Friday Night 11.18.05 — Copenhagen Free University — Conversation / Dinner

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Friday Night 11.18.05 — Copenhagen Free University — Conversation / Dinner
1. About this Friday Night
2. Dinner Concept
3. The ABZ of the Copenhagen Free University
4. On Knowledge Production (an exchange situation at CFU)
1. About this Friday Night
What: Dinner + Conversation with Jakob Jakobsen of
Copenhagen Free University
When: Friday 18th of November, 6:30 pm – 9:30pm
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
This Friday Evening all are invited to a casual dinner and conversation with Jakob Jakobsen (who along with Henriette Heise initiated the Copenhagen Free University). We will hopefully cover a variety of issues ranging from everyday life to education and self-learning, neoliberalism and exodus, and possibly even the rise and fall of the Situationists.
This is not a presentation, but a conversation. Imagine a nice dinner, only with a small group of people you may or may not know, and a conversation that may or may not be slightly more focused than the usual dinner banter.
Possibly beginning with a very informal discussion about CFU and then hopefully opening to issues which relate to each of our local contexts.
Both CFU and 16Beaver are taking part in “Counter-Campus” a set of events organized by Chris Gilbert at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The discussion we may have could actually attempt to also touch on some of the issues that will be raised in a panel the next day in Baltimore. Including the following headings suggested by Chris:
A. Self-organization as a critical practice vs. entrepreneurialism.
B. The agency of the museum and the exhibition — in particular the museum’s role in spectacularizing social relations.
C. The relationship that self-organization and self-management (strategies often associated with anarchism) have to more traditional methods of political organization, especially party organization.
2. Dinner Concept
Since it will most likely be another cold evening. We will try to make a nice soup together and possibly some side dishes. So please either bring an ingredient that could be placed in this soup or items, small dishes you could imagine that could go well with a soup. It will be simple but hopefully hearty.
3. The ABZ of the Copenhagen Free University
Black Mountain College, New Experimental College, Drakabygget, the Spontaneous University, New York Free University, London Anti-University, Berlin Kriticher Universität, Detroit Artists’ Workshops.
A motor running in the background.
They never mentioned that learning could be a matter of a ‘desire to’ or a ‘desire for’. No. They left it so that we did not know what our desires could be until it was to late, until we desired the job and became emotionally attached to it.
Become one, become many. I and I.
With the Copenhagen Free University we have opened a discussion about who and what define knowledge today and the relationship between knowledge and life. Our work is based on the understanding, that knowledge is social and that all forms of human activity carries a level of knowledge. As Antonio Gramsci wrote in his prison diaries from 1932: “All are intellectuals […] but not all have the function of the intellectual in society”.
Strike and disappear.
The Copenhagen Free University is a sphere of interest arising from the material life we experience and will always already be politicised before any citizenship. Our scope is both local and global, looking for fellow travellers around the corner and around the world.
Tuesday November the 20th 2001 a general election took place in Denmark and what materialised was the natural consequence of a decade of commonly accepted xenophobia and racism in the Danish society: a government based on the support of the far right is now a reality. This mess is raising even more demands to the development of independent institutions and new forms of political language in culture.
The effort to spend time outside capitalist production – by running up the down escalator, by walking aimlessly around the neighbourhood, by sleeping through the day, by daydreaming, etc. etc. This is not leisure – leisure is part of the cycle of productive behaviour – this is glorious waste.
‘And I will do’ is almost a fully functioning distribution network for women making videos in Europe. It is a correspondence video project, like an envoy from another city. If you are a woman video maker, who would like to show your work to other women video makers in Europe and the U.S.A. and see the work of other women video makers, you can. If you can send me a good copy of your video, I will transfer it onto a compilation tape, with 10 other videos. Everybody on the tape will receive a copy. Url: www.andiwilldo.net.
All Power to the smell of burnt money.
Let’s open a ski slope between passion and logic.
The crucial struggle is the struggle in the wilderness. There is no direct route; directions will come as we go through the wilderness of confused mornings, of neurotic social relations, of opaque bureaucracy, of mental dead weight, of lack of money at the supermarket check-out. As Marx wrote: “The revolution, which finds here not its end, but its organisational beginning, is no shortlived revolution.”
