Seeing Red (Part 2): United Teachers vs. Bipartisan Opposition

It has been four years since the financial collapse of 2008 set off the greatest world economic crisis since the 1930s. “Reform” measures put into place to stop the hemorrhaging have succeeded only in exacerbating socio-economic inequalities around the country, with the poor, once again, bearing the highest costs. Nowhere is this more apparent than the right-wing attacks on public workers, unions, and pensions. It comes as no surprise to teachers that they find themselves on the front lines.

On September 10th, educators began a citywide strike in Chicago, home of the third-largest school district in the country. Despite arrogant threats from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff for President Obama, the Chicago Teachers Union and community leaders have fought back against measures that have been described as “educational apartheid” by concerned parents. Under Emanuel’s hand-picked school board – largely devoid of actual teachers and mostly stacked with millionaire CEOs, privatization wonks, and real-estate developers – corporate operators have worked to seize public schools, enact longer school days and school years, and force blanket metrics for evaluating teachers and students. Teachers will be expected to do more work for less pay.

The Chicago establishment is known for this sort of thing. Milton Friedman, the spiritual forefather of deregulation and economist of the Chicago School of Economics infamously said:

“Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function … until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Emanuel has fully embraced Friedman’s ideas, taking advantage of the economic crisis to eliminate liberal arts classes, displace hundreds of teachers, weaken teacher health benefits and tenure, and privatize essential services. He’s also demanded teacher evaluations be tied to standardized tests results of students, an idea that hurts poor students as teachers in crowded inner-city schools are forced to narrow curriculum. Instead of planning lessons that teach students to inquire, students will be force-fed facts to be demonstrated on exams. Students will no longer learn, they will memorize.

As CTU President Karen Lewis proclaimed to thousands of teachers and parents at a Labor Day rally in Daley Plaza, “This fight is for the very soul of public education, not only in Chicago but everywhere.”

This is no exaggeration; Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and architect of the privatization scheme he called “Renaissance 2010,” was appointed by President Obama to be secretary of education. His policies have been embedded in Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative, a union-opposed program that requires states to make reforms to get federal education funds. The anti-teacher Democrats in Chicago have another tie to the White House; Arne Duncan headed the CPS under Mayor Richard Daley, the brother of William Daley, who replaced Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff in 2011.

We are beginning to have as little choice between the two major parties at the national level in educational policy as we currently have on civil liberties and war-and-peace issues.

We are beginning to have as little choice between the two major parties at the national level in educational policy as we currently have on civil liberties and war-and-peace issues. Even Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has been explicit in his support for Emanuel. “Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues,” he declared, “but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teachers’ union strike is unnecessary and wrong.” He added that “education reform is a bipartisan issue.”

Unfortunately, Paul Ryan is correct. But if bipartisan efforts continue to pander to the hedge-fund bigwigs behind the charter school movement and ignore efforts at improving our public schools, our hopes for a better educated generation will be suspended, permanently.

Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.



Seeing Red (Part 1): The High Cost of Higher Education

In the face of mounting tuition hikes, layoffs and budget cuts, thousands of students and educators have hit the streets in university towns across the Americas. The demonstrations have cut across race, gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, bringing disparate groups together to make the education system more transparent and democratic.

In Québec, a series of ongoing student demonstrations has emerged to address sweeping austerity measures, including hundreds of layoffs, cuts to campus services, consolidation of academic departments, and a shift of the financial burden from the state onto students; despite reactionary laws passed by the Québec Cabinet to outlaw the protests, between 100,000 and 400,000 people marched on downtown Montreal in what has been described as the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. The red square that symbolizes the movement there has since become ubiquitous.

In the United States, the occupation of the New School in New York City in 2008 gave a glance at the possibilities of a nascent student movement unseen in this country since the student boycotts of the Kent State era. Faculty members joined students in issuing a statement of solidarity after they seized the cafeteria, the last public space for students at the school.

We have come together to prevent our study spaces from being flattened by corporate bulldozers, to have a say in who runs this school, to demand that the money we spend on this institution be used to facilitate the creation of a better society, not to build bigger buildings or invest in companies that make war. We have come here not only to make demands, but also to live them. Our presence makes it clear that this school is ours, and yours, if you are with us.”

The resurgence of a radical student movement is much more than a cry for the comfort of the old status quo. To be blunt: the promise of a financially secure life at the end of a university education is evaporating. The old gods are dead. A new model must be found.

