Medak, Mars & WHW
Public Library

Public Library

may • 2015
price 50 kn

This publication is realized along with the exhibition
Public Library • 27/5 –13/06 2015 • Gallery Nova • Zagreb
Izdavači / Publishers
Tomislav Medak • Marcell Mars •
What, How & for Whom / WHW
ISBN 978-953-55951-3-7 [Što, kako i za koga/WHW]
ISBN 978-953-7372-27-9 [Multimedijalni institut]
A Cip catalog record for this book is available from the
National and University Library in Zagreb under 000907085

With the support of the Creative Europe Programme of the
European Union

ZAGREB • ¶ May • 2015

Public Library

Marcell Mars, Manar Zarroug
& Tomislav Medak


Public Library (essay)
Paul Otlet


Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences
(Repertory — Classification — Office
of Documentation)
McKenzie Wark


Metadata Punk
Tomislav Medak
The Future After the Library
UbuWeb and Monoskop’s Radical Gestures


Marcell Mars,
Manar Zarroug
& Tomislav Medak

Public library (essay)

In What Was Revolutionary about the French Revolution? 01 Robert Darnton considers how a complete collapse of the social order (when absolutely
everything — all social values — is turned upside
down) would look. Such trauma happens often in
the life of individuals but only rarely on the level
of an entire society.
In 1789 the French had to confront the collapse of
a whole social order—the world that they defined
retrospectively as the Ancien Régime — and to find
some new order in the chaos surrounding them.
They experienced reality as something that could
be destroyed and reconstructed, and they faced
seemingly limitless possibilities, both for good and
evil, for raising a utopia and for falling back into
The revolution bootstraps itself.
01 Robert H. Darnton, What Was Revolutionary about the
French Revolution? (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press,
1996), 6.
02 Ibid.

Public library (essay)


In the dictionaries of the time, the word revolution was said to derive from the verb to revolve and
was defined as “the return of the planet or a star to
the same point from which it parted.” 03 French political vocabulary spread no further than the narrow
circle of the feudal elite in Versailles. The citizens,
revolutionaries, had to invent new words, concepts
… an entire new language in order to describe the
revolution that had taken place.
They began with the vocabulary of time and space.
In the French revolutionary calendar used from 1793
until 1805, time started on 1 Vendémiaire, Year 1, a
date which marked the abolition of the old monarchy on (the Gregorian equivalent) 22 September
1792. With a decree in 1795, the metric system was
adopted. As with the adoption of the new calendar,
this was an attempt to organize space in a rational
and natural way. Gram became a unit of mass.
In Paris, 1,400 streets were given new names.
Every reminder of the tyranny of the monarchy
was erased. The revolutionaries even changed their
names and surnames. Le Roy or Leveque, commonly
used until then, were changed to Le Loi or Liberté.
To address someone, out of respect, with vous was
forbidden by a resolution passed on 24 Brumaire,
Year 2. Vous was replaced with tu. People are equal.
The watchwords Liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood)04 were built through
03 Ibid.
04 Slogan of the French Republic,, n.d.,


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

literacy, new epistemologies, classifications, declarations, standards, reason, and rationality. What first
comes to mind about the revolution will never again
be the return of a planet or a star to the same point
from which it departed. Revolution bootstrapped,
revolved, and hermeneutically circularized itself.
Melvil Dewey was born in the state of New York in
1851.05 His thirst for knowledge was found its satisfaction in libraries. His knowledge about how to
gain knowledge was developed by studying libraries.
Grouping books on library shelves according to the
color of the covers, the size and thickness of the spine,
or by title or author’s name did not satisfy Dewey’s
intention to develop appropriate new epistemologies in the service of the production of knowledge
about knowledge. At the age of twenty-four, he had
already published the first of nineteen editions of
A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing
and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library,06 the classification system that still bears its
author’s name: the Dewey Decimal System. Dewey
had a dream: for his twenty-first birthday he had
announced, “My World Work [will be] Free Schools
and Free Libraries for every soul.”07
05 Richard F. Snow, “Melvil Dewey”, American Heritage 32,
no. 1 (December 1980),
06 Melvil Dewey, A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a
Library (1876), Project Gutenberg e-book 12513 (2004),
07 Snow, “Melvil Dewey”.

Public library (essay)


His dream came true. Public Library is an entry
in the catalog of History where a fantastic decimal08
describes a category of phenomenon that—together
with free public education, a free public healthcare,
the scientific method, the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, Wikipedia, and free software, among
others—we, the people, are most proud of.
The public library is a part of these invisible infrastructures that we start to notice only once they
begin to disappear. A utopian dream—about the
place from which every human being will have access to every piece of available knowledge that can
be collected—looked impossible for a long time,
until the egalitarian impetus of social revolutions,
the Enlightment idea of universality of knowledge,
and the expcetional suspenssion of the comercial
barriers to access to knowledge made it possible.
The internet has, as in many other situations, completely changed our expectations and imagination
about what is possible. The dream of a catalogue
of the world — a universal approach to all available
knowledge for every member of society — became
realizable. A question merely of the meeting of
curves on a graph: the point at which the line of
global distribution of personal computers meets
that of the critical mass of people with access to
the internet. Today nobody lacks the imagination
necessary to see public libraries as part of a global infrastructure of universal access to knowledge
for literally every member of society. However, the
08 “Dewey Decimal Classification: 001.”,, 27 October 2014,


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

emergence and development of the internet is taking place precisely at the point at which an institutional crisis—one with traumatic and inconceivable
consequences—has also begun.
The internet is a new challenge, creating experiences commonly proferred as ‘revolutionary’. Yet, a
true revolution of the internet is the universal access
to all knowledge that it makes possible. However,
unlike the new epistemologies developed during
the French revolution the tendency is to keep the
‘old regime’ (of intellectual property rights, market
concentration and control of access). The new possibilities for classification, development of languages,
invention of epistemologies which the internet poses,
and which might launch off into new orbits from
existing classification systems, are being suppressed.
In fact, the reactionary forces of the ‘old regime’
are staging a ‘Thermidor’ to suppress the public libraries from pursuing their mission. Today public
libraries cannot acquire, cannot even buy digital
books from the world’s largest publishers.09 The
small amount of e-books that they were able to acquire already they must destroy after only twenty-six
lendings.10 Libraries and the principle of universal
09 “American Library Association Open Letter to Publishers on
E-Book Library Lending”, Digital Book World, 24 September
10 Jeremy Greenfield, “What Is Going On with Library E-Book
Lending?”, Forbes, 22 June 2012,

Public library (essay)


access to all existing knowledge that they embody
are losing, in every possible way, the battle with a
market dominated by new players such as Amazon.
com, Google, and Apple.
In 2012, Canada’s Conservative Party–led government cut financial support for Libraries and
Archives Canada (LAC) by Can$9.6 million, which
resulted in the loss of 400 archivist and librarian
jobs, the shutting down of some of LAC’s internet
pages, and the cancellation of the further purchase
of new books.11 In only three years, from 2010 to
2012, some 10 percent of public libraries were closed
in Great Britain.12
The commodification of knowledge, education,
and schooling (which are the consequences of a
globally harmonized, restrictive legal regime for intellectual property) with neoliberal austerity politics
curtails the possibilities of adapting to new sociotechnological conditions, let alone further development, innovation, or even basic maintenance of
public libraries’ infrastructure.
Public libraries are an endangered institution,
doomed to extinction.
Petit bourgeois denial prevents society from confronting this disturbing insight. As in many other
fields, the only way out offered is innovative mar11 Aideen Doran, “Free Libraries for Every Soul: Dreaming
of the Online Library”, The Bear, March 2014, http://www.!free-libraries-for-every-soul/c153g.
12 Alison Flood, “UK Lost More than 200 Libraries in 2012”,
The Guardian, 10 December 2012, http://www.theguardian.


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

ket-based entrepreneurship. Some have even suggested that the public library should become an
open software platform on top of which creative
developers can build app stores13 or Internet cafés
for the poorest, ensuring that they are only a click
away from the catalog or the Google
search bar. But these proposals overlook, perhaps
deliberately, the fundamental principles of access
upon which the idea of the public library was built.
Those who are well-meaning, intelligent, and
tactfull will try to remind the public of all the many
sides of the phenomenon that the public library is:
major community center, service for the vulnerable,
center of literacy, informal and lifelong learning; a
place where hobbyists, enthusiasts, old and young
meet and share knowledge and skills.14 Fascinating. Unfortunately, for purely tactical reasons, this
reminder to the public does not always contain an
explanation of how these varied effects arise out of
the foundational idea of a public library: universal
access to knowledge for each member of the society produces knowledge, produces knowledge about
knowledge, produces knowledge about knowledge
transfer: the public library produces sociability.
The public library does not need the sort of creative crisis management that wants to propose what
13 David Weinberger, “Library as Platform”, Library Journal,
4 September 2012,
14 Shannon Mattern, “Library as Infrastructure”, Design
Observer, 9 June 2014,

Public library (essay)


the library should be transformed into once our society, obsessed with market logic, has made it impossible for the library to perform its main mission. Such
proposals, if they do not insist on universal access
to knowledge for all members, are Trojan horses for
the silent but galloping disappearance of the public
library from the historical stage. Sociability—produced by public libraries, with all the richness of its
various appearances—will be best preserved if we
manage to fight for the values upon which we have
built the public library: universal access to knowledge for each member of our society.
Freedom, equality, and brotherhood need brave librarians practicing civil disobedience.
Library Genesis,, Monoskop, UbuWeb
are all examples of fragile knowledge infrastructures
built and maintained by brave librarians practicing
civil disobedience which the world of researchers
in the humanities rely on. These projects are re-inventing the public library in the gap left by today’s
institutions in crisis.
Library Genesis15 is an online repository with over
a million books and is the first project in history to
offer everyone on the Internet free download of its
entire book collection (as of this writing, about fifteen terabytes of data), together with the all metadata
(MySQL dump) and PHP/HTML/Java Script code
for webpages. The most popular earlier reposito15 See


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

ries, such as Gigapedia (later, handled
their upload and maintenance costs by selling advertising space to the pornographic and gambling
industries. Legal action was initiated against them,
and they were closed.16 News of the termination of
Gigapedia/ strongly resonated among
academics and book enthusiasts circles and was
even noted in the mainstream Internet media, just
like other major world events. The decision by Library Genesis to share its resources has resulted
in a network of identical sites (so-called mirrors)
through the development of an entire range of Net
services of metadata exchange and catalog maintenance, thus ensuring an exceptionally resistant
survival architecture., started by the artist Sean Dockray, is
an online repository with over 50,000 books and
texts. A community of enthusiastic researchers from
critical theory, contemporary art, philosophy, architecture, and other fields in the humanities maintains,
catalogs, annotates, and initiates discussions around
it. It also as a courseware extension to the self-organized education platform The Public School.17
16 Andrew Losowsky, “, Book Downloading Site,
Targeted in Injunctions Requested by 17 Publishers,” Huffington Post, 15 February 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.
17 “The Public School”, The Public School, n.d.,

Public library (essay)


UbuWeb18 is the most significant and largest online
archive of avant-garde art; it was initiated and is lead
by conceptual artist Kenneth Goldsmith. UbuWeb,
although still informal, has grown into a relevant
and recognized critical institution of contemporary
art. Artists want to see their work in its catalog and
thus agree to a relationship with UbuWeb that has
no formal contractual obligations.
Monoskop is a wiki for the arts, culture, and media
technology, with a special focus on the avant-garde,
conceptual, and media arts of Eastern and Central
Europe; it was launched by Dušan Barok and others.
In the form of a blog Dušan uploads to Monoskop.
org/log an online catalog of curated titles (at the
moment numbering around 3,000), and, as with
UbuWeb, it is becoming more and more relevant
as an online resource.
Library Genesis,, Kenneth Goldsmith,
and Dušan Barok show us that the future of the
public library does not need crisis management,
venture capital, start-up incubators, or outsourcing but simply the freedom to continue extending
the dreams of Melvil Dewey, Paul Otlet19 and other
visionary librarians, just as it did before the emergence of the internet.

18 See
19 “Paul Otlet”, Wikipedia, 27 October 2014,


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

With the emergence of the internet and software
tools such as Calibre and “[let’s share books],”20 librarianship has been given an opportunity, similar to astronomy and the project SETI@home21, to
include thousands of amateur librarians who will,
together with the experts, build a distributed peerto-peer network to care for the catalog of available
knowledge, because
a public library is:
— free access to books for every member of society
— library catalog
— librarian
With books ready to be shared, meticulously
cataloged, everyone is a librarian.
When everyone is librarian, library is

20 “Tools”, Memory of the World, n.d.,
21 See
22 “End-to-End Catalog”, Memory of the World, 26 November 2012,

Public library (essay)


Paul Otlet

in the Bibliographical Apparatus
of the Sciences [1]
Repertory — Classification — Office
of Documentation
1. Because of its length, its extension to all countries,
the profound harm that it has created in everyone’s
life, the War has had, and will continue to have, repercussions for scientific productivity. The hour for
the revision of the old order is about to strike. Forced
by the need for economies of men and money, and
by the necessity of greater productivity in order to
hold out against all the competition, we are going to
have to introduce reforms into each of the branches
of the organisation of science: scientific research, the
preservation of its results, and their wide diffusion.
Everything happens simultaneously and the distinctions that we will introduce here are only to
facilitate our thinking. Always adjacent areas, or
even those that are very distant, exert an influence
on each other. This is why we should recognize the
impetus, growing each day even greater in the organisation of science, of the three great trends of
our times: the power of associations, technological
progress and the democratic orientation of institutions. We would like here to draw attention to some
of their consequences for the book in its capacity

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


as an instrument for recording what has been discovered and as a necessary means for stimulating
new discoveries.
The Book, the Library in which it is preserved,
and the Catalogue which lists it, have seemed for
a long time as if they had achieved their heights of
perfection or at least were so satisfactory that serious
changes need not be contemplated. This may have
been so up to the end of the last century. But for a
score of years great changes have been occurring
before our very eyes. The increasing production of
books and periodicals has revealed the inadequacy of
older methods. The increasing internationalisation
of science has required workers to extend the range
of their bibliographic investigations. As a result, a
movement has occurred in all countries, especially
Germany, the United States and England, for the
expansion and improvement of libraries and for
an increase in their numbers. Publishers have been
searching for new, more flexible, better-illustrated,
and cheaper forms of publication that are better-coordinated with each other. Cataloguing enterprises
on a vast scale have been carried out, such as the
International Catalogue of Scientific Literature and
the Universal Bibliographic Repertory. [2]
Three facts, three ideas, especially merit study
for they represent something really new which in
the future can give us direction in this area. They
are: The Repertory, Classification and the Office of


Paul Otlet

2. The Repertory, like the book, has gradually been
increasing in size, and improvements in it suggest
the emergence of something new which will radically modify our traditional ideas.
From the point of view of form, a book can be
defined as a group of pages cut to the same format
and gathered together in such a way as to form a
whole. It was not always so. For a long time the
Book was a roll, a volumen. The substances which
then took the place of paper — papyrus and parchment — were written on continuously from beginning to end. Reading required unrolling. This was
certainly not very practical for the consultation of
particular passages or for writing on the verso. The
codex, which was introduced in the first centuries of
the modern era and which is the basis of our present
book, removed these inconveniences. But its faults
are numerous. It constitutes something completed,
finished, not susceptible of addition. The Periodical
with its successive issues has given science a continuous means of concentrating its results. But, in
its turn, the collections that it forms runs into the
obstacle of disorder. It is impossible to link similar
or connected items; they are added to one another
pell-mell, and research requires handling great masses of heavy paper. Of course indexes are a help and
have led to progress — subject indexes, sometimes
arranged systematically, sometimes analytically,
and indexes of names of persons and places. These
annual indexes are preceded by monthly abstracts
and are followed by general indexes cumulated every
five, ten or twenty-five years. This is progress, but
the Repertory constitutes much greater progress.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


The aim of the Repertory is to detach what the
book amalgamates, to reduce all that is complex to
its elements and to devote a page to each. Pages, here,
are leaves or cards according to the format adopted.
This is the “monographic” principle pushed to its
ultimate conclusion. No more binding or, if it continues to exist, it will become movable, that is to
say, at any moment the cards held fast by a pin or a
connecting rod or any other method of conjunction
can be released. New cards can then be intercalated,
replacing old ones, and a new arrangement made.
The Repertory was born of the Catalogue. In
such a work, the necessity for intercalations was
clear. Nor was there any doubt as to the unitary or
monographic notion: one work, one title; one title,
one card. As a result, registers which listed the same
collections of books for each library but which had
constantly to be re-done as the collections expanded,
have gradually been discarded. This was practical
and justified by experience. But upon reflection one
wonders whether the new techniques might not be
more generally applied.
What is a book, in fact, if not a single continuous line which has initially been cut to the length
of a page and then cut again to the size of a justified
line? Now, this cutting up, this division, is purely
mechanical; it does not correspond to any division
of ideas. The Repertory provides a practical means
of physically dividing the book according to the
intellectual division of ideas.
Thus, the manuscript library catalogue on cards
has been quickly followed by catalogues printed on
cards (American Library Bureau, the Catalogue or


Paul Otlet

the Library of Congress in Washington) [3]; then by
bibliographies printed on cards (International Institute of Bibliography, Concilium Bibliographicum)
[4]; next, indices of species have been published on
cards (Index Speciorum) [5]. We have moved from
the small card to the large card, the leaf, and have
witnessed compendia abandoning the old form for
the new (Jurisclasseur, or legal digests in card form).
Even the idea of the encyclopedia has taken this
form (Nelson’s Perpetual Cyclopedia [6]).
Theoretically and technically, we now have in
the Repertory a new instrument for analytically or
monographically recording data, ideas, information. The system has been improved by divisionary cards of various shapes and colours, placed in
such a way that they express externally the outline
of the classification being used and reduce search
time to a minimum. It has been improved further
by the possibility of using, by cutting and pasting,
materials that have been printed on large leaves or
even books that have been published without any
thought of repertories. Two copies, the first providing the recto, the second the verso, can supply
all that is necessary. One has gone even further still
and, from the example of statistical machines like
those in use at the Census of Washington (sic) [7],
extrapolated the principle of “selection machines”
which perform mechanical searches in enormous
masses of materials, the machines retaining from
the thousands of cards processed by them only those
related to the question asked.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


