This morning a couple of weird thoughts began to criss-cross in my mind that linked ‘punk’ academics, jam bands, and Theodore Adorno. In the end, I began to see the political edge of the digital humanities in opposing what Adorno and Horkheimer call the “culture industry.”
To start off, I was reading Adorno and Horkheimer’s “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as mass deception” essay and thinking about ways for humanist academics to fight the totalizing power of late capital and the culture industries in the age of new media. Not too heavy, huh?
Then I noticed a great link on twitter about an archive of electroacoustic music being distributed via torrent. I replied that etree.org is another great site that is distributing music via torrent for all sorts of bands in the ‘jam music’ scene, most notably Phish but also Dave Matthews, String Cheese Incident, etc. All of these bands have a liberal taping policy that allows fans to tape their live performances and the distribute them non-commercially. (Another example of this is the Live Music archive over at archive.org, also run by etree.org)
The combination of academia and music reminded me of once hearing about the Do-It-Yourself culture of ‘punk academics.’ Now, I don’t really know that much about punk academics–I did spend most of my teen years listening to punk bands like NOFX, the Descendents, and the Dead Kennedy’s–but thinking about them alongside the open access taping policy of bands like Phish prompts this question:
Don’t we need some ‘jam academics’?
Yes, the hippie professor has become one of the great stereotypes in American culture. A hold over from the 60s campus movements with a Grateful Dead poster in his office and thinly-veiled drug references in his lectures. But I’m talking about something different. I’m talking about the community elements of the jam music scene as it is today.
I discovered jam bands in college (after my punk phase) And if you go to a jam music festival like this past weekends Wakarusa you will immediately discover yourself immersed in a community. People take care of each other, feed each other, and even, at times, clothe one another. Sharing and kindness, though not always achieved, are the governing ethics of the weekend. After the festival the sharing continues through places like etree, the live music archive and various social networks where live recordings are circulated and connections from the festival ground are maintained. It is a friendly and open access community.
In the past few months I’ve gotten interested in the growing digital humanities community in the academy. Through the Knowledge Futures conference here at Emory, various people I’ve followed on Twitter, and the great Hacking the Academy project, I’ve come to see something very near to the jam community I found years back. The digital humanities emphasizes open access scholarship, sharing of information and knowledge, and has a very communitarian feel to it through its use of Twitter and other social networks.
Furthermore, and here’s where Adorno and Horkheimer come in, if humanists want to resist the totalizing of culture by the culture industry and the absolute power of late market-capital, then we will have to become ‘jam academics’ like those I’ve found in the digital humanities. We will have to open our work up to people outside the academy, through technology, but also interrogate the very political economy of that technology. We will have to build academic community that resists the production of consumers brought on by the culture industry and the commodification of knowledge. Like the jam music community, we will have to resist the evaluation of our work in monetary terms and offer. Like they constructed an alternative musical community to the the pop music industry, we will have to build an academic community of sharing, kindness, and mutual appreciation that resists the industrialization of the university and higher education.
Jam academics include digital humanists, but, for me, it goes bigger than that. In some ways all of this is already happening in different places, I’m just naming it and trying to be intentional.
Jam academics would, in short, build an open access community of intellectuals who shared knowledge, utilized social networks, interrogated the political economy of their work and their tools, and resisted the industrialization and corporatization of the academy.