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Re: <nettime> [talk given at tulipomania dotcom]
t byfield on Tue, 13 Jun 2000 06:27:16 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> [talk given at tulipomania dotcom]


mwark {AT} laurel.ocs.mq.edu.au (Tue 06/13/00 at 04:36 AM +1000):

> If that's what we're teaching, the answer has to be yes. But it strikes
> me the problem lies, in the humanities, with a teaching that stresses
> textual content over media form. Too much attention to what's on the
> page, not how it is made, or circulated. 
> 
> I had an amazing argument on the cultstud-l list once about the practice
> of giving photocopies of stuff out to students free. (Academics are the
> original Luther Blissetts in this regard). What it means is that by
> giving stuff away free, creators are denied income (along with
> publishers), which means the authors don't get paid, and can't leave
> their day jobs. The publishers raise the threshhold of what is a viable
> publication. The students get free stuff they don't have to pay for, 
> but then graduate into a (non)market where they can't sell their
> textual worth because of the same practice. A classic viscous circle.

viscous, maybe, but not vicious. if indeed this is a vicious
circle, then breaking *any* step in its circular logic would
serve to break overall cycle. do you really expect anyone to
believe that if profs stopped handing out photocopies to stu-
dents that writers would suddenly start earning a livable in-
come from their work? 

this is an especially bizarre argument to make in a response 
to andrew ross's (excellent, imo) talk--i'd even say your re-
marks completely invert his argument: undercompensated labor
precedes the invention of the photocopier by, say, centuries
if not millennia. if anything is vicious here it's eliptical,
not circular, and wobbling its way through changing historic-
al circumstances rather than spinning abstractly in the neat
synchronic abstraction you've diagnosed.

and why, out of the entire 'vicious circle,' point up what's
got to be one of the most trivial stages in it: exchanges of 
fragments of works? if you really want to talk about how the
page is made or circulated, why not take up something that's
a bit more substantial, like advances in how papers and inks
are produced? everyone talks about gutenberg in cryptosymbol-
ic terms; hardly anyone talks about the prerequisite for his
invention's success--cheap paper. you needn't look very hard
into the history of printing over the last ~200 years to see
that technical advances made the current state of literature
possible, for better and for worse, however you define them.

i'd say you've got it exactly backwards: the only thing that
has brought living from writing within the realm of possibil-
ity is mechanized reproduction of media. before the printing
press, an infinitesimally small segment of a population--any
population--could make a living from creative work performed
for an unspecified audience; now, any tom, dick, or mary can
do so--and MORE POWER TO THEM.

> Anyway, what i discovered was that this principle of free stuff was
> just sacroscanct. Amazing. Academics complaining about the lack of
> off publishing, who then steal stuff from their colleagues and give it
> away free. 

shocking, isn't it, that people view the material conditions
of intellectual inquiry in ways not dominated by economistic
thinking? one could argue--and i will--that what's more amaz-
ing is the idea that academics are hypocrites for failing to 
Get With the Program, namely, a worldview in which 'rational'
behavior--i.e., consistent according to the ethical views of
a bean-counter--is 'sacrosanct.' ('' because i don't generic-
ally use religious terminology as derogatory; others who are
more enlightened do so quite enough, imo.)

> So what you have is a world in which everyone is dependent on teaching
> for their income, or on day jobs. So you end up teaching people how
> to become slaves to the same system. Dependent on the universities for
> jobs, due to the lack of an alternative market for one's skills. A
> market that would actually exist if copyright was protected. 

can you cite any evidence for this conclusion? there's quite 
a number of studies piling up which suggest that the circula-
tion of free copies of scholarly materials *increases* sales
(e.g., of monographs and academic journals).

and i won't even get into the question of libraries--disgust-
ing bastions of piracy where communists prey on naive youths,
wooing them with nonsense about free access to a vita contem-
plativa! There Should Be a Law!

> This plays into the hands of the universities, who confront workers
> with nowher else to go, and who, to cap it all off, insist on training
> even more workers to compete for their jobs! (IN my brief career as
> a trade unionist, we kept a very close eye on the numbers in those
> apprenticeship programs!)

we should do the same thing with knowledge! there's clearly
an oversupply of people who want to think. the obvious solu-
tion is to slam the gates shut and preserve our sinecures.

> Of course you can cue the protests about the monopoly corporations that
> control academic publishing, blah, blah. But of course, with so much

is this supposed to substitute for an argument? if so, it's
not working very well.

> copyright theft going on,  it is only the very big firms who can 
> survive. They can get so much product out so fast that they can keep
> ahead of the copying. And of course they skew the circulation process
> towards a high turnover approach, based on fashion. You gotta buy at
> least a few books or journals to be up with the latest cut.
>
> In short, theft of copyright benefits monopoly publishers and the
> universities, and it disadvantages other owners of copyright, be
> they individuals or small firms. 

well, i guess i'd say that kicking the shit out of the poor
schmucks on the bottom of the heap in order to stick up for
their class interests is pretty, shall we say, counterintui-
tive. especially when the rationale for doing so is that if
these twits would stop ripping each other off, the big corp-
orations wouldn't be forced to overproduce and would, there-
fore, cede their higher profits to the poor schmucks.

> How can one extract a revenue stream from intellectual labour? One that
> is based in intellectual property, but where that property is a 
> relative, not an absolute right? So that one has private property, which
> secures liberty, but one also has an intellectual commons, that secures
> the common good and the common wealth. Its a classic question for
> pre and post marxist political economy. Its an issue that was widely
> discussed, in English law at least, in the 18th century. The century
> that gave us the artist and the writer as agents in the public realm
> precisely because it was when their right to property was secured.
> Artists and writers emerged from shackles of patronage, and met the
> owners of other kinds of property, not on an equal footing, but at
> least with a leg to stand on.

this process of course happened in a day. and since the cur-
rent transition is taking more than a day, let's just screw
it and side with the powers that be.

> But when one turns to humanities academics in the 20th century, you
> find them unable to conceive of their interests as a class interest,
> precisely because they cannon conceive of class in terms of property.

so the old song and dance goes. you'll pardon me for discus-
sing the system i know best, that of the US. here we saw an
*amazing* democratization of higher education. it should be
no surprise that the staggering capital outlays this change
required were attended by a range of conservative interests,
which have defined the upper echelons of academia--often at
the expense of more radical personnel.

> They imagine themselves romatically linked to propertyless workers,
> when workers tend not to be such fools. The labour movement secured
> what rights it could for labour as a form of property in its own
> right, a property that could be alientated from its owner only under
> limited conditions -- at least in those parts of the world where
> social democracy prevailed.
> 
> In the highly unionised Australian academic sector, the struggle
> goes on as if we were manual labourers, struggling over work load
> models and such. But the question of intellectual property remains
> relatively unaddressed. The photocopiers churn overtime at the
> start of each semester, giving away one form of property, and
> leaving us with nothing to argue about with our bosses but the
> other, more manual kind. 

awful, isn't it, the prospect that 'mental labor' might just
be assimilated to PHYSICAL labor in the long term? the shame
of it all...and all this time we thought we were above it.

blecch.

t
-

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