Episode 5: in which I blather on with Sarah Amsler about the alienated academic, weltschmerz and purple-sprouting broccoli

So, in this podcast we have the first half of my book launch from last night held at DMU. I was privileged to be in conversation with Sarah Amsler from the University of Nottingham, with some friends and comrades in attendance. Sarah’s questions (and she names people who have emailed in questions of their own) focused upon the areas given below the line. I am grateful to John Coster for his help with podcasting, and Steven Lyttle for his ongoing support.

Next week, I will post the second-half of the book launch, which was the really engaging and fruitful question and answer session.

Over on my homepage, there are a few photos and a link to the PowerPoint that was playing during the launch.

In the podcast we don’t discuss alienated labour and the law of value in much detail, although that is central to the analysis in the book. For more on that check out TAA podcast episode 1.


FIRST. I think the concepts of social metabolic control, Weltschmertz and indignation are worth explaining and illustrating. I think if there are people who have not read the book or do not fully understand it, these would be useful and probably new conceptual tools to leave with. A micro-version of the ‘Marxist conceptual toolbox’ that Klaus appreciates.

SECOND. I would like to talk about how the analysis offered in the book is different from many of the other analyses you discuss in your literature review on ‘the crisis’, and why you chose to focus on alienation as your main lens. You say it is a heuristic (234) but I think in the book it is also an embodied condition or process. I think it would be educational to map out for people the particular conversations that you are involved in, with regard to Marxist theory and other theoretical schools (mentioned on p. 6). I would love to bring into greater relief the positive charge of the critique of separation: the life-blood of relationality, why it is lost beyond words when we are ripped apart from our individual and collective Being (187). To NAME this for what it essentially is would be progress.

To find ways of naming forms of power that are both ‘generalised and opaque’, as my friend Raquel Gutierrez has written. You do in the book; we don’t generally. I think this practice of naming might very possibly already abolish academic labour, because it can’t be done as labour (if it is labour, it is not itself) and it can’t be done in ways that are recognisable as strictly ‘academic’. So, Gordon’s question, about the tensions of publishing mainstream academic book in contexts of tyranny of contemporary neoliberal academic research. My view at the moment is that there is not a lot of tension – we are not censored as such at the moment as long as they can sell if for their price. So we either do or don’t.

I think what matters more is what else we do either instead or in addition, recognising the affordances and limits of different forms of making ideas collective. If we really want to talk about upending academic publishing then we have to be talking about taking over means of production or at least agitating and struggling to change economic policy – if we are going to do that, fine, but as far as I can see this is either not on people’s radar or not very interesting for them. I think this is where workaround as autonomy comes in… (233)

THIRD. There is much made in the editor’s forward about the value of this book to the (Marxist) ‘educator activist’ who wants to do something about the problem. There is in all of our work, I think, a longing for it to be possible to do something to change the situation, i.e., the organising logic of society. He argues that TAA both generates energy from this desire and recognises, in the true sense of the term, the contradictions, complicities and impossibilities that are inherent to this project. I am interested in discussing how a certain kind of ‘hope[ing] trumps hate to counter the violence of separation’ (xiv) in the context of the capitalised academy. This resonates with Liz’s question about whether alienation is necessary for mass intellectuality (a term I still genuinely don’t understand so am a bit reluctant to ask about frankly) – in so far as I do not think the revolutionary subject that peers through this book is simply ‘non-alienated’.

I think you argue that to aspire only to this mode of existence as an alternative to alienating remains a form of blind love and naïve optimism. Though you cite Cleaver twice on the idea of a ‘politics of alliance against capital…in a manner as to build a post-capitalist politics of difference without antagonism’ (256). I disagree with him, in so far as this is a desired aspect of struggle but that one of the limitations of academics in particular is that we cling to hope for liberal democratic processes that are not in fact antagonistic or struggles and thus can’t deal with antagonism fruitfully. Hence Liz’s question, hence the Kleinian depressive mode, hence cruel optimism, and hence your point in the book about ‘whitewashed academic norms’. It’s exhausting and suffocating. Once we become awakened to the ontological source of the crisis – the construction and colonisation of the law of value – what sort of becoming might we also be awakened to? What does it look and feel like to be indignant and autonomous? More, I love this: ‘to move beyond separation, divorce, false binaries, and social estrangement to define an alternative form of social metabolic control’ (204).

FOURTH. This sentence is important: we need to ‘understand our role in maintaining flows of oppression and domination through alienated labour’ (6). To Liz’s question about the individualisation of resistance, and what we can learn as workers from the struggles of people who can’t bloody expect that their risk-taking resistance will keep them safe and who don’t have any choice but to resist. Is the framing of ‘agency’ and ‘resistance’ that we often have (I don’t think so much in your book though) not the right one…I am currently feeling very excited by Elizabeth Povinelli’s ‘will to be otherwise/effort of endurance’ framework. I think the project of being and becoming otherwise in a dominant reality is different from seeking to revolutionise reality so that the otherwise is normal. I am not very far in my thinking about this but it feels already worked out for me somewhere…

 

 


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