Friday, April 11, 2008

Be Realistic Demand the Impossible

In his visit to the UC Irvine campus today, McKenzie Wark discussed the legacy of the Situationists, as Alexander Galloway had done the week before. But in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Situationist International with an ongoing project that collects research and writing at, Wark is also noting what has been left out of other retrospectives, such as the 1997 issue of October. In thinking about the issue of "recuperation," Wark argues that the Situationists have "never been recuperated enough."

Specifically, Wark proposes to examine what has been "left out," which he describes as chiefly "The Women" (with a group that included Jacqueline de Jong, Alice Becker Ho, and Michele Bernstein) and "The North Africans," who played a major role in the story of the Situationists as members from the colonies and former colonies.

Rather than express an anxiety of influence, Wark seemed pleased to discover once unconscious parallels between major themes among Situationist writing and media-making and his own work in books like A Hacker Manifesto and The Virtual Republic. As Wark pointed out, for the Situationists a "central category is play" and they also grappled with a number of "struggles around copyright" and advocated for the view of culture as common property, even if their "discursive relationship to the gift" wasn't always -- as Derrida has said -- unproblematic. For those like Wark who came of age in graduate school during a time of a Critical Theory that he described as "attuned to the past" and very specific objects of study, in recent years the Situationists have seemed to offer a way to "turn it back out to new publics and practices." Since the Situationists refused to copyright their work, in an act of resistance against capitalism, they were also at one point ripped off by an Italian publisher who attempted to take advantage of their seeming failure to secure protective claims to their work. According to Wark, in the absence of a Creative Commons license, this group of theorists had to resort to threats of physical violence in order to persuade the would-be opportunist not to reprint their work contrary to their wishes.

Given the criticisms of Geert Lovink in Zero Comments, I was interested in Wark's argument that blog software was not naturally well-designed for "theory," because the genre of the blog is best suited to "confession" and "argument." He described the irony of the embrace of the blog "Stuff White People Like" by the mainstream media establishment, because he described it as "about class not race."

At the same time, theoretical works appearing in print seemed to be suffering from what Charles Bernstein described as "frame lock" and "tone jam," when Wark argued what was needed was the equivalent of a bit torrent approach.

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