Reading in modernity as opposed to storytelling was conceived as a practice one does individually with the text. The Gutenberg printing press invented in the late middle ages was the result of the entrepreneurial mode of the early capitalist period. It spread and democratized the act of reading but also contributed to its individualization. Today, we do not even realize that the format of the book, the newspaper or the screen is geared to produce and accommodate the individual reader.
The model of knowledge transfer in western public school systems aims to produce individual knowledge producers and carriers continuously tasking, testing and rewarding the individual from elementary school to the postgraduate level in the pursuit of individual excellence. A capitalist, meritocratic ideology produced a rigid system of degrees and levels of expertise in which knowledge is compartmentalized in access to it, in its use and production as well as the privilege to speak in its name. This in order to be able to systematize and quantify knowledge and make it “workable” i.e. put a price on it.
The history of any field today is mostly taught as a succession of personalities – researchers, inventors, authors, artists, philosophers, etc. although we know for many years already that any research, knowledge and invention builds on the work, experience and knowledge of many people prior and contemporaneous to the denoted inventor. The “new” research and management methodologies built of teamwork have only proven to be a continuum of the same individualistic system emphasizing that a team is a collection of star individuals and team leaders rather than emphasizing the added value of togetherness. On the way it produced a whole industry of teambuilding and the production of team leaders for the benefit of corporate loyalty and servility.
This ideology not only regulates who can read and in what circumstances but also what is read. Certain knowledge is not allowed into the curriculum or is stripped of its political significance by objectifying it into an object of research. Ex-katedra reading groups are often self-organized groups of people seeking answers to questions not addressed or discredited by the mainstream ideological narrative. Critical of this narrative, they approach marginalized knowledge to seek these answers, turning to each other in an attempt to understand and articulate together.
It is very hard to assign concrete results for such reading groups in general and in particular on the ones that lasts for such a long time such as the one we are presenting here that stretched in 2017. However, one can allude to activities that were influenced by them. Concretely, in our group, due the different material conditions in which the readers often experience, the manifestation of the influence of the common experience varies from the exhibition we are presenting to the creation of a social center in Belgrade.
Reading Together is a collection of thoughts, ideas, experiences that have been collectively experienced and individually shared. Trying to answer questions that arose in the practice of reading together and built around the concept of collective building of theoretical knowledge, our aim was to create, first of all, a fragmented documentary of this activity in Romania, as well as in Serbia, in the past 10 years. Without the claim to have it covered in a systematic or even chronological manner that would maybe have been more suitable for this kind of endeavor, we believe that we slowly opened the possibility for such developments.
Laura Sandu, Nebojša Milikić, Saša Perić, Ovidiu Pop, Emil Vasilache and Valentin Cernat are the first – from a much longer and always to remain an incomplete list – colleagues that accepted our invitation to talk about the whens, whats, hows and whys of reading together. The process of researching and convincing our colleagues to participate was built up on the run and eventually led to the decision to also include an interview among each other, in an attempt to start a process of reflection on a collaboration that started in 2017 and slowly became an open ended process, or an activity without an end at all.
The interviews and conversations are accompanied by a series of drawings that have been made in direct connection with the collective readings in the frame of the current project, since these readings were the ones to trigger other kinds of processing knowledge and of visual expression, in a much aimed and unexpected process for political emancipation.
Noa Treister, Livia Pancu & Florin Bobu