// issue 30: Incalculable Experience


Issue Edited by Lone Bertelsen

issue doi:10.15307/fcj.30
introduction doi:10.15307/fcj.30.222.2019

Introduction by Lone Bertelsen, Issue Editor.

We owe each other the indeterminate. We owe each other everything
(Harney and Moten, 2013: 20).

… What must remain incalculable is the very question of the being of relation. (Erin Manning, this issue)

The theme of the issue: Incalculable Experience, emerged in encounter with the work published here – articles and propositions by Erin Manning, Maria Hynes, Andrew Goodman, Susan Ballard, and Glen Fuller. That the theme wasn’t preplanned but emerged from the experience of reading and listening isn’t insignificant. Within this process there was an attempt to resist the pre-determining pretences of the neoliberal education system. Thought and research, reading and writing are activities whose value should never be determined in advance. Neither should their value be reduced to the post-determinations of metrics. In the words of Manning, their value must ‘exceed the count’. The contributors to this issue, all with their differing concerns, engage with that which exceeds the count of neoliberalism and the individualism of a ‘self-enclosed’ humanism (da Silva in Desideri and da Silva, 2015: 5).

In ‘Fugitively, Approximately’ Erin Manning encounters the statement ‘all black life is neurodiverse life’, made by Fred Moten in a manuscript review of her book The Minor Gesture. Manning suggests that ‘[w]hat is produced in the interstices is not an account of how black life is neurodiverse, or how neurodiversity is black’. Rather, it is ‘the being of the relation itself that is prodded, not to create a count, but to better account for the incalculability at its core’. Manning emphasises that black life and neurodiverse life, as experiences of what Moten terms ‘minor social life’, are devalued and violently excluded when neurotypical whiteness – aligned with ‘executive function’– is taken as the measure for what counts as human (Moten, 2018 in Manning). For Manning ‘neurotypicality is nothing else than an articulation of whiteness at work’. In ‘Fugitively, Approximately’, then, neurodiverse scholarship and black studies meet as Manning shows us the incalculable value of ‘minor sociality’. For her minor sociality is ‘a way of thinking’ and living ‘beyond rehabilitation, beyond a logic of reparations’.

In her departure from the calculated steps made by some of the major proponents of contemporary Design Thinking Maria Hynes also moves beyond ‘a logic of reparation’. In ‘Design Thinking, Design Activism, Design Study’ Hynes suggests that the more major moves involved in the ‘branding of Design Thinking as a form of social altruism’ deny ‘the diverse histories and trajectories of design and designers’. Pointing to histories of colonialism, slavery and poverty, Hynes uncovers how the ‘popular image of Design Thinking as a form of altruistic intellectual labour rests on a debt/credit logic that’ while ‘claiming to remedy histories of social dispossession, inherits their logics and legacies’. Citing Harney and Moten (2013), she asks if the ‘hyperinflated claims made by the brand of Design Thinking represent “the new way to steal from the stolen?”’. Hynes also emphasises that it ‘is not that design interventions are without value’. The issue is that such interventions have to necessarily ‘be social’, not simply involve ‘interventions upon the social’. This must be acknowledged, writes Hynes, ‘if they are to avoid the fundamentally asocial logic of debt and credit to which dominant social reality is oriented’. Following an uncovering of the problems – and at times cruelty – inherent in such logics, Hynes calls for a different approach. She terms this more social approach Design Study. For Harney, as for Moten, study is ‘both a concept and a practice of determining what needs to be learned together, without objective or endpoint and without escaping the feeling that we are in a mutual debt to each other’ (Harney, 2018 in Hynes). The value of this mutual debt, which Harney and Moten also term ‘bad debt’, is ‘incalculable’ (2013: 61).

By way of providing a contemporary example of ‘what it would mean to appropriate the idea of design toward collective practices of being differently indebted’ Hynes looks to the Boston based Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI). Hynes is drawn to the Design Studio’s ‘experiments of living otherwise’. She writes that these could be understood to ‘approximate study not simply through a new form of sharing but by actively and performatively refusing the logic of credit amongst others, through the deep sociality of bad debt’, which is study.

As I understand it, study, in Harney and Moten’s terms, involves a mode of living that is immanently social. Study doesn’t conceive of sociality in terms of relations between self-enclosed subjects. Study is an activity that lives in the sociality of ‘in-separable difference’ (da Silva in Moten and Tsang 2016: 45). Its value cannot be calculated.