3. But such a development, like the Repertory before it, presupposes a classification. This leads us to
examine the second practical idea that is bringing
about the transformation of the book.
Classification plays an enormous role in scientific thought. If one could say that a science was a
well-made language, one could equally assert that
it is a completed classification. Science is made up
of verified facts which are organised in a structure
of systems, hypotheses, theories, laws. If there is
a certain order in things, it is necessary to have it
also in science which reflects and explains nature.
That is why, since the time of Greek thought until
the present, constant efforts have been made to improve classification. These have taken three principal directions: classification studied as an activity
of the mind; the general classification and sequence
of the sciences; the systematization appropriate to
each discipline. The idea of order, class, genus and
species has been studied since Aristotle, in passing
by Porphyrus, by the scholastic philosophers and by
modern logicians. The classification of knowledge
goes back to the Greeks and owes much to the contributions of Bacon and the Renaissance. It was posed
as a distinct and separate problem by D’Alembert
and the Encyclopédie, and by Ampère, Comte, and
Spencer. The recent work of Manouvrier, Durand
de Cros, Goblot, Naville, de la Grasserie, has focussed on various aspects of it. [8] As to systematics,
one can say that this has become the very basis of
the organisation of knowledge as a body of science.
When one has demonstrated the existence of 28 million stars, a million chemical compounds, 300,000


Paul Otlet

vegetable species, 200,000 animal species, etc., it is
necessary to have a means, an Ariadne’s thread, of
finding one’s way through the labyrinth formed by
all these objects of study. Because there are sciences of beings as well as sciences of phenomena, and
because they intersect with each other as we better
understand the whole of reality, it is necessary that
this means be used to retrieve both. The state of development of a science is reflected at any given time
by its systematics, just as the general classification
of the sciences reflects the state of development of
the encyclopedia, of the philosophy of knowledge.
The need has been felt, however, for a practical
instrument of classification. The classifications of
which we have just spoken are constantly changing, at least in their detail if not in broad outline. In
practice, such instability, such variability which is
dependent on the moment, on schools of thought
and individuals, is not acceptable. Just as the Repertory had its origin in the catalogue, so practical
classification originated in the Library. Books represent knowledge and it is necessary to arrange them
in collections. Schemes for this have been devised
since the Middle Ages. The elaboration of grand
systems occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries
and some new ones were added in the 19th century. But when bibliography began to emerge as an
autonomous field of study, it soon began to develop
along the lines of the catalogue of an ideal library
comprising the totality of what had been published.
From this to drawing on library classifications was
but a step, and it was taken under certain conditions
which must be stressed.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


Up to the present time, 170 different classifications
have been identified. Now, no cooperation is possible if everyone stays shut up in his own system. It
has been necessary, therefore, to choose a universal
classification and to recommend it as such in the
same way that the French Convention recognized
the necessity of a universal system of weights and
measures. In 1895 the first International Conference
of Bibliography chose the Decimal Classification
and adopted a complete plan for its development. In
1904, the edition of the expanded tables appeared. A
new edition was being prepared when the war broke
out Brussels, headquarters of the International Institute of Bibliography, which was doing this work,
was part of the invaded territory.
In its latest state, the Decimal Classification has
become an instrument of great precision which
can meet many needs. The printed tables contain
33,000 divisions and they have an alphabetical index consisting of about 38,000 words. Learning is
here represented in its entire sweep: the encyclopedia of knowledge. Its principle is very simple. The
empiricism of an alphabetical classification by subject-heading cannot meet the need for organising
and systematizing knowledge. There is scattering;
there is also the difficulty of dealing with the complex expressions which one finds in the modern terminology of disciplines like medicine, technology,
and the social sciences. Above all, it is impossible
to achieve any international cooperation on such
a national basis as language. The Decimal Classification is a vast systematization of knowledge, “the
table of contents of the tables of contents” of all


Paul Otlet

treatises. But, as it would be impossible to find a
particular subject’s relative place by reference to
another subject, a system of numbering is needed.
This is decimal, which an example will make clear.
Optical Physiology would be classified thus:
5 th Class
3rd Group
5th Division
7th Sub-division

Natural Sciences
Optical Physiology

or 535.7
This number 535.7 is called decimal because all
knowledge is taken as one of which each science is
a fraction and each individual subject is a decimal
subdivided to a lesser or greater degree. For the sake
of abbreviation, the zero of the complete number,
which would be 0.5357, has been suppressed because
the zero would be repeated in front of each number.
The numbers 5, 3, 5, 7 (which one could call five hundred and thirty-five point seven and which could
be arranged in blocks of three as for the telephone,
or in groups of twos) form a single number when
the implied words, “class, group, division and subdivision,” are uttered.
The classification is also called decimal because
all subjects are divided into ten classes, then each
of these into at least ten groups, and each group
into at least ten divisions. All that is needed for the
number 535.7 always to have the same meaning is
to translate the tables into all languages. All that is
needed to deal with future scientific developments

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


in optical physiology in all of its ramifications is to
subdivide this number by further decimal numbers
corresponding to the subdivisions of the subject
Finally, all that is needed to ensure that any document or item pertaining to optical physiology finds
its place within the sum total of scientific subjects
is to write this number on it In the alphabetic index
to the tables references are made from each word
to the classification number just as the index of a
book refers to page numbers.
This first remarkable principle of the decimal
classification is generally understood. Its second,
which has been introduced more recently, is less
well known: the combination of various classification numbers whenever there is some utility in expressing a compound or complex heading. In the
social sciences, statistics is 31 and salaries, 331.2. By
a convention these numbers can be joined by the
simple sign : and one may write 31:331.2 statistics
of salaries.01
This indicates a general relationship, but a subject also has its place in space and time. The subject
may be salaries in France limited to a period such as
the 18th century (that is to say, from 1700 to 1799).
01 The first ten divisions are: 0 Generalities, 1 Philosophy, 2
Religion, 3 Social Sciences, 4 Philology, Language, 5 Pure
Sciences, 6 Applied Science, Medicine, 7 Fine Arts, 8 Literature, 9 History and Geography. The Index number 31 is
derived from: 3rd class social sciences, 1st group statistics. The
Index number 331.2 is derived from 3rd class social sciences,
3rd group political economy, 1st division topics about work,
2nd subdivision salaries.


Paul Otlet

The sign that characterises division by place being
the parenthesis and that by time quotation marks
or double parentheses, one can write:
33:331.2 (44) «17» statistics — of salaries — in
France — in the 17th century
or ten figures and three signs to indicate, in terms
of the universe of knowledge, four subordinated
headings comprising 42 letters. And all of these
numbers are reversible and can be used for geographic or chronologic classification as well as for
subject classification:
(44) 31:331.2 «17»
France — Statistics — Salaries — 17th Century
«17» (44) 31:331.2
17th Century — France — Statistics — Salaries
The subdivisions of relation and location explained
here, are completed by documentary subdivisions
for the form and the language of the document (for
example, periodical, in Italian), and by functional
subdivisions (for example, in zoology all the divisions by species of animal being subdivided by biological aspects). It follows by virtue of the law of
permutations and combinations that the present
tables of the classification permit the formulation
at will of millions of classification numbers. Just as
arithmetic does not give us all the numbers readymade but rather a means of forming them as we
need them, so the classification gives us the means

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


of creating classification numbers insofar as we have
compound headings that must be translated into a
notation of numbers.
Like chemistry, mathematics and music, bibliography thus has its own extremely simple notations:
numbers. Immediately and without confusion, it
allows us to find a place for each idea, for each thing
and consequently for each book, article, or document and even for each part of a book or document
Thus it allows us to take our bearings in the midst
of the sources of knowledge, just as the system of
geographic coordinates allows us to take our bearings on land or sea.
One may well imagine the usefulness of such a
classification to the Repertory. It has rid us of the
difficulty of not having continuous pagination. Cards
to be intercalated can be placed according to their
class number and the numbering is that of tables
drawn up in advance, once and for all, and maintained with an unvarying meaning. As the classification has a very general use, it constitutes a true
documentary classification which can be used in
various kinds of repertories: bibliographic repertories; catalogue-like repertories of objects, persons,
phenomena; and documentary repertories of files
made up of written or printed materials of all kinds.
The possibility can be envisaged of encyclopedic
repertories in which are registered and integrated
the diverse data of a scientific field and which draw
for this purpose on materials published in periodicals. Let each article, each report, each item of news
henceforth carry a classification number and, automatically, by clipping, encyclopedias on cards can


Paul Otlet

be created in which all the results of international
scientific cooperation are brought together at the
same number. This constitutes a profound change
in the technology of the Book, since the repertory
thus formed is simultaneously a constantly up-dated book and a cooperative book in which are found
printed elements produced in all locations.
4. If we can realize the third idea, the Office of Documentation, then reform will be complete. Such an
office is the old library, but adapted to a new function. Hitherto the library has been a museum of
books. Works were preserved in libraries because
they were precious objects. Librarians were keepers.
Such establishments were not organised primarily
for the use of documents. Moreover, their outmoded
regulations if they did not exclude the most modern
forms of publication at least did not admit them.
They have poor collections of journals; collections
of newspapers are nearly nonexistent; photographs,
films, phonograph discs have no place in them, nor
do film negatives, microscopic slides and many other “documents.” The subject catalogue is considered
secondary in the library so long as there is a good
register for administrative purposes. Thus there is
little possibility of developing repertories in the
library, that is to say of taking publications to pieces and redistributing them in a more directly and
quickly accessible form. For want of personnel to
arrange them, there has not even been a place for
the cards that are received already printed.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


The Office of Documentation, on the contrary, is
conceived of in such a way as to achieve all that is
lacking in the library. Collections of books are the
necessary basis for it, but books, far from being
considered as finished products, are simply materials which must be developed more fully. This
development consists in establishing the connections each individual book has with all of the other
books and forming from them all what might be
called The Universal Book. It is for this that we use
repertories: bibliographic repertories; repertories of
documentary dossiers gathering pamphlets and extracts together by subject; catalogues; chronological
repertories of facts or alphabetical ones of names;
encyclopedic repertories of scientific data, of laws,
of patents, of physical and technical constants, of
statistics, etc. All of these repertories will be set up
according to the method described above and arranged by the same universal classification. As soon
as an organisation to contain these repertories is
created, the Office of Documentation, one may be
sure that what happened to the book when libraries
first opened — scientific publication was regularised
and intensified — will happen to them. Then there
will be good reason for producing in bibliographies,
catalogues, and above all in books and periodicals
themselves, the rational changes which technology and the creative imagination suggest. What is
still an exception today will be common tomorrow.
New possibilities will exist for cooperative work
and for the more effective organisation of science.


Paul Otlet

5. Repertory, Classification, Office of Documentation are therefore the three related elements of a
single reform in our methods of registering scientific discoveries and making them available to the
greatest number of people. Already one must speak
less of experiments and uncertain trials than of the
beginning of serious achievement. The International Institute of Bibliography in Brussels constitutes
a vast intellectual cooperative whose members are
becoming more numerous each day. Associations,
scientific establishments, periodical publications,
scientific and technical workers of every kind are
affiliating with it. Its repertories contain millions of
cards. There are sections in several countries02 . But
this was before the War. Since its outbreak, a movement in France, England and the United States has
been emerging everywhere to improve the organisation of the Book. The Office of Documentation has
been suggested as the solution for the requirements
that have been discussed.
It is important that the world of science and
technology should support this movement and
above all that it should endeavour to apply the new
methods to the works which it will be necessary to
re-organise. Among the most important of these is
the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature,
that fine and great work begun at the initiative of the
Royal Society of London. Until now, this work has
02 In France, the Bureau Bibliographique de Paris and great
associations such as the Société pour l’encouragement de
l’industrie nationale, l’Association pour l’avancement des
sciences, etc., are affiliated with it.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


been carried on without relation to other works of
the same kind: it has not recognised the value of a
card repertory or a universal classification. It must
recognise them in the future.03 ❧

03 See Paul Otlet, “La Documentation et I’information au service de I’industrie”, Bulletin de la Société d’encouragement
de l’industrie nationale, June 1917. — La Documentation au
service de l’invention. Euréka, October 1917. — L’Institut
International de Bibliographie, Bibliographie de la France,
21 December 1917. — La Réorganisation du Catalogue international de la littérature scientifique. Revue générale des
sciences, IS February 1918. The publications of the Institute,
especially the expanded tables of the Decimal Classification,
have been deposited at the Bureau Bibliographique de Paris,
44 rue de Rennes at the apartments of the Société de l’encouragement. — See also the report presented by General
Sebert (9] to the Congrès du Génie civil, in March 1918 and
whose conclusions about the creation in Paris of a National
Office of Technical Documentation have been adopted.


Paul Otlet

Editor’s Notes
[1] “Transformations operées dans l’appareil bibliographique
des sciences,” Revue scientifique 58 (1918): 236-241.
[2] The International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, an enormous work, was compiled by a Central Bureau under the
sponsorship of the Royal Society from material sent in from
Regional Bureaus around the world. It was published annually beginning in 1902 in 17 parts each corresponding to
a major subject division and comprising one or more volumes. Publication was effectively suspended in 1914. By the
time war broke out, the Universal Bibliographic Repertory
contained over 11 million entries.
[3] For card publication by the Library Bureau and Library of
Congress, see Edith Scott, “The Evolution of Bibliographic
Systems in the United States, 1876–1945” and Editor’s Note
36 to the second paper and Note 5 to the seventh paper in
International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet, translated and edited by
W. Boyd Rayward. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990: 148–156.
[4] Otlet refers to the Concilium Bibliographicum also in Paper
No. 7, “The Reform of National Bibliographies...” in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected
Essays of Paul Otlet. See also Editor’s Note 5 in that paper
for the major bibliographies published by the Concilium
[5] A possible example of what Otlet is referring to here is the
Gray Herbarium Index. This was “planned to provide cards
for all the names of vascular plant taxa attributable to the

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


Western Hemisphere beginning with the literature of 1886”
(Gray Herbarium Index, Preface, p. iii). Under its first compiler, 20 instalments consisting in all of 28,000 cards were
issued between 1894 and 1903. It has been continued after
that time and was for many years “issued quarterly at the
rate of about 4,000 cards per year.” At the time the cards
were reproduced in a printed catalogue by G. K. Hall in 1968,
there were 85 subscribers to the card sets.
[6] Nelson’s Perpetual Loose-Leaf Encylcopedia was a popular,
12-volume work which went through many editions, its
principle being set down at the beginning of the century.
It was published in binders and the publisher undertook to
supply a certain number of pages of revisions (or renewals)
semi-annually after each edition, the first of which appeared
in 1905. An interesting reference presumably to this work
occurs in a notice, “An Encylcopedia on the Card-Index System,” in the Scientific American 109 (1913): 213. The Berlin
Correspondent of the journal reports a proposal made in
Berlin which contains “an idea, in a sense ... already carried
out in an American loose-leaf encyclopedia, the publishers
of which supply new pages to take the place of those that
are obsolete” (Nelsons, an English firm, set up a New York
branch in 1896. Publication in the U.S. of works to be widely
circulated there was a requirement of the copyright law.)
The reporter observes that the principle suggested “affords
a means of recording all facts at present known as well as
those to be discovered in the future, with the same safety
and ease as though they were registered in our memory, by
providing a universal encyclopedia, incessantly keeping
abreast of the state of human knowledge.” The “bookish”
form of conventional encyclopedias acts against its future
success. “In the case of a mere storehouse of facts the in-


Paul Otlet

finitely more mobile form of the card index should however
be adopted, possibly,” the author goes on making a most interesting reference, “in conjunction with Dr. Goldschmidt’s
Microphotographic Library System.” The need for a central
institute, the nature of its work, the advantages of the work
so organised are described in language that is reminiscent
of that of Paul Otlet (see also the papers of Goldschmidt
and Otlet translated in International Organisation and
Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet).
[7] These machines were derived from Herman Hollerith’s
punched cards and tabulating machines. Hollerith had
introduced them under contract into the U.S. Bureau of
the Census for the 1890 census. This equipment was later
modified and developed by the Bureau. Hollerith, his invention and his business connections lie at the roots of the
present IBM company. The equipment and its uses in the
census from 1890 to 1910 are briefly described in John H.
Blodgett and Claire K. Schultz, “Herman Hollerith: Data
Processing Pioneer,” American Documentation 20 (1969):
221-226. As they observe, suggesting the accuracy of Otlet’s
extrapolation, “his was not simply a calculating machine,
it performed selective sorting, an operation basic to all information retrieval.”
[8] The history of the classification of knowledge has been treated
in English in detail by E.C. Richardson in his Classification
Theoretical and Practical, the first edition of which appeared
in 1901 and was followed by editions in 1912 and 1930. A
different treatment is given in Robert Flint’s Philosophy as
Scientia Scientarium: a History of the Classification of the
Sciences which appeared in 1904. Neither of these works
deal with Manouvrier, a French anthropologist, or Durand

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


de Cros. Joseph-Pierre Durand, sometimes called Durand
de Cros after his birth place, was a French physiologist and
philosopher who died in 1900. In his Traité de documentation,
in the context of his discussion of classification, Otlet refers
to an Essai de taxonomie by Durand published by Alcan. It
seems that this is an error for Aperçus de taxonomie (Alcan,
[9] General Hippolyte Sebert was President of the Association française pour l’avancement des sciences, and the Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale. He had
been active in the foundation of the Bureau bibliographique
de Paris. For other biographical information about him see
Editor’s Note 9 to Paper no 17, “Henri La Fontaine”, in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge;
Selected Essays of Paul Otlet.

English translation of the Paul Otlet’s text published with the
permission of W. Boyd Rayward. The translation was originally
published as Paul Otlet, “Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences: Repertory–Classification–Office of
Documentation”, in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet, translated and
edited by W. Boyd Rayward, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990: 148–156.


Paul Otlet



public library


McKenzie Wark

Metadata Punk

So we won the battle but lost the war. By “we”, I
mean those avant-gardes of the late twentieth century whose mission was to free information from the
property form. It was always a project with certain
nuances and inconsistencies, but over-all it succeeded beyond almost anybody’s wildest dreams. Like
many dreams, it turned into a nightmare in the end,
the one from which we are now trying to awake.
The place to start is with what the situationists
called détournement. The idea was to abolish the
property form in art by taking all of past art and
culture as a commons from which to copy and correct. We see this at work in Guy Debord’s texts and
films. They do not quote from past works, as to do
so acknowledges their value and their ownership.
The elements of détournement are nothing special.
They are raw materials for constructing theories,
narratives, affects of a subjectivity no longer bound
by the property form.
Such a project was recuperated soon enough
back into the art world as “appropriation.” Richard
Prince is the dialectical negation of Guy Debord,

Metadata Punk


in that appropriation values both the original fragment and contributes not to a subjectivity outside of
property but rather makes a career as an art world
star for the appropriating artist. Of such dreams is
mediocrity made.
If there was a more promising continuation of
détournement it had little to do with the art world.
Détournement became a social movement in all but
name. Crucially, it involved an advance in tools,
from Napster to Bitorrent and beyond. It enabled
the circulation of many kinds of what Hito Steyerl
calls the poor image. Often low in resolution, these
détourned materials circulated thanks both to the
compression of information but also because of the
addition of information. There might be less data
but there’s added metadata, or data about data, enabling its movement.
Needless to say the old culture industries went
into something of a panic about all this. As I wrote
over ten years ago in A Hacker Manifesto, “information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains.”
It is one of the qualities of information that it is indifferent to the medium that carries it and readily
escapes being bound to things and their properties.
Yet it is also one of its qualities that access to it can
be blocked by what Alexander Galloway calls protocol. The late twentieth century was — among other
things — about the contradictory nature of information. It was a struggle between détournement and
protocol. And protocol nearly won.
The culture industries took both legal and technical steps to strap information once more to fixity
in things and thus to property and scarcity. Inter-


McKenzie Wark

estingly, those legal steps were not just a question of
pressuring governments to make free information
a crime. It was also a matter of using international
trade agreements as a place outside the scope of de­
mo­­cratic oversight to enforce the old rules of property. Here the culture industries join hands with the
drug cartels and other kinds of information-based
industry to limit the free flow of information.
But laws are there to be broken, and so are protocols of restriction such as encryption. These were
only ever delaying tactics, meant to shore up old
monopoly business for a bit longer. The battle to
free information was the battle that the forces of
détournement largely won. Our defeat lay elsewhere.
While the old culture industries tried to put information back into the property form, there were
other kinds of strategy afoot. The winners were not
the old culture industries but what I call the vulture
industries. Their strategy was not to try to stop the
flow of free information but rather to see it as an
environment to be leveraged in the service of creating a new kind of business. “Let the data roam free!”
says the vulture industry (while quietly guarding
their own patents and trademarks). What they aim
to control is the metadata.
It’s a new kind of exploitation, one based on an
unequal exchange of information. You can have the
little scraps of détournement that you desire, in exchange for performing a whole lot of free labor—and
giving up all of the metadata. So you get your little
bit of data; they get all of it, and more importantly,
any information about that information, such as
the where and when and what of it.

