Journal of Journal Performance Studies, Vol 1, No 1 (2010)

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The Performance of Scholarly Communication: Intervening into the System

While researching JJPS, I attempted to find prior examples of artistic interventions into the scholarly communication system. Indeed, artists have throughout the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries developed their own journals and publications—from the early journals produced by the Dadaists and the Surrealists, to artist’s chapbooks, to fanzines, artists have constantly re-appropriated textual forms for their particular purposes. But within the realm of scholarly communication per se, the examples are, to my knowledge, much fewer. This fragment of a larger work is meant to catalogue some of the more prominent examples, and ends with a call for more playful forms of representation that push the limits of networked communication.


One of the most well-known quasi-scholary, quasi-artistic journals is Documents, edited in large part by Georges Bataille and including contributions from well-known dissident surrealists such as Michel Leris and AndrĂ© Masson. Documents featured traditional scholarly articles in anthropology and ethnography, as well as a more experimental section entitled “Critical Dictionary”, that included short essays on topics such as “Absolute”, “Eye”, and “Factory Chimney”. Since Documents was well-funded and had institutional backing, Bataille and his colleagues were able to intervene into what would have been a rather staid academic publication. Documents had a rather short life, however, as the financial and institutional backers became increasingly worried about this “renegade” section of the journal and its potential bleed-through to the more traditional academic articles. Nevertheless, Documents remains one of the most interesting scholarly-artistic hybrids and suggests a potential motif for alternative forms of intellectual publication.

Feminist Interventions into Artforum

There are at least two notable feminist interventions into the wide-circulation art magazine Artforum. Most well-known would have to be Lynda Benglis’ advertisement for one of her solo shows featuring a nude photo of her holding a double-dildo. Benglis’ advertisement functioned to show the double standard applied to women artists who dared to promote themselves using traditional media.

In a similar vein, the Guerrilla Girls, in an invited piece for Artforum, presented a satirical advertisement that lampoons the politically correct world of the early 1990s (and the crackdowns on certain forms of art making in the US as a result of inquiries into National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding) by announcing their “retirement” into the “jungle”.

Sokal Affair

The most well-known recent “intervention”, if it can be called that, would have to be the so-called Sokal 'Hoax’ in 1996 in the journal Social Text. While the details of the article, its acceptance, and the resulting furore have been trod through and through, it seems as if now might be as good a time as ever to reappraise the situation. The denunciations of Sokal’s actions were clear; see, for example, the texts by John Sturrock in the London Review of Books and Michel Callon’s thorough critique of Sokal’s reasoning in his review article in Social Studies of Science in 1999. Sokal himself has made the affair into his own little industry, recently publishing a second book about the incident with a detailed footnoting of the original article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”. This metatextual commentary attempts to show exactly how he constructed the sentences to “dupe” the reviewers.

Nevertheless, it seems as if we can take some of the wind out of Sokal’s sails if we reassess his article and see it not as a “hoax”, but as an artistic intervention. This is of course not Sokal’s intention, but then again we are not limited to Sokal’s own interpretation of his work. We can respond to the article on our own terms, and in my case I would prefer to see it as an artistic intervention instead of a document that raises questions about “validity” or “objectivity”. Even though the text produces pedestrian platitudes that show a minimal understanding of the materials, it still proceeds in a playful spirit. According to Sokal, this style nevertheless plays fast and loose with scientific facts; yet is this a problem? Should all forms of writing be held to exactly the same literary standards as scientific articles? Of course not, and this is precisely the crux of Sturrock’s and Callon’s critiques. Yet, in certain science and technology circles I have been in, Sokal’s paper remains the elephant in the room, the stain the cannot be washed away, and thus requires hyper-vigilance on the part of humanistic scholars, especially when it comes to engaging with science and technology topics. However I fear that this merely shuts down other avenues of potential textual forms, of different ways of working with the materiality of science and technology that we perhaps saw most prominently in the works of Deleuze and Guattari and Irigaray and that are found, in a different form, in the writings of Manuel DeLanda. While there are certainly exceptions to my over-general characterization, I think it behooves us to consider in what ways we are allowing the rules of science and technology to influence the forms our textual representations take.


To that end I have become recently interested in returning to the writings produced by the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), actively most prominently during the 1990s. Founded by Nick Land and Sadie Plant, the CCRU attempted to deliriously channel the flows of techno-utopian thought that was the merging of 1990s digital culture with the uptake of Deleuze and Guattari, among others. (For a good contemporaneous account of the CCRU, see this article by Simon Reynolds.) The CCRU was unabashedly 'Cyberpositive’, as the title of one of their early texts states, and it would be a mistake to resurrect such problematic positions. But it is rather the performance of their writing that is most enjoyable, even as we reject the tired critiques of these forms as obscurantism. For example, writing in a 1993 article entitled “Machinic Desire”, Nick Land says:

The obsolete psychological category of 'greed’ privatizes and moralizes addiction, as if the profit-seeking tropism of a transnational capitalism propagating itself through epidemic consumerism were intelligible in terms of personal subjective traits. Wanting more is the index of interlock with cyberpositive machinic processes, and not the expression of private idiosyncrasy. What could be more impersonal—disinterested—than a haut bourgeois capital expansion servo-mechanism striving to double $10 billion? And even these creatures are disappearing into silicon viro-finance automatisms, where massively distributed and anonymized human ownership has become as vacuously nominal as democratic sovereignty (478).

What better description of the contemporary financial crisis? There is a way in which this textual presentation exceeds any typical academic representation. Such playful use of language, while common for a short period of time within the humanistic disciplines, has, to my eyes at least, mostly disappeared. Former members of the CCRU, such as Kodwo Eshun, Steve Goodman, and Luciana Parisi, do continue in this vein nevertheless. It is a shame that there are not more of these types of experimental forms of writing from within the academy; it is my belief that it would greatly enrich our practices.

Experimenting with Form

And so I end this fragment by desiring more of these forms, of constructing institutional practices that would enable one to write in novel configurations of forms that present situations anew. Such an ability has to be fostered, however, as it is difficult to break out of the self-censorship and tired habits learned over years of institutional writing. To do so would require new pedagogical methods, an expansion of “instructional” texts to include experimental literary forms (such as the incredible recent work of theory-fiction by Reza Negarestani entitled Cyclonopedia), a redefinition of the metrics by which works are evaluated, and, finally, an emphasis on alternative forms of distribution and material presentation. By embracing our ability to arrange words in any way possible, we can perhaps create a textual practice that works to presently resist the commodification of our immaterial labour.

Journal of Journal Performance Studies is a 2009 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc., (aka Ether-Ore) for its Turbulence web site. It was made possible with funding from the Jerome Foundation.

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