The page for the Creating Cultures postgraduate conference at King’s College London has been updated with information about the panel schedule, rooms, and speakers. Click here or on the ‘Creating Cultures’ button at the top-right of this page.
Toby Bennett – Some thoughts on three new books for 2014…
Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian (eds.), #accelerate: the accelerationist reader (Falmouth: Urbanomic)
Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Winchester: Zero)
Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities: Speed & Capitalism (Winchester, Zero)
It’s a 60 second walk from Embankment station to the Strand, a journey I take not infrequently, during which time I encounter three separate Starbucks, a Costa, and an Eat, a situation that is as incredibly, unnecessarily, but joyfully convenient as it is culturally depressing. As I sit here, sipping my mocha, I wonder whether we can map developments in Western intellectual culture through the lens of coffee: from the ‘penny universities’ of English coffee houses to Parisian Left Bank café existentialism; from the caffeine addiction that led Kant to self-imposed abstinence, to Walter Benjamin’s philosophy that must include ‘soothsaying from coffee grounds’. Coffee was the youthful alternative to alcohol through the ‘50s and ‘60s; while the switch of setting from the homely 1980s bar of the sitcom Cheers to the coffee-to-go lifestyle of its ‘90s spin-off Frasier (and, later, the globally influential Friends) signalled something of a generational shift. Coffee cultivated the social life of Enlightenment thought, nourishing its counter-culture into mainstream media, through a marvellously efficient conjuncture of the logic of global imperialism with the micro-physiology of stimulation.
Caffeinated capitalism is addictive and energising – but too much of it and the crash is inescapable. This was the gambit of Marx and Engels’ communist manifesto, which argued that capitalism contained within it inherent contradictions which will bring about its dissolution. This notion remains in a new theoretical moment which tries to imagine a different future to the one we currently have, although one which is not quite so ‘inevitable’. Designated ‘accelerationism’, it denotes a diverse bunch of theorists (many of them in the middle of their PhDs) that have begun to associate through their reaction against what they see as the localised defeatism of many left ‘alternatives’.
It is the name given to a line of thought stretching from certain tendencies in Marxism, through post-structuralist dissatisfaction with orthodox communist party politics in the 1970s, and the ‘cyberpunk’ rejection of regressive socialist infighting in the 1990s, to an ever-so-slightly more considered reaction to present day conditions. Though a disparate thread, it was given renewed life in the ‘manifesto for an accelerationist politics’, a text written and published online by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, which gained unprecedented traction over the course of a few months, garnering responses from McKenzie Wark and Antonio Negri, amongst others, and which has now been translated into a number of languages.
Accelerationists like their theory like they like their coffee: dark, bitter, and bracing. The development of the espresso is, of course, inextricably tied to the steam-power technology of the industrial revolution and its short sharp shocks are exactly what the contemporary urban future-theorist needs to get through the day. The basic unit of accelerationist communication is the tweet; a collection of tweets is a manifesto; a collection of manifestos is an anthology. Hence #accelerate: the accelerationist reader published this month, which collects together excerpts from Marx, Samuel Butler, and Thorstein Veblen; Lyotard, Deleuze and Lipovetsky; Shulamith Firestone and JG Ballard; Nick Land and Sadie Plant; Benedict Singleton, Tiziana Terranova and Antonio Negri. All of these are gathered together to flesh out the theoretical backdrop to the manifesto and all, with rare exception, perform their message stylistically, using fragments, polemics, and multiple voices. Initial orders of the book come with bottles of hot sauce – but perhaps they should be delivered with shots of thick caffeine. If you’re looking for calm, evidence based plans then you should look elsewhere; the reader is strictly for fans of breathless calls to arms.
But this is entirely in keeping with the accelerationist project. As Deleuze and Guattari commented on their infamous 1972 publication, “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd”. At the anthology’s launch last night, Singleton noted how the dominant model for contemporary technologies (like social media) is not the plan but the platform: a dynamic space which sets up boundaries and presents tools but tries not to dictate how that space should be explored or how those tools should be used by the collective. It is designed not towards a specific end but to generate new orientations. Philosopher Pete Wolfendale, later added that pure mathematics, which has been the most productive technique for innovation in history, is a practice of experimentation for its own sake almost entirely divorced from instrumental motivations.
