New York, September 26th 2009, 14:30 - 15:00
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The unexpected degree to which having a job is not only selling your time, but is also selling your voice. The annexpression job divide is a ragged edge, in which those with expressive options overlap with job holders in certain ways; still, the overwhelming preponderance of those with jobs have sold their voices almost completely, as their outlook has been annexed to corporate enterprise – and as they have moreover introjected the workplace values, political postures, and social outlooks of their employers. The unemployable and those who have chosen to step aside from the dominant job economy have little hesitancy in raising their voices, but have no meaningful channels that remain accessible and open for doing so.
In the early 1990s Cathy Steffan, Anne Szyjka, and I had a public access cable TV program in Buffalo, the Studio of the Streets. Every week the Studio of the Streets waited on the steps of City Hall and asked every approachable passerby (remember, Buffalo is no metropolis!) if they would speak to our cameras. Then we provided these persons with a channel for their voices. Our moderation style was consciously designed to open people’s options for speaking about the social and economic issues they saw and faced. We soon wondered why some people would speak out freely and others would not. Was it a matter of race? -because there were many more black than white respondents. Was it a matter of free time? -because some people seemed in too much of a hurry to speak with us. Was it a matter of personality, embarrassment, or privacy? Apparently not; we spoke openly with people who were just out of jail, who had disabilities, or who were visibly shy. Finally we realized that most of the voices we were giving free access had no “responsible” jobs.
Then what about me? What about Professor Saskia Sassens? What about artists? Are we at war with our own job economy? As academics, and especially as professors with tenure, we are apparently paid precisely to speak out freely. And artists? –artists’ often unruly and precarious lives position them at the fringe of the job economy. We might then expect that in the warfare of annexpression the most successful artists would be less controlled in their social and economic expression than the ones who can’t make a living by their art, and have to find meaningless jobs. But here too there is a ragged edge across the battlefield. Artists and scholars can indeed (at least occasionally) assail the hegemonic social and economic systems, and become iconic as exponents of such views within their circle of cultural influence, but few artists range outside this circle, as those behind the Survivaball actions have earlier this week.
Like the present convocation, and like the Survivaball events, and like the Studio of the Streets, the exploration of annexpression is most readily mapped onto urban space. Why is this? Diana Crane once suggested that urban density itself gives rise to, or at least abets, cultural ferment: that a certain population density, a kind of critical mass, is needed to support the local networking that is intrinsic to cultural motility. That was back in the day of public access cable TV, back in the day before internet communications, back in the day before alternative cultural formations could be articulated without geographic localism. But globalization and the job economy have become coincident developments, as the front in the unannounced war on annexpression has deviously infiltrated new urbanities.
The Dictionary of War can’t map the social and economic fissures around and within us without itself embodying these contradictions. We are annexpressed at the margins of the discourse we embody, here and today.