Tunnel Reading

From XPUB & Lens-Based wiki

Where: Maastunnel, Rotterdam

When: 22/5/2018

What text: https://monoskop.org/images/1/1f/Dispossession_The_Performative_in_the_Political.pdf/ + http://www.minorcompositions.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/undercommons-web.pdf
(ascending/descending, uploading/downloading, south/north, 'tunnel')

How: Separated in two groups we are going to read out loud the same text while walking, having started from the two opposite entrances of the tunnel. The one group will head to the South and the other to the North. Every time the reader changes we are going to write on the wall the # link to the wikipage of that exact point in the text, and the time. When we meet at the centre we will pass by each other. At the same time each group will record the readings and track the route with an app.

Inspiration: Marcell Mars' project "Logan and Jessica"


South Reading Group
North Reading Group


Dispossession: The Performative in the Political by Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou (chapter 20: The university, the humanities, and the book bloc and chapter 21: Spaces of appearance, politics of exposure)

Joca 1

Alice 1

AA: The corporatization of higher education, which is sweeping round the world, is founded on a conception of knowledge as property, commodity, and a measura- ble commercial asset that needs to be immediately avail- able to the managerial agendas of global business elites. As universities become accountable to corporate gov- ernmentality through regimes of knowledge commer- cialization, quantitative assessment, auditability, and benchmarking, the humanities and the social sciences (especially those using critical epistemologies) represent a risk, not only economic but also political, since critical thinking is cast as a hazardous surplus to the entrepre- neurial university. In a context of marketability and bottom-line efficiency, the humanities are rendered redundant. I am wondering how we might imagine an alternative future for the university in these anti- intellectual times. What kind of critique could be articulated to make sense of and to make a claim for alternative humanities (in both senses of the word: both alternative to “high culture” as essence of humanism and humanity, and as an alternative conceptualization of what counts as human)? It seems to me that we urgently need to recover and reclaim the uncommodifi- able unconditionality of the university, although it is worth remembering that universities have always been places of power, hierarchy, inequality, and asymmetrical political economy. So there is a question about what exactly is to be reclaimed here. There is also a question about what kinds of critical scholarship of humanities and post-humanities this reclaiming would require.

Elisa 1

As we know, many European and US cities have been recently pulsating with massive protests at their univer- sities, against the cost of tuition, against regimes of university governance, and against the marketization of higher education. One of the most striking modes of protest was arguably the “book bloc,” in which protest- ers marched wearing book shields in the streets of Rome, London, and other cities, in defense of public universi- ties and libraries. The list of the books that have taken part in the book bloc includes: Adorno’s Negative Dia- lectics, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and your Gender Trouble. An image that has been circulated among several blogs epitomizes in a remarkably elo- quent way, I think, the spirit, or the specter, of our time: a policeman raises his baton against a protester who carries a book sign of Derrida’s Specters of Marx. This image of an armed policeman chasing the specters of Marx reminds us that those recurring specters still haunt capitalism; it reminds us, above all, that sometimes we have to fight for our books, with our books.

JB: Of course, in earlier times, so many people would have been critical of books such as Derrida’s. Will it give us the tools we need to do politics? Is it sufficiently political? But now there is the pressing question of whether there will be institutional sites where such debates can be had, and whether the opportunity to read books such as Derrida’s will still be possible. It may be that knowledge will begin even more radically to circulate outside the university, and though there are many reasons to wish for the displacement of the uni- versity as the center for knowledge, it would be an unimaginable loss for the university to become a priva- tized industry that mainly trains its students for market- able pursuits. Where and when do we engage in any criticism of market values themselves, of the contingent and restrictive model of rationality now traveling under the name of neoliberalism? We are in a terrible conun- drum when in order to underscore the importance of critical theory and critical thinking more generally, we have to “prove its marketability.” It is unfortunately all too familiar to consider a market argument for betting against the market (that happens all the time), but does critical theory need to analogize itself to betting against the stock market in order to be sustained as a funded dimension of the university? In a way, we are waging a fight over values in a field in which the market seeks to be the only measure of value. My sense is that this is one reason people have taken to the streets. For the problem, as you know, is not only that critical thinking risks becoming unfundable within institutions driven by market values, but that basic rights and entitlements are also eroded within such a context, refashioned as “investments” or as “disposable goods.”

