[-empyre-] Book Piracy and Alienated Labour

naxsmash naxsmash at mac.com
Sat Jun 5 15:29:44 EST 2010

Riffing on this, I  really resonate to what you (Sean) are saying here  
about the increasingly diminished conditions for critical thinking--  
just how you set up the Public School as a situation without a  
curriculum itself means that there can be no sure common space in  
which students/participants can fight to compete, or to jockey for the  
position of being the best or the most right or the hardest worker,  
etc , nor can folks establish a hegemonic group position except with  
difficulty, so that the nuances of the Other can always be at play in  
the space of learning....  this comes to nothing when there is no  
'point' or 'results' to the 'education'.  Thus we fly back into the  
flow of exchange, this is how generative new content arrives-- in the  
breach, in the very 'lack' of central idioms.   I love Renate's vivid  
story of her students grabbing aarrggh content and building whole mini  
libraries.   As you point out, who is it gets to build libraries!   
what is a library?  I ask myself that too, which is why i'm working on  
the 'pharmakon' (the principle of critical reversability, proximity of  
poison to cure.... )...   having lost my  library card and my JSTOR too.

It's been extraordinarily difficult (on this end anyway ) to teach  
criticality (in terms of writing-- i was teaching a  graduate writing  
seminar most recently) within an embattled technocratic  
university....  so much fear there that finally the game (of the  
humanities, themselves)  is up-- that the cultural pressure to 'make  
knowledge production' means that Brett Stalbaum's (echoing Robert  
Filliou, the French Fluxus artist) definition of 'research' as pretty  
much investigating and learning and making whatever comes out of that  
free investigation-- inimical to the needs of the administrators of  
universities.  The admin as Micha has so tellingly witnessed is  
focussed on 'the right stuff'  and the 'right' kind of labour as if  
there are sinister wrong kinds (like banglab's for example) that must  
people to think bad thoughts and maybe even act on them, saints  
preserve us!  (Sarah Palin blames the environmentalists for the Gulf  
mess!).   I 'm reminded of the beautiful insouciance of  Mauricio  
Cattelan's 'The Wrong Gallery" in the early 2000s which came along  
about the time of the Manifesta debacle (when the curators were chased  
out of Nicosia when they tried to set up 'school') and the evocative  
"Utopia Station" of around 2003....    Only, once, tenure could,  
probably did often, help keep the 'voracious' (to steal Renate's term)  
tendencies of administration in check..... but now even this system is  
under severe stress as the march of 'knowledge production' forces a  
kind of surveillance over, even self surveillance to do production  
that fits within ideological schema that seem endemic yet flowing from  
'above' .   Sean you are so honest, I admire your nuanced resistance,   
we so deeply need this and must transmit to those who come after us... .

(for more on Filliou, there's a terrific essay on him in a recent Art  
Journal (CAA)-- I think , maybe in print only.


naxsmash at mac.com

christina mcphee



On Jun 4, 2010, at 5:55 PM, Sean Dockray wrote:

