Tah-dah! After months of being at large from this blog, I am very pleased to announce that I finally graduated!!
On December 3, 2010, I successfully defended my dissertation entitled “Improper Names: The Minor Politics of Collective Pseudonyms and Multiple-Use Names.” The dissertation committee was composed of Alexander Galloway (NYU), Allen Feldman (NYU), and McKenzie Wark (New School), whereas the outside readers were Gabriella Coleman (NYU) and Jodi Dean (William & Hobart Colleges).
The dissertation investigates the historic conditions of possibility for the emergence of the “improper name”—i.e., the adoption of the same alias by organized collectives, affinity groups, and scattered individuals. Bridging gaps between the history of the labor movement, the twentieth-century avant-gardes, and contemporary theories of immaterial labor, the research focuses on collective pseudonyms and “multiple-use names” which make their appearance in Europe and North America at three critical historic junctures: the Industrial Revolution, the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism, and the contemporary emergence of the network society.
By focusing on four different case studies—i.e., the pseudonyms shared by nineteenth-century English textile workers (Ned Ludd), Hollywood film directors (Alan Smithee), North American and European mail artists (Monty Cantsin and Karen Eliot) and Italian cultural activists (Luther Blissett)—I argue that improper names express new processes of subjectification emerging in times of crisis, when profound transformations in the socioeconomic realm enable new forms of political participation and aesthetic engagement. At the same time, the research shows how improper names are also productive of a crisis in the formation of modern subjectivity as either collective or individual.
On the one hand, improper names empower a subaltern social group by providing anonymity and a medium for mutual recognition to its users. By adopting the same alias subjects who do not have a voice of their own seek to acquire a symbolic power outside of official rites of institution and sanctioned organizations. On the other hand, the uncontrolled adoption of the same name by multiple individuals leads to the formation of singularities which are neither collective nor individual, but rather “co-dividual” or “trans-individual”—i.e., characterized by multiplicity and the proliferation of difference.
This process of subjectivation gives rise to what Nicholas Thoburn has described as a “minor politics”—a politics in which individual concerns are merged and resonate with the social forces in an ongoing, intensive exchange. By combining a genealogical research method with an interdisciplinary approach, the research examines the minor politics of improper names across different professional, social, and artistic milieus to suggest the emergence of a new event in the formation of modern subjectivity.