2019-2020 seminar Amit S. Rai and Stefano Harney: Modes of Study

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

About Amit S. Rai

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 (November) in Nieuwvliet

Black Study with Stefano Harney

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 (January) in Epen

Ignorant Study with Amit S. Rai

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 + 4 (March) online in Tunis

Blues Universities with Stefano Harney

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 5 (May) online

Debt, Temporality, Race, Gender with Amit S. Rai

May 7 & 8, 2020

“They say we have too much debt. We need better credit, more credit, less spending. They offer us credit repair, credit counseling, microcredit, personal financial planning. They promise to match credit and debt again, debt and credit. But our debts stay bad. We keep buying another song, another round. It is not credit we seek nor even debt but bad debt which is to say real debt, the debt that cannot be repaid, the debt at a distance, the debt without creditor, the black debt, the queer debt, the criminal debt. Excessive debt, incalculable debt, debt for no reason, debt broken from credit, debt as its own principle….Once you start to see bad debt, you start to see it everywhere, hear it everywhere, feel it everywhere. This is the real crisis for credit, its real crisis of accumulation. Now debt begins to accumulate without it. That’s what makes it so bad. We saw it in a step yesterday, some hips, a smile, the way a hand moved. We heard it in a break, a cut, a lilt, the way the words leapt. We felt it in the way someone saves the best stuff just to give it to you and then its gone, given, a debt. They don’t want nothing. You have got to accept it, you have got to accept that. You’re in debt but you can’t give credit because they won’t hold it. Then the phone rings. It’s the creditors. Credit keeps track. Debt forgets. You’re not home, you’re not you, you moved without a forwarding address called refuge.” (Harney and Moten, The Undercommons)

This seminar moves with the conversations that students have begun with Stefano Harney. In this seminar we will consider the relationship of biopolitics to debt, temporality, race, and gender. We know that in the global north, it has been people of color that have disproportionately suffered and died from the Covid-19 virus; we know as well that when capital goes through its structural crises, economic “hardship” affects working class women and people of color with particular ferocity. Who will account for this debt”? What is the time of debt, of the subject-of-debt? What can dismantle its machinery, its technologies of capture and its algorithms of control? Can we refuse” (Tronti) or forget” (Harney and Moten) this debt? Beginning with the overlapping problems of biopolitics and neoliberalism, we will consider reactionary and revolutionary transformations and transvaluations of race and gender in the current moment of racial capitalism’s terminal crisis.


Foucault, M., Davidson, A. I., & Burchell, G. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979. London: Palgrave, 2008. Please read Lectures 1, 8, 9, 11, 12

Chakravartty, P., & Da Silva, Denise Ferrara. (2012). Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism—An Introduction. American Quarterly 64, nr. 3 (2012): 361-385.

Smith, S., & Vasudevan, P. (2017). Race, Biopolitics, and the Future: Introduction to the Special Section. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 35, nr. 2 (2017): 210-221.

Harker, C. Debt Space: Topologies, Ecologies and Ramallah, Palestine. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 35, nr. 4 (2017): 600-619.


Black, Stephanie. Life and Debt (2001): https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0284262/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Loach, Ken and Laura Obiols. I, Daniel Blake (2016): https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5168192/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Riley, Boots. Sorry to Bother You (2018): https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5688932/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1a

Newsreel Collective. Divide and Rule: Never! (1978): https://www.archivesforeducation.com/films#/divideandrulenever/


Seminar 6 (June) online

Can the Subaltern Speak? with Amit S. Rai

June 8 & 9, 2020

“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.” (Stefano Harney)

In our last seminar we will continue to consider the space-times of neoliberal debt (how does a broke Black “badass” make a revolutionary film?), the strategic cultivation of normalised human capital (intersectionality as a refusal of and exit from the regime of the White Sovereign Subject), the ongoing dispossession of surplus populations through new regimes of “primitive accumulation” (an indigenous peoples army for radical justice and thoroughgoing equality: the EZLN; the open secret in the village of Mirya) and the immense and immeasurable potentiality of a people’s decolonising becoming (Guinea Bissau, and the anti-colonial/imperialist movement against the Portuguese, led by Amilcar Cabral). What will these “examples” have been a demonstration or theorisation of? Why is this a poorly posed question? If post-colonial theory and Black radical study have a common lineage in and beyond Western Marxism, if that legacy has a genealogy of struggle linking the overthrow of colonial slavery (1807) to the moment of Asian, Caribbean, and African decolonisation (c. 1945-1975) to the intersectional feminist critique of violence against women of color and indigenous women (1980-present), if these shared and contested histories of struggle are among today’s critical starting points for a renewed politics of solidarity, what methods of collective experimentation in organisation and material assemblages of desire can enliven this potential politics? Can the subaltern organise?


Crenshaw, K. “Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color.” Stanford Law Review 43, nr. 6, (1991) 1241–99.

        Suggested: Carbado, D. W., Crenshaw, K. W., Mays, V. M., & Tomlinson, B. "Intersectionality: Mapping the Movements      of a Theory.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 10, nr. 2 (2013): 303-312.

Spivak, G. C. “Strategy, Identity, Writing” (pg. 35) and “The Problem of Cultural Selfrepresentation” (pg. 50) in The Post-colonial Critic. New York: Routledge, 1990.

        Suggested: Mohanty, C. T. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Boundary 2, (1984): 333-358.

Okoth, K. O. “The Flatness of Blackness: Afro-Pessimism and the Erasure of Anti-Colonial Thought,” Salvage 7: Towards the Proletarocene, (Autumn/Winter 2019). available at: https://libcom.org/library/flatness-blackness-afro-pessimism-erasure-anti-colonial-thought

        Suggested: Moten, F. “The case of blackness." Criticism 50, nr. 2 (2008): 177-218.

Deleuze, G. (1997). “To Have Done With Judgment.” Essays Critical and Clinical, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997,126-135.

       Suggested: Artaud, A. “To Have Done with the Judgement of God, a radio play.” (1947).

Selections from:

Marcos, S. Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.

       Suggested: Tormey, S. “‘Not in my name’: Deleuze, Zapatismo and the Critique of

Representation.” Parliamentary Affairs 59, nr. 1 (2006): 138-154.

       Cabral, A. Unity and Struggle: Speeches and Writings of Amilcar Cabral. New York: NYU Press, 1979).



Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067810/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0.

How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass (2003), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0367790/?ref_=nm_knf_i2.

Many Months in Mirya (2016): a documentation, which forms at once, a record of a village in India and also a deeply personal narrative about it. It is a chronicle of the time the filmmaker spent in a village on the western coast of India.

Part 1: https://vimeo.com/213975908

Part 2: https://vimeo.com/214165526

Part 3: https://vimeo.com/215155592

Part 4: https://vimeo.com/216833600

London (1994), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110377/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_4.