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Whether we like it or not, there are changes happening in the world of publishing. I’ve tried to ignore these changes for quite some time but the fact is that there really are changes happening. Without a doubt, change provokes anxiety. And our immediately response to anxiety is often cowardly – we ignore the provocation or else we run away from it. We complain about the provocation or else we embrace it. Recall Simmel’s prophetic remarks about surviving within the world of modernity: “it is out task not to complain or to condone but only to understand.” Complaining and condoning are two ways of avoiding the anxiety of change.
The fact is that a publishing venture can only survive in the new world by swimming with the current rather than against it. To be anti-capitalist, for example, is absolutely ridiculous during a time when capitalism is (1) the only option on the table, and (2) the best system of the worst, as Marx so forcefully put it. Anti-capitalists, hand in hand with those who complain about the empire of speed, are political philosophers and political philosophers can never be revolutionaries. Why? My point is really rather basic: philosophy, for all of its faults, at least encourages us to live for a little while within the time for thinking. Philosophy – political philosophy – encourages the time for thinking and yet it can only think backwards. We are dealing with a familiar philosophical maxim, one that teaches us the virtue of patience. Without patience, there is no possibility of revolutionary thinking. But philosophy by itself can never truly be revolutionary because it is always backwards looking, it can never live within its own time.
We know very well that the time for understanding can sometimes last forever. And this is the problem of understanding. Complaining and condoning are faults and yet understanding, when its time is prolonged, can also be a fault. Kierkegaard’s challenge was to teach us to live: life can only be understood backwards and yet it must be lived forward. Revolutionaries must stay alive in the turbulent waters of the times in which they find themselves. The fact is that for many philosophers and for many publishers the time for understanding is superseded by the time for concluding. Some publishers simply conclude or act too quickly. And fall back to condoning the times by acting with the times but without truly understanding the times. We must be prepared to act in a world that we understand but toward a new world which remains entirely uncertain. If we act within the world of understanding using only that understanding then we retreat to a form of condoning. An authentic act is always one which begins from understanding and then .. makes a leap.
The journal that I manage happens to be a journal of revolutionary thinking. I will be the first to admit that much of what has been published therein concludes too soon. Moreover, I will be the first to admit that much of what passes for revolutionary thinking within the journal is pure pretense. But it is not my job to judge it, nor is it to impose upon it with my own agenda. The fact is that an anarchist, like any other subject-position, must learn how to speak two languages: the language of his milieu – a language of acceptance and tolerance – and the language of the event. Given all of this, I nonetheless believe that the time for thinking about the form of the journal prompts me to act in an uncertain direction. I believe that it is an action in the direction of a new world of publishing. But it really is … a leap.
The question which I have raised is: in what way can I live within the moment and find therein a reason to act?
I’ve resolved the conflict into a simple realignment of content and form. Allow me to explain.
Since the inauguration of the journal in 2009, we have consistently published “themed” issues. A themed issue consists of, minimally, (1) a pre-determined topic, (2) an editor who monitors submissions for their ideological coherence (so to speak), and (3) a stunning book-like paperback, and (4) online pdfs. The typical process went something like this: I solicit an editor to take on the task of collecting papers/media on key topics, the editor collects and then brings those papers to me, I do some minimal work to them and then send them to the copy-editor, the copy-editor works in collaboration with the authors and then sends the completed documents to the typesetter, the typesetter completes the images and then sends them to the printer along with the cover, we print and advertise the issue, and then I publish the online version of the issue.
The new model allows “slow” only at the level of the author – indeed, there is always, even within the Empire of Speed, a repressed slowness. The author must work. And work takes time. So while we have the appearance of speed, we nonetheless encourage the slowness of work. Building capitalism took time, and we can not imagine that it will disappear in like speed. At the level of publishing, we praise “fast.” Moreover, we find that the new model of publishing is more consistent with the principles of “anarchist” publishing. Here are some reasons why:
In this way, we avoid a number of ethical problems (which are really just problems of consistency vis-a-vis the topic of anarchism), including strict editorial control over the framing of articles/themes that are important at a particular period of history, editorial control over what topics deserve air-time, wait-time (most people, I believe, read a single article when an issue is published – very few care to read an entire journal, since professional journals tend to be quite specialized), etc.