> If it helps, Emmett, I also have mixed and contradictory feelings  
> about the practice.
> I know I've been playing too much chess recently - I'm imagining how  
> discussions over "book piracy" seem to open up along fairly common  
> lines: e4 - why are there restrictions on the movement of texts when  
> it is technically possible to overcome geographic, political, or  
> economic limitations? c5 - authors and publishers have put in real  
> labor and deserve monetary compensation in return.
> The variations that might come out of this position? Attempts to  
> prove that piracy actually helps book sales as opposed to reducing  
> them. Arguments to settle for symbolic capital or other forms of  
> valorization that can be "cashed in" elsewhere. Assurances that if  
> piracy just went away the market would make sure that all those  
> limitations were overcome. Proposals for micro-payments, creative  
> commons, and other reforms. (This is obviously not the route chosen  
> by Macmillan, who made news last year for "standing up to" Amazon  
> over lower prices for digital books). Less common lines might be  
> that piracy amounts to a strange form of unpaid marketing; that when  
> it comes to art and theory, reading and writing doesn't break down  
> so cleanly along the lines of consumption and production, or leisure  
> and labor.
> Emmett's argument about alienated labor resonates with me at this  
> moment in particular because I have had to wait until finishing my  
> full-time day job (which is the equivalent of writing ad copy) each  
> day to participate in this week's discussion! I'm assuming some in  
> this discussion have a university job based in these issues, or are  
> teaching a class on them, or are writing on the topics? Some are in  
> the position to translate the knowledge or symbolic value from  
> discussions on this list into real income. I'm conflicted when  
> tenured faculty use AAAARG to make a reader for their classes, to  
> save themselves time. I completely agree with the calls to think  
> about the unaffiliated, selfishly I suppose, because that's my camp!
> [ One thing that I'm wondering is, should these discussions be based  
> on the assumption that each download represents quantifiable lost  
> income for publisher and author? Obviously this has legal precedent,  
> where people end up "owing" a few million dollars because of the  
> music they downloaded. But the zero-sum logic of it all frames the  
> discussion in a certain way. The actual economics of publishing are  
> a mystery to me and it isn't public, so I'm left with speculation  
> (watch out!) based on anecdotal data. I spend roughly the same  
> amount on books and art as what I make on sales, fees, and rentals   
> (OK, I'm flattering myself a little bit here). Is this common? Is it  
> the same thousand dollars passing through all of our hands? ]
> How might we pose our mixed feelings in a way that isn't point- 
> counterpoint, but something less identifiable; or even how do we try  
> and imagine possibilities beyond the capitalist framework, something  
> that's not just turning the price dial down on a product until it  
> hits the level where people start using their credit card again?
> Jumping over to Michael Dieter's post, which says that file-sharing,  
> like gentrification, produces value that ends up in the pockets of  
> those few who own the networks or buildings or whatever, I'd agree  
> that Free Culture is not the road map or destination point or  
> anything (and so I haven't argued for that anywhere). Looking at the  
> specificity of AAAARG, which is composed of people who are generally  
> cognitive workers themselves, reading and referencing as a part of  
> their practice, I see a space of confrontation over the very  
> materials with which we produce; many of the authors on AAAARG are  
> also registered and several of them have expressed extraordinarily  
> nuanced, ambivalent, and internally conflicted positions: Paul  
> Gilroy, Jason Read, and Stuart Elden for example, on the site or on  
> other networks. Publishers (doing their job) surreptitiously  
> register and send cease and desist letters about Marxist and anti- 
> copyright texts. And of course the people who use the site think  
> quite concretely about the nature of the site (what belongs?) and  
> tactics for the project.
> What I'm getting at is that it's not my place to assign a politics  
> to AAAARG, that comes out of its use and out of the responses or  
> activity it provokes, its life as a public space. Nevertheless, I  
> personally see it aligned with the occupation movement, as something  
> which is actively trying to produce conditions for critical thought,  
> which itself is being downsized and subject to inane requirements to  
> justify itself through results. Although I will fully support reform  
> demands that come up here (for wage increases, better health  
> insurance, favorable copyright laws, etc.) I feel most invested and  
> interested in autonomous spaces and forms (things like Virno's  
> "defection modifies the condition within which the struggle takes  
> place, rather than presupposing those conditions to be an  
> unalterable horizon" or Tiqqun's "The Party is a collection of  
> places, infrastructures, communised means; and the dreams, bodies,  
> murmurs, thoughts, desires that circulate among those places, the  
> *use* of those means, the sharing of those infrastructures.")
> Back to P2P (actually in an effort to break free of the IP  
> discussion).. as Pasquinelli writes of the parasite on (between) P2P  
> culture (the owners of the network who take money for that very  
> "free" activity), we can always be looking at who is profiting from  
> free labor and Free ideology that sustains it. My mind jumps to  
> things like access to libraries (my UC Library card was taken away  
> when I stopped teaching) or access to JSTOR (also removed at the  
> same time) or conferences, festivals, and the like. Those knowledge  
> networks that academics take for granted, but the boundaries of  
> which are most apparent to the precarious laborers (grad students,  
> lecturers, adjuncts who regularly cross in and out of the  
> institution, gaining and losing "privileges" each time), rely on  
> valorization as compensation for virtually free labor, while  
> education remains a profitable industry for some.
> Finally, on this idea of "sustainability" that has been brought up  
> directly or indirectly in several posts... it seems like Michael is  
> asking for a response about the act of writing in general: why  
> invest our energies in autonomous projects if in the end, it isn't  
> sustainable (they won't sustain the people who write with a living  
> wage)? Of course, capitalism isn't sustainable either, but I think  
> his point is that AAAARG is more of a symptom of capitalism than a  
> response to it. Maybe this comes down to whether you think the  
> system generates the crisis within capitalism or if we do. Either  
> way, I'm not going to make an argument for file-sharing paying  
> writers enough to pay their landlord, their insurance company, their  
> kid's daycare, their student loans, their credit card, and so on!  
> AAAARG is definitely not the solution to that. It is contingent,  
> happening now, part of a movement, something that I wouldn't want to  
> collapse or simply be recuperated. A different kind of  
> sustainability we might be talking about.
> A little later in the Tiqqun text the lived practice of communism is  
> described as "the formation of sensibility as a force" and "the  
> deployment of an archipelago of worlds." This compared to iTunes for  
> books or Creative Commons... a different game entirely...
> On Jun 3, 2010, at 5:57 PM, Emmett Stinson wrote:
>> I’ve just written an article offering a pragmatic analysis of so- 
>> called ‘book piracy’ for Overland magazine, and I have mixed and  
>> contradictory feelings about the practise. On the one hand, I am  
>> emphatically against any attempts to criminalise or penalise  
>> activities relating to not-for-profit ‘book piracy’ and am a  
>> staunch believer in copyright reform that enables a more free and  
>> open access to copyrighted material. But I also come from a  
>> publishing-industry perspective and strongly believe that both  
>> authors and their publishers (or other intermediaries) have a  
>> legitimate right to expect payment for their labour.
>> The argument that books and information should be (monetarily) free  
>> to everyone is absolutely compelling for academics; since most  
>> academics have salaried positions, they don’t need royalties from  
>> books to survive. But for other kinds of writers, the idea of free  
>> culture may simply result in more alienated labour (i.e. people who  
>> say things like ‘I write advertising copy during the week, but I’m  
>> a novelist on weekends…’).
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