Debt: The Next UK Jubilee Won’t Be Royal

So today I tried the debt meme in London at Goldsmiths College. I’m starting to get a feel for how this goes. There’s an academic constituency that sees themselves as representing “theory,” who tend to be skeptical. There’s a cultural studies crowd, who are intrigued but concerned it might be a bit much. And then there are the younger people, who get it, and who want to put it into action, wherever they happen to be.

There’s no doubt that debt is a major unspoken issue in the UK. Even the laissez-faire government has been prompted to rein in payday loans that charged an insane 1700% interest. The charity StepChange reports that 17% of its clients are using payday loans in 2012, nearly doubled in the last three years. UK debt is currently nearly 500% of GDP, despite recession,  if you count personal, company and national debt.

The chart from StepChange’s recently published report shows how much difficulty lower income households in the UK find themselves in.

Large and increasing numbers of people are behind on rent, fuel bills and council tax (the UK version of property tax). Credit card debt is up, with households owing £8000 ($12,000) on average. Step Change show that a lot of people are using “the plastic safety net,” paying bills by credit cards. And students are now looking at £9000 ($13,500) annual tuition bills, up from only £3000 two years ago.

So debt refusal, debt abolition and the Rolling Jubilee were ideas that clearly sparked a lot of interest. It’s a much greater step here than in the US in some ways because people still believe in government and the social contract, even after thirty-five years of neo-liberalism, known here as Thatcherism.

Perhaps the comedy of errors around the media crisis will change some minds. When the tabloids were caught hacking people’s phones, especially that of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler, there was outrage. Wait for the official report, government said. Now the report is out. The Conservative plurality that dominates the government has, in US parlance, punted. Too soon to act, too rash, all the predictable and predicted hogwash.

The crisis is above all a crisis of authority. Media-backed government has rammed through the socio-economic transformation of Thatcherism in a seemingly unchallengeable alliance. If the public start to see the relationship as being as not only corrupt, but blatantly refusing the process of reform, then more radical options will start to seem necessary.

Switching back to debt, is a UK Rolling Jubilee possible? Just as you would expect, there is a secondary debt market but it’s clubby and less open than in the US. Here

impaired loans have either been handled in-house by banks or sold on to specialised debt collection agencies. So-called distressed debt funds have also started to snap up defaulted UK consumer loans, attracted by the country’s relatively stable, transparent and creditor-friendly legal code.

At the same time, there’s also consumer protection and charities like Step Change. But the Financial Times article quoted above worried that the secondary market was getting overextended. Sounds like it’s time for a Jubilee.

Unfinished Conversations

Today I went back and forth to Liverpool across a storm-swept England to see two video installations at the Liverpool Biennale. Both were extraordinary and created such a set of resonances and memories that I’m going to have to write a full-length piece about it. It’ll still take two days to post. We have said, over and again, that to our friends and families we owe everything. The debt was posted due today.

John Akomfrah, “Unfinished Conversation” 2012

The reason I traveled was to see this film by director John Akomfrah about the life of the British-Caribbean writer and theorist Stuart Hall. That’s Stuart in the middle screen above. To be more exact, while the Biennale lists Akomfrah as the artist, the film itself does not, giving full and widespread credit to the team that put the film together.

It’s a remarkable piece of visualizing theory and history. Shown on three screens simultaneously, the film visualizes, in a sense, what it must have been like to be Stuart Hall in his earlier career. The three screens would be showing personal photographs, filmed interviews from various periods, archive film and photography, news footage and so on. Meanwhile the sound would blend music, often jazz, with Hall’s commentary and radio interviews and other sound, such as the sea or machinery. It was a polyphony, edited so that all the sounds and images reinforced rather than disrupted each other.

I had the thought while watching that the film was like a Ways of Seeing for 2012, so it was resonant to see Mike Dibb, who worked on Berger’s film, acknowledged in the credits.

There were powerfully revelatory moments throughout. It turns out–did I somewhere know this?–that Stuart has Sephardic-Jewish in his family tree. In the film, we see his mother and that lineage is visibly apparent–it’s mine, too, so I’m allowed to say this. Was there some affinity that I had felt, having worked with Hall when I was a young activist and editor on Marxism Today, and always taking his thought to be a lodestone? Perhaps.

Many years later Kathleen, my partner, became close friends with Catherine Hall, Stuart’s wife of many years. To see a set of what I presume are their wedding photographs was very moving in ways that were also very overdetermined. Hall attended the same Oxford college as my father in the same time period. He says in the film that he knew at once that, while he could study there, he

could never be a part of it.