Metadata Punk


It is an interesting feature of this mode of exploitation that you might not even be getting paid for your
labor in making this information—as Trebor Scholz
as pointed out. You are working for information
only. Hence exploitation can be extended far beyond
the workplace and into everyday life. Only it is not
so much a social factory, as the autonomists call it.
This is more like a social boudoir. The whole of social
space is in some indeterminate state between public
and private. Some of your information is private to
other people. But pretty much all of it is owned by
the vulture industry — and via them ends up in the
hands of the surveillance state.
So this is how we lost the war. Making information free seemed like a good idea at the time. Indeed, one way of seeing what transpired is that we
forced the ruling class to come up with these new
strategies in response to our own self-organizing
activities. Their actions are reactions to our initiatives. In this sense the autonomists are right, only
it was not so much the actions of the working class
to which the ruling class had to respond in this case,
as what I call the hacker class. They had to recuperate a whole social movement, and they did. So our
tactics have to change.
In the past we were acting like data-punks. Not
so much “here’s three chords, now form your band.”
More like: “Here’s three gigs, now go form your autonomous art collective.” The new tactic might be
more question of being metadata-punks. On the one
hand, it is about freeing information about information rather than the information itself. We need
to move up the order of informational density and


McKenzie Wark

control. On the other hand, it might be an idea to
be a bit discreet about it. Maybe not everyone needs
to know about it. Perhaps it is time to practice what
Zach Blas calls infomatic opacity.
Three projects seem to embody much of this
spirit to me. One I am not even going to name or
discuss, as discretion seems advisable in that case.
It takes matters off the internet and out of circulation among strangers. Ask me about it in person if
we meet in person.
The other two are Monoskop Log and UbuWeb.
It is hard to know what to call them. They are websites, archives, databases, collections, repositories,
but they are also a bit more than that. They could be
thought of also as the work of artists or of curators;
of publishers or of writers; of archivists or researchers. They contain lots of files. Monoskop is mostly
books and journals; UbuWeb is mostly video and
audio. The work they contain is mostly by or about
the historic avant-gardes.
Monoskop Log bills itself as “an educational
open access online resource.” It is a component part
of Monoskop, “a wiki for collaborative studies of
art, media and the humanities.” One commenter
thinks they see the “fingerprint of the curator” but
nobody is named as its author, so let’s keep it that
way. It is particularly strong on Eastern European
avant-garde material. UbuWeb is the work of Kenneth Goldsmith, and is “a completely independent
resource dedicated to all strains of the avant-garde,
ethnopoetics, and outsider arts.”
There’s two aspects to consider here. One is the
wealth of free material both sites collect. For any-

Metadata Punk


body trying to teach, study or make work in the
avant-garde tradition these are very useful resources.
The other is the ongoing selection, presentation and
explanation of the material going on at these sites
themselves. Both of them model kinds of ‘curatorial’
or ‘publishing’ behavior.
For instance, Monoskop has wiki pages, some
better than Wikipedia, which contextualize the work
of a given artist or movement. UbuWeb offers “top
ten” lists by artists or scholars which give insight
not only into the collection but into the work of the
person making the selection.
Monoskop and UbuWeb are tactics for intervening in three kinds of practices, those of the artworld, of publishing and of scholarship. They respond to the current institutional, technical and
political-economic constraints of all three. As it
says in the Communist Manifesto, the forces for social change are those that ask the property question.
While détournement was a sufficient answer to that
question in the era of the culture industries, they try
to formulate, in their modest way, a suitable tactic
for answering the property question in the era of
the vulture industries.
This takes the form of moving from data to metadata, expressed in the form of the move from writing
to publishing, from art-making to curating, from
research to archiving. Another way of thinking this,
suggested by Hiroki Azuma would be the move from
narrative to database. The object of critical attention
acquires a third dimension, a kind of informational
depth. The objects before us are not just a text or an
image but databases of potential texts and images,
with metadata attached.


McKenzie Wark

The object of any avant-garde is always to practice the relation between aesthetics and everyday
life with a new kind of intensity. UbuWeb and
Monoskop seem to me to be intimations of just
such an avant-garde movement. One that does not
offer a practice but a kind of meta-practice for the
making of the aesthetic within the everyday.
Crucial to this project is the shifting of aesthetic
intention from the level of the individual work to the
database of works. They contain a lot of material, but
not just any old thing. Some of the works available
here are very rare, but not all of them are. It is not
just rarity, or that the works are available for free.
It is more that these are careful, artful, thoughtful
collections of material. There are the raw materials here with which to construct a new civilization.
So we lost the battle, but the war goes on. This
civilization is over, and even its defenders know it.
We live in among ruins that accrete in slow motion.
It is not so much a civil war as an incivil war, waged
against the very conditions of existence of life itself.
So even if we have no choice but to use its technologies and cultures, the task is to build another way
of life among the ruins. Here are some useful practices, in and on and of the ruins. ❧

Metadata Punk



public library


Tomislav Medak

The Future After the Library
UbuWeb and Monoskop’s
Radical Gestures

The institution of the public library has crystallized,
developed and advanced around historical junctures
unleashed by epochal economic, technological and
political changes. A series of crises since the advent
of print have contributed to the configuration of the
institutional entanglement of the public library as
we know it today:01 defined by a publicly available
collection, housed in a public building, indexed and
made accessible with a help of a public catalog, serviced by trained librarians and supported through
public financing. Libraries today embody the idea
of universal access to all knowledge, acting as custodians of a culture of reading, archivists of material
and ephemeral cultural production, go-betweens
of information and knowledge. However, libraries have also embraced a broader spirit of public
service and infrastructure: providing information,
01 For the concept and the full scope of the contemporary library
as institutional entanglement see Shannon Mattern, “Library
as Infrastructure”, Places Journal, accessed April 9, 2015,

The Future After the Library


education, skills, assistance and, ultimately, shelter
to their communities — particularly their most vulnerable members.
This institutional entanglement, consisting in
a comprehensive organization of knowledge, universally accessible cultural goods and social infrastructure, historically emerged with the rise of (information) science, social regulation characteristic
of modernity and cultural industries. Established
in its social aspect as the institutional exemption
from the growing commodification and economic
barriers in the social spheres of culture, education
and knowledge, it is a result of struggles for institutionalized forms of equality that still reflect the
best in solidarity and universality that modernity
had to offer. Yet, this achievement is marked by
contradictions that beset modernity at its core. Libraries and archives can be viewed as an organon
through which modernity has reacted to the crises
unleashed by the growing production and fixation
of text, knowledge and information through a history of transformations that we will discuss below.
They have been an epistemic crucible for the totalizing formalizations that have propelled both the
advances and pathologies of modernity.
Positioned at a slight monastic distance and indolence toward the forms of pastoral, sovereign or
economic domination that defined the surrounding world that sustained them, libraries could never
close the rift or between the universalist aspirations
of knowledge and their institutional compromise.
Hence, they could never avoid being the battlefield
where their own, and modernity’s, ambivalent epis-


Tomislav Medak

temic and social character was constantly re-examined and ripped asunder. It is this ambivalent
character that has been a potent motor for critical theory, artistic and political subversion — from
Marx’s critique of political economy, psychoanalysis
and historic avant-gardes, to revolutionary politics.
Here we will examine the formation of the library
as an epistemic and social institution of modernity
and the forms of critical engagement that continue
to challenge the totalizing order of knowledge and
appropriation of culture in the present.
Here Comes the Flood02
Prior to the advent of print, the collections held in
monastic scriptoria, royal courts and private libraries
typically contained a limited number of canonical
manuscripts, scrolls and incunabula. In Medieval
and early Renaissance Europe the canonized knowledge considered necessary for the administration of
heavenly and worldly affairs was premised on reading and exegesis of biblical and classical texts. It is
02 The metaphor of the information flood, here incanted in the
words of Peter Gabriel’s song with apocalyptic overtones, as
well as a good part of the historic background of the development of index card catalog in the following paragraphs
are based on Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines: About
Cards & Catalogs, 1548–1929 (MIT Press, 2011). The organizing idea of Krajewski’s historical account, that the index
card catalog can be understood as a Turing machine avant
la lettre, served as a starting point for the understanding
of the library as an epistemic institution developed here.

The Future After the Library


estimated that by the 15th century in Western Europe
there were no more than 5 million manuscripts held
mainly in the scriptoria of some 21,000 monasteries and a small number of universities. While the
number of volumes had grown sharply from less
than 0.8 million in the 12th century, the number of
monasteries had remained constant throughout that
period. The number of manuscripts read averaged
around 1,000 per million inhabitants, with the total
population of Europe peaking around 60 million.03
All in all, the book collections were small, access was
limited and reading culture played a marginal role.
The proliferation of written matter after the invention of mechanical movable type printing would
greatly increase the number of books, but also the
patterns of literacy and knowledge production. Already in the first fifty years after Gutenberg’s invention, 12 million volumes were printed, and from
this point onwards the output of printing presses
grew exponentially to 700 million volumes in the
18th century. In the aftermath of the explosion in
book production the cost of producing and buying
books fell drastically, reducing the economic barriers to literacy, but also creating a material vector
for a veritable shift of the epistemic paradigm. The
03 For an economic history of the book in the Western Europe
see Eltjo Buringh and Jan Luiten Van Zanden, “Charting
the ‘Rise of the West’: Manuscripts and Printed Books in
Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through
Eighteenth Centuries”, The Journal of Economic History 69,
No. 02 (June 2009): 409–45, doi:10.1017/S0022050709000837,
particularly Tables 1-5.


Tomislav Medak

emerging reading public was gaining access to the
new works of a nascent Enlightenment movement,
ushering in the modern age of science. In parallel
with those larger epochal transformations, the explosion of print also created a rising tide of new books
that suddenly inundated the libraries. The libraries
now had to contend both with the orders-of-magnitude greater volume of printed matter and the
growing complexity of systematically storing, ordering, classifying and tracking all of the volumes
in their collection. An once almost static collection
of canonical knowledge became an ever expanding
dynamic flux. This flood of new books, the first of
three to follow, presented principled, infrastructural and organizational challenges to the library that
radically transformed and coalesced its functions.
The epistemic shift created by this explosion of
library holdings led to a revision of the assumption
that the library is organized around a single holy
scripture and a small number of classical sources.
Coextensive with the emergence and multiplication of new sciences, the books that were entering
the library now covered an ever diversified scope
of topics and disciplines. And the sheer number of
new acquisitions demanded the physical expansion of libraries, which in turn required a radical
rethinking of the way the books were stored, displayed and indexed. In fact, the flood caused by the
printing press was nothing short of a revolution in
the organization, formalization and processing of
information and knowledge. This becomes evident
in the changes that unfolded between the 16th and
the early 20th in the cataloging of library collections.

The Future After the Library


The initial listings of books were kept in bound
volumes, books in their own right. But as the number of items arriving into the library grew, the constant need to insert new entries made the bound
book format increasingly impractical for library
catalogs. To make things more complicated still,
the diversification of the printed matter demanded
a richer bibliographic description that would allow
better comprehension of what was contained in the
volumes. Alongside the name of the author and the
book’s title, the description now needed to include
the format of the volume, the classification of the
subject matter and the book’s location in the library.
As the pace of new arrivals accelerated, the effort to
create a library catalog became unending, causing a
true crisis in the emerging librarian profession. This
would result in a number of physical and epistemic
innovations in the organization and formalization
of information and knowledge. The requirement
to constantly rearrange the order of entries in the
listing lead to the eventual unbinding of the bound
catalog into separate slips of paper and finally to the
development of the index card catalog. The unbound
index cards and their floating rearrangement, not
unlike that of the movable type, would in turn result in the design of filing cabinets. From Conrad
Gessner’s Bibliotheca Universalis, a three-volume
book-format catalog of around 3,000 authors and
10,000 texts, arranged alphabetically and topically,
published in the period 1545–1548; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s proposals for a universal library
during his tenure at the Wolfenbüttel library in the
late 17th century; to Gottfried van Swieten’s catalog


Tomislav Medak

of the Viennese court library, the index card catalog and the filing cabinets would develop almost to
their present form.04
The unceasing inflow of new books into the library
prompted the need to spatially organize and classify
the arrangement of the collection. The simple addition of new books to the shelves by size; canonical
relevance or alphabetical order, made little sense
in a situation where the corpus of printed matter
was quickly expanding and no individual librarian
could retain an intimate overview of the library’s
entire collection. The inflow of books required that
the brimming shelf-space be planned ahead, while
the increasing number of expanding disciplines required that the collection be subdivided into distinct
sections by fields. First the shelves became classified
and then the books individually received a unique
identifier. With the completion of the Josephinian
catalog in the Viennese court library, every book became compartmentalized according to a systematic
plan of sciences and assigned a unique sequence of
a Roman numeral, a Roman letter and an Arabic
numeral by which it could be tracked down regardless of its physical location.05 The physical location
of the shelves in the library no longer needed to be
reflected in the ordering of the catalog, and the catalog became a symbolic representation of the freely
re-arrangeable library. In the technological lingo of
today, the library required storage, index, search
and address in order to remain navigable. It is this
04 Krajewski, Paper Machines, op. cit., chapter 2.
05 Ibid., 30.

The Future After the Library


formalization of a universal system of classification
of objects in the library with the relative location of
objects and re-arrangeable index that would then in
1876 receive its present standardized form in Melvil
Dewey’s Decimal System.
The development of the library as an institution of
public access and popular literacy did not proceed
apace with the development of its epistemic aspects.
It was only a series of social upheavals and transformations in the course of the 18th and 19th century
that would bring about another flood of books and
political demands, pushing the library to become
embedded in an egalitarian and democratic political culture. The first big step in that direction came
with the decision of the French revolutionary National Assembly from 2 November 1789 to seize all
book collections from the Church and aristocracy.
Million of volumes were transferred to the Bibliothèque Nationale and local libraries across France.
In parallel, particularly in England, capitalism was
on the rise. It massively displaced the impoverished rural population into growing urban centers,
propelled the development of industrial production and, by the mid-19th century, introduced the
steam-powered rotary press into the book business.
As books became more easily, and mass produced,
the commercial subscription libraries catering to the
better-off parts of society blossomed. This brought
the class aspect of the nascent demand for public
access to books to the fore. After the failed attempts
to introduce universal suffrage and end the system
of political representation based on property entitlements in 1830s and 1840s, the English Chartist


Tomislav Medak

movement started to open reading rooms and cooperative lending libraries that would quickly become
a popular hotbed of social exchanges between the
lower classes. In the aftermath of the revolutionary
upheavals of 1848, the fearful ruling classes heeded
the demand for tax-financed public libraries, hoping
that the access to literature and edification would
ultimately hegemonize the working class for the
benefits of capitalism’s culture of self-interest and
The Avant-gardes in the Library
As we have just demonstrated, the public library
in its epistemic and social aspects coalesced in the
context of the broader social transformations of
modernity: early capitalism and processes of nation-building in Europe and the USA. These transformations were propelled by the advancement of
political and economic rationalization, public and
business administration, statistical and archival
procedures. Archives underwent a corresponding and largely concomitant development with the
libraries, responding with a similar apparatus of
classification and ordering to the exponential expansion of administrative records documenting the
social world and to the historicist impulse to capture the material traces of past events. Overlaying
the spatial organization of documentation; rules
06 For the social history of public library see Matthew Battles,
Library: An Unquiet History (Random House, 2014) chapter
5: “Books for all”.

