A new issue of Theory & Event, edited by Darin Barney, Brian Massumi and Cayley Sorochan, includes a series of critical articles on the student movement in Quebec.
Author Archives: kglynes
A special issue of Wi: Journal of Mobile Media
Table of Contents
Walking the Streets with a Swarm of Prismatic Specters, Thierry Bardini PDF
Livestreaming on CUTV: ‘Emboldened riot culture’ of Student Strike, Sandra Jeppesen PDF
It didn’t start with Occupy, and it won’t end with the student strike! Anna Kruzynski, Rachel Sarrasin & Sandra Jeppesen PDF
On S’En Câlisse, La Loi Special: The Music Festival that Wasn’t, Carrie Rentschler PDF
A revolution on the corner of St-Hubert and Marie-Anne, Jeremy Stolow PDF
The Assault on Public Education
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 09:17By Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed
Timothy White, chancellor at University of California, Riverside, at his office in Riverside, California, July 5, 2011. Sharp tuition increases, coupled with cutbacks in services, threaten to erode a much-admired state college and university system. (Photo: Monica Almeida / The New York Times)
Public education is under attack around the world, and in response, student protests have recently been held in Britain, Canada, Chile, Taiwan and elsewhere.
California is also a battleground. The Los Angeles Times reports on another chapter in the campaign to destroy what had been the greatest public higher education system in the world: “California State University officials announced plans to freeze enrollment next spring at most campuses and to wait-list all applicants the following fall pending the outcome of a proposed tax initiative on the November ballot.”
Similar defunding is under way nationwide. “In most states,” The New York Times reports, “it is now tuition payments, not state appropriations, that cover most of the budget,” so that “the era of affordable four-year public universities, heavily subsidized by the state, may be over.”
read the rest of the article here: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/8305-the-assault-on-public-education
Krista Geneviève Lynes
“The leaves have not fallen yet nor will they fall for some days” — Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictée
Today should have been our last class together in our Media & Feminist Theory course. I had intended to end on a hopeful note, with a gesture towards ‘figuring otherwise’, toward committed strategies—in creative engagements, theoretical questions and political praxes—that a semester’s labour in media and feminism might provide. The dispersal of the space of the classroom through the last five weeks of the semester means that we too, as a tentative collectivity, have had to figure otherwise. This has meant drawing from a fount of imagination and flexibility, from the histories of protest, the language of manifestos, and practices of radical pedagogy, including a vacillation between the roles of teacher and student described in Paulo Friere’s terms as ‘teacher-students’ and ‘student-teachers’: “The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is [her]self taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach”.
Our guides for this last class: Gayatri Spivak and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Both of these guides navigate the terrain of the figurative, a set of practices which have, from the outset, been central to feminist inquiry. We began in January, after all, with the figure of Woman, a chimera, a “volatile collectivity” in Denise Riley’s terms. Figuration may consolidate itself in the iconic, just as it might vear, turn, in Roland Barthes’s terms ‘as milk does’. Our focus on figuration meant to richly unpack the join between ‘media’ and ‘feminist theory’, unrepresented by the & in the course’s title. We did this by thinking about subjective processes, about the question of collectivity, about the material, social and semiotic dimensions of subject-formation, and about the forms of feminist praxis which seek to be complex and emancipatory.
Spivak teaches us that figuration itself might provide a guide for the work of feminism. The figure, after all, is undecidable, fundamentally a metaphor, and thus stands in the place of another meaning to which it refers poetically. It’s in this vein that she discusses the ‘idiomaticity of non-hegemonic languages’, the complexity of the forms of expression which are often, violently, read literally. She argues, “All around us is the clamor for the rational destruction of the figure, the demand not for clarity but immediate comprehensibility by the ideological average”. We see this in the demand, within academia, political movements, social life, and even our intimate relations, for calculation, rationalization, austerity, level-headedness, comprehensibility and access. Instead, Spivak argues that the task of the literary scholar is not to translate literary language into a more transparent academic text, but rather, in her terms, “to dis-figure the undecidable figure into a responsible literality, again and again”. This she calls “cultural explanation” as well as “training of the imagination”.
The task of the feminist scholar is not simply to transcode cultural production, nor to describe social reality, but in her terms to ‘draw a response’. According to Spivak, the feminist reader must view experience not as a source of authority, but rather as a “text to be read in the interest of agency”. What she means by this, I think, is that the skills of literary training be mobilized to understand that forms of self-representation are figurative, idiomatic, poetic, metaphorical. Experience should not be reduced to evidence, but should be read as a complex cultural practice, which demands literary, historical, sociological and political training.
