) conceives of films as representing in a very straightforward manner organizational artefacts which, as such, partake in the ‘aesthetic landscaping’ of the organization. Such artefacts may be practices enacted in ‘real time’, such as management activities that the employees experience, but may also, perhaps at the same time, be reproducible images, such as films and marketing material, which in this way gain force and significance into a wider collective, potentially becoming part of a generalized ‘social imaginary’ (Taylor, 2000). Common to these views is that visual modes of meaning construction are capable of materializing, organizing and sustaining organizational representations by constituting systems of signs. (p. 256)

So note the interpretative frame for treatment of films as visual modes of meaning construction that are capable of materializing, organizing and sustaining organizational representations by constituting systems of signs. Pretty standard 70’s era film criticism + critical management studies = ?

So films are signs. Is a manager a sign/ifier? Yes, according to the authors, managers are also sign/ifiers. What of the manager’s body? In this view, the body is always already in language and symbolic/imaginary: the authors thus dodge the difficult question of mediation in affect studies. Note, then, that the authors have set out that film as data is a way in to organizational signification. The signs are symptoms, not of a body, but of the nervous ticks on the face of ideology, as Bhabha once witheringly put it.

This is what I mean:

Taking Derrida’s lead, our objective is not to give a final judgement of the meaning of each image, but to insert it into a play of significations by explicating and intensifying the image’s internal contradictions. Hereby, we hope to open an avenue to question and contest the self-evidence and readily received narrative of the images…Eschewing hermeneutic and phenomenological approaches, our analysis proceeds by observing our central ‘actor’, the manager’s body, as a signifier, ‘in that punctuality in which it appears’ (Foucault, 1972: 25). This non-reductionist approach to a bodily statement (whether verbal or by gestures) does not look for any subjective intentionality or hidden motives but observes it as a ‘pure discursive event’ (Foucault, 1972: 27). (pg. 256-57)

I spent a good portion of my professional life as a researcher and writer and teacher doing some version of the above (although we would be hard pressed to find anywhere in Derrida’s oeuvre in which he describes deconstruction as the explication and intensifying of an image’s internal contradictions; nor can I find anything in Foucault to authorise such a reduction). Today, I feel that this method obscures affect rather than composes with it.

What’s happened to affect? What’s the relation of affect to signification/signs/signifier? Although the authors dutifully cite Deleuze, Spinoza, and Massumi, nowhere do they actually register what is at stake in Deleuze and Massumi’s insistence that affect is not emotion (feeling, mood), nor socially constructed.

I suppose I should’t complain. That organisational studies is taking up the question of affect in a fairly serious way should be a cause for celebration (albeit a very low-key, one-drink kind of fete). But I suppose as well that, politically, which affect becomes hegemonic in organisational studies will have everything to do with the capture of affect in capitalist organisation, mostly in the service of private accumulation, branding, worker control, indebtedness, productivity squeezing (precarity), and continuing and in some ways deepening forms of racial and gender inequalities in the creative and cultural sectors. So those are political stakes: the reduction of affect to emotion to control creative labor, and further entrench an already well established whiteness in the creative industries and cultural sectors (I’m paying specific attention to the UK in this post; in future posts I hope to turn my attention to Cape Town, South Africa and Mumbai, India.)

Lets turn to ethics in this essay. The authors write:

How do we study the body as a vehicle for managerial performance? Of course, even the ‘rationalized’ organization’s ‘rational’ managers have bodies, but those bodies were conceived more as uniforms or at least as disciplined by uniforms (Harding, 2002). In contrast, in what has become known as the ‘post-bureaucratic organization’ (Grey and Garsten, 2001; Maravelias, 2007), the knowledge-intensive, creative sectors reveal new types of managerial practices. These new practices not only express what we may term ‘postmodern’, decentred and anti-hierarchical imageries but also echo wholly new configurations of management. Indeed, these complex configurations have been termed ‘soft bureaucracies’ (Courpasson, 2000), where more flexible structures are being deployed by an elite, who bypass the (shrinking) middle management with a softer, seemingly more humane, managerial practice without annulling the functioning bureaucratic forms. (p. 252)

The body as instrument and target of managerial performance is a question of ethics (and politics?). This is a forced, artificial embodied ethics and its violence is starkly apparent in the creative industries as the analysis of Peter Aalbæk shows. The new types of managerial practices in the creative sectors focus specifically on the ethics of embodied affect. As the authors note,

In this article, we wish to pursue this embodied/incarnated perspective by problematizing what we view as an increasingly urgent obligation in contemporary management to perform an ‘embodied ethics’. By embodied ethics, we refer to bodily acts that are performed in order to display a practical ethos. We assume this ethos to be particularly pronounced in the so-called creative sector. (252)

So the aims seem to be to resist the demand for organisationally appropriate affect as worker subjectivation in the creative industries. What does that mean exactly? The work of Camille Barbagallo, Sylvia Federici, Emma Dowling, and many others including Hardt and Negri all point to affective labour or carework as a specifically gendered and increasingly widespread form of worker control. That much is certain.

This is where the distinction between affect and emotion/care becomes difficult to maintain rigorously. And sometimes I wonder what’s the point in trying? Wouldn’t it be better if affect were embraced as this more even all- encompassing concept, and wouldn’t that be a “more bodily” way of framing affect?