With Andrew Goodman we move from a focus on design to sound. By way of Alfred North Whitehead’s notion of ‘the one definite note’ Goodman takes us to the incalculable quality of the experience of audition. In ‘One Definite Note and the Anarchic Share of Listening’ Goodman investigates the experience of listening in the light of Whitehead’s process philosophy. According to Whitehead ‘the note itself and the act of listening to this note are, while related, independent events’.

Goodman’s process oriented approach could be characterized as ecological rather than representational. This approach does not conceive of data (the note, for example) as passively perceived but as actively prehended. ‘What you listen to or what you’re reading is still moving and still living. It’s still forming’ (Harney and Moten, 2013: 107). The performance of a note never simply repeats – it only repeats with a difference and thus for Goodman ‘audition is itself an ecological act’. He also argues that the audition of the note cannot really be archived. Rather, the ‘simple audition is an act of anarchiving in that it selects from a complex history and reactivates some of the data within new events’. This kind of activation involves ‘an adventure into the unknown, into’ the future novelty of the world. Goodman gives an account of how such novelty emerges in Alvin Lucier’s 2016 performance, SO YOU (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice). Here the ancient wine jars, which are a part of the performance, play an active role. Goodman writes:

the jars might be thought of as decidedly non-human auditors as much as they are musicians, actively listening to and anarchiving the vibrations present in the room. The jars tell us that we should not suppose that audition is, in some senses at least, an activity reserved for human or even animal ears, even if that very small fraction of listening that is most literally conscious perception might be found only in the animal kingdom.

Susan Ballard also engages with the non-human. In ‘”And they are like wild beasts”: Violent Things in the Anthropocene’ she considers how we might think about violence in relation to the status and effects of objects and art in the age of the Anthropocene. Ballard raises the question of the responsibility of objects and suggests that their effects cannot really be accounted for within the realm of humanist frameworks. Ballard considers the incalculable violence done to the planet by way of a consideration of several artworks. She also looks to the little known and fascinating ‘common law of deodand that existed in England from 1066 until 1846’. On a more philosophical level, Ballard draws on Anne Conway’s philosophy. She cites Carol Wayne White (2008) on Conway:

[I]n every creature, whether the same be a spirit or a body, there is an infinity of creatures, each whereof contains an infinity, and again each of these, and so ad infinitum)’. (in Ballard, this issue)

Ballard explains that in Conway’s philosophy the ‘nonhuman is not reducible to what the human can know about it. Rather the understanding of matter that was central to Conway’s development of the notion of the monad was not about enfolding (as it was to be with Leibniz)’. It was about ‘the “aliveness” of matter’. Ballard also engages Spinoza’s Ethics, Jane Bennett’s vital materialism, and Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophies of affect. Her poetic writing takes the form of a speculative essay – she calls it ‘a critical melodrama’. Resisting any one definite answer to the questions involved, Ballard instead offers us a variety of ways of thinking about the material vitality of things in their relation with other things. The hope is that this may prompts us to think seriously about how to act and become in the contemporary world. It seems more pressing now than ever to fully acknowledge that agency and the vitality of life and matter do not belong to the experiences of the human alone. Thus in ‘”And they are like wild beasts”: Violent Things in the Anthropocene’ Ballard situates the artworks and object under consideration within their material networks of relation. She suggests that they do things: ‘actively generate’ and ‘change behaviours’. Ballard refers to her approach as genealogical. Hers is the kind of transdisciplinary art history and study that involve a tending to the larger ‘political ecology of’ the art, objects, and relations under consideration.

The two shorter propositional pieces – one by Glen Fuller the other by Erin Manning – raise different concerns regarding the neoliberal university.

To contend with the contemporary university is to engage on two fronts: to consider how to address the deep inequities for thought and economic survival brought about by the corporatization of the university, and to consider how the foundational exclusionary model of the university is prolonged and exacerbated by its neoliberal turn. What forms of resistance does the corporate university quell? What modes of thought does it silence? (Manning, this issue)

In ‘Survey and Project: On the (Im)possibility of Scholarship in an Era of Networked Knowledge’, Glen Fuller focuses on scholarly research in the networked era of abundant publishing. His concern is that the contemporary ‘focus on producing something that can be measured (and managed) has transformed the character of the scholarly activity of publishing’. He writes that even though ‘The journal article may not be the best way of disseminating research…it is the best way for big publishers to measure the impact of journal articles in ways that reproduce social hierarchies of so-called “impact”’. Fuller objects to the obsession with impact, measure, citation, hierarchy, ‘ranking systems’, and ‘disciplinary clusters’. These too often form the basis for how the value of scholarly work is perceived.