It is folly to think, however, that the student strike methods used in Québec and Chile are a simple, transferable template to our own failing higher education system. In both countries, there is a long-term history of student associations that are vibrant, meaningful, and offer material aid to students all year long. The first steps to changing the system in this country must include the institution of strong, non-hierarchical student unions and self-governance at US universities.

The first steps to changing the system in this country must include the institution of strong, non-hierarchical student unions and self-governance at US universities.

These student groups have to demand a paradigm shift toward direct and participatory democracy. Education planning and policy-making must be wrested away from corporate think tanks and the imposition of standardized metrics. Students must be engaged in decisions that affect learning. And, for democracy’s sake, students and the general populace alike must fight political and administrative efforts to turn essential public services into private commodities to be bought and sold. Only by ensuring equal access to education – free access – can we set the foundations of self-determination. Over a dozen countries already offer free university-level education. Why not us?


Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.


Boycott Arizona to Save Nursing!

AZ Nurse Amanda Trujillo was not only disrespected for her routine patient education and advocacy, she was also fired and her license has been in limbo for a year now. Her education led a patient to seek information regarding hospice, at a potential cost to her employer (Banner Health) of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. The Board of Nursing considering Banner’s complaint against Amanda includes at least three members who work for Banner Health.

In response to this corruption and the attack on Nurses’ ability to advocate and educate patients free of retaliation, we have put up a petition to boycott Arizona until we see some BON changes – please check it out & help us spread the word, next Hearing is 3/19 and AZBON reauthorization is still in the Legislature – we’re running out of time on this unusually opportune time for positive change.



Greg Mercer, MSN

Thanks, and I hope all is well with you!

Features Projects

2011: Occupied

The following is a list of essays and features appearing on during 2011:

January 8, 2011
A Counter-Conference: Strategies for Defending Higher Education
organized by Bob Samuels; video by Cameron Granadino

The 2011 MLA Counter-Conference took place during the annual Modern Language Convention in Los Angeles, January 8th, 2011 at Loyola Law School.  While thousands of people were meeting at the traditional convention, this one-day event centered on discussing actual strategies for making higher education more just.


January 10, 2011
A Socially Anti-Social, Dialogically Autonomous, Psychedelic Social Practice
by Marc Herbst

Occupy Everything because everything has already been occupied.
Occupy Everything because everything is a site for contestation.


January 11, 2011
knowledge commons, power, pedagogy, feminism and collective practices
interview with Cara Baldwin by Paula Cobo

 Art institutions have historically operated as corporations, with varying effects/affects. At this particular moment what interests me in terms of collective practices are those that are incredibly open.


January 30, 2011
Masks, or The Illusion of Power
by Ken Ehrlich

So… when our actions become too rehearsed, we search for ways to re-animate our own sense of what constitutes collective, direct action. We try to shake off the distracted paralysis and the tormented mask. We look for ways to inject into our cynical narratives moments of off kilter gestures, we try to most of all to surprise ourselves.


February 22, 2011
Operational Aesthetics: Briefing Script
by Michael W. Wilson

An operational aesthetic is perceptual capacity in movement. Rather than seeking the productive end (communism), it seeks the procedural dynamic (communization). In doing so, it moves its focus to systemic functionality without fetishizing design. This dynamic is, by necessity, located within a system of exchange. When the operative threatens the circulation of existing goods, services and/or values, (s)he risks losing a position within that system.


March 4, 2011
Ask About An Autonomous University: 5 Exam Questions For Life
by Louis-Georges Schwartz

Common university ideology makes us feel that our work is a labor of love, yet resentment and fear fill our days. Exhaustion grips us to such an extent that we have no choice but to withdraw, but rather than fleeing into our families, the latest 3D entertainment or the hippest new bar, perhaps we could collectively seek refuge in an autonomous school we might tolerably call our own.


March 9, 2011
Notes on Labor, Maternity, and the Institution
by Jaleh Mansoor

How do others less lucky than I make it in the global service industry (in which education and so called higher education now takes it place, now that Professors at State schools are classified as mid level managers?) How do women who have babies and work make it? They pay to work; they pay with their children. Sacrificial economies.


