[-empyre-] Week Three - Open Access

Paul Ashton paul at re-press.org
Thu Jun 17 10:32:04 EST 2010

on alienated labour and the role of free in re.press ...

While I realize that the discussion of ‘alienated labour’ is taking
place within a rather restricted register, I think it is worth being
mindful of the fundamentals here. As Marx says when a worker makes an
object they actually make two objects: 1) the object they make for the
owner of means of production and 2) and themselves as an object to be
bought and sold—i.e. labour power. Why is this important here?
Because, contra Emmett’s original statement and many of the comments
thus far, the idea that somehow the writer (of both fiction or theory)
is, or can be, a paying job is misplaced. This is not only for the
reasons that Gary has pointed out (which are of course correct), but
equally as it fails to recognize that capitalism can only produce
alienated labour—according to the basic tenants of Marx’s position on
alienated labour there is no other kind of labour in capitalism. The
idea that writing is real life and that the other stuff we do to
support this is alienated is a mistaken in my view because if writing
were the main activity—and one that operates within a market driven
system or a state supported one—then the writing would be alienated
work. As my students might say, if you work for the man … then you
work for the man. In terms of alienation, if you happen to be writing
for the man then you are still objectifying yourself through selling
your labour power for financial return. Despite what those outside of
the academy think, working in the university is an equally alienated
existence. The same could be said for a payroll-writer like a
journalist or an in-house writer/editor in a publishing house.

I guess if you are an unpublished writer completely outside of the
system you can remain relatively un-alienated. However, if you
transition over … The other key thing here is the level of state
support, but this has its own problems and I am not sure if this
really excludes one from this system of alienation. As I write this I
am listening to one of Australia’s finest political commentators
describe the current prime minister as someone who both embraces a
brand neo-classical managerialism and authoritarian governmental
control directed by the leader. Mmmm, sounds a little like Stalinism
to me: choice a) free market capitalism; choice b) Stalinism. More
seriously, the state is of course structurally a key part of
contemporary market capitalism and if we want to continue the Marxist
line of interpretation it is nothing more than the executive branch of
the ruling class.

Thus, rather than alienated labour, what we are really talking about
is pleasant alienation versus unpleasant alienation. People who see
academic life as something special and un-alienated are really
identifying that working in a university is more pleasant than say
working in a cafe or a mine. I know a few people who would disagree,
but on the whole one would have to acknowledge this as true enough. If
you put it as I have here, it is easier to see where the animosity
toward writers, artists and academics comes from. The question as to
where one thinks their right to pleasantness arises from, or is based
on, does not seem completely unreasonable. It does sound a bit like we
are saying: ‘We want the rights and protections afforded to property
owning subjects within a capitalist system (copyright) but we don’t
want any of the boring or mundane alienation that comes with it’.
Furthermore, at least in my case, I don’t want my work as a writer to
be influenced by the crassness of the market or the masses. An
accountant that put my aesthetic values into their working practice
would probably not eke much of a living either.

This, I think that the ‘free’ element of re.press attempts to remove
it from the context of alienated labour altogether (this may of course
be completely illusory). What it tries to say is: here is a context
where thinking can take place and present itself in its own terms.
This is probably the reason that we have never really sort government
grants etc. Although, I should say that we will accept ‘free’ money if
such a thing exists. But, despite the fact that re.press is oriented
around being an open access publisher, this is actually a bit miss
leading, we are really an open producer publisher. Sure it is great
that everyone can access it for free, why not, but the project is
about redefining producer culture rather than consumer culture.
Unfortunately we have been far more successful with the later than the


On Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 11:16 PM, Gary Hall <gary at garyhall.info> wrote:
> Hi all,
> Thanks for inviting me to be one of the guest contributors this week. I'm
> excited to be here. I’ve been following the conversation since the start of
> the month, and it's really helped me with my own thinking around these
> areas.
> I’m a co-founder of Open Humanities Press (along with Paul, David and Sigi),
> co-editor of the latter’s Liquid Books series, and I’m also co-founder of
> the open access journal Culture Machine. But before we really get into open
> access – or perhaps as a way of getting into it – I’d like to take Michael
> at his word and pick up on one or two of the threads from previous weeks, if
> that's OK. I was particularly interested in the discussion of piracy and
> alienated labour, and wanted to explore still another way of thinking about
> the issue. (How different it is from Sean Dockray’s Deleuze-inspired reading
> I’m not sure: but that’s a conversation we can have, I guess.)
> The rethinking of the general impulse toward the ‘free’ reminded me of a
> point Adrian Johns makes: that in spite of its romantic, counter-cultural
> image, much of our current philosophy regarding piracy is actually a moral
> philosophy concerned with ‘convictions about freedom, rights, duties,
> obligations, and the like’. It’s a philosophy that has its historical roots
> very much in the ideology of libertarianism. This moralism is one of the
> reasons I continue to be wary of the Creative Commons mode of copyright –
> and I say this even though I very much support what my OHP colleague Paul
> Ashton says about the importance of books and other texts being made
> available for free in a way that ensures commercial interests have no right
> to profit from them. I can see that CC licenses are a means of achieving
> this. And of course we do use CC licenses for Open Humanities Press for
> these kind of reasons.
> Earlier in the month I noticed Simon Worthington mentioning that ‘Mute
> magazine publishes... free 2 share, with no copyright, open or closed.’ It’d
> be really interesting and helpful if Simon or Pauline could say a little
> more about the thinking behind that.
> Anyway, back to piracy. Interestingly, when the word pirate first begin to
> appear in the texts of the ancient Greeks – and I’m drawing on Daniel
> Heller-Roazen’s The Enemy of All for this - it was ‘closely related to the
> noun peira, “trial” or “attempt”, and so to the verb peiraō: the “pirate”
> would then be the one who “tests”, “puts to proof”, “contends with”, and
> “makes an attempt”. This is where the modern expression pirate has its
> etymological origins, then: long before circa 1710, when Johns has it first
> routinely being used to refer to intellectual misappropriation.
> On this basis, I’d want to put forward the idea that a responsible ethical –
> as opposed to moralistic – approach to ‘piracy’ wouldn’t actually presume to
> know what it is in advance. What’s interesting about certain instances of
> digital culture from such an ‘ethical’ perspective – and in light of the
> earlier discussion it might be interesting to consider the AAAARG.org
> experiment as a possible case in point – is that we can’t tell at the time
> of their initial appearance if they are legitimate or not. This is because
> the new conditions that are made possible by digital culture – such as the
> ability to digitize and make freely available whole libraries worth of books
> – at times require the creation of equally new intellectual property laws
> and copyright policies. (The Google Book settlement is an example.) So we
> can never be sure whether these so-called pirates, in the ‘attempts’ they’re
> making to ‘contend with’ the new conditions and possibilities created by
> digital culture, to ‘trial’ them, put them to the ‘proof’, are not in fact
> involved in the creation of the very new laws, policies, clauses,
> settlements, licensing agreements and acts of Congress and Parliament by
> which they could be judged. As in the case of William Fox, the filmmaker who
> founded 20th Century Fox, partly by pirating the creative property of Thomas
> Edison (in a nice irony, given his attitude to free culture and internet
> piracy, 20th C. Fox is now owned by Rupert Murdoch), we can never tell the
> founder of a new law or institution in advance: we can only really judge
> whether the activities of such supposed pirates are legal or not, legitimate
> or not, justified or not, from some point in an indefinite future.
> Another way to think about this is in relation to the legislator in
> Rousseau. As Geoffrey Bennington demonstrated some time ago now, we can
> never know for sure whether the legislator – the founder of a new law or
> institution such as a university – is legitimate or a charlatan. This is
> because of the aporia that lies at the heart of authority, whereby the
> legislator already has to posses the authority the founding of the new
> institution is supposed to provide him or her with in order to be able to
> found it. For me, certain so-called internet ‘pirates’ are in a similar
> situation to Rousseau’s legislator: they, too, may be involved in
> performatively inventing, trialling and testing the very new laws and
> institutions by which their activities could be judged.
> It follows that we can’t tell what’s going to happen with digital ‘pirate’
> culture. It may lead to the development of new forms of education, culture