Zalan 1

190 The university, the humanities, and the book bloc JB: Of course, in earlier times, so many people would have been critical of books such as Derrida’s. Will it give us the tools we need to do politics? Is it suffi ciently political? But now there is the pressing question of whether there will be institutional sites where such debates can be had, and whether the opportunity to read books such as Derrida’s will still be possible. It may be that knowledge will begin even more radically to circulate outside the university, and though there are many reasons to wish for the displacement of the uni- versity as the center for knowledge, it would be an unimaginable loss for the university to become a priva- tized industry that mainly trains its students for market- able pursuits. Where and when do we engage in any criticism of market values themselves, of the contingent and restrictive model of rationality now traveling under the name of neoliberalism? We are in a terrible conun- drum when in order to underscore the importance of critical theory and critical thinking more generally, we have to “prove its marketability.” It is unfortunately all too familiar to consider a market argument for betting against the market (that happens all the time), but does critical theory need to analogize itself to betting against the stock market in order to be sustained as a funded dimension of the university?

Femke 1

In a way, we are waging a fi ght over values in a fi eld in which the market seeks to be the only measure of value. My sense is that this is one reason people have taken to the streets. For the problem, as you know, is not only that critical thinking risks becoming unfundable within institutions driven by market values, but that basic rights and entitlements are also eroded within such a context, refashioned as “investments” or as “disposable goods.” 191 The university, the humanities, and the book bloc In a way, the situation of non-tenured academic workers forms a bridge between the institutional crisis of knowledge and the production of disposable popula- tions.

Tash 1

For those who can and will teach the humanities, languages, or critical thinking may well be understood as classes of workers that are substitutable. In the United States the number of academic workers without security of employment has grown exponentially in recent years. And when state law or union regulations demand that non-tenured faculty become eligible for reviews that would establish security of employment, employers very often refuse to renew the contracts, letting workers go right before the moment in which they stand a chance of securing their futures. So we see how universities are actively participating in deciding which population of workers will be disposable, and which will not. And students who are coming up through the university, watching language classes being cut, fi nding themselves in over-enrolled courses or shut out of their majors, also recognize that their lives and educations are being sac- rifi ced for a set of market calculations. When universi- ties become unaffordable, as is increasingly the case in the United States, we see as well the university as a site that reproduces and hardens rigid class stratifi cations. So, do we wonder that students and workers are taking to the streets, fi nding alliances with one another, and that university buildings are being seized or occu- pied in an effort to draw media attention to the ques- tion: Who can fi nd entry into the halls of the university? Indeed, the questions are many: Who can afford to go? Who can afford to teach there at wages that are not sustaining? And who can afford to live out a life in which one’s labor is disposable and the worth of one’s 192 The university, the humanities, and the book bloc knowledge is unrecognizable by prevailing market standards? The result is surely rage, but perhaps we can ask more precisely how to make sense of bodies that assemble on the street, or that occupy buildings, or that fi nd themselves gathering in public squares or along the routes that line the center of cities?

Angeliki 1

Alice 2

193 21 Spaces of appearance, politics of exposure AA: My sense is that our conversation, Judith, perhaps in its entirety, has been insistently gesturing toward the question – and the affective labor – of critical agency, in its entwinement with multiple forms of doing, undoing, being undone, and becoming, as well as mul- tiple forms of giving and giving up. In seeking to map out a differential and multi-sited topology of radical transformational action, we have dealt with the ques- tion of how present regimes of dispossession are dis- placed into a labor of sensing, imagining, envisaging, and forging an alternative to the present. As we are affected by dispossession, the affect of dispossession is not quite our own. And as we are rendered vulnerable to another’s dispossession, or to another dispossession, we engage in a commonality of political resistance and transformative action – albeit not letting our affective alliances cede to claims of similitude and community. And so our main concern has been the processes by which embodied subjects, simultaneously produced and foreclosed via the violence of neo-colonial, capitalist, 194 Spaces of appearance, politics of exposure racial, gendered, and sexualized regulatory schemas, present themselves in their erasure. This is about the challenge of taking into account the politics of precari- ous and dispossessed subjectivity, in claiming the right and the desire to a political otherwise. In seeking to make sense of the potentialities of bodies that assemble on the streets and squares of the world, or fi ght street battles over public education, we can also track how these multi-sited aggregations might serve not to reinsert a nostalgic communitarian politics of place, but rather to displace conventional concep- tions of the “public sphere,” or the polis, understood as the particular spatial location of political life. The per- spective of an affective politics of the performative that we are pursuing here clearly resonates with Arendt’s formulation of the “space of appearance” 1 that is brought into being through political action. For our purposes here, we might fi nd it useful to shift from spaces of appearance to spacing appearance . In this context, the notion of space should by no means be taken as synonymous with fi xity, but rather implies a performative plane of “taking place.” In this sense, “appearance” is not reducible to a surface phenomenal- ity; rather it opens up to concern what is performed in ways that avow the unperformable. I guess there is a set of questions here: How does “appearance” relate to “spacing,” “taking space,” and “taking place” when it comes to bodies on the streets? How could appearance relate to exposure – exposure to the violence of the polis but also exposure to others, other places, and other politics?