She cautions however that such efforts not be aimed at resolving social and cultural life, but rather that such efforts be interrupted with what she calls an “inter-dictive ‘and yet’” (76). We strive to elucidate, to attend rigorously to our object of analysis, and yet… Cultural products, forms of expression remain in certain respects stubbornly obdurate. She proposes that, rather than translating from language to language (and this may be literally across language systems, or may involve translating actions, material artefacts, artworks or visual culture) one must read with “the most intimate access to the rules of representation and permissible narratives which make up the substance of a culture” (14). This is true at the level of cultural expression but also within the subjective negotiation between inner and outer, between self and world that forms what Spivak calls ‘ethical semiosis’ (13).
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is our guide for what this work might look like. Her moving oeuvre Dictée is a contradictory text, a partial autobiography, mythology, set of love poems with hints of Mallarmé and Beckett, photographs, cinematic mise-en-scènes, dictations and translations. Constance Lewellen argues that the text’s paradoxes are “rooted in Cha’s location in the interstital outlaw spaces between Korea and America, North and South, inside and outside […] For her, the in-between is a personal dwelling place that makes survival possible”.
The preface begins not in the first person singular (‘I’) but the second (‘you’). This function conditions its whole structure, the mode of address, and the aesthetic involvement of the reader. The reader must work between citations, dictations, grammatical instructions, the erosion of punctuation, or its splintering of meaning. Her committed figuration of the interstitial space Lewellen described is bound by the specificity of her historical examples (personal, political) and the contradictory presence of those sites where language fails, where representation becomes impossible. An example of such enigmatic signifers in the text emerges even in the Preface where a figure emerges from a series of questions:
From A Far
or what kindred and relation
what blood relation
what blood ties of blood
what race generation
what house clan tribe stock strain
what lineage extraction
what breed sect gender denomination caste
what stray ejection misplaced
Tertium Quid neither one thing nor the other
Tombe des nues de naturalized
what transplant to dispel upon
This short poem enacts a series of transcodings (from adverb to noun in the first sentence, between French and English, between the idiomatic and the literal, through reversals and neologisms). The reader must work to understand the grounds of meaning referred to here (the list of questions grounded in a desire to locate identity genealogically, racially, phyllogenetically or ontogenetically) even as the work of figuration undermines the claims proposed. The final two lines especially figure for the reader the idiomatic structure of the work as a whole. The French expression ‘tombe des nues’ is itself unclear, referencing both the act of being surprised and the join between falling and death. The word ‘de’ can be a French preposition or a negation of the following English word (hence ‘de-naturalized’). The final sentence wrenches structure in the service of a series of evocations: the ambiguity of dispelling, making disappear, or misspelling; the lack of an object on which something is dispelled and, fundamentally, the lack of a subject. This subject figured at a site of absence, in the form of a question, opens the reader to the imaginative work of the text as a whole, and to the moving and agile engagements with a series of chapters which name and subvert the conventions of genre: history, epic, lyric, sacred and love poetry, astronomy, tragedy, comedy and the choral dance.
Dictée ends in a reversal of its beginning, with three mythical figures, a narrator now named ‘She’ and two figures (a young girl and a woman) who emerge in a landscape where “the dust haze lingers between earth and sky and forms an opaque screen” (167). In this cinematic space, She recounts a sensual memory of women drawing water from a well. As the book ends, blank pages overtake written text, and emerge also as ‘opaque screens’ in which a set of propositions emerge tentatively. And then, a paragraph of unending words, the punctuated fragments from the text’s Preface vanished, just a rush of words:
Lift me up mom to the window the child looking above too high above her view the glass between some image a blur now darks and greys mere shadows lingering above her vision her head tilted back as far as it can go. Lift me up to the window the white frame and the glass between, early dusk or dawn when light is muted, lines yield to shades, houses cast shadow pools in the passing light (179)
Cha herself has argued that her “video, film and performance work are explorations of language structures inherent in written and spoken material, photographic and film images—the creation of new relationships and meanings in the simultaneity of these forms”. It’s this work of figuration—which dis-figures even as it fiercely seeks to articulate a speaking position—which I would argue serves as an exemplary model of the emancipatory strategies of feminism, and of feminist mediation.
Spivak uses the formulation ‘and yet’ again to describe what she calls ‘planetarity’, an imaginary collectivity which is not global, continental or worldly. She is not simply trying to invoke current models of environmentalism (which, she argues, are tied to the global and to abstraction) but rather to conceive of the planet “in the species of alterity, belonging to another system; and yet we inhabit it, on loan” (72). She states, “When I invoke the planet, I think of the effort required to figure the (im)possibility of this underived intuition” (72).
