Black Studies: Grammars of the Fugitive
A public lecture with Professor Stefano Harney and Professor Fred Moten
Hosted by Black Studies Group (London) and Centre for Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths College)
Friday 6th December 2013
Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre / Whitehead Building / Goldsmiths College, University of London
Black Studies Group (London) and Centre for Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths College) are delighted to host a public lecture to be delivered by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. The publication of their Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions, 2013) marked a culmination point in an ongoing project in which they have sought to reinvigorate contemporary social thought and aesthetic critique by way of the black radical tradition. Deploying concepts such as “study”, “undercommons”, “debt”, “speculative practice”, “blackness” and “fugitivity”, Harney and Moten have loosened what for many now seems like the strained and distant relations between intellectual thought, academic labour and collective (under)common action. We hope you can join the Black Studies Group in coming together to make delusional plans with both Moten and Harney.
Moten received his Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley. He is a student of Afro-diasporic social and cultural life with teaching, research and creative interests in poetry, performance studies and critical theory. His books include In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, Hughson’s Tavern, B. Jenkins, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (with his frequent collaborator Stefano Harney) and The Feel Trio.
Professor of Strategic Management Education, Singapore Management University and co-founder of the School for Study, an ensemble teaching project. He employs autonomist and postcolonial theory in looking into issues associated with race, work, and social organization. Recent books include The Ends of Management (co-authored with Tim Edkins) and The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (co-authored with Fred Moten). Stefano lives and works in Singapore.
If by some mechanical lassitude I happen to glance at the newspapers, I fly into a rage. Maudlin obituaries dribble at the centre of this dry rot, London. And what pathetic celluloid wreaths! It’s a remarkable idea to waste any time addressing farewells to a corpse from which the brain and heart have long been removed! Ladies and gentlemen shed all the tears in your body, you have nothing further to expect of this exhausted, flabby memory. It’s over!
What is there about this corpse that moves all those that are the very negation of emotion and greatness? Any admirer of Thatcher is a degraded being. Stammer all you want over this rotting thing, you leavings of humanity, servants of the belly, creatures sprawling in filth and money, it is to no avail. As for the rest of us, let us cast a glance of gratitude at the newspapers that sweep her far, far away.
A little bit of human servility leaves the world, let the day be a holiday when we incinerate traditionalism, patriotism, privatisation, neo-colonial butchery and lack of heart! I have no objection to wasting a word of special scorn on her, for she was the very incarnation of our loathing. Let us remember that the lowest actors of this period have had Margaret Thatcher as an accomplice and let us never forgive her. Any year deserves a gold star that lays this sinister idiot to rest, let it sweep away all that is mediocre about the fiend – the narrowness, the self-satisfaction, the petty interests, the stupidity. She ruled quite badly. Leave a palm on her coffin, may it be as heavy as possible to smother her memory.
To dispose of her corpse, let someone empty out a box of discredited economics textbooks, stained with her name, stuff her in it and dump the whole thing into the Thames. Now that she’s dead, this pathetic, crumpled sack of skin no longer needs to make more dust. It’s as well she will be incinerated like the base scrap of trash she is, the worms and fishes would gag, puke back this toxic waste, rotten long ago. So, let her go up in smoke! Rejoice! Rejoice! Little enough of her is left: even so, it’s revolting to imagine she has been at all.
(with thanks to Philippe, Paul, André and Louis)
Parasitic Management and the Sick Student Body – The Marxist of Granby
That Higher Education is under attack by a neoliberal regime that seeks to rationalize everything under the sun in accordance with the logic of the market, is abundantly clear – hell, even the sedimentary crud under couch cushions in the SU will have its turn. The extensive and intensive fracking of our lives by a corrosive capitalism that has continual expansion as a structural necessity can leave no stone intact. It must be broken down then reconstituted to allow the frictionless extraction of profit. Anything superfluous, like, say, a philosophy department, unless it can be marshaled as market differentiation, is burnt off in the process. Scorched earth is the standard policy of those whose tactics are calculated by cost/benefit analysis. If the riots taught us anything, it is that fighting fire with fire remains a viable option.
