our literal speed is a text & art undertaking located in Selma, Alabama

since 2006

Our Literal Speed, "Interview with Louretta Wimberly: 7 March 1965," dimensions variable, materials: good will of Ms. Wimberly, neoliberal discursivity, public breaking law by consuming alcohol from open containers and illegally assembling without a permit, 10 August 2013, Selma, Alabama 

From Evelyn Morales Vazquez and John S. Levin’s “...Neoliberalism in the American Academic Profession” (2018)

“In the academic context...this ideology relies on…the idealization of faculty as entrepreneurial workers…competitiveness…adaptability to precarious environments...emotional detachment…aspiring to a role as an entrepreneurial subject. These practices colonize the academic profession through the establishment…of evaluation systems and metrics of accountability that recognize only the characteristics of the ideal entrepreneurial worker: quantifiable actions...publishing...securing grant funding... superficial competency...measurable behaviors...numerical scores...impact factors...number of awards...these systems define the ideal faculty member as one who is aligned with audit cultures...with managerial practices...with standardized, homogenous values...”

The question seems to be not whether you oppose these processes—apparently pretty much everyone does—the question seems to be: what are you doing that might make it harder for you to be converted into a well-managed, officious entrepreneur of the scholarly and/or creative self? And, more generally, we have to ask ourselves if we are not seeing a larger process at work here in which the culture of twenty-first century market fundamentalism (our new global religion) constantly demands ever newer ranks of cultural subjects who will claim to be radical, resistant change agents, subversive agents of radical anti-commodification, multidisciplinary semiotic rebels who question representation by using [fill in blank], etc. because Market Fundamentalism (aka neoliberalism) seeks to surround us with a noisy eternity of quasi-serious-sounding nonsense.

 

Notes from Selma: On Non-Visibility

The American Civil Rights Movement took hold in a society moving from radio to television—from a social collectivity dependent on the imagination to one where everything was made instantly visible. One had to supply a complex mental horizon to the words emitted by the radio, while television shifted communicative energy toward images and evidence.

There is no denying that the horrifying images from Selma mobilized the American Public toward progressive goals. Yet, in 1955 when the Montgomery Bus Boycott began, this was a period prior to the widespread availability of television (especially for Black Alabamians). Unlike Bloody Sunday a decade later, the Boycott was fundamentally a product of fantasy, rather than evidence.

Citizens had to imagine what it would be like to survive without access to the public transportation system of an American city, and they had to imagine how the Boycott would function in everyday terms without a pre-existing visual template. One might even say that this on-the-spot conceptualizing was the principal progressive achievement of the Boycott. It concretized possibility in the here and now. The Boycott opened up a process that had no logical end point, because it was not geared toward a visible goal, but rather toward an invisible chain of fantasy “what if” situations: What if we could ride the buses as equals? What if we could eat in restaurants as equals? What if we could be educated as equals? What if we could vote as equals? What if we could live as equals? And so on....

Similarly, it is crucial that the structuring events of the Boycott— Rosa Parks’s actions—were underdocumented. They were to function not as evidentiary image-acts, but as mythic non-visible material, the invisible rudiments for a vernacular of possibility. As such, one sees that the imagelessness of the Boycott allowed it to begin a social process that transformed every aspect of American life in the ensuing fifteen years. The deeper idea here is that important collective mental transformations may not always be assisted by images and evidence. Maybe, such images and evidence, counter to all of our empathetic and rational assumptions, actually slow down transformation: think of the People’s Republic of China thirty years after the man in front of the tank in Beijing.

There is a sense in which such images make something unfamiliar part of one’s own world. And this no doubt has its uses, but such a process also necessarily involves a colonizing of something Other by the eye, to the false sense that “I already know about that situation.” That “something is already being done.” As a result, nothing happens.

On the other hand, knowledge derived from an event that “has no image” will be the fruit of the imagination. The mind will be forced to supply a plausible sense of what the situation entails. Most of those participating in the Bus Boycott had no established visual referent for what they were doing, and in this sense even those who produced the Boycott found themselves continually surprised by what they were already causing to happen. They had no way of getting a panoramic overview of the situation. This lack of an incorporative picture is generally assumed to be a liability for social movements. It is taken as almost axiomatic that to have images of something, to have evidence of wrongs and proof of what is right, makes an undertaking more relevant and more available for having some effect in the world. This seems to be a false assumption and one growing more obviously false everyday. Most likely, non-visibility will produce the most revolutionary visibilities of all, and we will never see it coming. 

 

Stuff Near Art That Is Not Art, Which Is Treated As If It Were Art, Is Now The Substance of Most Serious Art. 

When everything out there is contested and nothing much is accepted—when no action can assume the automatic status of being the way things are appropriately done; when there is no default setting for anything, anywhere, anytime; when sincere and voracious doubt is the principal medium of your undertaking, then cultural+intellectual value, whatever it might turn out to be, must be "achieved" over and over again. The point here is: things do not seem to be going well in our world, and we need forms that work better than the ones we have, and the only way we will discover such forms is if we stretch beyond our current capacities. It may not be pleasant, but it is necessary.

The essential cultural problem seems to be the following: market fundamentalism has determined that this phase of its global expansion will be predicated on demolishing the "communistic" moral universe of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.-era, by stoking ever newer and more enraging, all enveloping identitarian conflicts everywhere, so that in their shadow M.F.'s crude economic Darwinism becomes our default setting for social organization. Ask yourself this: did MLK have good reasons to be angry and combative more or less all of the time? Was he? Ask yourself why? 

The drive to constant interpersonal conflict is the signature trait of market fundamentalism in the twenty-first century. Ask yourself: are you acting in anger? Are you making this world a place of intensifying conflict? If so, you're playing your appropriate role in paving the way for the expansion of market values. 

We need new cultural forms that exhibit a mobility and tactility that might allow that "communistic" moral universe of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. era to live on and thrive, while demanding that Euro-American history be publicly rewritten. With this in mind, OLS tries to work with the assumption that contemporary Euro-American "culture" must respond directly to its destructive past without the presumption that we already have the right forms to do that.

How do we find them? 

That seems to be the main challenge to art + knowledge production in the twenty-first century. Our guess is that everything connected to art + knowledge production must be contested and re-contested and contested some more until that bright and shining moment when something like OLS will not need to exist. 

Then, if all goes incredibly well, we'll be able to kick back on the Strato-cliner, throw a Maker's down our collective gullets, flip open the Flannery O'Connor and declare: Nice work y'all. Now our de-colonized, anti-racist, prolet-kult-ish, gyno-culture of Deep Southern Kulturbolschewismus is running about as smoothly as the chorus in a Porter Wagoner ballad and Comrade Lunacharsky's up there smiling down on us from his perch next to Saint Peter.

These days we have more than a decade's worth of mitigated failures and qualified successes to contemplate, and this site is dedicated to remembering them, and to remembering that sustained non-visibility and apparent childishness often yield more meaningful paths to more meaningful things than the exquisitely visible seriousness of our professionalized and publicized lives. Not always, but often enough.