April 13, 2011
OCCUPY EVERYTHING [I]ntimacy and Scale
by Cara Baldwin

I am first struck by the foreign impression of my own hand hitting paper. To set out to write in this way is to see my own handwriting for the first in a very long time. It’s grown sloppy. I dreamt last night I was looking at my writing from years ago. How clearly cloying my penmanship was then. It expressed a sincere desire for legibility and understanding–even approval.


June 17, 2011
Three Crises: 30s – 70s – Now
by Brian Holmes

What we face is a triple crisis, economic, geopolitical and ecological, with consequences that cannot be predicted on the basis of past experience. Can we identify some of the central contradictions that will mark the upcoming years? Which institutions and social bargains have already come under severe stress? In what ways will the ecological crisis begin to produce political responses? How will class relations within the United States interact with crossborder and worldwide struggles? Is it possible to imagine — and work toward — a positive transformation of the current technopolitical paradigm?


July 7, 2011
by Stephen Wright (introduced by Sean Dockray)

The first issue of Contents is a contribution from Stephen Wright on “Usership.” For the past few years I’ve been fascinated by Stephen’s ideas about invisibility, use, and redundancy, all of which come into play in the writing below. In particular, I’ve wondered about the relationship between “the user” and “the worker” – on the one hand, the difference is one between playing the role of a consumer and that of a producer; but on the other hand, as users, our activity is producing value somewhere (websites, telecoms, IP holders).


July 22, 2011
The Summary Execution of Kenneth Harding and Reaction to Police Terrorism in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Timeline
by Louis-Georges Schwartz
August 5, 2011
An Introduction to Tahrir Documents
by Tahrir Documents

Tahrir Documents collects printed matter from Cairo’s Tahrir Square and its environs. Since the first week of March, volunteers in Cairo have gone to the square, usually on Fridays, to gather documents distributed at protests and rallies. The archive continues to grow as new groups emerge, rallies continue, and the production of printed material keeps pace. We also accept scanned or  photographed submissions sent in by individuals not directly involved in the project, such as friends in Alexandria documenting the appearance of printed material there.


August 5, 2011
Tahrir Documents: A Guide
by Tahrir Documents

The following is a sample of some of the documents we have collected from Tahrir Square, translated, and published in English alongside the Arabic originals. They are arranged here alphabetically by title and linked to the full-length translated document, along with a PDF of the original, on our website.


August 9, 2011
Tolerance or Universality
by Kailash Srinivasan

In August 2010, The Guardian ran a graphic segment on female genital mutilation, which represented extremely violent imagery of victimized women and girls. The piece produced, however, a mix of fascination and guilt.


August 16, 2011
CONTENTS #2: they are several
by Cara Baldwin (introduced by Sean Dockray)

An introduction to Cara Baldwin’s contribution, they are several. At the end of April, when Cara was compiling links related to a situation in which Facebook shut down the pages of dozens of anti cuts groups in the UK, I invited her to use the platform of CONTENTS (at that point more of an idea than a platform) as a tool to organize and make public this research.


August 23, 2011
Notes from Tehran (a Green Movement after the Arab Spring?)
by Milad Faraz (introduced by Jaleh Mansoor)

Two years after what has emerged as a “Green Movement”, it is the author’s critical understanding of the movement, its historical significance and the threat posed to it by what is characterized as its liberal and secularist articulations. The piece draws on critical reflections on conceptions of “religion” and “secularism” and argues for a historical understanding of such concepts in making sense of Iranian modern politics.


August 31, 2011
Eat the Rich
by Brian Holmes

Americans like to keep things simple and direct, so here it is: they rule. For the simple reason that they (the ruling class) have all the money. The top 5% of US citizens own almost 2/3 of the country’s wealth, or 63.5%. Compare that massive share to 12.8% for the bottom 80% — that is, “the rest of us,” as Rhonda Winter puts it in the excellent article from which this pie chart is taken.


October 4, 2011
The Time of Crisis
by Joshua Clover

 The class is not that of Multitude, of dematerialized labor, but is the class of debt — and the politics of time, I think this is an inevitable conclusion, is that of debt default. Debt default — and perhaps this is my only claim — is the temporal complement to the specific or general strike, and is the route of solidarity with material labor, with the place of exploitation.


October 10, 2011
Open Letter Re: OccupyLA—Solidarity, Critiques, Reinventions
by paracaidistas collective

Many of us are not shy about expressing our hatred for capitalism itself, and the entrenched institionalized inequalities that stem from it. We do not believe that a legislative solution will lead us out of this crisis; the entire legislative system exists in the service of structures of power designed to privilege the few at the expense of the many, and based on profound disrespect for the needs and perspectives of the majority of the humans on this planet (not to mention the planet itself).