The Future After the Library


of its classification and symbolic representation of
the archive in reference tools, they tried to provide
a formalization adequate to the passion for capturing historical or present events. Characteristic
of the ascendant positivism of the 19th century, the
archivists’ and librarians’ epistemologies harbored
a totalizing tendency that would become subject to
subversion and displacement in the first decades of
the 20th century.
The assumption that the classificatory form can
fully capture the archival content would become
destabilized over and over by the early avant-gardist
permutations of formal languages of classification:
dadaist montage of the contingent compositional
elements, surrealist insistence on the unconscious
surpluses produced by automatized formalized language, constructivist foregrounding of dynamic and
spatialized elements in the acts of perception and
cognition of an artwork.07 The material composition
of the classified and ordered objects already contained formalizations deposited into those objects
by the social context of their provenance or projected onto them by the social situation of encounter
with them. Form could become content and content
could become form. The appropriations, remediations and displacements exacted by the neo-avantgardes in the second half of the 20th century pro07 Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (MIT
Press, 2008) provides a detailed account of strategies that
the historic avant-gardes and the post-war art have developed toward the classificatory and ordering regime of the


Tomislav Medak

duced subversions, resignifications and simulacra
that only further blurred the lines between histories
and their construction, dominant classifications and
their immanent instabilities.
Where does the library fit into this trajectory? Operating around an uncertain and politically embattled universal principle of public access to knowledge
and organization of information, libraries continued being sites of epistemic and social antagonisms,
adaptations and resilience in response to the challenges created by the waves of radical expansion of
textuality and conflicting social interests between
the popular reading culture and the commodification of cultural consumption. This precarious position is presently being made evident by the third
big flood — after those unleashed by movable type
printing and the social context of industrial book
production — that is unfolding with the transition
of the book into the digital realm. Both the historic
mode of the institutional regulation of access and
the historic form of epistemic classification are
swept up in this transformation. While the internet
has made possible a radically expanded access to
digitized culture and knowledge, the vested interests of cultural industries reliant on copyright for
their control over cultural production have deepened the separation between cultural producers and
their readers, listeners and viewers. While the hypertextual capacity for cross-reference has blurred
the boundaries of the book, digital rights management technologies have transformed e-books into
closed silos. Both the decommodification of access
and the overcoming of the reified construct of the

The Future After the Library


self-enclosed work in the form of a book come at
the cost of illegality.
Even the avant-gardes in all their inappropriable
and idiosyncratic recalcitrance fall no less under
the legally delimited space of copyrightable works.
As they shift format, new claims of ownership and
appropriation are built. Copyright is a normative
classification that is totalizing, regardless of the
effects of leaky networks speaking to the contrary.
Few efforts have insisted on the subverting of juridical classification by copyright more lastingly than
the UbuWeb archive. Espousing the avant-gardes’
ethos of appropriation, for almost 20 years it has
collected and made accessible the archives of the
unknown; outsider, rare and canonized avant-gardes and contemporary art that would otherwise remained reserved for the vaults and restricted access
channels of esoteric markets, selective museological
presentations and institutional archives. Knowing
that asking to publish would amount to aligning itself with the totalizing logic of copyright, UbuWeb
has shunned the permission culture. At the level of
poetical operation, as a gesture of displacing the cultural archive from a regime of limited, into a regime
of unlimited access, it has created provocations and
challenges directed at the classifying and ordering
arrangements of property over cultural production.
One can only assume that as such it has become a
mechanism for small acts of treason for the artists,
who, short of turning their back fully on the institutional arrangements of the art world they inhabit,
use UbuWeb to release their own works into unlimited circulation on the net. Sometimes there might


Tomislav Medak

be no way or need to produce a work outside the
restrictions imposed by those institutions, just as
sometimes it is for academics impossible to avoid
the contradictory world of academic publishing,
yet that is still no reason to keep one’s allegiance to
their arrangements.
At the same time UbuWeb has played the game
of avant-gardist subversion: “If it doesn’t exist on
the internet, it doesn’t exist”. Provocation is most
effective when it is ignorant of the complexities of
the contexts that it is directed at. Its effect starts
where fissures in the defense of the opposition start
to show. By treating UbuWeb as massive evidence
for the internet as a process of reappropriation, a
process of “giving to all”, its volunteering spiritus
movens, Kenneth Goldsmith, has been constantly rubbing copyright apologists up the wrong way.
Rather than producing qualifications, evasions and
ambivalences, straightforward affirmation of copy­
ing, plagiarism and reproduction as a dominant
yet suppressed mode of operation of digital culture re-enacts the avant-gardes’ gesture of taking
no hostages from the officially sanctioned systems
of classification. By letting the incumbents of control over cultural production react to the norm of
copying, you let them struggle to dispute the norm
rather than you having to try to defend the norm.
UbuWeb was an early-comer, starting in 1996
and still functioning today on seemingly similar
technology, it’s a child of the early days of World
Wide Web and the promissory period of the experimental internet. It’s resolutely Web 1.0, with
a single maintainer, idiosyncratically simple in its

The Future After the Library


layout and programmatically committed to the
eventual obsolescence and sudden abandonment.
No platform, no generic design, no widgets, no
kludges and no community features. Only Beckett
avec links. Endgame.
A Book is an Index is an Index is an Index...
Since the first book flood, the librarian dream of
epistemological formalization has revolved around
the aspiration to cross-reference all the objects in
the collection. Within the physical library the topical designation has been relegated to the confines of
index card catalog that remained isolated from the
structure of citations and indexes in the books themselves. With the digital transition of the book, the
time-shifted hypertextuality of citations and indexes
became realizable as the immediate cross-referentiality of the segments of individual text to segments
of other texts and other digital artifacts across now
permeable boundaries of the book.
Developed as a wiki for collaborative studies of
art, media and the humanities, took
up the task of mapping and describing avant-gardes and media art in Europe. In its approach both
indexical and encyclopedic, it is an extension of
the collaborative editing made possible by wiki
technology. Wikis rose to prominence in the early
2000s allowing everyone to edit and extend websites running on that technology by mastering a
very simple markup language. Wikis have been the
harbinger of a democratization of web publishing
that would eventually produce the largest collabo-


Tomislav Medak

rative website on the internet — the Wikipedia, as
well as a number of other collaborative platforms. embraces the encyclopedic spirit of
Wikipedia, focusing on its own specific topical and
topological interests. However, from its earliest days has also developed as a form of index
that maps out places, people, artworks, movements,
events and venues that compose the dense network
of European avant-gardes and media art.
If we take the index as a formalization of cross-referential relations between names of people, titles
of works and concepts that exist in the books and
across the books, what emerges is a model of a relational database reflecting the rich mesh of cultural
networks. Each book can serve as an index linking
its text to people, other books, segments in them.
To provide a paradigmatic demonstration of that
idea, has assembled an index of all
persons in Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks,
with each index entry linking both to its location
in the digital version of the book displayed on the archive and to relevant resources for
those persons on the and the internet. Hence, each object in the library, an index
in its own right, potentially allows one to initiate
the relational re-classification and re-organization
of all other works in the library through linkable
Fundamental to the works of the post-socialist
retro-avant-gardes of the last couple of decades has
been the re-writing of a history of art in reverse.
In the works of IRWIN, Laibach or Mladen Stilinović, or comparable work of Komar & Melamid,

The Future After the Library


totalizing modernity is detourned by re-appropriating the forms of visual representation and classification that the institutions of modernity used to
construct a linear historical narrative of evolutions
and breaks in the 19th and 20th century. Genealogical
tables, events, artifacts and discourses of the past
were re-enacted, over-affirmed and displaced to
open up the historic past relegated to the archives
to an understanding that transformed the present
into something radically uncertain. The efforts of in digitizing of the artifacts of the
20th century avant-gardes and playing with the
epistemic tools of early book culture is a parallel
gesture, with a technological twist. If big data and
the control over information flows of today increasingly naturalizes and re-affirms the 19th century
positivist assumptions of the steerablity of society,
then the endlessly recombinant relations and affiliations between cultural objects threaten to overflow
that recurrent epistemic framework of modernity’s
barbarism in its cybernetic form.
The institution of the public library finds itself
today under a double attack. One unleashed by
the dismantling of the institutionalized forms of
social redistribution and solidarity. The other by
the commodifying forces of expanding copyright
protections and digital rights management, control
over the data flows and command over the classification and order of information. In a world of
collapsing planetary boundaries and unequal development, those who control the epistemic order


Tomislav Medak

control the future.08 The Googles and the NSAs run
on capturing totality — the world’s knowledge and
communication made decipherable, organizable and
controllable. The instabilities of the epistemic order
that the library continues to instigate at its margins
contributes to keeping the future open beyond the
script of ‘commodify and control’. In their acts of
re-appropriation UbuWeb and are
but a reminder of the resilience of libraries’ instability that signals toward a future that can be made
radically open. ❧

08 In his article “Controlling the Future—Edward Snowden and
the New Era on Earth”, (accessed April 13, 2015, http://www., Elmar
Altvater makes a comparable argument that the efforts of
the “Five Eyes” to monitor the global communication flows,
revealed by Edward Snowden, and the control of the future
social development defined by the urgency of mitigating the
effects of the planetary ecological crisis cannot be thought

The Future After the Library



public library


Public Library

What, How & for Whom / WHW
Slovenska 5/1 • HR-10000 Zagreb
+385 (0) 1 3907261 •
ISBN 978-953-55951-3-7 [Što, kako i za koga/WHW]
Multimedia Institute
Preradovićeva 18 • HR-10000 Zagreb
+385 (0)1 4856400 •
ISBN 978-953-7372-27-9 [Multimedijalni institut]
Tomislav Medak • Marcell Mars • What, How & for Whom / WHW
Copy Editor
Dušanka Profeta [Croatian]
Anthony Iles [English]
Una Bauer
Tomislav Medak
Dušanka Profeta
W. Boyd Rayward
Design & layout
Dejan Kršić @ WHW
MinionPro [robert slimbach • adobe]

English translation of the Paul
Otlet’s text published with the permission of W. Boyd
Rayward. The translation was originally published as
Paul Otlet, “Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences: Repertory–Classification–Office
of Documentation”, in International Organisation and
Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet,
translated and edited by W. Boyd Rayward, Amsterdam:
Elsevier, 1990: 148–156. ❧
format / size
120 × 200 mm
Agrippina 120 g • Rives Laid 300 g
Printed by
Tiskara Zelina d.d.
Print Run
50 kn
May • 2015

This publication, realized along with the exhibition
Public Library in Gallery Nova, Zagreb 2015, is a part of
the collaborative project This Is Tomorrow. Back to Basics:
Forms and Actions in the Future organized by What, How
& for Whom / WHW, Zagreb, Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm
and Latvian Center for Contemporary Art / LCCA, Riga, as a
part of the book edition Art As Life As Work As Art. ❧

Supported by
Office of Culture, Education and Sport of the City of Zagreb
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia
Croatian Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs
Creative Europe Programme of the European Commission.
National Foundation for Civil Society Development
Kultura Nova Foundation

This project has been funded with support
from European Commision. This publication reflects
the views only of the authors, and the Commission
cannot be held responsible for any use which may be
made of the information contained therein. ❧
Publishing of this book is enabled by financial support of
the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.
The content of the publication is responsibility of
its authors and as such does not necessarily reflect
the views of the National Foundation. ❧
This project is financed
by the Croatian Government Office for Cooperation
with NGOs. The views expressed in this publication
are the sole responsibility of the publishers. ❧

This book is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution–ShareAlike 4.0
International License. ❧

Public Library

may • 2015
price 50 kn

Legal Hacking and Space

# Legal hacking and space

## What can urban commons learn from the free software hackers?

* [Dubravka Sekulic](

4 November 2015

There is now a need to readdress urban commons through the lens of the digital
commons, writes Dubravka Sekulic. The lessons to be drawn from the free
software community and its resistance to the enclosure of code will likely
prove particularly valuable where participation and regulation are concerned.

> Commons are a particular type of institutional arrangement for governing the
use and disposition of resources. Their salient characteristic, which defines
them in contradistinction to property, is that no single person has exclusive
control over the use and disposition of any particular resource. Instead,
resources governed by commons may be used or disposed of by anyone among some
(more or less defined) number of persons, under rules that may range from
"anything goes" to quite crisply articulated formal rules that are effectively
> (Benkler 2003: 6)

The above definition of commons, from the seminal paper "The political economy
of commons" by Yochai Benkler, addresses any type of commons, whether analogue
or digital. In fact, the concept of commons entered the digital realm from
physical space in order to interpret the type of communities, relationships
and production that started to appear with the development of the free as
opposed to the proprietary. Peter Linebaugh charted in his excellent book
_Magna Carta Manifesto_ , how the creation and development of the concept of
commons were closely connected to constantly changing relationships of people
and communities to the physical space. Here, I argue that the concept was
enriched when it was implemented in the digital field. Readdressing urban
space through the lens of digital commons can enable another imagination and
knowledge to appear around urban commons.

notion of commons in (urban) space is often complicated by archaic models of
organization and management - "the pasture we knew how to share". There is a
tendency to give the impression that the solution is in reverting to the past
models. In the realm of digital though, there is no "pasture" from the Middle
Ages to fall back on. Digital commons had to start from scratch and define its
own protocols of production and reproduction (caring and sharing). Therefore,
the digital commons and free software community can be the one to turn to, not
only for inspiration and advice, but also as a partner when addressing
questions of urban commons. Or, as Marcell Mars would put it "if we could
start again with (regulating and defining) land, knowing what we know now
about digital networks, we could come up with something much better and
appropriate for today's world. That property wouldn't be private, maybe not
even property, but something else. Only then can we say we have learned
something from the digital" (2013).

## Enclosure as the trigger for action

The moment we turn to commons in relation to (urban) space is the moment in
which the pressure to privatize public space and to commodify every aspect of
urban life has become so strong that it can be argued that it mirrors a moment
in which Magna Carta Libertatum was introduced to protect the basic
reproduction of life for those whose sustenance was connected to the common
pastures and forests of England in the thirteenth century. At the end of the
twentieth century, urban space became the ultimate commodity, and increasing
privatization not only endangered the reproduction of everyday life in the
city; the rent extraction through privatized public space and housing
endangered bare life itself. Additionally, the cities' continuous
privatization of its amenities transformed almost every action in the city, no
matter how mundane - as for example, drinking a glass of water from a tap -,
into an action that creates profit for some private entity and extracts it
from the community. Thus every activity became labour, which a citizen-worker
is not only alienated from, but also unaware of. David Harvey's statement
about the city replacing the factory as a site of class war seems to be not
only an apt description of the condition of life in the city, but also a cry
for action.

When Richard Stallman turned to the foundational gesture of the creation of
free software, GNU/GPL (General Public Licence) was his reaction to the
artificially imposed logic of scarcity on the world of code - and the
increasing and systematic enclosure that took place in the late 1970s and
1980s as "a tidal wave of commercialization transformed software from a
technical object into a commodity, to be bought and sold on the open market
under the alleged protection of intellectual property law" (Coleman 2012:
138). Stallman, who worked as a researcher at MIT's Artificial Intelligence
Laboratory, detected how "[m]any programmers are unhappy about the
commercialization of system software. It may enable them to make more money,
but it requires them to feel in conflict with other programmers in general
rather than feel as comrades. The fundamental act of friendship among
programmers is the sharing of programs; marketing arrangements now typically
used essentially forbid programmers to treat others as friends. The purchaser
of software must choose between friendship and obeying the law. Naturally,
many decide that friendship is more important. But those who believe in law
often do not feel at ease with either choice. They become cynical and think
that programming is just a way of making money" (Stallman 2002: 32).

In the period between 1980 and 1984, "one man [Stallman] envisioned a crusade
to change the situation" (Moglen 1999). Stallman understood that in order to
subvert the system, he would have to intervene in the protocols that regulate
the conditions under which the code is produced, and not the code itself;
although he did contribute some of the best lines of code into the compiler
and text editor - the foundational infrastructure for any development. The
gesture that enabled the creation of a free software community that yielded
the complex field of digital commons was not a perfect line of code. The
creation of GNU General Public License (GPL) was a legal hack to counteract
the imposing of intellectual property law on code. At that time, the only
license available for programmers wanting to keep the code free was public
domain, which gave no protection against the code being appropriated and
closed. GPL enabled free codes to become self-perpetuating. Everything built
using a free code had to be made available under the same condition, in order
to secure the freedom for programmers to continue sharing and not breaking the
law. "By working on and using GNU rather than proprietary programs, we can be
hospitable to everyone and obey the law. In addition, GNU serves as an example
to inspire and as a banner to rally others to join in sharing. This can give
us a feeling of harmony, which is impossible if we use software, which is not
free. For about half the programmers I talk to, this is an important happiness
that money cannot replace" (Stallman 2002: 33).

Architects and planners as well as environmental designers have for too long
believed the opposite, that a good enough design can subvert the logic of
enclosure that dominates the production and reproduction of space; that a good
enough design can keep space open and public by the sheer strength of spatial
intervention. Stallman rightfully understands that no design is strong enough
to keep private ownership from claiming what it believes belongs to it.
Digital and urban commons, despite operating in completely different realms
and economies, are under attack from the same threat of "market processes"
that "crucially depend upon the individual monopoly of capitalists (of all
sorts) over ownership of the means of production, including finance and land.
All rent, recall, is a return to the monopoly power of private ownership of
some crucial asset, such as land or a patent. The monopoly power of private
property is therefore both the beginning-point and the end-point of all
capitalist activity" (Harvey 2012: 100). Stallman envisioned a bleak future
(2003: 26-28) but found a way to "relate the means to the ends". He understood
that the emancipatory task of a struggle "is not only what has to be done, but
also how it will be done and who will do it" (Stavrides & De Angelis: 7).
Thus, to produce the necessary requirements - both for a community to emerge,
but also for the basis of future protocols - tools and methodologies are
needed for the community to create both free software and itself.

## Renegotiating (undoing) property, hacking the law, creating community

Property, as an instrument of allocation of resources, is a right that is
negotiated within society and by society and not written in stone or given as
such. The digital, more than any other field, discloses property as being
inappropriate for contemporary relationships between production and
reproduction and, additionally, proves how it is possible to fundamentally
rethink it. The digital offers this possibility as it is non-material, non-
rival and non-exclusive (Meretz 2013), unlike anything in the physical world.
And Elinor Ostrom's lifelong empirical researches give ground to the belief
that eschewing property, being the sole instrument of allocation, can work as
a tool of management even for rival, excludable goods.
The value of information in digital form is not flat, but property is not the
way to protect that value, as the music industry realized during the course of
the last ten years. Once the copy is _out there_ , the cost of protecting its
exclusivity on the grounds of property becomes too high in relation to the
potential value to be extracted. For example, the value is extracted from
information through controlling the moment of its release and not through
subsequent exploitation. Stallman decided to tackle the imposition of the
concept of property on computer code (and by extension to the digital realm as
a whole) by articulating it in another field: just as property is the product
of constant negotiations within a society, so are legal regulations. After
some time, he was joined by "[m]any free software developers [who] do not
consider intellectual property instruments as the pivotal stimulus for a
marketplace of ideas and knowledge. Instead, they see them as a form of
restriction so fundamental (or poorly executed) that they need to be
counteracted through alternative legal agreements that treat knowledge,
inventions, and other creative expressions not as property but rather as
speech to be freely shared, circulated, and modified" (Coleman 2012: 26).

The digital sphere can give a valid example of how renegotiating regulation
can transform a resource from scarce to abundant. When the change from
analogue signal to packet switching begun to take effect, the distribution of
finite territory and the way the radio frequency spectrum was managed got
renegotiated and the amount of slots of space to be allocated grew by an order
of magnitude while the absolute size of the spectrum stayed the same. This
shift enabled Brecht's dream of a two-sided radio to become reality, thus
enabling what he had suggested: "change this apparatus over from distribution
to communication".1

According to Lawrence Lessig, what regulates behavior in cyberspace is an
interdependence of four constraints: market, law, architecture and norms
(Lessig 2012: 121-25). Analogously, space can be put in place of cyberspace,
as the regulation of space is the sum of these four constraints. These four
constraints are in a dynamic relationship in which the balance can be tilted
towards one, depending on how much each of these categories puts pressure on
the other three. Changes in any one reflect the regulation of the whole.
"Architecture" in Lessig's theory should be understood broadly as the "built
environment" that regulates behaviour in (cyber)space. In the last few decades
we have experienced the domination of the market reconfiguring the basis of
norms, law and architecture. In order to counteract this, the other three
constraints need to be re-negotiated. In digital space, this reconfiguration
happened by declaring the code - that is, the set of instructions written as
highly formalized text in a specific programming language to be executed
(usually) by the computer - to be considered as speech in front of the law,
and by hacking the law in order to disrupt the way that property relationships
are formed.