I plan to begin the new model immediately in 2014. The current 2013.2 issues is currently in the copy-editing/typesetting phase and it may very well be the final “theme” issue at ADCS – but hey, I’m open to change.
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Here is a special treat for those of you who follow my blog. I’ve received numerous emails requesting the book The Subject of Change by Alain Badiou, and I’ve consistently refused to send it. However, there have been significant problems with the distribution of the book (which are, admittedly, no fault of the publisher). I believe that the book should be available for everybody – philosophy is for everybody, as Badiou claims. It has been a year since the book has been published. To celebrate this anniversary, here is the book for free (an earlier version of it). Please, if you like it, support Atropos Press by buying books from them.
I delivered these notes at a seminar at Trent University two years ago.
The question posed to us concerns the possibility of drawing lines of connection from our own research toward other points within the academic world. There is the point in space occupied by my research and there is another point in space occupied by the current state of the academic world; and so, two unities in space. The exercise consists of merely drawing the straight line and producing the map. The academic order, or public, is structured by the measure of relationship between our own research and other bodies of research within the market place of ideas. If the measure of identity between these two points is strong then there is a strong and coherent image, and that is good for the repetition of the order. If the measure between these two points is weak then the research is, to some extent, absent from the world. The paradox is that if the measure of identity between these two points turns out to be a measure of difference, as it is in the latter case, then the opportunity exists for the research to harbor the possibility for an encounter with singular change.
I believe that part of the problem is that our commitment today is necessitated in loco parentis. In other words, we have before us the complicated problem of the relationship between desire and knowledge. On this topic, Renata Salecl has written the following: “In the discourse of the university […] the teacher is bound to the knowledge [that exists] outside of himself; the teacher is in the role of an intermediary who transfers this outer order to the pupils through his teaching […] The teacher’s speech is obligatory for the pupils insofar as it is bound to the teacher’s position as an authority mediating knowledge.” As student researchers, we are initially on the outside of this topology of the academic order, and we find that our teachers are somewhere in between the order and our own research. And so there is a relationship of transference between all of us as colleagues and this relationship hinders our ability to make a singular change in our own research.
My supposition is that all of this occurs as a consequence of the emergence of the sujet suppose savoir; a supposed subject of knowledge in and around us in the classroom. The problem of the supposed subject of knowledge is that it is a subject constructed by students and projected onto their teachers and colleagues as inter-mediators of knowledge; but it is also a subject that is embraced and assumed by our teachers and colleagues. For example, as students, we seek validation for our research from our teachers, and our teachers seek to be validated by the advice that they give to their students. But it is possible that the validation that we receive traps all of us into believing that the results of our research are singular when they are really quite regular for the academic order. If we allow ourselves to be duped by the sujet suppose savoir then we by necessity do not allow ourselves the possibility to produce a singular change within – and through the transmission of – our research. In fact, the imperative of university discourse is to reduce this knowledge into the regular change of the academic world through the function of rationalization and legitimation that are granted to us by the market place of ideas or by the telos of academic life. With a little bit of help from the sujet suppose savoir, university discourse compels students to reduce any possibility for singular change into the mere possibility of regular change.
There are looming questions at hand. Within a program which is itself a novelty within the academic world, amidst the anxiety of its future, is there not an imperative to rationalize and legitimize its own position in relation to the market place of ideas within the order of the academic world? Perhaps what students are here experiencing is the translocation of university discourse – there may be something like a passing of responsibility from the program onto the student. It is not the program which must prove itself as a player in the overall market place of ideas, it is the student who must prove himself on behalf of the program. In other words, the student must do the program’s work. The student must rationalize and legitimize his research to the benefit of the program inasmuch as the program itself remains singular within the order of the academic world. The image of the good research project – mapped as it is by the line connecting it to the regular change of the academic order – demands that the student know his research without thinking or understanding his research. The student works to keep up appearances rather than to disrupt the appearances. Under such conditions, the student’s only recourse is to have the revolutionary content of his research domesticated or gentrified by the savage desires of the academic order in which the student is localized.
