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Re: <nettime> review: Brenda Laurel, The Utopian Entrepreneur
Peter Lunenfeld on Tue, 22 Jan 2002 03:25:34 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> review: Brenda Laurel, The Utopian Entrepreneur


Dear Geert --

In your Catalogue of Strategies interview with Mieke Gerritzen, she observed
that people "don't like criticism; they want success and glamour."  As the
editorial director of the Mediawork pamphlets, I obviously have a large
stake in the "success and glamour" of Brenda Laurel's Utopian Entrepreneur.
It is the inaugural volume in the series, so my response to your posting is
anything but disengaged. That caveat noted (and duly added to the
<nettime_disclamers_digest>), I would normally engage in a point by point
refutation of your review. The problem with this approach is that you really
didn't write a review of what Laurel wrote, you wrote an analysis of what
you would like her to have written. 

You take Laurel to task for not engaging with her "inner-Marxist," but the
problem is that she doesn't have an inner-Marxist, or an outer one for that
matter. She wrote a book about her experience within American capitalism,
and her recommendations for making modifications from within that system.
She is an American meliorist, and that can be disconcerting to European
intellectuals of the left. Utopian Entrepreneur is first and foremost a good
story -- good in the styles of its telling, and good in terms of its aims.
To avoid entering into an interminable argument about what constitutes the
category of the "good," let's just say that in Laurel's book, the good can
be the product of incremental change, rather than a quality reserved only to
describe systemic revolution.  

She and I were both well aware that we'd get more flack from those who would
want a more directly theorized stance against contemporary capitalism, but
we balanced that against our desire to create a narrative with use value --
a book that everyone, but the young in particular, could use as their own
"catalogue of strategies" to do "good work" within the constraints of
capitalism. You and I have had long running discussions about developing a
post '89 theory of culture, and your thoughts on the centrality of economics
to such a theory have been very important to me. That said, I find your
"projection" of the book that Brenda "should have" written to fall back into
a rote -- and by now nostalgic -- oppositionalism that I associate with '68
(a stance all too present in Hardt and Negri's over-praised Empire).

My other disappointment with your review was that it did not engage with the
design initiatives of the volume or the series, or the transmedia Website at
all. I had really looked forward to reading your comments on these issues,
as there are few critics who have your  sensitivity to form's relationship
to content in the networked era. I would still like to hear your ideas on
what designer Denise Gonzales Crisp brought to the project and what you
thought of an initiative that Lev Manovich describes as "changing the
operating system" of the book.

In American talk radio, people often identify themselves as " longtime
listener, first time caller."  Your comments on Utopian Entrepreneur made me
think about the inversion: "longtime caller, first time listener." As
editorial director, I am appreciative that you felt compelled enough by this
Mediawork pamphlet to respond with a three thousand word critique, but for
all your insight into the conditions that generated the culture to which
Utopian Entrepreneur responds, I am not sure you really "listened" to
Laurelšs book at all.

Peter Lunenfeld

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