Josephine Berry on Tue, 12 Feb 2002 18:53:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] the ass between two chairs

I forward this text from Howard Slater. I think this is a much needed 
contribution to the whole debate around what 'knowledge' (and by 
extension a knowledge commons) could be.

As you'll see from the title, it was written as a communique to the 
Copenhagen Free University. Any questions or comments should be 
directed to Howard Slater,  Jakob Jakobsen and Henriette Heise at 



A Communique to the Copenhagen Free University

"Become many, brave the outside world,
split off somewhere else..."  - Michel Serres

Education systems are crumbling. Whatever country it is to which we 
do not belong, whatever state or nationality we have been abstracted 
into, whatever desire it is that can never be granted... we can agree 
that education is concerned with the reproduction of conformist 
subjectivities; it produces isolated beings rather than social 
becomings, it produces conscientiousness rather than 
self-consciousness, political emancipation rather than human 

As the factories dissapear, new factories open. Factories of facts, 
data and information. Factories that put the final gloss on socially 
enforced ignorance with a machine-tool monitoring. Here people are 
made to want to be follower-factotums. Children - careerists; 
careerists - children. So, the enlightenment project has succeeded: 
sensual apprehension has been driven out of mind by too much 
education. The general intellect has been copywritten.

Nowhere does the link between the state and a capital that 
presupposes it, show itself up more revealingly than in education. We 
were never educated for a practice of life but, instead, were 
disembodied for a non-practice of work. Split faculties. They never 
mentioned that learning could be a matter of a 'desire-to' or a 
'desire-for'. No. They left it so that we did not know what our 
desire could be until it was too late, until we desired the job and 
became libidinally attached to it. Dependent on needs we know not 
wherefrom they came.

So, the educational qualification amounts to this: it is a form of 
value. We know that money makes equivalencies; it reduces the 
differences between things to something that can be measured by the 
same form. The educational qualification reciprocates by reducing 
human differences to the same standard of measurement: it awards our 
aptitude to reproduce the already 'known'. Both forms of value 
operate by providing the 'practical illusion' of difference: just as 
differences in price cover over the profit motive so too do 
adjudicated differences in ability cover over a hierarchical 
structure that instills ambition.

Your certificate is a cheque. You're in the queue to realise its 
value. As with all queues there's time to reflect: what they call 
'knowledge' is really only a knowing how to conform without thinking 
about it; a  downgrading of experience to the point of your being 
made ashamed of the ellipses of intuition. What they call 
'qualification' is really only your being sanctioned to dispense with 
any desire to know; it's the freedom that comes with arrogance. So, 
education creates perfect citizens: knowledge is not practiced but 
possessed, it becomes private property and is attracted to those 
states and corporations that know how to accumulate masses of the 
same thing, that offer their interest.

As an 'associate-researcher' of the Copenhagen Free University I have 
temporarily adopted and adapted a Nietzchean maxim: "knowledge; i.e., 
a measuring of earlier and later errors by one another" (1). Too 
often, it seems, we are witness to a wielding of 'knowledge' that is 
quite the reverse of the openness that Nietzsche had in mind. 
'Knowledge' is either wielded like a weapon or placed into 
conversation like a rampart; it is a form of attack-defence that 
blocks any flow, an operation sanctioned by the education system 
whereby a modicum of difference from the prevailing norm is 
celebrated not for its critical purport, but for the way it bolsters 
an economy of knowledge that is in conformity to private property: a 
culture of individualism rides eloquently over the social relations 
that bore it.

This operation, the ring-fencing of ideas, their being attributed to 
individuals rather than to practiced social relations, is one factor 
that has always made 'knowledge' into value for capitalism. Knowledge 
is an acquisition, a property, and, as such it needs insurance and 
protection. This is afforded by the labour of coherence: knowledge 
becomes aestheticised, hermetic, when it is made to take on forms and 
structures that alienate it from the practical sensuousness of 
discovering and sharing (a book is overcoded and copy-protected); 
knowledge becomes currency when its bearers seek the securities of 
non communicating  certainty and in so doing excacerbate the autistic 
social relations of private property through seeking commendation for 
the possession of the same patchwork coat each of us wears.  