To put it simply, in order to create a change in dynamics between the
architecture, norms and the market, the law had to be addressed first. This is
not a novel procedure, "legal hacking is going on all the time, it is just
that politics is doing it under the veil of legality because they are the
parliament, they are Microsoft, which can hire a whole law firm to defend them
and find all the legal loopholes. Legal hacking is the norm actually" (Bailey
2013). When it comes to physical space, one of the most obvious examples of
the reconfiguration of regulations under the influence of the market is to
create legal provisions, norms and architecture to sustain the concept of
developing (and privatizing) public space through public-private partnerships.
The decision of the Italian parliament that the privatization of services
(specifically of water management) is legal and does not obstruct one's access
to water as a human right, is another example of a crude manipulation of the
law by the state in favour of the market. Unlike legal hacks by corporations
that aim to create a favourable legal climate for another round of
accumulation through dispossession, Stallman's hack tries to limit the impact
of the market and to create a space of freedom for the creation of a code and
of sharable knowledge, by questioning one of the central pillars of liberal
jurisprudence: (intellectual) property law.

Similarly, translated into physical space, one of the initiatives in Europe
that comes closest to creating a real existing urban commons, Teatro Valle
Occupato in Rome, is doing the same, "pushing the borders of legality of
private property" by legally hacking the institution of a foundation to "serve
a public, or common, purpose" and having "notarized [a] document registered
with the Italian state, that creates a precedent for other people to follow in
its way" (Bailey 2013). Sounds familiar to Stallman's hack as the fundamental
gesture by which community and the whole eco-system can be formed.

It is obvious that, in order to create and sustain that type of legal hack, it
is a necessity to have a certain level of awareness and knowledge of how
systems, both political and legal, work, i.e. to be politically literate.
"While in general", says Italian commons-activist and legal scholar Saki
Bailey, "we've become extremely lazy [when it comes to politics]. We've
started to become a kind of society of people who give up their responsibility
to participate by handing it over to some charismatic leaders, experts of [a]
different type" (2013). Free software hackers, in order to understand and take
part in a constant negotiation that takes place on a legal level between the
market that seeks to cloister the code and hackers who want to keep it free,
had to become literate in an arcane legal language. Gabriella Coleman notes in
_Coding Freedom_ that hacker forums sometimes tend to produce legal analysis
that is just as serious as one would expect to find in a law office. Like the
occupants of Teatro Valle, free software hackers understand the importance of
devoting time and energy to understand constraints and to find ways to
structurally divert them.

This type of knowledge is not shared and created in isolation, but in
socialization, in discussions in physical or cyber spaces (such as #irc chat
rooms, forums, mailing lists…), the same way free software hackers share their
knowledge about code. Through this process of socializing knowledge, "the
community is formed, developed, and reproduced through practices focused on
common space. To generalize this principle: the community is developed through
commoning, through acts and forms of organization oriented towards the
production of the common" (Stavrides 2012: 588). Thus forming a community is
another crucial element of the creation of digital commons, but even more
important are its development and resilience. The emerging community was not
given something to manage, it created something together, and together devised
rules of self-regulation and decision-making.

The prime example of this principle in the free software community is the
Debian Project, formed around the development of the Debian Linux
distribution. It is a volunteer organization consisting of around 3,000
developers that since its inception in 1993 has defined a set of basic
principles by which the project and its members conduct their affairs. This
includes the introduction of new people into the community, a process called
Debian Social Contract (DSC). A special part of the DSC defines the criteria
for "free software", thus regulating technical aspects of the project and also
technical relations with the rest of a free software community. The Debian
Constitution, another document created by the community so it can govern
itself, describes the organizational structure for formal decision-making
within the project.

Another example is Wikipedia, where the community that makes the online
encyclopedia also takes part in creating regulations, with some aspects
debated almost endlessly on forums. It is even possible to detect a loose
community of "Internet users" who took to the streets all over the world when
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to
Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) threatened to
enclose the Internet, as we know it; the proposed legislation was successfully

Free software projects that represent the core of the digital commons are most
of the time born of the initiative of individuals, but their growth and life
cycle depend on the fact that they get picked up by a community or generate
community around them that is allowed to take part in their regulation and in
decisions about which shape and forms the project will take in the future.
This is an important lesson to be transferred to the physical space in which
many projects fail because they do not get picked up by the intended
community, as the community is not offered a chance to partake in its creation
and, more importantly, its regulation.

## Building common infrastructure and institutions

"The expansion of intellectual property law" as the main vehicle of the trend
to enclose the code that leads to the act of the creation of free software
and, thus, digital commons, "is part and parcel of a broader neoliberal trend
to privatize what was once under public or under the state's aegis, such as
health provision, water delivery, and military services" (Coleman 2012: 16).
The structural fight headed by the GNU/GPL against the enclosure of code
"defines the contractual relationship that serves to secure the freedom of
means of production and to constitute a community of those participating in
the production and reproduction of free resources. And it is this constitutive
character, as an answer to an every time singular situation of appropriation
by the capital, that is a genuine political emancipation striving for an equal
and free collective production" (Mars & Medak 2004). Thus digital commons "is
based on the _communication_ among _singularities_ and emerges through
collaborative social processes of production " (Negri & Hardt 2005: 204).

The most important lesson urban commons can take from its digital counterpart
is at the same time the most difficult one: how to make a structural hack in
the moment of the creation of an urban commons that will enable it to become
structurally self-perpetuating, thus creating fertile ground not only for a
singular spatialization of urban commons to appear, but to multiply and create
a whole new eco-system. Digital commons was the first field in which what
Negri and Hardt (2009: 3-21) called the "republic of property" was challenged.
Urban commons, in order to really emerge as a spatialization of a new type of
relationship, need to start undoing property as well in order to socially re-
appropriate the city. Or in the words of Stavros Stavrides "the most urgent
and promising task, which can oppose the dominant governance model, is the
reinvention of common space. The realm of the common emerges in a constant
confrontation with state-controlled 'authorized' public space. This is an
emergence full of contradictions, perhaps, quite difficult to predict, but
nevertheless necessary. Behind a multifarious demand for justice and dignity,
new roads to collective emancipation are tested and invented. And, as the
Zapatistas say, we can create these roads only while walking. But we have to
listen, to observe, and to feel the walking movement. Together" (Stavrides
2012: 594).

The big task for both digital and urban commons is "[b]uilding a core common
infrastructure [which] is a necessary precondition to allow us to transition
away from a society of passive consumers buying what a small number of
commercial producers are selling. It will allow us to develop into a society
in which all can speak to all, and in which anyone can become an active
participant in political, social and cultural discourse" (Benkler 2003: 9).
This core common infrastructure has to be porous enough to include people that
are not similar, to provide "a ground to build a public realm and give
opportunities for discussing and negotiating what is good for all, rather than
the idea of strengthening communities in their struggle to define their own
commons. Relating commons to groups of "similar" people bears the danger of
eventually creating closed communities. People may thus define themselves as
commoners by excluding others from their milieu, from their own privileged
commons." (Stavrides 2010). If learning carefully from digital commons, urban
commons need to be conceptualized on the basis of the public, with a self-
regulating community that is open for others to join. That socializes
knowledge and thus produces and reproduces the commons, creating a space for
political emancipation that is capable of judicial arguments for the
protection and extension of regulations that are counter-market oriented.

## References

Bailey, Saki (2013): Interview by Dubravka Sekulic and Alexander de Cuveland.

Benkler, Yochai (2003): "The political economy of commons". _Upgrade_ IV, no.
3, 6-9, [

Benkler, Yochai (2006): _The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production
Transforms Markets and Freedom_. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Brecht, Bertolt (2000): "The radio as a communications apparatus". In: _Brecht
on Film and Radio_ , edited by Marc Silberman. Methuen, 41-6.

Coleman, E. Gabriella (2012): _Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of
Hacking_. Princeton University Press / Kindle edition.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri (2005): _Multitude: War and Democracy in the
Age of Empire_. Penguin Books.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri (2011): _Commonwealth_. Belknap Press of
Harvard University Press.

Harvey, David (2012): The Art of Rent. In: _Rebel Cities: From the Right to
the City to the Urban Revolution_ , 1st ed. Verso, 94-118.

Hill, Benjamin Mako (2012): Freedom for Users, Not for Software. In: Bollier,
David & Helfrich, Silke (Ed.): _The Wealth of the Commons: a World Beyond
Market and State_. Levellers Press / E-book.

Lessig, Lawrence (2012): _Code: Version 2.0_. Basic Books.

Linebaugh, Peter (2008): _The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for
All_. University of California Press.

Mars, Marcell (2013): Interview by Dubravka Sekulic.

Mars, Marcell and Tomislav Medak (2004): "Both devil and gnu",

Martin, Reinhold (2013): "Public and common(s): Places: Design observer",

Meretz, Stefan (2010): "Commons in a taxonomy of goods", [

Mitrasinovic, Miodrag (2006): _Total Landscape, Theme Parks, Public Space_ ,
1st ed. Ashgate.

Moglen, Eben (1999): "Anarchism triumphant: Free software and the death of
copyright", First Monday,

Stallman, Richard and Joshua Gay (2002): _Free Software, Free Society:
Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman_. GNU Press.

Stallman, Richard and Joshua Gay (2003): "The Right to Read". _Upgrade_ IV,
no. 3, 26-8.

Stavrides, Stavros (2012) "Squares in movement". _South Atlantic Quarterly_
111, no. 3, 585-96.

Stavrides, Stavros (2013): "Contested urban rhythms: From the industrial city
to the post-industrial urban archipelago". _The Sociological Review_ 61,

Stavrides, Stavros, and Massimo De Angelis (2010): "On the commons: A public
interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides". _e-flux_ 17, 1-17,


"[...] radio is one-sided when it should be two-. It is purely an apparatus
for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion:
change this apparatus over from distribution to communication". See "The radio
as a communications apparatus", Brecht 2000.

Published 4 November 2015
Original in English
First published by derive 61 (2015)

Contributed by dérive © Dubravka Sekulic / dérive / Eurozine


Dockray, Pasquinelli, Smith & Waldorf
There is Nothing Less Passive than the Act of Fleeing

# There is Nothing Less Passive than the Act of Fleeing

[The Public School](/web/20170523052416/

What follows is a condensed and edited version of a text for a panel that was
presented at UCIRA’s _Future Tense: Alternative Arts and Economies in the
University_  conference held in San Diego, California on November 18, 2010.
The panel shared the same name as a 13-day itinerant seminar in Berlin
organized by Dockray, Waldorf, and Fiona Whitton earlier that year, in July.
The seminar began with an excerpt from Tiqqun’s _Introduction to Civil War_ ,
which was co-translated into English by Smith; and later read a chapter from
Pasquinelli’s _Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons_. Both authors have
also participated in meetings at The Public School in Los Angeles and Berlin.
Both the panel and the seminar developed out of longer conversations at The
Public School in Los Angeles, which began in late 2007 under Telic Arts
Exchange. The Public School is a school with no curriculum, where classes are
proposed and organized by the public.

## The Education Factory

The University as I understand it, has been a threshold between youth and the
labor market. Or it has been a threshold between a general education and a
more specialized one. In its more progressive form, it’s been a zone of
transition into an expanding middle class. But does this form still exist? I’m
inclined to think just the opposite, that the University is becoming a mean
for filtering people out of the middle class via student loan debt, which now
exceeds credit card debt. The point of the questions for me is simply what is
the point of the University? What are we fighting for or defending?

The next question might be, do students work? The University is a crucial site
in the reproduction of class relations; we know that students are consumers;
we know the student is a future worker who will be compelled to work, and work
in a specific way, because she/he is crushed by debt contracted during her/his
tenure as a student; we know that students work while attending school, and
that for many students school and work eerily begin to resemble one another.
But asking whether students work is to ask something more specific: do
students produce value and, therefore surplus-value? If we can assume, for the
moment, that students are a factor in the “knowledge production” that takes
place in the University, is this production of knowledge also the production
of value? We confront, maybe, a paradox: all social activity has become
“productive”—captured, absorbed—at the very moment value becomes unmeasurable.

What does this have to do with students, and their work? The thesis of the
social factory was supplemented by the assumption that knowledge had become a
central mode in the production of value in post-Fordist environments. Wouldn’t
this mean that the university could become an increasingly important
flashpoint in social struggles, now that it has become not simply the site of
the reproduction of the capital relation, but involved in the immediate
production process, directly productive of value? Would we have to understand
students themselves as, if not knowledge producers, an irreplaceable moment or
function within that process? None of this remains clear. The question is not
only a sociological one, it is also a political one. The strategy of
reconceptualizing students as workers is rooted in the classical Marxist
identification of revolt with the point of production, that is, exploitation.
To declare all social activity to be productive is another way of saying that
social war can be triggered at any site within society, even among the
precarious, the unemployed, and students.

_Knowledge is tied to struggle. To truly know is to hate truly. This is why
the working class can know and possess everything of capital, as it is enemy
to itself as capital._
—Tronti, 1966

That form of “hate” mentioned by Tronti is suggesting something interesting
form of political passion and a new modus operandi. The relation between hate
and knowledge, suggested by Tronti, is the opposite of the cynical detachment
of the new social figure of the entrepreneur-artist but it’s a joyful hate of
our condition. In order to educate ourselves we should hate our very own
environment and social network in which we were educated—the university. The
position of the artist in their work and the performance of themselves (often
no different) can take are manyfold. There are histories for all of these
postures that can be referenced and adopted. They are all acceptable tactics
as long as we keep doing and churning out more. But where does this get us,
both within the confines of the arts and the larger social structure? We are
taught that the artist is always working, thinking, observing. We have learned
the tricks of communication, performance and adaptability. We can go anywhere,
react to anything, respond in a thoughtful and creative way to all problems.
And we do this because while there is opportunity, we should take it. “We
shouldn’t complain, others have it much worse.” But it doesn’t mean that we
shouldn’t imagine something else. To begin thinking this way, it means a
refusal to deliver an event, to perform on demand. Maybe we need a kind of
inflexibility, of obstruction, of non-conductivity. After all, what exactly
are we producing and performing for? Can we try to think about these talents
of performance, of communication? If so, could this be the basis for an
intimacy, a friendship… another institution?

## Alternative pedagogical models

Let’s consider briefly the desire for “new pedagogical models” and “new forms
of knowledge production”. When articulated by the University, this simply
means new forms of instruction and new forms of research. Liberal faculty and
neoliberal politicians or administrators find themselves joined in this hunt
for future models and forms. On the one hand, faculty imagines that these new
techniques can provide space for continuing the good. On the other hand,
investors, politicians, and administrators look for any means to make the
University profitable; use unpaid labour, eliminate non-productive physical
spaces, and create new markets. Symptomatically, there is very little
resistance to this search for new forms and new models for the simple reason
that there is a consensus that the University should and will continue.

It’s also important to note that many of the so-called new forms and new
models being considered lie beyond the walls and payroll of the institution,
therefore both low-cost and low-risk. It is now a familiar story: the
institution attempts to renew itself by importing its own critique. The Public
School is not a new model and it’s not going to save the University. It is not
even a critique of the University any more or less than it is a critique of
the field of art or of capitalist society. It is not “the next university”
because it is a practice of leaving the University to the side. It would be a
mistake to think that this means isolation or total detachment.

Today, the forms of university governance cannot allow themselves to uproot
self-education. To the contrary, self-education constitutes a vital sap for
the survival of the institutional ruins, snatched up and rendered valuable in
the form of revenue. Governance is the trap, hasty and flexible, of the
common. Instead of countering us frontally, the enemy follows us. We must
immediately reject any weak interpretation of the theme of autonomous
institutions, according to which the institution is a self-governed structure
that lives between the folds of capitalism, without excessively bothering it.
The institutionalisation of self-education doesn’t mean being recognized as
one actor among many within the education market, but the capacity to organize
living knowledge’s autonomy and resistance.

One of the most important “new pedagogical models” that emerged over the past
year in the struggles around the implosion of the “public” university are the
occupations that took place in the Fall of 2009. Unlike other forms of action,
which tend to follow the timetable and cadence of the administration, to the
point of mirroring it, these actions had their own temporality, their own
initiative, their own internal logic. They were not at all concerned with
saving a university that was already in ruins, but rather with creating a
space at the heart of the University within which something else, some future,
could be risked, elaborated, prefigured. Everything had to be improvised, from
moment to moment, and in these improvisations new knowledges were developed
and shared. This improvisation was demanded by the aleatory quality of the
types of relations that emerged within these spaces, relations no longer
regulated by the social alibis that assigns everyone her/his place. When
students occupy university buildings—here in California, in NYC, in Puerto
Rico, in Europe and the UK, everywhere—they do so not because they want to
save their universities. They do so because they know the university for what
it is, as something to be at once seized and abandoned. They know that they
can only rely on and learn from one another.

## The Common and The Public

What is really so disconcerting about this antinomy between the logic of the
common and the logic of the social or the public? For Jacotot, it means the
development of a communist politics that is neither reformist nor seditious2.
It proposes the formation of common spaces at a distance from—if not outside
of—the public sphere and its communicative reason: “whoever forsakes the
workings of the social machine has the opportunity to make the electrical
energy of the emancipation machine.”

What does it mean to forsake the social machine? That is the major political
question facing us today. Such a forsaking would require that our political
energies organize themselves around spaces of experimentation at a distance
not only from the university and what is likely its slow-motion, or sudden,
collapse, but also from an entire imaginary inherited from the workers
movement: the task of a future social emancipation and vectors and forms of
struggle such a task implies. Perhaps what is required is not to put off
equality for the future, but presuppose the common, to affirm that commons as
a fact, a given, which must nevertheless be verified, created, not by a social
body, not by a collective force, but a power of the common, now.

School is not University. Neither is it Academy or College or even Institute.
We are all familiar with the common meaning of the word: it is a place for
learning. In another sense, it also refers to organized education in general,
which is made most clear by the decision to leave, to “drop out of school”.
Alongside these two stable, almost architectural definitions, the word
gestures to composition and movement—the school of bodies, moving
independently, together; the school only exists as long as that collective
movement does. The school takes shape in this oscillation between form and
formlessness, not through the act of constructing a wall but by the process of
realizing its boundary through practice.

Perhaps this is a way to think of how to develop what Felix Guattari called
“the associative sector” in 1982: “everything that isn’t the state, or private
capital, or even cooperatives”3. At first gloss, the associative sector is
only a name for the remainder, the already outside; but, in the language of a
school, it is a constellation of relationships, affinities, new
subjectivities, and movements, flickering into existence through life and use,
An “engaged withdrawal” that simultaneously creates an exit and institutes in
the act of passing through. Which itself might bring us back to school, to the
Greek etymology of school, skhole, “a holding back”, a “keeping clear” of
space for reflective distance. On the one hand, perhaps this reflective space
simply allows theoretical knowledge to shape or affect performative action;
but on the other hand, the production of this “clearing” is not given,
certainly not now and certainly not by the institutions that claim to give it.
Reflective space is not the precondition for performative action. On the
contrary; performative action is the precondition for reflective space—or,
more appropriately, space and action must be coproduced.

