Spanish Henry Miller

Does anyone know of a Spanish essayist that might be thought of as that fine country’s Henry Miller? A Latin American Henry Miller would work too. I’m in Madrid and want to read a little in the native tongue while I’m here…

So far I think I might like Terenci Moix or Francisco Umbral, though I’m also considering reading Ortega y Gasset for the first time, but any and all recommendations would be appreciated. Familiarity with Nietzsche would, of course, be a plus.

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Eric Mazur and the Suppression of a Utopian Past

Jon Beasley-Murray on flexible education; the short version: “The radical educational proposals of the 1960s and 1970s are being rediscovered, now that their promise is finally realizable thanks to technological innovation. But their utopian thrust has been lost, their politics have been gutted, and everything has to be “monetized” as part of a massive round of enclosures in which for-profit start-ups and mega-corporations colonize the captive educational market.”

Posthegemony

Eric MazurThe past few days my institution has been hosting Eric Mazur, a Harvard physicist who has made a name for himself in the world of “flexible learning” for his tweaks to the university lecture format to create what is sometimes called a “flipped classroom.”

His visit was muchhyped by the university, and drew a large crowd. As he himself tells us, it was his fourth lecture in as many countries and as many days. Mazur is a big shot.

Essentially, his pedagogical tweaks involve the use of technology to incorporate student feedback and discussion. His technique is for the lecturer to introduce a concept, then pose a question. After responses to the question have been gathered, students discuss their answers among themselves before answering the question again; the lecturer goes over the correct answer and moves on. The point is that ideally students will have taught each…

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Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity

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I’m sitting in LAX after the AAG conference and my computer is about to die, but I wanted to get a post out there about the book I was reading on the plane flying down, the book I mentioned in both the panels I participated in. I’m only halfway through Gerald Raunig’s new Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity, but I think it speaks to posts on this site by Amy and Gene.

Three of the primary points to which I’m currently connecting are as follows:

1) The idea of “gently striating” or “streaking” smooth space. In his elaborations on Kafka’s “Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk,” Raunig tells us that in order to express some sort of solidarity, we need little reterritorializations (“never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us”). In his telling of the story, the mouse folk are constantly on the move, generating smooth space, chattering away. But when meek Josephine sings, they all stop to listen: the chattering subsides, the flows coagulate and the mouse people are together, focused on her performance, temporarily. She is no figurehead, no despot, but rather one who is actualized out of the multitude through her performance. I undoubtedly see connections to Ranciere here (see my previous post), but in this context I’m even more interested in how this idea applies to both our Seattle-based reading group and this little experiment called Nomad Scholarship.

2) In the chapter entitled “In Modulation Mode: Factories of Knowledge,” Raunig discusses the edu-factory, a mailing list that started in 2006. The primary point I want to draw from this discussion is what he calls their central mission: “the struggle for autonomous free spaces in the university and simultaneously self-organization and auto-formazione beyond existing institutions” (49). I immediately turn to what we’re doing here as one instance of this sort of autonomy, and I immediately think of ways to “increase the number and complexity of connections” (I’d love to cite this, but I don’t remember if it’s D&G, Hardt, the Invisible Committee, or someone else?).

For example, one of the participants on the panel Cheryl and I organized told me about the D&G reading group in which he participates at University College London. I told him about this online experiment and he said they’d been struggling with their own sort of virtual home. Needless to say, I’m going to try to get them linked in to this site as well. Another example: our panel, I think, was very well-attended, and I mentioned at the end that people other than panelists who wanted to continue the conversation should send us an email, so we could try and cobble together a sort of D&G/Urban Theory email list. It would be a small step, but after seeing the growing pains through which urban theory is going this morning, I think it could lead to an incredibly rich dialogue.

3) Lastly, and again with similarities in Ranciere’s idea of the ignorant schoolmaster, I’d like to mention Raunig’s investigation of Foucault’s last College de France lecture series, The Courage of Truth. In this lecture, Foucault allegedly outlines three roles of the teacher w/r/t discourses of truth: the teacher as “expert,” “wise man,” and “prophet.” I won’t elaborate on the details here, but Foucault evidently sees a fourth role that goes beyond these three roles and it’s called parrhesia, or “truth-speaking.” Though their are multiple modes of parrhesia, Raunig (or perhaps Foucault) seems to be saying that “ethical truth-speaking as Socratic test and exercise leading to care for the self and others” (58). This, Raunig argues, is a form of teaching that “leads people to take of themselves” (59). Of course, this is much like Deleuze’s remarks about the swimming instructor teaching one not to move like the waves, but rather move as the instructor moves, in his motions that express the truth of swimming. Nevertheless, it’s a compelling argument and I think it speaks to the organization of these autonomous zones and experiments in which we are all participating: the democratic self-organization of the groups, the non-hierarchical organization of the discussions, and so on.