November 1, 2011
The Oakland Commune
by Louis-Georges Schwartz & Michael W. Wilson

 The Oakland Commune doesn’t grow by seducing public opinion in order to enlarge its membership. It grows by showing what it can do. The Oakland Commune can make Oscar Grant Plaza habitable for a large number of people; itcan run a library; it can resist assault by the police; it can fight other factions in the 99% for the right to actively defend itself against state violence; it can retake the territory from which it had been evicted by the brutal force of the police; it canspark direct action by 0%ers as far away as New York City; it can declare a general strike.


November 22, 2011
The “Pepper Spray Incident” and the Inevitable Radicalization of the UC Student Body
by Eric Lee

The participation of thousands of students across the state in the anti-Wall Street movement represents the rapid radicalization of California students, which in itself is indicative of the quick move to the left by millions of movement sympathizers. The radicalization of the students manifests itself on the busses, in the restaurants, and in the coffee shops on and around my campus, where discussion of political strategy dominates. Of course, these anecdotes mean relatively little—but the politicization of the student body is significant nevertheless. Though the process of politicization is experiencing its birth pangs, it is emotionally moving that the process has finally begun.


December 15, 2011
How Many Sexual Assaults Happened at #OccupyLA?
by Micha Cardenas

To those who would say this is a peripheral issue, I absolutely disagree. I propose that the question as to whether we can create spaces which challenging existing institutions of violence, such as economic inequality, without reproducing and even worsening other institutions of violence, such as a patriarchal rape culture, must be central to the occupation movement. Whose liberation and equality is this movement about?


Notes on Labor, Maternity, and the Institution

Mierle Laderman-Ukeles, Wadsworth-Atheneum (1973)


Pro labor activism will not begin to overcome the injustices and indignities it purports to redress until it addresses an irreducibly (for now) gendered form of labor: labor, as in, going into labor, giving birth (or adopting). While much recent discourse attempts to account for the industrial or “fordist” to post-industrial shift in forms of labor, patterns into which workers are set, employment, and unemployment (I am thinking of the Italian Autonomist Marxists and Virno, Negri and Hardt in particular), and while so many statistics tell us that more women are in the workforce than men (in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2008 to the present), maternity is scotomized. Is this just another not-so-subtle form of gynophobia? A fear on the part of feminists of essentialism? A critique of the emphasis French Feminists of the 70s placed on maternity? An innocent oversight in recent iterations of Marxist analyses?

Artistic practices of the last decade highlight the remunerative system of a global service industry, one in which “art” takes its place fully embedded in–rather than at an interval of either autonomy or imminence–the fluid, continuous circulation of goods and services: Andrea Fraser’s Untitled (2002) in which Fraser had her gallery, Friedrich Petzel, arrange to have a collector purchase her sexual services for one night, Santiago Sierra’s 250 cm Line Tattooed on Six Paid People (1999) in which the artist paid six unemployed men in Old Havana, Cuba thirty dollars each to have a line tattooed across their back. Fraser’s work was characteristically “controversial” in the most rehearsed ways, and Sierra’s drew criticism for having permanently disfigured six human beings. The misprision and naivete of the critics spectacularized both, of course. Sierra’s retort involved a set of references to global economic conditions that the critics may not have liked to hear: “The tattoo is not the problem. The problem is the existence of social conditions that allow me to make this work. You could make this tattooed line a kilometer long, using thousands and thousands of willing people.”1 Both Fraser and Sierra point to the quasi-universality of what autonomist Marxist theorist Paolo Virno calls a “post-fordist” regime of “intellectual labor” to describe the shift from the assembly line to a wide range of labor in which traditional boundaries and borders no longer apply. Virno says, “by post-Fordism, I mean instead a set of characteristics that are related to the entire contemporary workforce, including fruit pickers and the poorest of immigrants.” This post-fordist regime is characterized by flexibility, deracination, and the shift from habituated work to contingency. Concomitantly, the post-fordist laborer does not take his or her place in the ranks of he masses, but flows into a multitude, differentiated by numerous factors, among them, post-coloniality, endless permutations at the level of gender, ethnicity, race.

