McKenzie Wark on Tue, 1 Oct 96 02:05 MET

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Re: nettime: the art of debating

Confessions of a Conference Junky...

Perhaps its a cultural thing. As someone from an
English speaking culture, the format of the public
conference seems the most natural thing in the 
world. But i was interested in Geert's irritation
with the form. The spectacle of the conference
itself is, as we all know, not usually where its
at. Its a pretext for a PR event that generates
TV and radio interviews -- in Europe a surprising
amount of these. Its also a public airing of a
few riffs by a few people that a whole bunch of 
other people sit through in silence, to create the
pretext for subsequent conversations. Now, this is
where it really gets interesting. A good conference
has spaces and times where the speakers can get
together, but also where the 'public' can get in on
the act, too. As an inveterate conference junky, i
can only report that for me that's usually the fun
part. Its in the chaos of randomly bumping into
interesting folks doing all sorts of different things,
around the edges of the public spectacle. The net
won't ever replace that. 

Its true that conferences are also about the production
and circulation of intagible kinds of value -- 'prestige'.
They are almost by definition inequitable events. Somebody
gets to speak and somebody doesn't. But i think the way to
view that is in terms of opportunity. Is there a fair
distribution of the chance to occupy time on the floor? 
Or is it always the same people? Lots of subdivisions of
the public world clog up and grind to a halt when they
become reproducers, over and over, of the exaggerated
prestige of a few people -- usually a few cynical operators
who have figured out how to collude to this effect. But
even that doesn't last forever -- its a perfect opportunity
for somebody to mount an 'interruption', to insert some
static, some noise into the party. 

I guess the thing that really worries me is that nobody gets
much training thesedays in how to do that sort of stuff.
I was probably one of the last people to learn this stuff
from now totally defunct labour movement organisations. I don't
know that subsequent social movements put much store by
training people not only how to speak but when, and according
to what kind of rhetorical tactics. Certainly in Australia
those kinds of training grounds are in decline. Can't speak for
elsewhere. Its a basic ability for a media artist / activist /
critic -- speech.

"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
 -- McKenzie Wark 

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