Is the University even worth “saving”? We are right to respond with
indignation, or better, with an array of tactics—some procedural, some more
“direct”—against these incursions, which always seem to authorize themselves
by appeals to economic austerity, budget shortfalls, and tightened belts.
Perhaps what is being destroyed in this process is the very notion of the
public sphere itself, a notion that. It is easy to succumb to the illusion
that the only possible result of this destruction of the figure of the public
is privatization. But what if the figure of the public was to be set off
against not only the private and property relations, but against a figure of
the “common” as well? What if, in other words, the notion of the public has
always been an unstable, mediating term between privatization and
communization, and what if the withering of this mediation left these two
process openly at odds with each other? Perhaps, then, it is not simply a
question of saving a university and, more broadly, a public space that is
already withering away; maybe our energies and our intelligence, our
collective or common intellectual forces, should be devoted to organizing and
articulating just this sort of counter-transition, at a distance from the
public and the private.

## Authorship and new forms of knowledge

For decades we have spoken about the “death of the author”. The most sustained
critiques of authorship have been made from the spheres of art and education,
but not coincidentally, these spheres have the most invested in the notion.
Credit and accreditation are the mechanisms for attaching symbolic capital to
individuals via degrees and other lines on CVs. The curriculum vitæ is an
inverted credit report, evidence of underpaid work, kept orderly with an
expectation of some future return.

All of this work, this self-documentation, this fidelity between ourselves and
our papers, is for what, for whom? And what is the consequence of a world
where every person is armed with their vitæ, other than “the war of all
against all?” It’s that sensation that there are no teams but everyone has got
their own jersey.

The idea behind the project The Public School is to teach each other in a very
horizontal way. No curriculum, no hierarchy. But is The Public School able to
produce new knowledge and new content by itself? Can the The Public School
become a sort of autonomous collective author? Or, is The Public School just
about exchanges and social networking?

In the recent history of university struggles, some collectives started to
refresh the idea of coresearch; a form of knowledge that can produce new
subjectivities by researching. New subjectivities that produce new knowledge
and new knowledge that produces new subjectivities If knowledge comes only
from conflict, knowledge goes back to conflict in order to produce new
autonomy and subjectivities.

### The Public School

Sean Dockray, Matteo Pasquinelli, Jason Smith and Caleb Waldorf are founding
members of and collaborators at The Public School. Initiated in 2007 under
Telic Arts Exchange (literally in the basement) in Los Angeles, The Public
School is a school with no curriculum. At the moment, it operates as follows:
first, classes are proposed by the public; then, people have the opportunity
to sign up for the classes; finally, when enough people have expressed
interest, the school finds a teacher and offers the class to those who signed
up. The Public School is not accredited, it does not give out degrees, and it
has no affiliation with the public school system. It is a framework that
supports autodidactic activities, operating under the assumption that
everything is in everything. The Public School currently exists in Los
Angeles, New York, Berlin, Brussels, Helsinki, Philadelphia, Durham, San Juan,
and is still expanding.

Dean, Dockray, Ludovico, Broekman, Thoburn & Vilensky
Materialities of Independent Publishing: A Conversation with AAAAARG, Chto Delat?, I Cite, Mute, and Neural

Materialities Of Independent Publishing: A
Conversation With Aaaaarg, Chto Delat?,
I Cite, Mute, And Neural
Jodi Dean, Sean Dockray, Alessandro Ludovico, Pauline van
Mourik Broekman, Nicholas Thoburn, and Dmitry Vilensky
Abstract This text is a conversation among practitioners of independent political
media, focusing on the diverse materialities of independent publishing associated with
the new media environment. The conversation concentrates on the publishing projects
with which the participants are involved: the online archive and conversation platform
AAAAARG, the print and digital publications of artist and activist group Chto Delat?,
the blog I Cite, and the hybrid print/digital magazines Mute and Neural. Approaching
independent media as sites of political and aesthetic intervention, association, and
experimentation, the conversation ranges across a number of themes, including: the
technical structures of new media publishing; financial constraints in independent
publishing; independence and institutions; the sensory properties of paper and the
book; the politics of writing; design and the aesthetics of publishing; the relation
between social media and communicative capitalism; publishing as art; publishing as
self-education; and post-digital print.
Keywords independent publishing, art publishing, activist publishing, digital
archive, blog, magazine, newspaper

Nicholas Thoburn (NT) In one way or another all of you have an investment
in publishing as a political practice, where publishing might be understood
loosely as a political ‘gesture’ located ‘between the realm of discourse and the
material act’.1 And in large measure, this takes the path of critical intervention
in the form of the media with which you work - newspaper, blog, magazine,
and digital archive. That is, media come forward in your publishing practice
and writing as complex sets of materials, capacities, and effects, and as sites
of political intervention and critical reflection.
The aim of this conversation is to concentrate on these materials,
capacities, and effects of independent media (a term, ‘independent media’,
that I use advisedly, given its somewhat pre-digital associations and a
nagging feeling that it lacks purchase on the complexity of convergent media
environments). I’m keen as much as possible to keep each of your specific

Materialities Of Independent Publishing 157

1. Nat Muller
and Alessandro
Ludovico, ‘Of
Process and
Gestures: A
Publishing Act’, in
Alessandro Ludovico
and Natt Muller
(eds) The
Reader 3, London,
OpenMute, p6.

publishing projects at the forefront of the conversation, to convey a strong
sense of their ‘materialities’: the technical and aesthetic forms and materials
they mobilise; what strategies of authorship, editorship, or collectivity
they employ; how they relate to publics, laws, media paradigms, financial
structures; how they model or represent their media form, and so on. To start
us off, I would like to invite each of you to introduce your publishing project
with a few sentences: its aims, the mediums it uses, where it’s located, when
established - that kind of thing.

2. Jodi Dean,
Publicity’s Secret:
How Technoculture
Capitalizes on
Democracy, London,
Cornell University
Press, 2002.

3. Alessandro
Ludovico, Post-Digital
Print: The Mutation
of Publishing Since
1894, Eindhoven,
Onomatopee, 2012.

Jodi Dean (JD) I started my blog, I Cite, in January 2005. It’s on the Typepad
platform. I pay about 20 dollars a year for some extra features.
I first started the blog so that I could ‘talk’ to people in a format that was
not an academic article or an email. Or maybe it’s better to say that I was
looking for a medium in which to write, where what I was writing was not
immediately constrained by the form of an academic piece, written alone,
appearing once and late, if at all, or by the form of an email which is generally
of a message sent to specific people, who may or may not appreciate being
hailed or spammed every time something occurs to me.
There was another reason for starting the blog, though. I had already
begun formulating my critique of communicative capitalism (in the book
Publicity’s Secret and in a couple of articles).2 I was critical of the way that
participatory media entraps people into a media mentality, a 24/7 mindset
of reaching an audience and competing with the mainstream press. I thought
that if my critique is going to be worth anything, I better have more firsthand
experience, from the very belly of the beast.
Alessandro Ludovico (AL) I’m the editor in chief of Neural, a printed and
online magazine established in 1993 in Bari (Italy) dealing with new media
art, electronic music and hacktivism. It’s a publication which beyond being
committed to its topics, always experimented with publishing in various ways.
Furthermore, I’m one of the founders (together with Simon Worthington of
Mute and a few others) of, electronic cultural publishers, a network
of magazines related to new media art whose slogan is: ‘collaboration is
better than competition’. Finally, I’m finishing a book called Post-Digital
Print, about the historical and contemporary relationship between offline
and online publishing.3
Sean Dockray (SD) About five years ago, I wrote this description:
AAAARG is a conversation platform - at different times it performs as a school, or
a reading group, or a journal.
AAAARG was created with the intention of developing critical discourse outside
of an institutional framework. But rather than thinking of it like a new building,

New Formations

imagine scaffolding that attaches onto existing buildings and creates new
architectures between them.
More straightforwardly, the project is a website where people share texts:
usually PDFs, anything from a couple of inspiring pages to a book or a
collection of essays. The people who use the site tend to be writers, artists,
organizers, activists, curators, architects, librarians, publishers, designers,
philosophers, teachers, or students themselves. Although the texts are most
often in the domain of critical or political theory, there are also technical
documents, legal decisions, works of fiction, government declarations, poetry
collections and so on. There is no moderation.
It’s hard to imagine it now as anything other than it is - which is really
a library, and not a school, a reading group, or a journal! Still, AAAARG
supports quite a few self-organised reading groups, it spawned a sister project
called The Public School, and now produces a small online publication,
‘Contents’. It’s used by many people in many ways, and even when that use is
‘finished,’ the texts remain available on the site for others to use as a shared
Dmitry Vilensky (DV) The workgroup Chto Delat? (What Is to Be Done?) has
been publishing a newspaper, of the same name, since 2003. The newspaper
was edited by myself and David Riff (2003-2008) in collaboration with the
workgroup Chto Delat?, and since 2008 is mostly edited by me in collaboration
with other members of the group.
The newspaper is bilingual (Russian and English), and appears on
an irregular basis (roughly 4-5 times a year). It varies between 16 and 24
pages (A3). Its editions (1,000-9,000 copies) are distributed for free at
different cultural events, exhibitions, social forums, political gatherings,
and universities, but it has no fixed network of distribution. At the moment,
with an on-line audience much bigger than that for the paper version of the
newspaper, we concentrate more on newspapers as part of the exhibition and
contextualisation of our work - a continuation of art by other means.
Each newspaper addresses a theme or problem central to the search for
new political subjectivities, and their impact on art, activism, philosophy, and
cultural theory. So far, the rubrics and sections of the paper have followed a
free format, depending on theme at hand. There are no exhibition reviews.
The focus is on the local Russian situation, which the newspaper tries to link
to a broader international context. Contributors include artists, art theorists,
philosophers, activists, and writers from Russia, Western Europe and the
United States.
It is also important to focus on the role of publication as translation
device, something that is really important in the Russian situation – to
introduce different voices and languages and also to have a voice in different
international debates from a local perspective.
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 159

Pauline van Mourik Broekman (PvMB) After so many years - we’ve been at it

4. See Pauline van
Mourik Broekman
(2011) ‘Mute’s
100% Cut by
ACE - A Personal
Consideration of
Mute’s Defunding’,

5. Régis Debray,
‘Socialism: A LifeCycle’, New Left
Review 46 (2007):

for 17! - I seem to find it harder and harder to figure out what ‘Mute’ is. But
sticking to the basic narrative for the moment, it formed as an artist-initiated
publication engaging with the question of what new technologies (read:
the internet and convergent media) meant for artistic production; asking
whether, or to what degree, the internet’s promise of a radically democratised
space, where a range of gate-keepers might be challenged, would upset the
‘art system’ as was (and sadly, still is). Since that founding moment in 1994,
when Mute appeared appropriating the format of the Financial Times, as
producers we have gradually been forced to engage much more seriously
- and materially - with the realities of Publishing with a capital ‘P’. Having
tried out six different physical formats in an attempt to create a sustainable
niche for Mute’s critical content - which meanwhile moved far beyond its
founding questions - our production apparatus now finds itself strangely
distended across a variety of geographic, institutional, professional and social
spaces, ranging from the German Leuphana University (with whom we have
recently started an intensive collaboration), to a series of active email lists,
to a small office in London’s Soho. It will be interesting to see what effect
this enforced virtualisation, which is predominantly a response to losing our
core funding from Arts Council England, will have on the project overall.4
Our fantastic and long-serving editorial board are thankfully along for the
ride. These are: Josephine Berry Slater, Omar El-Khairy, Matthew Hyland,
Anthony Iles, Demetra Kotouza, Hari Kunzru, Stefan Szczelkun, Mira Mattar
and Benedict Seymour.
NT Many thanks for your introductory words; I’m very pleased - they set
us off in intriguing and promising directions. I’m struck by the different
capacities and aims that you’ve highlighted in your publishing projects.
Moving now to focus on their specific features and media forms, I’d like us
to consider first the question of political writing, which comes across most
apparently in the descriptions from Jodi and Dmitry of I Cite and Chto
Delat?. This conversation aims to move beyond a narrow focus on textual
communication, and we will do so soon, but writing is clearly a key component
of the materialities of publishing. Political writing published more or less
independently of corporate media institutions has been a central aspect of
the history of radical cultures. Régis Debray recently identified what he calls
the ‘genetic helix’ of socialism as the book, the newspaper, and the school/
party.5 He argues, not uniquely, that in our era of the screen and the image,
this nexus collapses, taking radical politics with it - it’s a gloomy prognosis.
  Jodi and Dmitry, whether or not you have some sympathy for Debray’s
diagnosis, I think it is true to say that political writing still holds for you some
kind of political power, albeit that the conjunction of writing and radicalism

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has become most complicated. Dmitry, you talk of the themes of Chto Delat?
newspapers contributing to a ‘search for new political subjectivities’. Can you
discuss any specific examples of that practice - however tentative or precarious
they may be - from the concrete experience of publishing Chto Delat? Also, I’m
interested in the name of your group, ‘What Is to Be Done?’ What effect does a
name with such strong associations to the Russian revolutionary tradition have
in Russia - or indeed the US and elsewhere - today? I’m reminded of course
that it is in Lenin’s pamphlet of that title that he sets out his understanding
of the party newspaper as ‘collective organiser’ - not only in its distribution
and consumption, but in its production also. How do you relate to that model
of the political press?
  And Jodi, with regard to your comment about I Cite enabling a different
mode of ‘talk’ or ‘writing’ to that of academic writing or email, is there
a political dimension to this? Put another way, you have been exploring
the theme of ‘communism’ in your blog, but does this link up with the
communicative form of blog talk at all - or are blogs always and only in the
‘belly of the beast’?
JD Is there a political dimension to I Cite’s enabling a different mode of
‘talk’ or ‘writing’? This is hard. My first answer is no. That is, the fact of
blogging, that there are blogs and bloggers, is not in itself any more politically
significant than the fact that there is television, radio, film, and newspapers.
But saying this immediately suggests the opposite and I need to answer yes.
Just as with any medium, blogs have political effects. Much of my academic
writing is about the ways that networked communication supports and furthers
communicative capitalism, helping reformat democratic ideals into means for
the intensification of capitalism - and hence inequality. Media democracy, mass
participation in personal media, is the political form of neoliberal capitalism.
Many participate, a few profit thereby. The fact that I talk about communism
on my blog is either politically insignificant or significant in a horrible way.
As with the activity of any one blog or blogger, it exemplifies and furthers
the hold of capitalism as it renders political activity into individual acts of
participation. Politics becomes nothing but the individual’s contribution to
the flow of circulating media.
Well, this is a pretty unpleasant way for me to think about what I do on
I Cite, why I have kept track of the extremes of finance capital for over five
years, why I blog about Žižek’s writing, why I’ve undertaken readings of
Lenin, etc. And lately, since the Egyptian revolution, the mass protests in
Greece and Spain, and the movement around Occupy Wall Street in the
US, I’ve been wondering if I’ve been insufficiently dialectical or have overplayed the negative. What this amazing outpouring of revolutionary energy
has made me see is the collective dimension of blogs and social media. The
co-production of a left communicative common, that stretches across media
and is constituted through photos and videos uploaded from the occupations,
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 161

massive reposting, forwarding, tweeting, and lots of blog commentary, and
that includes mainstream journalistic outlets like the Guardian, Al Jazeera, and
the New York Times, this new left communicative common seems, for now at
any rate, to have an urgency and intensity irreducible to any one of its nodes.
It persists as the flow between them and the way that this flow is creating
something like its own media storm or front (I’m thinking in part here of
some of the cool visualisations of October 15 on Twitter - the modelling of
the number of tweets regarding demonstrations in Rome looks like some kind
of mountain or solar flare). I like thinking of I Cite as one of the thousands
of elements contributing to this left communicative common.
DV When I talk about a ‘search for new political subjectivities’ I mean, first
of all, that we see our main task as an educational process - to research certain
issues and try to open up the process of research to larger audiences who
could start to undertake their own investigations. Formally, we are located
in the art world, but we are trying to escape from the professional art public
and address the issues that we deal with to audiences outside of the art world.
We also have a very clear political identification embodied in the name of
our collective. The question of ‘What is to be done?’ is clearly marked by
the history of leftist struggle and thinking. The name of our group is an
actualisation of the history of the workers’ movement and revolutionary
theory in Russia. The name in itself is a gesture of actualisation of the past. I
was very glad when the last Documenta decided to choose the same title for
their leitmotif on education, so that now a rather broad public would know
that this question comes from a novel written by the Russian nineteenth
century writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and directly refers to the first socialist
workers’ self-organisation cells in Russia, which Lenin later actualised in his
famous 1902 pamphlet What Is to Be Done? Chto Delat? also sees itself as a
self-organizing collective structure that works through reflections on, and
redefinitions of, the political engagement of art in society.
To be engaged means for us that we practice art as a production of
knowledge, as a political and economic issue - and not a solitary contemplation
of the sublime or entertainment for the ruling class. It means to be involved
with all the complexities of contemporary social and political life and make
a claim that we, with all our efforts, are able to influence and change this
condition for the better. Whatever one means by ‘better’, we have an historical
responsibility to make the world more free, human and to fight alienation.
To openly display one’s leftism in the Russian historical moment of 2003
was not only a challenge in the sense of an artistic gesture; it also meant
adopting a dissident civic stance. For my generation, this was a kind of return
to Soviet times, when any honest artist was incapable of having anything to
do with official culture. In the same way, for us the contemporary Russian art
establishment had become a grotesque likeness of late-Soviet official culture,
to which it was necessary to oppose other values. So this was not a particularly

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unique experience for us: we simply returned to our dissident youth. Yet at
the same time, in the 2000s, we had more opportunities to realise ourselves,
and we saw ourselves as part of an overall movement. Immediately after us,
other new civic initiatives arose with which it was interesting to cooperate:
among them, the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (2004), the Institute
for Collective Action (2004), the Vpered Socialist Movement (2005), and the
Russian Social Forum (2005). It was they who became our main reference
group: we still draw our political legitimacy from our relationships with them
and with a number of newer initiatives that have clearly arisen under our
At the same time, having positioned our project as international, we began
discovering new themes and areas of struggle: the theory of the multitude,
immaterial labour, social forums, the movement of movements, urban
studies, research into everyday life, etc. We also encountered past thinkers
(such as Cornelius Castoriadis and Henri Lefebvre) who were largely absent
from Russian intellectual discourse, as well as newer figures that were much
discussed at that time (such as Negri, Virno, and Rancière). There was a
strong sense of discovery, and this always gives one a particular energy. We
consciously strove to take the position of Russian cultural leftists who were
open-minded and focused on involvement in international cultural activist
networks, and we have been successful in realizing this aim.
NT I was a little concerned that starting a conversation about the ‘materialities’
of publishing with a question about writing and text might lead us in the wrong
direction, but as is clear from Jodi’s and Dmitry’s comments, writing is of
course a material practice with its own technological and publishing forms,
cognitive and affective patterns, temporal structures, and subjectifying powers.
With regard to the materialities of digital publishing, your description, Jodi,
of a ‘media storm’ emerging from the Occupy movement is very suggestive
of the way media flows can aggregate into a kind of quasi-autonomous entity,
taking on a life of its own that has agential effects as it draws participants up
into the event. In the past that might have been the function of a manifesto
or slogan, but with social media, as you suggest, the contributing parts to
this agential aggregate become many and various, including particular blogs,
still and moving image files, analytic frameworks, slogans or memes (‘We
are the 99%’), but also more abstract forms such as densities of reposting
and forwarding, and, in that wonderful ‘VersuS’ social media visualisation
you mention, cartographies of data flow. Here a multiplicity of social media
communications, each with their particular communicative function on the
day, are converted into a strange kind of collective, intensive entity, a digital
‘solar flare’ as you put it.6 Its creators, ‘Art is Open Source’, have made
some intriguing comment about how this intensive mapping might be used
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 163

