Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Course assignment and final session 9.12

Just in case you want to start preparing:

Culture as Production: final session and course assignment.

9.12 we'll have the final session. Here is a description of how to prepare yourselves:

1. Form groups of 2 - 5 people interested in same topics, themes, thinkers.

2. Choose a thinker (Debord, Benjamin, De Certeau, Virno, Vähämäki etc.) - or take two thinkers and compare their ideas on a topic - or choose a topic or theme and see who has said something relevant. Also find at least one relevant text to work on - a chapter, an article, a meaningful excerpt. Use the list of literature and references in the blog; consult me if you cannot find what you need. Read the text!

3. Discuss the text/thinker/theme(s).
Possible topics, themes, questions for discussion:
a. What is culture? What is the significance of culture? Whose culture?
b. For instance: compare Debord's and De Certeau's ideas on consumption. Or Debord and Baudrillard on spectacle/ simulation. Or the role and meaning of masses in Benjamin – de Certeau - Virno
c. What texts, themes, topics find an echo in your experience? How? 
d. You can also define a good question, topic, theme - give some arguments why it is relevant, discuss it.

4. Somebody please remember to keep notes! You can discuss in Finnish or English, but please prepare a report/presentation/sum-up of your discussion in English so we can all share. You don't need to make power-points or a written report, but we need to understand what you have been discussing.
Remember also: there are no stupid questions or view-points, this is not about who is right or wrong. This is about what you find in the material.

5. And 9.12 we’ll hear what you found and discussed, and talk about the texts and the course together.

In general: please come and ask me if you need something!

15.11 Michel de Certeau and the Practices of Everyday Life

General Introduction

This essay is part of a continuing investigation of the ways in which users - commonly assumed to be passive and guided by established rules - operate. The point is not so much to discuss this elusive yet fundamental subject as to make such a discussion possible; that is, by means of inquiries and hypotheses, to indicate pathways for further research. This goal will be achieved if everyday practices, "ways of operating" or doing things, no longer appear as merely the obscure background of social activity, and if a body of theoretical questions, methods, categories, and perspectives, by penetrating this obscurity, make it possible to articulate them.

The examination of such practices does not imply a return to individuality. The social atomism which over the past three centuries has served as the historical axiom of social analysis posits an elementary unit-the individual-on the basis of which groups are supposed to be formed and to which they are supposed to be always reducible. This axiom, which has been challenged by more than a century of sociological, economic, anthropological, and psychoanalytic research, (although in history that is perhaps no argument) plays no part in this study. Analysis shows that a relation (always social) determines its terms, and not the reverse, and that each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality of such relational determinations interact. Moreover, the question at hand concerns modes of operation or schemata of action, and not directly the subjects (or persons) who are their authors or vehicles. It concerns an operational logic whose models may go as far back as the age-old ruses of fishes and insects that disguise or transform themselves in order to survive, and which has in any case been concealed by the form of rationality currently dominant in Western culture. The purpose of this work is to make explicit the systems of operational combination (les combinatoires d'operations) which also compose a "culture," and to bring to light the models of action characteristic of users whose status as the dominated element in society (a status that does not mean that they are either passive or docile) is concealed by the euphemistic term "consumers." Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others.

The Practice of Everyday Life: General Introduction can be had in reader-friendly version, and a little longer excerpt in read-only version.

11.11. Debord and International Situationists

Situationists International - International Situationists

constructed situation

A moment of life, concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of unitary environment and the free play of events.


Relating to the theory or practical activity of constructing situations. One who engages in the construction of situations. A member of the Situationist International.


A word totally devoid of meaning, improperly derived from the preceding term. There is no situationism, which would mean a theory of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism was obviously conceived by anti-situationists.

The Society of the Spectacle

by Guy-Ernest Debord

Chapter 1 "Separation Perfected"
But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.
Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity


In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.


The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.


The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.


The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world become foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products. The spectacle is the map of this new world, a map which exactly covers its territory. The very powers which escaped us show themselves to us in all their force.


The spectacle within society corresponds to a concrete manufacture of alienation. Economic expansion is mainly the expansion of this specific industrial production. What grows with the economy in motion for itself can only be the very alienation which was at its origin.


