Piatigorsky

Among us, he was known as ‘Piatigorsky’, not Alexander or Professor Piatigorsky. During my time as an undergraduate at SOAS, he left an impression on me – his remarkable breadth of scholarship and irreverence for the profane – that I am grateful for.

Piatigorsky was a professor at the London School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS) until his retirement in 2001. (Sir Isaiah Berlin had intervened to ensure his appointment after he fled the USSR.) The topics on which he wrote ranged from the failures of totalitarian communism to Buddhist thought and even to Freemasonry. Piatigorsky was also a talented linguist – he compiled the first Russian-Tamil dictionary – and a novelist. Source.

Piatigorsky disliked traditional academic jargon and for most of his life he upheld the principle that scholars should publish as little as possible on the grounds that publishing interrupts thinking. His lecture style was lively and distinctive: he was able to speak with considerable effect about the most abstruse and difficult concepts. Pacing back and forth, smoking, when it was still permitted, he sometimes stopped to observe his cigarette as it burned, pausing before making the next point. He was never known to consult notes. Source.

a man who was widely considered to be one of the more significant thinkers of the age and Russia’s greatest philosopher…

Sasha joined Soas in 1975 as a lecturer, initially in the history department. Sasha loved Soas; and, to an extent, Soas loved Sasha, although his eccentric dress-style, bohemian manners, thick Russian accent and overt intellectualism bewildered many of his colleagues. But Soas in general, unsurprisingly, did not really know what this Russian, Jewish, Buddhist, philosopher, historian, intellectual, linguist (he knew Sanskrit, Tamil, Pali, Tibetan, German, Russian, French and English) and writer was all about. From his obituary (2010) in the Guardian:

There is no doubt that Piatigorsky was a brilliant lecturer. He never referred to written notes, but delivered what always appeared to be carefully crafted and absorbing talks in a fluent, almost literary form of English. He spoke loudly and clearly, but with a thick, drawling Russian accent, as he paced animatedly about the room. Source.

Watch, Philosopher Escaped, a documentary about Piatagorsky.

Japanese experimental film and video archive

Eiga Arts‘ (1999-2000) was a series of experimental/avant-garde film and video exhibitions I curated while living in Japan. During this period, Eiga Arts acted as an exchange between Japanese and other international film and video artists. Exhibitions were held monthly in Saga city during 1999, including a publicly sponsored two-day film festival with invited Japanese and American film artists (1999). The festival subsequently toured film venues throughout Japan and a selection were invited for presentation at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (2000). A further two touring exhibitions of contemporary Japanese experimental film were curated for venues in Europe and the USA (2000), including the LUX, London, Pacific Film Archives, Berkley, and the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema, NYC.

A rich archive of documentation, brochures and correspondence is available to researchers of Japanese avant-garde and amateur film. Some of the material is certainly unique and very difficult to come by outside of Japan. Please contact me if you would like to use or even take responsibility for this material.

Making a classical guitar

There is an update to this post here.

I am new to guitar making (I play a bit) and am being taught one-to-one by Roy Courtnall, author of Making Master Guitars. I expect it to take 20-30 days in total and have so far spent just four days with Roy. My time permits only one or two days a week working with Roy so it won’t be finished until early next year. It will be walnut back and sides, cedar neck and a lattice spruce top.

Needless to say, it’s a fantastic experience and education and I am documenting it as a reminder of my learning; what to remember, look out for, and to do when I come to build a guitar on my own. I intend to publish a separate blog of all the photos (there will be hundreds!) with descriptions and cross-references to his book when the guitar is complete. Click on the image below to see some highlights or follow this forum thread where I post updates at the end of each day.

Find out what happened next…

Day 1: Gluing the neck to the head

Tarkovsky’s ‘Mirror’ (1975)

Mosfilm’s YouTube channel includes pristine 1080 HD, English subtitled versions of five of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, including Mirror, which is perhaps the most beautiful film I have seen in twenty years. 1

  • Ivan’s Childhood (1962)
  • Andrei Rublev – Part 1Part 2 (1966) Only available outside the UK.
  • Solaris – Part 1 – Part 2 (1972)
  • Mirror  (1975)
  • Stalker (1979) The image and sound on this Mosfilm copy is far better than the recently re-released Curzon Artificial Eye blu-ray.

