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“I am not writing reviews for The New Inquiry”

July 22, 2015

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I am not writing “Leaving the Atocha Station” by Anne Boyer and certainly not writing “Nadja” by Anne Boyer though would like to write “Debt” by Anne Boyer though am not writing also “The German Ideology” by Anne Boyer and not writing a screenplay called “Sparticists.”

I am not writing an account of myself more miserable than Rousseau. I am not writing an account of myself more innocent than Blake.

I am not writing epic poetry although I like what Milton said about lyric poets drinking wine while epic poets should drink water from a wooden bowl. I would like to drink wine from a wooden bowl or to drink water from an emptied bottle of wine.

I am not writing a book about shopping, which is a woman shopping. I am not writing accounts of dreams, not my own or anyone else’s. I am not writing historical re-enactments of any durational literature.

Read More | “Not Writing” | Anne Boyer | Bookforum

 

“Here is the reason why workers feel so insecure, today”

June 15, 2015

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To what extent do conditions of work and struggle, today, actually mirror those of the Gilded Age? Then, as now, rates of unionization were low and limited to skilled workers. With notable exceptions like the IWW, unions generally ignored the semi-skilled and unskilled. Meanwhile, there was no safety net for workers thrown out of work. These points form the basis of Post’s argument that the present is essentially like the past. In reality, US labor market conditions today are little like they were in the decades before World War I – and not only because in 1880, 50 percent of the labor force was still in agriculture. Major differences between the present and the past can easily be demonstrated by looking at real-wage trends for unskilled workers.

Between 1880 and 1913, unskilled workers’ real wages rose by 1.5 percent per year. Recall that for production and nonsupervisory workers, real compensation was stagnant between 1974 and 2007. How was it possible for unskilled workers’ wages to rise so quickly, back then, in spite of an absence of unions and social protections? One reason is that labor markets were tight: this was an era of labor under-supply in the US. Many whites still had access to land. Meanwhile, indigenous populations had mostly been eradicated. Racist factory-owners in the North were loath to attract Black sharecroppers from the South, so, as the economy boomed, huge numbers of immigrants were pulled in from Europe. Post argues that “in the 1890s, the vast majority of working people lived an incredibly precarious existence,” but that was much less true in the US than it was in Europe. Immigrants came to the US precisely to escape much higher levels of precarity. Around the turn of the century, this country saw one of the largest mass migrations in history, yet real wages for unskilled workers continued to rise.

On this basis, one argue that, in certain limited respects, the liberal period, 1880-1913, was more like the age of managed capitalism, 1949-73, than it is like the present. In the former two periods, US labor markets were tight and real wage growth was strong; today, the labor market is slack and wage growth has stagnated. This is not even to mention other major differences between the late 1800s, when workers’ struggle was still largely defined by the fight to increase workers’ control over production, and the present, when workers’ loss of control has been pushed to the extreme for all but a tiny minority of high-tech engineers. Nor is it to mention that back then, the industrial workforce was still expanding, as compared to today, when it is shrinking.

Read More | “Precarity Rising” | Aaron Benanav | Viewpoints

 

“The mother is a labourer”

May 24, 2015

BundlesForHealing

What is most dangerous about the diagnostic of postpartum depression is the psychologization of social struggle—the isolation of the individual from a collective experience. The dominant culture around postpartum depression moralizes a political problem, approaching what should be a site of shared critique and resistance as a form of competitive self-discipline.

Although the diagnosis of postpartum can feel liberating—providing a relief from self-blame in the form of a psychological disorder—it also imposes a set of challenges to the mother’s self-discipline. In terms of treatment for postpartum depression, the AAP suggests exercise and the help of a licensed mental health provider, and they advise mothers to “try not to worry about unimportant tasks—be realistic about what you can really do,” to “cut down on less important responsibilities,” and to “get as much sleep or rest as you can even if you have to ask for more help with the baby.” Successful treatment is a measurement of class but is coded as a matter of personal responsibility. The advice for self-management directly contradicts the instructions for the devoted breastfeeder; women are at once told to be “perfect” labourers, endlessly breastfeeding, but are also instructed to take care of themselves, to relax from the work of mothering. The solution for one set of “problems” produces a new failure to overcome. The regimen of self-care is nothing but an instrument of self-blame.

The disciplining of the postpartum experience reduces conditions of labour to a matter of individual habit and lifestyle. This disciplining must be understood as masculinizing the conditions of feminization. While describing the feminized, unwaged, immaterialized forms of labour integral to “motherhood,” the cultural discourse of postpartum depression compels the masculinist, competitive, individuating forms of sociality structural to capitalism.