Microsoft Citizenship

In our meeting today* I found myself talking a bit about the market friendly cures to market failure — sometimes referred to as philanthrocapitalism — that seem to be emerging in and around Seattle. I’m most familiar with the Global Health NGOs, as described here by the UW geographer Matt Sparke, but Branden read a portion of this article on World Water Day; here’s an excerpt:

His belief that market-based solutions can slow that train are shared by others in the sector.

“Let’s not see them as poor people we’re trying to help, but see them as potential customers,” says Amelia Lyons, of Splash, a Seattle-based international water and hygiene organization, who attended Sealth’s World Water Week.

“Coca-Cola doesn’t say ‘These people are too poor to buy Coke.’ They see them as customers, and they go out to sell them Coke, and they buy Coke.”

It surprised me to hear that one of the most pressing humanitarian issues of our time might be solved through free markets and lessons learned from multinational corporations — it feels distant from the “clean water and sanitation is a basic human right” language that I’m used to hearing.

But then I thought back to all the Cokes I drank while on that water-reporting trip in eastern Africa — because it was the only drink available that I knew wouldn’t make me sick.

Couple this discussion with my recent — like five minutes ago — discovery of the Microsoft Citizenship program, and I am sent into this spring break with refreshed insight into the social aspects of some of our region’s major employers.

* We read Hardt’s intro to Radical Thought in Italy, but since we just discussed the Virno essay a few months ago, we substituted Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control” and the Ranciere essay I recently posted. We’re looking forward to touching back down with the OSU students over the anarchism readings in two weeks, as well as the subsequent Ranciere smorgasbord.

You had me at “posthegemony”

When I first saw OSU’s reading list, the title of Posthegemony caught my attention, not because I am personally ready to eschew the concept of hegemony, but because I’ve been thinking about how it may or may not mesh with the largely Deleuzoguattarian approach I’m taking with my research. For example, one need look no further than my previous post to see a references to Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony. Nevertheless, the conclusion to Beasley-Murray’s book provides an argument for why it may be time to move on to new conceptual terrain via three concepts: affect, habitus, and multitude. I spent some time reading Bourdieu a few years ago and had largely shelved him in the flurry of other theorists I’d been reading, but I’m going to use this post to quickly sketch my understanding of how his concept of habitus fits in with affect and multitude.

In Distinction, Bourdieu provides us with an idea of how habitus and other phenomena relate to practice in the form of an equation:

[(habitus)(capital)] + field = practice

And though the equational form of this idea may be off-putting for some, I think it’s helpful acknowledge that what he’s telling us is that our habitus — our tendency or disposition to act in some particular way — cannot freely control our actions, but is affected by the (social, cultural, political, etc.) capital at our disposal, as well as the field in which we are situated. Throughout his work he calls habitus a “structured and structuring structure” and a “cultural unconscious,” among other things, but the main point I want to make is that it is formed not through the imposition of rules, but through interactions. Bourdieu is, after all, someone who said, “I can say that all my thinking started from this point: how can behavior be regulated without being the product of obedience to rules?”* Or, as Beasley-Murray would say, habit is not constructed through contract, but rather through contact.

With this in mind, Beasley-Murray’s assertion that habitus is one route by which constituent power can be reasserted is indeed a powerful one: if hegemonic constituted power seeks to discipline and order practice through rules — wait for the walk signal to cross, post no bills, no skateboarding in the plaza — then transgression not only flouts those rules, but operates in a cultural realm that seems to exist in parallel. It’s like walking on the Upper West Side, where nobody waits for the signal to cross: you step out into the street and look for cars and then you cross the street (c’mon, everybody’s doin’ it!). And perhaps it’s just me, but after living in Seattle where people stand on corners, in the rain, waiting for the signal to change, I truly find joy in this practice. This is, of course, a simple example but is nevertheless such positive affective modulations — love, joy, etc. — that Hardt and Negri are suggesting to be the connective tissue of the multitude, and I’m thankful to Beasley-Murray for pointing out how the realm of habit meshes nicely.**

* cited in David Swartz’s Culture and Power, 95.

** I’m also thankful that he posted the conclusion to his book for us to read!