Mirror (Russian: Зеркало, translit. Zerkalo; known in the United States as The Mirror[3]) is a 1975 Russianart film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is loosely autobiographical, unconventionally structured, and incorporates poems composed and read by the director’s father, Arseny Tarkovsky. The film features Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Alla Demidova, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Tarkovsky’s wife Larisa Tarkovskayaand his mother Maria Vishnyakova, with a soundtrack by Eduard Artemyev.

Mirror is noted for its loose and nonlinear narrative. It unfolds as an organic flow of memories recalled by a dying poet (based on Tarkovsky’s own father Arseny, who in reality would outlive his son by three years) of key moments in his life both with respect to his immediate family as well as that of the Russian people as a whole during the tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In an effort to represent these themes visually, the film combines contemporary scenes with childhood memories, dreams, and newsreel footage; its cinematography slips, often unpredictably, between color, black-and-white, and sepia. The film’s loose flow of visually oneiric images, combined with its rich – and often symbolic – imagery has been compared with the stream of consciousness technique in modernist literature.

Source: Wikipedia.

Symphony of voices

A scene from Wings of Desire (1987) by Wim Wenders.

“The film is about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of the human inhabitants and comfort those who are in distress. Even though the city is densely populated, many of the people are isolated or estranged from their loved ones.”

[00:00:00 – 00:04:49 No subtitles]

[00:04:50 Old Man stops on stairs] “Tell me, muse, the storyteller…he who has been thrust to the edge of the world…both an infant and an ancient, and through him reveal Everyman. [continues walking]

With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, but apart…and one doesn’t know anything about the other. [sits down]

I’m an old man, with a broken voice…but the story still rises from the depths… and the slowly opened mouth…repeats it as clearly as it does powerfully. A liturgy for which no one needs to be initiated… to the meaning of the words and sentences.”

What we leave behind


Book coverMy dad, Nigel Winn, died quite suddenly of cancer in 2006 aged 56. Since his death I have been meaning to collect his writing and publish a selection of his poetry. It’s taken me ten years to make time for this, in between having a daughter, getting married, building a house, chasing and holding onto employment and also trying to come to terms with the loss, too.

Dad left behind a collection of poems, a short play and other pieces of writing. He was a bricklayer and carpenter most of his life but started writing actively during the period 1996-2006. During that time, he studied for a BA in English Literature at the University of Lincoln, where he gained a First Class degree. He went on to teach at the university, and was popular among students. Following his death, colleagues established the annual Nigel Winn Memorial Prize for Creative Writing.

His work is quite autobiographical and therefore especially meaningful to those who were close to him. I used Lulu to self-publish this selection of his poetry. It’s very satisfying for me and my family to have a physical copy of his published work and I think that people who knew Nigel may like to purchase a hardback copy of the book, too. It is priced £8.93 + postage which is the lowest price available to me. I make £0.06p on every copy sold because Lulu won’t allow me to reduce the author’s profit to £0 for some reason. A PDF proof of the book can be downloaded here. Thank you for reading it. He was a really good man.

Nigel Winn
Nigel Winn, Sutton-on-Sea, 2005.

‘A relationship with the world that provides freedom to actually look at things’

“Most people go to films to get some kind of hit, some kind of overwhelming experience, whether it’s like an amusement park ride or an ideological, informational hit that gives you a critical insight into an issue or an idea. But for those few people who feel they need a reprieve occasionally, who want to cleanse the palate a bit, whether for spiritual or physiological reasons, these films seem to be somewhat effective.

I’ve never felt that my films are very important in terms of the History of Cinema. They offer a little detour from such grand concepts. They appeal primarily to people who enjoy looking at nature, or who enjoy having a moment to study something that’s not fraught with information. The experience of my films is a little like daydreaming. It’s about taking the time to just sit down and look at things, which I don’t think is a very Western preoccupation. A lot of influences on me when I was younger were more Eastern. They suggested a contemplative way of looking – whether at painting, sculpture, architecture, or just a landscape – where the more time you spend actually looking at things, the more they reveal themselves in ways that you don’t expect.

For the most part, people don’t allow themselves the time or the circumstances to get into a relationship with the world that provides freedom to actually look at things. There’s always an overriding design or mission behind their negotiation with life. I think when you have the occasion to step away from agendas – whether it’s through circumstance or out of some kind of emotional necessity – then you’re often struck by the incredible epiphanies of nature. These are often very subtle things, right at the edge of most people’s sensibilities. My films try to record and to offer some of these experiences.”

