This class is conceived as a laboratory for investigating alternate activist modalities, frameworks for action gleaned from multiple disciplines and various historical eras. As William Gibson once put it, the future is already here but unevenly distributed. Futurity indeed is a topic of pressing concern. Increased precarization and debt, environmental cataclysms, paranoid security models characterize late capitalism in general, but particularly acutely since the 2008 financial crisis. Despite massively losing any semblance of legitimacy, the system we are embedded in persists nonetheless. Mark Fisher has named the malaise of our times as “capitalist realism”, appended with echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s iconic statement: “there is no alternative”.
And yet, the various epistemic accelerations which have been fueled by the expansion and pervasiveness of communication technologies make possible unprecedented transdisciplinary consolidations and productive collisions. There is more than ever a capacity to pressure existing orthodoxies in new and unsuspected ways.
Given the appropriation of the avant-garde by the military-industrial-corporate complex—who has long understood and readily exploited the potential for sensory redistribution which to a large extent determines what is thinkable, perceptible—it is urgent for artists not only to gain a firm grasp on the specific modalities by which power operates, but also to develop speculative practices as “positive feedback”, essential to ejecting from increasingly tight communication and control. Consequently, much of this course will be devoted to directly engaging with the idea of the FUTURE, which has suffered greatly in light of the so-called “end of history”.
Interrogations of the technical environments in which we are situated (we have long been cyborgs) will constitute a central trope, modulating their potential effectiveness. Technologies often function as pharmaka: both poison and cure.
The course will be divided into 10 themes, with an introduction (week 1) and conclusion (week 12). The themes broadly capture clusters of ideas sharing common valences: (dis)position, acceleration, cooperation, situation, conjunction, hyperstition, contagion, secession, overidentification, levitation.
The first three weeks will involve brainstorming exercises designed to acutely foreground current pathologies within the capitalist system which impede the conceptualization of imaginative exploits, modes of potential ejection, the envisioning of other futures. Weeks 4-11 will involve substantial presentations (in groups of two) dedicated towards developing teaching methods while unpacking the content of a given reading.
The final project (see below) will consist in a Speculative Intervention Proposal.
Presentations constitute the most important part of the class. Given the pedagogical orientation of this course (The Activist as Educator), you will be teaching, fleshing out the weekly themes through close readings of assigned texts.
Presentations will take place in groups of TWO. Two presentations will take place each week. Each presentation will last 45 minutes (including a question/discussion period).
Each presentation will focus on ONE reading. (Assignments will occur between Week 1 and 2)
Any teaching tools you want to employ are fair game: diagrams, video/audio, exercises for the rest of the class to engage in. Your presentation should be dynamic and involve the class in a wide-ranging interrogation of the reading materials. You will want to enter into details. See Ben Bratton on the pitfalls of TED talks so you know what NOT to do!
Each presentation group will communicate with me by email no later than 2 weeks before the presentation in order to make sure you are on the right track, and so that I can help you with further resources.
READING RESPONSES (2)
Two reading responses will be due throughout the term. Each one should be 1000 words and work through the details of a particular reading. You can choose any assigned text.
First RR due: Week 5
Second RR due: Week 10
FINAL PROJECT: Speculative Intervention Proposal
In 3000 words, referencing no fewer than 5 of the readings (and alternate sources) worked on throughout the class, detail a proposal for an intervention. This proposal need not be realized (though it might be possible to do so). The emphasis is on speculation: drawing certain vectors, lines of flight, dimly glimpsed insights that mobilize an alternative praxis (theory+action). Your proposal should be as detailed as possible and involve a close analysis of the situation which is to be intervened in (be it online, physical or a combination of the two). Understanding the particular dispositions of a situation affords a more precise strategic elaboration and makes possible the seizing of a kairotic (from Gr. kairos), opportune moment. Your text can be accompanied by diagrams and other forms of documentation which allow for a more detailed picture of your proposal to emerge.
WEEK 1 CONTEXTUALIZATION
- Post 1968 and the transition to “semiocapitalism“: Autonomia, post-Fordism, General Intellect (Marx)
- Cybernetics: the Macy Conferences, First and Second order Cybernetics, Feedback, Game Theory, Hayek and Neoliberalism (are we truly in a neoliberal system?)
- Biopower / Neuropower – System Immanence
- Cognitive Capitalism: flexibility, decentralization, precarious work – the Eternal Present and the Cancelled Future
- Fisher: The individualization of depression / The destruction of the environment
- The centrality of technology (as pharmakon): we are already cyborgs!
Is the concept of the INDIVIDUAL still worth maintaining, given its amenability to capitalist capture? What pitfalls are afforded by the concept of the distributed brain (Borg)?
FOR NEXT WEEK
READING: Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism (Chapters 1-3)
Gilles Deleuze – Postscript on the Societies of Control (1990) (optional but very useful in summing up some of what I talked about today)
RESEARCH on individually-assigned TWITTER SOURCES
DIAGRAM: Using any kind of format or model, diagram your particular situation in the world via multiple perspectives: Economic, Political, Racial, Gendered, Class, Biological (Physical), Educational, Neurological (among others), Technological. While attempting this individual analysis, consider in your diagram the broader social/cultural context(s) in which you operate, which undoubtedly inflect some of the perspectives outlined above. How much of your “individual” constitution is indeed dependent on unspoken, invisible political, cultural contextualizations? Grapple also with the TEMPORAL nature of identity – how it continues to shift over time. Which perspectives are processes in flux; which ones appear to be stagnant and unchangeable?
Bring the diagram to class and come prepared to talk about the difficulties in situating yourself in the first place.
VIEWING: Adam Curtis: All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 2: The Abuse of Vegetational Concepts)