Here we have another ramification of the education system. Its costs 
are high. Dangerously so. For in touting learning as possession, in 
thereby instilling intellectual property rights, there is the 
reinforcement of ego boundaries. Knowledge, in being pegged to the 
individual as gradiated value, becomes a contributing factor in 
social separation rather than a proof of social wealth, abundance. In 
the absence of equitably distributed social wealth and its 
concomittent reevaluation of needs, the psychic cost of relating 
knowledge to possession is immense: knowledge becomes a rarefied 
object rather than a diffuse activity, it  hardens into certainties 
that become dogmatic thus making us reluctant to experience the 
emotional suppleness of not-knowing. When there is always something 
to prove rather than to discover, a result instead of an exposure to 
'error', individuals become autistically attached to themselves and 
not precipitates of social practices, intutitons of relations. Our 
education systems offer us self-demonstrative fulfillment rather than 
social-remonstrative questioning: knowledge bureaucratised in a paper 
trail that could have been a tinder-flint.

For Nietzsche 'knowledge' is a practice that allows for the traumatic 
and time-wasting experience of being wrong. This is one way of coming 
to re-appreciate that what we 'know' is intimately tied-up with a 
sensuality, an emotional investment. It is in history and in our own 
history. Reminiscensitive (2). Just as Nietzsche defies the customary 
split between 'earlier' and 'later', there should be no boundary 
between what we know and how we know we feel it. What we know is not 
a possession, but an achronological modality of feeling, an emotional 
continuum. Knowledge is mood in modulation. Crucial to this is the 
social-relation that Nietzsche places firmly in the midst of his 
fleeting definition of  knowledge: it is the combination of an 
openness to admit 'error' and the socialisation of being-amongst that 
can make knowledge into a mode of intimacy. We come to know other 
people through how they feel their knowledge, how they express it. 
Here we begin to depart from the notion of knowledge as a value that 
separates people (alienation of grading, patrolling of ego 
boundaries) and come to see knowledge as that which, far from being a 
coherent object, is a 'labour process' that must be enabled to reveal 
both its means of production (social relation) and its means of 
expression (celebration of 'error') if it too is not to contribute to 
the reification of social wealth as 'scarcity'. It could be 
tinder-flint, a spur to social change:  the abolition of property 
goes hand in hand with an exposure, an abandonment of our 'self' to 
'error'. In one of his last works Foucault has written: "Does not the 
entire theory of the subject have to be reformulated once knowledge, 
instead of opening onto the truth of the world, is rooted in the 
'errors' of life? (3). We could perhaps add that such a knowledge, a 
sensualised knowledge that demands empathy, could reformulate the 
subject as a pre-individual, as caught up in a non-definitive 
affectivity, and could have wider ramifications than those envisioned 
by Foucault. Being able to be practiced everywhere, being capacitated 
to setting up relational contexts and situations, such a knowledge 
'rooted in the errors of life' would no longer have need of  an 
education system that offers itself as a pivot between the state and 
private property. 

Is it not that the Copenhagen Free University is attempting to offer 
an enabling change in context? To be between chairs with an 
off-knowledge? To know to feel? What occurs when knowledge is 
valorised is the same as happens when our capacity to produce renewal 
is stifled into wage labour. We have no sensuous relation with the 
objects we produce. Education alienates. Its institutional spaces are 
stock markets. Its educators are stipended tellers filled full with 
the arrogance of functional curriculums. There is a business of 
knowledge and no volition.
Rene Daumal: " I thought I knew a few things quite well. Since then, 
however, I've been pushed into a corner and I've regurgitated my 
small appearence of understanding. Now I know that I know only in 
order to be silent. No more knowing, not yet understanding, the ass 
between two chairs, tell me is it a position for discourse?" (4). 
This could be the context for a free university - to be between 'two 
chairs' in the way Daumal means -  to have to levitate, to refuse to 
sit comfortably, to be exposed to 'error' - means that educators 
should be 'idiots', which is to say, we are all educators with 
nothing much to prove, but with many 'errors' to share. Only 'idiots' 
can want to research, find out; only 'idiots' can have 'error' feel 
through them enough to make desire-to-know a force, a production of 
knowledge-objects that can carry affectivity, that, being a practice 
of pre-individuals, are 'not yet understanding'. 

In this light, before arriving at 'knowledge' and hence perpetually 
subverting its commercial value, there can be no divisions between 
teachers and students. More. There can be no more curriculums, but 
participants who, meeting as pre-individuals, willingly share their 
own ignorance. In this way there cannot only be the production of 
affective-objects (passion can come from what there is to know, not 
from the already known), but the production of a crucial solidarity. 
As with that solidarity that could be formed in the factory 
environment, the new means of production, knowledge, could become a 
similar factor in cohesiveness. It is necessary for such a solidarity 
to inform the context, to be in-built into the social relation, for 
coming to people with your own error is traumatic: we must "suffer an 
alteration (a becoming other) through learning. Whoever already 
possesses knowledge... is not obliged to suffer an alteration" (5). 
This is perhaps why the education system fails and produces 
individuals who are taught to possess knowledge and why initiatives 
like those of the Copenhagen Free University, that come together on 
the premiss of the freedom of 'failure', are not so much aiming at 
potential knowledges to sell as at practices of knowledge that are 
creative of becoming: non-definitive affectivity of pre-individuals.