Elisa 2

But if there can be no realm of appearance possible apart from social normativity and thus from imposed 195 Spaces of appearance, politics of exposure invisibleness, the challenge is to mobilize “appearance” without taking for granted its naturalized epistemolo- gical premises – visibility, transparency – that have been abundantly used to reify political subjectivity. It is through stabilizing norms of gender, sexuality, national- ity, raciality, able-bodiedness, land and capital owner- ship that subjects are interpellated to fulfi ll the conditions of possibility for their appearance to be recognized as human. Can “anybody” (any body) appear then? How do particular forms of corporeal engagement become available to the normative cultures of intelligibility, sen- sibility, and livability? This question of who can appear gets complicated, and occasionally gets into trouble, when a realm of appearance comes face to face with an uncanny stranger whose appearance and claim to public space are taken to yield a dissonance; it also gets com- plicated when an assembly is faced with the disjunctive performative force of sheer socio-historical specifi city. Consider, for example, that the protest encampment at the University of New Mexico is called “( Un )occupy Albuquerque” to highlight the fact that the land there is occupied native land. I would say that this is, indeed, a particularly creative dissonance, one that renders the very conceptual grounds of “occupation” accountable to historical difference and thus to its own material conditions of possibility. I think we might think of this openness to possibility as crucial to the desire for the event of radical, agonistic democracy.

Joca 2

JB: In some ways, the question is too large, since there are all kinds of assemblies: the revolutionary assemblies in Tunisia and Egypt, the demonstrations against edu- cational cuts, and against the emerging hegemony of 196 Spaces of appearance, politics of exposure neoliberalism in higher education that we have seen in Athens, Rome, London, Wisconsin, and Berkeley, to name but a few. And then there are the demonstrations that are without immediate demands, such as Occupy Wall Street, and then, of course, there are the riots in the UK, which are also without explicit demands, but the political signifi cance of which cannot be underesti- mated when we consider the extent of poverty and unemployment among those who were looting. When people take to the streets together, they form something of a body politic, and even if that body politic does not speak in a single voice – even when it does not speak at all – it still forms, asserting its presence as a plural and obdurate bodily life. What is the political signifi cance of assembling as bodies, stopping traffi c or claiming attention, or moving not as stray and separated indi- viduals, but as a social movement of some kind? It does not have to be organized from on high (the Leninist presumption), and it does not need to have a single message (the Logocentric conceit), for assembled bodies to exercise a certain performative force in the public domain. The “We are here” that translates that collec- tive bodily presence might be re-read as “We are still here,” meaning: “We have not yet been disposed of. We have not slipped quietly into the shadows of public life: we have not become the glaring absence that structures your public life.” In a way, the collective assembling of bodies is an exercise of the popular will, and a way of asserting, in bodily form, one of the most basic presup- positions of democracy, namely that political and public institutions are bound to represent the people, and to do so in ways that establish equality as a presupposition of social and political existence. So when those 197 Spaces of appearance, politics of exposure institutions become structured in such a way that certain populations become disposable, are interpellated as dis- posable, deprived of a future, of education, of stable and fulfi lling work, of even knowing what one can call a home, then surely the assemblies fulfi ll another func- tion, not only the expression of justifi able rage, but the assertion in their very social organization of principles of equality. Bodies on the street are precarious – they are exposed to police force and sometimes endure physi- cal suffering as a result. But those bodies are also obdu- rate and persisting, insisting on their continuing and collective “thereness” and, in these recent forms, organ- izing themselves without hierarchy, thus exemplifying the principles of equal treatment that they are demand- ing of public institutions. In this way, those bodies enact a message, performatively, even when they sleep in public, even when they organize collective methods for cleaning the grounds they occupy, as happened in Tahrir Square and on Wall Street. If there is a crowd, there is also a media event that forms across time and space, calling for the demonstrations, so some set of global connections is being articulated, a different sense of the global from the “globalized market.” And some set of values is being enacted in the form of a collective resist- ance: a defense of our collective precarity and persist- ence in the making of equality and the many-voiced and unvoiced ways of refusing to become disposable.