6. Art Is Open
Source, ‘VersuS
- Rome, October
15th, the Riots on
Social Networks’,

7. See http://

tactically in real time and, subsequently, as a means of rethinking the nature
and representational forms of collective action - it would be interesting in this
regard to compare the representational effects of this Twitter visualisation with
the photograph of the 1848 ‘monster meeting’ of the Chartists in Kennington
Common, said to be the first photograph of a crowd.7
But returning to your own publishing projects, I’m keen to hear more from
Pauline and Sean about the technical and organizational structure of Mute
and AAAAARG. Pauline, as Mute has developed from a printed magazine to
the current ‘distended’ arrangement of different platforms and institutions,
has it been accompanied by changes in the way the editorial group have
characterised or imagined Mute as a project? And can you comment more on
how Mute’s publishing platforms and institutional structures are organised? I
would be interested to hear too if you see Mute as having any kind of agential
effects or quasi-autonomy, along the lines mentioned above - are there ways
in which the magazine itself serves to draw certain relations between people,
things, and events?
PvMB Reading across these questions I would say that, in Mute’s case, a
decisive role has been played by the persistently auto-didactic nature of the
project; also the way we tend to see-saw between extreme stubbornness and
extreme pragmatism. Overall, our desire has been, simply, to produce the
editorial content that feels culturally, socially, politically ‘necessary’ in the
present day (and of course this is historically and even personally contingent;
a fundamentally embodied thing), and to find and develop the forms in
which to do that. These forms range from textual and visual styles and idioms
(artistic, experimental, academic, journalistic), the physical carriers for them,
and then the software systems and infrastructures for which these are also
converted and adapted. It bears re-stating that these need to be ones we are
able to access, work with; and that grant us the largest possible audience for
our work.
If you mix this ‘simple’ premise with the cultural and economic context
in which we found ourselves in the UK, then you have to account for its
interaction with a whole raft of phenomena, ranging from the dot com
boom and yBa cultures of the ’90s; the New Labour era (with its Creative
Industries and Regeneration-centric funding programmes); the increasing
corporatisation of mainstream cultural institutions and media; the explosion
of cheap, digital tools and platforms; the evolution of anti-capitalist struggles
and modes of activism; state incursion into/control over all areas of the
social body; discourses around self-organisation; the financial crisis; and so
on and so forth. In this context, which was one of easy credit and relatively
generous state funding for culture, Mute for a long time did manage to eek
out a place for its activity, adapting its working model and organisational
economy in a spirit of - as I said - radical pragmatism. The complex material
and organisational form that has resulted from this (which, to some people’s

New Formations

surprise, includes things like consultancy services in ‘digital strategy’ aimed
at the cultural sector, next to broadly leftist cultural critique) may indeed
have some kind of agential power, but it is really very hard to say what it is,
particularly since we resist systematic analysis of, and ‘singularising’ into,
homogenous categories of ‘audience’ or ‘client base’.
Listening to other small, independent publications analyse their
developmental process (like I recently did with, to name one example, the
journal Collapse), I think there are certain processes at play which recur in
many different settings.8 For me the most interesting and important of these
is the way that a journal or magazine can act as a kind of connection engine
with ‘strangers’, due to its function as a space of recognition, affinity, or
attractive otherness (with this I mean that it’s not just about recognising and
being semi-narcissistically drawn to an image of oneself, one’s own subjectivity
and proclivities; but the manner readers are drawn to ‘alien’ ideas that are
nonetheless compelling, troubling, or intriguing - hence drawing them
into the reader - and potentially even contributor - circle of that journal). If
there’s quite an intense editorial process at the ‘centre’ of the journal - like
there is, and has always been, with Mute - then this connection-engine draws
people in, propels people out, in a continual, dynamic process, which, due
to its intensity, very effectively blurs the lines of ‘professionalism’, friendship,
editorial, social, political praxis.
For fear of being too waffley or recherché about this, I’d say this was - if
any - the type of agential power Mute also had, and that this becomes heavily
internationalised by dint of its situation on the Internet. In terms of how
Editors then conjure that, each one would probably do it differently - some
seeing it more like a traditional (print) journal, some getting quite swallowed
up by discourses around openness/distributedness/community-participation.
Aspects of that characterisation have probably also changed over time, in the
sense that, circa 2006/7, we might have held onto a more strictly autonomous
figure for our project, which is something I don’t think even the most hopeful
are able to do now – given our partnerships with an ‘incubator’ project in
a university (Leuphana), or our state funding for a commercially oriented
publishing-technology project (Progressive Publishing System / PPS).9 Having
said all that, the minute any kind of direct or indirect manipulation of
content started to occur, our editors would cease to be interested, so whatever
institutional affiliations we might be open to now that we would not have been
several years ago, it remains a delicate balance.
NT Sean, you talk very evocatively of AAAAARG as a generative ‘scaffolding’
between institutions. Can you say more about this? Does this image of
scaffolding relate to discourses of media ‘independence’ or ‘institutional
critique’? And if scaffolding is the more abstract aspect of AAAAARG - its
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 165

8. http://www.
publicationsuniaayp; http://

9. http://www.

governing image - can you talk concretely about how specific aspects of the
AAAAARG platform function to further (and perhaps also obstruct) the
scaffolding? It would be interesting to hear too if this manner of existence
runs into any difficulties - do some institutions object to having scaffolding
constructed amidst them?
SD The image of scaffolding was simply a way of describing an orientation
with respect to institutions that was neither inside nor outside, dependent
nor independent, reformist or oppositional, etc. At the time, the institutions
I meant were specifically Universities, which seemed to have absorbed theory
into closed seminar rooms, academic formalities, and rarefied publishing
worlds. Especially after the momentum of the anti-globalisation movement
ran into the aftermath of September 11, criticality had more or less retreated,
exhausted within the well-managed circuits of the academy. ‘Scaffolding’ was
meant to allude to both networked communication media and to prefigurative,
improvisational quasi-institutions. It suggested the possibility of the office
worker who shuts her door and climbs out the window.
How did AAAAARG actually function with respect to this image? For
one, it circulated scans of books and essays outside of their normal paths
(trajectories governed by geographic distribution, price, contracts, etc.) so
that they became available for people that previously didn’t have access.
People eventually began to ask others for scans or copies of particular texts,
and when those scans were uploaded they stayed available on the site. When
a reading group uploaded a few texts as a way to distribute them among
members, those texts also stayed available. Everything stayed available. The
concept of ‘Issues’ provided a way for people to make subjective groupings
of texts, from ‘anti-austerity encampment movements’ to ‘DEPOSITORY TO
SCIENCES PLEASE.’ These groupings could be shared so that anyone might
add a text into an Issue, an act of collective bibliography-making. The idea
was that AAAAARG would be an infinite resource, mobilised (and nurtured)
by reading groups, social movements, fringe scholars, temporary projects,
students, and so on.
My history is too general to be accurate and what I’m about to write is too
specific to be true, but I’ll continue anyway: due in part to the seductiveness of
The Coming Insurrection as well as the wave of student occupations beginning in
2009 (many accompanied by emphatic communiqués with a theoretical force
and refusal to make demands) it felt as though a plug had been pulled. Or
maybe that’s just my impression. But the chain of events - from the revolution
in Tunisia to Occupy Everything, but also the ongoing haemorrhaging of
social wealth into the financial industry - has certainly re-oriented political
discourse and one’s sense of what is possible.
As regards your earlier question, I’ve never felt as though AAAARG has had
any agential power because it’s never really been an agent. It didn’t speak or

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make demands; it’s usually been more of a site of potential or vision of what’s
coming (for better or worse) than a vehicle for making change. Compared
to publishing bodies, it certainly never produced anything new or original,
rather it actively explored and exploited the affordances of asynchronous,
networked communication. But all of this is rather commonplace for what’s
called ‘piracy,’ isn’t it?
Anyway, yes, some entities did object to the site - AAAARG was ultimately
taken down by the publisher Macmillan over certain texts, including Beyond
NT AAAAARG’s name has varied somewhat over time. Can you comment
on this? Does its variability relate at all to the structure and functionality of
the web?
SD When people say or write the name they have done it in all kinds of
different ways, adding (or subtracting) As, Rs, Gs, and sometimes Hs. It’s had
different names over time, usually adding on As as the site has had to keep
moving. Since this perpetual change seems to be part of the nature of the
project, my convention has been to be deliberately inconsistent with the name.
I think one part of what you’re referring to about the web is the way in
which data moves from place to place in two ways - one is that it is copied
between directories or computers; and the other is that the addressing is
changed. Although it seems fairly stable at this point, over time it changes
significantly with things slipping in and out of view. We rely on search engines
and the diligence of website administrators to maintain a semblance of stability
(through 301 redirects, for example) but the reality is quite the opposite. I’m
interested in how things (files or simply concepts) circulate within this system,
making use of both visibility and invisibility. Another related dimension would
be the ease of citation, the ways in which both official (executed internally) and
unofficial (accomplished from the outside) copies of entire sites are produced
and eventually confront one another. I’ve heard of people who have backed
up the entirety of AAAAARG, some of whom even initiate new library projects
(such as Henry Warwick’s Alexandria project). The inevitable consequence
of all of this seems to be that the library manifests itself in new places and in
new ways over time - sometimes with additional As, but not always.
NT The expression ‘independent media’ may still have some tactical use to
characterise a publishing space and practice in distinction from commercial
media, but it’s clear from what Pauline and Sean say here that Mute and
AAAAARG have moved a long way from the analytic frameworks of media
‘independence’ as some kind of autonomous or liberated media space. We
might characterise these projects more as ‘topological’ media forms: neither
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 167

inside nor outside institutions, but emergent from the interaction of diverse
platforms, political conjunctures, contributors, readers, concepts, and
financial or legal structures. Media projects in this image of topology would be
immanent to those diverse material relations, not delimited and autonomous
bodies carved out from them. (Not, of course, that this kind of distributed
and mutable structure in itself guarantees progressive political effects.)
I’d like to continue with this discussion of media form and consider in
more detail some specific instances of experimentation with publishing
practice. It seems to me that it is significant that most of you have a relation
to art practice. The work that Humanities researchers and political activists
generate with poststructuralist or Marxist theory should necessarily be selfcritical of its textual and media form, but it frequently fails to be so. Whereas
reflexive approaches would seem to be less easily avoided in art practice, at
least once it engages with the same body of theory - shoot me down if that’s
naive! In any case, I would venture that experimentation in publishing form
has a central place in the media projects we’re discussing. Alessandro, you
make that point, above, that Neural has ‘always experimented with publishing
in various ways’. Can you describe particular examples? It would be very
interesting to hear from you about Neural in this regard, but also about your
art projects ‘Amazon Noir’ and ‘Face to Facebook’.
AL Neural started surrounded by the thrills of the rising global ‘telematic’
networks in 1993, reflecting an interest in intertwining culture and technology
with publishing (either cyberpunk science fiction, internet artworks, or hacker
technologies and practices) in both print and digital media. So, printing a
magazine about digital art and culture in that historical moment meant to
be surrounded by stimuli that pushed beyond the usual structural design
forms and conceptual paradigms of publishing. After almost two decades we
can recognise also that that time was the beginning of the most important
mutation of publishing, through its new networked, screen-based and real
time dimensions. And the printed page started also to have a different role
in the late 2000s, but this role is still to be extensively defined.
At that time, in the mid-1990s, Neural tried to experiment with publishing
through different perspectives. First, aesthetically: the page numbering was
strictly in binary numbers, just zeros and ones, even if the printer started to
complain that this was driving him crazy. But also sensorially: we referred
to optical art, publishing large ‘optical’ artworks in the centrefold; and we
published ‘stereograms’ apparently rude black and white images, that when
viewed from a different angle revealed a three-dimensional picture, tricking
the readers’ eyes and drawing them into a new visual dimension for a while.
And finally, politically: in issue #18 we published a hacktivist fake, a double
page of fake stickers created by the Italian hacker laboratories’ network.
These fake stickers sarcastically simulated the real ones that are mandatory
on any book or CD/DVD sold in Italy, because of the strict law supporting the

New Formations

national Authors’ and Musicians’ Society (SIAE). On the ones we published the
‘Unauthorized Duplication Prohibited’ sentence was replaced by: ‘Suggested
Duplication on any Media’.
As another example, in issue #30 we delivered ‘Notepad’ to all our
subscribers - an artwork by the S.W.A.M.P. duo. It was an apparently ordinary
yellow legal pad, but each ruled line, when magnified, reveals itself to be
‘microprinted’ text enumerating the full names, dates, and locations of each
Iraqi civilian death on record over the first three years of the Iraq War. And
in issue #40 we’ve printed and will distribute in the same way a leaflet of
the Newstweek project (a device which hijacks online major news websites,
changing them while you’re accessing internet on a wireless network) that at
first glance seems to be a classic telco corporate leaflet ad. All these examples
try to expand the printed page to an active role that transcends its usual mode
of private reading.
With these and other experiments in publishing, we’ve tried to avoid the
ephemerality that is the norm in ‘augmented’ content, where it exists just for
the spectacular sake of it. Placing a shortcut to a video through a QR code
can be effective if the connection between the printed resource and the online
content is not going to disappear soon, otherwise the printed information
will remain but the augmentation will be lost. And instead of augmenting the
experience in terms of entertainment, I’m much more in favour of triggering
specific actions (like supporting the online processes) and changes (like
taking responsibility for activating new online processes) through the same
smartphone-based technologies.
Another feature of our experimentation concerns the archive. The printing
and distribution of paper content has become an intrinsic and passive form of
archiving, when this content is preserved somewhere by magazine consumers,
in contrast to the potential disposability of online content which can simply
disappear at any minute if the system administrator doesn’t secure enough
copies. This is why I’ve tried to develop both theoretically and practically the
concept of the ‘distributed archive’, a structure where people personally take
the responsibility to preserve and share printed content. There are already
plenty of ‘archipelagos’ of previously submerged archives that would emerge,
if collectively and digitally indexed, and shared with those who need to access
them. I’m trying to apply this to Neural itself in the ‘Neural Archive’ project,
an online database with all the data about the publications received by Neural
during the years, which should be part of a larger network of small institutions,
whose final goal would be to test and then formulate a viable model to easily
build and share these kind of databases.
Turning to my projects outside of Neural, these social and commercial
aspects of the relation between the materiality of the printed page and the
manipulability of its digital embodiment were foregrounded in Amazon Noir,
an artwork which I developed with Paolo Cirio and Ubermorgen.10 This
work explored the boundaries of copyrighting text, examining the intrinsic
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 169


technological paradox of protecting a digital text from unauthorised copying,
especially when dealing with the monstrous amount of copyrighted content
buyable from Amazon features a powerful and attractive
marketing tool called ‘Search Inside the Book’ which allows potential
customers to search the entire text of a book; Amazon Noir merely exploited
this mechanism by stretching it to its own logical conclusion. The software
script we used obtained the entire text and then automatically saved it as a
PDF file: once we had established the first sentence of the text, the software
then used the last words of this sentence as a search term for retrieving the
first words of the next sentence. By reiterating this process (a total of 2,000
to 3,000 queries for an average book) and automatically reconstructing the
fragments, the software ended up collecting the entire text. In order to better
visualise the process, we created an installation: two overhead projectors,
displaying the project’s logo and a diagram of the internal workings of our
software, as well as a medical incubator containing one of the ‘stolen’ (and
digitally reprinted) books. The book we chose to ‘steal’ was (of course) Steal
This Book, the American 1970s counterculture classic by the activist Abbie
Hoffman. In a sense, we literally ‘re-incarnated’ the book in a new, mutated
physical form. But we also put up a warning sign near the incubator:
The book inside the incubator is the physical embodiment of a complex
hacking action. It has been obtained exploiting the Amazon ‘Search Inside The Book’
tool. Take care because it’s an illegitimate and premature son born from the relationship
between Amazon and Copyright. It’s illegitimate because it’s an unauthorized print of a
copyright-protected book. And it’s premature because the gestation of this relationship’s
outcome is far from being mature.
We asked ourselves: what’s the difference between digitally scanning the text
of a book we already own, and obtaining it through Amazon Noir? In strictly
conceptual terms, there is no difference at all, other then the amount of time
we spent on the project. We wished to set up our own Amazon, definitively
circumventing the confusion of endless purchase-inducing stimuli. So we
stole the hidden and disjointed connections between the sentences of a text,
to reveal them for our own amusement and edification; we stole the digital
implementation of synaptic connections between memories (both human and
electronic) created by a giant online retailer in order to amuse and seduce us
into compulsive consumption; we were thieves of memory (in a McLuhanian
sense), stealing for the right to remember, the right to independently and
freely construct our own physical memory.
Finally, in Face to Facebook (developed again with Paolo Cirio and part of
the ‘Hacking Monopolism’ trilogy together with Amazon Noir and Google
Will Eat Itself) we ‘stole’ 1 million Facebook profiles’ public data, filtering
them through their profile pictures with face-recognition software, and then

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posted all the filtered data on a custom-made dating website, sorted by their
facial expression characteristics.11 In the installation we produced, we glued
more than 1,700 profile pictures on white-painted square wood panels,
and projected also the software diagram and an introductory video. Here
the ‘printed’ part deals more with materializing ‘stolen’ personal online
information. The ‘profile pictures’ treated as public data by Facebook, and
scraped with a script by Paolo and me, once properly printed are a terrific
proof of our online fragility and at the same time of how ‘printing’ is becoming
a contemporary form of ‘validation’. In fact we decided to print them on the
type of photographic paper once used for passport pictures (the ‘silk’ finish).
The amazing effect of all these faces together was completely different when
visualised in a video (‘overwhelming’ when zooming in and out), printed with
ink-jet printers (‘a huge amount of recognisable faces’), and on its proper
‘validating’ medium, photographic paper (giving the instant impression that
‘all those people are real’). What does it mean when the picture (with your
face) with which you choose to represent yourself in the potential arena of
700 Millions Facebook users is printed, re-contextualised, and exhibited
somewhere else, with absolutely no user control? Probably, it reinforces the
concept that print still has a strong role in giving information a specific status,
because more than five centuries of the social use of print have developed a
powerful instinctive attitude towards it.
NT What you say here Alessandro about Neural’s concern to ‘expand the
printed page’ is very suggestive of the possibilities of print in new media
environments. Could you comment more on this theme by telling us how
you understand ‘post-digital print’, the topic of your current book project?
AL Post-Digital Print: the Mutation of Publishing since 1894 is the outcome
of quite extensive research that I carried out at the Willem De Kooning
Academy as guest researcher in the Communication Design program run by
Florian Cramer. The concept behind it is to understand both historically and
strategically the new role of print in the 2010s, dealing with the prophets
of its death and its digital competitors, but also its history as something of a
perfect medium, the oldest still in use and the protagonist of countless media
experiments, not to mention its possible evolution and further mutations. The
concept of post-digital print can be better explained through a description of
a few of its chapters. In the first chapter, I analyze ten different moments in
history when the death of paper was announced (before the digital); of course,
it never happened, proving that perhaps even current pronouncements
will prove to be mistaken (by the way, the first one I’ve found dates back to
1894, which explains the subtitle). In the second chapter I’ve tried to track
a history of how avant-garde and underground movements have used print
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 171


tactically or strategically, reflecting or anticipating its evolutions. In the third
chapter I go deeper in analyzing the ‘mutation’ of paper in recent years, and
what ‘material paper represents in immaterial times’. And the sixth chapter
addresses the basis on which print can survive as an infrastructure and a
medium for sharing content and experience, and also as a way of generating
collective practice and alliances. Beyond this book, I’m continuing to research
the relationship between print and online in various forms, especially artistic
ones. Personally, I think this relationship will be one of the pivotal media
arenas of change (and so of new potential territories for experimentation
and innovation) in the coming years.

