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⟪Open Methods⟫
by Hypatia Vourloumis

There can be no guarantee to learning because what is assumed to be a subject, or Practice of learning is never a given. If one is to take study seriously then one has to take seriously that all those involved bring forth and engage in learning methods that are distinctive and unrepeatable in their experiential development and performance. The denial and delimitation of knowledge’s constant movements (in mind and body) by discursive acts and institutions of canonical learning guarantee no learning of substance. The questions then become: what do we desire to learn together? And how is the “what” informed by the how, in other words, the methods of study?

To be clear, when I speak of study, I do not mean an activity happening merely in institutionalized educational frameworks, (I follow Stefano Harney and Fred Moten here who assert that the last thing we can do in the university is study) 1 , but rather the study already taking place in all contested spaces of living labor, across different physical sites, landscapes, myriad aesthetic and theoretical manifestations, social and cultural struggles and celebrations. Thus, perhaps an approach for collective study can be: the world is not a guarantee because what is assumed to be a world is never a given.

As a perpetual student, I take seriously that the world is not a given, that the ways in which it is given can radically change, and that such change happens through study. As David Graeber puts it: “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.” 2 The methods and subjects of this making must themselves always remain open to change, to surprise, to the unexpected, to their own disappearance in light of the emergence of changing appearances. To put it simply, study as making is improvisation, where collective learning is an experience of struggle and experimentation, and where improvisation is not understood as facile and presupposed freedom, but a constant negotiation with constraint as Danielle Goldman argues. 3

This practice of improvisation within constraint is an open method. It entails acute responsiveness to shifting difference, while at the same time, an attunement to radical connectivity. It takes the materialization of aesthetic and social chance encounters, serendipities, synchronicities very seriously precisely because they nebulously exceed and recalibrate the given. It entails an attending to ongoing conversations that are already taking place before any physical encounter with others in a shared space. And it veers off course according to emergent constraint, conflict, disagreement and the constant changing of minds, embodiments, spaces and movements. This open method for study transpires and unfolds if participants willingly agree to embark on it together, not as a concession to a predetermined majority or authority, but because the open method is relevant to their singular and collective histories, experiences and ongoing practices of learning. Here, there can be no fixed agendas, the fulfilling of a set program, a using of others for a specific aim.

Study is a means without end. The open method is unteachable. What we always have at hand is how we make and do study together: a staying with materials and methods, a staying in performance as process. To stay in the means is to be open to methodological changes and unknown paths. The possibilities of such risk taking are potentially infinite, and can entail everything from magical happenstance to spectacular failure. The learning of being together, and how we’ve always already been together, is study’s entangled means and end. For this being together to unfold, the prerequisites are not knowledge and expertise but the wisdoms of intuitive courage, generosity, listening, trust, imagination and “the genius of care” as Wilson Harris writes in The Infinite Rehearsal. Study is an infinite rehearsal irreconcilable with indifference, and where the collective self is constant rehearsal.

Open methods do draw clear lines: if someone’s existence requires and depends upon the oppression of another’s, the ongoing violence of knowledges’ material borders and enclosures is the only brutal guarantee.

To learn is to love learning. One can only learn if one loves to learn how to lose a fixed self. To love learning is to acknowledge difference valued outside of demands for transparent enclosure, exegesis and evaluation. Political analyses of historical and current geographically differential and interlocked intersections of economic power and social injustice are imperative, and require studious mapping, problematizing, tracing and conveying. We must continue to read as much as possible, conceptualize, critique, resist. We must always question thought itself as something given. Yet, solidarity is not something taught. We can learn how to be in solidarity but not what solidarity is, or what it feels like. The open method is the art of carrying. To feel around in the dark together.

1 See The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (NY: Autonomedia/Minor Compositions, 2013).

2 See The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (London: Melville House,2015), 89.

3 See I Want to Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,2010).