The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research does not espouse an official political ideology. We are a scholarly organization and house a wide variety of viewpoints. That said, speaking in my personal capacity as the Institute’s Founding Director, there is a type of critical politics that emerges from the work we do – which is often left-leaning – but is not explicitly partisan.
When we founded the Institute nearly 5 years ago, I chose to name us after the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. This was not because the small number of founding faculty were all deeply invested in the Frankfurt School (they weren’t), but because I hoped we could create a home for critical scholarship and education that honors the legacy of their work. It was also because I, personally, as a Jew and as a Leftist, have taken many Frankfurt School ideas to heart. I have always viewed one part of our Institute’s work as trying to rebuild a new, 21st century form of that efflorescence of intellectual and political work associated with the Frankfurt School – this time not only with Jews (assimilated, atheist, observant, and otherwise) and not only with men!
As such, it is impossible for me to teach Adorno’s rather convincing argument that conspiratorial thinking offers a foundation for fascism out of one side of my mouth while remaining silent about the spread of those ideas with the other. Anti-Semitism (alongside racism, misogyny, class power, and so on) is a pervasive phenomenon. In this year’s political cycle, we have seen it clearly with the rise of the so-called “alt-right” but also, less frequently, in the left too, as well as in mainstream liberal and conservative spaces.
Because BISR is a particularly – perhaps uniquely – flexible organization, we are able to act on our intellectual and political imperative to remove all of our programming from the Brooklyn Commons despite the significant logistical and financial challenges that this decision entails. But I feel we owe it to our students, faculty, staff, and friends to make this move. We look forward to bringing rigorous, scholarly engagement in the diverse areas in which we work to new spaces that better reflect these institutional values.
Ajay Singh Chaudhary, Executive Director
As an organization committed to scholarly rigor and critical dialogue, the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research is dismayed that The Brooklyn Commons proceeded with an event last night featuring Christopher Bollyn, a noted white nationalist, anti-Semite, and conspiracy theorist. It has become increasingly evident that our institutional mission does not align with that of The Brooklyn Commons, and we have made the decision to find alternate venues for all BISR programming going forward.
As scholars, we value the free and open exchange of ideas, and engage with individuals across a broad political spectrum. Yet given the nature of Mr. Bollyn’s highly specious arguments, we do not believe that the notion of free speech as a “marketplace of ideas” is reason enough to proceed with such events, nor that any productive exchange of ideas can actually occur in such settings. Commercial spaces are able to choose to whom they offer a platform; we regret that The Brooklyn Commons offered one to Mr. Bollyn.
Above all, our pre-eminent concern is always the safety and comfort of our students and faculty as we lower barriers for critical inquiry and learning. It is our opinion that a venue that hosts anti-Semites, white nationalists, and their friends not only has no place in progressive, left, or any spaces, but is also antithetical to any kind of pedagogically sound environment.
We look forward to welcoming new and returning students as our Fall Term begins.
As organizations that work out of the Brooklyn Commons, we reject the antisemitic politics of Christopher Bollyn. We do not have any say in event booking and management at the Commons but agree that such politics should have no place in leftist spaces.
Ajay Singh Chaudhary (Brooklyn Institute for Social Research)
Bhaskar Sunkara (Jacobin Magazine)
Michael Lardner (Marxist Education Project)
John Tarleton (The Indypendent)
Shatia Strother (FUREE)
Marie-Claire Picher (Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory)
Bill Koehnlein (Marxist Education Project; Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory)
James Dingeman (WBAI)
Right to the City Alliance
In the fourteenth episode of the Podcast for Social Research, Anjuli, Tony, and Ajay talk through the life, work, and legacy of Frantz Fanon, the Martiniquean psychiatrist and philosopher of decolonization who was also a veteran of World War II and an adherent of the Algerian revolution. This conversation takes up major texts in Fanon’s oeuvre (Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth) as well as profound theoretical controversies that radiate from them—idiocy, the literary dimensions of Fanon’s work, his strangeness of form and methodology, the psychological inflections of his writing, the political structure of states and colonies, the best footnote in all of twentieth-century philosophy, and particularly the nature and meaning of violence as praxis, “perfect mediation,” symbol, and atmosphere—violence as reason to despair—and as reason not to.
