At the invitation of an interesting and impressive faculty/student discussion group calling themselves “Aesthetic Relations” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I had the slightly unnerving and very meta experience of discussing this project with real, live human beings. Although I do have interactions with readers online, this was the first time that I have talked about it with people other than friends and family. It seemed appropriate to do this in Madison, where the US wing of the global resistance first got going.
I stressed that this is not an “academic” project, or even a digital humanities project, like those I do with Media Commons or the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture. Such projects are on my academic CV and there is much discussion internally about credentialing and peer review. Occupy 2012 does not have these concerns. It’s a documentation of a process.
This process might be described as the way in which I have tried to measure what commitment might mean in relation to this very different movement. That is to say, if the engagé intellectual of the 1960s had to work out a relation to the “party,” at least in Europe, none of those terms quite applies here. While I’m engaged in the educational side of the movement, like the forthcoming Free University of New York City and the journal Tidal, there’s no operative activist/intellectual distinction in the movement. I do think that’s true, despite the obvious prominence of figures like David Graeber and Judith Butler in their different ways. Perhaps, as I’ve been suggesting over the past couple of days, we might now be in a position to move beyond the 60s paradigms that have dominated discussion and thought ever since.
In this sense, I was glad that the Madison group noticed how I’ve been calling this a durational writing project, a form that’s derived from durational performance art, rather than a blog pure and simple. Of course it uses blogging software and is a blog in format. But the commitment of writing every day makes it much different than the experience of blogging, which I did on and off all of last year. The blogger chooses when to write at will and can polish a post until s/he is completely satisfied with it. Writing every day drives the project in a different rhythm: sometimes I feel in control of it, sometimes it seems in control of me, and sometimes it’s plain out of control.
This stressing of terms of discipline and control comes from a theme that emerged in the discussion last night. One way to measure the present crisis in what I have called visuality, or the way that authority tries to authorize itself, is precisely as the end of a “human” that is dominated by measurement, disciplinary apparatus, techniques for the modification of population and coloniality. In this transition, whether to a new form of authority or a democratized democracy, change has very different forms. So the neoliberal hostility to state-sponsored education, welfare and health can be seen as a move away from governmentality, that concern with the conduct of conduct as registered at the level of population. The claim for autonomy within the global Occupy movement is perhaps another response to the same perceived crisis of governmentality. That leads some to think of autonomy as neoliberal, a means of trying to reassert the viability of existing forms of left critique, rather than trying to engage with what might be distinct and emergent in our own time.
This leads to a second theme of yesterday’s discussion: the question of time. I’ve written a good deal about the way in which I’m trying to stay “in the moment,” to draw out the sense that the culture is no longer stable in a set of authorized forms, and thereby to increase the possibility that such forms might change. I’ve talked also about the importance of duration and what I’ve called, after Derrida, the future present.
The group yesterday wanted to add the perspective of the reader, which entails thinking about the archive and past time. People talked about how posts might be read out of sequence, or re-read after the moment, and how the current software platform does not allow for easy searching. Generously, this difficulty was attributed to my wanting to make it not so simple to dive in and take out whatever you might need. That’s more of an accident. In fact, I’ve been constrained by the very commitment of the project to thinking of it on a day to day basis: what shall I do today? what about tomorrow? This has the intended effect for my own activism of giving me an extra motivation to go to actions, meetings and events that the force of the workday might otherwise tempt me to miss.
So I have not in fact thought about the project as an archive. I realized that there are now about 115 posts, that’s probably something like 85,000 words and a lot of visual material. So the discussion went very meta: what would be the best thing to do with all this, assuming it lasts for a while longer, or that it achieves its goal of every day in 2012? Given the short lifespan of web platforms, another more durable archive form might be needed. Some people suggested a PDF, which I think would have to be a set of PDFs so as not to be too huge:) Others were interested in a possible book, although here I have concerns–even if I donate whatever royalties there might be, is it OK to generate revenue for a publisher with OWS materials? As with all the other questions of this project, I keep this open, while welcoming your thoughts.
And here, gentle reader, a message from the Madison group to you: there was a hope that people might share their comments and ideas using the commenting function on the blog, rather than posting them to Facebook or elsewhere. In other words, Facebook is privatizing the Internet and is about to do so with a spectacular creation of profit on all of our labor. The Madison group of readers would like to hear what you’re thinking: so a comment could be thought of as addressing the readership, rather than the writer. There are quite a few of you now–such commenting could form a community of sorts that would give a new impetus to the project. I for one would welcome such a turn.