How is knowledge practiced? To begin to grope we could perhaps offer 
that the basic activity of the Copenhagen Free University, the 
activity that institutes its social relation, is speech; simple 
relational talking. But, how does this social practice of speech 
effect the 'knowledge' that a university is supposed to produce? In 
the social relational space of the Copenhagen Free University it 
could be said that an 'object of knowledge' does not form from those 
"myriads of drifting minds" (6) that are not minded individually, but 
comes to be attributable only to a relational context by means of 
which subjects can reformulate themselves as the precipitate of 
histories of interaction, as pre-individuals displaced by their 
affectivities. With speech, then, language, the conduit of knowledge, 
the means of 'knowing things' and a 'self', is made malleable by the 
immediacy of its practice. The uncensored enters into it as an 
associative interruption and any resultant  'knowledge' is 
sensualised ... immeasurable ... continuously open (7).

When we speak to each other we do not simply exchange quanta of 
information, but practice language by means of an erring and 
meandering speech that has no definitive object. Rather than finding 
the 'last word', rather than drawing the conversation to a close, 
this very spoken stumbling, the feeling in intonated language, is 
itself the presence of intervening emotion. The presence of 'error' 
in what we say, assured by the emotional quotient in an unedited 
sentence, means that we experience our practice of language as an 
effort of articulation that is premissed on what Giorgio Agemben has 
referred to as the 'unsayable'. Whereas a defined 'object of 
knowledge' in all itsvarious guises as 'truth', 'coherence', 
'judgement', hinders the will to communicate, the unsayable, not only 
makes communication a necessity, but, as a thought-emotion beyond our 
grasp, is creative of becoming.

If, for some, then, it is an immense effort to speak it is perhaps 
because our experience of the education system is one that, not 
premissed on 'error' and paying no cognizance to the unsayable in 
each - the same struggle with articulation whatever the potentially 
expressed content -  instills in us a notion that to speak is to 
speak the 'truth' of a centred self. So, an education system that 
judges and measures, that has a conception of  'knowledge' that is 
viewed as appropriate to a 'self'  effects a servility that is linked 
to a diminishment of the unsayable: like a mass produced object that 
which has already been said is repeated in the hope of commendation. 
Rather than an 'object' of knowledge becoming sensualised through 
speech-acts informed by 'error' and openness,which in turn leads to a 
reformulation of the subject, everything and nothing becomes sayable 
and we not only have a diminishment of the desire to gather together 
to communicate to know, but a standardisation of the means of 
expression. In short, we have the 'sayable' as politics; the 
covering-over of 'error'.

Following on from this it should be said that the pursuit of the 
unsayable as the spur to a sensualised practice of knowledge is not 
another way of seeking an original formation of thought, something 
entirely new or filled with 'genius'. These latter are what form an 
'ideology of knowledge' that reinforces the whole idea of individuals 
being in possession of some 'object' of knowledge that is measureable 
(or capacitated by a certificate). What militates against this 
pervasive outlook is that when knowledge is practiced as speech in a 
context of solidarity it is not knowledge that takes on a life of its 
own (alienated object), but the relation between participants who 
come to a practice of life by means of being free to express 
themselves regardless of institutional legitimation. The 'unsayable' 
in this instance, then, is the spur to singular means of expression, 
which is to say, the risk of improvised thought coupled to the risk 
of saying it with a language that is not only enabled to speak of 
experience and intuition (i.e. outlawed conjecture), but can become 
acknowledged as originating in a speech-act made original by its 
time, place and interlocutors. Does this not amount to an affectivity 
that reformulates the subject as a composite of the context: a 
pre-individual? So, so many sensuous deceptions that deceive a sense 
of self, so much becoming: "I invented the colour of vowels... I 
organised the shape of every consonant, and by means of instinctive 
rhythm, flattered myself that I was the inventor of a poetic 
language, accessible sooner or later to all the senses" (8).