Source: Peter Hutton: The Filmmaker as Luminist

Peter Hutton’s At Sea was voted #1 of the best 50 avant-garde films made during 2000-2009.

Update 16th July: I have learned that Peter Hutton died on 25th June 2016. I didn’t know him personally but I did correspond with him in 1999 for a screening I organised of two of his films. Of all the work I screened around that time, his was the most influential on me and inspired a lot of the silent footage that went into a film I made a year or so later.

The walk to work

Walking to work past the builder’s yard, towards the bridge
he beckons me over the sound of my headphones,
a tired looking man, probably younger than me
gestures ahead, gestures to the left, to the right
while asking the word “Spalding?”
He shows me a text message with the address
of a farm in the Fens and gestures again,
as if it should be the next town, to the left, to the right, or ahead.
I tell him that Spalding is a long day’s walk
or an hour by train and it takes a few seconds to sink in.
He looks defeated. He asks for £5 towards a train ticket.
I put my hand on his shoulder and we walk over the bridge together.

He pulls his passport out of a plastic bag inside his jacket and
a piece of paper that congratulates him on his eligibility to work here
and another with a list of jobs written in capital letters.
As we walk towards the station, George from Romania starts to cry.
He is lost, he is grateful, but I can’t take the gratitude of someone
who is cold and slept outside last night.
I put my hand on his shoulder to offer some reassurance
and act focused, briskly leading him to a temporary solution.

I buy him a return ticket in case Spalding doesn’t work out,
give him some cash,
find out when and where the next train will be
and all the while, George
who has been in this country for a month,
stands lost and waiting in the station while I criss cross past him
from ticket machine, to cash machine, to information desk.
More gratitude, his eyes tired and red with tears, I wish him luck and
put my hand on his shoulder but wish now I’d embraced him.
I leave him staring at the ticket and call my wife.
She cries on the phone and I am with her and George
as I walk, as I work, and as I return home.

29/09/15

From research student to academic: thinking about and preparing for academic work

At the request of students, I’m running a session at our doctoral study school next week on the ‘transition’ (that makes it sound smoother than it actually is) from doctoral student to an academic career. It’s allowed me to read a number of articles, reports and guides that are essentially talking about academic labour.

Below is some reading I’ve suggested to students and would recommend to anyone thinking about an academic career or giving advice to those thinking about such a career. In addition to discussing the readings, we will of course be talking about writing CVs, completing job applications, how to read a job description and preparing for interviews. In my session, I wanted to go beyond the standard ‘careers advice’ and ‘surgery’, and use research and the writings of academics to inform our understanding of academic life.

Personally, I find there’s a lot to like about the job, but the research and individual accounts show that increasingly it’s an intensive, extensive, and sometimes harmful career to pursue. I see and have felt that, too. Structurally, the trajectory of academic work and life will be very difficult to change, (although I’m working on it), but as the Hortensii group make clear, there are ways that we can be more generous and kind to doctoral students and to colleagues; especially to the many individuals already living insecure and highly mobile lives.

I have collected a lot more than this, so if you’re also faced with having to discuss or research this, get in touch and I’ll send you what I have.

Academic Labour and the Capitalist University: A critique of higher education through the law of value

PhD card

I passed my PhD viva yesterday. Below, is the Introduction to the Commentary, which I was required to defend along with the publications. The entire ‘thesis’ is available to download from the University of Lincoln’s institutional repository.

Thank you to my examiners, Siân AdiseshiahJoyce Canaan and Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, and to the viva Chair, Alec Shepley. Most of all, thank you to my colleague, friend and supervisor, Mike Neary.

I’ll write more soon about doing a ‘PhD by Published Work’.

Introduction

This commentary provides an overview of a body of work that was published between 2009 and 2015. It summarises the significance of the contribution of that work and establishes its coherence both chronologically and thematically.