We remember to read the poetic in Spivak also. The term ‘and yet’ emerges throughout this text, the form of an argument that refuses closure, transcoding into the dominant. The work of the scholar, trained in the imagination, is to render sites of inhabitation uncanny, unheimlich, to resist the tendancy of globalization to impose the same system of exchange everywhere (72). We saw this two weeks ago in Spivak’s vision of collectivity, of Woolf’s appeal that we summon the ghost of Shakespeare’s sister and work towards a collectivity ‘to come’.
The student actions that have reinvented the space of pedagogy over the last several months also direct themselves towards multiple processes of figuration (chalk outlines, bike rides, masquerades, even the colour red, but also grassroots political movements in targeted ridings, fierce negotiations and the work of coalition). The work of the classroom comes to a temporary end, and yet the classroom itself has become undecidable, a ‘changeful site’. To come…
 Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1993 (2nd ed.): 61.
 Denise Riley, Am I that Name? Feminism and the Category of Women in History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.
 Gayatri Spivak, Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003: 71.
 Constance Lewellen, The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Berkeley: University of California Berkeley Art Museum: University of California Press, 2001: 11.
 Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictée. New York: Tanam Press, 1982: 20.
 In Lewellen, 9.
To see the letter and add your name as a signatory see:
The text is reproduced below:
Dear Provost Graham:
We wish to bring to your attention our concerns about the notice of Friday, 23 March, regarding the “Obstruction of campus facilities and classrooms.” In our view, the shift of policy represented in this document is an unwarranted act of escalation on the administration’s part, and one that has already begun to foster avoidable confrontations between security staff and students. In addition, the new policy violates the spirit of the Code of Conduct, whose primary purpose (Code of Rights and Responsibilities, §V, 26) is to “promote and protect the values of civility, equity, respect, non-discrimination, and an appreciation of diversity as manifested within the University.” Finally, in asking faculty to adopt and implement the administration’s hostile stance towards protesting students, this policy jeopardizes in the name of expediency the relationship between faculty members and students that is at the core of Concordia’s educational mission.
Recent incidents demonstrate that the change of policy signaled in the 23 March notice has needlessly and counterproductively inflamed a hitherto civil and stable situation. While many students have followed the course of protest, including pickets, for which they have have voted democratically through their various associations, many faculty have managed to accommodate protesting and non-protesting students. Yet the administration has now resorted to threats of prosecution, and in at least one case – as reported in the Montreal Gazette and other news media – to physical force. This policy has turned an inevitably tense but workable environment into one of open hostility. It is particularly frustrating that the administration has offered no clear rationale for its change of tack, and no plan for dealing with the possible outcomes.
Besides showing a lack of respect for the democratic process through which student associations have taken up their positions, the new policy is at odds with both the spirit and the letter of the university’s own Code of Conduct. In particular, the instruction that faculty contact the Security Department directly if “access to classes or facilities… is impeded” or classes themselves “disrupted” dramatically lowers the standard for involving security officers in interactions with students, tending (as we have already seen) to escalate rather than defuse conflicts. In comparison, the Code of Conduct only stipulates that faculty members contact Security when “faced with an urgent situation involving threatening or violent conduct” (Code of Rights and Responsibilities, §IX, 116). “Threatening or violent conduct” is defined in the same document (§V, 28(f)) as conduct that “endangers or threatens the health, safety or well-being” of members of the community. We do not believe that student boycotts, protest or picketing meet that definition.
Most troubling to us as faculty members is the corrosive effect the new policy will have on our relationships with our students. In being tasked by the administration with enforcing a security policy alien both to the Code of Conduct and to the administration’s original stance on the protests (as laid out on page 3 of the document of 12 March, “Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Student Protests”), the faculty are put in an untenable position: having to maintain pedagogical relationships with students that are built, over the long term, upon trust, while at the same time helping to curtail these students’ political expression for the administration’s short-term convenience. Again, this is a tactic destined to produce rather than eliminate conflict, and in a pedagogical context the damage it introduces cannot easily be undone. Further, inasmuch as the duties of faculty members (as set out in the current Collective Agreement, art.16.01 (a-c)) are limited to research, teaching, and service, enforcing the administration’s stance on the protests – as opposed to following the Code of Conduct – is not something we can be compelled to do.
In view of the already harmful and potentially disastrous effects of the new policy on campus life, on the freedom of students to express their views in an open and democratic manner, and on the capacity of the faculty to maintain the effective pedagogical relationships that should be the university’s central concern, we ask that the policy outlined in the 23 March notice be suspended.