For Virno and the autonomists, art and culture are no longer instantiations of exemplarity and exceptionality, as for Adorno, but rather “are the place in which praxis reflects on itself and results in self-representation.” In other words, the cultural work operates as a supplement, a parergonal addition to an already existing logic. It neither passively reflects nor openly resists. There is no vantage or “outside” from which art could dialectically reflect and resists, as Adorno would have it. Long since the work came off its pedestal and out of its frame, from the gallery to the street, the ostensibly non-site to the site as Robert Smithson put it, cultural production is too embedded in social and economic circulation to reflect let alone critique. Virno sees this limitation—the absence of an outside—as one shared with that of activism and other forms of tactical resistance: “The impasse that seizes the global movement comes from its inherent implication in the modes of production. Not from its estrangement or marginality, as some people think.”3Ironically, the luxury of estrangement and marginalization enjoyed by the avant-garde and neo avant-garde is no longer available. And yet, it is “precisely because, rather than in spite, of this fact that it presents itself on the public scene as an ethical movement.”4 For if work puts life itself to work, dissolving boundaries between labor and leisure, rest and work, any action against it occupies the same fabric.

Among others, a problem that surfaces [too quietly and too politely, with a kind of ashamed and embarrassed reserve] is that of gender. The issue is not merely that Fraser puts her body at risk while Sierra remunerates others to place at risk, and in pain, their bodies, that corpus on which habeus corpus is founded. Needless to say, Sierra has organized projects around male prostitutes, such as that of 160 cm Line Tattooed on Four People, executed for the contemporary art museum in Salamanca, Spain, in 1999.

The problem is that the category of disembodied labor, or intellectual labor as Virno alternately calls it to describe its reliance on abstraction, scotomizes a form of irreducibly gendered embodied labor: labor. Now let the cries of essentialism! ring. Where is Julia Kristeva when you need her? Hélène Cixous telling us to allegorically write with our breast milk?5

Many feminist artists of the 1970s—in a historical moment that has both formed and been occluded by the artistic pratices of the last decade which I mention above–explicitly addressed the category of unremunerated labor: Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen(1973-4), for instance; Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman which explicitly draws an analogy between house-work and prostitution. Mary Kelly’s Post Partum Document (1979) elevates maternity to the level of analytical research, part of the putative archival impulse. Merle Laderman Ukeles tacitly situates domestic work in a category with the service industry understood historically, before all labor became maintenance labor, as “maintenance.”6 Ukeles’s differentiation of production and maintenance almost seems romantic in hindsight. As though there were creation/production rather than reproduction. And yet…..

Radical Marxist and feminist activist Silvia Federici, author of Genoa and the Anti Globalization Movement (2001) and Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint (2008) argues against the gender neutrality of precarious labor theory, that of the Marxist autonomists Paolo Virno and Antonio Negri.7 Federici situates the commonality of rape and prostitution as well as violence against women within a systematized appropriation of female labor that operates as accumulation, much as accumulation did atavistically, long before the formation of commodity economies, or the development of general equivalence. Atavism as a repressed matrix for putative modernity—a modernity in which gender determination describes one of the greatest forms of uneven development—supports Ariella Azoulay’s claim, in The Civil Contract of Photography, that modernity did little to alter women’s positions in relation to discourse, the institution, and civil rights greater than the vote. Just as for Foucault the modern biopolitical regime compounds the old to achieve a more thorough penetration of everyday life, modernity permutes previous hegemonies “shaped and institutionalized over thousands of years.” In twentieth-century battles for the right to corporeal self-determination, to reproductive rights, for instance, “the body itself underwent a process of secularization, …this body came into the world without any of the normative defenses of citizenship to regulate it.”8 Under “Universal” rights, the contingencies of the body, deemed particular, did not become part of the discourse around citizenship, thus abandoning it to a renaturalized precariousness. Premised on a set of Enlightenment Universalist claims purportedly neutral to the particularities of corporeality, modernity failed to account for the specificities of women’s lives. Instead, the body, or “bare life” tacitly continues to be the way women are viewed, here commodified and sexually fetishized (neo-liberal “Western” democracies), there regulated within disciplinary, and often violent, parameters, as in Islamist cultures.9 These differences in hegemonic models of femininity may be theorized;10 the process of biological labor, however, slips the grasp of discourse, and, with it, policy. This last term would include international policies in which Enlightened self-interest are legitimated by the roles of women, of women’s bodies to be more precise.

