Ben Watson’s Presentation at Art School Maa Helsinki, 7th of May

Rab-Rab: journal for political and formal inquiries in art is pleased to announce the presentation of Ben Watson in Helsinki. The talk is organised in collaboration with Art School Maa. The presentation is on Saturday the 7th of May at the Maa-tila project space of Art school Maa in Albertinkatu 19, Helsinki, starting at 18:00. The presentation will be held in English.


In Helsinki Ben Watson will talk about Gustav Jaeger who is the latest in a series of “blasts from the past” staged to interrupt contemporary theory, which Watson sees as increasingly vacuous, theological and blind. Past enthusiasms of Watson have included: William Montgomery Brown, the “Bolshevik bishop” of Galion, Ohio; Helen Macfarlane, first translator of the Communist Manifesto into English and author of incendiary working-class journalism; and Hermann Samuel Reimarus, author of The Art Instincts of Animals.

In 1897 Williams and Norgate, a print publisher with offices in London, Edinburgh, and Oxford, issued a volume called Problems of Nature: Researches and Discoveries, a selection from the published writings of the German hygienist Gustav Jaeger edited and translated by Henry G. Schlichter. Essays appeared in three sections: Zoological, Anthropological and Varia with titles like “Protoplasm”, “On the physiological importance of savorous and odorous matters”, “The noxious emanations of the body”, “The origin of the human language” and “The configuration of the arctic regions”. Trained as a doctor, Jaeger founded a zoo in Vienna, collected beetles, corresponded with Charles Darwin and examined statistics about death from disease in the armed forces; he also founded the clothing brand Jaeger, believing that animal fibres should be worn against the skin. In his talk in Helsinki, Ben Watson will use Jaeger in his ongoing critique of poststructuralism, explaining that to read Jaeger today is to experience the intellectual atmosphere which produced Marx, Lenin, Vernadsky, Pashukanis, Voloshinov and Trotsky: an avid exploration of the natural and human world.Jaeger makes post-structuralism appear as it is, a massive evasion of material reality. Jaeger’s Darwinism, far from being the eugenics one might expect from a culture that famously produced Nazism, refuses the Cartesian metaphysical absolutes with undergird Saussurean linguistics and Lacanian theory and is genuinely progressive. His words on the origin of the human language have direct relevance to the language of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and the procedures of Derek Bailey’s Free Improvisation, and to understanding the communications of animals and babies.

Presentation will follow with a discussion hosted by Sezgin Boynik and improvisation music by Taneli Viitahuhta (sax) and Lauri Hyvärinen (guitar) performing Watson’s “graphic poems”, written for the occasion.

Ben Watson is poet, music critic and writer. Five years ago he founded the Association of Musical Marxists. With Unkant, the AMM’s publishing platform, they published twelve books. Apart from his activities with AMM and Unkant, Watson has run with Esther Leslie internet platform Militant Esthetix, and he has also authored books such as Frank Zappa: Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play (StMartins’ Press, 1996), Art, Class & Cleavage (Quartet, 1999), Derek Bailey and Story of Free Improvisation (Verso, 2004) and Adorno for Revolutionaries (Unkant, 2011). He has published in journals such as The WIRE, Radical Philosophy, and Historical Materialism.

This is second episode of Rab-Rab Talks, initiated by Rab-Rab journal, which is an independent platform for radical political commitment and experimental art inquiry based in Helsinki(

In collaboration with Tutkijaliitto, Rab-Rab journal is organizing also a talk and performance with Ben Watson in Turku at Titanik gallery on 6th May on the “constellations of free radical music.”