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Coming Into Badness: Bad Subjects Everywhere

The normalizing forces of ideology are most successfully and succinctly at work in our daily cultural practices.
Carlos F. Camargo and Jillian Sandell, Issue Editors

Issue #12, March 1994

In the first issue of Bad Subjects, published way back in September 1992, the editors defined a 'bad subject' as someone 'unafraid to imagine what it would mean to participate in a utopian community in which freedom does not mean anarchy and structure does not mean domination.' Helping to build this new socialist hegemony is the stated goal of many Berkeley bad subjects. Twelve issues later the Bad Subjects Collective remains committed to the project of providing a forum in which such utopian visions might be articulated, explored and examined, and providing it specifically as a forum for the politics of everyday life. In part, our project is to point out, examine, and challenge ourselves and others at the level of everyday experience. Our investment in examining the everyday stems from our realization that the normalizing forces of ideology are most successfully and succinctly at work in our daily cultural practices, from the cup of coffee we start the morning with, to the bedsheet we use to tuck ourselves in at night. The 'natural' and 'common-sensical' veneer of our everyday lives confers a certain invisibility and transparency to the ideological forces of capitalist socio-economic structures which overdetermine and saturate our living spaces, both psychic and social. Recognizing these dynamics, bad subjects attempt to intervene discursively and practically at the level of the local, the material and the everyday to educate ourselves about the political consequences of our choices and actions.

For many of us at Bad Subjects, the publication has become our means of intervening in and challenging the social and intellectual pieties of both the academy and our immediate social environment, in order to help begin the task of restructuring, rethinking and, more importantly, changing the world around us. The collective nature of our enterprise is rewarding, challenging and inspiring; it bespeaks the possibility of making a difference not only in the realm of ideas, but also social action. Our efforts prove that principled and committed progressive work is indeed possible, even if we don't always live up to our expectations and goals. Our commitment and willingness to engage one another honestly and critically are what make our endeavor possible. We don't always agree on everything, or even most things 'bad', but wherever possible we opt for negotiation and consensus to move our collective work along. Nevertheless, the distinguishing feature of our badness involves our recognition for the need and desire to work together with others collectively, and thus, members of the editorial collective participate in all aspects of the planning, production and distribution of our publication.

For the most part this type of work had taken place among members of the collective on the Berkeley campus; but now with the presence of Bad Subjects Online Services, the nature and scope of our collective work needs to be reevaluated and recalibrated to incorporate the energies and ideas of those internauts and fellow cyberheads who share our vision and desire for a better world along the lines set forth in 'A Manifesto for Bad Subjects' (which appeared in issue #7). The emergence of this new virtual community (via an electronic mailing list) has been a source of both excitement and inspiration for local bad subjects. And the discovery of fellow bad subjects everywhere from Antarctica to Moscow has moved us to extend an invitation to all our readers, virtual and real, to join us in the planning, production and distribution of Bad Subjects. We'd like to invite all of you to join us.

If you have ever enjoyed reading Bad Subjects and been glad it was there for you, then come serve with us. Bad Subjects is now at a really exciting stage. We know it is being read online in such places as Russia, New Zealand, Norway, and most of North America, and hard copies are read across the U.S. It has been taught in part or in toto at a number of universities; articles published in Bad Subjects have been solicited for conferences; and Internet technology has made it available world-wide. In short, in the last couple of months there has been an explosion of interest in Bad Subjects, so to become involved now would mean helping to define and redefine an exciting and innovative publication that is simultaneously utilizing and becoming a burgeoning node on the nascent information superhighway.

Because of the interactive and collegial nature of our exchanges online, the Bad Subjects Mailing List helps break down the binary distinctions between producers and consumers nominally inherent in the roles we assume as contributors and readers of both the hardcopy and virtual versions of the publication. Threads on the mailing list typically develop in the same way that discussions (or better yet conversations) between two or more interlocutors might, if all individuals were in one room. The mailing list functions as a virtual meeting house where bad subjects can come together to engage one another in spirited debate and cultural critique. New knowledge and understanding become possible in the interstices of thought and action made possible through computer-mediated dialogue. While the contributions to the list come from individuals hooked up to mainframes all over the world, the sum total of the threads generated by online participants evince the marks of collective thinking in action, since the logic of the discussion-threads requires that participants respond and engage previous interlocutors in order to keep the ebb and flow of discussion going. In other words, dialectical thinking is encouraged and fostered by the dialogue-driven nature of the electronic missives we respond to.

Yet lest we make all this technological and organizational progress seem uncritically celebratory or optimistic, we should point out that while utopian potential does reside in Internet technology and Bad Subjects' online presence, there are also limitations and constraints, not only on individual human capital and energy, but also on the efficacy of such political interventions that arise from the nature of access and use of the Internet. For starters, unfortunately not everyone has access to the computer literacy, competence or technology needed to make use of the Internet. Most of us have access to the Net through our job sites and schools, locales which may or may not impose restrictions on the time available for surfing the Net and/or limit the types of materials available to us through it via content and platform restrictions set by local system operators.

Not only are issues of access important to consider with respect to this emergent technology, but we also need to remember that the dispersed nature of the Internet community can generate its own particular problems and possibilities. There is thus a danger in failing to distinguish between the feeling of community Internet technology creates and the ability to make productive use of that community. Thus, while the kinds of action available to us on the Net begin in the realm of ideas, they nevertheless represent a first step toward collectively changing our material reality. As Marx reminds us, 'philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it'. The dissociation between the things we talk and write about, and the kinds of changes we want to enact in the world, is something we at Bad Subjects challenge and engage by integrating ideas and action in the collective production of this publication.

While much has been accomplished by the Bad Subjects Collective, more could still be done with the help of others. Action and change require commitment and a general willingness on the part of individuals to work collaboratively and collectively, as the articles in this issue demonstrate. This issue features articles and a cartoon written by people from both the Bad Subjects collective and the Bad Subjects mailing list. While the articles are thematically varied, the writers nevertheless all have in common their affiliation with Bad Subjects. We now invite you to come serve with us!

Carlos F. Camargo is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective. He is a doctoral candidate in English at UC-Berkeley writing his dissertation on U.S. immigrant autobiography. He can be reached at the following internet address:

Jillian Sandell is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective. She is a graduate of the Australian National University and is currently employed as a reader in the films studies program at UC-Berkeley. She can be reached at the following Internet address:

Copyright © 1994 by Carlos F. Camargo and Jillian Sandell. All rights reserved.