tiziana on Tue, 5 Feb 2002 19:42:02 +0100 (CET)

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

hi brian,

thanks for replying and let me see if i can make justice to the issues that
you raised. 

I think that the stress on representation (and semiotics) needs to be read
together with the split between cultural studies and political economy.
these have been the two answers to the so-called 'stalled dialectics' which
has been troubling Anglo-Saxon academics interested in the cultural
potential for 'revolution' for a while. In this context, the notion of a
stalled dialectics implies that the working class has been defeated in its
revolutionary impulse by the development of capitalism. This was the basis
of Adorno and Horkheimer's argument. What you got then within Marxist
thinking in the Anglo-Saxon world is a split between the political
economists, who have been recording for decades the progressive subsumption
of communication under capitalism (implicitly calling for more state
regulation to protect the public); and the cultural studies people who have
been focusing on micro-strategies of subversion within an hegemonic context.
Semiotics and representation help in this situation because theoretically
they help to formulate both the problem of how consensus is achieved; and a
way of thinking about how such consensus is never stable but is continuosly
undermined. It is a shame that these theoretical tools are blunted by the
use of what in philosophy used to be called an 'idealist' focus, which is
still there in spite of all the claims of being 'materialist'. Reality and
subjectivity are constructed by language, but this mainly happens at the
level of discourse and representation. So working within this tradition you
can only show endlessly the reproduction and permutations of hegemonic
discourses, and point at deviant decodings and small subversions as a way

Okay maybe that's how it starts, the small deviation, the little divergence,
the oppositional meaning. But what goes on beneath and above meaning, and
where do you go from there, that is difficult to formulate. You get stuck in
the position of the eternal critic.

The university as the public sphere or the social factory? From where I
stand it looks more like a sprawl, with a couple of ivory towers in the
background, top floors made of established academics leading a good life; a
few reasonably fitted new blocks; and the shanty towns, hundreds of troubled
and chaotic institutions, whose workforce is mainly constituted by casual
and temporary staff and a bunch of permanently overworked people. You are
supposed to teach enormous masses of students, come up with ways to link up
with the community (provided that it is in this kind of Victorian charity
style that public bodies are forced to impose...), build liaisons with
business that would allow a bit of funding for the decaying infrastructure,
comply with every single bureaucratic directive from above that aims at
making you 'accountable', fight the enormous pressure to 'vocationalise' and
'dumb down' and in the meanwhile also keep your enthusiasm for the job by
doing your bit of research. This is the reality for the majority of
institutions of higher and further education in the UK at least, but judging
from Stanley Aronowitz's work also in the USA.  The public sphere survives
in the refereed journals, the conferences, the roundtables, but its apparent
solidity obscures the chaos of the chaotic social factory of further and
higher education operating underneath.

So the production of an INTELLECTUAL practice that can participate in the
wider effort at collective organisation of which the forums are an example
cannot avoid dealing with this basic situation. A social university? Maybe
it's already there somewhere, maybe the next step would be to have the
university as social factory detonate the university as public sphere. After
all the first is a much stronger and intense reality than the latter. How
that's going to happen, however, is still not clear to me. In the meanwhile,
I think it's important to keep the universities open, but not in the ways
that all this 'outreach' programmes suggest...

then there is exhaustion, of course...



on 4/2/02 2:52 pm, Brian Holmes at 106271.223@compuserve.com wrote:

> 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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