Brian Holmes on Mon, 4 Feb 2002 15:56:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: The degree zero of politics

It's a useful paper, Tiziana, thanks.

Among several other encouraging things, it seems to me you're hinting at
something newly possible in so-called "scholarly" work, namely a new kind
of crossover, which I think you also preform by presenting the paper both
at the London School of Economic and on this "diffusely intellectual" list.
The possibility is lurking in a somewhat fuzzy paragraph on methodology:
You say your work is to be not a representation of Internet discourses, nor
even a semiotic analysis of how they represent the world, but "the
conscious choice of looking at Internet debates at the level of a specific
cultural and political engagement with the medium, the types of
communication that it enables and its relationship with the larger cultural
context of late capitalist societies."

It'd be interesting to focus in on the fuzzy bit and hear more about what
it entails. There is an echo (maybe a totally conscious one?) between this
divergence from a semiotic, cultural-studies approach, and the
media-activist rejection of television. I hear that echo most clearly in
the passage where you formulate the questions of media activists: "Should
politics be about the rational debate between a limited multiplicity of
clearly articulated perspectives that confront each other in the nominally
neutral public sphere which television (ideally) sets itself up to be? Or
should politics be about the emergence of singularised and yet collective
levels of engagement with practice, taking place below and above the level
of representative, mediated communication (between electors and MPs or
between audiences and producers)?"

Is this not also a question about "the nominally neutral public sphere
which THE UNIVERSITY (ideally) sets itself up to be"? 

It seems to me important (though probably difficult for someone who
occupies a university position) to ask this question not only generally of
the structure within which one works, but also of the cultural studies
discourse which, not coincidentally I think, has above all analyzed the
reception of television. I imagine that just as you take care in this paper
not to adopt for yourself the wholesale rejection of television, you would
be even more careful not to start a scattergun critique of cultural
studies. Understandably so. But at the same time, I think that a theory of
"singularized and yet collective levels of engagement with INTELLECTUAL
practice" might point the way to something like a _social university_, i.e.
an extension of the "social factory" concept already developed by the
autonomists. It could become a very concrete bid to enable certain new
kinds of communication, above and below the functions of mediation that are
now performed by university accredited expertise. I see those new kinds of
communication at work in the entire social forum movement developing right
now, in parallel to the street protests.

A concept of the social university would recognize the dissemination of
knowledge resources throughout society, consequent in part upon the
"refusal of (professorial) work," and it would pose political questions
about the specific kinds of social transformations that could make this
condition more viable. It might actually be politically important to make
the reality of the social university explicit, at a time when it seems very
difficult to depend on, say, the LSE for the production of a cultural
critique that can change anything at all. And this might also be a way to
pursue the epistemological revolution of cultural studies, which to my way
of thinking was largely arrested by an infatuation with Saussurean
semiotics, with all its bourgeois, rationalist, bureaucratic neutrality.
Its _representational bias_, in short. What do you think?

best, Brian

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