The Undercommons, Fugitive planning and black study by Stevphen Shukaitis with Stefano Harvey and Fred Moten (page 106-115)

Zalan 2

Alice 3

STEFANO: I could list for you some of our concepts such as ‘under- commons’ or ‘planning’ or the ones we’ve been working with lately, around unsettling and the shipped. But, in a way, I feel like what I’m exploring with Fred, and what I would explore in other situations which aren’t as developed but have been tried, for instance, with the collective at Queen Mary, University of London, is this: the concepts are ways to develop a mode of living together, a mode of being to- gether that cannot be shared as a model but as an instance. So, I feel more like an ‘idea thief ’ around this, as Guattari would say – I am hacking concepts and squatting terms as a way to help us do some- thing. Which is not to say that we don’t spend a lot of time develop- ing and trying to make sense of these concepts or trying to figure out how new situations or circumstances might lead us to want to con- tinue the concept, or on the other hand to say the term is no long- er sufficient for what we’re trying to say here. I’m thinking recently about some stuff that Fred wrote in response to a question of whether the occupations of the Occupy Movement could be understood to be doing something that we were calling ‘planning.’ And Fred said, “yeah, not just planning but also study and also what you may even call ‘black study.’” So that for me was an example of where the con- cepts were letting us continue to move through different situations. In that sense I suppose they are there for us in some ways, even if I don’t think of them as conceptual in the same way that maybe you would think of concepts more traditionally in philosophy where you have to make a system of them. FRED: I think that’s right. I feel, in a lot of ways, the fun thing about working collaboratively with someone is that you literally come to terms together. Stefano will point to different things he’s read that I haven’t read, different kinds of experiences that he’s gone through. He’ll take a term that I would never have thought of myself and I’ll find myself totally drawn to the term and want to work with it. There will be other times when I’ll want to do something to the term. A metaphor popped into my head. You can either talk about it as having a kind of toolbox or also talk about it as having a kind of toy- box. With my kids, most of what they do with toys is turn them into THE GENERAL ANTAGONISM 105

Angeliki 2

props. They are constantly involved in this massive project of pretend- ing. And the toys that they have are props for their pretending. They don’t play with them the right way – a sword is what you hit a ball with and a bat is what you make music with. I feel that way about these terms. In the end what’s most important is that the thing is put in play. What’s most important about play is the interaction. One time we were driving in the car and my kids were playing this game called ‘family,’ and it’s basically that they’ve created an alternative family and they just talk about what the alternative family is doing. This time, when they had really started enjoying the game, my eldest son looked at me, I could see him through the rearview mirror, and he said, “dad, we have a box, and we’re going to let you open this box, and if you open the box, you can enter into our world.”That’s kind of what it feels like: there are these props, these toys, and if you pick them up you can move into some new thinking and into a new set of relations, a new way of being together, thinking together. In the end, it’s the new way of being together and thinking together that’s important, and not the tool, not the prop. Or, the prop is important only insofar as it allows you to enter; but once you’re there, it’s the relation and the activity that’s really what you want to emphasize. So, with that said, if somebody’s reading our stuff, and they think they can get something out of the term ‘planning’ or ‘undercommons’ or ‘logisticality,’ that’s great, but what matters is what they do with it; it’s where they take it in their own relations. When people read their stuff it leads people to look up and read ours. That also creates a different kind of relation between us, even if we’re not necessarily cognizant of it.

