A Calmac ferry sailing into the Ullapool harbour, with mountains and blue skies behind. Photo by Blaire Squiscoll.
ULLAPOOLISM, as expounded in our article “The Epistemology of Ulapoolism: Making Mischief from within Contemporary Book Cultures” (2020), is a conceptual and activist art practice we developed to enliven our objects of study. Thus far, these objects have included book festivals, the Frankfurter Buchmesse, and the work practices of the publishing industry; our methods of analysis have included designing board games, distributing fortune-telling fish, and the penning of a pseudonymous comic erotic thriller, Blaire Squiscoll’s The Frankfurt Kabuff (2019). The following MANIFESTO unfolds our thinking in declamatory style. For further detail on the development of ULLAPOOLISM and our ULLAWRITINGS, please go to the ULLASITE.
OPENING STATEMENT OF THE ULLAPOOLISM MANIFESTO
We are the co-founders of ULLAPOOLISM, a conceptual school inspired by a trip to the town of Ullapool in the north-west of Scotland. ULLAPOOLISM foregrounds playful, material and arts-informed research, and the ULLAPOOLISM MANIFESTO is a central tool in the construction, articulation, and dissemination of the Ullapoolist research agenda. This MANIFESTO was developed to guide our own practice as researchers of contemporary book cultures, but has wider applicability to those seeking to understand and intervene in culture more broadly. Our MANIFESTO is designed to fuel discontent and discomfort, to amuse and entertain, but also to unite a critical and creative movement. We want the MANIFESTO to be shared, used, debated, and even rejected.
In adopting the genre of the MANIFESTO, we urge an activist, interventionist engagement with creative economies and the scholarship relating to them. The eleven principles of the MANIFESTO, with their accompanying SLOGANS to be spread by every means, together propose a research program with the potential to reinvigorate exhausted modes of critique and to generate more just contemporary cultures.
We are guided by the following principles.
2. Amateurism Rapidism
5. The Predicament
6. Forced Sociality
8. Oh Look, A Ferry
11. Scholarly Direct Action
THE ELABORATION OF THE ULLAPOOLISM MANIFESTO
‘In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun,’ sings Mary Poppins. All Ullapoolist work has an element of fun. Our first project was Bookfestivalopoly, a board game about writers’ festivals. We have turned conference papers into parlour games, flown paper planes to Frankfurt, and spun a roulette wheel to determine the order of writing this MANIFESTO. What is the point of life, if not to enjoy it (without doing harm, of course)? What is more, fun opens doors to new scenarios and ways of thinking. The first principle of ULLAPOOLISM, therefore, is PLAYFULISM.
PLAYFULISM is creative approaches, sideways thinking, craft, and enjoyment, brought to scholarly and artistic endeavour. We believe that play is emancipatory, and enables critical thinking. PLAYFULISM is cutting and sticking, string and paper, making, doing, and moving. Thinking is freed by a playfulist approach.
Books and book events are often fun, even carnivalesque. But work is serious, life is serious, cultural production and consumption is serious. PLAYFULISM is best thought of as Serious Fun.
PLAYFULISM is also not co-optable. We are against gamification, and the funning of the workplace as a neoliberal activity. We recognise that play is more accessible from positions of power and privilege. It is imperative to bring to PLAYFULISM other elements of the MANIFESTO, including SATIRE, EPISTEMOLOGICALISM and SCHOLARLY DIRECT ACTION, in order to sidestep any trap that fun sets for us.
2! Amateurism Rapidism
Not everything has to take a long time.
We celebrate the quick and the messy. We celebrate not being very good at things, not taking time, not polishing. Fast, imperfect work can contain truth and insight. A professional version can come later, or not.
We use cheap tools and found objects. We slap together algorithms (the Decide-o-Bot), paper dolls of book festival attendees, cardboard models of book fairs and social network graphs made of string and thumb tacks. We scrawl, daub, and rip.
