August 29, 2018

M. NourbeSe Philip Quote


It was during those lectures I heard one of the truisms that form part of the canon on African art, and one which helps foster another type of erasure - this time about Western art. It also reveals how useful African art and primitivism have become as countercultural alternatives to Western art practices.

African art is functional, inseparable from the social order, the argument goes, vis-à-vis the Western art tradition where art by designation is what we have come to understand art to mean. Integral to this approach is the belief that art exists here in the West over and above the social order - often apart from the social order. The commodity value assigned to art - and to the artist - makes it a part of the economy, but essentially it is a thing apart - alien, alienated and, at times, alienating.

It is, however, integral to the concept and understanding of art here in the West, that its connection to the social matrix - to labour, history and politics - not be seen, acknowledged or articulated. Which is where the African and Oceanic - the primitive - has served such a useful purpose, for with the primitive, the cultural connections between art and the social fabric - although irrevocably torn - could be clearly seen and held up as a significant difference from the Western tradition.

On the one hand, the cultural object forcibly torn out of its context, assigned artistic value and meaning, and reinterpreted as functional - an integral part of the social order; on the other, the cultural object still within its context, but with its connections to the social fabric hidden or obliterated. What are, in fact, flip sides of the same coin are presented as radical differences.

- M. NourbeSe Philip, from Blank: Essays & Interviews

August 28, 2018

keyon gaskin: "You can get it how i decide to give it to you, but you can't get it like you want it. Now what?"


i haven't always normative access to this world, being in my body, being how i am. It has everything to do with being queer, punk, anti-professional, anti-capitalist. i've been refused access the whole time, and now you want to access me? You can get it how i decide to give it to you, but you can't get it like you want it. Now what?

But i'm also not invested in my success, and this is also a big part of my practice that i hold onto. Look, i can die poor and nobody can know my work. i love my family and friends, eating, being by the water, enjoying existence. i am a very resourceful person and i'll be fine. i don't need your institution to validate me.

- keyon gaskin

[From: keyon gaskin in conversation with Essence Harden.]


August 19, 2018

David Graeber Quote


In the 19th century idea of the political vanguard was used very widely and very loosely for anyone seen as exploring the path to a future, free society. Radical newspapers for example often called themselves “the Avant Garde”. It was Marx though who began to significantly change the idea by introducing the notion that the proletariat were the true revolutionary class — he didn’t actually use the term “vanguard” in his own writing — because they were the one that was the most oppressed, or as he put it “negated” by capitalism, and therefore had the least to lose by its abolition. In doing so, he ruled out the possibilities that less alienated enclaves, whether of artists or the sort of artisans and independent producers who tended to form the backbone of anarchism, had anything significant to offer. The results we all know. The idea of a vanguard party dedicated to both organizing and providing an intellectual project for that most-oppressed class chosen as the agent of history, but also, actually sparking the revolution through their willingness to employ violence, was first outlined by Lenin in 1902 in What Is to Be Done?; it has echoed endlessly, to the point where the SDS in the late ’60s could end up locked in furious debates over whether the Black Panther Party should be considered the vanguard of The Movement as the leaders of its most oppressed element. All this in turn had a curious effect on the artistic avant garde who increasingly started to organize themselves like vanguard parties, beginning with the Dadaists, Futurists, publishing their own manifestos, communiques, purging one another, and otherwise making themselves (sometimes quite intentional) parodies of revolutionary sects. (Note however that these groups always defined themselves, like anarchists, by a certain form of practice rather than after some heroic founder.) The ultimate fusion came with the Surrealists and then finally the Situationist International, which on the one hand was the most systematic in trying to develop a theory of revolutionary action according to the spirit of Bohemia, thinking about what it might actually mean to destroy the boundaries between art and life, but at the same time, in its own internal organization, displayed a kind of insane sectarianism full of so many splits, purges, and bitter denunciations that Guy Debord finally remarked that the only logical conclusion was for the International to be finally reduced to two members, one of whom would purge the other and then commit suicide. (Which is actually not too far from what actually ended up happening.)

The historical relations between political and artistic avant gardes have been explored at length by others. For me though the really intriguing questions is: why is it that artists have so often been so drawn to revolutionary politics to begin with? Because it does seem to be the case that, even in times and places when there is next to no other constituency for revolutionary change, the one place one is most likely to find one is among artists, authors, and musicians; even more so, in fact, than among professional intellectuals. It seems to me the answer must have something to do with alienation. There would appear to be a direct link between the experience of first imagining things and then bringing them into being (individually or collectively) — that is, the experience of certain forms of unalienated production — and the ability to imagine social alternatives; particularly, the possibility of a society itself premised on less alienated forms of creativity. Which would allow us to see the historical shift between seeing the vanguard as the relatively unalienated artists (or perhaps intellectuals) to seeing them as the representatives of the “most oppressed” in a new light. In fact, I would suggest, revolutionary coalitions always tend to consist of an alliance between a society’s least alienated and its most oppressed. And this is less elitist a formulation than it might sound, because it also seems to be the case that actual revolutions tend to occur when these two categories come to overlap. That would at any rate explain why it almost always seems to be peasants and craftspeople — or alternately, newly proletarianized former peasants and craftspeople — who actually rise up and overthrow capitalist regimes, and not those inured to generations of wage labor. Finally, I suspect this would also help explain the extraordinary importance of indigenous people’s struggles in that planetary uprising usually referred to as the “anti-globalization” movement: such people tend to be simultaneously the very least alienated and most oppressed people on earth, and once it is technologically possible to include them in revolutionary coalitions, it is almost inevitable that they should take a leading role.

