Friday, 6 November 2009

Be prepared for final session 3.12

NOTE! Next two lectures 12. and 19.11 will be held jointly with the Aesthetics course, Max Ryynänen speaking of Frankfurt School and especially Adorno and Benjamin 14 - 16 as the aesthetics course. Then there is a workshop week in between.

3.12 we'll have the final session, doing something between an exam and a group discussion. Here are instructions how to prepare yourselves and a description about the way we will do it:

1. Form groups of 2 - 5 people interested in same topics, themes, thinkers.

2. Choose a thinker (Debord, Benjamin, De Certeau, Virno, Vähämäki etc.) - or take two thinkers and compare their ideas on a topic - or choose a topic or theme and see who has said something relevant. Also find at least one relevant text to work on - a chapter, an article, a meaningful excerpt. Use the list of literature and references in the blog; consult me if you cannot find what you need. Read the text!

3. In the final session you can have the text and any and all material, notes etc. that you find necessary, with you. You can also bring a laptop and look for info in the internets. 

4. The groups will have 1 hour for defining 2 - 4 concepts from the list. The main thing is to discuss the thinker and his ideas and/or the topics, using the chosen text as reference. Somebody please remember to keep notes! You can use either Finnish or English, which is more comfortable. Remember also: there are no stupid questions or view-points, this is not about who is right or wrong. This is about what you find in the material.

5. And for the remaining hour we will discuss the concepts, thinkers, topics and the course together.

List of concepts:
situationism (this is a trick question)

Possible topics, themes, questions for discussion:

1. What is culture? What is the significance of culture? Whose culture?

2. For instance: compare Debord's and De Certeau's ideas on consumption.

3. What texts, themes, topics find an echo in your experience? How? 

4. You can also define a good question, topic, theme - give some arguments why it is relevant, discuss it.

In general: please come and ask me if you need something!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Practices of Everyday Life and Multitudes

"To the ordinary man.
To a common hero, an ubiquitous character, walking in countless thousands on the streets. ... What are we asking this oracle whose voice is almost indistinguishable from the rumble of history to license us, to authorize us to say, when we dedicate to him the writing that one formerly offered in praise of the gods or the inspiring muses?
This anonymous hero is very ancient. He is the murmuring voice of societies. In all ages, he comes before the texts. He does not expect representations. He squats now at the center of our scientific stages. The floodlights have moved away from the actors who possess proper names and social blazons, turning first towards the chorus of secondary characters, then settling on the mass of the audience. ... We witness the advent of the number. It comes along with democracy, the large city, administrations, cybernetics. It is a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of the streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one."

"I maintain that the concept of "multitude," as opposed to the more familiar concept of "people," is a crucial tool for every careful analysis of the contemporary public sphere. ...

For Spinoza, the multitudo indicates a plurality which persists as such in the public scene, in collective action, in the handling of communal affairs, without converging into a One, without evaporating within a centripetal form of motion. Multitude is the form of social and political existence for the many, seen as being many: a permanent form, not an episodic or interstitial form. For Spinoza, the multitudo is the architrave of civil liberties (Spinoza, Tractatus Politicus). ...

Hobbes detests — and I am using here, after due consideration, a passionate, not very scientific word — the multitude; he rages against it. In the social and political existence of the many, seen as being many, in the plurality which does not converge into a synthetic unity, he sees the greatest danger of a "supreme empire"; that is to say, for that monopoly of political decision-making which is the State. ....

The contemporary multitude is composed neither of "citizens" nor of "producers;" it occupies a middle region between "individual and collective;" for the multitude, then, the distinction between "public" and "private" is in no way validated. And it is precisely because of the dissolution of the coupling of these terms, for so long held to be obvious, that one can no longer speak of a people converging into the unity of the state. While one does not wish to sing out-of-tune melodies in the post-modern style ("multiplicity is good, unity is the disaster to beware of"), it is necessary, however, to recognize that the multitude does not clash with the One; rather, it redefines it. Even the many need a form of unity, of being a One. But here is the point: this unity is no longer the State; rather, it is language, intellect, the communal faculties of the human race. The One is no longer a promise, it is a premise. Unity is no longer something (the State, the sovereign) towards which things converge, as in the case of the people; rather, it is taken for granted, as a background or a necessary precondition. The many must be thought of as the individualization of the universal, of the generic, of the shared experience. Thus, in a symmetric manner, we must conceive of a One which, far from being something conclusive, might be thought of as the base which authorizes differentiation or which allows for the political-social existence of the many seen as being many. I say this only in order to emphasize that present-day reflection on the category of multitude does not allow for rapturous simplifications or superficial abbreviations; instead, such reflection must confront some harsh problems: above all the logical problem (which needs to be reformulated, not removed) of the relationship of One/Many."
Virno's book is also translated into Finnish: Väen kielioppi.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Free Culture Forum: Barcelona 29th October - 1st November 2009

Just for fun: 

Across the planet, people are recognizing the need for an international space to build and coordinate a global framework and common agenda for issues surrounding free culture and access to knowledge. The Free Culture Forum of Barcelona aims to create such a space.