Separated from his product, man himself produces all the details of his world with ever increasing power, and thus finds himself ever more separated from his world. The more his life is now his product, the more lie is separated from his life.


The spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image. 


Monday, 8 November 2010

8.11. Baudrillard: signs and simulation

Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra and simulation

"The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none.
The simulacrum is true.

If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map becomes frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts - the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing), this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.l

Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory - precession of simulacra - it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.

In fact, even inverted, the fable is useless. Perhaps only the allegory of the Empire remains. For it is with the same imperialism that present-day simulators try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models. But it is no longer a question of either maps or territory. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference between them that was the abstraction's charm. For it is the difference which forms the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real. This representational imaginary, which both culminates in and is engulfed by the cartographer's mad project of an ideal coextensivity between the map and the territory, disappears with simulation, whose operation is nuclear and genetic, and no longer specular and discursive. With it goes all of metaphysics. No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept; no more imaginary coextensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation. The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models - and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. It no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance. It is nothing more than operational. In fact, since it is no longer enveloped by an imaginary, it is no longer real at all. It is a hyperreal: the product of an irradiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere.

In this passage to a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor of truth, the age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials - worse: by their art)ficial resurrection in systems of signs, which are a more ductile material than meaning, in that they lend themselves to all systems of equivalence, all binary oppositions and all combinatory algebra. It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have to be produced: this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference."


Baudrillard: The Mirror of Production

"And in this Marxism assist the cunning of capital. It convinces men that they are alienated by the sale of their labor power, thus censoring the much more radical hypothesis that they might be alienated as labor power, as the "inalienable" power of creating value by their labor. ...

Labor is substituted for all other forms of wealth and exchange."

A good collection of Baudelaire's writings is "Jean Baudrillard. Selected Writings. Edited by Mark Poster. Stanford University Press 2001.

4.11. Frankfurt School and Benjamin: cultural industry and masses.

The Institut für Sozialforschung  was the creation of Felix Weil, who was able to use money from his father's grain business to finance the Institut. Weil was a young Marxist who had written his PhD on the practical problems of implementing socialism and was published by Karl Korsch.

With the hope of bringing different trends of Marxism together, Weil organised a week-long symposium (the Erste Marxistische Arbeitswoche) in 1922 attended by Georg Lukacs, Karl Korsch, Karl August Wittfogel, Friedrich Pollock and others. The event was so successful that Weil set about erecting a building and funding salaries for a permanent institute. Weil negotiated with the Ministry of Education that the Director of the Institut would be a full professor from the state system, so that the Institut would have the status of a University.

Weil himself was an orthodox Marxist, who saw Marxism as scientific; the role of the Institut would be social and historical research mainly on the workers' movement. Indeed, in its early years, the Institut did fairly orthodox historical research. However, one of Weil's central objectives was also cross-disciplinary research, something which the German University system made impossible.

Max Horkheimer's Opening address defines the task of the Institute: The matter is different if one puts the question more precisely: which connections can be demonstrated between the economic role of a specific social group in a specific era in specific countries, the transformation of the psychic structure of its individual members, and the ideas and institutions as a whole that influence them and that they created? Then the possibility of the introduction of real research work comes into view, and these are to be taken up in the Institute. Initially, we want to apply them to a particularly significant and salient social group, namely to the skilled craftspeople and white collar workers in Germany, and then subsequently to the same strata in the other highly developed European countries.

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944)

"THE sociological theory that the loss of the support of objectively established religion, the dissolution of the last remnants of pre-capitalism, together with technological and social differentiation or specialisation, have led to cultural chaos is disproved every day; for culture now impresses the same stamp on everything.

Films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part. Even the aesthetic activities of political opposites are one in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system. The decorative industrial management buildings and exhibition centers in authoritarian countries are much the same as anywhere else.
Today the culture industry has taken over the civilising inheritance of the entrepreneurial and frontier democracy – whose appreciation of intellectual deviations was never very finely attuned. All are free to dance and enjoy themselves, just as they have been free, since the historical neutralisation of religion, to join any of the innumerable sects. But freedom to choose an ideology – since ideology always reflects economic coercion – everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same. The way in which a girl accepts and keeps the obligatory date, the inflection on the telephone or in the most intimate situation, the choice of words in conversation, and the whole inner life as classified by the now somewhat devalued depth psychology, bear witness to man’s attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry."

