2019-2020 seminar Stefano Harney: Modes of Study

Participating students in their first year: Anne Toth, Azul De Monte, Clara Winter, Gabriela Passos, Litchi Friedrich, Miguel Ferraez; and in their second year: Jose Iglesias Ga-Arenal, Giorgos Gripeos, Vita Buivid, Jiatu Gu, Lea Ruegg

About Stefano Harney

Modes of Study


 “What is the one thing you cannot do in a university?” Perhaps the correct answer is: “study.” But for that answer to be anything more than a critique of the university, or the academy, there had to be reason  one would want to study together, a reason good enough to provoke such regulation against the practice. So how could one begin, working especially with students, to outline what it might mean to study together. That work, the study of study, continues, and will be extended in this seminar Modes of Study. In order to think about study it is necessary to remain in some kind of on-going fugitive relationship to the place that both claims and prevents that practice, to reject its monopoly without presuming to have escaped its general form, since its general form is that of a capitalist institution, which is to say a machine for capitalist deinstitutionalization of what we create, what we institute, through study.    

But if one were to conclude that the academy’s ubiquity as a form of regulation made study impossible inside or outside the academy, to the extent such a distinction holds or is even desired by the academy, then one would have to explain the addendum to the answer we had to give ourselves some years ago: “yet somehow study happens.”  We knew this addendum was necessary first because there are people called students in the academy, and then more generally because once we began to study, we saw study everywhere, and that is of course the first objective of this current seminar – to place ourselves in mode of study that allows us to feel not only our own common efforts, but to feel those efforts around us.  The practice of study starts from the perspective that one cannot unlearn what one has been taught by oneself, but instead that we need each other to do this.  As we unlearn we can also help each resist the call to individuation that learning in our society makes so insistently.  With no knowledge to own one can begin to evict the owner.

Of course we must also address in this seminar the charge that study is a meek concept, and a quietist one at a time when the genocidal and geocidal effects of what our friend Denise Ferreira Da Silva has called “the lethal deployment of identity” demand action. But if it is the case that study appears passive in the face of our on-going catastrophe than one must also explain why when trying to study one is so quickly interdicted by injunctions to graduate, grade, assign, cite, and pay. It is for this reason that we want to consider also in this seminar a certain relation between study and debt, or what Fred and I have called “bad debt,” that is, the kind we want more of. This transvaluation of debt into the invaluable is at the same time a transubstantiation of us as our credit falls apart with our handshake and faith seizes to be a promise.

During this seminar we will explore some of the places and some of the ways that study happens and move far beyond the academy without in another sense leaving it at all.  Beginning with the extraordinary new work of Fumi Okiji on Theodor Adorno and jazz music we will ask about the relation between study and black study and between black study and black studies.  This first seminar will attune us to the blues universities we will encounter in the second seminar where Angela Davis’s work on feminism and the blues legacy will play for us alongside Clyde Wood’s studies in historical geography.  At that point we will be ready to confront the European thinkers on study, prepared to see what we can learn while being more aware of what they might need to teach themselves.  Study suggests a different relationship to the apprehension of learning, one that this not bound either to individual improvement or development.  Some of Agamben’s work on the inappropriable will therefore supplement what we may have already learned from Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday under Angela Davis’s tutelage. 

But study also lends itself and us to a different sense of the time we need and the space we need to conduct that study and to be with each other. To help us think about space and time and what it might mean to have it without permission but permissively we turn to Indigenous/Native thought in the superb poetry of Layli Long Soldier and in the work of Audra Simpson, Vine DeLoria, Jr. and others.  Here we will also pose the question of a relationship between blackness and indigeneity. Here we will also introduce the term poiesis to mark study, but we have in mind a kind of black poiesis that rather than making itself, unmakes itself, or revises, unforms its making. To make sense of this sense of a black poiesis we will ask for the help of the greatest living poet working in English, Nathaniel Mackey.  Studying with Mackey takes us to the end of these seminars, and a reflection on the concept of complicity with some help from Ximena Davila and Humberto Maturana to get us to think about study as a kind of militant conservation. In many instances we will only be able to read selections from the references listed week by week and clips from the films listed, but students should feel free to read beyond them, and to suggest connections with other works.


Seminar 1: Black Study

In our first meeting we will begin with the distinction between black study and black studies as a way to talk about study in historical terms.  As our main text we will read Fumi Okiji’s Jazz as Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited. This book provides us with an opportunity to consider the proximity of black study and black studies.  It also allows us to think of study through jazz and in relation to Okiji’s critique of Adorno’s critique of jazz.  Guided by Okiji we can consider the relationship between ensemble and soloist, teacher and student, study and revision, versions and covers, recordings and live music.  We will listen to some of her references.  If we can obtain it, we will watch Fire Music, directed by Tom Surgal.  Okiji and her playlist can help us feel the dimensions of a study that collects collectivity.

