The first incarnation of Against Value as a theoretical counter to the evidently held but often strategically veiled values of the neoconservative economy, and, equally, to the defence of values of the arts and humanities either assumed to contest those dominating values, or in point of fact to provide another market for their expansion, was held after an event at the University of Sheffield entitled The Value of the Arts and Humanities. The real genesis of Against Value of course needs to be attributed to the accumulation of what filmmaker Ken Jacobs concedes as “social disgust and anger that I have cultivated, refined, monumentalized, and I am gagging on”, amidst the myriad major and minor humiliations, barbarisms and miseries evident in the contemporary moment, but to take us to that specific example first of all, the University of Sheffield event was curated no doubt sincerely and with the best of intentions as an act of reassurance as much as a contribution to ‘public’ debate that already took it as read for the necessity for the arts and humanities to have to justify themselves amidst a landscape in education becoming more precarious as a result of the shift of higher education institutions from the “Department for Education” into the portfolio of the government “Department for Business, Innovation & Skills”, the deletion of any injunction to include the concern for public goods in and by the Browne review and its enactment by the government of the time which exacerbated the logic of fees introduced by their predecessors.
It was impossible, however, to support the defences to which the panel found recourse during that event. The majority offered instrumentalized arguments, and others sweeping civilizational claims for the moral good of the arts. The implicit convictions about the nature of the arts, or the possibilities for pedagogy in the arts and humanities, ceded all the ground to the framing of the debate by the dominant culture, and asked for little in return. In her essay “The Crisis of Education,” Hannah Arendt understands the double threat of “crisis”, both its immanent danger and the crisis as an opportunity for exploitation, writing:
A crisis forces us back to the questions themselves and requires from us either new or old answers, but in any case direct judgments. A crisis becomes a disaster only when we respond to it with preformed judgments, that is, with prejudices. Such an attitude not only sharpens the crisis but makes us forfeit the experience of reality and the opportunity for reflection it provides.
It is clear that recent crises have been met more forcefully by the “preformed judgments” of neoconservatism, than with a renewed appetite to reflect on reality. The “Value of the Arts and Humanities” event took place (and the disenchanted symbolism is a little overbearing), in a deconsecrated church in Sheffield. The scene reminded me of Town Bloody Hall (1979), D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary film of the public debate held on April 30th, 1971 in New York City’s Town Hall in which we witness a crisis in theatrical miniature. The panel brought together to discuss women’s liberation by Shirley Broughton as part of the “Theater For Ideas” series were all women, namely Germaine Greer, Diana Trilling, Jacqueline Ceballos, and Jill Johnston, though the event was chaired by Norman Mailer who had recently penned The Prisoner of Sex (1971).
Each panelist was to speak for fifteen minutes, before a debate. Jill Johnston, an independent scholar of dance and later art, a political activist and co-founder of the inspirational Lesbian Nation in 1973, gave a speech clearly influenced by the recursive play of “Mama Dada” herself Gertrude Stein. It proclaims a radical lesbian politics against the heterosexual misogyny of its times and, it has to be said, against the misogyny apparent in aspects of the gay male scene in New York which had, itself, become more openly radical during the 1960s, leading most famously to the Stonewall Riots of 1969. The performance by Johnston is raucous and hilarious, and is brought summarily to an end by Mailer who announces that her time is up (not true, as it happens, since she had not yet been speaking for the fifteen minutes allotted). An incredibly tense stand-off ensues, during which Mailer attempts to reclaim the podium from Johnston, Johnston remains standing, challenging Mailer yet also visibly nervously engaged in the crisis of defiance of an all too literal figure of swaggering patriarchy. The stand-off continues and the audience appears split between enthusiastic supporters of Johnston encouraging her to continue, and elements of a clearly incensed conservative crowd angrily waiting for the rule of law to be reinstated. Johnston is joined on stage by several women whom she proceeds to playfully kiss and fall about with. Gradually a kind of panic grows in Mailer, leading him to more and more vituperative outbursts (Mailer: “now you can play these games, but they’re silly[...] come on Jill, be a lady”), and to an increase in the violence of his rhetoric (Mailer to a member of the audience asking whether he’s afraid of finding “a woman he can’t fuck” replies ‘hey cunty, I’ve been threatened all my life, so take it easy”). He chooses to put the resolution of the crisis up for democratic vote, symbolically announcing himself the arbiter of the crowd’s decision as to whether or not Johnston should conclude her presentation (“we’ll take a vote, but I’m going to do the counting”). After cheers for her to continue, and cheers for her to desist, Mailer decides in favour of those who wish her to leave the podium. The energy of the moment is palpable, and what can be felt in the anger of the crowd is the desire for a radical alteration of the gender politics of society in the widest sense of that claim, and at one and the same time the fear and loathing against such change from more traditional spectators (both men and women), all made more compelling by the ludic, carnivalesque sense of pleasure and desire in the room. It is this evident pleasure born of rage which most appears to unsettle Mailer, whose own humour becomes more vicious. The anger is the challenge of the moment, and the pleasure is part of a strategic threat since it evacuates the possibility of the masculinist and heterosexual restitution that requires both the violence of the rhetoric and the authority claimed by the violence of sexual oppression. That is, more simply, force will not be sufficient to reconcile the situation; Mailer needs force to be allied to a prospect of (his) sexual violence not being impotent. Pleasure independent of masculinity makes his impotence, his emasculation, insufferable.