Fusion is Possible…
Krista Geneviève Lynes
“We plead to each other,
we all come from the same rock
we all come from the same rock
ignoring the fact that we bend at different temperatures
that each of us is malleable
up to a point.
Yes, fusion is possible
but only if things get hot enough—
all else is temporary adhesion,
patching up” —Cherrie Moraga, “The Welder” 
In 1978, Adrienne Rich published The Dream of a Common Language, a collection of poems in which she reflected on the relation between love, power and consciousness. The collectivity she referenced here was fictive, hypothetical and utopian—quite literally a dream of a common language. The dream, of complex and emancipatory feminism(s), echoes Gayatri Spivak’s call in Death of a Discipline for a collectivity to come as a result of one’s work, the join of feminist praxis with broad movements for social justice. Both Rich and Spivak sought to stress the work involved in community-building, in spaces of social struggle, but at large also.
In this respect, the MA Media Studies Students in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University have been working creatively and passionately over the last several weeks to build a complex and emancipatory unity within the student movement. Their statements testify to their nuanced reflections on the differential access to education within the programme, the use of the term ‘strike’ and the historical resonances of the term within labour movements and other forms of collective action, and the need to engage actively with the community at large, faculty and staff. They have also—in their protest, media activism, public statements and organising—sought to give voice to the importance of creativity and diversity in university programmes across Québec and further afield.
My Media & Feminist Theory course this week was meant to cover several readings articulating contemporary visions of the ‘dream of a common language.’ Coincident with this week’s readings, Concordia University sent out a “Notice: Obstruction of campus facilities and classrooms” to students and faculty. The subtitle of this notice indicated it was a “Message to the Concordia Community about the Code of Rights and Responsibilities”. The appeal to ‘community’ in this subtitle begs the question of what kind of community was envisaged, protected, and/or shored up by this statement, and on what common ground the appeal to collectivity rested.
The Notice began by noting that “the majority of university activities have continued relatively unimpeded during ongoing student protests”. The tenor of this opening statement, it appears, is meant to indemnify a majority of student protesters from the “persistent disruptive activity in a limited number of areas”, and thus to separate out the majority of respectful protesters from “a minority of protesters who refuse to respect the rights of others”. It thus couches the Notice within a broader language of support for peaceful demonstration and freedom of speech. Incidentally, the University’s position is bolstered by the comments (and ‘Likes’) on Concordia’s Facebook page, which also seem to indicate the larger student body’s support for such disruptive gestures, which are seen to prevent students from pursuing their education and entering classrooms.
There are several troubles, however, with this statement, written to (and presumably also on behalf of) the Concordia community. The first of these is that the behaviour the University is seeking to curb is precisely the kind of disruption which makes the strike efficacious. Should the striking students simply choose to demonstrate behind a cordon sanitaire, at a remove from classrooms and campus, the University could continue to adopt a ‘business as usual approach’ even as it supports freedom of speech among the striking students. The University’s support for strike activities which are “the peaceful expression of divergent views within our community” thus innoculates it against the form and content of the student’s demands.
Far more troubling, however, is the vision of community valorized by the Notice. The foundations of the Notice are grounded in rights-based claims: that the protesting students have the right to ‘peaceful protest’, the professors and staff to ‘carry out their professional duties’, and students at large to ‘attend classes’. These rights are secured by the Code of Rights and Responsibilities and the Security Policy. What appears renounced in this Notice is the work of community-building, of devising a ‘common language’ resulting from exchange, dialogue, negotiation, wars of manoeuvre and wars of position. More than this, though, the Notice replaces the ‘dream of a common language’ posited by Rich and others with a ‘common language’ of a very different kind, which is all too common in the neoliberalisation of higher education: the very framework of individual rights the Notice articulates.
Donna Haraway’s early version of the ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ was entitled “The Ironic Dream of a Common Language for Women in the Integrated Circuit”. Here, she voices her suspicion regarding the focus on commonality as a basis for political struggle (that a common standpoint and a common goal can ground common action). At the same time, she offers a critique of a different and more pervasive ‘common language’, the logic of rationalization. She calls rationalization “the common coin through which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment and exchange”. In her terms, the logic of rationalization produces an “informatics of domination” (although it might also be called a “language of supremacy” qua Chela Sandoval). The discourse of individual rights is present in much of the coverage of the student action. Kim Sawchuk provided an incisive analysis of one aggregious example—the proposal in the ‘News’ section of the Montreal Gazette proposing that demonstrators should be paying for security during student demonstrations (after one or two days) because otherwise Montreal taxpayers are paying for a group to demonstrate “effectively for profit”. The effective erosion of the public sphere is grounded in an economic calculus that makes a mockery of the notion of ‘free speech’.
