#special issue: Knowledge in Action


 

#special issue: Knowledge in Action

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si_knowledge

редакторы / editors: коллектив авторов / authors’ collective
дизайн  / lay-out: Дмитрий Виленский, Павел Арсеньев / Dmitry Vilensky, Pavel Arsenev
графика номера / graphics : Максим Нерода / Max Neroda
документация / documentations : Уличный Университет / Street University
задник номера / back : Р.Э.П. / R.E.P.


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The editors /// Knowledge is Power

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How do people shape their surroundings? And can self-organizing structures redefine their relations to the institutions of power? Could they ever replace traditional forms of education? Or can they place enough pressure on institutions to draw them into the process of self-education, transforming them?

Today, more and more people are haunted by a sense of impotence. The world seems impossible to change, though something is clearly going wrong. Sure, you can have a career and manage to save up some money; you can work endlessly and bend over backwards for your boss, and you can relax yourself to oblivion by watching TV… And no matter how addicted you are to that lifestyle, you will always sense that the everyday is somehow becoming more and more petty and squalid, vapid and pointless, despite all that comfort and success.

But very few people are in the position to grasp the reasons for what is going on, understanding the world in all the fullness of its contradictions. Very people have the privilege of reflecting upon their place in the world and in history. And very few people realize that the time to act is now.

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Alexander Knight /// The Rebirth of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)

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A small kitten scampers up the steps of ivy-laden Cobb Hall at the University of Chicago. Nearby, a mohawked student attempts to spear a stale, “dumpstered,” bagel mid-air with a PVC pipe. He’s surrounded by dozens of other young radicals mingling in the school’s immaculate green courtyard, chatting about music, activism and revolution. Just inside the hall a complicated and exasperating argument rages over national organization and the delicate challenges surrounding differences in race, sex, class, sexual orientation and gender identity. Welcome to the 1st National Convention of the reborn Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

The New and the Old

Held August 4th-7th (2006) and attended by an estimated 200 students and activists from as far away as Washington State, Vermont, and Arizona, the convention was the first national event held by SDS since its re-inception just 7 months ago on Martin Luther King Day. The original SDS of the 1960s, before it collapsed into various competing factions (the final, disastrous convention in 1969 was also held in Chicago), is remembered as part of a powerful movement that funneled thousands of young students Southward to the front lines of the struggle for Civil Rights, and as one of the first and steadiest voices demanding the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from a place called Vietnam. 40 years later, while the nation is embroiled in a conflict over the civil rights of immigrants, and the American military is trapped in yet another foreign quagmire, a sentiment of disinterested cynicism, even hopelessness, has thus far maintained a firm grip on much of America’s youth. Meanwhile, the national organizations leading the fight against the rising tide of imperialism have been a regrettable combination of internet-based lobby groups soliciting funding from wealthy donors, along with sectarian groups stuck in the mid-60s strategy of massing bodies to clog city streets for one afternoon.

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Universidad Nomada /// Mental Prototypes and Monster Institutions. Some Notes by Way of an Introduction

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Mental Prototypes

For quite a while now, a certain portmanteau word has been circulating in the Universidad Nómada’s discussions, in an attempt to sum up what we believe should be one of the results of the critical work carried out by the social movements and other post-socialist political actors. We talk about creating new mental prototypes for political action. This is due to the importance, in our eyes, of the elusive and so often unsuccessful link between cognitive diagrams and processes of political subjectivation. That is, the link between the knowledge that allows powers and potentials to be tested on one hand and, on the other, the semiotic, perceptual and emotional mutations that lead to the politicisation of our lives, become personified in our bodies, and shape the finite existential territories that are channelled into or become available for political antagonism. We believe there is a need to create new mental prototypes because contemporary political representations, as well as many of the institutions created by the emancipatory traditions of the 20th century, should be subjected to a serious review – at the very least – given that, in many cases, they have become part of the problem rather than the solution.