Read More | “Theses on Postpartum” | Madeline Lane-McKinley and Marija Cetinic | GUTS

 

“Our collective and interdependent force is energizing”

May 15, 2015

We are a group of seven artists who made the decision to attend USC Roski School of Art and Design’s MFA program based on the faculty, curriculum, program structure and funding packages. We are a group of seven artists who have been forced by the School’s actions dismantling each of these elements to dissolve our MFA candidacies. In short, due to the University’s unethical treatment of its students, we, the entire incoming class of 2014, are dropping out of school and dropping back into our expanded communities at large.

The Roski MFA Program that attracted us was intimate and exceptionally well-­funded; all students graduated with two years of teaching experience and very little to no debt. We were fully aware of the scarcity of, and the paucity of compensation for, most teaching jobs, so this program seemed exemplary in creating a structure that acknowledged these economic and pedagogical realities. However, a different funding model was presented to us upon acceptance to the Program by the Roski administration: we would receive a scholarship for some of our first­-year tuition, and would have a Teaching Assistantship with fully­-funded tuition, a stipend, and benefits for the entirety of our second year upon completion of our first­-year coursework. We, the incoming class of 2014, were the first students since 2011 to take on debt to attend, and the first students since 2006 to gain no teaching experience during our first­-year in the program. Moreover, when we arrived in August 2014, we soon discovered that the Dean of the Roski School was attempting to retroactively dismantle the already­-diminished funding model that was promised to us, as well as make drastic changes to our existing faculty structure and curriculum.

The Dean of the Roski School of Art and Design was appointed by the University in May 2013, despite having no experience in the visual arts field. She, along with Roski’s various Vice and Assistant Deans, made it clear to our class that they did not value the Program’s faculty structure, pedagogy or standing in the arts community, the very same elements that had attracted us as potential students. The effects of the administration’s denigration of our program arrived almost immediately. In December 2014, Roski’s MFA Program Director stepped down from her position, and was not replaced with another director; in short succession that month, the program lost a prominent artist, mentor, and tenured Roski professor, her pedagogical energies and input devalued by the administration. By the end of the Fall 2014 semester, we quickly came to understand that the MFA program we believed we would be attending was being pulled out from under our feet. In January 2015, we felt it necessary to go to the source of these issues, the Dean of the Roski School.

In a slew of unproductive, confounding and contradictory meetings with the Dean and other assorted members of the Roski administration in early 2015, we were told that we would now have to apply for, and compete with a larger pool of students for the same TAships promised to us during recruitment. We were presented with a different curriculum, one in which entire semesters would occur without studio visits, a bizarre choice for a studio-­art MFA. Shocked by these bewildering and last-­minute changes, we reached out to the University’s upper administration. We were then told by the Vice Provost for Graduate Programs​ t​hat the communication we received during recruitment clearly stating our funding packages was an “unfortunate mistake,” and that if the Program wasn’t right for us, we “should leave.”  Throughout this ​g​rueling process of attempting to reason with the institution, the Roski School and University administration used manipulative tactics of delaying decisions, blaming others, contradicting each other’s stated policies, and attempting to force a wedge of silence between faculty and students. At every single turn, the Dean and every other administrator we interacted with tried to de­legitimize and belittle our real concerns, repeatedly framing us as “demanding” simply for advocating for those things the School had already promised us.

As of 5pm on May 10, 2015, after four months, seven meetings that we held in good faith with the administration, and countless emails later, we have no idea what MFA faculty we’d be working with for the coming year; we have no idea what the curriculum would be, other than that it will be different from what it was when we enrolled and is currently being implemented by administrators outside of our field of study; and finally, we have no idea whether we’d graduate with t​wice​ the amount of debt we thought we would graduate with.

Since February 2015, we have communicated in writing to the Provost of the University, the Vice Provost for Graduate Programs, The Dean of the Roski School, and other USC administrators that we could not continue in the Program if the funding and curricular promises made during recruitment were not honored; thus, the University is not blindsided by our decision, nor has it been denied ample time and opportunity to remedy these issues with us. Perhaps the University imagined that we would suffer any amount of lies, manipulations, and mistreatment for those shiny degrees.