> and economy: where the protection of Intellectual Property is no longer
> possible in the way in which we currently understand it; where the
> institutions of the culture industry – newspapers, book publishers and so
> forth – are radically reconfigured; where people conventionally disseminate
> academic research and publications via p2p networks; where even ideas
> regarding the humanist, proprietorial author are dramatically transformed.
> And if so, pirate culture will have had as profound an effect ‘as the
> establishment of copyright... in the eighteenth century, and the development
> of modern patent systems in the nineteenth’, to borrow Johns’ words one last
> time. But then again pirate culture may not lead to anything like this. As
> with the impact of the French Revolution, it’s still too early to tell.
> Nevertheless, one of the things I’m interested in with nearly all the
> projects I’m involved with is experimenting with the development of a
> different kind of economy: an economy based more on openness, hospitality
> and responsibility, and less on individualism, possession, acquisition,
> competition, celebrity, and ideas of knowledge as something to be owned,
> commodified, communicated, disseminated and exchanged as the property of
> individuals.
> Of course I’m aware that in-work academic labourers are paid by their
> institutions and many have a lot to benefit from making their research and
> publications available on a free and open basis. And, yes, ‘for other kinds
> of writers, the idea of free culture may simply result in more alienated
> labour’, as Emmett Stinson quite rightly points out. However, at the same
> time, and as others have suggested, the vast majority of (non-academic,
> non-affiliated) authors, artists and musicians actually benefit very little
> from the current copyright economy, too. A few top stars may earn a lot, but
> most people don’t. An Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society Study from
> 2007 suggested that the ‘typical earnings of a British professional writer
> aged 25-34 are only £5,000 per annum’. In his recent book, Nice Work If You
> Can Get It, Andrew Ross even goes so far as to argue that 'in the court of
> public opinion, corporate IP warriors can always win points by broadcasting
> the claim that they are defending the labor rights of vulnerable artists.
> Yet the historical record and the experience of working artists today
> confirm that the struggling proprietary author has always been more of a
> convenient fiction for publishers to exploit than a consistent beneficiary
> of copyright rewards. Culture-industry executives are able to masquerade as
> the last line of protection for artists, when in fact they are
> systematically stripping them of their copyrights.' If so, then it might not
> be just academic labourers who have things to gain from experimenting with
> different kinds of economies and ‘alternate modernities’.
> This is not to say the same alternate economy which emerges in one sphere
> can simply be ‘exported’ to other areas of society and culture. (Certainly,
> it's hard to see open access as it currently exists working for the retail
> fashion industry, for example, and I don't think anyone is saying it can.)
> But this state of affairs is not peculiar to academia: it applies to the
> situation of many of those who are ‘beyond the academy’, too.
> It’s interesting, for example, that for Ross, the debate around free culture
> has been dominated by a ‘thwarted class fraction of high-skilled and
> self-directed individuals in the creative and knowledge sectors whose
> entrepreneurial prospects are increasingly blocked by corporate monopolies’.
> He sees proponents of liberal views of IP, such as those behind Creative
> Commons, as having been able to form a ‘coalition of experts with the legal
> access and resources’– Lawrence Lessig, James Boyle, Electronic Frontier
> Foundation all come to mind - to mount a powerful campaign that often
> overshadows other more interesting and radical approaches. As a result, the
> debate over ‘free’ risks being, in his words, ‘simply an elite copyfight
> between capital-owner monopolists and the labor aristocracy of the
> digitariat (a dominated fraction of the dominant class, as Pierre Bourdieu
> once described intellectuals) struggling to preserve and extend their
> high-skill interests’.
> So, yes, part of the medium to longer term task is going to be to see if we
> can translate the kind of experiments many of us have been involved with in
> our different ways into areas of society other than the academy... and other
> than those associated with the labor aristocracy of the digitariat as well.
> But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also be doing what we can where we are
> now. As Ngugi wa Thiong’o once said in a talk he gave as part of OHP, ‘It is
> not enough, but it is a beginning’.
> Cheers
> Gary
> --
> Gary Hall
> Professor of Media and Performing Arts
> School of Art and Design, Coventry University
> Co-editor of Culture Machine http://www.culturemachine.net
> Co-founder of the Open Humanities Press
> http://www.openhumanitiespress.org
> My website http://www.garyhall.info
> Latest: 'Deleuze's "Postscript on the Societies of Control"', Culture
> Machine 11, 2010
> http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/384/407
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

More information about the empyre mailing list