Which is not to say that accelerationists are only interested in theory – just that the instrumentalities it reaches for are usually those that lie slightly beyond reach. See, for example, asteroid capture: just one of the rocks currently circling this planet contains minerals worth over $100 trillion – significantly more than the current world GDP. The discovery of relatively small mining resources have previously caused entire markets to crash: the increasingly feasible prospect of asteroid mining (by 2023 at current estimates) has now buoyed mass investment. Accelerationists look to acknowledge the successes of the current system – the ways in which it so efficiently and democratically motivates individual action towards mass structural ends – at the same time as a need to grasp its many failures: the manner in which it encourages competitive dissociation; the reliance of such a system on the economic stability of the few to support the precarity of the many; the short-termism of solutions which satisfy immediate needs and desires but have trouble imagining a future past the next electoral cycle.
Seeking alternatives to the current system by no means implies Luddism or arts and crafts social utopianism – an ethic which, anyway, it will happily recuperate, improve, and serve back to us with a cup of tea and a Mumford and Sons soundtrack. Instead it means ‘re-orientating’ the technological means we have at our disposal towards new ends, ones that do not acquiesce to our current limitations. It means ‘accelerating the process’, going further than has previously been thought possible, exceeding the bounds of the existing sphere of capital. Instead, Accelerationists merely insist, let’s not throw the technological baby out with the anti-capitalist bathwater. ‘Dog on a string’ anarchism, anti-capitalist protests, and the Occupy movement alike seemingly reject capitalism in its entirety, offering only temporary forms of ‘escapism’ as their answer. By contrast, Singleton talks of ‘escapology’, the art of escape through using our restrictive ties against themselves. Let’s emphasise the ‘craft’ in craftiness, the accelerationists say; let’s use the power of our imaginations once again.
Coffee is no longer the symbol of intellectualism, of pretentiousness, elitism, counter-culture, youth, and so on that it used to be – it is the taste of the multitude. Independent coffee-shops are the new sites of resistance, where we pay an extra 20p to pin our insurgent, anti-consumerist colours to the mast. How many business meetings are fuelled with lattes and Americanos? How much networking has been preceded by the phrase ‘shall we go for a coffee?’ This is where free trade meets fair trade: one aspect of a totalised, routinized, global system which collapses the ethics of social responsibility into liberal consumption, and to which There Is No Alternative. As Starbucks insist: it’s “good coffee karma”.
If 1968 was the moment of crisis that inaugurated the generalised momentum of counter-culture thinking, then ‘our’ moment of crisis came exactly forty years later, once cultural liberalism had reached its middle age, settled down, and decided to keep calm and carry on. The moments after 2008 may have been initially promising for anyone seeking new economic systems but it was not long before what Mark Fisher (2009) called ‘Capitalist Realism’ – i.e. the cultural impossibility of imagining an alternative – set in (let’s not forget that the most scathing critique levelled at Occupy protesters was that they should fancy a cup of coffee). It around this time that Benjamin Noys (2010) coined the term ‘accelerationism’ in his critical appraisal of a tendency towards ‘affirmation’ in post-structuralist thought after the fact. Both Fisher and Noys were present at the first ‘Accelerationism’ event at Goldsmiths in 2010, held amidst the on-going wave of occupations and protests over the rise in student fees (just a few weeks before the massive London ‘DemoLition’ march that ended in mayhem at Millbank) and a few months before the Arab spring erupted – both events frequently characterised by their ‘revolutionary’ deployment of social media and by a sense of lost opportunity. It is a sense which today, four years on, seems pervasive.
Both of these writers have new offerings out in the near future (both for Zero Books): the former’s Ghosts of My Life furthers his thoughts on hauntology, exploring the psychological and affective impact of ‘Retromania’, the nostalgic cultural trend towards seeking futures in the past that Simon Reynolds (2011) depicts as the cultural logic of capitalist realism; the latter (in Malign Velocities) continues his critique of acceleration in more detail, having previously applied it as an identification of forms of misdirected reaction to political failure that conflate the completed capitalist project with communism, displacing the proletarian subject with capital itself. Both writers draw attention to intertwining of psychological and political problems and the problem with basing your alternatives either too far in the past or too far in the future.
Certainly, it is easy to poke fun at the accelerationist project, particularly when it teasingly, dangerously, presents itself as a ‘political heresy’ (how daring! how sexy!). But as Patricia Reed notes in #accelerate’s closing chapter, it ‘has little to do with novelty […] indeed it is practically reformist – and since I’m not French this is not in essence a politically pejorative term’ – a sentiment with which last night’s event explicitly concurred. As a practical handbook for developing a new future, accelerationism is probably dead before it’s even begun (although perhaps it will one day be resurrected, in keeping with Fedorov’s hopes for our ancestors): it’s difficult to see these books being given much time at the IPPR. But as a theoretical toolbox (a platform even) for equipping new imaginations, and making us think harder about the relation to technology in the current era, about what might constitute progress in such conditions, and what kinds of culture befit this future – it certainly gives us something to think about over a coffee.