Let’s not forget about the larger system of inequity that we paid into to try to get our degrees. USC tuition has increased an astounding 92% since 20011, compensation for USC’s top 8 executives has more than tripled since 20012, and Department of Education data shows that “administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009”3. Adjunct faculty, the jobs that freshly-­minted MFAs usually get-­ if they’re lucky-­ are paid at a rate that often does not even reach the federal minimum wage4 while paying off tens of thousands of dollars of student­loan debt. USC follows this trend of supporting a bloated administration with whom students have minimal contact to the diminishment of everyone else.  Despite having ultimate power over the program structure and curriculum, our experience has shown that the administration has minimal concern for their students. Meanwhile, faculty voices are silenced and adjunct5 faculty expands, affecting their overall ability to advocate for students. We seven students lost time, money, and trust in a classic bait­-and­-switch, and the larger community lost an exemplary funding model that attempted to rectify at least some of these economic disparities. What we experienced is the true “disruption” of this accelerating trend.

We each made life­-changing decisions to leave jobs and homes in other parts of the country and the world to work with inspiring faculty and, most of all, have the time and space to grow as artists. We trusted the institution to follow through on its promises. Instead, we became devalued pawns in the University’s administrative games. We feel betrayed, exhausted, disrespected and cheated by USC of our time, focus and investment. Whatever artistic work we created this spring semester was achieved in spite of, not because of, the institution. Because the University refused to honor its promises to us, we are returning to the workforce degree­-less and debt­-full.

A group of seven students is only a tiny part of the larger issues of the corporatization of higher education, the scandal of the economic precarity of adjunct faculty positions, and the looming student­debt bubble. However, the MFA Program we entered in August 2014 did one great thing: it threw us all together, when we might not have crossed paths on our own. We will continue to hold crits ourselves and be involved in each other’s work. We will be staging a series of readings, talks, shows and events at multiple sites throughout the next year, and will follow with seven weeks of “thesis” shows beginning in April of 2016. Our collective and interdependent force is energizing as we progress toward supportive and malleable spaces conducive to criticality and encouragement. These sites are more important than ever in the current state of economic precarity​ t​hat reaches far beyond the fates of seven art students. We invite everyone to reach out to us with proposals, invitations and strategies of their own, dreams not of creating a “better” institution, but devising new spaces for collective weirdness and joy.

Julie Beaufils, Sid Duenas, George Egerton­Warburton, Edie Fake, Lauren Davis Fisher, Lee Relvas and Ellen Schafer | MFA NO MFA .tumblr.com

 

“The point…is to reclaim their own power and reduce dependence on state institutions”

April 9, 2015

“The way [the Justice League is] moving, it’s like it would appear to outside forces that they are the face of the movement, and it’s so not true,” said Ty Black, a 26-year-old activist and artist.

After the killing of the unarmed [Akai] Gurley by an NYPD officer in a stairwell of East New York’s Pink Houses, Black and a small group of young activists from East New York and Crown Heights, along with Gurley’s aunt, came together to form Justice for Akai Gurley. The group has organized multiple protests at the Pink Houses, marching through different public housing complexes in East New York before stopping at the 75th Precinct.

According to Black, the group aims to build community power and reclaim control of their own streets, while also “eliminating police presence in our neighborhood through things like copwatch,” the tactic of vigilantly documenting routine police interactions with civilians. In February, copwatch footage exonerated Jonathan [Daza], a Sunset Park street vendor who was accused to assaulting the police; video showed that in fact it was Daza who had been violently assaulted by his arresting officers.

“Police are the paramilitary arm of New York City development,” says Asere Bello, another member of JFAG. He pointed to the broken elevator in Gurley’s NYCHA building and the burnt-out light in the stairwell where he was fatally shot as a part of the disenfranchisement that played a role in his death.

JFAG plans to ask NYCHA residents about the repairs needed in their buildings and recruit handymen to fix them. After surveying residents in East New York who expressed a need for ways to deal with interpersonal violence—the police receive more than 700 domestic violence calls each day—JFAG’s second march was led by women, and focused on the connections of state and gender violence.

The point, representatives of the group say, is to reclaim their own power and reduce dependence on state institutions, and show the connections between Broken Windows policing, displacement, gentrification, and police brutality.

“For us it’s a matter of getting the skills to navigate our own relationships or our own conflicts…in a way that lessens the dependency and completely eliminates the dependency on the state to resolve our conflicts,” Bello said.

Read More | “The Fight For The Soul Of The Black Lives Matter Movement” | Raven Rakia and Aaron Cantú | Gothamist