Sunday, July 26, 2015

Just seen Corbyn on Marr arguing for the mildest form of social democracy possible, crack down on tax evasion and reinvest in education, infrastructure and an industrial policy, break up monopolies in transport and energy through taking things into public ownership.  

Moderately redistributive Keynesian measures that half the columnists on the FT would agree with. The anti-austerity argument is not a capitalist/anti-capitalist argument it’s about how best to restore growth and spread some of the wealth around to create a virtuous circle of rising wages, investment and greater competitiveness.

Ken Livingstone, in his recent defence of Corbyn promoted a similar economic  agenda suggesting that this is what a “modern Capitalist economy” needs. So here we have the perverse spectacle  two old radicals essentially trying to save Capitalism from itself by offering it a way to re-legitimize itself, just as neoliberalism’s attempt at  offering a  shareholder democracy as a basis for mass participation in and ideological commitment to capital from the 70s onward has clearly failed.

Three things seem bizarre  about the  current hostility/panic A) that nobody in the Labour party thinks this is the centre ground and that some kind of global roll around to revived social democratic models wasn’t more or less inevitable after the  financial crisis anyway and isn’t currently gathering speed and numbers globally, so that by 2020 the world may look very different, B) that not connecting the Labour party up with local and grassroots anti-austerity initiatives, widening participation and opening it up democratically will help to arrest its decline c) that the British public rejected these ideas at x point years ago and therefore it will always do so. Never heard of buyer’s remorse? It might now be waking up to the fact that it was foolish to have done so. It might be even more remorseful in five years time, even in the equity and asset “rich” south if financialization continues apace, house prices stall, interest rates go up, wages stagnate, debt burdens mount. Do Governments never make themselves deeply unpopular with people who have previously voted for them?

The “ideological” blinkers here are all on the neoliberal side, for the Tories it’s a moral mission, undertaken with missionary zeal, to place everything worth having in the hands of those best suited to be custodians of the lower orders, the well-bred, the high-born ( themselves) and to discipline them a) into acceptance of the legitimacy of such an order, b) into moulding them through subjection to “the market” into the model of subjectivity the market demands. This has always been the  agenda but the Crisis/Austerity is the  legitimating narrative for a redoubling of this programme. The desire to discipline is such that they are of course undermining their own programme, but the excitement, the glee is so great that they are libidinally locked in. The Labour party might do all this  with a sad face, at a slower pace, but that’s the agenda with which it colludes, it’s disavowed pleasure is that of the weary parent sighing over its rueful responsibility, bullying its recalcitrant kids into seeing “sense”.

There’s a broader historical argument here about whether the British elite  have ever had much interest in industry and manufacturing and whether these things developed in Britain despite the indifference of elites who have basically only cared about a strong pound and speculating abroad and who never had any interest in maintaining a domestic manufacturing sector, were happy to dump it all in finally the 80s and get on with enjoying our comparative advantage in Finance. In a sense to become a “modern” (Capitalist) economy at this stage we have to start from scratch, fighting the hostility of Finance in the name of the “Real Economy”.

This is broadly where Corbyn is, he is the “modernizer”, in a long tradition of attempts at becoming modern constantly stymied by land-owners and the finance sector. You can say what you want about Jez, but the notion that he isn’t riding in to give us a “proper” “modern” “representative” “democratic” and revived Capitalism, just as neoliberalism promised it would, and instead is some Hard Left Leninist fifth columnist for Militant survivors and assorted Commie fellow travellers is the biggest fairytale of them all. There’s nothing remotely radical or ruthless about Corbyn, he is as surprised as anyone to find himself an expression of a newly coalescing “common sense”.

This IS the equivalent of Blairism at this stage.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

On Zardoz. Before I get on to Hayek (again).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Right then, I am going to be sticking my oar in re Utopia Then and Now at AYA, and predictably enough using it partially as an opportunity to talk about neoliberalism and Film. Again.

Palm tree

Monday, July 13, 2015

Bliss Blood of the Pain Teens has made their entire discography available on Bandcamp. A band I have long meant to write about, maybe I'll get round to it some day, meanwhile here it all is.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

it must be hard to die in a rented room

Monday, July 06, 2015

Joy is the aim (2)

Apparently that Greek referendum was "polarizing". Was it? when 60% voted no, and no single area voted otherwise? Seems more likely to be unifying than polarizing. Perhaps that's the problem. Turns out the consensus is not where you thought it  was.