The decision to open a university was made because we would like to get involved with the social processes which deals with the valorisation of knowledge in a society. A university works like a bank; both guarantee a system of value. The Copenhagen Free University guarantees a wide array of personal, improvised and politicised forms of knowledge embedded in social practises around us – forms of knowledge we would like to make explicitly social and create communities around.
The evolution of art has never been results of art critique or any selection based on quality, but of quantitative abundance. Therefore is all artistic selection, no matter how fine it might be, repressive for the evolution of art.
(Click and listen to a Bob Collins groove)
All power to translucent concrete.
The Free University is an artist run institution dedicated to the production of critical consciousness and poetic language. We do not accept the so-called new knowledge economy as the framing understanding of knowledge. We work with forms of knowledge that are fleeting, fluid, schizophrenic, uncompromising subjective, uneconomic, acapitalist, produced in the kitchen, produced when asleep or arisen on a social excursion – collectively.
We are both sitting at the table, with our hands under our legs, waiting for the food to arrive. I am not sure if I should speak, anyway she starts talking and pointing at things on the shelf, but I don’t know if it is an expression, or a word. I try to copy what it is she is saying, but it is hard to keep up. I do say a couple of things, but later I realise that it was a question, not a name. I imagine what it would be like if I learnt to speak Danish from her, and then I imagine how disappointing I must be, as an adult that cannot answer her questions. I am not sure that she would be interested in teaching me, if I was not able to have an exchange with her at this point in time, when she was willing to.
Dear Copenhagen Free University
Saw your exhibition in Vienna and was in sympathy with the project you outline on your leaflets. Keep up the good work! I’m doing a thesis on Sartre and am arguing, amongst other things, for the potentially radically emancipatory nature of his literary writings. It’s important that left aesthetic theory and production get beyond simply seeing art as an expression of bourgeois ideology (and hence capitalism). It has to be seen as having intrinsically emancipatory qualities.
What do you people feel about modern jazz?
Best wishes Sam.
Our work is usually closely connected to the daily life we live. The Copenhagen Free University is, in fact, situated and functions within the framework of our flat and household economy. The Free University has not got any marble columns or any spectacular architecture, but has all the mess and irregularities of a place where people live.
What if you don’t feel like a sensible citizen? What if your language is not making sense in the public sphere?
The active refusal of the present social relations of capitalism, an evacuation of it’s means of support and the construction of an alternative. Not a direct opposition or negation, but the immediate evacuation.
The model of The Free University is one we have taken up and reworked, and is based on a direct unmediated exchange of knowledge between people as vehicle of social change. It is our hope that you instead of dreaming of the Copenhagen Free University or London Anti-University or the Free University of New York or the Spontaneous University, go where you live and establish your own university drawing on the knowledge in your networks.
The language of madness is the perpetual slipping over of words into acts until the moment when the word is pure act.
In a biography of the Swedish artist Karin Larsson (1859-1928), it is mentioned, along with a review of her works in a traditional sense, that she used to place the saucepan in which the potatoes were boiled directly onto the table! That is, she did not pour the potatoes into a bowl, but rather let them stay in the saucepan. It was one of the Larsson family’s maids who had told this to the author of the biography, and for the maid it was a noteworthy act. How entirely practical, thus reducing the number of dishes that needed to be washed. And not only that: the potatoes also retained their warmth, which they do not when you pour them into a cold bowl – you could of course choose to warm the bowl first, but that would also demand extra effort. In a jiffy, the saucepan is placed on the table, and suddenly a work process is simplified. One small jiffy for the Larssons – one giant jiffy for (wo)mankind. Well, maybe it had been seen before, but obviously not so often as to prevent this from arousing surprise in a small Swedish village.
Our life within language is like a journey within polluted air.
Living at the Copenhagen Free University – an account from a guest:
My room is built in such a way, that it has both a door that leads directly to the outside, the stairs, and another sliding door which is the entrance to the home. You could be here, but feel quite separate from the rest of the household. You could also come and go without the others knowing (not that I have done that) I prefer to keep the sliding door open, then I get to hear more of the rest of the house and smell the cooking. It is hard to tell how much I spill out, but there is definitely a place where we all combine, and I like it when somebody pops their head around the door.
