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Re: <nettime> [talk given at tulipomania dotcom]
t byfield on Wed, 14 Jun 2000 01:18:39 +0200 (CEST)


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


mwark {AT} laurel.ocs.mq.edu.au (Wed 06/14/00 at 12:33 AM +1000):

> More people get to do it than was the case 100 years ago. I'm all
> for that. And all for extending it.
> 
> But who really benefitted? Did the class that produces intellectual
> work really benefit? Or did institutions such as the universities,
> and the commercialisers of academic publishing? I think the latter.

a class is not a static object: it's composed of the *real*
people who make it up, and its resulting fluid composition 
defines its interests, which are therefore similarly fluid.
to acknowledge this isn't tantamount to giving carte blanche
to some froofy devolution into pomo 'anything goes' pseudo-
analysis; but there's a lot of gray area between pomo twad-
le and conceiving of a class as a hypostatized entity away
and above those who make it up. tending too far in the lat-
ter direction--which your argument does, imo--is a formula 
for using the idea of class as an excuse to perpetuate ex-
clusion.

so who 'really' benefitted? you couch this question as an 
either/or proposition, which i don't think it is. if, for
some reason, various structural forces present a dilemma in
which Class X can 'either' (a) retain its tenuous position
as a sinecure by adopting an ideology of exclusion, 'or' (b)
lose ground by adopting an ethic of inclusion, then you're
faced with a very basic choice. 

and if one of the prime characterics of that class is even
the barest chance that it can eke out a living by engaging
in some life of the mind, then i'm very firmly in favor of
option (b)--especially considering the alternatives that 
option (a) would entail for those this class would seek to
exclude. and insofar as this 'class' has historically been 
composed of white men like you and me, then i'm happy to be-
tray my 'class' interests at every opportunity. 

and this is *very* relevant to the questions you've brought
up, because discourses about 'property' have played a very
decisive role in the form that 'exclusion' has taken: those
who have historically been 'excluded' have been reduced to
*property*. well, i'll be damned: as the boundaries of this
'class' you speak of dissolve, the very notion of property
begins to fall apart...what a coincidence.

so, to your question 'did the class that produces intellec-
tual work really benefit?': yes. and not only that but this
hypostatized idea of 'intellectual work' is changing accord-
ingly, as are the discursive apparatuses that define its 
status in various ways--legally, economically, culturally.

but i don't even really believe that you're talking about
class, since your gripe boils down to 'commercialisers of
academic publishing.' that seems awfully parochial for the
hifalutin rhetoric you've been using.

> So its a question of rethinking the relation between the providers
> of intellectual labour and the owners of the infrastructure of its
> distribution. The deal is probably pretty much the same at the end
> of the day for those in the process of acquiring an education. 

*probably*? in the meantime, though, the revolution should
be effected by *definitely* making them pay for texts used
in their studies. this approach--screwing young people fin-
ancially in order to effect social change--is all too fam-
iliar these days; and it's very much of a piece with the
trend toward 'privatization' we've all been treated with 
over the last few decades. 

> Got back to the time of Abelard, and those who work in universities
> are much more independent of it. Their deal with the institution was
> one of splitting the income stream, based on the institution's control
> of the plant and equipment, and the intellectual's possession of
> the 'text', and the vector of its dissemination. 

i guess i'd say that discussing history with someone who in-
vokes 'the time of abelard' is a bit like discussing theology
with someone who talks about how things were 'in biblical
times'--best avoided. but i'll venture to point out that he
lived in the middle of the so-called renaissance of literacy, 
which--imo--is a period with extremely interesting parallels 
with our own period. chief among them is the fact that liter-
acy propagated much more quickly than the church's ability to
propagate the institutional apparatus needed to impose ortho-
dox interpretations of scriptures. the result is sometimes 
called 'the renaissance of heresy'--which was a Good Thing,
though it didn't make the powers that be very happy at all.

are you really nostalgic for educational systems dominated by
the catholic church of the late eleventh and early twelfth
centuries? please.

> How did we lose out? How did we become trapped in sacrificial labour?
> It;s worth asking, Ted. Worth asking. But the mould you're trying to
> force it into isn't helping. 

it's definitely worth asking. but i take sacrifical labor to 
be a cultural subspecies of expropriation, which is far more
enduring. i'm skeptical that the best way to reform the latter
is to charge students more for educational materials. 

> The paradox of your slighting of my 'economistic' thinking is that it'is
> the monopolists who benefit from it. 

as they benefit from many things, the essence of monopoly being
the ability to benefit from a wide (maybe wide enough to be con-
tradictory) circumstances.

> Just had a small 'win', while composing this. A publisher just offered
> a revised contract that doesn't ask for an assignment of all rights. 
> All i did was ignore the earlier version and they offered reasonable
> terms. Like the song says: "remember, you're not a slave."
> 
> Most writers i know are a wake up to all this. Its academics and artists
> we have to work on...

really, you talk as though you're the first academic in the world
to notice that his/her lot in life is precarious. i quite agree
that teaching students to consider these questions is important--
that's *exactly* what i teach them, as a matter of fact. but you
describe class in a very short-term and stratified way, and your
proposed reform makes clear that students are at best second-class
citizens in your 'class': they're the ones who would pay more to
join the ranks in order to benefit those ranks. that, to me, is
unacceptable: it's the *existing* ranks, who by dint of their age
have greater access to material opportunity, who should go out of
their way to give younger people a leg up, even if they do so at
their own (specific or general) expense. call that 'sacrificial
labor' if you want, in fact go ahead and do so: the idea that 
life should involve no sacrifices of this kind is one of the very
worst legacies of the last few generations, whose stewardship of
the world they inherited would be laughable if it wasn't so vile.
if scrambling to join their ranks before the door closes means 
stepping all over younger people, well then that's a choice that 
some will maker, i guess. you'd better hope that all those little
atlases you're creating don't shrug, though. 

cheers,
t
-

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