Open Source Theory

I’m finally participating in the Melbourne Free University – giving a fairly conventional art history talk loosely connected with my PhD on life drawing/modelling…..

The Free University movement gives me a great deal of hope – and is an examplar of the delightful excess of ideas and knowledge that academic work involves.

I mentioned this briefly at my disciplinary conference late last year. It was yet another handwringing plenary session on how institutionalised academia is becoming increasingly dominated by a banal managerialism that strangles the life out of anyone who has a tenured position, and starves the rest of us through brutally neoliberal labour regimes.

I know this better than most, having spent a semester living off a weekly wage that was less than the pittance received by my students on Centrelink. I kid you not. My poverty is relatively genteel, however, as I do not pay rent. so my weekly pittance only had to cover food, transport, bills and yoga.

I survived the past 3 months of no income by selling some paintings, and receiving a tax return, and coaxing friends and family to give me cash rather than Xmas presents. I told myself I was going to submit a book proposal this summer. I didn’t. Massive guilt ensues.

Back to the point.

And that is, that knowledge is (in Bataille’s terms) an economy of excess. Splendiferous, overwhelming generosity of encounter and creation! The musings fired from a damn fine book of good, wild words, and the infinity of bodily exchanges created in the spaces of ‘Excitable Speech’ (to use another book title.

I find this excitement hard to contain physically at times. Reading theory makes my tummy a flutter, produces tears, smiles, goosebumps. My flesh tingles and my hands shake. I sigh, gasp and laugh. and teaching – even in the neoliberal academy is also miraculous – how words charge the air – how minds grapple and dance around a proposition, and remake possibilities for existence and action.

The academy is part of an economy of scarcity (ie ye olde capitalism). The information economy aims to commodify knowledge into discrete units that can be doled out for massive wads of cash. I have met the adherents of this ghastly scheme of affairs quite often. They are intensely stupid, refusing to see ideas, except for the one or two that they clutch, rebranding and promoting, and recycling, like holding a single leaf in front of a my own dessiduous multicoloured multitude. Ideas cascade from living minds, like the leaves of a tree in Autumn. Knowledge is like air – fundamentally based in movement and exchange. Like air, it can be polluted, and can choke those of us who breathe it.

Bleugh. My analogies are lugubrious today.

Preparing course readings (another unpaid but delicious task), I had the joy of coming across this site of free theory

Ooooh! It’s good

I was reading Feliz Guattari’s microphysics/micropolitics essay – which I found here

I’ve had a nice few days swimming in old books and some new.

Today I was lamenting the lack of a basic textbook type guide of recent feminist visual theory – or writing about visual culture that deals critically with issues of gender and identity and intersectionality in an accessible and affordable manner.

I dug out my feminist art theory tomes and waded through, noting the publication dates of the ones I like (more than 10 years ago), and the price tags (Amelia Jones still costs more than $100).

I finally opened a Joanna Freuh book that I’d bought on sale, and winced. Bad, bad, bad, self indulgent musings about pretty rich white girl whinges about getting old. ‘Am I still pretty enough’ is not a critical framework that lives up to the promise of a title like Monster/Beauty. gloom.

Also remembering with a dismal sigh, that most art writing really does suck.

Art magazines are still appallingly conservative. Euologising a single minoritarian gender, dominated by a particular race and class. White people writing words to reframe and represent the brilliance of Aboriginal art – it’s brilliance contained within the horribly narrow frame of connossieurship.

Countess is right. There is still so much work to be done.

Note to self: must write book.

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