However, the game of democracy having been concluded, Johnston eventually cedes the podium and the microphone and brilliantly chooses to cede the stage too. That is, by giving up the stage and its debate to Mailer, rather than acquiescing and returning to it, Johnston undermines the authority of his position, and undermines the authority of the need to debate female desire from within a masculinist framework. Passion and pleasure will be had obscenely off-stage. The only obscenity that cannot be recuperated by the values implicit in the stage (as Johnston falls to the floor with her paramours, Mailer remarks that “it’s great that you pay twenty five bucks to see three dirty overalls roll around on the floor when you can see lots of cock and cunt for four dollars just down the street”) is that which occurs out of sight.
My simple point is that the counter-arguments presented (most sharply by Greer) were vital, that each time a misogynistic line of thinking or an aside that assumed the same was presented its quick attack was necessary and remains so; each refutation, however, existed within the argument legitimated by the owner of the discourse, in this case ably allegorized by Mailer and his three phallic props: the stage, the podium and the microphone. It was Jill Johnston’s speech with its looping, recursive structure, its giddiness, her refusal to cede the microphone, her improvisational indecision, and finally her exit from the stage that threatened the privilege of authority to the core. In other words, Mailer held the debate within the values of his authority, located it on his stage, with his podium, and his microphone. Those values might be contested, but they were arbitrated by him. Johnston’s performance played out the irrepressibility of desire as a tactical bathos of the pomposity conservative value requires to be upheld. You can see the recognition dawn on Mailer’s face that his authority was held up by the most fragile of edifices. Of course, male power constantly innovates and acts with real and discursive violence to maintain its dominance, but just for a moment he could see the whole house of cards for what it was, and looked timid, a timidity raised up into the increasing hectoring and vitriol of his performance.
Against Value seeks a genealogy of value to demonstrate the egregious way in which a rhetoric of “values” can be used, but also seeks to undermine the authority of the holders of the power of value, to be both against the particularities of the use and abuse of value, and against the implicit framing values of the stage, the podium and the microphone.
It is worth emphasizing from the beginning that putting forth an argument against value does not discount the rationale for instrumentalized justifications for the arts, even on, or especially on, economic terms. There is evidence the arts treated as investment on a local and national scale yield higher financial returns than they do costs (as is the case for “investment” in higher education whilst the risk of that investment was held by the state), and in some ways ruthless economic arguments might be the only ones capable in today’s climate of speaking truth to power; it seems likely that the arts can be of practical benefit, and cost effective, in areas of the health service and with mental health provisions; enfranchisement of various kinds might well be effected by arts policy, though the structural causes of disenfranchisement less so. The argument set out here is rather that the arts offer no panacea for the ills of civilization, and indeed are part of its sickness, that the arts are likely damaged by their auditing for the purpose of ethical and/or aesthetic value, and that the dissent of which artworks are capable should not be complicit in the government agenda of its time. Simply put, it is a problem when art is utilized as a form of redemption for forms of damage elsewhere in society.
 See www.independent.gov.uk/browne-report (2010). There’s plenty of material on this situation by now, including Sheldon Rothblatt, The Modern University and its Discontents: The Fate of Newman’s Legacies in Britain and America (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997); Christopher Newfield, Unmaking the Public University: the Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008); Stefan Collini, What Are Universities For? (London: Penguin, 2012); Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1996); Sarah Amsler, “Beyond All Reason: Spaces of Hope in the Struggle for England’s Universities,” Representations 116 (Fall 2011), 62-87.
 Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Education,” in Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), 174-5.
 See Jill Johnston, Secret Lives in Art: Essays on Art, Literature, Performance (Chicago: A Capella Books, 1994); Admission Accomplished: The Lesbian Nation Years, 1970-1975 (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1998).
 See Martin B. Duberman, Stonewall (New York: Plume 1994).
 The structure of the scene in Town Bloody Hall is much like that described by Jacques Rancière in his notion of dissensus, to which I will return.
 See, for example, the account of long-term relationship between arts participation and health, which has been funded by the AHRCs Cultural Value Project, being developed by the primary investigator Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt and hosted at http://longitudinalhealthbenefits.wordpress.com/ [accessed 27th June 2014].