Bringing together under the same roof the key organizations and active voices in the free culture and knowledge space, the Forum will be a meeting point to sit and put together the answers to the pressing questions behind the present paradigm shift.

The Forum will be an open space for drawing up proposals to present the position of civil society on the privatization of the intellectual production and creation debate and its impact on access to knowledge, and on creation and distribution of art and culture.

ETA: Michael Bauwen's report from the Forum:
The Free Culture Forum in Barcelona: towards a People’s charter for cultural freedom in the digital age

(a report)

I was very privileged to be invited by Simona Conservas of the Spanish EXGAE, one of the key organizers of the Free Culture Forum (together with Wouter Tebbens of the Free Knowledge Institute and other groups such as Networked Politics), to attend and participate in this event, a founding moment for the politisation, or shall we say the coming to political maturity, of a distinct platform for demands and proposals around the right to practice and access free culture.
With free culture I mean the bottom up creation of multiple creative expressions by any member of the population, enabled through the global possibilities for interconnection that have been enabled by the widespread, though still very insufficient, availability of the internet and the tools for cultural production and distribution.
Each subculture normally goes through several stages. First a countercultural stage, in which the new practices emerge, but without much concern for mainstream society and its limitations, and therefore often characterized by transgression of prevalent cultural norms. The filesharing practice for example, where young people share, beyond the limitations that may be attempted by those who claim to own the rights to culture as a property. The next stage is usually constructive, the creation of new institutional forms which sustain these communities, and a typical example would be the creation of the Creative Commons, as enabling the sharing of cultural works in a legal way.
The third step is then inevitably a political maturation and a recognition that the new practice cannot be safeguarded without specifically addressing the limitations with the privileged forces of the old order are attempting to impose, in order to contain or rollback the new subcultural movements, as the latter show the potential to become a new mainstream.
Different components of free culture have achieved the first elements of the third phase already, as we can witness with the flowering of the Pirate Parties, which started in Sweden after the attacks against the free sharing of culture, and are now rapidly disseminating in other European countries. I was also privileged to witness the rapid unfolding of the Open Coalition against the abolishing of network neutrality principles in Europe, concocted by sinister forces in the European parliament.
So the maturation and politisation certainly preceded this meeting, yet, it also brought something new. That new factor is I believe the bringing together of the various components of the movement, in Europe and worldwide, around the creation of common principles that can also be used to demand social charters from public authorities. Present in Barcelona were not just representatives of the filesharing communities, and their political voice the Pirate Party of Sweden, but also people involved in the Creative Commons, open access to cultural and scientific publishing, but also active and legendary hackers, and activists from the U.S. such as the indomitable Jamie Love of KEI, and Eddan Katz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I cannot recall any event that not only united such a broad front of free cultural creatives, especially with the additional aim of creating a common Charter.
So, how well did it go? I must say that it exceeded my expectations, about the ability of any organizers to keep together such a bunch of independent and autonomous individuals, and to facilitate the productive orientation towards a concrete goal, in such a limited time.
It is the all the more remarkable in the sense that free culture is not a single movement, but simply a current concern of different communities that need to collaboratively share, access and produce culture and knowledge for many different reasons and motivations. Beyond the common need and practice, political orientations can widely diverge, not so much ‘between movements’ as even ‘between individuals’ within those movements. For example, one Dutch attendee was convinced that a return to a “normal” market was all that needed, seeing no need to see culture as something that transcends saleable commodities, while another compatriot strenuously objected to any mention of the need for public funding of the arts. Yet another delegate distrusted any demand that would be addressed to the state, seen as the natural enemy of cultural producers … While minoritarian such positions where expressed very strongly, and it would have been easy to go
 towards polarization in the dialogue. Yet, the group didn’t go down that path, but remained focused on the common ground.
Both the legal and ‘hacking’ subgroups produced remarkable documents in a very short time; one group that had a more difficult time was the one I belonged to, around the economics of free cultural production, probably because economic practice is more tightly tied to specific political philosophies and peer production is still an emergent practice that is experimenting with very different models for its sustainability. Nevertheless even that group produced a mindmap and visualization of the different possibilities for the sustainability of free cultural practice.
I would also like to add that the meeting was very hard work, sometimes beyond endurance, and that whenever some in the group wavered, Simona and other facilitators were instrumental in pushing us beyond that point of exhaustion, in order to succeed in the production of that common document.
It is my conviction that this moment will be seen as a foundational moment, and that when people look back at the transformation of their world towards one with greater cultural freedom, the creation of the Free Culture Charter, or whatever name it will receive in the next few days, will be seen as instrumental in the birth of that new political, social and cultural logic. When sharing and cooperation will no longer be criminalized, and human progress will be able to go on unimpeded to solve the grave problems we we are facing, we will have partly to thank the engagement of the activists and advocates in Barcelona.
Though many attendees were very aware that free cultural production and exchange was a precondition for a more equitable and sustainable world, they were also aware that the free culture movement, as defined above, would need to build alliances and bridges with other key movements, such as those fighting against the climate chaos that is generated by our current infinite growth economic engine; as well as other social justice efforts. It is a key condition, but not a sufficient condition for global social change. However, it was not the focus, and perhaps not yet the time to trash out such linkages, as this meeting was rather devoted to create and pull our ‘own house’ in order. When these connections will start occurring on a wider scale, the hyper-productive peer production of political forces will interconnect and advance not just free culture, but the material underpinnings of it.
If the popular success of the Oxcars free culture award ceremony is any indication, the Charter will be embraced by the new generations as they make their mark on human history. It also created a real community that will remain connected beyond this founding moment. So the FC Forum was not in any way the closure of a particular process, but rather the start of a new evolution, that is just beginning to make itself felt in human culture and politics.
(as I had to leave Barcelona to attend another key meeting, on “collaborative platforms for open and distributed manufacturing”, delegates of the various subgroups were trashing out the last details of the common document)