The vanguard of this attack was and remains the infestation of the university by a parasite that goes by the name of Senior Management. The parasite gives nothing to the host. It eats, digests, counts, divides, surveys, quantifies, reports; then shits out spreadsheets, Research Excellence Frameworks, Student Experience Surveys, marketing and mission statements. Everything must be broken into atomistic form so that management might function with free hands, always with an eye to the market. The Mothership, in return, shuttles policy through parliament to accelerate the process. Unlike most parasites, whose numbers dwindle as their colony reaches a critical size and they begin to choke to death on their own shit, Senior Management’s effluent is neatly piped throughout the university. What is choked is the possibility of thinking, thought, learning and research. The only thing everyone must learn is how to thrive off the fetid new food source, or, face expulsion into the job market. And so, bit by bit, we learn to live in the muck. Our own thinking and learning becomes to resemble a tick boxed multi-choiced questionnaire, or the chronologised credentials of a C.V. Arse-to-mouth.
Take a recent example. The Tory government ran on an election pledge to reduce immigration figures to the tens of thousands, pandering to austerity exacerbated racists. Gleefully slurping this up the UKBA, invigorated with extra powers, began to make coming to the UK to study an even more tortuous and absurd process than it had already been made under New Labour. It was stipulated that teaching staff must act as border agents by forwarding attendance registers to the UKBA (presumably so tardy students could be murdered by G4S security on a deportation flight.) Finally, the new technology of discipline was used, in the style of a public execution, to revoke London Metropolitan University’s ability to grant visas to its international students. Thousands of international students were forced into a choice between finding a new university to study at or to leave the country. London Met, who has more students of colour than the elite Russel Group combined, and a higher proportion of students from working class backgrounds than any other university, was faced with a £20 million loss from its already completely fucked finances. Management at universities around the country were quick to deploy the most repugnant and intrusive methods of surveiling international students they could think of in a ham-fisted attempt to placate the fear that had splattered all over their Armani briefs. Swipe-cards for lectures, calendar searches of international staff, regular herding and passport presentation, unenrollment for misdemeanors, etc, etc. The list goes on.
The UKBA was forced to climb down from this position slightly once it saw what its maniacal underlings in the university had done, and released a statement asserting that: ‘universities do not need separate, tougher attendance systems for international students, and that they do not necessarily need to consider introducing physical checks such as fingerprinting.’ And so the new measures of surveillance were expanded to include all students and border surveillance began to double as market research. Also disciplined by the experience of the London Met students and a £30000 debt looming over their heads, students everywhere began to demand that their paperwork was in order and their attendance correctly registered. Their degree needed to make them shine on the supermarket shelf (which they will in all likelihood end up stacking) of the job market, not leave them tainted by the shame of a dysfunctional warren of misguided working class aspiration. And so the final suture is completed: self/surveillance, consumer/entrepreneur, student/labour. Arse-to-mouth-arse-to-mouth-arse-to-mouth. Marx’s famous claim that a school is formally no different to a sausage factory holds true. Now the same can also be said of content. The insides of a sausage or a university are both well described by the phrase: ‘it’s all lips and assholes, mate.’
The management parasite likes smooth functioning. An unobstructed flow through its pipes. The student body must reject this flow and wrack this smooth functioning with violent convulsions. Vomiting must be induced if we are to rid ourselves of this rabid infestation and refuse to pass on it its rancid excretions to the next in line. The issue is constitutional in a dual sense, the first sickly the second sickening. The student body is sickly and poorly prepared for the collective response that the current conjuncture necessitates. We need to pull together and build collective power. Differently put, learning to learn collectively to learn to learn to be collective. Secondly, the constitutional foundation of the university places sovereignty in the hands of a neoliberal managerial executive, itself gurgling fluid from a legislature that sprays stools at the demand of a ruling elite. From high above, and behind some hallowed and medieval cloud, that decrepit old bitch Elizabeth straddles all, perched on an imaginary covering a void, sucking up energy from those below and raining down piss from her puss riddled cunt.
Bleurgh. Yes, we need to vomit. Management must be regurgitated onto the pavement outside the front gates of the university (hopefully we can tear down those gates, physical and social, once management has slithered far enough back to its stink tanks, boards of infestors, and Home Orifices). But we may not want to run the university ourselves. We must be vigilant to the threat of turning into that which we are fighting against. Once voided from our stomachs – always a site of revolutionary power – we need to think and talk about how we want the university to be. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t great before: sexism, racism and classism has never ceased to be structural. That conversation, however, is premature and convulsive purging necessarily prior. It is not possible to hold that conversation in our universities as they are presently. But we will need to talk about constitution. We need new configurations of knowledge transmission and a new covenant of learning. We need to ask the question of organizational sustenance, so that we can no longer be made subject to the dictates of the digestive tracts of a bourgeois elite. After all, there are far more wholesome ways of being collective than a human centipede.
This coming weekend, 1-2nd December 2012, the UfSO will be sending a number of delegates deep into enemy territory (Oxford – psychogeographic centre of educational bad vibes, aristo-fuckery and generalised malign influences…). The reason we undertake this arduous mission is in order to attend the Sustaining Free Universities conference, an initiative guilty of tweaking our collective curiosities owing to the fact that sustenance remains an elusive entity in this austere era of enclosed abundance.
UfSO will send six delegates in total, one from the Coventry chapter, five usually based in London. These are Prof. Riddle, Prof. Karlsberg, Prof. Hackett and Dr. Himmelblau. Original attendee Prof. Pickett has been forced to withdraw due to being caught up in an important mission overseas, Comrades Jean Baton and Dr. Buttercup Bubblefanny will be joining in his stead, which is excellent news.
Prof. Riddle will be journeying down to Oxford along the 77 scenic miles of the Oxford Canal by paddle steamer. The rest of the delegation will be conveyed under the capable wheels of Prof. Karlsberg. However, as Prof. Karlsberg is called away on urgent revolutionary business visiting his Gran on Friday, the UfSO delegation will be taking a detour via grand-filial aventure somewhere in the west of England. Flood waters permitting, we aim to rendezvous in a soggy Oxford in time to glimpse its wet, dreaming spires in all their early Saturday morning glory. It is our hope to offer a report on proceedings for interested comrades, check back for developments.
A strange unmarked parcel arrived at our headquarters this morning. We were relieved to find, not debt collection warnings, but some searing insight into the situation of UK Higher Education. With so much state and corporate skulduggery it has been easy to lose track of what has being going on. This fine report from some people called the Education Commission has flipped us back on our heads. Hang on, what. Access via the link below:
The following piece was writing while thinking about this conference:
Check it out, the UK Free University Network are organising a meeting for all those involved in radical educative ventures to come up with some concrete plans. I initially thought it would be another of those pointless exercises in talking about what needs to be done without actually doing anything, but these guys are planning to use a very interesting methodology for the meeting taken from the Urban Land Committees in Venezuela. Read about it, we are planning to be involved in some way. Maybe see you there. Anyway, here is what I wrote…
We shouldn’t look backwards to smaller classrooms. We should look forward, beyond the neo-liberal classroom, like Marx did through the economic system of capitalism to see the potentials held within it for a truly emancipatory organisation of resources. It’s like mass production – and this is the difference between utopian and critical socialism – Fordist production offered for the first time the means to support the entire world population in its material needs; the problem we have is that the means of mass production are owned by a powerful minority and run for their own profit. The same goes for education. Mass education is a good thing, but it is elitist still. Furthermore, the education system as it is within the capitalist mode of production is designed to reproduce this mode of production, and make it run as efficiently as possible.
The first step to imagining a post-capitalist classroom is to dissolve the student-teacher relationship. I say ‘imagine’ because this is almost impossible to achieve due to the restrictions of the aims of education within the current system. Not only that, it is extremely hard even to imagine a classroom without the teacher-student relationship. The classroom is a very real and structured nexus of social relations, and this nexus reflects the relations of society as a whole. The classroom is a microcosm of society.
The teacher’s only job, until the relations of production are transformed (so that we will find it hard to even imagine the teacher-student relationship as it is today – think of how the smoking ban has transformed the very idea of smoking inside a pub, for example), is to facilitate peer teaching/learning. The classroom should be full of teachers, or rather students teaching each other and learning from each other. This is also the most efficient way to teach. This would also mean there wouldn’t be any need to limit to class sizes. The only remaining practical consideration would then be the physical structure of the room. It would have to be big enough to have space for everyone to move around, and be openly arranged to take the focus away from any individual (as teacher).
The main or most difficult problem we face today is the political-institutional relations of power and exploitation on both sides of the teacher-student divide. Any utopian idea(l)s of radical pedagogy are dashed against the daily grind of institutional goals, monitoring, inappropriate rooms, textbooks, course design, management, etc. The University, for example, has a very real function in the successful operation of a capitalist, global society. The reliance on international students for income is a topical example of this; the classroom is skewed impossibly across language ability, and it is incredibly difficult for even the most politically/ethically conscious lecturer to negotiate these problems. International students, especially at postgraduate level, just haven’t got the language ability that their native/European peers have, and they are doomed to failure a lot of the time. The provisions aren’t provided for these international students to reach the level they need to be at, nor are there the emotional/social support good enough for cultural integration – the University simply takes the money and washes its hands of the consequences of this way of operating.