Taking a cue from Rimbaud it may be that the question of knowledge is 
a misnomer. How can it be differentiated from sensual experience? How 
can it be separated from an emotional investment? The reason seems to 
be that knowledge, prized as a commercial value, must be failsafe. As 
a component of production it must take on the greased, metallic turns 
of fixed capital, it must be that which is regurgitatable without 
glych. But this is knowledge in its alienated form: as information 
that cannot admit of its basis in 'error'. Admitting this basis would 
not only create the 'absolute doubt' that Charles Fourier pursued, 
but it would necessitate an awareness of the emotional component in 
what we 'know', which is to say, following Nietzsche's maxim of the 
'falseness' of emotions per se, that what we 'know' would become a 
matter for experimental personae in conflict with a sense of self 
shored-up by the activity of possessing.

The much instilled mania for paraphrasing, for getting at an 
'essence', for 'finical criticism', has the effect of severing 
knowledge from sensual experience and thus makes the effort to say 
the unsayable even more of a non-starter. The narrative form of 
knowledge (pedagogy), with all its indicators of being rehearsed, 
with its need to keep within the bounds of a syllabus, comes to 
police any improvisational speech-act that takes its impetus from 
intuited experience: the attempt to recount a tale 'as' another 
person, an enactment of another, reveals' knowledge' as a matter of 
bringing emotion into expression by means of experimental personae, a 
play of the 'false', a becoming the 'other'.

The emotions cannot be trusted so we sever them from our utilitarian 
conception of 'knowledge'. As 'variable labour' they cannot be 
trusted because they are destabilising, they urge us to alternate, to 
be receptive, to be between forms, between chairs, to be 
error-ridden, to 'suffer an alteration'. As the 'unsayable' they urge 
us to become rather than to be. Rather than this be a case of the 
inferiority of emotions in relation to the powers of conceptualising, 
we could say that emotions, being compounds of feelings and 
receptivity to place and to others, are what can redraw knowledge as 
our capacity to be 'affected'. This is maybe what Marx meant when he 
offered that the "senses have... become theoreticians in their 
immediate praxis" or what, much later, Deleuze meant when, in his 
last work, he offered that "sensation is pure contemplation" (9). For 
both is it not that the illegilibility of emotions, their 
imperviousness to instant expression in language, is what provokes in 
us a form of thought that cannot be readily articulated; a form of 
thought that subtends what we call 'knowledge'; a means of expression 
that is a sub-tense marking out what is 'unsayable'? 

The ramifications of this for the Copenhagen Free University or any 
akin initiative of self-institution are manifold: with 'error' rather 
than 'expertise' as the watchword there are no barriers, patrolled by 
experts, placed before participation which means that trust comes to 
replace judgement; that the 'unsayable' is identified as the impetus 
to a winning of the means of expression means that there is a 
permanent constituting tension played out in improvisational 
speech-acts or through a clash of differing means of expression i.e 
lingual, visual, aural; that there is a sensitvity to 'knowledge' as 
that which is subtended by the 'theoretical' work of the senses means 
that 'contemplation' is valued as a constant attribute of lives lived 
in practice.

But perhaps the most telling ramification is that capital's benign 
relaunch as a 'knowledge economy' has not only effected a 
'for-profit' colonisation of the education system but, by having 
'knowledge' as a component in the production of value it has redrawn 
the question of the 
'revolutionary organisation'. Whereas the left has managed to produce 
much knowledge and theory it has consistently failed to bind 
knowledge to social experience in such a way as to undermine the 
paradigm of the education system. Be it  'summer schools' or 
'seminars' the same social relation has been replicated, a relation 
to knowledge as private property rather as a modulation of social 
experience, a glut of the sayable rather than a reach for the 
unsayable, a dogmatic 'making true' rather than an experimental 
'making false'. Such an adoption of the educational paradigm with its 
fear of 'error' and its mania for 'empirical affidavits', means that 
its associated authoritarian and defensive positions are perpetuated 
at the expense of an affectivity that increases participation by 
being creative of trust and solidarity. The Left falls into the trap 
of overestimating the power of an informatised knowledge to change 
things: if only people knew what was going on...