Walter Benjamin: The Storyteller

"Familiar though his name may be to us, the storyteller in his living immediacy is by no means a present force. He has already become something remote from us and something that is getting even more distant. To present someone like Leskov as a storyteller does not mean bringing him closer to us but, rather, increasing our distance from him. ...

One reason for this phenomenon is obvious: experience has fallen in value. And it looks as if it is contin- uing to fall into bottomlessness. Every glance at a newspaper demonstrates that it has reached a new low, that our picture, not only of the external world but of the moral world as well, overnight has undergone changes which were never thought possible. With the [First] World War a process began to become ap- parent which has not halted since then. Was it not noticeable at the end of the war that men returned from the battlefield grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience? What ten years later was poured out in the flood of war books was anything but experience that goes from mouth to mouth. And there was nothing remarkable about that. For never has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by mechan- ical warfare, moral experience by those in power. A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body."

And Benjamin: On Some Motifs in Baudelaire (Finnish translation: Silmä väkijoukossa): "Baudelaire knew how it stood with the poet: as a flâneur he went to the market; to look it over, as he thought, but in reality to find a buyer."

1.11. Introduction. Karl Marx: commodity, accumulation, capital.

"A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies."
"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
"The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part." Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party

"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity." Karl Marx: Capital Vol I, opening words.

"WE have seen how money is changed into capital; how through capital surplus-value is made, and from surplus-value more capital. But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus-value; surplus-value presupposes capitalistic production; capitalistic production presupposes the preexistence of considerable masses of capital and of labour-power in the hands of producers of commodities. The whole movement, therefore, seems to turn in a vicious circle, out of which we can only get by supposing a primitive accumulation (previous accumulation of Adam Smith) preceding capitalistic accumulation; an accumulation not the result of the capitalist mode of production, but its starting point.

The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realise their labour. As soon as capitalist production is once on its own legs, it not only maintains this separation, but reproduces it on a continually extending scale. The process, therefore, that clears the way for the capitalist system, can be none other than the process which takes away from the labourer the possession of his means of production; a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social means of subsistence and of production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage-labourers. The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as primitive, because it forms the pre-historic stage of capital and of the mode of production corresponding with it." Karl Marx Capital Vol I Part III, chapter XXVI

"The Enclosures, however, are not a one time process, exhausted at the dawn of capitalism. They are a regular return on the path of accumulation and a structural component of class struggle. Any leap in proletarian power demands a dynamic capitalist response: both the expanded appropriation of new resources and new labor power, and the extension of capitalist relations, or else capitalism is threatened with extinction. Midnight Notes: Introduction to New Enclosures.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Culture as Production 2010

Culture is the natural habitat of human beings. Yet it is not natural in the sense that culture would exist outside human beings and without their active impact. Culture is always made, produced, constructed, constituted.

With this natural habitat I am referring both to high and low - to everyday habits and customs, values, practices, tools, creations; and to special artistic creations, values, practices, tools. Thus the course is not about culture in the sense of artistic production only, though this theme will be prominent in some lectures. But definitely it is about culture as something produced.

The course will consist of lectures, "walking through" some basic texts and thinkers on the theme: Marx, Frankfurt School and especially Benjamin, Baudrillard, Debord, De Certeau, Foucault, Marazzi, Hardt & Negri, Virno. What is required to pass the course is to be present and active for the lectures.

In addition you will form groups (preferably 4 - 6 members), and groups should choose a thinker or a theme and at least one original text that all members read and discuss. In the final session we'll hear the groups report to what they have discussed, and will have a general discussion.

Program as follows:

1.11. Introduction. Karl Marx: commodity, accumulation, capital.
4.11. Frankfurt School and Benjamin: cultural industry and masses.
8.11. Baudrillard: signs and simulation
11.11. Debord: the society of the spectacle
15.11. De Certeau: everyday practices
22.11. Jussi Vähämäki on Foucault: power and knowledge
25.11. Marazzi, Virno, Hardt & Negri: knowledge capitalism and new labor.
9.12. Final session: groups and their discussions.