Years later those were my feelings exactly, although not my father’s, who liked it and has remained attached to his college.

Then comes the call across the years. It turns out that Hall was part of a group that opened a radical coffee shop in Oxford in the crisis of 1956. The Soviet invasion of Hungary changed a generation away from orthodox Marxism-Leninism and cultural studies would not have happened as it did without this break. At the same time, Britain and France invaded Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez canal, their last imperial folly.

Sitting in the coffee shop called The Partisan, with its sign designed in impeccable lower-case sans serif font, Hall was interviewed about his views. Time and again, he calmly stressed that he was angry, angry over the invasions, angry over the disregard for young people in Britain, angry that

for fifteen years at least we have been without any kind of moral or political leadership.

Out of that anger came the New Left Review. 

Watching it now, over fifty years later, I felt intensely that we had somehow let this young man down, that it would be entirely possible for another such young man or woman to sit down today and say exactly the same thing. And it is indeed what we have been saying this past year. The spectre that entered the room was this question: will this demand still be unmet in fifty more years from now? Or was leadership perhaps the wrong thing to ask for? Reflecting back on 1956, a moment he felt “defined” him, Hall noted in terms so familiar to us:

Another history is always possible.

The film ends with this caption

For Stuart Hall. In gratitude. And respect.

My eyes filled with tears. In the crowded screening room, I was not alone.

Mediating truAmerica

Like many New Yorkers, I’m in the middle of my summer exodus, a retreat to leafier and quiet parts of the state that many people still seem to manage for a while. It’s an unconscious homage to the former Jewish exodus to the Catskills, a legacy so apparently unappealing that the Catskills are trying to rebrand as the South Adirondacks. One of the things I do is see more broadcast media than usual. It’s not pretty. But you do get to see truAmerica, the country that brought you truTV.

Max von Sydow in Hannah and Her Sisters

In Woody Allen’s 1986 classic Hannah and Her Sisters, Max von Sydow plays Frederick a misanthropic artist. He too spends an evening watching television and describes it to Lee (Barbara Hershey): “Can you imagine the level of the mind that watches wrestling?” While funny, any good cultural studies undergrad can take this apart: wrestling is known to be “fixed,” so the pleasure for the viewer comes in a knowing engagement with the parodic violence that is not violent and so on, and so on, as Zizek would say.

There’s another form of inauthentic television now, which is what I call truAmerica. Let’s try and imagine the kind of mind that would watch golf. Yesterday at a spacious Long Island gym, I was confronted by a large flat-screen showing the British Open golf. It’s amazingly well-executed TV, with cameras tracking the tiny white balls through the air and an editor cutting live from one scene to the next so you’re always watching action. In between come repeated ads, clearly targeting middle-aged white men. There’s hair color, pills for erections and cars of course. Notably, there were also a lot of financial ads.

This one from Merrill Lynch, which you can watch in entirety on their YouTube channel, seems designed to provoke a snort of ironic scorn. Of course, it’s called “Belief,” knowing that the very last thing that anyone with actual knowledge of financial markets would have in Merrill Lynch is belief. It’s like a restaurant that indicates on its signs that it serves “Authentic Cuisine,” telling anyone with any sense that the food is utterly inauthentic and homogenized for truAmerican taste. Indeed, Merrill Lynch are forced to note at the end in a subtitle that they are now part of “Bank of America Corporation.” Perhaps the point of the ad is just to remind people that, despite all their corporate crime, Merrill Lynch did not go under.

Next up was an ad for AIG. Yes, that AIG. It was trying to sell the idea that an AIG policy was a good way to provide security for “your” family, using a graphic of a white roof over four little figures representing the traditional heteronormative family with one boy child and one girl.  Again, no-one aware of the events of the past five years would think that AIG would be a good place to get life insurance. This advertising targets people who think that they are, or hope to be, in the one percent but are not even close. The sales manager who thinks he’s getting ahead (no ads I saw were directed at women) and wants to make investments to show it but doesn’t know how. It’s malicious and deceptive advertising.

If this form tries to define the upper levels of what used to be called the middle-class, there’s far more to define the exclusion at the lower levels. Later, while scanning channels I found one called truTV. On the basis of the “authenticity” paradigm, we can say that nothing on truTV is true, as conventionally understood. Perhaps truTV is a mediated version of Colbert’s “truthiness,” showing the world the “America” that the politicians claim to believe in and speak for. The place where gun massacres are not the time for discussion of gun control is truAmerica.

