Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Revolution in the Over-Developed World

Greetings from the University of Canberra, where
McKenzie Wark imageProfessor McKenzie Wark, from the New School NY, is speaking on avant-garde movements and implications of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He had strong competition, with an interesting lecture on 1930s European architecture in the next room. The introduction included a poem on the state of the USA and status of the indigenous embassy outside Parliament House.

Professor Wark started by pointing out that many thinkers of the 20th century were not formal academics, but on the periphery of academia. He then read "Square du Vert-Galant" from his graphic novel "The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International". He then outlined the Street Ethnography of Paris in the 1950s, with the delinquent end of Bohemianism and Unitary urbanism.

Professor Wark discussed the reclaiming of the common cultural property through (or in denial of) plagiarism. In a way this is a precursor of thinking about open access and creative commons. Somehwere in here The Society of the Spectacle (La Société du spectacle) by Guy Debord was mentioned.

Professor Wark then asked what it means to create groups. Those of the 1950s avant-garde movement were volatile, with groups forming, expelling members and reforming (reminds me of the factions of the modern political parties). He suggested that self organismic groups could be a useful part of modern pedagogy, teaching students that not all organizations are designed as a hierarchy.

After some readings from his latest book, Professor Wark came around to the occupy wall street movement. He argued that the modern commodity world was boring. There is an urge to break through the boundaries and simply occupy the public space. The Occupy Watt Street Movement was not making specific demands, simply "occupying" public open space. He pointed out that the open space occupied is not Wall Street and does not disrupt the stock exchange.

Professor Wark related Wall Street to the occupation of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He also suggested Twitter was not useful for revolution, as it can be used to spread false rumors.

Parts of Zuccotti Park have now been zoned by the occoupiers, with one area for non-denominational worship, and one near the library for information services. Professor Wark commented that many of the people at the protest in the park were at a loss to know what to do, as there was nothing to buy and no one to confront. He suggested that while the current movement has no clear political aim, the movement could be channeled to some aim (and that there may be some establishment reaction to this).

Professor Wark pointed out that most of the trading at "Wall Street" takes place on-line, with traders at distributed workstations. As a result the protest at Wall Street perhaps has the wrong symbolism. It occours to me that there has so far been no move to occupy the on-line manifestations of Wall Street. That would be more likely to result in a confrontation with authorities, as there are much clearer laws making it a crime to interfere with a networked computer system. The ACS is assisting the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) with Cyber Policy consultation. It is an interesting question as to the extent to which legitimate protest can be recognized and allowed for. Simply banning anything which looked like a protest would be very dangerous.

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