The work submitted for examination consists of ten items, with the key sole-authored components comprising a book chapter (Winn, 2012) and four peer-reviewed journal articles (Winn, 2013; 2014; 2015a; 2015b). Other, joint-authored work is intended to be supplementary and to provide further evidence of the two persistent themes of inquiry which my work has been concerned with over the last six years: the role and character of labour and property in higher education, or rather, ‘academic labour’ and the ‘academic commons’. Six of the ten publications discuss these themes through a critique of the role of technology in higher education, in particular the way networked technology forms the practical, ideological and legal premise for the idea and forms of ‘openness’ in higher education. Throughout my work, I treat ‘technology’ as a reified and fetishized concept which masks the more fundamental categories of labour, value and the commodity-form that are concealed in the idea and form of the ‘public university’. I start from the observation that advocates of ‘open education’ tend to envision an alternative form of higher education that is based on a novel form of academic commons but neglect to go further and critically consider the underlying form of academic labour. As such, the product is set free but not the producer. In response, through my publications I develop the theoretical basis for an alternative social and institutional form of co-operative higher education; one in which openness is constituted through a categorial critique aimed at the existing commodity-form of knowledge production.

The wider context to which my work responds is the marketization of UK higher education since the early 1990s and the concurrent conceptualisation in the UK of students as consumers (Naidoo et al, 2011). For those of us who are critical of this shift in higher education, which follows a broader destruction of the welfare state in the UK (Huber and Stephens, 2010), one response is to re-engineer the organising principle of higher education so that students are understood as ‘producers’ of knowledge and academic collaborators. In doing so, my co-authors and I have aimed to reinvigorate the processes by which universities are seen as sites that openly contribute to the general intellectual well-being of society (Neary and Winn, 2009). In the absence of such a response, a combination of market competition among universities (Palfreyman and Tapper, 2014), and students coerced by a ‘pedagogy of debt’ (Williams, 2006) defines the social purpose of the university as instrumental to the needs of capital and an individual rather than social good. In effect, this shift can be understood in terms of the welfare and intellectual life of students being increasingly subsumed by the imperatives of capital (Wood, 2002) and subordinated to the reproductive requirements of labour under capital (Rikowski, 2002). Within the confines of working within higher education, the political project of my research has always been against such imperatives and subordination.

The body of work discussed here provides a substantial and original contribution to knowledge in the following ways: By subjecting ‘open education’ to a negative critique based on Marx’s categories of the commodity, value and labour, I reveal fundamental features of the ‘academic commons’ that have not been identified through critiques that neglect the materiality of openness and technology. In order to illustrate this, I examine how ‘hacking’ (out of which the Open Education movement developed) was not only a cultural phenomenon but a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research. I develop this by exploring how ‘value’ is an underlying and mediating imperative in higher education, and illustrate how using a ‘form-analytic’ approach helps us reconceive the social form of knowledge and the roles of teacher and student in a way that most treatments of academic labour fail to do. I also demonstrate how it is possible to go beyond this critique by adopting a position of methodological negativity, against labour rather than from the standpoint of labour, to construct a theory for an alternative to the capitalist university: co-operative higher education. By combining this theoretical and practical work with emerging ideas on ‘open co-operatives’ in other areas, I show how new forms of higher education cannot be based on existing practices of reciprocity based on the production of value, as is often assumed, but rather on a new and directly social form of knowledge production that emerges out of the free association between individuals who recognise that we have much to learn from each other.

Publications submitted for examination

Commentary (8000w)

Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: Bell, L., Neary, M. and Stephenson, H. (eds.) The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. London: Continuum, 126-138.

Hall, R. and Winn, J. (2011) Questioning technology in the development of a resilient higher education. E-Learning and Digital Media, 8 (4) 343-356.

* Winn, J. (2012) Open education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Neary, M., Bell, L. and Stephenson, H. (eds.) Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. London: Continuum, 133-147.

Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4) 406-422.

Social Science Centre, Lincoln (2013) An experiment in free, co-operative higher education. Radical Philosophy, 182, 66-67.

Winn, J. and Lockwood, D. (2013) Student as Producer is hacking the university. In: Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (eds.) Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age. London: Routledge, 218-229.

* Winn, J. (2013) Hacking in the university: contesting the valorisation of academic labour. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism and Critique, 11 (2) 486-503.

* Winn, J. (2014) Writing about academic labour. Workplace: A journal for academic labour, 25, 1-15.

* Winn, J. (2015a) Open Education and the emancipation of academic labour. Learning, Media and Technology, 40 (3).

* Winn, J. (2015b) The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy. Power and Education, 7 (1) 39-55.