Federici links her notion of atavistic forms of reserve—the accumulation of women’s labor—to colonial expropriation. She argues that the IMF, World Bank and other proxy institutions as engaging in a renewed cycle of primitive accumulation, by which everything held in common from water to seeds, to our genetic code become privatized in what amounts to a new round of enclosures.

Pop culture, as always a place where cultural articulations happen within normative parameters that may differ from “discourse,” presents the most direct expression of this that I have yet to come across. The high/low binary was a false product of fordism, one that no longer operates. When a famous male rapper says, “gonna get a child outta her,” he is speaking hegemony, not “marginalization.”


Labor: If Virno is “correct,” in his analysis, there can be no “perspective” from which to think labor. From what fold within labor might I think it? I’ve worked as an hourly wage earner, a mother, and a salaried “professional.” One of these three terms is incongruous; discourse has hit a false note. My description of something about which I should know a great deal, my own history as a laborer, has already committed a rather egregious crime according to the law of discourse. As De Man has famously said, “abuse of language is, of course, itself the name of a trope: catachresis. …something monstrous lurks in the most innocent of catachreses: when one speaks of the legs of a table or the face of a mountain, catachresis is already turning into prosopopeia and one begins to perceive a world of potential ghosts and monsters.” What thwarted terms, or monsters, are barred from an account of my accounts? Discourse be damned, or in this case, personified; I am using “I.”

At 13, 22 years ago, I was what Siegfred Kracauer might have referred to as “a little shop girl,” working at a T shirt store for 3.75 an hour, selling 20 dollar Joy Division T-shirts and 5 dollar Grateful Dead stickers to other, older, teenagers [with allowances or their own jobs]. My mom had to accompany me to the first day to make good on PA labor laws. 7 hours of my labor/boredom would have bought me one of the T-shirts I sold. I’ve worked, like so many artists and academics, as a museum guard, 17 years ago, for 7/hr, or 10.50/hr for working past the 8-hour shift. Needless to say, none of these jobs had benefits. I’ve written articles for prominent scholarly journals where the pay may roughly be calculated at 3 cents/word, 1 percent of what a glossy magazine would pay for non-scholarly work. Let’s not get distracted by the amount of time that scholarship requires: travel; archives; dozens if not hundreds of books read; writing; and editing. But that “let’s not” is a sliding glass door of sorts: it articulates the injustice of unremunerated work, but it also stands as a reminder that the pleasure [and/or displeasure] of some work is irreducible to money, acts as an irreducible quality. But isn’t everything held in the matrix of currency [fiction]? All process, a term inclusive of work, skilled or unskilled, is irreducible to the monetary value assigned it. A bibliography supportive of that last statement alone would entail a foray into a discursive terrain bordered by Vico, Marx, Weber, The Frankfurt School, Foucault, Post Structuralism and practically every title in Verso, Stanford’s Crossing the Meridian and the University of Minnesota press, and the work of countless others. Irreducible labor. Or as Thomas Keenan has recently put it, the irreducible “jelly” of work that remains after the abstractions of exchange value is “accounted.”11

I’ve worked for 19 thousand a year as a gallery receptionist 14 years ago; for nothing, in monetary terms, writing a proto-book as a PhD candidate to produce a dissertation, partially about labor and art in reconstruction era Italy; for a stipend of 18 thousand per annum teaching college students courses that full [celebrity] professors were also teaching; for one glorious year at 55+ thousand a year as a “term” assistant professor at a prominent women’s college affiliated with an ivy league university; and some ten k (+) less a year as a tenure track assistant professor at a state institution. The latter ostensibly includes compensation for teaching Art History to undergraduates and studio practitioners, directing advises toward theirs MAs or MFAs, and coming to countless faculty meetings. I can retain that salaried position if I produce enough of those journal articles, at 3 cents a word, so let us include the latter, now that I HAVE a tenure track position, in that before-taxes salary. And I get benefits. I am by all [ac]counts VERY lucky and yet the contradictions in the remunerative system are too many to count. I am not compensated in any way—including in University evaluations and other assorted forms of self-regulative beaurocracy—for the 5 or so, sometimes more, hour (+)-long studio visits I conduct every week. An aside on the studio visit: it is by far more intense than an equal measure of time, the hour, of teaching, advising, or any other form of labor but one. And that latter, around which I skirt, is a term from which I steal to work. “Robbing peter to pay Paul.” Wait, I thought I was the one getting paid?