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Cognitive capitalism/ tietokyky-kapitalismi

For this session we had Jussi Vähämäki deliver a lecture on a topic he can be admitted to be the top expert in Finland, the stage of capitalism where general human abilities and human (social) life in its totality becomes the main productive force and subject of capitalist control and governance mechanisms.

Jussi has promised a resume of his talk, which I will then update here.

On the side there are already listed some possible reading. Books by Jussi on the topic:
Itsen alistus, Like 2009
Kuhnurien kerho, Tutkijaliitto 2003

There is also a blog Itsen alistus , where you can listen programs based on chapters and discussions about the book of the same title.

And a link to Multitudes, online journal (in French), where came the opening quotation in Jussi's lecture: "Nous sommes la crise du capital et nous en sommes fiers. Assez de dire que les capitalistes sont responsables de la crise ! Cette seule pensée est non seulement absurde, mais dangereuse. Elle nous constitue en victimes. Le capital désigne une relation de domination. La crise du Capital est une crise de la domination. Les dominants ne sont pas capables de dominer avec efficacité. Et nous descendons dans les rues pour le leur reprocher ! Que ce que nous exprimons par là, sinon qu’ils devraient nous dominer plus efficacement ?! Il semble plus simple d’admettre que la relation de domination est en crise, parce que les dominants ne se soumettent pas" - 

"We are the crisis of the capital, and proud of it. Stop saying the capitalists are responsible for the crisis! This thought is not merely absurd, but dangerous. It makes us appear as victims. Capital marks a relation of control. The crisis of capital is a crisis of control. Controllers are not able to control efficiently. And we take to the streets to blame them! What would we mean by that, if not to ask them to control more efficiently?! Much more simple to admit, that the relation of control is in crisis because the controlled ones are not taking it any more."

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Situationists and Debord's The Society of the Spectacle

The topic of the second time are Situationist International (SI) or International Situationnes (I.S), and especially Guy Debord's work "The Society of the Spectacle". Both carry on the basic themes of the first time: culture as something that is produced - and alienation and "isolation" of the live worker and producer from his work, and fellow-workers, from himself and his own life, as fundamentals of the capitalist mode of production.

Good introduction in Finnish is Marko Pyhtilä's Kansainväliset Situationistit. In English there's a website and archive Situationist International online

SI was a group established in 1957, as an artist avantgarde group; but from the beginning with a political intent, so much so that later the situationists rejected the artist definition and thought of themselves fundamentally as a political group. Situationists and their ideas were very prominent in the 1968 student and worker demonstrations - see the picture: Under the pavement, the beach. The ideas also echo in various movements and thinkers such as Deleuze and Guattari or Italian Operaismo.

Here is Marx's opening to the Capital:
"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,”[1] its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity."

And Debord's The Society of the Spectacle:
"In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation."

Visible the themes of capitalist mode of production and the alienation wrought by it; plus typical "detournement", re-cycling of existing texts, cultural tradition, without quotes: putting it to use. Other two basic concepts discussed were "dérive", wandering and moving without a goal, playful use of space (and time), creating situations, changing how we live; and "recuperation", the appropriation and re-appropriation of everything produced by people by the system, capitalist mode of production. Everything is turned into a spectacle, commodified, reified, alienated... 

