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Notes From Arika 13: Episode 5

Last weekend in Glasgow ARIKA put on a range of events themed around the radical black arts tradition, under the title of Freedom is a Constant Struggle. It was good, and the best events were free. I’ve typed up some initial notes below, I’ll return to them all at some point in more detail.

Arika Participants

Participants: Amiri Baraka, Wadada Leo Smith, Sonia Sanchez, Henry Grimes, John Tilbury (Made by JA).

 There’s a good piece here by Harry Giles: ‘Madness, Freedom, Resistance: Three Stories’, talking about a necessary intervention he made after Fred Moten referred to G. W. Bush and other politicians of his generation as ‘mad’. As the article recalls, Moten’s response was subtle and correct – ‘lets not give them the power of madness, we may need madness for our own ends’ – ‘lets call them out by their name: bosses‘.

What I’ve outlined below is, as usual, simply another configuration of the perennial issues to be worked out if it is going to be possible for the arts to involve themselves (again?) in political change. I fall back on the idea that the best thing aesthetics can do is get rid of any delusion that it can act at all within or against politics. Rather it should be given over to the task of propaganda alone – which of course most art already is, propaganda for (or a tactic celebration of the values of) the bosses.

As for the claim that ‘art is always already political’ (just like ‘the personal is political’) well, sure, but only if you make it so.

There was, as always, some worrying naivete surrounding an ethic of expression – one that very quickly devolves into an individualistic vitalism focused upon the sanctity of experience and the body, along with the unconsidered pacifism that seems to follow from such a focus. Combine this with the elision of critique with rebellion, and we’re left with a carnival. As usual we need to be reminded: lets not be too enamored with ourselves, today is fun, but what do we do tomorrow when we wake up and nothing has changed?

The festival programming hinted and at times explicitly stated all this. The problem tended to be an audience which appeared overwhelmed and silent. There was no space for a considered and productive reaction – apart from the pub. No real problem with pubs mind. Despite all this, it felt important and forward looking, one of the best things I’ve seen in Glasgow in 7 years: Fred Moten was especially impressive.

This has been on repeat in my house for a week:

At one point there was an attempted re-configuration of the title Freedom is a Constant Struggle to Freedom is a Constant, Struggle. Its semi-profundity gave a ho humming aha! of support. Personally, I find this adjustment jarring. ‘Freedom’ (whatever we may mean) is not prior to the struggle. Constant freedom is a struggle, perhaps – but not even that. We may struggle, but it doesn’t necessarily make us free – sometimes it just gets worse.

One of the key discussions was around whether US radicals should vote for Obama after his increasing boss-ification: never in doubt, but surprisingly explicit with the ramping up of drone strikes (the UK government is also using drones), indifference to Palestine, and belligerence towards the Western targets of the day. There was a split between the older and younger generations over what should be done – especially in the light of the violent and traumatic struggle for the franchise in the Civil Rights era.

When we struggle we resolve our struggle into that for an object of desire, rather than for the possibility of desire itself. Was winning the vote really the nature of the of the Civil Rights struggles? Similarly, is the right to work and equal pay the sole target of the feminist movement?

Moten also commented that this event could not (or would not) have happened in the USA? Can this really be true? And for what reasons?

Notes from Freedom is a Constant Struggle: ‘Existence is Resistance’

  1. Initial horror: It’s not just that we don’t understand the world; the horror is that we are everyday building it against ourselves. We are using ourselves up on behalf of that which oppresses us.
  2. Art: Translating anger into art is exactly the sort of self-censoring activity which we should avoid – making art is not a slip up, a need, an outpouring: this conception is a liberal romantic affectation – it is a conscious activity involving the production of values, working within a constellation of valorization.
  3. Social horror: we believe we understand the intentions of our actions and the immediately accessible actions of our associates – but once these begin to act against and alongside each other they produce effects – first and second order – which are completely alien.
  4. Aleatoric art: what is the smallest (and largest) components of discourse (art, language, politics) which can be ‘random’, and what form or aspects of ‘randomness’ will it mobilize?
  5. Mazlo bullshit: art is a method of self-actualization.
  6. Social contract bullshit: ‘the vote’ as a mediation of the demands of a generation between revolution and conservation of the existing order. In the UK especially it is a translation of absolute monarchy into absolute parliamentarianism which was inadequate in its initial birth. Do we really have an obligation to vote because of the struggle – and blood – that has been fought in order to win it?
  7. Viability of art: Beckett/Bersani: should we try to construct a culturally non viable [valorizable] art?
  8. Recuperation: everything is potentially recuperated.
    1. Is everything potentially recuperated?
    2. Are those objects which it is possible to valorize (structurally, the structure of valorization vs. the structure of the object) and reproduce always valorized and produced?
    3. Is that which resists valorization destroyed? Immediately?
    4. What is the unnameable?
    5. What violence is done in order to name it?
  9. In the break: but it takes time and space for the ‘cultural dominant’ to recuperate objects – and the tactical technique – like a street-battle – must be to compress the structural and spatial space available to the cultural dominant and organs of recuperation – to negate their resources or overwhelm the productive capacity.
  10. Stability and Crisis: in a cultural/political economy which isn’t in crisis or contradiction – which is functioning properly – nothing that cannot be valorized is produced, and everything that is produced is valorized. Capitalism is the ability for contradictions to maintain and develop while value persists.
  11. Delusions: anti-careerist academics/artists are still providing a service for capital even when they avoid providing a commodity – one of entertainment and dissent-limitation.
  12. $£: cash articulates.
  13. Ensemble revolutions: the ‘ensemble’ as a cut-rate vanguard that dares not name itself: the most developed form of the ‘creative class’. Leninism.
    1. If you’re not in the mass you’re a bourgeois individualist.
    2. If you’re not in the ensemble you’re lonely.
    3. Find the self and kill it.
    4. You amplify within the ensemble, you do not dominate it.
    5. Rise within your class, no above it.’
    6. Class/ensemble aspirations are always recuperated as individual aspiration.
  14. Being serious: the bomb is the voice of the unheard. The riot is the joy.
  15. Armrests: churches have pews with no division between you and your neighbours arses. The social history of cinema is the history of the increasing individuation of seating arrangements. Arts spaces have individual cinema-style seats, but they’re never as comfortable as those in a multiplex. Small blessings.


where the theoreticians will become senses in their practice

where the theoreticians will not be seeing, hearing
where the theoreticians will sear, the theoretician is a seer
where the theoreticians will be seen and heard in their practice

where the theoreticians will touch themselves
where the theoreticians will become sensual in their practice

where the reverse will always be in excess
where the sequence is for nono and maxine
where reading and recite this scene to John Gwin, my daddy

where they go plot paradise, blue bolivar, boll and marvel
where mask and boll and cut and fry and groove

where the senses will become theoreticians in their practice

— Fred Moten, “where the blues began,” in Hughson’s Tavern