Tactical Media Generation

How to break through the rhythms of the mass media? How to open up the space where a grassroots movement can practice its own kind of democracy? How to create an event in a totally administered aesthetic environment?


The aim of this project is to look back over the experience of one generation, while looking forward to the potentials of another. We are going to take on the challenges, the failures and the incandescent utopias of a wo/man with a video camera, a screen press, a messenger bike or a networked computer, over a period of about two decades culminating right now. We are going to categorize and critique the queer appropriation of military machines. The point is to find out what can become generative in the plethora of signs that postmodern societies live by.


The pages that follow explore one of the most common phenomena of the communications era: namely, the moment when some body or some group of bodies (a subculture) takes the means of entertainment into their own trembling hands, and turns the law of expiring averages into the prime number of political invention. In our time this is not and can not be done by people operating strategically, that is to say, with full control of the vast machinery that pumps millions of messages into every home and every heart, minute by minute, day by day. Political invention is and can only be achieved tactically, through occasional outbursts from below, conceived and pulled off with the means on board, by those who join the fray without any pretense to domination. Theoretical insights, artistic intensities, organizational forms and crowds in the street all coalesce into something multivalent and indefinable, which started out as a “scene” and in the best or worst of cases, ends up as a movement. These movements never last very long, they don't necessarily add up, and disappointment awaits if you want your history monumental. But social movements change both laws and lives. The interesting thing – the existential thing – is what happens when the medium (artistic, discursive, communicational, political) becomes tactile: you can touch it, it can touch you. Funny things happen, people even lose their grip on reality, exactly when they get a handle on that kind of possibility. It's an old story: signs are taken for wonders.


So go ahead, take 'em. We've got gigabytes, we've got terabytes of signs. Daniel Tucker and Brian Holmes are going to spend months scrolling through films, paging through 'zines, relentlessly pirating books, scanning images and clicking links to recompose the exquisite corpse of tactical media. We're going to build a labyrinth, because that's how it's done at the Autonomous University. This archive is not meant to be in any way complete, but it should seriously resonate. What's more, we aim to theorize the whole thing to death even as we collate it back to life, so that with any luck we can be present at the resurrection. Hope springs eternal and the Occupy moment proves that grassroots protest does too, even in the USA. Every artistic and political generation brings something radically new to the table. The real surprise of the rear-view mirror is when you look back into the future.


No one does anything good alone, and the lucky number of chance has offered us the best collaborator. We are honored, amazed and frankly pretty anxious to announce that after a few initial theoretical and oratory precautions, about half of the actual writing here will be done by someone who was there on the pounce, by hearsay and daresay, at every new turn of the tactical dial. A longtime Jamaican refugee in Italy (by way of England as the story goes), currently more or less incommunicado on the fringes of Chicago, he's the wildest and wiliest media theorist of them all: the one and only Luther Blissett. While Daniel and I file and compile, he's going to take over the heavy lifting of having an opinion. Which makes it easier for those of us who have lots of friends among the historical materials.


Now, for anyone who doesn't already know his style, Luther is a complicated guy – schizophrenic himself, lots of admirers, even more enemies – and the reason people gave up working with him in the era of total copyright is precisely his greatest strength: namely, non-stop plagiarism. Don't believe he authored it just because he said it. Still Luther Blissett is a major literary figure and a great cultural and political theorist in his own right. He's out there, in every sense of the phrase. I fully expect his claims will raise some ruckus and some direct response, and we've agreed in advance that I have the right to intervene. As for Daniel Tucker, the deal is that after each of these diatribes he will take the last word, to bring it all back home and open up some near horizons.


Another friend who'll soon be mentioned here used to talk about radical media pragmatism. We intend to look at things as they are. Art and the art business, media and the media business, theory and the theory business, with all their associated ideals. Things as they aren't come into being at the stickier junctures of things as they are. The Autonomous University transforms the precariousness of contemporary knowledge production – the work of adjuncts and TAs – into the prefiguration of what others have already generated on their own terrains. Namely, a pragmatic invitation to better tomorrows.


posted by BH