Tony’s note: Having mentioned the tragic strand that runs through The Wretched of the Earth—which comes out strongly, as we said, in the case studies at the end—it’s also important not to miss the utopian moment that begins and helps to frame the book. It comes through one of Fanon’s most cryptic sentences, on the second page of the book, where he is in the process of defining decolonization:
“Its definition can, if we want to describe it accurately, be summed up in the well-known words: ‘The last shall be first.’ Decolonization is verification of this. At a descriptive level, therefore, any decolonization is a success.”
“At a descriptive level…any decolonization is a success.” I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with this sentence. To some extent, I think, it simply sets out the distinction between true decolonization and, say, a struggle that merely sets out to achieve nominal political independence for the colony. To name the struggle as “decolonization” is to set a course for a much more transformative horizon, and to set out on a struggle that will have to continue into the “postcolonial,” post-independence moment: as he puts it in these opening pages, “Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is clearly an agenda for total disorder.”
But I think Fanon is also declaring the power of the descriptive level itself. There is a parallel here, I think, to the power of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. “Black lives matter” is a simple statement that contains the most transformative of effects. It functions, in Fanon’s terms, at the descriptive level, although what it describes is not the actual state of things—in a society where black people can be killed by the state with complete impunity, black lives are revealed not to “matter,” in the most literal sense, on a daily basis—but rather the reality that we need to create through anti-racist struggle.
Of course, #BlackLivesMatter is not merely about that one declarative statement; it names a movement that has, among other things, recently issued a powerful and practical platform for racial and economic justice. But thinking about the racist hysteria that has been provoked by the simple, descriptive statement “black lives matter,” the defensive (racist) insistence that “all lives matter” and “blue lives matter” and on and on, we get a sense of what Fanon means by the power of the descriptive level. The work of bringing to pass a world in which black lives truly matter remains to be done. But the statement “black lives matter” has already in and of itself created the “agenda for total disorder” that Fanon set out. It’s more important than ever not to lose this utopian frame that is always there in Fanon, even when he’s giving us the bad news about what lies in store during the next phase of the struggle.
Note on French: Anjuli uses the word “lutte,” which means “struggle” or “battle,” at the beginning, and the phrase “couteaux sanglants,” which means “bloody knives,” at the end.
Note on sound (Rebecca’s note): The punctum of this podcast occurs about thirty-six minutes in when a minor blip in the audio marks the passage of a dog drifting mournfully in and out of the room. Caveat audiens, cave canem.
Anthony C. Alessandrini, “New Texts Out Now: Frantz Fanon and the Future of Cultural Politics,” Jadaliyya (20 August 2014).
B.R. Ambedkar, The Annihilation of Caste
Hannah Arendt, “Reflections on Violence” in New York Review of Books (27 February 1969).
Judith Butler, “Violence, Non-Violence: Sartre on Fanon,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 27:1 (2006).
Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
—. “Algeria Unveiled” and “Algeria’s European Minority” in A Dying Colonialism
—. “The ‘North African Syndrome,’” “Letter to a Resident Minister,” and “French Intellectuals and Democrats and the Algerian Revolution,” in Towards the African Revolution
Elizabeth Frazer and Kimberly Hutchings, “” Contemporary Political Theory 7.1 (2008).
Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital
David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography
Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized
—.“The Impossible Life of Frantz Fanon,” trans. Thomas Cassirer and G. Michael Twomey, The Massachusetts Review 14.1 (Winter, 1973).
Edward Said: “Reflections on Exile” in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays
Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political
Ato Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience
Sepoy Mutiny (or Sepoy Rebellion or Indian Rebellion of 1857)
Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation” in The Vocation Lectures
Technical Details: Recorded in a Brooklyn apartment on August 3rd, 2016 with a Studio Projects B1, a Shure SM-58, a Shure VP64A, a SONY-PCM-M10, a Behringer mixer, several bottles of beer, and a depressive Shiba Inu. This episode of the Podcast for Social Research was edited by Susan Lee.
Dear Brooklyn Institute Supporters,
If you live in or around New York, Jersey City, or Philadelphia, sign-up for the the Brooklyn Institute mailing list by August 19 and you will be entered in our Summer Reads raffle. The winner will receive a Brooklyn Institute tote-bag with our selected BISR beach reads: Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations, Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 and Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother. Enter today!