Scholarship can be accomplished in 11-minute bursts. We dispute the idea that reflection should happen in an orderly manner in accordance with institutional rhythms and commercial timelines. Slow scholarship is often reserved for the privileged. Fast scholarship is powerful. Slow Slow Quick Quick Slow.
The first draft is a publication. Articles can be written in a day, or a week, and distributed right away.
We reject the demands of beauty and perfection.
We name our work ART to distinguish it forcibly from the traditional outputs of an instrumentalised university system and from the marketplace of commercial transactions. When people suggest that we sell our custom pyjamas or board games online, we gesture expansively and demur: that’s not what we are doing. We are doing ART.
The discomfort caused by the proclamation of ART is essential to the disruption of established approaches to categorising and understanding research. We celebrate the ART object and the ART process. We welcome the capacities of ART, especially conceptual ART, to produce new knowledge and change. We claim our ART as Non Traditional Research Outputs (or ‘Other’).
We write and read this MANIFESTO now.
Now is the moment of action. Actions from the historical past are considered now, actions now can and will change the future.
Contemporary cultures are dominated by short term news cycles. Rise of the ebook! Death of the ebook! Personalities push to the front; in book cultures, loud statements come from agents, publishers, and authors. PRESENTISM means tuning into flux and flow and foregoing the benefits of temporal distance and the retrospective overview. PRESENTISM means noise, cross currents, one-offs, as well as the emergence and solidification of patterns.
Now is the moment of reflection. To some, PRESENTISM means an unthinking acceptance of current thought patterns. But we redefine PRESENTISM as a conscious immersion in the present with the specific intent to play, interact, bounce off, question, attack, challenge, and/or embrace present-day attitudes. We celebrate and take responsibility for our situation in a historical moment that is ever-changing.
We do not disregard the past or the future. We are historians, mindful of the far-distant, recent and very recent past. We are utopians and planners driven by urgent hope for the future. We live, think, write, and act in the now.
5! The Predicament
The contemporary, industry-immersed nature of Ullapoolistic research means that we find ourselves in situations where we learn things drunkenly, by whisper, by gossip and by hint. This is the PREDICAMENT. We are told that such material is not supposed to enter research epistemology. But when we work on the inside and the outside, we are duty bound to throw such caution overboard. It is a requirement of PRESENTISM.
THE PREDICAMENT of Ullapoolism started for us with book parties, but extends to all research that involves inside networks. We actively desire to help the powerless and expose those who abuse power. THE PREDICAMENT may yield knowledge that calls for civil disobedience, protest, and other forms of activism outside usual academic activity.
As academics, institutional contexts encircle our research. But when circumstances demand it, we reject ethical hypochondria, we resist the requirements for prior ethics approval, we refuse to limit harm for those in positions of power, and we insist on improper research.
THE PREDICAMENT is central to our research. THE PREDICAMENT must be activated.
6! Forced Sociality
FORCED SOCIALITY is mingling over canapés and wine. FORCED SOCIALITY is small talk melding with industry talk, periodic celebrations of cultural events. FORCED SOCIALITY is insisting otherwise austere individuals come to the party. FORCED SOCIALITY means taking part. FORCED SOCIALITY is away from the lonely garret and the library carrel and the chocolate biscuit machine of computational learning. FORCED SOCIALITY embraces awkwardness. FORCED SOCIALITY is generative. FORCED SOCIALITY is the human in the cultural and the human in the machine. FORCED SOCIALITY is the auto/ethnographic. FORCED SOCIALITY is the public sphere. FORCED SOCIALITY is exploding out the potential sites of bookish, cultural action and intervention.
MATERIALITY is paper and glue and silicon and fossil fuels. It is the trays of canapés and the lipstick we wear. It is a basket handwoven from ripped up article drafts. MATERIALITY is touchpoints between people and things.
ULLAPOOLISM engages directly with the fabric of culture and society. It does this literally, for example through the creation of custom ferry-printed fabric (which is not however commercially available).
MATERIALITY as an object of research is very obvious to cultural historians, but may be new to scholars who work with texts alone. MATERIALITY is both method and necessary object of attention.