It was a solely social act to say “Let us open a university” and as we opened the Copenhagen Free University right away lots of discursive forces came in motion in and around this self-institution.
Today there are loads of manifestos being produced promoting all sorts of ready-made subjectivities wanting to become government. Our intention was to produce a power that refuses to become government.
Thanks to Emma Hedditch, Anthony Davies, Ian Trowell, Howard Slater, Johnny Spencer, Asger Jorn and David Cooper, Henriette Heise and Jakob Jakobsen.
Last update: Oct 2003
4. On Knowledge Production (an exchange situation at CFU)
The following transcription of an ‘exchange-situation’ that took place at the Copenhagen Free University on 18th March, 2002. The participants present were Josephine Berry, Henriette Heise, Jakob Jakobsen and Howard Slater.
JB: We are sitting in the top floor flat of a building in Copenhagen, we’re surrounded by kids toys and cutlery and crockery and candlesticks and very homely things and yet this is a university, a Free University. Maybe its best just to ask Henriette and Jakob how this came about, how you came to think of doing this? What were you reacting to, or, what were you thinking of?
HH: I guess the initial thing that started it was our desire to create small institutions where we can work with every kind of presentation of art and whatever. We somehow discovered, after coming back from London and living here again, that we thought that self-institutionalising is something that we like to do very much, that we need very much. Building institutions is where our primary practice is materialising. It is here we can decide everything for ourselves. We can work with people and we can learn a lot. So we had this spare room that is close to the stairwell and has its own door and, more than a year ago, we came up with the name Copenhagen Free University and we saw it as a huge challenge somehow. We liked the fact of saying this is a university, it kind of created all sorts of demands and it drew us into a real big challenge which we find really interesting.
JB: If you compare it to the Info Centre that you did in London, which is another space inside a domestic space, a public/private space if you like, where do you think the emphasis has shifted in using the name university? Has it called into being something quite different to what you were doing in London?
JJ: With the Info Centre we were also working with the idea of self-institution. There were many discussions about the social relations created around an art project like the Info Centre. Maybe by changing the emphasis from an ‘information centre’ to a ‘university’ it was more an investigation of what actually went on in and around those social relations created in these institutions. So it was maybe that the Info Centre was more of an experiment as to whether we could produce social relations based around the politics of everyday life. It worked allright. So the next step was very much about trying to investigate the nature of those social relations and in a way trying to work more specifically with the production of social relations within the framework of this institution. So, that might be the background to the change from the information centre to the university. At the Copenhagen Free University there is, of course, more emphasis on the exchange between people whereas with the Info Centre the information may have been more specific and non-negotiable than this sort of social situation that is the university.
JB: So it’s almost like trying to change information into knowledge? A shift from the dissemination of information to the social relations that produce knowledge?
HS: It seems to me like the shift might be one from a conventional art material of information to a new kind of material which we can call social relations. Social relations can be seen as material that you can work with, that can be created.
HH: We learnt from the Info Centre how much the active production of social relations actually can create. So, that was maybe an experience that we can use here.
HS: I suppose, in a sense, that if knowledge is created through the social relations then the proprietorship of that knowledge alters. So I guess knowledge becomes more a matter of the general intellect or a communal construction of knowledge through the social relations rather than specific individuals imparting a pre-formed knowledge.
JJ: At the CFU we are talking very much about everyday life and that’s of course becoming a fetish in many respects. But then again we have everyday life experiences so we are trying to discuss them within the framework of the Free University as well as we were within the Info Centre. It’s the place where we live and we try in a way to de-alienate information and knowledge in some way. So, as Henriette says, the university was an idea we put out and it was like building a hollow shell and from that we would like to see how we can produce content for that shell. So it was like an experiment in a way, but I think what we have been discussing is , of course, the relationship between knowledge and life. And instead of just seeing knowledge as some abstracted generalised entity or objectified thing, knowledge is, of course, related to the context and to the social relations in and around it. We are trying to make this university now, here where we live, in our flat, and we are trying to discuss [and experiment with] the relationship between knowledge and life. So that was some of the questions we started out with.
