AtHQ – Containment … Gesture … (negative) … excess(?)

‘Attack the Headquarters’ has left me thinking about certain themes that I feel permeate much of the debates. When approaching the ‘AtHQ’ event I was energized, as I was hoping that this event would allow a space for the creation/deployment of a clearly articulated and mutually constituted base level of consensus amongst the staff and the varying tiers of the student body. Maybe this was an unfair expectation, as much a product of my own lack of experience of these events as much as it is also a product of a certain spirit of hopefulness I find I cannot yet shake from myself. This belief being an a priori belief in the power brought into being by the collective assembling of human beings around the singular moment. I only feel it necessary to outline this above concern in order to situate my understanding of the ‘AtHQ’ meetings so far as being in some senses in conflict with, but also indebted to my a priori privileging of the coming-together of human beings. It should also be noted that I am as of yet not in the position of posting or proclaiming an absolute judgment on any perceived, on my own part at least, eventual outcome of these events.

I feel that in some senses the concerns that have been raised for myself are broadly to be collected, for my own understanding as much as anyone else’s, within the three notions I have used as a naming for my post. The first concern is not in any way predicated on any kind of assumption of priority, but is merely placed first as a way for me to think through my response. The concern I have is to do with the concept of containment. I don’t deploy this term within a strictly disciplinarian way, I’m not, for example deploying the notion of containment that accompanies the handling of viral outbreak or nuclear meltdown, but rather as the way in which containment could be said to delineate or construct the outer most point of a concept or debate. This may be a fluidic or permeable outer most point, but I feel that there is still an method of the deployment of ideas or debates that seeks to define, and in some sense it is this mode of definition that I want to address.

I have been thinking about the way in which there are ‘concerns’ implicit to the making of an event like this, but I feel in some sense it is also these very concerns that generate the problems in and of themselves. The premise of ‘AtHQ’, at least as far as I am aware, or have been made aware, is that this is some formal point of departure, or an active moment of movement, in which there is a certain degree of expectation that some formal ‘gear-change’ will occur. It seems to me that the debates thus far have operated along the lines of defining the quality/qualities of the varying methods or modes of analysis or encounters offered and taken up by the active participants, of the bodies, present within the CCS as an institution in itself. It seems to me that the general tonal quality of the provocations made within the confines of the ‘AtHQ’ event is a continual repositioning of the goal-posts, so to speak. In a sense, it seems as if there is a continual struggle (in the less than epic sense) over not just what, but how to define the terrain within which ‘Cultural Studies’ is deemed or “allowed” to operate. It is this moment of (silent?) confrontation that I feel is also the causal moment from where the originary process of containment emerges. In the process of defining the qualitative concerns within/under which we as ‘critics'(?) operate I also believe we construct the very conditions for the self-annihilation of any attempts made to ‘change-gear’. It is as if the harder we accelerate the deeper our wheels bore into the mud

What I am advocating here is not a nihilistic inversion of this problematic. Just because we are in the mud, does not mean we are wrong to make the journey. I do not see ‘AtHQ’ as unnecessary in light of the issues of (self)containment through definition, in fact in some senses I think ‘AtHQ’ becomes more of a necessity. But the issue of self-containment I feel cannot be understood without relating it to the second term of my title which is gesture

By the term gesture I also wish to invoke the relationship that gesture has to the notions of etiquette, manners and gesticulation. In this context I view the concept of gesture as having a quantitative relationship to the related terms I have outlined. I see gesture as a delineation of a unit of etiquette and manners. Although I will not remove the qualitative relationship between the terms, I will begin by addressing gesture as a unit of behaviour, or more broadly a unit of action

For me, manners and etiquette are a way of constructing an economy of gestures, a system of exchanges and valuations that determine the relation of one unit of gesture to another. The issue of containment is also for myself a matter of the deployment of a unit of gesture. The moment of definition undertaken in the moment of containment is for myself a gestural moment. It is point at which a relationship between the individuated gesture is brought to market and is given a value based upon its relation to the value embodied in gestures, by way of the previous containment of preceding gestures in the economy of manners. For myself, the containment of definition only seems to present itself as an issue for nihilism, or self-redundancy, in that it can at any moment reinforce the asymmetry of the economy of manners. In this economy of manners, of etiquette, I do not see the notions of ‘critique‘, ‘innovation‘, or ‘institutionalization‘ as bringing to bear any form of non-value, or anti-value. These concepts cannot but participate in the difficulty of the moment of gesture and the process of self-containment through definition. It is for myself rather the relation between these notions as units of gesture and between these parts as parts of the economy of etiquette that recreates the problematic of the defining moment.