That 'labour power' is becoming more explicitly equatable with 
'knowledge' is nothing new -  what is a syllabus if it is not a 
manufacuring blueprint upon which both teachers and students labour 
to complete? But, what is maybe new about the situation is that it 
reveals that there has always been a knowledge component to labour 
whether our work was classed as 'intellectual' or 'manual'. Whether 
'knowledge' is seen as raw material or private property it is still 
that, a means of production, through which we are defined as 'labour 
power'. The point, then, is that capital is not just saying that it 
wants our 'labour power', but that it wants our 'knowledge'. In the 
terms we have discussed knowledge here this represents a request for 
our very sensuality: capital has always been bio-political 
production;  it has always aimed at the subsumption of surplus 
energies. Similarly, under the terms of the 'knowledge economy', the 
wage-relation remains unchanged and the question to pose is still one 
of reappropriating the means of production and taking control of our 
own energies, our own 'intermutuomergent' desires.

So, rather than its being a matter of our having to work to live, to 
be the objects of a labour process, it should be possible for us to 
live to work, to produce our own becoming: "the only thing distinct 
from objectified labour is non-objectified labour, labour which is 
still objectifying itself, labour as subjectivity" (10). This process 
of objectifying our work under our own terms, in our own time and by 
means of our own institutional contexts is what differentiates it 
from its being objectified for us in the education system or at a 
place of work. Such institutions have always been underwritten by the 
presupposition of private property, but if we begin to view knowledge 
as collective endeavour, an activity premissed on the idea of the 
'error' of emotion, an assemblage of desiring-energy, then could it 
be that any resultant 'knowledge' could challenge the concept of 
'labour' itself?

The notion of a 'knowledge economy' can present an opportunity to 
shift the space of struggle to meet bio-political production head on. 
If it is that the 'object' of bio-political power is the production 
of subjects - a production based on the premis that an individual is 
the paradigm of private property (an 'owner' of genes)  - then, 
'labour as subjectivity', what Marx has elsewhere called 'free 
expression' and 'the enjoyment of life', is still the stake in any 
revolutionary endeavour. Is this endeavour tantamount now to a 
fledgling politics of becoming? Under the regime of bio-political 
power we could say that the subject is reduced to a knowable being 
rather than an unknown and unforeseeable becoming. The possible is 
reduced to what is probable, empircally ascertainable and 
exhaustible. Here knowledge, to quote Nietzsche, is "possible only 
only on the basis of belief in being" (11), and it is a knowledge 
that reduces life to a state of equilibrium by excluding the 
non-knowledge of the emotions, the sensuous knowledge of 
affectivities. These latter, as provocations to forms of thought that 
resist categorisation as 'knowledge' and as such defy the surety of 
being, are factors that  can inform a 'labour as subjectivity' and 
secure its potential to resist a bio-political power that values 
'knowledge' as that which reinforces being as an object, that 
delineates it to the point of incarcerating it. So, is it not that 
free university initiatives, in contesting the relation between 
knowledge and economy, are tantamount to new forms of revolutionary 
organisation? Can they be factories of everyday life wherein 
knowledge is sensualised away from its status as private property to 
become a  component in the production of subjects as 'non-definitive 
affectivities' ? Can these factories' produce pre-individuals as the 
affective classes? 
No more occupations!
Put the ass between two chairs!
All Power to the Affective Classes!

Howard Slater
@ Break/Flow: January 2002


(1)Friedrich Nietzsche: Will To Power, Vintage 1968,  p281
(2)James Joyce: Finnegans Wake, Penguin 2000, p23
(3)Michel Foucault: Life: Experience and Science cited by Giorgio 
Agamben in Potentialities,  Stanford University Press 1999, p221.
(4)Rene Daumal: Between Two Chairs,  Nouvelle Review Francais, March 
1936. Translated by Louise Landes-Levi for Text 7, 1978.
(5)Giorgio Agamben: Potentialities, ibid, p179.
(6)James Joyce, ibid, p179.  Could also insert here  Joyce's  phrase 
"intermisunderstanding minds", ibid, p118.
(7)cf Gilles Deleuze: "... interactions caught at the point where 
they do not derive from pre-existing social structures and are not 
the same as psychic actions and reactions, but are the correlate of 
speech-acts or silence, stripping the social of its naturalness, 
forming systems which are far from being in equilibrium or invent 
their own equilibrium - interactions are established in the margins 
or at crossroads, constituing a	whole mis-en-scene or dramaturgy of 
daily life, opening up a field of special perception..." See Deleuze: 
		Cinema Two, Athlone 1989, p227.
(8) Arthur Rimbaud: Collected Poems, Oxford 2001, p135.
(9) For  Marx  see 1844 Manuscripts in Early Writings, Penguin 1975, 
p352.  For Deleuze see citation by Agamben, ibid, p233.
(10) Karl Marx: Grundrisse, Penguin 1971, p272.
(11) Friedrich Nietzsche, ibid.


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