The necessary corrollary of the language of individual rights is the discourse of security (and hence the joining of the Code of Rights and Responsibilities with the Security Policy in the Notice to the Concordia community), which safeguards members of the community against one another, and particularly against unruly behaviour (the details of which remain sufficiently vague as to warrant calls to Security by faculty, staff and students alike). What remains an open question is what forms of activism, protest, creative engagement are tolerated by ‘the community’, and what effects such political forms can have on the very real demands voiced by the striking students.
The question of what constitutes an infraction opens up the question of power and knowledge, the rule-bound logics by which one becomes recognizable in the public sphere, counted and accounted for. But it also opens up onto the history of creative political action, the possibility of being unruly, of misbehaving to challenge specifically the inscriptive force of Haraway’s ‘informatics of domination’.
Certainly feminist activist art has always involved tactical interventions, presenting provocative images and statements (for example, Martha Rosler or Barbara Kruger), demonstrations (the new genre public art of Suzanne Lacy and others), or confrontational performances (Valie Export), distributing posters (the Guerrilla Girls), stickers and electronic messages (Jenny Holzer). Often, such activism borrows from the tactics of street theatre or guerrilla theatre. Amelia Jones has argued that “[a] more useful model for feminism […] might be to think of the situational specificity of how particular acts, images, texts, structures, and body movements function”.
This week, we were supposed to read together Rosi Braidotti’s work. One student, Katja Philipp (PhD student, Communications) suggested instead that members of the class hold an intervention, an art walk and silent march from the Concordia to UQAM campuses, and proposed that participants read Rosi Braidotti’s “The New Activism: A Plea for Affirmative Ethics”. In this article, Braidotti calls for the join of ‘affirmative ethics’, political activism and critical theory. In this article, she argues that feminism is “quite unique in having stressed the equal importance of creation and critique—in a double gesture that historically defines its specificity”.
This creativity seeks to mobilize untapped desires and imagination, and to concretize such resources in material relations. The movement is not oppositional but affirmational, emerging out of a different set of premises, affects and conditions. As such, Braidotti articulates a mode of creative action which is both poetic and prefigurative, which seeks to found positive alternatives. In this vision, difference is not essential but a project or process, one which is in her terms ‘ethically coded’.
The focus on the individual rights of the students (either to attend class or to protest) radically interrupts the efforts to speak across the diversity of the student body, and to imagine a collectivity in and through a nuanced account of difference. It renounces from the outset the sociality of academic space, and particularly of the classroom (not as an aggregate of individual students but as a collectivity in process). This rights-based discourse is intimately connected to the language of security, since self-possession is both a ‘natural right’ and guaranteed by the defense apparatuses (psychic, economic and physical) of contemporary society. The invitation that faculty, staff and students call Security in the Notice thus serves not only to ‘protect’ individual members of the community, but also to atomize that very community, and thus to support the vision of higher education proposed by the very tuition hikes the students are striking against.
I return to Donna Haraway, and specifically to her question, “What kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective—and socialist feminist?” The question acknowledges the contradictory, processual and partial nature of collectivity, and yet does not renounce on the possibility of figuring a complex collectivity, in the poetic proposal not of a common language as a common denominator, but of a dream of a common language, a dream that requires creative encounters in the spirit of activist engagements through the last century and beyond.
 Cherrie Moraga, “The Welder” in This Bridge Called my Back. New York, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983: xi.
 See Krista Geneviève Lynes, “Collectivity and the Classroom without Guarantees”. http:// altunies.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/media-feminist-theory-strategy-collectivities-and-situated-knowledges/.
 Clearly, given the nuanced work of the MA Media Studies students, they would fall within the scope of the respectful members of the community, particularly given their committed labour to ‘respecting the rights of others’.
 For an explanation of Sandoval’s term, see https://altunies.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/media-and-feminist-theory-strategy-critique/.
 Mary Flanagan, Jennifer A. González, Guerrilla Girls, Margo Machida, et al. “Feminist Activist Art, a Roundtable Forum, August 24-31, 2005”. Feminist Formations. Vol.19, No.1 (Spring 2007): 7.
 Rosi Braidotti, “The New Activism: A Plea for Affirmative Ethics” in Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization. NAi Publishers, 2011: 265.
 Ibid, 268.
PhD student, Katja Philipp (Communication Studies) organized an art walk and silent march from Concordia to UQAM today to “come together and experience our collectivity outside of the classroom walls”. Students within the MA and PhD programmes in Communication Studies and the Humanities participated in the event.
Below are some photos from the event: