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<nettime> response to Mr. Wark
TONGOLELE on Wed, 11 Dec 2002 17:06:43 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> response to Mr. Wark


Dear McKenzie Wark
 
The  difference you wish to draw between calling into question the necessity 
for a postcolonial politics and calling for a critique of specific theories 
is a subtlety that has little to do with the overwhelmingly negative and 
dismissive invocations of postcoloniality on nettime. I repeat that these are 
political tactics, and I don’t really care if they are conscious or not. The 
insularity of the milieu on these matters reinforces the self-righteousness 
of main players. The critiques regularly serve as pat justifications for not 
dealing with postcolonial theories other than to declare what’s wrong with 
them, the histories out of which they emerge unless you find fault with them 
or the people engaged with them unless you can tell them what is wrong with 
them. Hence, though you’ve never met me, you feel completely justified in 
imputing psychological deviance to my words in an utterly patronizing manner 
and quite sexist manner. Lucky for me I have thick skin and an academic post 
where I have grown accustomed over more than a decade of culture wars to 
dealing with white male leftists who have all the answers. Only a fool would 
fail to see that interminable critique is not aimed at constructive 
engagement but at low intensity debilitation.  Were it not for that 
generalized negativity of which your missive is only an example, nettime 
discussions might actually be more inclusive. Your own insistence that you 
know better what the most "effective" terms are precludes serious dialogue 
with other points of view – you only want your own to determine the 
discussion. 

You write

" In using hybridity as a negative concept, this discourse
doesn't arrive at an affirmative concept of multiplicity. All it can do
is rehearse an endlessly proliferating discourse of negation, in
which one iteration after another of the negation of identity carves
out the empty space in which an affirmation of multiplicity needs
to go."

Mr Wark, I do not recognize anything about Homi Bhahbha’s work in this 
appraisal, nor does it address any of the points I made about postcolonial 
formulations of hybridity.  The formulations of hybridity put forth by 
Bhabha, Hall and others in the 80s were directed toward a completely 
different purpose that has nothing to do with your geneologies - they were 
trying, together with many artistst to dismantle the models of cultural 
purity that were part of a European legacy on the one hand, and the 
essentialist notions of cultural difference promoted by black nationalists on 
the other. These theories were being and continue to be tested constantly in 
practice , in cultural and political arenas - it's not about concocting new 
breeds in laboratories nor was it ever a strictly philosophical debate about 
whose whose ideas led to other ideas.

Furthermore your suggestion that somehow there is something terrible about 
Stuart Hall "accomodating" to the structures of higher education is  
outrageous. Are you independently wealthy enough not to need a job or do you 
benefit from some social democratic regime’s contracting of public 
intellectuals? I am tired of the classist arrogance of intellectuals who blab 
on and on about how thought and politics are compromised by one’s having to 
take a university job. Do you think that plumbers and taxi drivers are buying 
your books? Do you forget that CAE’s members also teach in universities and 
wax eloquently at length in faculty meetings about the wonders of their 
radical pedagogy? Stuart Hall has created a revolution in free education in 
Britain by offering college courses on television and by promoting a rigorous 
model for cultural studies that embraces the social realities and cultures of 
many peoples. For blacks in the diaspora, half the battle since slavery has 
been about getting access to higher education. You can continue to rant about 
the disciplinary apparatus of higher education all you want, but I can tell 
you as the child of immigrants who grew up translating for elders who were 
paralyzed by not having received that "discipline" that your rhetoric is hot 
air to anyone who comes from the poor side of the tracks. Sure, I want to 
change higher education so that it is more empowering for more people. But I 
achieve my goals by working within the academy. Only a handful of white 
intellectuals in the developed world can afford to maintain an intellectual 
life outside the academy and that audience, Mr. Wark, is yours, not mine. I 
am sure you can find them sipping energized water on Bedford Avenue in 
Williamsburg or skateboarding down the streets of Mitte in Berlin.



Paranoia  Mr Wark? Are you joking? Don’t you come from Australia, which 
boasts one of the most effective genocidal campaigns in British colonial 
history and continued programmatic cultural genocide by separating urban 
aboriginal mothers from their children at birth and forcibly relocating them 
to white families until the 1970s? Paranoia? Have you read the newspaper 
reports on the "reverse discrimination" cases brought by whites that are 
about to hit the Supreme Court any day and will destroy the affirmative 
action legislation in the United States that was the product of over a 
century of Civil Rights struggles? Paranoia about the (white) other? Would 
you like to follow me to the malecon in Havana, my mother’s homeland, where 
sophisticated European and North American men show up in droves to "have a 
bit of the other" and live out fantasies of total power and control at 
bargain prices? Do you realize how effectively the middle class in America 
uses every means at its disposal to live separately from non-whites, and 
maintain de facto educational segregation? Don’t you live in Williamsburg in 
Brooklyn where in the past fifteen years white property owners have used 
white artists who "gentrify" the neighborhood to displace thousands of the 
city’s poorest Puerto Ricans?  if these on the ground realities are too banel 
for you why not take a look at the taxonomic charts on sperm available at the 
nation's top sperm banks to see what kind of master race fantasies are 
propagated to suit the tastes of its female clientele. Sure, sperm from guys 
with PhDs is the most expensive, but don't forget to notice how many non 
white races aren't even listed, and therefore deemed undesirable. Find me a 
cyberfeminist who will dig deep into that racist psychology, would ya?

Perhaps you would like to believe that the cultural milieu is more 
enlightened. Nice dream. The statistics on ethnic diversity and gender 
equality in contemporary arts institutions offer another picture in which 
people of color remain tokens and few and far between, especially when one 
moves beyond the emerging artist level and begins to negotiate the question 
of acquisitions, which is directly connected to cannon formation. Are you 
familiar with the atrocious history New York art galleries in relation to 
women and artists of color?  Are you familiar with the statistic on awarding 
promotions, women and artists of color in high visibility jobs? Are you going 
to fall for the Republican tactic of blinding you to structural racism by 
showing you pictures of Condolezza Rice and Colin Powell? Shift your gaze to 
the university and the prospects are equally grim. The City University of New 
York has raised its tuition continuously in the past decade to make higher 
education more and more inaccessible to the largely immigrant student 
population that currently attends –the same public university that educated 
some of the most brilliant "white ethnics’ in America before WWII is shutting 
down the same opportunities to people of color – ON PURPOSE. 

There is nothing absurd at all about recognizing how the nettime milieu 
intersects with a larger social reality of which it is a part. All the claims 
of nettimers to their supposed marginality make me laugh. I can’t seem to 
find a cultural event connected with new media in Europe that doesn’t involve 
some of you or all of you, no matter which country I visit. This year, I’ve 
worked in the UK, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Austria.  Last year 
Australia and Finland and Slovenia.  I open the New York Times, or Artforum 
or look at any magazine about wired culture and there you guys are. I open 
academic publisher’s catalogues and there are your books. So quite pretending 
that you are just a raggle taggle bunch of squatters huddled around a used 
PC. You are not the margins.

My concerns are not reduceable to a problem of rhetoric and method, Mr. Wark. 
You can banter on and on about this or that point about Bhabha or Fanon, but 
my point is a different one, which has to do with the political motives 
behind the incessant criticizing, which serves to carve out a place for the 
criticizers more than to improve or engage with postcolonialism. You all just 
don't want to deal with your racism or that of the society around you so you 
will keep on finding fault with theories instead of talking about politicals 
realities. I am too old and have sat on too many juries and panels at this 
point in my life with new media artists, critics and curators since teh 
advent of new media. I have learned how to unpack the tactics – how the 
concerns of postcolonial artists are reduced to a recombinant set of cliches, 
how the artists are cast as primitives and Luddites, how the fetishizing of 
technology as the "most evolved" form of innovation coupled with the fixation 
with simulation enables arbiters to dismiss any question about who is making 
the things and who is seeing them. Lo and behold, RTMark can hit the NY Times 
by doing a piece against Dow about Bhopal and no one stops for a moment to 
ask, well what to do survivors in Bhopal have to say about all this? 
 
Of course you do not agree that the racism I describe is coherent or has 
designs. The insistence that racism is incidental, accidental, unintentional 
and an aberration from good behavior is precisely the genius of American 
liberalism. That way you never have to worry about changing anything since 
all you can do is deal with the nasty little mistakes when they arise – after 
all there is nothing more, right? That is what all liberals say always – 
golly gee it is just a coincidence that death row consists mostly of poor 
black men. Geez it is just  an accident that all those cops on the Jersey 
turnpike pulled black men over, no harm intended. Well, you know how can you 
argue with white people who assume that three Arabs in a deli must be 
terrorists? 

You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Wark. If you agree that white hegemony in 
net.culture exists and that there is a lot of racism out there, you can’t 
then decide that the only solution is to teach me how to listen to your 
critique of "some postcolonial theories." No, the solution involves learning 
about racism and how it is expressed in your culture, your words, your 
theories and your attitudes. 

When you and your colleagues are ready to discuss the structural character of 
racism in net. culture and how the approaches to postcolonial art and 
theories are symptomatic of these structural flaws lemme know. For the time 
being, the critiques of postcolonialism you present as yours and as CAE's 
aren't much help to anyone. 

Coco Fusco

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