And I “speak” from a vantage of extreme privilege, of multiple privileges, of all privileges but one, to which I stand in a relation of excess and lack. That excess and lack revolves a particular embodied form of labor, a production that is a non productive labor unlike the non accumulative labor of which the autonomists speak…

The discursively impossible: I have given birth through the labor process to a child. “Let’s not,” in the interest of not getting caught in the sliding glass door, “count” pregnancy, or post pardum recovery or breast-feeding. Let’s try to isolate labor in order to attempt to, tautologically, quantify it, as the issue of labor conventionally requires us to do. That labor was 32 hours long. Not one of those 32 hours was commensurable with any other hour. Time contracted, not necessarily in rhythm with those of my womb (hystery in Greek), time dilated, not necessarily in tandem with my cervix. It was working parallel to me; no, those organs were working in tension against me. Dissonance. I have never been capable of thinking my body’s labor in what I will call, despite the need to shore it up by the labor of discursive legitimation, my experiential time. This time shrank and stretched like hot taffy. I would need the proper name “Deleuze” here, and The Logic of Sense, to get the discursive sanction I need to support this last claim. That would take a little labor, labor time I could punch in as academics will no doubt do some time soon, or rather do now however elliptically in requisite annual self reports. But those 32 child labor hours defy break down into 32 units of 60 minutes, 1920 units of 60 seconds, etc. This form of labor slips the grip of discourse; even metaphor.

Catachresis is not monstrous enough to operate as a medium for the articulation of this [non] event. There was, however, a quantifyable cost for the hospital ante-chamber, the delivery room, the “recovery” room, and the first examination of the infant. And there were more complex “costs;” I was “let go” of the second year of my position as a term assistant professor at a prominent women’s college associated with an ivy-league university. The Chair responsible for my firing, I mean, liberation, is a “feminist,” and a mother of two. She thought it would be “for the best,” for me to have time off. I never asked for time off. This did allow her to win a point or two for her annual docket; I was hired back on the adjunct salary of 3 thousand per class the next semester. This allowed the department to save 50 thousand dollars in 2007-2008, and the cost of benefits. Did I mention that the semester after giving birth, after having been “let go,” I still made it to campus to attend all advising sessions? 50K in savings that the institution no doubt never even registered, my loss. But who cares, I had a healthy beautiful bright baby!….. to love AND support. BTW, diapers are 20/box. Currently, I calculate that I make about 12 dollars and fifty cents an hour given that I work at least sixty hours a week. Ergo, a box of diapers is equal to over an hour and a half of work. I go through many of these per month still. At the time of being fired/demoted/whatever, I lived in NYC, where diapers cost more than 20/box. And I made, about 4.16 and hour. A box of diapers cost 5 hours of work. But like many women, and unlike many others, I had assistance, that of a partner and that of a parent. Let’s not address the emotional and psychological cost of the latter; let’s please not address the price dignity paid. Oops, prosopopeia. Does dignity have agency? I hope the reader knows by now that I find calculations to be absurd. “How do I love Thee, [dear child, dear student, dear reader,] Let me count the ways….” I am, however, serious in the following query: how do others less lucky than I make it in the global service industry (in which education and so called higher education now takes it place, now that Professors at State schools are classified as mid level managers?) How do women who have babies and work make it? They pay to work; they pay with their children. Sacrificial economies.

Now again, let’s not get caught in that door by even discussing the 24/7 labor of parenting. The pleasures of this last, and the agonies, are irreducible. But, again, isn’t everything? So: Suspended. Bracketed, a priori. A discursive delimitation or repression? It is in such poor taste to discuss this: bad form. Just a note, daycare is 10 thousand dollars per anum. A baby sitter charges 10-15 an hour. I over identify with the sitter and guiltily–as though I even had the luxury of being a fat cat liberal riddled with guilt–pay said sitter 20. But no worries: I don’t believe in baby-sitting. I have no life outside of the working and the parenting, no leisure. I mistrust the latter. I dislike being appeased. No compensatory blah blah for me. I do, however, want the hours taken away from my child by studio visits and the like to be remunerated HER. She keeps track of when I am missing. I can’t keep count. Guilty interstitial pleasure: Facebook, whom (uh oh) I can credit for the honor [snarkery free] of labor on the present piece.