I discovered here an episode of the hit reality show Hardcore Pawn, which I refer to in my debt talks but have never seen. Apparently, it just started a new series. It’s set in a big box pawn store called American Jewelry and Loan in Detroit. There are three plot scenarios used. First, staff fight among themselves or against the customers. Second, a customer tries to pawn something that is worthless. Third, someone brings in something interesting or valuable that the store wants to get. That’s about it.

The viewer is encouraged to identify with the store staff and to despise the clients, whether African American or (from the show’s truPoint-of-View) poor white “trash.” A typical segment shows a gay man trying to pawn a TV for $400 so he can move out from his violent partner’s apartment back to his mother. The store will only offer him $50. The character then acts out a parody of African American queer camp. Or a heavy-set white guy tries to pawn a much-worn computer with missing keys for $1000 and uses a tirade of obscenities at the long-suffering staff. “We” are supposed to laugh at “them” because were are in truAmerica, while they are not. The acting is transparent, the performances are wooden and the laziness ubiquituous: as is typical of the format, any quote with “bite” is seen over and over again.

Hardcore Pawn is a “breakout hit” for truTV, with 2.5 million viewers, close to the best numbers for Mad Men and many times higher than shows like Treme. The pleasure of measuring yourself against the desperate and seeing your higher status is clearly on the rise.

If this is the context, a self deceptive and highly mediated “middle class” that nonetheless knows that truAmerica is not real, why are we surprised when a sad, lonely man identifies himself as a superhero and acts out the Dark Knight message of one man against the world, dressed in a fantasy costume of black armor and a gas mask? Does he even understand that he’s not in truAmerica when he does this? Increasingly I think that the social movements’ mantra shouldn’t be “Another World Is Possible” so much as “You Need to Come and Live in this World, Not the One in Your Head.”

In short, the fantasy is not that there is an alternative. The fantasy is the world in which financial markets operate for the customer’s benefit, there’s a bold line between the middle class and the underclass, and it’s perfectly sensible to allow people to buy as many guns and ammunition as they want.


Activism is the New Theory

Can we say that activism is the new theory? Not the replacement for theory, not the subject of theory but the interface where we “do” theory. As this project is today one quarter complete, a look around seems in order. I feel change, everywhere. I feel it most where I try to think, wherever that is: that place in the twilight of the shadow city where things look different.

I’m thinking back to Ruth Gilmore saying in her 2010 Presidential Address to the American Studies Association that “policy is the new theory.” She did mean “replacement for” (in part at least), I suspect. However, given the paralysis of the existing political process that began in November 2010 with the Republican takeover of the House and many state legislatures, such a move has not seemed promising.

With the wholesale conversion of the judicial branch to political theater, as evidenced by the ludicrous Supreme Court “hearings” on health care, the old stand-by of legal activism also seems foreclosed. Let’s pause to dwell on the rank misogyny of Scalia and his ilk, insisting that, like a bad mother, the government might force real men to eat broccoli. The legal and economic ripostes are beside the point–health care makes men into wimps, according to the Stand Your Ground right.

So in saying that activism might be the new theory, I’m not saying something as simple as “we can only learn in the streets.” I am suggesting that a certain kind of High Theory, so privileged over the past two decades, and so masculine in its exaltation of rigor, is demonstrably (as it were) not the way to get to grips with the crisis. For example, the widespread suggestion amongst theorists of a certain kind that we should read St. Paul–really? I’m just not going to do that.

For Jack Halberstam, the alternative is “low theory,” an approach that he sees as a mix of Stuart Hall’s Gramscian concept of theory as a “detour en route to something else,” the Benjaminian stroll and the Situationist dérive. Add to this Rancière’s concept of education as emancipation, learning what it is that we need to learn, and there’s a very dynamic way of thinking to hand. Unsurprisingly, these approaches have also featured widely across Occupy 2012.

What is surprising to an extent is the new viability of anarchist approaches in the critical context. When I was writing The Right to Look, I spent a good deal of time worrying about whether I could discuss anarchist interpretations of history, the general strike, Rosa Luxemburg and so on and be taken “seriously.” I wonder why I worried now. On the one hand, who cares if the seriousness police mark you down as one of them? On the other, the reason those ideas seemed important was a mark of the crisis in which we were already immersed. The an-archive is newly open for thinking.