Elisa 3

STEFANO: Just pick up a toy... STEVPHEN: Following on from that I’d like to ask something about how you approach writing together. If concepts are tools for living or toyboxes for playing, when you pick up a text that’s finished, unless you’ve got some special texts that I don’t know of, you don’t get a sense of the playing or the living usually. What you get a sense of is some finished product where the collectivity animating the work that pre- ceded it – which I would agree with you is the most important thing – somehow gets lost along the way. How do you negotiate that? Or is

107 TH E G ENE RAL ANT A GON I S M there a way to fl ag up, in a written text, “don’t take this too seriously, go out and play with it”? ST EFAN O

Well, one way that I do that is by revising how I say things. So, some people might call my style repetitive, partly because I’m re - phrasing things all the time, but also because I’m trying to show that I’m playing with something rather than that it’s fi nished. If I’m go - ing along in a kind of ‘duh dum duh dum duh dum’ rhyming kind of way in the writing, it’s partly to say that we’re in rehearsal here. And since we’re rehearsing, you might as well pick up an instrument too. So, for me, it must be right there in the writing in some form. It’s not enough to signal it outside the writing, to send the piece out and to say, ‘oh, really this is still open for this or that.’ It has to be somehow in the writing itself that the thing hasn’t closed o ff . Part of that is that to write with another person is, in a sense, always to keep something open, because you always have the question of, “do they both think that way, who said that?” Instead of worrying about that, I think that’s nice. Th at means that the text is already open to more than one, in that sense.

Joca 3

FRED: I think that’s right. Sometimes, when you’re listening to some - body, and you’re trying to think about who’s on the left channel and who’s on the right channel. And then you kind of realize that it’s not really that important. You spend all this time trying to fi gure it out, but then you realize that there’s also this interaction and interplay that’s still going on in the text. It’s not a dead thing. What you lis - ten to or what you’re reading is still moving and still living. It’s still forming. Th ere’s this thing I was trying to think about last year, teaching Black Skin, White Masks, and reading it and recognizing, fi nally, because I guess I’m kinda slow, that, “ah shit, Fanon went to medical school. Th is is important.” Th en to be fascinated by Fanon’s use of the term ‘ lyse ,’ lysis. He didn’t write ‘critique’ or even ‘analysis’ but invoked this biochemical process of the breakdown of cells, which, then, experi - mentalists try to replicate. All of a sudden, reading Fanon means try - ing to fi nd out what biochemists mean when they say ‘lysis’. What 108 THE UNDERCOMMONS might a doctor mean? Th en recalling that Plato has a dialogue called Lysis that turns and keeps turning on what’s interminable in the anal - ysis or theory of friendship. Fanon’s text is still open and it still opens. Now you have to go inside it. When you’re inside, now, you have to go outside of it. Actually, you’re being blown out of it – this hap - pens within the context of a single authored piece when you realize it’s not a single authored piece. Yeah, it’s under his name, and one might say, of course that what I’m saying is not only simple and true but also mundane. Anybody who understands anything about read - ing will come to know this; “yeah, that’s intertextuality.” But, there’s another way to think about it that lets you realize that it’s even deeper than that. It’s not just the simple fact of intertextuality that you’re talking about. It’s di ff erent. Recognizing that text is intertext is one thing. Seeing that a text is a social space is another. It’s a deeper way of looking at it. To say that it’s a social space is to say that stu ff is go - ing on: people, things, are meeting there and interacting, rubbing o ff one another, brushing against one another – and you enter into that social space, to try to be part of it. So, what I guess I’m trying to say is that the terms are important insofar as they allow you, or invite you, or propel you, or require you, to enter into that social space. But once you enter into that social space, terms are just one part of it, and there’s other stu ff too. Th ere are things to do, places to go, and people to see in reading and writing – and it’s about maybe even trying to fi gure out some kind of ethically responsible way to be in that world with other things.