Summing up thoughts from the introductory talk

The general theme of the course is about production of culture and cultural goods, culture as something that is produced.

To begin with and central to many theoreticians whose work we will discuss is the specific mode of production called ‘capitalism’.

Capitalism is the monetary mode of production: money is invested to produce goods (commodities), which are sold at a profit i.e. money is invested to produce more money. Without going into the particulars of commodities and their twofold character as use value and exchange value here I will just stress this grounding significance of relations mediated by money and through money, and for money. Capitalist mode of production is not about making a profit, it is about the ”never-ending battle for profit”. Capitalism is about commodification of things, making everything and anything into a thing that has a value that makes if possible to exchange it (for money) – objects, services, people as labour power.

Therefore central concepts for capitalist mode and relations of production are “alienation” and “reification”.

Alienation refers to a more general human condition within capitalist relations of production: people are alienated from their activities and habits concerning production of things, of the world – material and symbolic culture – as the production becomes production of commodities to be sold at market.

Reification is also a direct consequence of commodification and the monetary mode: as every thing tends to be turned into a commodity, and as people are alienated, they begin to regard all things, and even their own social relations as things/ objects.

Alienation and reification were central themes to various thinkers of The Frankfurt School, an autonomous institute for critical social research founded in Germany 1931. Another famed concept of theirs is “cultural industry”, production of culture as production of cultural commodities for mass consumption. Adorno: “Together with sport and film, mass music and the new listening help to make escape from the whole infantile milieu impossible.”

On the idea of culture as produced by people and appropriated by ruling classes two theses from Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History


My wing is ready to fly

I would rather turn back

For had I stayed mortal time

I would have had little luck.

– Gerhard Scholem, “Angelic Greetings”

There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment, to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.


Think of the darkness and the great cold

In this valley, which resounds with misery.

– Brecht, Threepenny Opera

Fustel de Coulanges recommended to the historian, that if he wished to reexperience an epoch, he should remove everything he knows about the later course of history from his head. There is no better way of characterizing the method with which historical materialism has broken. It is a procedure of empathy. Its origin is the heaviness at heart, the acedia, which despairs of mastering the genuine historical picture, which so fleetingly flashes by. The theologians of the Middle Ages considered it the primary cause of melancholy. Flaubert, who was acquainted with it, wrote: “Peu de gens devineront combien il a fallu être triste pour ressusciter Carthage.” [Few people can guess how sad one has to be in order to resuscitate Carthage.] The nature of this melancholy becomes clearer, once one asks the question, with whom does the historical writer of historicism actually empathize. The answer is irrefutably with the victor. Those who currently rule are however the heirs of all those who have ever been victorious. Empathy with the victors thus comes to benefit the current rulers every time. This says quite enough to the historical materialist. Whoever until this day emerges victorious, marches in the triumphal procession in which today’s rulers tread over those who are sprawled underfoot. The spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage. In the historical materialist they have to reckon with a distanced observer. For what he surveys as the cultural heritage is part and parcel of a lineage [Abkunft: descent] which he cannot contemplate without horror. It owes its existence not only to the toil of the great geniuses, who created it, but also to the nameless drudgery of its contemporaries. There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism. And just as it is itself not free from barbarism, neither is it free from the process of transmission, in which it falls from one set of hands into another. The historical materialist thus moves as far away from this as measurably possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.

The same sentiment can be read from Brech’t famous poem: history and culture is produced by people, not individual geniuses, and it should be the property of all, not privileged classes.

Questions From a Worker Who Reads

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ?

And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times ?

In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?

Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them ?

Over whom did the Caesars triumph ? 
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants ?

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone ?

Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him ?

Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep ?

Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it ?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors ?

Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill ?

So many reports. 

So many questions.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Introduction 24.9.

Introduction will discuss culture as something produced, and production as basic dimension of human culture. We will look at some philosophers and thinkers, especially Marx, and try to get some idea of a few basics of his, which have influenced later discussions. Especially "the commodity", "relations of production" and "capitalism" - and "reification" and "alienation" which will come up especially later with the Frankfurt School thinkers.

We will go on to The Frankfurt School, look at what it was and who were within it. And then end with speaking a little about Walter Benjamin, who has tried to study how capitalism affects our experience and way of living.

Potential reading:

Frankfurt School webpages where you can see a short introduction and links to various personages and their works.
Max Horkheimer's opening address is very informative.
Walter Benjamin has several relevant texts, but his Theses on the Philosophy of History could be a good starting-point here.