My short answer is that something else is at stake in maintaining the distinction: affect as the variable material capacity to affect and be affected is preindividual (Simondon), ecological (Guattari), non-human (Grosz, Haraway), and non-capitalist (Hardt and Negri, et al). As such, emotion is a capture and organisation of actual and virtual intensities of affect, and Massumi and Manning in their various works make clear why this is important not merely conceptually, but in terms of experimental practice. We get a better sense of this capture of affect in this passage from a textbook on therapeutical practice with troubled adolescents:

There are two broad categories of emotion: emotions that are easy to cope with and promote productive behaviour, and emotions that are extreme, difficult to manage and block productive behaviour. Unrealistic interpretations are the cause of many of the second class of emotion; a more realistic interpretation of events for the child can free them from the difficult emotion. Understanding the links between events, the interpretation of events and the emotions that follow is an important key to resolving emotional difficulties. Parenting style, how much structure, nurture, time, attention, playfulness and challenge a parent or carer brings, is crucial. (Taylor, 2010, A practical guide to caring for children and teenagers with attachment difficulties, pg. 103)

 

Experimental practice is central to the Creative Industries and Cultural Sectors, but in very different ways. Having had substantive conversations with Lois Keidan, Director of the Live Art Development Agency (I’m a Board of Trustees member) and with Keiko Higashi, Director of Project Phakama (I’ve been Chair of the Board for the past three years) over the past year, the distinction between creative industries practices and cultural sector practices seems very real. The Creative Industries in the UK (as elsewhere) have largely been dominated by software production and new media entrepreneurship (going by percentage of gross value added). It is thoroughly neoliberal, and unabashedly so. The cultural sector however comes out of very different formations, some of which Andrew Ross discusses in ‘Nice Work if you can Get it’, where he specifically contrasts John Maynard Keynes the first director of Arts Council England, who had an almost nonchalant view of arts policy, with today’s New Labour Tories and their austerity agenda.

As far as cultural policy went, almost every feature of the old dispensation was now subject to a makeover. When the Arts Council was established in 1945, its first chair, the serenely mischievous John Maynard Keynes, described the evolution of its famous ‘arms length’ funding principle as having ‘happened in a very English, informal, unostentatious way – half-baked, if you like’. Keynes would have us believe that Britain acquired its arts policy, like its empire, in a fit of absent-mindedness. In truth, it was simply falling in line with every other Western social democracy by acknowledging that the market failure of the arts should be counteracted through state subsidies. Keynes’s batty boosterism – ‘Let every part of Merry England be merry in its own way. Death to Hollywood’ – was a far cry from the regimen of requirements demanded fifty years later by Chris Smith, the first DCMS minister, who declared ex officio that he did not believe in ‘grants for grants’ sake’. Wherever possible, the 13 industries included in the government’s 1998 mapping document (film, television and radio, publishing, music, performing arts, arts and antiques, crafts, video and computer games, architecture, design, fashion, software and computer services, advertising) had to be treated like any other industry with a core business model. While it was acknowledged that some institutions and individuals would still require public support to produce their work, this would be spoken of as an investment with an anticipated return, rather than a subsidy offered to some supplicant, grant-dependent entity. Moreover, much of the arts funding would come through a source – the National Lottery – widely viewed as a form of regressive taxation. (Ross, ‘Nice Work if you Can Get it: The Mercurial Career of Creative Industries Policy’, pp. 23-24)

I am not arguing that the cultural sector is atavistic and the creative industries are the future. Hardly. I think what the hinge is between the two in the UK is precisely a question of biopolitics; or, ethics as embodiment, organisation as composition, and affect as power. Partly this has to do with very different business models–public funding, private investment, theatre ticket sales, IP and monopoly rents, crowd funding, self-funding (i.e. indebtedness).

Let’s return to Sørensen and Villadsen, The naked manager. They analyse the documentary about a day in the life of Aalbæk by following ‘focus points’: “1. The CEO’s body, including his pose, context, behaviour, dress and verbal utterances. 2. The intertextuality of images, that is, explicit or implicit references to managerial mythologies, figures, ideologies, utopias and so on. 3. The inherent paradox of authenticity versus the invocation of familiar conventions or ‘styles’ around which many of Aalbæk’s performances seem to revolve” (258). This is little more than a semiotics of film images. But what then is an image, a sign?

Spinoza therefore sets apart two domains which were always confused in earlier traditions: that of expression and of the expressive knowledge which is alone adequate; and that of signs and of knowledge by signs, through apophasis or analogy. Spinoza distinguishes different sorts of signs: indicative signs, which lead us to infer something from the state of our body; imperative signs, which lead us to grasp laws as moral laws; and revelatory signs which themselves lead us to obey them and which at the very most disclose to us certain “propria” of God. But whatever its sort, knowledge through signs is never expressive, and remains of the first kind. Indication is not an expression, but a confused state of involvement in which an idea remains powerless to explain itself or to express its own cause. An imperative sign is not an expression, but a confused impression which leads us to believe that the true expressions of God, the laws of nature, are so many commandments. Revelation is not an expression, but a cultivation of the inexpressible, a confused and relative knowledge through which we lend God determinations analogous to our own… (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, pg. 181)

 

A sensorimotor circuit. Not a sign, not signifier, but a customary, expressive and habituated assemblage of intensive quantities (light, movement, synaesthesia, muscle memory, shade, focus, sound, montage, anticipation, rhythm, action-potentials, etc.) that constitute what Spinoza called multiplicities with a very great number of parts. (I’m playing a little fast and loose here, and Deleuze’s analysis of Modal Existence in Expression in Philosophy (EiP), pp. 200-03 would need to be unpacked much more carefully for this to be rigorous as an addition to Deleuzean image theory). Note that the quantity, power or affects of the multiplicity do not proceed from the various parts, but ‘rather because it is infinite that it divides into a multitude of parts exceeding any number’ (Deleuze, EiP, 203). This certainly at a point involves what Lacan called cathexis and what Althusser called ideology, but in its affective ontology, an image immediately affects neurological circuits. This immediacy scares dogmatic dialecticians. It can be the organising point of radical affective politics that experiment and compose in ecologies of sensation.