Readings & Screenings

Fumi Okiji, Jazz as Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018.

Eli Meyerhoff, Beyond Education: Radical Study for Another World, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, “Debt and Study,” in e-Flux 14, March 2010.

Tom Surgal, director, Fire Music, Submarine Entertainment, 2019 http://firemusic.org/


Seminar 2: Ignorant Study with Tim Edkins

There are a series of European thinkers with a more or less insufficient idea of study that nonetheless deserve our serious attention and we can learn from them.  But we can also bring Okiji, Davis, and Woods to help us with a critique of the their limits.  In this seminar we will be talking about Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Rancière in particular.  For this gathering we will have the benefit of Tim Edkins, a performance studies scholar, and frequent collaborator.  His work on Rancière helps us to see what is so important in his work, especially in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, parts of which we will read.  We will also look at selections of Agamben’s work on study, but also on the inappropriable where what he wants from study he actually comes close to finding in the inappropriable and at the same time he can not not try to own it as a scholar too.  Tim and I will discuss some of our experiences teaching together including with the collective School for Study.

Readings & Screenings

Giorgio Agamben, Creation and Anarchy: The Work of Art and the Religion of Capitalism, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019.

Tyson E. Lewis interview https://www.philosophy-of-education.org/publications/author-interview-tyson-lewis.html

Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.


Seminar 3: Blues Universities

We take our title for the second gathering on Modes of Study from the work of the late great Black geographer, Clyde Woods. His two major studies, Development Arrested: The Blues and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta and Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restoration in Post-Katrina New Orleans introduce us to a concept of study on the run, in the cut, after hours in undercommons.  We will carry the concept of the blues university and bring it with us to where it is already waiting in Angela Davis’s Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Here we will be able to ask about the relation of study to sexuality and blackness and the blues university as an insurgent form of anti-capitalist struggle. Though the contemporary academy has largely and globally been pacified, blues universities play otherwise and elsewhere.

Readings & Screenings

Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, New York: Vintage, 1999.

Clyde Woods, Development Arrested: The Blues and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta, London: Verso, 2007.

Clyde Woods, Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restoration in Post-Katrina New Orleans, Athens: University of Georgia, 2017.

John Sayles, director, Honeydripper, 2007.


Seminar 4: Poiesis of Study

This gathering for Modes of Study is going to begin with readings from the poet Layli Long Soldier, a poet from the Lakota people. Her work will allow us to ask a question we must on the relation between study, blackness, and indigeneity.  We will also read some selections from Indigenous/Native studies and some work on settler colonialism.  Amongst those scholars we will encounter in selections: Audra Simpson (Mohawk), Vine DeLoria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux) and Winona Duke (Ojibwe).  We will watch Your Way Back to Me and consider what it opens to us on love and sexuality, what lands we find ourselves in, and what violence the making of the world does to the earth.  We will also read the experimental epistolary novel by Nathaniel Mackey.  This three-part novel is, amongst many things, a portrait of musicians studying together.  And at the same time this togetherness is not interpersonal” but rather something like what Edouard Glissant might call a poetics of relation in the chaos of the tout monde.  We will read selections from Glissant and watch the film scholar Manthia Diawara’s documentary on Glissant.  How is study a case, as Glissant would say, of relations relating?  Mackey’s amazing novel, and a few of his poems alongside, will give us a chance to think about this poiesis of study.

Readings & Screenings

Layli Long Soldier, Whereas, Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2017.

Alexandra Dietz, director, Your Way Back to Me, https://vimeo.com/218698526.

Manthia Diawara, director, Edouard Glissant: One World in Relation, 2009.

Edouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1997.

Nathaniel Mackey, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, New York: New Directions, 2010.


Seminar 5: Complicit Study with Valentina Desideri

With a long-time collaborator and friend, Valentina Desideri, we bring the seminars to a close with a consideration of complicity” and its relation to study.  First discussing some of my influences including Gustavo Esteva, Manolo Callahan, and Paolo Friere, we will then invite Valentina for a conversation with us concerning the partnership of Ximena Davila and Humberto Maturana and their thinking on education.  We will also introduce our new work together on fermentation and study.

Readings & Screenings

Valentina Desideri and Stefano Harney “Conspiracy without a plot” in Jean-Paul Martinon, ed., The Curatorial: A Philosophy of Curating, London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Ximena Davila and Humberto Maturana, Video Interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtEgtmo42Ls&list=PL6D0DC2BCE841549B

Gustavo Esteva, ‘Revolution of the New Commons’ http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/global/gest_int_4.html

George C. Stoney, director, Paolo Friere at Highlander, a conversation with Myles Horton, 2010.