23 May 2014: Accelerationism: a workshop and a lecture, University of Westminster, Centre for the Study of Democracy, Regent Street
29 May 2014: Ghosts of My Life Book Launch, Café Oto, Dalston
Accelerationist Aesthetics, e-Flux #46, 2013
Benjamin Noys, ‘Intoxication and Acceleration‘
Extract from Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life
Read CMCI’s Sara De Benedictis on the WomenTheory blog: “Battling with boy theory at the big conference.”
WomanTheory are keen to welcome new people to post their stories. Click here to find out more: Submit your WomanTheory story
My first encounter of the dominance of boy theory and theorists at supposedly feminist informed and ‘friendly’ conferences was a shock to the system. When I was in my first year of my postgraduate degree I had the opportunity to go to a very large established Cultural Studies conference. The specificity of the conference, location and people are irrelevant. I am certain that this story will be familiar to many and could easily stand in for experiences that others have had. These stories tend to be silenced publically. You will not usually find the reporting of academic sexism at conferences on the (now obligatory) twitter hashtag. Rather these stories are told in hushed, angry tones between feminist friends and colleagues unable to compute the hypocrisy of the situation that they have witnessed; gender inequality playing out so palpably in sites that they should not.
I was fortunate that my experiences…
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Read Tamsyn Dent’s report on the panel she did with CMCI’s Bridget Conor and Natalie Wreyford at the Doing Women’s Film and Television History Conference 2014. The panel was entitled “Forget the female, take that away from my job title, I’m a writer and I expect to be treated the same’: Challenging myths of participation in creative work. Reflecting too perhaps, Nicki Menaj’s comments yesterday that she no longer wants to be considered just a “female rapper”.
Conferences are a great way to get away from the computer screen, share ideas, thoughts on research and catch up with other academics from related fields so I felt very honoured to have a paper accepted as part of a panel presentation on the 2nd ‘Doing Women’s Film and Television History’ conference organised by a committee of academics from the Women’s Film and Television History Network (click on link to take you straight to their site).
The purpose of this conference is to provide a space for academics, activists and industry professionals to consider the specific contribution of women to film and television. Given that women have been significantly contributing to film and television for over a hundred years, it is perhaps a little depressing that this is only the second year that the conference has been running but here’s hoping that its scope and status continues to develop into…
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Hannah Hamad reports on the ‘Sex and the City Ten Years On’ conference at the University of Roehampton:
“Springtime in London [it’s not New York but… ]. It’s the tenth anniversary of the broadcast of the final season of Sex and the City (1998-2004), I’m gathered with a group of scholars for a conference exploring its cultural afterlife, and I can’t help but wonder… Have scholars said everything there is to say about Sex and the City? [not at all] What is its legacy for television and the cultural landscape?[complex and multi-faceted] And will every paper be full of rhetorical questions and delivered in the style of one of Carrie Bradshaw’s ponderous columns? [mercifully not]…”
Hannah Hamad is Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London. She is the author ofPostfeminism and Paternity in Contemporary US Film: Framing Fatherhood (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), as well as various articles on postfeminist media culture, UK reality TV, Hollywood cinema and contemporary stardom and celebrity.
Some more comments on the PhD identity at this site, usefully complementing my earlier post.
One of the things I’ve been trying really hard to get over is the notion of the doctoral ‘student’. This is by far the most common way to refer to people doing a PhD, and it’s pretty hard not to use the ‘s’ word when it’s all around you. I think of myself as a recovering ‘s’ word user. I lapse occasionally, but I’m trying hard not to.
I want to use the term doctoral researcher instead – or dr for short. So, dr – not yet Dr but on the way. Just insert title (case) and the transition is complete.
Now, there are good reasons why the ‘s’ word persists. There is a fee for doctoral study, and yes, doctoral researchers are enrolled at a university. So this makes them students, just like any other students, right?
Well yes. But on the other hand…
One reason I dislike the…
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The Great Hip Hop Hoax
Director Jeanie Finlay (2013)
The Great Hip Hop Hoax follows a rap duo from Dundee in Scotland who fabricate an elaborate story to secure a record deal. Following a humiliating audition in London where the pair are laughed at by a panel of judges for being Scottish rappers, they become more determined to make their dream come true. Billy Boyd and Gavin Bain reinvent themselves as brash and outlandish Silibil N’ Brains, who hail from California. As soon as the rappers fake American accents their fortunes turn. Booking agents, promoters and even music executives are soon duped by the pretence. Quickly touted as the ‘next big thing’, they land a contract with Sony, but the audacious masquerade and constant fear of being exposed as frauds takes its toll on the rappers. The film documents the astonishing true story of the duo’s rise to fame, their downfall, and the personal toll of the deception.