Femke 2

Our fi rst collaborations were in poetry. Th at’s basically the better way to put it. All of that other stu ff that I was just saying which made no sense: strike that! We’ve been thinking about stu ff to do. Hanging around, talking, and drinking. Eventually things deterioriated to the point where we were writing something. But the collaboration is way older than the production of any text. Th e fi rst thing we wrote togeth - er, “Doing Academic Labor,” was in 90-something. I don’t know. But there were fi fteen years of hanging out together before we published something. Hopefully, when the last thing gets published, we’ll have fi fteen more years of hanging out together after that. 109 TH E G ENE RAL ANT A GON I S M ST EFAN O

And then the next publication... [laughs]. Th e one thing that I was thinking about as you were talking about the text being a social space is it’s exciting for me when we get to that point where the text is open enough that instead of being studied, it actually becomes the occasion for study. So, we enter into the social world of study, which is one in which you start to lose track of your debts and begin to see that the whole point is to lose track of them and just build them in a way that allows for everyone to feel that she or he can contribute or not contribute to being in a space.

Tash 2

That seems to me to be not about saying there’s no longer somebody who might have insisted or persisted in getting us into that time-space of study, but rather that the text is one way for that kind of insistence on study to be an open insistence, to be one that doesn’t have to be about authority or ongo - ing leadership or anything like that, but a kind of invitation for other people to pick stu ff up.

Alice 4

I’ve been thinking more and more of study as something not where everybody dissolves into the student, but where people sort of take turns doing things for each other or for the oth - ers, and where you allow yourself to be possessed by others as they do something. Th at also is a kind of dispossession of what you might otherwise have been holding onto, and that possession is released in a certain way voluntarily, and then some other possession occurs by others. I think that this notion also applies in the social space of the text it - self, even where the study is not yet apparent. If you think about the way we read a text, we come in and out of it at certain moments, and those moments of possession are, for me, opportunities to say, well, how could this become more generalized? Th is sense of dispossession, and possession by the dispossessed is a way to think what Fred and I call the general antagonism, which is a concept that runs through all our work, as it runs through our sense of the world. Th e riotous production of di ff erence which is the general antagonism cannot be tamed either by the feudal authority or social violence that is capi - talism much less by policy initiatives like agonistic dialogues or al - ternative public spheres. But where the aim is not to suppress the general antagonism but to experiment with its informal capacity, that place is the undercommons or rather, whereever and whenever that 110 THE UNDERCOMMONS experiment is going on within the general antagonism the under - commons is found. Being possessed by the dispossessed, and o ff ering up possession through dispossession, is such an experiment and is, among other things, a way to think of love, and this too can arise in study. I think this is the kind of experiment we are attempting with the School for Study. ST EV P HEN: Preparing for the interview I resorted to a typically web 2.0 approach of asking on Facebook what questions I should ask. I sent some of these to you. One question that seemed quite interesting was whether it was possible to be part of the undercommons and not study, or whether the undercommons includes, or could include, non- instructional university service workers and forms of a ff ective labor which are not immediately pedagogical

Zalan 3

FR ED: A lot of the questions from people on Facebook were, ‘how do you enter into the undercommons?’: well, you know, the ‘undercom - mons’ is a box, and if you open it you can enter into our world. A cou - ple of people seem to be reticent about the term ‘study,’ but is there a way to be in the undercommons that isn’t intellectual? Is there a way of being intellectual that isn’t social? When I think about the way we use the term ‘study,’ I think we are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other people. It’s talking and walking around with other people, working, dancing, su ff ering, some irreducible conver - gence of all three, held under the name of speculative practice. Th e notion of a rehearsal – being in a kind of workshop, playing in a band, in a jam session, or old men sitting on a porch, or people working together in a factory – there are these various modes of activity. Th e point of calling it ‘study’ is to mark that the incessant and irrevers - ible intellectuality of these activities is already present. Th ese activi - ties aren’t ennobled by the fact that we now say, “oh, if you did these things in a certain way, you could be said to be have been studying.” To do these things is to be involved in a kind of common intellectual practice. What’s important is to recognize that that has been the case – because that recognition allows you to access a whole, varied, alter - native history of thought. 111 TH E G ENE RAL ANT A GON I S M What I also want to say about that question is that it strikes me as being overly concerned with the rightness and legitimacy of the term. It’s not so much that I want to say, ‘oh, he or she didn’t understand what we meant by study.’ It’s more like, ‘okay, well, if that terms both - ers you, you can use another term.’ You can say, ‘my understanding of study doesn’t work for what it is that I think I want to get from what you guys are saying.’ So, that person then has to have some kind of complicated paleonymic relation to that term. Th ey have to situate themselves in some kind of appositional relation to that term; they have to take some of it, take something from it, and make their own way away from it. Insofar as you are now in what might be called a dissident relation, you are precisely involved in what it is that I think of as study.