- David Graeber, from The Twilight of Vanguardism


August 18, 2018

Maria Irene Fornes Quote


I think it’s more obvious when the fame stops and the person cannot continue putting out and putting out and putting out – and so the public or the press stop being flattering, and then it’s very painful. People can spend a year being famous, the talk of the town, and then, gradually, there is a kind of lessening of it until in the end there is none of it. It can destroy people. Almost like someone they adored died, or something inside them died. I saw that happen with a couple of people who were friends of mine. And I thought, I certainly would not ever wish not to be famous but if I ever am famous I promise myself to be very, very, careful.

- Maria Irene Fornes


August 17, 2018

Gustavo Esteva Quote


I was in the streets and I was participating in the reactions against the killings. But, still, I was very puzzled with a very intense moral conflict inside myself. I rushed to my Gandhi, the guy of non-violence, to read again and to try to understand myself. I discovered something that I had not read before. There is an interview with Gandhi and he talks with his son. There has been an attempt against Gandhi. And his son asks Gandhi, “Father, what should I do if there is a guy trying to kill you, comes against you and tries to kill you? Should I preach non-violence? Should I passively observe the situation? Or should I use my violence against him to stop the killing?” And Gandhi smiled and said, “Well, the only thing you must not do is to do nothing because if non-violence is the supreme virtue, to be cowardly is the worst of vices and you must not be a coward. You must do something. Passive resistance is not the best. Perhaps it is the only resource of the weak but the weak also have violence and they can use the violence as the last resource if they are the weak.” “Non-violence is for the strong,” said Gandhi. “It would be criminal if I preach non-violence to a mouse on the point of being devoured by a cat. If I am preaching non-violence to the Hindu it is because I don’t see why 300 million people are afraid of 150,000 British. Because they are strong, they should use non-violence.”

- Gustavo Esteva

[From Interview with Gustavo Esteva: The Society of the Different.]


August 15, 2018

Yasmin Nair Quote


Because I am actually, surprisingly, deeply optimistic. And I can give you historical examples. I’ll give you an example: when people talk about queer history, we tend to forget that there was a time, just to take the most recent history, there was a time in the 30s and 40s when to be outed as gay was the end of your life. And it was completely unrealistic to ever imagine a world where you could actually be out. And if that has changed today, to a degree, it is because we had relentless hope! [Laughter.] There’s this crazy optimism that we had. But if you fast-forward just a few decades, think about the ‘80s, and you think about the fact that the reason why we ever got anything resembling healthcare for queer people, the reason we got even just one motherfucking AIDS drug, ever, was that a whole ton of people—with many of whom I have many differences over marriage, since their radicalism turned out to be bound to a time and place—but a whole lot of very angry queers fucked up the system, and said “You can’t even conceive of the idea that I could die peacefully in a hospital, but I’m going to tell you that it has to be possible. You can’t even conceive of me as a person who deserves life, but I’m going to tell you that you need to work on pharmaceuticals for me.” I mean queer history has always been about demanding the impossible. And, you know, call it optimism, call it brashness, call it just a refusal to take no for an answer… So when people come to me and say, oh, you’re not being realistic, I want to ask, well, what motherfucking revolution has not been unrealistic?

- Yasmin Nair

[from An Interview with Yasmin Nair, Part Two: The Ideal Neoliberal Subject is the Subject of Trauma]


August 14, 2018

Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda Quote


But to argue that the imagination is or can be somehow free of race—that it’s the one region of self or experience that is free of race—and that I have a right to imagine whoever I want, and that it damages and deforms my art to set limits on my imagination—acts as if the imagination is not part of me, is not created by the same web and matrix of history and culture that made “me.” So to say, as a white writer, that I have a right to write about whoever I want, including writing from the point of view of characters of color—that I have a right of access and that my creativity and artistry is harmed if I am told I cannot do so—is to make a mistake. It is to begin the conversation in the wrong place. It is the wrong place because, for one, it mistakes critical response for prohibition (we’ve all heard the inflationary rhetoric of scandalized whiteness). But it is also a mistake because our imaginations are creatures as limited as we ourselves are. They are not some special, uninfiltrated realm that transcends the messy realities of our lives and minds. To think of creativity in terms of transcendence is itself specific and partial—a lovely dream perhaps, but an inhuman one.

- Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda, from On Whiteness and The Racial Imaginary


August 5, 2018

adrienne maree brown: "connection to each other is the most important thing to cultivate in the face of hopelessness..."


Understanding that you can be wrong, have been wrong, helps to increase the compassion needed to work through the emotional and material impacts of being wronged by another.

We often think that we must hold our position, regardless of what we learn or feel. But in fact, the opposite is true. We must learn to develop positions together, adapting to the changing conditions around us - sometimes this means we must relinquish our positions, to voice our feelings and thoughts, and hear and be influenced, by other people's opinions and information. Dialectical humanism suggests that mature humans actually need to be able to adjust beliefs and plans in the realm of changing conditions.

I know there is this idea that we grow less radical as we age, and that relinquishing radical positions is a way this manifests. This keeps people from allowing themselves to be open to their own new emotions, their new understandings. I think the truth is that, as we age, we realize the world is more complex, and we allow ourselves to get woven into that complexity. I am more radical now than I was ten years ago, although it may not look like it. I am more radical in my body, I am more radical in my clarity about the apocalyptic future and my belief that connection to each other is the most important thing to cultivate in the face of hopelessness - we don't want to cling to outdated paradigms; we want to cling to each other and shift the paradigms.

The world is changing all the time."

- adrienne maree brown, from Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Shaping Worlds


August 4, 2018

Six quotations on individualism


There is no ‘human individual.’ There is a psyche that is socialized and, in this socialization, in the final result, there is almost nothing individual in the true sense of the term.
– Cornelius Castoriadis, World in Fragments

Social emancipation is not the choice of community against individualism. The very opposition of community to individualism is pointless. A form of community is always a form of individuality at the same time.
– Jacques Rancière, Democracy, Equality, Emancipation in a Changing World

In the 1960s many people came to realize that in a truly revolutionary collective experience what comes into being is not a faceless or anonymous crowd or “mass” but, rather, a new level of being… in which individuality is not effaced but completed by collectivity. It is an experience that has now slowly been forgotten, its traces systematically effaced by the return of desperate individualisms of all kinds.
– Fredric Jameson, Brecht and Method

The trouble is, as soon as therapeutic schools start to formalize and professionalize their procedures they nearly always—advertently or not—enmesh themselves in interiorizing philosophies of one kind or another. There are in fact very few approaches to psychological therapy that don’t in some measure subscribe to individualist, idealist and/or what I call magical voluntarist positions. All such approaches have their foundation in a general cultural assumption that is in fact very hard to shake off—i.e., that fundamentally we are all individuals who just happen to find ourselves in societies. I suspect that it might be more accurate to say that fundamentally we are social creatures who just happen to feel as individuals.
– David Smail

The European bourgeoisie were progressive when they defended the individual from the excessive control of the father in the family and against the collective regulations of the church and feudal society. However, the capitalist system then went on to champion and protect the rights of the individual property owners against the rights of the mass of exploited workers and peasants. When capitalism had its impact on Africa in the colonial period, the idea of individualism was already in its reactionary phase. It was no longer serving to liberate the majority but rather to enslave the majority for the benefit of a few.
– Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

This is not to say there is no space for individual creation - I love the selfishness of closing the world out and unleashing the realm of my imagination and creativity. But how do we disrupt the constant individualism of creation when it comes to society, our shared planet, our resources?

The more people who cocreate the future, the more people whose concerns will be addressed from the foundational level in this world.

Meaningful collaboration both relies on and deepens relationship - the stronger the bond between the people or groups in collaboration, the more possibility you hold. In beginning this work, notice who you feel drawn to, and where you find ease. And notice who challenges you, who makes the edges of your ideas grow or fortify. I find that my best work has happened during my most challenging collaborations, because there are actual differences that are converging and creating more space, ways forward that serve more than one worldview.
– adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Shaping Worlds


August 2, 2018

adrienne maree brown: "Never a failure, always a lesson."


"In the study and practice of emergent strategy, there are core principles that have emerged and that guide me in learning and using this idea and method in the world. I gather them here with the expectation they will grow.

Small is good, small is all. (The large is a reflection of the small.)

Change is constant. (Be like water.)

There is always enough time for the right work.

There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it.

Never a failure, always a lesson.

Trust the People. (If you trust the people, they become trustworthy.)

Move at the speed of trust. Focus on the critical connections more than critical mass - build the resilience by building the relationships.

Less prep, more presence.

What you pay attention to grows."

- adrienne maree brown, from Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Shaping Worlds


August 1, 2018

Myung Mi Kim Quote


The undecidability of whether I am making a difference or not – that ambiguity is part of the answer. Part of the work of answering the question of social efficacy has to include the ambiguity. If you actually had an answer, you wouldn’t be taking in the whole full weight of the questions.

- Myung Mi Kim

[Taken from Generosity as Method: An Interview with Myung Mi Kim.]