JB: Do you see the Copenhagen Free University as a prototype? If you can abandon the idea that a prototype can be perfectly reproduced, do you see it more as a catalyst than a space that can fulfil a lot of those objectives in and of itself? Because what I’m wondering about is how – with this exploration of a relation between knowledge and life – can people have a lasting engagement with the Free University? How can they because it’s your home? There’s this difficulty… there is a threshold beyond which there is a need for your own privacy and your own sanity and you’re experimenting very much with that line. But how can people engage? I’m wondering about – I hate to use this word – the usability of the space for visitors.
HH: You can have very many approaches to the university and I think that just by saying this is the Copenhagen Free University in our flat in the Northern part of Copenhagen people already start to visualise and imagine what it could be. So, this initial step must at least make some people ask themselves what is going on here? Then we have a very, very engaged version which is friends and engaged people who actually come here and live here in the room that we have made for whatever we can call something like exhibitions. You have been living here and so has Emma Hedditch and Anthony Davies. Really engaged people staying here and working here with us and presenting and sharing their knowledge. And then we have the visitors coming around where we present whatever is going on at the time. It is always us, Jakob and me, or people who know the material quite well, that are presenting it to the visitors and that creates this situation that almost every time a visitor has a knowledge of their own they then give back and it definitely makes sense somehow! I don’t see any problems with ‘usability’ as such – who defines that anyway?
HS: It’s almost like, as a self-institution, the walls of the Free University are porous because it’s a domestic space as well. People are staying, visiting… they’re coming to a different form of institution where perhaps the experience of learning and discussing is as valuable as the subject-matter of what is discussed. And I suppose that experience would be an experience of the social relations that are being established here in the sense that there are no seminars as such, there’s nothing organised along the lines of an academy. So there’s not only this porosity, a leakage between being in the university and outside the university, but from that, because experience doesn’t stop, an experiential knowledge becomes possible. We maybe have to play this against the normal education establishment and see really that the experiences that can be appreciated here and worked with or taken away, the imaginative expectations of what people are going to experience here, are different from the normalising academy where it’s perhaps our very experiences that are jettisoned at the doorway. So the wall there is impervious, you have to almost leave your desires with your coat in the cloakroom. In that sense the self-institution of the Copenhagen Free University is also an experiment in a situation because a situation, in the terms of the Situationist International, is supposed to enable us to bring all facets of experience into the situation; there’s no hierarchy of valid experiences. So, we’ve already discussed how to make ciabatta bread this morning and this exchange between us now has the tenor of that informing it.
JB: So, also the idea would be to create new desires, or allow new desires to emerge?
HS: Or make certain desires that are low in the hierarchy come to an equal footing like making ciabbata bread. There was a material we were discussing: yeast. Why is that any less interesting than oil paint or videotape. It’s a material, everything’s a creative material really.
HH: We were all passionately engaged with having bread for the morning and one of the central themes of the university is definitely passion!
HS: And really why hierarchisise the passions? We’ve been talking about Charles Fourier recently and it’s the same sort of thing; you cultivate the manias, cultivate the passions because that, in many ways, is what makes experience valid!
HH: Usually people feel quite comfortable about being here maybe because it is a home where people live. At some of the meetings we have arranged it seemed like people felt freer here in the living room compared to official spaces like auditoriums and galleries. The discussions went on in an informal way and people were able to stay with their everyday language when speaking. So I don’t see the informality as a problem. I see it as a power.
JJ: When people come they enter through the display room by the stairwell, which isn’t very domestic, but is in-between the staircase and the rest of the flat, and that’s a kind of buffer zone between the public space and the private space of our flat. But, of course, those borders aren’t heavily demarcated and sometimes people end up in our living room and the discussions go on and we make tea and stuff. I think those encounters with the guests, strangers or not, have been the most intensive. They’ve been the situations we’ve gained most experience from and in a way gained most knowledge from. Of course it was meant to be like that from the beginning because people are coming into our home. But then again we didn’t expect those encounters to be the central activity of the whole thing. On the other hand we are keen not to make the university into just a talking shop. We are keen on presenting ideas and presenting research materials and, usually we are presenting art works as well, because the discussions need a point of reference otherwise the exchanges are just going to be too individualised. We are quite keen on having some kind of field of reference as a point of departure. Then it can go into becoming more generalised or more individualised, that’s not a problem, but we need to establish a situation that is introducing other knowledges into the equation so that the discussions do not just become a therapeutic exchange.