It is at this point that I feel that the last term in my title needs to be highlighted. As it may be recognised, the term is itself already included as a problematic, it is the notion of (negative) excess(?). The reason for my listing of this idea in this manner is also a product of the idea itself. By (negative) excess(?) I mean a lack, but which is conditioned by the presence of itself. In this sense (negative) excess(?) is akin to a certain understanding of the notion of ‘forgetting’, but whereas I view ‘forgetting’ as an empty space conditioned by the dropping of a ‘thing’, I view a (negative) excess(?) as in some ways the inverse. It is a nothing that is actively present (this statement should not be read as a statement on the interpretation of these terms made by others, but as my own treatise that is not intended as a contention against the use of these concepts elsewhere). From this ‘definition‘ of (negative) excess(?) I take it as an important concept in the relation of gesture to the problematic of self-containment through definition. The process of self-defining containment as a marshaling of the unit of gesture will, in my view at least, always leave a (negative) excess(?). There will, in the process of the exchange of units in this economy of manners, always be a nothingness that is only there by its presence, not it’s forgetting

In some senses, this is almost a blind-spot, which seems to be a useful gesture of definition generated by this series of events. But I would try to avoid the notion of (negative) excess(?) being a space of ‘not’ seeing, but as an actually present part of what is being seen, in some senses the (negative) excess(?) is what is seen. The process of ‘critique‘ or ‘defintion’ I outlined earlier are in my view at least, struggles (again, the non-epic kind) over where the placement of this (negative) excess(?) should be. When there is a struggle over the deployment of units of gesture in the context of the construction of the necessary cartographic definition of the terrain of the what/how for and of Cultural Studies and the CCS, I cannot but feel the need to insist upon the (negative) excess(?), the thing that is not there but in some senses casts itself as an inevitability

For me, the (negative) excess(?) is a fundamentally ethical and political problematic. When the forces of critique are intended to be brought to bear upon some part of the map, in what sense will that attack only alter the view we have of the part of the map the attack takes place in by simply moving this (negative) excess(?), rather than say an attack that rewrites the very borders in which we find our attack confined and defined. If force is placed anywhere, how can there not be a weak point in the defense in any possible moment of counter-attack? The only solution I can view, and this is only my pint of view, is that this (negative) excess(?) is not merely a hindrance, but is also a key tool for strategically coordinating the attacks we make on the headquarters

As all acts of definition are contained or implicated in the economy of manners, I see our (negative) excess(?) as no less a hindrance for ourselves that the (negative) excess(?) that conditions the counter-attack that we may receive from the headquarters. Thusly, we must understand the gestural methodology employed by the headquarters in its moment of defining its maps, and move against it. The headquarters is part of a system of speculation in the economy of etiquette, defining and applying value to not only this economy on the collective scale, but also at the point of the unit. By containing the individuated unit of gesture within a certain terrain, the headquarters creates it’s own (negative) excess(?), it is here that I see as the point of the map where we should be.

We must always be fighting the method of definition employed by the headquarters by not avoiding their sight, but being the one thing that cannot but be avoided. As the headquarters assembles a map, we must make ours faster, whilst they assemble their forces, we must assemble ours faster, and whilst they prepare for a counter-attack we must already be mounting the next offensive.

And this can only occur, in my view, in the knowledge of the methods of definition of gesture used by the headquarters through it’s participation in the process of the valuation of these selfsame gestures. The methods of valuation we employ are only effective in light of their relationship to the methods of valuation used by the headquarters, not by the divergence of methods employed by our forces in any one of our attacks. It is not how we define the heterogeneity of attacks we make upon this supposed headquarters, but by the commonalities we share that allow for us all the occupy the point of the headquarters (negative) excess(?).

It is here that I feel I can return full circle to my opening remarks about the a priori expectations I came to this event with. It is not so much the defined qualities of our individuated gestures of critique that define the value of the critique. There is not innate value to any critique outside of it’s placement within an economy of etiquette, which are in a sense already predefined by the valuations made in the very moment of the deployment of any unit of gesture. It is rather the commonality, or ‘brought-togetherness’ of these units of gesture. It is the very process of the creation of the singular moment in which an assumed commonality is possible that will allow for us to best formulate the next line of attack, and allow for us to plot out where the headquarters has placed its (negative) excess(?). Although this process of formulation will not be within the worry of becoming stuck in the mud, once we are all here it becomes less a matter of frantic pedal pushing, and more a matter of us all putting on our wellington boots, exiting the vehicle and collective dragging ourselves out of the dirt.


About john hutnyk

Writer on culture, cities, diaspora, history, film, prisons, colonialism, education, Marxism. Studied and taught in Australia at Deakin and Melbourne Universities; and in the UK in Manchester University’s Institute for Creative and Cultural Research; before moving to Goldsmiths in 1998, and becoming Academic Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies in 2004-2014. Has held visiting researcher posts in Germany at the South Asia Institute and Institute fur Ethnologie at Heidelberg University, and Visiting Professor posts in InterCultural Studies at Nagoya City University Japan, Zeppelin University and Hamburg University, Germany, Sociology at Mimar Sinan University, Istanbul, Turkey and at the Graduate institute for Social Research and Cultural Studies, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. Immediate past adjunct Professor of RMIT University, Melbourne and GIAN Visiting Professor Jadavpur Uni Kolkata.
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