Inasmuch as the research project does not stand on its own, does not restrict itself to an evaluation of its own intrinsic worth, or does not stand as a means to its own ends, then the knowledge of this project stands as the justification of the scholars very existence vis-a-vis the market. The student’s only recourse for justifying his research project is to appeal to its contribution to a field of knowledge. The image we are invited to draw for ourselves is an image of exploitation in its most basic sense. The burden is on the student to not only prove himself and his research worthy within the market place of ideas, but it is also to prove himself capable of reproducing the discourse through which his exploitation has been made manifest. And to reproduce this exploitation, it is first necessary to produce an image or a blueprint. The aspiring professional must clearly draw the lines of connection within the academic world and demonstrate that these are strong rather than weak connections, that the image is coherent rather than fuzzy. The student must demonstrate, through an evaluation of the measure of his research, that he himself is capable of transmitting regular change within the context of a professional career.
My belief is that this is precisely the ideological super-structure of the neo-liberal university. Against this trend, we have the opportunity to defend and to be proud of our colleagues’ research. We do not have to flee from the anxiety of a program that struggles to legitimize itself, nor do we need to fall back onto banal forms of legitimacy within the order of the academic market place. We ought to defend the absolute autonomy and singularity of our colleagues’ work. We have the opportunity to transform the sujet suppose savoir of the university into an analytical subject. It is only with a basic protection for the autonomy of our research that singular change can not only remain a possibility – but it can also remain transmittable within the academic order, if only for the shortest period of time.
There are possibilities to produce new orders within the academic world. We can produce new publications, and fundamentally new research projects. With that possibility comes the anxiety of producing meaningless or non-productive research. What we have here – no matter how weak the lines or how fuzzy the image of the research project – is an opportunity to defend the notion of pantry. With the notion of pantry, we ought not begin with the expectation that a use for the research might arise. That is, the anxiety of pantry is precisely the anxiety of not having any guarantees. And so it is a risk, and with this risk there are real anxieties.
I know this in my personal experience. I’ve already published … And yet all of these publications were on topics traditionally excluded from, and resistant to, university discourse. I have consistently refused to map my research in relation to the world around me. Instead, I have participated in the production of new orders within the academic world. My claim is perhaps even a bit naïve: if we do good research, and if we have colleagues with whom we can regularly discuss the nuances of our research, and if we can make our research compelling by demonstrating conviction – it will be published and it will find its audience. Singular change is not a marketing exercise, it is an exercise in conviction and truth. And so to be a good student requires that we focus on our work, and on our conviction, and less on the images and blueprints that reduce our work to another product within the market place of ideas.
Let us suppose that our education here today is not strictly teleological. Perhaps we came to the university to finance, protect, and encourage research of singular quality. In this case, the university offers a haven of sorts, and we should thus hope to widen the freedoms offered to us by this haven. The university is also a place wherein we build character, virtues, precisely through our research practices, and then we are released into other worlds to make changes in those worlds. However, perhaps there really is a goal to obtain a position within the academic world or to get published; I am not convinced that this goal should come before the consequences of good research. To confuse the order of these operations is to encourage the sort of superficiality that is a standard for the neo-liberal order surrounding and penetrating into our haven.
I do not know where I position my current research in relation to all of this. I have never known. Moreover, I do not believe that there is a sujet suppose savoir capable of knowing on my behalf. Rather, I remain committed to the possibility for truth, for singular change, and insofar as I remain committed to these projects I also, as a consequence, remain committed to my research first and foremost and not to the superficial measurements of the academic order.
Against the New Communists: I maintain that singular change is fundamentally different than the regular change of the vanguard party. The subject of singular change can be an individual person in a battle against himself, it can be a student in an argument with his teacher, an analysand with his analyst, or a social movement in a battle with the state. The subject has various scales, and so does the change. Against the position of Traditional Anarchists, I maintain that there is an outside to power, that the state is not the center of power, and that power does not operate uni-directionally to repress an otherwise creative human nature. This is the political conception of the line which constitutes the image and it can only operate within the image of regular change, via the naïve blueprint of revolution (i.e., if we remove the state then the naturally benign human nature will be free to flourish and create). Against the post-anarchists and the psychoanalysts, I maintain that the outside to power is an ontological outside. It is a rupture in a world but from the provocation of objects and things. The outside is not reducible to the residue of the real within the symbolic. In other words, I offer an ontological point of departure rather than an epistemological point of departure. I maintain the primacy of the inanimate thing rather than the recuperable object of desire. I maintain that there are two orders of the real and that we must shift our focus to the first order of the real and dislodge the subject from its place of privilege. Finally, against the readings of Einstein within humanities scholarship, I maintain that the theories of relativity are not theories of epistemological relativism or subjectivism. They are theories of truth.