Like most institutions of its kind, the University at which I have a tenure track position, for which I am reminded to be eternally thankful—and I AM—does not have maternity leave. Were I to choose to have a second child (this statement requires an exegesis into the word “choice”), I would take sick-leave, as though giving-birth were an illness; as though [biological] labor were a subtraction from the forward march of time, of production and productivity, of progress. Sick-leave, time taken while ill ad ostensibly unproductive. Sick leave, the concept if not the necessary practice, is sick. More perverse still is the idea that populating the next generation, however selfish this may or may not be in many way, however narcissistic or not, is not a form of non-productivity. The double negative in this last should raise some flags in the space of textual analysis, labor analysis, gender analysis. An aside: I never felt less ill than during pregnancy, childbirth, and so called recovery. The use of the word biology will deliver the present text, again, to the accusation of essentialism. I will add that it goes without saying that maternity need not be biological. But it is still labor. A colleague recently adopted a child. Said colleague travelled to a distant continent to retrieve the child with whom she had spent a year establishing an intimate, if painfully digitally mediated, long term relationship. She took family medical (sick) leave. It, apparently, is against an ethics of work to be preoccupied with a new baby.

Moreover, were I to have a second child, my tenure clock would stop if I took that odiously named family/sick leave. My opportunity to make a case for my own worth via tenure review would be deferred. Of course, were we unionized, there may be a fighting chance, were our esteemed male colleagues to support us, for maternity leave, or, more unthinkably, paid maternity leave and no punitive tenure clock [beyond the normative punitive parameters]. “We” are our worst obstacle. As a prominent political science academic and feminist recently pointed out to me, one of the greatest obstacles to unionization or any form of collectivization, for artists and academics, is that they think of themselves as “professionals” and associate unions with blue color workers. Were they to peek around, they would note that these workers are practically extinct. We are all in an endless lateral plane of service. As one student told me, “my parents pay your salary,” to which I responded, “like the cleaning lady.” Note that there is no “liberal elitism” lurking here. We are all, to some extent, unless we work for JPMorgan Chase or some hedge fund, the cleaning lady (many nannies, like many cabbies, have a string of PhDs. My republican aunt once told me with delight that her cleaning lady had worked with my dissertation adviser when she, “the cleaning lady” was in grad school). Anyway, the student just nodded. I told him he should work to get his parents’ money’s worth.

Professors and academics like to think that they transcend as they were believed to do in a previous disciplinary socio-cultural regime. Jackson Pollock thought that too. He was an easy puppet in Cold War politics.  Teaching undergrads in a core curriculum of an ivy league university that shores its superiority and identity around said core curriculum of old master literature, art and music—in other words, utterly dependent on a labor pool of graduate students—I participated in the effort to unionize. The threats were not subtle. The University’s counter argument was that students study; they don’t labor.

And women work, they don’t labor. There is no language.

1 Marc Spiegler. “When Human Beings are the Canvas.” Art News. June, 2003.
2 Interview with Paolo Virno. Branden W. Joseph, , Alessia Ricciardi trans. Grey Room No. 21 (Fall 2005): 26-37.
3 Ibid. P. 35.
4 Ibid.
5 The Laugh of Medusa.
6 For an excellent panoramic overview of these practices, see Helen Molesworth. “House Work and Art Work.” October No. 92 (Spring 2000).
8 Ariella Azoulay. The Civil Contract Of Photography. New York: Zone Books, 2008. P. 226.
9 Ibid. For a discussion of the blind spot of sexuality and embodiment in Enlightenment thinking, see Jacques Lacan’s “seminal” “Kant with Sade.” Critique (April, 1963).
10 “Nothing, we are told by Western Hegemonic discourse, so differentiates “us” from “them” as the lack of freedom for women in Islamist societies. It needs to be noted, however, that far from silencing the power of women, Islamist regimes highlight it, acknowledging through severe and violent restrictions that what women do is crucial to political and social order. The argument justifying the strict codes of conduct, based on respect for women (in contrast to the Western commodification of women and their disparagement as sex objects), has a dialectical dynamic that can lead to its own undoing.” Susan Buck-Morss. Thinking Past Terror. P. 12. London: Verso, 2003. P. 12.
11 Thomas Keenan. “The Point is to (Ex) Change It: Reading ‘Capital’ Rhetorically.” Fables of Responsibility. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007.