In my last post I discussed the recent issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies because they've switched their format from text- to video-based scholarly work. After the issue was published I reached out to Duane Rousselle, editor of ADCS, and asked him several questions about this media shift. What follows are Rousselle's generous and thought-full responses to my questions.
Paul Boshears (PB): What motivated you to create a video-based issue of ADCS?
Duane Rousselle (DR): I think of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies as the proving grounds for contemporary anarchist philosophy and cultural theory. I should take a moment to mention how the journal has been structured. Board members act as mentors whose advice is valued by the editors, they have the freedom to change the direction of the journal. However, most of the members do not exercise this freedom. Decisions at the journal are made unilaterally. This means that anybody can act in the interests of the journal. I like to think of our model as similar in effect to Max Stirner’s vague notion of the ‘union of egoists’ in that we utilize and transform ADCS to our own advantage. For example, the journal began simply because I could not afford to purchase copies of the other anarchist studies journals. I thought that if I could begin my own journal and attract my favourite authors to write in it then maybe I could read all the material that I wanted to read. It so happens that my experiment worked. Not only do I have access to texts from my favourite authors, I also regularly receive free ‘review copies’ of new and impressive books on anarchist theory.
I believe so strongly in the experimental nature of the journal that I have made the decision to refer to the journal only as ADCS (and not Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies). I hope to use the name in a similar fashion as one of Jacques Lacan’s ‘mathemes’. In other words, ADCS names something bigger than ‘cultural studies’ and, indeed, bigger than ‘anarchism’. It exists outside of the abstract machines of capitalism and the university and yet it can not be reduced to one big sloppy experiment. One Serge Leclaire claimed that Lacan’s mathemes were like ‘graffiti’ - well, anarchists have always been great graffiti artists. ADCS aims to be the graffiti on the walls of whatever new homes we build for ourselves in the coming years. To be it another way: ADCS names whatever comes to be expressed there. It is not something that stands before its content like a schoolmaster, it is rather something that contributors can utilize through their content. This is why we’ve moved toward a model of retroactive publication. We call this the ‘seeds beneath the snow’ model, and the way it works is as follows: when articles are accepted for publication, and after passing through the standard peer-review editorial process, they are published in a special section of the journal and await printing and binding at a later date. In 6-12 months time they contribute to an issue ‘from the future’. That is, the new issue retroactively determines which themes were hot in previous months. This cuts out the typical ‘Call For Proposals’ model of publication, forcing the editor to take a backseat. The editor becomes something more like an analyst. It also answers the contemporary call for an accelerated publication model while taking advantage – like all serious presses now seem to do – of the Publish on Demand model. All of this merely provides some background about my motivations for publishing the current video-based issue.
I should also mention that this was not the first video-based issue from ADCS. In 2011, we published videos from Simon Critchley’s conference at the New School (‘The Anarchist Turn’) into a special ‘virtual issue’. The issue included conference presentations from Judith Butler, Alberto Toscano, Todd May, and many others. So that was our first real experiment with video. Michael Truscello drove out to New York to video record the conference, and he shared all of his material with us. I was very thankful that he did this because he helped to make ADCS even more popular for a broader audience – in a sense, we cashed in on the fame of the celebrity anarchists. In the second experiment, the one you asked about, I wanted to see how anarchist scholars would respond to the question ‘What is Anarchist Studies?’ It is not the first time the question has been asked, but it is the first time scholars were forced to respond with their mouths instead of their eyes and fingers. Of course, speech is much more susceptible to parapraxis than the written word; and not just parapraxis, but also nervous tics, prolonged silences, confused thoughts, and so on. The written word is often our security blanket. We can meditate on it, we can obsessively control what it is that we want to communicate. But this is not necessarily the case for speech. So, I asked scholars to use their own speech and to be spontaneous. In my own perverted way, I suppose I was asking today’s most interesting anarchist scholars to open themselves up and explore their own anxieties about being seen, as well as speaking spontaneously. As it happens, many scholars who promised submissions couldn’t find the 10 minutes in their day to create a video. So we received many more promises for submissions than submissions. And many of those who demonstrated courage enough to create a video also shared their initial anxieties and fears with me. It goes without saying that we should not judge these scholars for their anxieties. There are serious political choices that one has to make when it becomes a question of being seen, and using speech.
As you know, I care deeply about the anarchist tradition. Yet this does not at all detract from my growing insistence that anarchists must begin to recognize and overcome the practical shortcomings that have kept them from taking a serious role on the stage of contemporary political and cultural philosophy. It seems that anarchists have become increasingly irrelevant within the philosophical tradition. And so it is strange to see at the same time that there are more anarchists within the university today than at any other period of history. So, I asked today’s brightest anarchist scholars to answer the question however they liked. And what struck me from this experiment was that the majority of participants seemed to preface their discussion in one of three ways: (1) a general refusal to state what anarchist studies actually is, (2) an admittance that any answer given is only one perspective, only one opinion, or (3) a provisional answer, forever subject to change. This confirms my view that many anarchist scholars are unable – and many times, no doubt, for what is likely a very good and ethical reason – to answer the question in any firm or committed way. Perhaps it is the case that anarchist studies scholars can not get beyond the level of the experiment, can not make it to the point of an answer.
A second thing that I noticed was that anarchist scholars tend to repeat anarchist thinking. This is all the more notable because of the fact that many anarchists insist on the importance of spontaneity in political organization. There is a deep philosophical question buried here about the nature of spontaneity. Thus, very little of the answers that anarchists provided to the question seemed bold and original. Moreover, it seemed to me that many of the scholars – myself included – rehearsed their presentation, or casually read it off of a screen. Of course, this is no judgement of the worth of the knowledge submitted by these fantastic scholars – there is no question that these scholars have a lot to say and a lot to share, and we should all listen to what they are telling us. Truly, they offer something quite fabulous by way of their response. But I am interested in an assessment of the style and composition of their presentations. If anarchists have a ‘wild style’ (to borrow a phrase from a remarkable third wave anarchist philosopher named Alejandro de Acosta) then this is one of them: when forced with spontaneity they always seem to fall back on well rehearsed moral axioms or scholastic examinations of this or that historical event.
The third experiment will be a full issue which is some combination of the first two experiments. It will include conference style presentations (which are rigorous and have all the qualities of a the scholarly apparatus), and yet spoken or delivered directly to the camera itself. Some of the ‘panels’ will be conducted using various social media platforms (google hangouts or skype, for example). It will be difficult to set up something like this. My impression is that most anarchist scholars are resistant to having their faces up on a video on the Internet. Moreover, I believe that scholarship is hitting a ‘final period’ of troubled times. Today, ever new journals are available for us in which to publish our work. Submitting our work to new journals now fragments an already fragmented field. Our task as editors and publishers must therefore be one of transforming existing journals rather than joining the ranks of the new. We need more existing journals to transform themselves into secure ‘quilting-points’ of scholarship. That is, existing journals need to transform themselves into something that holds together a serious tradition of thinking – something that does not predefine its content but is rather topologically fixed to something empty and yet pre- existing, to an audience from the future, to the new world of anarchist publishing. Yet, all of this comes with a serious risk. It is a wager. But it is a risk worth taking – a risk that few are willing to take today. This is the profound anxiety of ADCS.