All of that constitutes my field, and I proudly call my field Cultural Studies [note: I no longer proudly call my field Cultural Studies]. It also has many sub-fields: continental philosophy, post-continental philosophy, Lacanian psychoanalysis, political philosophy, the philosophy of physics and science, anarchist studies, and meta-ethics. It also opens up the possibility to be its own area of specialization. It is not uncommon. In the 2000s, I helped to pioneer an entirely new area of specialization within the academy called post-anarchism. I did this by publishing some books, establishing some research networks, writing some articles, and beginning the world’s first post-anarchist scholarly journal. If I would have begun by calling my area of specialization Lacanian studies, anarchist studies, social movement studies, or anything similar, I would not have been able to envision the singularity of my work. If I would have begun by mapping my research rather than understanding my research, I would not have been able to envision the singularity of my work. My journal, my books, my articles would have never made an impact on the academic world. Finally, I have contributed to the establishment of a new order of academic publishing – para-academic publishing. We have a large network of publishers involved, many journals and book publishers, and we encourage and promote real innovations in research.
All of this leads me to my claim: against the drawing of maps, I advocate the discovery of ever new territories. I advocate the possibility for the establishment of new publics, new orders, within and against the academic order. And I advocate that this is the first step for the possibility of an encounter with singular change in our own research and within the academic world in which we find ourselves. This first step begins with the quiet space of thinking and not with the public presentation and mapping of research. If we confuse the order of operations then we are destined to map territories that have already been discovered.
What follows is a partial transcript of a discussion that happened between Duane Rousselle and Jacques Ranciere. The rest of the transcript will be made available at a later time.
Duane: Today, we often hear about a supposed crisis in humanities-based higher education.
Duane: And this has provoked several responses from students and young professors. Some have dropped out of the university system and maybe tried something a little bit different. Or, they called for others to drop out – which we get a lot of in anarchist communities, for example. Some have made significant compromises with the university order as it currently exists. They sort of reluctantly cozy up with a curriculum which tries to satisfy market demands or market pressures. And, it seems to me, some have lived within two different worlds. So, those whom have lived within two different worlds have called themselves para-academics. It’s a new word that has been in circulation over the last few years it seems.
Ranciere: umhm, what name?
Duane: Para-, as in, the prefix Para-, academics, as in …
Ranciere: Ah, okay.
Duane: So many of those whom have remained within the prevailing system – the prevailing university order – thus retained some sense of privilege – some of the university’s privileges – while nonetheless exploring these alternative models of higher education. So, as a noted faculty of the European Graduate School, I wonder how you would analyze these new models, such as the European Graduate School and the Global Center for Advanced Studies. Um, there’s been a lot of debate about their use-value, so, I wonder what you think the role that they might play in responding to – or perhaps even perpetuating – the crisis? Or, do you believe they have an idea that’s worth pursuing passionately?
Ranciere: Well at first, I’m not sure that there is a crisis. The very theme of the crisis is problematic because right away what is called crisis on the one hand is just the normal way of the system. So when we find something new, when we are told about the crisis, the crisis of capitalism for example … no, no, no! Capitalism, you know, in fact, what happens within capitalism is a normal crisis. It’s the normal way of capitalism. And, in the same way, I don’t think that there is a crisis in politics or a crisis in education. There is a normal way, which of course has something pathological about it.
Of course there are conflicts and there are attempts to escape into another logic, there are attempts to escape from the logic of the system. Well I think that these are quite problematic. For my part, I really think, we always have to live in several worlds at the same time. Why? Because, precisely, there is really no right model of education. We don’t know, precisely, because there is not a kind of knowledge of the human mind that would really found the right process of education. Basically, the point about emancipation is that there is no right way. If you think of all the reforms in education, they are very often based on the idea that you, that we, must follow something like the right way of lecturing, but we don’t know what the right way of lecturing is. We don’t know where the new starting point is. So the principle of emancipation is, as I learned it from Joseph Jacotot, is that there is no right starting point. The starting point can be everywhere, you know. And also you can use a multiplicity of paths between one point and another point. This means that there is no ideal educational system that you could oppose to the existing one. Which means, really, that there various institutions – like EGS or the Global Center, or whatever, I don’t know exactly what they do.