8! Oh Look, A Ferry
Publishing, it is commonly said, is about creativity and the imagination. But is it? Discourse about publishing and the cultural industries often falls along conventional lines, reflecting the establishment nature of much of the creative economy. Beyond radical, alternative and counter-cultural challenges, what mode might an Ullapoolist take to disrupt conventional lines of conversation, while adhering to PLAYFULISM? Our response is, OH LOOK, A FERRY, or, OLAF.
OLAF is an approach of diplomatic non-sequiturs. An example is pointing at a ferry when confronted once again with reference to the smell of paper books and the print vs digital debate. This act is a misdirection towards another object, a literal prestidigitation which acknowledges prevailing pathways of thought while moving discourse sideways. Ullapoolists are part magician, using sleight of hand and misdirection to steer the conversation elsewhere.
We have our tongues in our cheeks, we are flippant, we are not entirely straight. Our work is SATIRICAL and therefore disruptive. It keeps people guessing, on the back foot, unstable.
We harness the power of ridicule for politically progressive purposes. We write comic erotic thrillers where the villains are book fair organisers who give platforms to right-wing groups, or publishers who rail against diversity and claim to only see excellence. We reject bad jokes that rehearse tired stereotypes. We don’t punch down.
We laugh at the mediocre men on the writers festival stage and the conference manel. We laugh at the empty rhetoric of cultural organisation spokespeople. We laugh at ourselves and yes, we are laughing at you. Sly jokes break open tired arguments and stale patterns of thought. SATIRE is absurd, surprising. Get the joke, and there is hope for you.
Laughter is a weapon and laughter shared with allies sustains the struggle.
Whereas some people say, well there’s one way to find out, we say, no!, there’s more than one way to find out. There is looking. There is asking. There is reading. There is using Google. There is making and moving, sensing, thinking, and doing. There is the informal knowledge that comes through insider networks. There is the knowledge that comes through exclusion from networks, from distance.
There are many different ways of knowing about things. Some we like more than others. Some we actively dislike. We seek the conscious liberation of data from Eurocentric, individualistic, instrumentalist modes of knowledge-getting.
When we researched the Frankfurt Book Fair we used EPISTEMOLOGICALISM by pursuing many ways of knowing. We interviewed, we watched, we placed mood fish on people’s palms, we got lost in stairwells, we counted sleazy leers, we set up a stand in a disused hall and made collages out of industry newsletters.
EPISTEMOLOGICALISM is meta-epistemology. It is a theory of theories of knowledge. Our theory of theories of knowledge is that knowledges are plural, partial, and multi-positional, and that any theory that purports entirely to define knowledge-getting is inadequate and faintly ridiculous. This does not mean we believe that anything goes. Postmodernism has its own problems. Rather, EPISTEMOLOGICALISM is a rigorous commitment to a shared responsibility for diverse knowledge getting, preserving, and presenting. EPISTEMOLOGICALISM asks, how did you get and what will you do with your knowledge?
11! Scholarly Direct Action
ULLAPOOLISM is fun. But our fun has serious intent. SCHOLARLY DIRECT ACTION is at the heart of the project of ULLAPOOLISM. We have our targets and our enemies. These include the centre aka colonialism, the patriarchy, neoliberalism, and some institutions.
We are, frankly, impatient.
The centre is colonialism. We pledge to attack and undermine New York and London as centres of publishing and cultural production, we decry English language dominance, we refute Paris, we dispute territories, trade routes, the Commonwealth and Empires. We must work tirelessly to decentre, decolonize, and destroy the geopolitical inequities that distort cultural creation and participation. The misogyny and racism of book cultures and higher education is relentless and pervasive but will be destroyed. We will cite for a better world. Neoliberalism and its institutions, including our own universities, can be a blight on knowledge, sapping the world of joy and purpose, and we commit to working against them even while we are in them.
ULLAPOOLISM will remain mischievous and badly-behaved. ULLAPOOLISM will overcome.