HH: We don’t like having structures that have to be followed. So, if people don’t want to say anything, if they don’t want to have any discussions, if it doesn’t happen somehow, its fine. You can come here and look at the stuff we have. That’s fine. We don’t like those set structures.
JJ: Our idea of making the university was in a way based on the fact that the economy is nowadays very often described as a knowledge economy and we can see knowledge becoming the order of capitalist production now. And in a way this knowledge that is being spoken about is productive knowledge within that system and in a way we thought “ok, if we’re living in a knowledge economy we would like to open a university which could valorise other kinds of knowledge that wouldn’t fit into that system, knowledges that are excluded from, or not of any use to that system”. And, of course, that brings us back to the discussion of knowledge and life. But we can see the knowledge going into knowledge economies has to be an alienated knowledge, a knowledge detached from a life outside capital. So that was, again, our question: was it possible to valorise other kinds of knowledge? We’re still negotiating these kinds of discussion, because it’s not clear what kind of knowledge the knowledge economy is actually chasing after. So, we are trying to discuss knowledge in that landscape, and you can see how other universities and educational institutions are very much trying to live up to the demands of the knowledge economy and producing the right kinds of knowledge-worker ready to enter this kind of economy. And I find the set of passions on offer in that economy quite limited. So, it’s a playful or polemical statement to say “ok we will make a university and we would like to valorise knowledge like other universities do”. That’s, of course, to enter a struggle about knowledge and life – in a way we are opening a new discussion and opening new struggles by establishing this institution.
HS: I guess that points to why I brought up the historical example of the workers councils the other day. It’s almost like, if knowledge is used as a component of ‘labour-power’ then really we’ve got a parallel problem to the Marxist problem of how to define ‘free labour’ or ‘living labour’ in terms of knowledge. The Soviet, Workers Council form, could have been an experiment in redefining work outside of the capitalist economy: what it is necessary to produce, what is ‘living labour’, how can labour be socially useful… these sorts of questions rather than having labour dictated-to by capitalistic needs. I think similarly there’s this interesting parallel, that, in a knowledge economy, with labour-power more explicitly informed by knowledge, a Free University becomes almost a revolutionary organisation. That might be to open a “ski-slope between passion and logic” as Asger Jorn said, but I’m quite interested in this, because it seems like then there’s another means to rhetoricise around a Free University, that such institutions can be modes of revolutionary organisation. There doesn’t have to be four people around a table, it could be twenty, thirty or they could open-up to replace the party political form. It’s perhaps useful to use these analogies between an industrial working class form of organisation and the proletarianisation of knowledge workers in a knowledge economy. Perhaps a good thing would be very local free university initiatives to sort of almost sidestep constituted institutions and yet, in the same movement, reinvigorate the constituting dynamic of institutions.
JJ: I kind of believe in ‘mass’. I believe in lots of those self-institutions being around. In a way I subscribe to the idea of the ‘multitude’. I think those kinds of institutions can generate a power by being many, and I think if you see similar institutions to the one you’re occupied with around you, it is possible for you to push the work you are doing a little further, because then there’s a language that is being developed and produced, and a language which can give form to the passions that you’re struggling to find form for. It’s not offered to you. You have to develop these kinds of languages. So, the ultimate experience of the Free University would be for the people who come here to go home and do it themselves. But Henriette does not agree: people should liberate themselves.
HH: Maybe I’m more into abstract structures. I’m fine with self-institutionalisation all over the field, but I have problems with trying to set up a model for others.
HS: It says it here in the ABZ of The Copenhagen Free University: “It is our hope that you, instead of dreaming of the Copenhagen Free University or London Anti-University or Free University of New York or the Spontaneous University, go where you live and establish your university drawing upon the knowledges in your own networks”. Do you think that’s too much of a command that implies a model?
HH: Yes, a bit. I’m always like ‘rearrange your brain’ somehow!