But, basically, I don’t think the EGS or the Global Center have the vocation of becoming something like an alternative institution. Mostly because those institutions are based on money. Mostly! And, so, well, I think that those kinds of institutions can be interesting precisely because they don’t follow the normal ways of education. I think what is interesting perhaps is this kind of acceleration of education in one month, in a few weeks, you know. We have this kind of accelerated education with students – it is kind of like brainstorming, perhaps. But, precisely, this means that those institutions should not really imitate the university. So, for example, I think that it is problematic that the EGS now gives theses, gives PhDs, because, precisely, I think that the value of such institutions is to give no diploma. Of course, people don’t pay for those institutions. But, you know, that happens. So, of course, I don’t think that we should focus on those institutions as being the alternative. I think there are many alternatives. Of course, there can be a multiplicity of free institutions that are trying to construct alternative forms of learning and knowledge. I think this is something that is very important. We know how it happened in the past. For instance, we know about the People’s University – and that there were people who were normally destined to be workers alongside others, it was a mixed population.
So I think it’s important to have institutions where everybody can go. And where you can teach everything you like. Which also means: institutions which have no social form of recognition, such as diplomas. I don’t know if I can say more. Really, my main point is that it is a good thing to have alternative institutions but alternative institutions can also become quite academic and stultifying – if they think they have the right system for learning.*
Duane: Thank you.
* This discussion happened one day after I had a more personal conversation with Ranciere about the Global Center for Advanced Studies and the European Graduate School. In my estimation, Ranciere seemed quite dissatisfied with both models of education. In both accounts, he claimed to have noticed a certain pretense to having the alternative model. In some sense, this notion of having the alternative model was bound up with the Badiouian notion of the Idea. In fact, what so seduced me by the Global Center for Advanced Studies was this notion of finding itself in fidelity to an Idea (it was repeatedly a part of its inaugural discourse). This opens up the question of the relationship between an Idea, in the sense in which the GCAS and Badiou use the concept, and the supposed pretense of having the alternative model. I mention this only to open up the question, not to explore it any further. Finally, Ranciere admitted to having been contacted by the GCAS about becoming part of the faculty. He dismissed the invitation as being a part of the big show of big name philosophers. It seem to me that he was dismissing the use of his name for leverage in order to assist the university in gaining credibility. And so he informed me that he rejected the invitation. Finally, he mentioned to me that he may not return to EGS again.
This is a note from C. Wright Mills about the importance of keeping a file:
[K]eep a journal. Many creative writers keep journals; the sociologist’s need for systematic reflection demands it. In such a file as I am going to describe, there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned. In this file, you, as an intellectual craftsman, will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you are experiencing as a person. Here you will not be afraid to use your experience and relate it directly to various work in progress. By serving as a check on repititious work, your file also enables you to conserve your energy. It also encourages you to capture `fringe-thoughts’: various ideas which may be byproducts of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard on the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experience.
I’ve received a lot of feedback about a video I recently released called Jacques Ranciere – Anarchism, (Para-)Academia, Pure Politics, and the Non-Human. Two themes have been prevalent. First, some have criticized me for interviewing Ranciere using the English language rather than the French language. Second, some have criticized the more formal elements of the video (soundtrack, deletion of actual interview questions, lack of sub-titles, breaks that exist in between each answer, etc).
My response is actually quite basic: I am an editor. An editor makes decisions that are intended to produce an effect in the audience. In this case, my audience is not Jacques Ranciere. And so I have no obligation to be faithful to his style or language of choice – he agreed to conduct the interview, and I informed him of my intentions before beginning. My audience consists of those who are immediately prepared to hear what Jacques Ranciere has to say but who, for whatever reason, have not cared to listen until now. If you would like to provide me with more substantive feedback please do so in the comments section and I’ll see if there is further reason to write a detailed response.