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/http://journalment.org/author/public-
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._
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.