In reply to queer/toxic

Some thoughts on the occupation as dead end.

By way of linking toxic assets to occupation, we can think of evicted homeowners as occupying their recently foreclosed homes. At this point the asset is toxic. Prior to this, people were being “allowed” to remain in homes where they had stopped paying the mortgage and banks were sitting on the foreclosure process. To what extent is the occupation permitted or allowed, and to what extent does that permission occur as neutralization? How does the asset metaphor work in this instant (the current occupation of the Conference Centre at Sussex University)?

Let us consider this occupation in terms of symbolic capital. The university transforms student activism into symbolic capital that is then used to leverage potential investment by future students. With the increase in fees, the university’s potential for political prestige is materialised as more money in the back pockets of the administrators. Our intimate crises become tradable cash prospects. How can we damage the brand?

If the occupied space is a loan, in what sense is it not performing? Management have loaned the occupiers the space in order that they further the image and credence of the university through practice—let us call this political investiture. This credit-debt contract is then sold on to potential new students, or those about to invest in the university, as an unreality or an action stripped of meaning. The actual space, or the conference centre, exists as collateral in this production of symbolic capital. How can we realise this potential toxicity of this credit-debt asset? How can we make this their (management and/or prospective students’) crisis? Either we must actually win whereby the assets become toxic, or we stop acting politically in this space at all—we demonstrate an inability to pay back the loan under the terms set. We occupy a foreclosed space. By that we mean an immediate end to the symbolic meaning of the occupation and a return to its material basis. While the space is being used for great things such as teach-ins &c., it is paying on its loan by contributing to the political prestige of the university’s image—its toxicity is merely a potentiality.

To what extent is it helpful to think of the management as invested in the political traditions and reputations of the university? Do not imagine that the university exists for management as anything other than a bullet-point in their curricula vitae, or securitisation on their escalating mortgages. To what extent is the conference centre occupation performing as an asset, and why does management continue to extend the terms of the loan? On the one hand, the VC has openly accredited the occupation to the university’s legacy of radicalism, invented as that is. The administration refuse to recognise loss; there is zero political will for open acknowledgement of toxicity, and thus toxicity remains a potentiality. On the other hand, this management of crisis always threatens to become the crisis of management, those in Sussex House. A toxic asset is an asset in crisis, positioned just at the edge of liability. Toxic assets always stand on the edge of death, where death occurs as the loss of capital, or capital’s loss. Management are managing their own death; they are lying about the value of the occupation—meaning is being stripped from action. When we push the boundaries of this form they are quick to reconfigure themselves to contain us. Tradition and reputation occur as a process of recuperation. As UC President Mark Yudof once said, ‘being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery’. The political tradition of the university’s dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the current student “activists”. Our political actions have been commodified and our activities become dead labour.

To reiterate, we call all those in the occupation to reconsider the value of their political actions on-campus. It is time to move away from the chauvinism of demos and the soft nationalism of “Sussex united”. Stop grandstanding in general assemblies. Refuse image. Work silently.

Originally posted at the Queer (in) Crisis blog.