Also, people never come to you as a “tabula rasa”. Students have been indoctrinated into bad habits of learning, such as short attention span, worrying about exams, not wanting to communicate, etc. A typical undergraduate student at a “new” University has been on the one hand conditioned for a certain way of learning, but also hasn’t had the complimentary training in academic work/skills that students at a Russell group university would have had. If you try to radicalise the classroom, you will meet resistance from students, even though it is supposedly ‘for their own good’. A student faced with radical learning situations will become stressed and demand that you give them what they need to pass their exams. And fair enough.
It’s very hard to overcome these factors as a teacher; the difference is that a teacher can be radical, but a classroom full of students with bad habits multiplies the effects of these negative influences greatly.
2. Positive unemployment
The second step is to imagine mass education without accreditation.
We should take “unemployment” more seriously. Let’s look at it as a positive phenomenon – not just defined as a lack of work, but a potential openness to non-capitalist labour/learning. Like a break down in the smooth running of capitalist reproduction. Yes, unemployment is part of capitalist labour – there needs to be competition amongst the workforce to keep wages low and people desperate to earn a wage. But unemployment is also the bomb waiting to go off in any depressive phase of capitalism – too much unemployment produces unrest, riots, political radicalism, protest. The unemployed individual oscillates across the borders of the system. He/she can go either way.
In terms of education, the first point to take seriously, or at least ironically, is the reality that there is no guarantee of a job after University, no matter how much the employability scores say otherwise. In fact, students can look forward to unemployment in most cases, especially if we critically examine the notion of unemployment and include within it precarious work, working for free, depression, working in shit jobs which have nothing to do with your qualifications.
A radical education can just be honest. We could structure our idea and process of learning in an entirely different way. The dynamic of society and capitalist production drives education in a certain direction, in an almost irreversible logic of progression. No matter what you do as a teacher, the material function of institutional education dictates that students must be accredited so that they can move on to work. But there is no work.
A student worried about exams is not learning, he/she is just absorbing. The empty cup (student) and jug of knowledge (teacher) model of education, although entirely discredited in even the most mainstream of educational theories, and in teacher training courses, is impossible to move beyond while accreditation still operates as defining condition of knowledge acquisition. To link this to the earlier point about the classroom is to remember that 16 years (from primary to undergraduate level) of education is meant to train and pacify people for capitalist labour. This consequently produces an adult who cannot respond positively to free/radical education. The adult student, after this conditioning, demands this “banking model of education”; to radicalise the existing classroom is to make the student very stressed out.
Furthermore, we have a lot of unemployed people in the world today, especially in this time of recession/depression. So why don’t we focus our radical education network towards these people first? They will hopefully have material support from the benefit system (and we can help them use this system better, and perhaps more safely), lots of time, and they are inevitably bored and lonely. With us, they can learn for the sake of learning, and we can start from the basics if needed – survival knowledge (this is to make the point of including the international proletariat in our network, the globalised flow of labour, and also students, that need basic literacy and English in many cases). We can provide a place to meet other people, get out of the house, where one can gain skills that will be useful to get back into work again.
What I am proposing here is that we base our ideas of a network of radical/free education provisions on the anarchist social centres that we saw proliferate during the height of the recent protest movement, and that have been around for decades. These social centres functioned as radical community centres, operating outside the existing welfare system, occupying abandoned buildings right in the heart of a community and opening up social and material resources for that community. Food, books, clothes, bike repair, friendship, etc – all provided for free. These social centres were/are recognised as positive by the local community; although never fully accepted, people who haven’t got what they need appreciate this gesture of radical caring.
This is the way to build a positive movement. Never telling people they are stupid, instead doing things that make a difference and carry an integrity that can be recognised across ingrained political/conservative perspectives.
Our network could be like this; and complimentary to these social centres. Radical education has existed like this before. Wherever it can, for whoever needs it. Find a place somewhere busy, somewhere at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale, open the doors to those who need it and hope that they come.
The university shouldn’t be a model for a radical education. Universities have always been, in their ideological-historical foundations, elitist (racist, sexist, etc) institutions, hobby-horses for the rich and powerful, there to make sure their offspring rule the world in the way that they ruled it. We must find a way to re-imagine adult education outside the existing model of mass education, as training ground for work, and the model of the University, as the training ground for the ruling classes.