At the same time, I’d be surprised if anyone who has been reading frequently here thinks of this as a theory project as such. I think of it as having a series of threads, one of which might be labelled “theory,” but which would not, as it were, hold up on its own. It gets energy from, and is sustained by, the interaction with a set of activities that can be designated “activism.”

The funny thing about being an activist is no-one really thinks of themselves as being one. Those that do probably get paid to do so, which is not quite what I have in mind. I think there’s a distinction between “being an activist” and learning from activism. In this sense, the current form of activism takes all of the activities and actions that we do every day as being the site of a new politics and a new invitation to theorize.

This invitation is about making connections, finding histories, creating tools, and hearing new voices. It is also about refusing: refusing the market view of the world, refusing to “move on, there’s nothing to see here,” refusing to give up, refusing to just accept that in the end it’s all about the [Democratic/Labor/Socialist/whatever] Party.

It’s not about being the cleverest kid in the class, showing how much we know, upstaging or undercutting others with ideas. For me, it was enabled by Occupy but it is not in any way limited to that frame. In some ways, it’s already moved out of the encampments into the networks and beyond the control of all the police trying to contain it.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the next nine months will bring.

The Empire of No Signs

In moments of radical transformation, words lose old meanings. New events struggle to be represented and have to be experienced. In the Empire of Signs, Roland Barthes used an avowedly Orientalist fantasy of Japan to generate a sense of the “emptiness of language.” Now we can just look around us. The disconnect between how the world is represented in what we now call the “culture,” and the unfolding realities since 2008, is palpable.

There are a variety of indicators we might notice from “high” and “low” culture alike. This past Friday, the HBO comedian Bill Maher did not need to satirize the remarks of Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh so much as simply repeat them. The Right now inhabits a cultural universe that is laughably unrecognizable to mainstream liberals, let alone radicals.

Television nonetheless continues to represent a world in which comedy means perky young people living in vast apartments, untroubled by debt or unemployment. The dramascape is all cops all the time. In order to even make reference to the Occupy movement, writers have had to resort to bizarre stratagems, such as the recent random insertion into the CBS lawyer soap The Good Wife of a judge being pepper sprayed at an Occupy site (–viewer alert: there’s a tedious 30 second ad before the judge makes his random remark about a minute in).

You might remember that last December Law and Order did build a fake Occupy site in Foley Square for a set, only three weeks after the eviction of Zuccotti/Liberty. Occupy activists quickly installed themselves– and were as quickly re-evicted by the police, leading in turn to a rewrite of the episode, such that Occupy was a brief moment rather than the theme of the episode. The empire now fears even its own simulacra.

Perhaps this what is to be expected of a ratings-obsessed advertising-driven medium like network TV but there isn’t even a cable show that I can imagine taking on the questions posed by Occupy. All the shows that people discuss like Mad Men, Treme, Luck or Boardwalk Empire are set in the past anyway–Shameless might be the only possibility, except that its characters live so deep in the informal economy that crisis is their everyday.

We already had a go at Hollywood cinema–what about “high” culture? In the US, literature has been the site of engagement with the “national question,” especially since the Second World War. California novelist Steve Erickson’s recent These Dreams of You has tried to rework the Great American Novel trope for the Obama years.

It describes how Zan, a former novelist-turned-academic, loses his teaching job, putting his family on the path to foreclosure. The book drifts away from this all-too-realistic scenario into a complex narrative on multicultural adoption, race, history, empire and the legacies of the 1960s that is engaging without sustaining the compelling force of the opening. It’s usually not a good idea, for example, to have David Bowie as a significant fictional character;)

Interestingly, though, Erickson seems to acknowledge the impossibility of what he’s attempted. Towards the end, Zan gives a lecture on the novel in London:

“Maybe this has been going on a while,” says Zan, “but now the arc of the imagination bends back to history because it can’t compete with history.” A black Hawaiian with a swahili name? It’s the sort of history that puts novelists out of business.

Calling that quote out makes the book seem still further from accomplishing its ambitions than I thought it was as I read it, but that’s not my point here. Erickson worries that Obama allowed us to hear the “song” of what he calls America again and

should it fade and be silent, it will never again quite be possible to believe in it….But without such faith, the country–this country in particular–is nothing.

And that is, in my view, probably a good thing. The “song” of “America” is past representing, past meaning–an empire of no signs.