The film is made up of confessional interviews with the two rappers, as well as music industry personnel, close loved ones who were in on the hoax and others implicated in their web of lies. Intermingled with the unfolding narrative is shaky amateur footage shot by the rappers themselves, which captures the outlandish exploits of the pair following their first advance from Sony. In addition, stylised animation is deployed as a visual means to reconstruct the past. The animation also captures the two-dimensional nature of their rap characters.
At the heart of the story is the contentious issue of authenticity. To be taken seriously, the rappers feel the need to pretend they are from where the culture originates, the USA. Although substantial research on hip hop to date has emerged from the USA, there has been a shift in the last decade recognising hip hop as a global music. Tony Mitchell’s edited book Global Noise: Rap and Hip Hop Outside the USA (2001) arguably signalled the emergence of a body of scholarly work on rap, known as global hip hop studies (Alim et al., 2009). Since then, studies of localised hip hop scenes have been carried out all over the world recognising and celebrating the culture as a meaningful medium of expression and affiliation for youth. However, in the case of the music industry, it seems rap is only authentic if it is American and based on conventional, almost stereotypical, tropes of hip hop. As Gavin states in the film, “It has nothing to do with how good you are. If you want to get on a label, you have to be marketable.” Herein lies the tension between what is deemed ‘authentic’ and what ‘sells’.
For a music that holds ‘being true to oneself’ (Harkness, 2012) as a fundamental tenet of “keepin’ it real”, rappers who fabricate personas and live a lie portraying themselves as American, might immediately seem inauthentic. However, the documentary conveys the complex and often paradoxical nature of authenticity. If these two Scottish rappers wanted nothing more than to be hip hop stars, then perhaps we can understand them as ‘being true’ to that ideal. The contested and messy way in which authenticity can be interpreted and practised is what makes it such a highly charged issue in hip hop (Pennycook, 1997).
The essentialist debate of whether rappers are only considered authentic if they are from where the culture originates and fit the characteristics of the ‘original’ participants i.e. black, working-class and urban (Harkness, 2012) is not just limited to hip hop. There are similar debates in other genres, for instance country music (Peterson, 1997), blues (Grazian, 2003), punk (Williams, 2006) and dance music (Thornton, 1995). Furthermore, as the world becomes increasingly globalised and governed by capitalism, different music and cultural forms will continue to be appropriated and adopted in unlikely places across the globe, making questions of authenticity ever more salient.
Aside from the complicated questions raised about identity and authenticity, the story is also about friendship. Rather than experiencing a sense of condemnation or disapproval towards the main protagonists, the viewer feels sympathy for the young pair who were prepared to go to any length to reach their dreams, ultimately costing them their friendship. The interviews with Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd featured in the documentary had to be shot separately as they were not on speaking terms. The film is thus not just an entertaining account of rappers taking on the British music industry but a moving morality tale about friendship too.
The documentary will not solely be of interest to hip hop fans, but also to audiences interested in popular music or the music industry as the film provides a provocative insight into the way in which the artist-management system functions. Artists have a better chance of success with a well-known manager; though quite often have to relinquish rights to the label, perhaps unwittingly precipitating their downfall. The documentary will also appeal to scholars of authenticity because of the questions it raises concerning what constitutes the ‘real’ and ‘fake’, and the role of commercialisation in music.
The actual deception took place in 2004 leaving the inevitable question at the end of the film that if, ten years on, the pair would be able to ‘make it’ as Scottish rappers today. Although we are now living in a different cultural landscape, which celebrates hybridised and localised manifestations of hip hop, the documentary highlights the crippling power of the music industry. As long as it continues to exercise a controlling influence, in effect the music industry functions as the gatekeeper of authenticity.
Alim, H., Ibrahim, A., Pennycook, A. (eds.) (2009). Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language. London & New York: Routledge.
Grazian, D. (2003). Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Harkness, R. (2012). True School: Situational Authenticity in Chicago’s Hip Hop Underground. Cultural Sociology. 6(3) 283-298.
Mitchell, T. (2001). Global Noise: Rap and Hip-hop Outside the USA. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
Pennycook, A. (2007). Language, Localization, and the Real: Hip-Hop and the Global Spread of Authenticity. Journal of Language, Identity & Education 6(2) 101-115.
Peterson, R. A. (1997). Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Williams, J. (2006). Authentic Identities: Straightedge Subculture, Music and the Internet. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 25(2) 173-200.
Thorton, S. (1996). Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital. Hanover: University Press of New England.