HS: Picking up on what Jakob said about giving form to passions. I think, in many respects, that’s where the aesthetics comes in, because there’s always a struggle with articulation for many people. I think maybe that artists and writers are amongst the privileged in the sense that they can work to get access to a means of expression or articulation. I think an initiative like this gives space to many forms of articulation and practice because the aesthetic element, redefined, could help us approach our own desires rather than having the desires or passions made for us. This is really what occurs in capitalist society, that the desires, obviously advertising and branding are a key example of how desires and passions, are actually manufactured for you and it becomes a kind of vicious loop in the sense that if you’re not partaking in those passions that are circulated for profit, or can be harnessed for profit, then somehow you’re abnormal and the whole issue of anti-psychiatric institutions comes again into play, overlapping with educative initiatives, because we’ve got this kind of barrier to desire in that giving forms to passion is seen as perversion, not normal, it’s like that’s a good rallying cry. Where the aesthetics comes in is in that boost it gives to an articulation of passion and desire.
JB: But how do we find this path or means to collectively identify desires without imposing them or without lapsing into a kind of solipsism of narcissistic desire alone?
HS: In a way that is, for me, the misnomer of desire under capitalist society’ because desire is kind of stratified with bourgeois individuality and its individualistic form is rife throughout the whole society, say, in terms of going into a little room and putting your ‘X’ on the ballot paper and also in the coinage that says “I promise to pay the bearer….”. It’s always an individualistic relation that is encouraged when really, as it’s been said, desire is in the social structures. It might be negative desire that builds a skyscraper with rabbit hutches for people to live in, but it’s still a desire, there is still some ‘plug-in’, and, in a way, capitalist society does create mass desires. Maybe it’s a way to detourne this creation of mass desires because if we all watch the adverts we all ‘plug-in’ and that desire is being created as a collective desire, an individualised collective desire, the desire for being ‘English’ or ‘Danish’, these are collectively manufactured desires. To me the issue of the aesthetic aspect as sort of being downgraded into an access to the means of production is a presupposition of an access to your own desires. For me you explore desires with a material, with a means of expression that you’ve got to struggle with. And then I think from that you begin to enter into a sort of situation of the ‘general intellect’ where you come ‘through’ individuality to a sensation of all these links… different people coming to things at different times, different paces, with different vocabularies. And it reveals desire as collective and knowledge as collectively generated passion. Even if we look at neuroses, a kind of negative of desire, we see how we tend to keep them to ourselves, see them as individual problems, and then when we tell them to someone else we find that they’ve had the same or a similar problem. Deleuze and Guattari say something like “the individual gives access to the most general”, and from that it becomes possible to share desire as a motive force. So when you see someone else is full of desire for their subject and even if that subject or enthusiasm might not turn you on, you can still at least make the link, a social glue link in a social relation, and say “that person is very desirous, very passionate, very honest about what they’re saying” and there you’ve got a link. So desire can be this sort of societal glue, it can be this thing if you just step back from the content and always being hoodwinked by knowledge. There are other factors in an expression other than the coherence of a statement, its quanta of information, that enable a link to the emotional side of the expression, an experience of knowledge, an aesthetics. The more desire there is the more you become desirous and can articulate, give form, to passions. The perversions just spiral and there’s many points of linkage. That’s a ‘desiring-machine’ type thing. Perhaps self-institutions can give form to desire so it’s not so much a matter of imposing desires on others as encouraging ‘collective assemblages of enunciation’. ‘New desires’ can be ‘desires that are new to me’ and their forms, the differences between self-institutional initiatives, resist the idea of ‘models’. I think the thing about self-institution is that singularities, the nuances of desire, aren’t repressed, but are used as a material.
JJ: To return to the fact that the university is going on in our flat and that the activities here could be seen to be mediated through our personalities, we try to deconstruct that by saying “we are living in a university” and not that “the university is in our home”. In that way we try to turn the discussion around and look at it being a question of institutions more than looking at the question of what we are doing. In that way you can see how, as Howard is saying, how all those social relations and desires are defined socially and maybe get closer to an understanding of their way of working. I think that institutions are a kind of hub of different interests in society and they are maintaining some kind of power externally and maintaining some kind of power hierarchy internally. Like a cell in nature, a level of pressure inside and another level of pressure outside and then a membrane to control the flows between the inside and outside. Our method is to try to learn from those discussions in practice. Because, of course, institutions as such are becoming internalised in our own psyche. Then again, the psyche is already always social and so on. So, instead of being anti-institutional we’re saying “we are building an institution” and in this way we aren’t maintaining the romantic notion of an outside of institutions, because institutions are in language and minds and in desire as well. I think that the DIY strategy of setting up ‘grand’ institutions, like a university, according to your own passions, are productive, and we try to engage in this kind of discussion in both a serious and a playful way.