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Kirill Medvedev /// The War Group: If You Don’t Do Politics, You’re Just Standing on the Sidelines

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To my mind, the War Group is a healthy reaction to the current conjuncture in the Russian and Moscow art scenes. Artists have firmly ensconced themselves in the galleries. They have to have money for their projects; they need the services of professional curators and other support staff. In a word, they need a system that will recognize their privileges as producers of aesthetic commodities. This system has definitely been established. It is an element of Putin’s oil-fuelled “stability” paradigm, which has already put down quite serious ideological roots. (For example, the cries on behalf of “pure art”-free from “politics” and other earthly vanities-have become louder and louder.)

In this situation, art becomes either a successful instrument of capital investment or a front for money laundering.

War opposes this state of affairs in its own way. Its opposition doesn’t stem from serious principles or a firm political position (which, I think, it hasn’t articulated). Rather, its opposition comes from the fact that it is quite boring to exist in this situation, to play by its rules. It’s a lot more fun and natural to build a bonfire in an exhibition space. It’s a lot more fun to live in art rather than produce it.

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Children of the Underground /// “Your Advertisement Makes Us Climb the Walls!”

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On Sunday, May 18, an act of revenge against the domination of advertising in public space was carried out in the transfer tube between two central stations in the Petersburg metro, Gostiny Dvor and Nevsky Prospect.

The entire passageway had been pasted over with a monotonous advertisement for electronic gadgets. The ad shows a young man and woman equipped with these gadgets and locked in an insincere embrace. Unable to countenance such a subtle rape of their imaginations, a group of young people performed a genuine “decomposition” of the ad.

Over the course of several minutes, they tore down the panels of the ad, covered it with protest slogans, and leafleted the passengers who were lucky enough to witness this “breakdown.” The activists’ main task was, apparently, to spread the message that if an advertisement has been hung up, that doesn’t mean at all that this should be the case. Public transportation had always been a part of public space, but with the imposition of capitalist relations of production in Russia, public space has steadily continued to erode. It is gradually being captured by advertising images. And there is a certain limit past which the invididuals most sensitive to this species of violence climb the walls-in this case, literally.

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The Street University: A Brief History

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On February 8, 2008, the European University in Saint Petersburg (a graduate school) was closed for alleged violations of fire safety rules. Many university insiders and other observers, however, believed that more powerful political figures were behind this strange move. Aside from seeing the closure as part of a more general attack on “agents of western influence,” they pointed to fact that the university had come under pressure for a European Union-funded elections monitoring research program that was based at the university (whose leadership had earlier decided to shut it down). Whatever the case, the university’s professors, students, alumni, friends, and allies mounted a multi-pronged campaign to reopen the university. For their part, EU students organized a series of theatricalized public actions, including the laying of a memorial firehose at a monument to Mikhail Lomonosov, father of modern Russian scholarship, and a folk burlesque play. With their university still closed, their activism then took a natural turn: they decided to hold classes in the street.

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Pavel Arsenev /// Righteous Anger as a Weapon against the Humanities

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The Russian Orthodox Church, notorious for its protracted struggle to introduce religious education in public schools, has now become entangled in a property dispute with the Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow). Some of the university’s classrooms, the church claimed, belonged to the monastery next door. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff when the dispute went to trial, and in April 2008 not only did court bailiffs show up at the university building to reclaim the church’s alleged property, but they were reinforced by a platoon of righteously angry Cossacks. Whereas, with the advent of the modern age, the church imagined the natural sciences as its principal foe, nowadays its righteous anger is directed against the humanities.

The Orthodox Church has for some time now acted as a subject of real estate rather than as a “subject of the spirit.” It is as if the church has given up its greater mission and settled for the role of a player in the commercial field. However, the petty property disputes that it has initiated now should be viewed, rather, as consonant with its spiritual and intellectual pretensions. Besides, the recent measures taken by the church-the most notable of which has been the introduction of religious education in public schools-no longer allow us to ignore the clear fact that it lays claim to cultural hegemony. In the final analysis, this hegemony is an instrument of material interests that might be greater in scale and longer ranging. The secularization of ecclesiastical holdings and the separation of church from state have been steadily advanced from the Enlightenment onwards, and these processes have developed in parallel with scientific progress and the formation of democratic society throughout Europe, including Russia. Now these processes have collided with ultra-reactionary measures on the part of the established church, which once again aspires to a fusion with state power. This business project promises both institutions long-term material gain.

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