I find myself drawing a parallel with the tension in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time between meaning, memory and forgetting in the political. While one reading of the novel might stress personal involuntary memory (madeleines and all that), another sees the ways in which meaning becomes undone in a stratified, class-ridden, wealth-dominated society by the intrusion of the necessity of political affirmation. That is to say, the snobbish salons frequented by the Narrator fall apart over the Dreyfus Affair.

While aristocratic elitism sides with the Army, using Dreyfus’s jewishness as the index of his guilt, their dominance of language is irretrievably fractured by this assertion. While the Guermantes for the most part remain anti-Dreyfusard, not even all the anti-semitic aristocrats can be convinced by their own argument as it is presented in the Dreyfus Case. For all the drama of these conversions, by the time Dreyfus is exonerated in 1906, society has contrived to forget what it once found so shocking and it requires Proust’s exhaustive hermeneutic investigation to reveal the interwoven layers of anti-semitism, homophobia, nationalism and snobbery that constitute the French empire.

The potential ludicrousness of blogging about Proust will not have escaped you. I have on my shelf the four gilded volumes of the Pléiade edition, bought as part of the whole mid-life crisis thing for a “year of reading Proust.” The volumes are themselves masterpieces of a careful annotated scholarship that is perhaps the polar opposite of this project. And perhaps not.

In a wonderful parenthesis in his short book Proust and Signs, Deleuze remarks

Few texts constitute a better commentary on Lenin’s remark as to a society’s capacity to replace “the corrupt old prejudices” by new prejudices even more infamous or more stupid.

That’s where Occupy is now (bet you didn’t think I could make a paragraph that included Proust, Lenin, Deleuze and Occupy). The “corrupt old prejudices” in the empire of no signs are now those reformed around the First World War period–anti-communist nationalism, the American century, global capitalism. The new prejudices are those being circulated by the Santorums and Romneys as “culture wars” in the neo-liberal empire of no signs.

By the time a twelve-volume assessment emerges from today’s Ivy League equivalent of the cork-lined room, it will have been too late to have prevented them–although by the same token I do see how I might finally write about Proust. Maybe the Internet is just the place to move away from songs of the nation, or hymns to empire, and consider again the prose of the world.

Jan 4: Performing Elitism?

Are certain forms of cultural performance necessarily elitist? Are certain ways of consuming culture equally one percent? New York Times music critic Antony Tommasini recently worried that OWS reinforces the perception of classical music as “elitist and inaccessible.” His counterargument was based on such examples as the free Liederabend concerts at the Juilliard School in Manhattan. What, though, are the cultural requirements of admission? What are the politics of music performance?

I had to Google to find out that “Liederabend” means “song recital” and that the Juilliard is part of Lincoln Center: admission to such events requires cultural capital, even more than whatever price is being charged. While these events are listed on their website, they are not advertised as free until you click through to a specific event, so I would never have known. The Juilliard as a school is unabashedly elitist, according to its own website, admitting 7% of its applicants and charging $33,000 tuition.

Tommasini goes on to worry about the elitist patronage of the arts by people like the toxic David Koch, who uses the “arts” as the respectable side of his financial activism, otherwise devoted to the Tea Party and similar causes. He worries that such “dependence would seem to make the performing arts a natural focus for the Occupy activists.” Indeed, there were two notable actions this fall, one at Julliard and one at Lincoln Center.

At Lincoln Center, Philip Glass presented his new piece Satyagraha, an opera based on Gandhi’s non-violent theory of resistance. As it happens, I was today sent a link to a video by Jean Thevenin of the OWS protest at the première in which the NYPD and Lincoln Center refused to allow Occupy to use the space in front of the Met, on the grounds that it is “limited public space.” Philip Glass himself and Lou Reed joined in the action. You can see some OWS regulars in the crowd but also bow-tie types, listening to the presentations, set here to Glass’s music.

Visible Shape (Philip Glass & Lou Reed occupying Lincoln Center) from jaune! on Vimeo.

For Tommasini: “it was easier to understand the issues that the Occupy Wall Street protesters care about than what policies they were seeking in relation to the arts.” At the low-point of the article, he makes the time-worn argument that the Metropolitan Opera is not elitist because some seats in the highest balcony are available for $40.

Occupy was not talking about the financial price of admission. The question at stake is whether the aestheticisation of politics in designated arts spaces can continue to be acceptable, in a climate where only passivity is permitted in social space.