Angeliki 3

So if the question is, ‘does it have to include ‘study?’’, my fi rst response is: okay, you don’t understand what we mean by study. And then my second response is: but it’s okay that you don’t understand what we mean by study, because you’re going to do something else now. So, my fi rst response was to be correct and say, ‘by study we mean this. Th e thing that I think that you want from what we’re saying is precisely what it is that we mean by study.’ And I’m gonna say, ‘you seem to have a problem with study. How can you have a problem with study? If you truly understood what study is, you would know that it is this sort of sociality. Th at’s all that it is.’ But, then I would say, I’m being an asshole. Th at’s sort of taking this guy to task for not having a properly reverent, adequate understanding of the term – and what I’m saying is that it’s precisely his misunderstanding of, his active refusal to un - derstand, the term that is an extension of study. Just keep pushing it. I will always think of his or her tendency to want to avoid or to disa - vow study as an act of study. But, if he or she doesn’t think about it that way, that’s okay.

Elisa 4


At the same time, I’m happy for us to say more about study . I don’t think it’s a question of being completely passive about it and saying, ‘do what you want.’ Th ere are reasons why we felt that we had to pursue these terms, and one of the key reasons – which Fred has already talked about – is our feeling that it was important to stress 112 THE UNDERCOMMONS that study is already going on, including when you walk into a class - room and before you think you start a class, by the way. Th is is equally the case with planning. Th ink of the way we use ‘policy,’ as something like thinking for others, both because you think others can’t think and also because you somehow think that you can think, which is the other part of thinking that there’s something wrong with someone else – thinking that you’ve fi xed yourself somehow, and therefore that gives you the right to say someone else needs fi xing. Planning is the opposite of that, it’s to say, “look, it’s not that people aren’t thinking for themselves, acting for themselves together in concert in these dif - ferent ways. It just appears that way for you because you’ve corrected yourself in this particular way in which they will always look wrong for you and where therefore you try to deploy policy against them.” Th e very deployment of policy is the biggest symptom that there’s something you’re not getting in thinking that you need to do that – and it seems to me, really, the same with study. I think it’s also fi ne for people not to use it or to fi nd something else. But, equally, I think that the point about study is that intellectual life is already at work around us. When I think of study, I’m as likely to think about nurses in the smoking room as I am about the university. I mean it really doesn’t have anything to do with the university to me, other than that, as Laura Harris says, the university is this incredible gathering of re - sources. So, when you’re thinking, it’s nice to have books.

Joca 4

FR ED: Of course the smoking room is an incredible gathering of re - sources too. ST EFAN O

Yes. So, I just don’t think of study and the university with that kind of connection – even though originally we were writing about what we knew, and that’s why the undercommons fi rst came out in relationship to the university. I don’t see the undercommons as having any necessary relationship to the university. And, given the fact that, to me, the undercommons is a kind of comportment or on - going experiment with and as the general antagonism , a kind of way of being with others, it’s almost impossible that it could be matched up with particular forms of institutional life. It would obviously be cut though in di ff erent kinds of ways and in di ff erent spaces and times. 113 TH E G ENE RAL ANT A GON I S M FR ED: Studying is not limited to the university. It’s not held or con - tained within the university. Study has a relation to the university, but only insofar as the university is not necessarily excluded from the un - dercommons that it tries so hard to exclude.

Femke 3

ST EV P HEN: Th e particular question you’re responding to was asked by Zach Schwartz-Weinstein on the history of non-instructional aca - demic labor, which brings me to what I wanted to ask. I understand there’s a much broader and deeper understanding of study that you’re working on. But, your work started in the 1990s by looking at par - ticular conditions of academic labor. So this is a question about how the broader conception of study fi ts into the more speci fi c conditions of academic labor you’re talking about. You’re talking about how cer - tain kinds of academic labor pre-empt collectivity or, almost because they encourage a very individualistic investment in the labor, they pre-empt that sort of broader project from emerging. So, is this some - thing that is very particular to academic labor or is this something that is more general to forms of labor that require this investment? I guess my question is: how do you understand the relation between the speci fi c forms of class composition of academic labor and broad - er patterns? I think it’s easy for the speci fi c to be con fl ated with the more general kind.