Fuller’s particular concern here is for the contemporary research student – in particular the phD project, which in Australia now has to be completed in 3-4 years. Not only is there such an abundance of published material that it becomes almost impossible to adequately perform a literature review of one’s topic, Fuller argues that the ‘neoliberal model’ also seeks to encourage the production of ‘passive affections’ in regard to the actual research. He writes that ‘[d]isciplinarity becomes a solution, but one that enables scholarly production by, at a minimum, hobbling curiosity’. Fuller proposes that

[r]ather than the coordinates of the project being determined by the administrative burden of measurement and correlative productivity according to maximum gradients of anxiety (the neoliberal academic model), what if the ‘project’ was configured as an instrument for suspending practices of discovery according to the maximum gradients of curiosity (the post-neoliberal academic model)?

Fuller’s approach aims to foster ‘active affections’. With it the value of ‘scholarly activity’ could escape the count of neoliberal measure. I think that it would also foster study.

In ‘University, Universitas’ – with which this issue of the Fibreculture Journal closes, Manning explains that

[w]hen study happens, when an undercommons of thought reveals itself, it is not because the university has fostered it. It’s because an enclave has grown in resistance to all the university devalues.

Following a concise overview of the founding of the university, Manning shakes the very foundations upon which the contemporary corporate university rests.[1] These include: racism; classism; ableism; colonialism; sexism; and neurotypicality. Manning makes clear that ‘[t]he corporatization of the university under neoliberal capitalism exacerbates its exclusionary framework by integrating the university more firmly into the economy’. She asks how a ‘shift from the enlightenment model’ could happen ‘without giving in to the market-driven one’. It couldn’t happen within a ‘corporate logic’, according to Manning. And it is never a question of a simple inclusion of the excluded into the university. Although a paradigm based on inclusion may be well intended, Manning argues that it doesn’t actually challenge ‘the normative center’ of that into which the excluded are supposed to be included and absorbed. This is because ‘the neurotypical logic at the heart of the university’s universalizing mandate actively excludes other ways of knowing’. Manning therefore calls for deschooling. Deschooling is different in that it involves ‘a refusal of the universal’. Also, for Manning ‘to deschool is to decouple thought from the market of knowledge’. Drawing on Ivan Illich (1970) she suggests that this decoupling ‘requires a “deinstitutionalization of value”’. It requires study, and in closing Manning proposes that ‘a redefining of the university could begin … in the interstices where the studying has already begun’.

Before finishing I want to thank the authors of this issue of the Fibreculture Journal for the incalculable value of their work. This is work that stays ‘with the trouble’ (Haraway, 2016) and shows us that

[t]here are things to do, places to go, and people to see in reading and writing – and it’s about maybe even trying to figure out some kind of ethically responsible way to be in that world with other things. (Moten in Harney and Moten, 2013: 108).

Bibliographical Note

Lone Bertelsen works across the fields of social and feminist thought, photography, art and media studies, ecosophy and ‘activist philosophy’. Her writing has been published in The Affect Theory Reader, the Fibreculture Journal, Immediation: Art, Media, Event, Performance Paradigm, and Theory, Culture and Society. She is one of the editors of the Fibreculture Journal.


Support from the Canadian SSHRC Grant Immediations: Art, Media, Event was invaluable in the production of this special issue of the Fibreculture Journal.


[1] Where Fuller in part looks to Australia, Manning stays closer to the North American situation.


  • Haraway, Donna, J. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, Durham, London, 2016).
  • Harney, Stefano and Moten, Fred. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe, New York, Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013).
  • Desideri, Valentina and da Silva, Denise Ferreira. A Conversation between Valentina Desideri and Denise Ferreida da Silva, (self-published, handreadingstudio.org,
    2016), http://handreadingstudio.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/V-Dconversation.pdf
  • Moten, Fred. Stolen Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).
  • Moten, Fred and Tsang, Wu (with contributions by Denise Ferreira da Silva). ‘Who Touched Me?’ (If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, 2016).