HH: At the same time as we’re engaged in this institution we’re also trying to deflate it a bit. We’ve had quite a lot of discussions about not becoming a kind of ‘super-subject’. At the same time as we are this institution called the Copenhagen Free University we are also individuals working within it, because we are interested in the vulnerability that the individual has as well. And we want to be something that it is possible to criticise instead of being too big and pointless to criticise. We want this feeling of a porous institution.
JB: And that seems to relate to the fact that you’re living in this institution, that institution might materialise here and now in this flat, but sometimes the institution, as Jakob was saying, is already within us and is never exhausted in one manifestation of itself. So, because you’re creating this thing in your flat that doesn’t make the university yours, or the institution yours and therefore you have a kind of freedom to be in and out of it at the same time, and criticise it and be it at the same time. So you have this kind of internal dialectical movement of critiquing and being, being outside and inside.
HH: And moving on!
JB: Exactly! One of the things I wanted to ask was about the sustainability of this kind of a project and in a sense that kind of answers it. Because if you see it as an energy, a collectieve assemblage, that is operative already, then the sustainability is within the social relation. It is ongoing… If institutions materialise and dematerialise then institutions kind of continue, but they can be appropriated and reformulated by others. But I’m just wondering about sustainability and the way that the onus is not just on this place necessarily here and now to sustain something.
JJ: In a way the institution hasn’t got anything to do with this place. It’s of course an abstract entity and it’s simply unfolding here most of the time and it’s generally open-ended and people who would like to invest in the discussions are just kind of a part of the institution. That’s the great thing about it: being able to generate a field of discussion. That is the university: these kinds of situations and these investments. Instead of just understanding it as a closed-circuit, it is open-ended and open for other passions being invested in it. And that’s really great. It’s actually working quite well with Howard engaging in the discussion of knowledge and how to define knowledge. And people, such as Jean Sellem, approaching us and asking to become Associate Researchers. It’s kind of mushrooming out of the abstract entity which is the institution. I think that’s in itself another set of social relations instead of just kind of trying to sit on your own knowledge and promote it in the most…
HS: … corporate way.
JB: I think that’s important as well, because if it were to be your and Henriette’s production then that would of course create problems with overpersonalisation and individualisation. Also, from the other side, it would create problems in the sense of being a very heavy weight on the two of you, in the sense of requiring too much of your energy to sustain it. That can become very dangerous. That sense of being solely responsible for keeping something running. The mere idea can paralyse you.
JJ: Then again we’re not shy about saying the Free University is our perversion. That’s a part of the discussion. That’s the whole trap of the ideology of the bourgeois public sphere as being the platform for free, equal and rational individuals expressing themselves and making sense. In relation to that we are perverts and, as far as possible…
HH: … we try to be proud!
HS: Interestingly that almost answers the question about self-institutional sustainability. What’s the most sustainable thing we know? Perversions and passions? If perversion is compulsion then it’s almost the same thing to say perversion and sustainability. Also, on the issue of sustainability there’s a means of expression dimension that Giorgio Agamben has written about: what spurs us to communicate is what is ‘unsayable’. We’re all struggling with language here, now, trying to express ourselves and that’s a form of sustainability. Ok, it can degenerate into a talking shop, but in this instance this has been structured, we’ve decided to do it at this time, this day, not go on all day. And that struggle with the means of expression is to give form to the passions and also to find new areas that are ‘unsayable’. The ‘unsayable’ or the unknown – what you don’t know or what you haven’t experienced – if that’s always ahead of you it means you’re always struggling, always trying to get somewhere. It might not be forward it might be back. You might be struggling to get back to a memory, to bring a memory of an experience into articulation. That’s a kind of sustainability. The struggle with the means of expression helps a project become sustainable.
JJ: That’s the central struggle as far as I see it: the struggle with language. The struggle to produce a space where you can express yourself. That’s really a struggle. To come back to life in the knowledge economy, there are no means for those kinds of passionate expressions, those kind of perversions. You have to invent them again.