3. Practical considerations
We shouldn’t sit around talking at each other about education. We don’t need conferences about education. We shouldn’t waste time talking about theory. All theory does is intimidate people and dodge potential criticism. When we introduce theory into our conversation, we only alienate the “uneducated” (or uninitiated), and make it hard for anyone else to say ‘That is bullshit’. When you include a theoretical layer to a conversation, you then have to move any counter-argument up to that theoretical level and be able to criticise the theory, not the original point. And we all know what an industry we have made out of arguing about theory. There are no results, only papers, conferences and political apathy.
We need to talk. For hours, days, weeks, months, years. Until this thing is done. Until we have worked out where to begin, and begin in the right way. We need to have steps. Small steps that will be easy to follow with new steps. Creating a network of radical education will be very hard; everything is against us. Which is why we must be practical and honest; realistic, not idealistic.
I think that a network is paramount, based on the idea of solidarity, and not just the ‘solidarity’ one says at every other march or meeting. A network based on a solidarity which means commitment to supporting one another. A network is flexible and is not necessarily undermines by the failure of one part. A network can also be national/global, and not just based in cultural hubs like London.
In the workplace nothing can get done on the side of labour without solidarity; an individual will find it incredibly difficult to win anything (in terms of rights) from the company. A united workplace has so much more power than the individual, and each person is protected (as much as you can be) by that solidarity.
The same goes for a network of radical education. Isolated ventures will not survive. They will also not get anything done. They will always be utopian experiments, whose only value will be as historical cases of failed but interesting experiments.
However, it is important to remember is that we are all different. We mustn’t pretend that we aren’t utterly individualised in this capitalist world. There is perhaps a new stage after the extreme individualism of today, that will be an Aufhebung (synthesis) of individuality and solidarity. We don’t want to go back to the naive and dangerous practice of “communism” we read about in history books and novels such as that of Milan Kundera. This is the forced community that lead to the totalitarianism of Russia and other false socialisms.
Everyone has their strengths, and most importantly we have our commitments. We must be able to be in love, stay in bed, be swamped by our jobs, get drunk, lose our faith and drift away for a bit, fall out with each other, be arrogant, and so on. I learned this from my time in the University for Strategic Optimism. Organising without hierarchy was the hardest thing in the world, but we managed it, for a year or so. Sometimes there were loads of us, sometimes only a couple. This is why we need a network of committed individuals, and also of groups of individuals. We must organise like family resemblances, open connections. When one person drifts, someone takes up the slack for a bit. With enough people, free people who have their passion engaged in this project, it might just work and grow.
 Like the idea of “middle-classness” that was sold to the working class in the 50s, and again in the 90s, the average person is sold an idea of university education, that only the rich actually enjoy ( at Russell Group universities, and their students are trained for this. They don’t really learn anything; they just have a good time, absorb some bullshit and move on the next stage of mummy and daddy’s master plan).
A meeting to organise against immigration controls on campus.
Wednesday 31st October // 1pm // Goldsmiths, outdoor square in the centre of Richard Hoggart Building (by the canteen) //
Goldsmiths Migration Solidarity
Following from the government’s election pledge, seeking to pander to racists and xenophobes, that immigration would be reduced by 90%, international students have been targeted as a way of implementing these reductions. These changes have happened alongside a privatization agenda that seeks to make education make money for those that already have the majority of it. The relationship between these twofold aims – reduction of immigration and privatization – is by no means clear or non-contradictory. The removal of state funding for higher Ed intensified the need for universities to recruit international students so that the shortfall in funding might be patched up by the premium paid by international students. However, the atrocious and exploitative treatment of international students has intensified despite the increased need for their money. The UKBA recently saw fit to remove London Metropolitan University’s ability to sponsor visas because of perceived faults in their surveillance of the international students enrolled there. Thousands of students were forced into the precarious position of awaiting the appeal against this decision, finding other universities who would allow them to continue, or terminating their studies and leaving the country. That this has occurred first at London Met is telling, both because it has more students of colour than the entirety of the Russell Group Universities, and also because it was being positioned at the forefront of experiments in the privatization of Higher Ed.
Three years ago, when the government announced its intention to make university professors act as border agents by forwarding attendance records to the UKBA, staff and students at Goldsmiths built a strong campaign and publicly refused to comply. Goldsmiths members of the UCU have reaffirmed this position of non-compliance with a recent statement. The removal of the London Met’s right to issue visas is designed to send a clear warning to other universities. Goldsmiths Senior Management, in response to this, have hired a UKBA compliance officer to ensure the university fulfills the racist and fear-mongering techniques of border building and classroom surveillance stipulated by the state. We refuse the false divisions between staff and students, or between international and home.
We will not be complicit. We will not comply.