At a performance by the Israel Philharmonic in London in September 2011, activists intervened inside the arts space, calling on Israel to “end the occupation” by singing words set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” over the orchestral performance. Composer Janice Misurell-Mitchell, reporting on the happening, felt she could not have joined in but empathized with the “brilliant concept examining ways we may take power through sound.”

It is the sound of Occupy that seems to return here: the use of sound to occupy three-dimensional space that counters both the flattening occupation of monetizing everything and the “politics of verticality” that constitute Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

More on this tomorrow.


Jan. 3 Occupy Cultural Studies

Two very contrasting approaches to Occupy from British cultural studies have recently been published. One thinks that Occupy still has to reach 98% more people. The other sees it as a new expression of the “general will,” by and against which decision making is measured in democracies. While both measure their distance from OWS, it turns out I am involved in the dispute.

Sunil Manghani, reader in cultural and critical theory at York St John University, takes my blog post “Occupy Theory” as a key point of reference and critique for his op-ed in the Times Higher Education Supplement. We learn first that the students in his course did not recognize the #OWS hashtag or find their field trip to Occupy London very exciting. It’s not clear why this is so important. Manghani opines “it is the ‘theory’ behind Occupy that is the wider preoccupation.” Yes, folks, we’re back in the theory wars, I’m afraid.

Manghani then muses over my post, finding it “conceptual” despite my explicit claim that Occupy is a performative. The clincher for Manghani was watching a video of Judith Butler speaking at OWS, in which she read her remarks from an iPhone. There are a couple of things wrong with this.

Butler reads her text to Occupy

As the picture shows, Butler read her talk from old-fashioned paper: I was standing next to her, I remember it.

Some people did read from iPhones at OWS, though, like Angela Davis. What’s wrong with this? For Manghani, the practice evokes Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of the end of history in the form of liberal democracy, leaving our choices as solely consumer options. Fukuyama himself has backed away from this 1990s position and now critiques such neo-conservative positions. Davis herself spoke of the general strike being organized by Occupy Oakland and a revolutionary turn. She answered questions in the cold for over an hour–without referring to her phone.

For Manghani, the Arab Spring that so exemplifies the end of the end of history is a proper movement, to be visualized, bizarrely, as a Tracey Emin artwork: “gritty yet faltering.” I’m not sure how Tahrir Square evokes the tabloid heroine of British art and her unmade beds?  I certainly prefer to be a Rachel Whiteread sculpture, Manghani’s visualization of the “fringe” that is Occupy.

A very contrasting position can be found in a striking piece by Nick Couldry and Natalie Fenton, “Occupy: Rediscovering the General Will,” published on the Social Science Research Council website. Couldry and Fenton, Professors of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, see Occupy as a reconceptualization of democracy in the context of both the financialization of everything and the crisis of [Western] democracy. Bringing Foucault to bear on the rise of neo-liberalism, they argue that “markets” are a modern invention (as does London-based Occupy theorist David Graeber), which have become predicated as natural, producing “democracy” as their natural outcome. Yet there is a palpable gap between the promise of democracy’s voice and what it can now offer its citizens: “We have grown used to living in democracies that aren’t working, that is, don’t work as democracies.”

While their argument is centered in the UK, it clearly applies very well to the US, where the Obama election in 2008 seemed at first to reinvigorate the possibilities of representative democracy and has now come to represent the falseness of its operations. Many Occupy activists were inspired by the idea of fundamental change in 2008–and perhaps in 1997 in the UK, with the first Labour victory. What is now, as Couldry and Fenton have it, “so striking about the Occupy movement is that it is a peaceful, collective attempt to face up to that unwelcome ‘post-democratic’ truth and to explore new ways of experiencing the general will.”

The proliferation of Occupy newspapers, journals, blogs, essays, commentaries and other thought-provoking materials is visible evidence of this new general moment, centered, as I suggested yesterday, on exterior discussion. If the general strike is the first moment of refusal, the “no” to markets being everything, the general “yes” is always and already in formation: “Nothing could be harder than this.” Everyone agrees on this at least, including Manghani.

Couldry and Fenton recognize the challenge for those who have the chance to work full-time in universities: “our main task perhaps is to go out from our institutions and listen on the streets, and then, on return, to open our doors.”

The implications of such general, open listening might include:

  • free, open, libre publishing
  • not publishing Occupy materials with for-profit publishers, especially Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Times newspapers
  • learning to listen not “teach”
  • not referring to “my/our” students
  • maybe not using the word “student” at all?
  • working for free, public, universal pre-K to postdoctoral education.

And no, those are not demands.