Tash 3

FR ED: When I think now about the question or problem of academic labor, I think about it in this way: that part of what I’m interested in is how the conditions of academic labor have become unconducive to study – how the conditions under which academic laborers labor actually preclude or prevent study, make study di ffi cult if not impos - sible. When I was involved in labor organizing as a graduate student, with the Association of Graduate Student Employees at the Univer - sity of California Berkeley I was frustrated with the way that some - times graduate student investment in thinking about themselves as workers was predicated on the notion that workers don’t study. But this was more than just a romanticisation of authentic work and a disavowal of our own ‘inauthenticity’ as workers. It was that our im - age of ourselves as academic laborers actually acceded to the ways in which the conditions of academic labor prevented study. We actually 114 THE UNDERCOMMONS signed on to the prevention of study as a social activity even while we were engaging in, and enjoying, organizing as a social activity. It’s like we were organizing for the right to more fully embed ourselves in iso - lation. It never felt like we studied (in) the way we organized, and we never approached a whole bunch of other modes of study that were either too much on the surface of, or too far underneath, the uni - versity. I think we never recognized that the most insidious, vicious, brutal aspect of the conditions of our labor was that it regulated and suppressed study. ST EFAN O

Yes that was one side of what was bothering us. Th e other side of it was that it looked like the university – and the way that one worked in the university – was where study was supposed to happen. So, it meant that, on the one hand, you had some graduate students appearing to disavow study and, on the other hand, you had many ac - ademics who claimed to be monopolizing study or to be at the heart of study – and this for me meant that, fi rst of all, study itself was be - coming, as Fred says, almost impossible in the university. It was the one thing you couldn’t do in the university not only because of peo - ple’s vrious positions but also because of the administration of the university. But, secondly, it meant that it was impossible to recognize or acknowledge this incredible history of study that goes on beyond the university. Th at said, probably there was something – I don’t know about for Fred, but I needed to work through a little bit – that I was an academ - ic worker and I needed to position myself in a way that moved beyond its restrictions. But the other thing was that there are certain ways in which that academic model of preventing study has been general - ized. So, it’s no longer just in the university that study is prevented. Because the one true knowledge transfer from the university has been its peculiar labor process. Th ey successfully managed to transfer the academic labor process to the private fi rm, so that everybody thinks that they’re an academic, everybody thinks that they’re a student – so, these kind of twenty-four hour identities. People propose the model of the artist or entrepreneur but no, this is too individual, capital - ism still has a labor process. Th e university is a kind of factory line, 115 TH E G ENE RAL ANT A GON I S M a kind of labor process perfect for reintroducing a version of abso - lute surplus value back into the work day by trying to fashion work into this model which we associate with the university. And when we look closely at what was really going on in the university, what was really transferred was everything but study, the whole labor regime and all the organizational algorithms dedicated to closing down study while performing intellectual work. So, the other reason to stay with - in the university is not just for a certain set of resources or because the teaching space is still relatively if unevenly open, and not just because somehow study still goes on in its undercommons, but because there is this peculiar labor process model there that’s being exported, that’s being generalized in so-called creative industries and other places, and which is deployed expertly against study. Th is is something Paolo Do has tracked in Asia where the expansion of the university means an expansion of this baleful labor process into society. ST EV P HEN: Th ere’s this argument put forth by the Precarious Work - ers Brigade and the Artworkers Coalition that what’s interesting about artistic labor is not necessarily innate to itself but how it’s a laboratory for a particular kind of extraction of value, which can then be generalized beyond the art sphere. ST EFAN O

Yeah, exactly. I’ve learned a lot from them. ST EV P HEN: Connected to another point you make, when we start talking about “students as co-workers,” would that be to sort of disa - vow the disavowal of study? In your previous writing on academic la - bor you talk about how academics cannot acknowledge their students as co-workers because this would pose a problem. So, what would it mean to acknowledge that co-laboring process, not just within the university itself but more generally? ST EFAN O

I might not put that the same way today as we were put - ting it at that time. I felt like we were involved more in an internal critique around academic labor than I feel connected to now. It’s not that I’d be running away from it, but I sort of felt we needed to do it so that we didn’t feel like we needed to keep doing it. Instead of