12. Theodor
W. Adorno,
Musings’ in Notes
to Literature Volume
2, Shierry Weber
Nicholsen (trans),
Rolf Tiedemann
(ed), New York,
Columbia University
Press, 1992, p20.
13. Stéphane
Mallarmé, ‘The
Book: A Spiritual
Bradford Cook
(trans), in Hazard
Adams (ed), Critical
Theory Since Plato,
New York, Harcourt
Brace, 1971, p691.

NT Taking a lead from some of these points, I’d like to turn to the material
forms of the book and the archive. Sensory form has historically played a key
role in constituting the body, experience, and metaphors of the book and the
archive. For both Adorno and Mallarmé, the physical and sensory properties of
the book are key to its promise, which lies to a large degree in its existence as
a kind of ‘monad’. For Adorno, the book is ‘something self-contained, lasting,
hermetic - something that absorbs the reader and closes the lid over him, as it
were, the way the cover of the book closes on the text’.12 And for Mallarmé, ‘The
foldings of a book, in comparison with the large-sized, open newspaper, have
an almost religious significance. But an even greater significance lies in their
thickness when they are piled together; for then they form a tomb in miniature
for our souls’.13 I find these to be very appealing characterisations of the book,
but today they come with a sense of nostalgia, and the strong emphasis they
place on the material form and physical characteristics of the printed book
appears to leave little room for a digital future of this medium. Sean, I want
to ask you two related questions on this theme. What happens to the sensory
properties of paper in AAAAARG - are they lost, reconfigured, replaced with
other sensory experiences? And what happens to the book in AAAAARG, once
it is digitised and becomes less a self-enclosed and autonomous object than, as
you put it, part of an ‘infinite resource’?
SD It is a romantic way of thinking about books - and a way that I also find
appealing - but of course it’s a characterisation that comes after the fact
of the book; it’s a way that Adorno, Mallarmé, and others have described
and generalised their own experiences with these objects. I see no reason
why future readers’ experiences with various forms of digital publishing
won’t cohere into something similar, feelings of attachment, enclosure,
impenetrability, and so on.
AAAARG is stuck in between both worlds. So many of the files on the site
are images of paper (usually taken with a scanner, but occasionally a camera)
packaged in a PDF. You can see it in the underlines, binding gradients,
folds, stains, and tears; and you can often, but not always, see the labour and
technology involved in making the transformation from physical to digital.

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So one’s experience is often to be perhaps more aware of the paper that is
not there. Of course, there are other files which have completely divorced
themselves from any sense of the paper, whether because they are texts that
are native to the digital - or because of a particularly virtuosic scanning job.
There are problems with the nostalgia for books - a nostalgia that I am
most certainly stricken with. We can’t take the book object out of the political
economy of the book, and our attempts to recreate ‘the book’ in the digital will
very likely also import legal and economic structures that ought to be radically
reformulated or overthrown. In this context, as in others, there seem to be
a few ways that this is playing out, simultaneously: one is the replication of
existing territories and power structures by extending them into the digital;
another, in the spirit of the California Ideology, would be that attempt to use
the digital as a leading edge in reshaping the public, of subsuming it into
the market; and a third could be trying to make the best of this situation,
with access to tools and each other, in order to build new structures that are
more connected to those contesting the established and emerging forces of
And what’s more, it seems like the physical book itself is becoming
something else - material is recombined and re-published and re-packaged
from the web, such that we now have many more books being published each
year than ever before - perhaps not as self-enclosed as it was for Adorno. I
don’t want to make equivalences between the digital and physical book - there
are very real physiological and psychical differences between holding ink on
paper versus holding a manufactured hard drive, coursing with radio waves
and emitting some frequency of light - but I think the break is really staggered
and imperfect. We’ll never really lose the book and the digital isn’t confined
to pixels on a screen.
NT Turning to social media, I want to ask Jodi to comment more on the
technical structures of the blog. In Blog Theory you propose an intriguing
concept of ‘whatever blogging’ to describe the association of blogs with the
decline of symbolic efficiency, as expressions are severed from their content
and converted into quantitative values and graphic representations of
communication flow.14 The more we communicate, it seems, the more what is
communicated tends toward abstraction, and the evacuation of consequence
save for the perpetuation of communication. Can you describe the technical
features and affective qualities of this process, how the field of ‘whatever
blogging’ is constituted? And how might we oppose these tendencies? Can
we reaffirm writing as deliberation and meaning? Are there any ways to make
progressive use of the ‘whatever’ field?
JD The basic features of blogs include posts (which are time-stamped,
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 173

14. Jodi Dean, Blog
Theory: Feedback and
Capture in the Circuits
of Drive, Cambridge,
Polity Press, 2010.

permalinked, and archived), comments, and links. These features aren’t
necessarily separate insofar as posts have permalinks and can themselves
be comments; for example, that a specific blog has disabled its comment
feature doesn’t preclude the possibility of a discussion arising about that blog
elsewhere. Two further features of blogs arise from their settings: hits (that
is, viewers, visitors) and a kind of generic legibility, or, what we might call
the blog form (the standard visual features associated with but not exclusive
to popular platforms like Blogger and Typepad). I bring up the latter point
since so much of online content is now time-stamped, permalinked, and
archived, yet we would not call it a blog (the New York Times website has blogs
but these are sub-features of the site, not the site itself). All these features
enable certain kinds of quantification: bloggers can know how many hits we
get on a given day (even minute by minute), we can track which posts get
the most hits, which sites send us the most visitors, who has linked to us or
re-blogged our content, how popular we are compared to other blogs, etc.
Now, this quantification is interesting because it accentuates the way that,
regardless of its content, any post, comment, or link is a contribution; it is an
addition to a communicative field. Half the visitors to my blog could be rightwing bad guys looking for examples of left-wing lunacy - but each visitor counts
the same. Likewise, quantitatively speaking, there is no difference between
comments that are spam, from trolls, or seriously thoughtful engagements.
Each comment counts the same (as in post A got 25 comments; post B didn’t
get any). Each post counts the same (an assumption repeated in surveys of
bloggers - we are asked how many times we post a day). Most bloggers who
blog for pay are paid on the basis of the two numbers: how many posts and
how many comments per post. Whether the content is inane or profound is
The standardisation and quantification of blogging induce a kind of
contradictory sensibility in some bloggers. On the one hand, our opinion
counts. We are commenting on matters of significance (at least to someone
- see, look, people are reading what we write! We can prove it; we’ve got the
numbers!). Without this promise or lure of someone, somewhere, hearing
our voice, reading our words, registering that we think, opine, and feel,
there wouldn’t be blogging (or any writing for another). On the other hand,
knowing that our blog is one among hundreds of millions, that we have very
few readers, and we can prove it - look, only 100 hits today and that was to
the kitty picture - provides a cover of anonymity, the feeling that one could
write absolutely anything and it would be okay, that we are free to express
what we want without repercussion. So bloggers (and obviously I don’t have
in mind celebrity bloggers or old-school ‘A-list bloggers’) persist in this
affective interzone of unique importance and liberated anonymity. It’s like
we can expose what we want without having to deal with any consequences
- exposure without exposure. Thus, a few years ago there were all sorts of
stories about people losing their jobs because of what they wrote on their

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blogs. Incidentally, the same phenomenon occurs in other social media - the
repercussions of indiscrimination that made their way to Facebook.
The overall field of social media, then, relies on this double sense of
exposing without being exposed, of being unique but indistinguishable. What
registers is the addition to the communicative field, the contribution, not the
content, not the meaning. Word clouds are great examples here - they are
graphic representations of word frequency. They can say how many times a
word is used, but not the context or purpose or intent or connotation of its
use. So a preacher could use the word ‘God’ as many times as the profaner;
the only difference is that the latter also uses the words ‘damn it.’
Can this field where whatever is said counts the same as any other thing
that is said be used progressively? Not really; I mean only in a very limited
way. Sure, there are spam operations and ways to try to manipulate search
engine results. But if you think about it, most critical work relies on a level of
meaning. Satire, irony, comedy, deconstruction, détournement all invoke a
prior meaningful setting into which they intervene. Rather than ‘progressive
use of the whatever field’ I would urge a more direct and decisive assertion of
collective political will, something that cuts through the bland whateverness
without commitments to recognise that this is nothing but the maintenance
of the malleable inhabitants of capitalism when what is really needed is the
discipline of communist collectives.
NT Dmitry, the Chto Delat? group produces work across a range of media film, radio, performance, installation, website, blog - but the media form of
the ‘newspaper’ has an especially significant place for you: Chto Delat? began
its collective work through the production of a newspaper and has continued
to produce newspapers as a key part of its exhibitions and interventions.
Many will argue that the newspaper is now a redundant or ‘retro’ media form,
given the superior distributive and interactive capacities of digital media.
But such assessments fail to appreciate the complex form and functionality
of the newspaper, which is not merely a means of information distribution.
It is noteworthy in this regard that the Occupy movement (which has been a
constant throughout this conversation) has been producing regular printed
newspapers from the precarious sites of occupation, when an exclusive focus
on new media might have been more practical.
So, I would like to ask you some questions about the appeal of the media
form of the newspaper. First, Chto Delat?’s emphasis on self-education is
influenced by Paulo Freire, but on this theme of the newspaper it is the
pedagogical practice of Jean Oury and Félix Guattari that comes to my mind.
For Oury and Guattari (building on work by Célestin Freinet on ‘institutional
pedagogy’) the collectively produced publication works as a therapeutic ‘third
object’, a mediator to draw out, problematise, and transversalise social and
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 175

15. Gary Genosko,
Félix Guattari: A
Critical Introduction,
Cambridge, Pluto
Press, 2009;
Genosko, ‘Busted:
Félix Guattari
and the Grande
Encyclopédie des
Rhizomes 11/12
(2005/6), http://
html ; François
Dosse, Gilles Deleuze
and Félix Guattari:
Intersecting Lives, D.
Glassman (trans),
New York, Columbia
University Press,

16. Christina
Kiaer, Imagine
No Possessions:
The Socialist
Objects of Russian
London, The
MIT Press, 2005;
Nicholas Thoburn,
‘Communist Objects
and the Values of
Printed Matter’,
Social Text 28, 2
(2010): 1-30.
17. Gilles Deleuze
and Félix Guattari,
What Is Philosophy?
G. Burchell and H.
Tomlinson (trans),
London, Verso,
1994, pp167-8,

libidinal relations among groups, be they psychiatric associations or political
collectives. Gary Genosko has published some fascinating work on this aspect
of Guattari’s praxis, and it comes across clearly in the Dosse biography of
Deleuze and Guattari.15 With this question of group pedagogy in mind, what is
the role of the newspaper in the self-organisation and self-education practice
of Chto Delat?
DV The interrelations between all forms of our activity is very important, Chto
Delat? is conceived as an integral composition: we do research on a film project
and some materials of this research get published in the newspaper and in
our on-line journal (which is on-line extension of the newspaper); we start to
work on the publication and its outcomes inspire work on a new installation;
we plan an action and build a collaboration with new actors and it triggers a
new publication and so on. But in general, the newspaper is used as a medium
of contextualisation and communication with the broader community, and as
an interventionist pressure on mainstream cultural production.
I did not know about Guattari’s ideas here, but I totally agree. Yes, for us
the newspaper is also a ‘third object’ which carries a therapeutic function when it is printed despite all the impossibilities of making it happen, after all
the struggle around content, finance, and so on, the collective gets a mirror
which confirms its own fragile and crisis-ridden existence.
NT If we turn to the more physical and formal qualities, does the existence of
the newspaper as an ‘object’ have any value or significance to you? Chto Delat?
has made enticing engagements with the Constructivist project - you talk of
‘actualising’ Constructivism in new circumstances. To that end, I wonder if the
newspaper may be a way of actualising the Constructivist theme of the object
as ‘comrade’, as Rodchenko put it, where the revolution is the liberation of the
human and the object, what Arvatov called the ‘intensive expressiveness’ of
matter?16 Another way of thinking this theme of the newspaper as a political
object is through what Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘monument’, a compound
of matter and sensation that ‘stands up by itself ’, independent of its creator,
as a product of the event and a projection into the future:
the monument is not something commemorating a past, it is a bloc of
present sensations that owe their preservation only to themselves and that
provide the event with the compound that celebrates it. The monument’s
action is not memory but fabulation … [I]t confides to the ear of the future
the persistent sensations that embody the event: the constantly renewed
suffering of men and women, their recreated protestations, their constantly
resumed struggle.17
DV Yes, the materiality (the ‘weight’) of newspaper is really important.
You should carry it for distribution, pass it from hand to hand, there is an

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important pressure of piles of newspapers stocked in the exhibition halls as takeaway artifacts (really monumental), or used as a wallpaper for installations.
We love these qualities, and the way they organise a routine communication
inside the group: ‘Hi there! Do you have newspapers to distribute at the rally
tomorrow? How many? Should we post a new batch?’ At a more subjective
level, I love to get the freshly printed newspaper in my hands; yes, it is a drug,
particularly in my case, when all the processes of production come through
my hands - first the idea, then editorial communication, lay-out, graphics,
finance, and then print.
NT On this theme, I want to ask Pauline if you can comment on the place
of printed paper in the history and future of Mute? I have in mind your
experiments with paper stock, the way paper interfaces with digital publishing
platforms (or fails to), the pleasures, pains, and constraints of producing a
printed product in the digital environment.
PvMB All this talk of newspapers is making me very nostalgic. It was the
first print format that we experimented with, and I agree it’s one of the most
powerful - both in terms of the historical resonances it can provoke, and
in terms of what you can practically do with it (which includes distributing
editorial to many people for quite low costs, being experimental with lay-out,
type, images; and yes, working through this ‘third object’, with all that that
might imply). The Scottish free-circulation newspaper, Variant, is testimony to
this, having hung onto the format much more doggedly than Mute did, and
continuing to go strong, in spite of all the difficult conditions for production
that all of us face.18 There again, where Variant has shown the potential power
and longevity of freely distributed critical content (which they also archive fully
on the web), the rise and rise of free newspapers - wherein editorial functions
as nothing more than a hook for advertising, targeted at different ‘segments’
of the market – shouldn’t be forgotten either, since this might represent the
dominant function this media form presently holds.
I shouldn’t take too much time talking about the specifics here, but the
shelf-display-and-sale model of distribution which Mute chose for its printed
matter - on the eve of the assault this suffered from free online editorial
- landed us in some kind of Catch-22 which, nearly two decades later, we
still can’t quite figure the exit to. Important coordinates here are: the costs
involved in developing high quality editorial (research, commissioning,
layout, proofing, printing; but also the maintenance of an organisation with
- apart from staff - reliable systems for admin, finance, legal, a constitutional
apparatus); the low returns you get on ‘specialist’ editorial via shelf-sales
(particularly if you can’t afford sustained Marketing/Distribution, and the
offline distribution infrastructure itself starts to crumble under the weight of
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 177

18. Since this
conversation took
place, Variant has lost
its Creative Scotland
funding and has
(temporarily, one
hopes) suspended
publication. See

online behemoths like Amazon); and then finally the lure to publish online,
borne of promises of a global audience and the transcendence of a lot of
those difficulties.
Mute’s original newspaper format constituted an art-like gesture: it
encapsulated many things we wanted to speak about, but in ‘mute’, visual,
encoded form - epitomised by the flesh tones of the FT-style newspaper,
which insisted on the corporeal substrate of the digital revolution, as well as
its intimate relationship to speculation and investment finance (a condition,
we sought to infer, that it shared with all prior communications and
infrastructural revolutions). Thereafter, our experiments with paper were an
engagement with the ‘Catch-22’ described above, whose negative effects we
nevertheless perceived as mere obstacles to be negotiated, as we continued
hopefully, stubbornly, to project a global community of readers we might
connect with and solidarities we might forge - as everyone does, I guess.
We didn’t want to change our editorial to suit the market, so instead focused
on the small degrees of freedom and change afforded to us by its carrier,
i.e. the varying magazine formats at our disposal (quarterly/biannual, small/
large, full colour/mono, lush/ziney). In retrospect, we may have overplayed
the part played by desire in reading and purchasing habits (in the sense that
we thought we could sway potential purchasers to support Mute by plying
them with ever more ‘appealing’ objects). Be that as it may, it did push us
to mine this liminal zone between paper and pixel that Sean evokes so well
- particularly, I’d say, in the late ’90s/early 2000s, when questions over the
relationship between the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ raged to nigh obsessional levels,
and magazines’ visual languages also grappled with their representation, or
Where we stand now, things are supposed to have stabilised somewhat.
The medial and conceptual hyper experimentation triggered by projected
‘digital futures’ has notionally died down, as mature social media and digital
publishing platforms are incorporated into our everyday lives, and the
behaviours associated with them normalised (the finger flicks associated with
the mobile or tablet touch screen, for example). Somewhere along the line you
asked about ePublishing. Well, things are very much up in the air on this front
currently, as independent publishers test the parameters and possibilities of
ePublishing while struggling to maintain commercial sustainability. Indeed, I
think the independent ePublishing situation, exciting though it undoubtedly
is, actually proves that this whole narrative of normalisation and integration
is a complete fiction; that, if there is any kind of ‘monument’ under collective
construction right now, it is one built under the sign of panic and distraction.
This conversation took place by email over the course of a few months from October
2011. Sponsorship was generously provided by CRESC (Centre for Research on SocioCultural Change),


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