Any question which asks for yes or no is sort of likely to be “polarizing” anyway, isn’t it?

"Polarizing" in most of these repeated uses means that the mass of people have been asked to consider issues fundamental to their lives: these are difficult questions. It would be better if they didn’t task themselves with them and can’t understand them anyway,  so “polarizing” equals, likely to cause thought, debate, dispute and subject them to the stresses of political agency. How  dare a government go to the people with such pressing and complex questions, when its job is to shield them from the difficulty of thought via technocracy. Polarizing here just means profound questions, questions that touch and demand action on fundamental aspects of social organization.

But to be asked such questions and to debate or dispute them isn’t vexing, harrowing or painful, it’s essential and welcome. Political agency is not a  burden, it’s its absence  which  weighs on you and its apparent “demands” are experienced instead as a euphoria, a lightening of the load, a lifting up. The powerful affective  elements of mass participation are something Jeremy Gilbert gets at well in Common Ground, and the hunger and need for these kinds of intensities is palpable.

In his speech before the vote last night Tsipras observed, at least so the translation ran, “Democracy is joy”.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Joy is the aim.

Couples doing stuff together is a horrible prospect. The possibilities for the twee, the smug, the self-regarding, some profound lack of aesthetic objectivity and the likelihood of a horrible public folie a deux are painfully high.

Nonetheless we now have a blog where we’ll be posting ongoing revisions to the music we are making*. It’s inevitably influenced no doubt  by the fact that Ayako is Japanese, or more especially Okinawan, or more microscopically from Miyako Jima, that I am English, from Barrow-in Furness, by a whole host of differences, similarities, tensions and overlaps, age, nationality gender, all that stuff. Also by the fact that we have lived in each others' countries, that one of us speaks the other’s language, that I have moved from complete indifference to and ignorance of Japanese culture and history  to having found my own sets of interests and engagements with it.

As we went along we made certain decisions about what we didn't want to do, nothing dark or edgy, no bass, no beats, no ambient, no drone.  We are a bit bored of the doomy, we are also a bit bored of the self-consciously avant-garde, the cool, the now, the Post. 

I think we wanted some kind of music whose function was to fortify Utopian desire, our own, and others.**

Obviously, like Utopia itself, it’s a work in progress.

*when I say “music we are making” I should again emphasise I haven’t made any of it. I have just offered suggestions

** without getting all "3D-Printers!" about it.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

I appear to be doing this. So if  you live in the area feel free to come along.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oh yeah! Facebook page here.

Given that the spouse's capacity for self promotion, enthusiasm for networking and sense of existential urgency around being on trend makes me look like Madonna in comparison, don't worry, you won't get much more of this.

One track a week for the next six weeks. That's not too annoying, is it?

The women lucky enough to call me her spouse has made some music. I leant my discriminating ear and made several implausible suggestions that she patiently ignored, but there is still the horrible possibility that I may lend "vocals" to one or more of the tracks she has currently assembled.

You should listen to these now before I come barrelling self importantly in and ruin them.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Happiness, whatever....

Magical voluntarism alert!

Just spotted a book from 2011, the title of which particularly struck me. "The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work." Happiness no longer the ends but merely the means, happiness not as a byproduct or result but a prerequisite, attainable through the right techniques: you just need to think about things the right way. The ultimate goal, beyond any trivial personal considerations: success and performance. Happiness gives you the edge, that’s its value, that’s the only value something can have. Having kids improve your happiness? Do it, just to fuck over John in accounts when it comes to promotion. Loving relationships with a group of like-minded friends? Go for it, the uptick in your productivity might get you noticed by the boss. A wide range of hobbies and interests? Necessary to ensure that you can continue to obey the injunctions of the market past the point of any personal gain and on into the realms of some weird kind of transcendent asceticism.

“Finally Peter, I feel, I have conquered my demons, grown, know myself more and have attained happiness”

“Well it’s a bit late now! Honestly Deborah, couldn’t you have done this twenty years ago when we were applying for a mortgage!”

Of course If it was all about State and Party and being an Agent of History you’d say that was an ideological tool and a brainwashed population, if it’s all about Work, and Lifestyle and becoming a twinkling star in the “cosmos” of the competitive market it’s just a practical guide to getting on in the real-world.

No doubt there’s a million similar books out there. “Using Empathy to beat the crowd” “Compassion for CEOs: outcompete through caring” “How a Genuine Love of Humanity helped me asset strip and drive down wages without lingering remorse”.

“I found it hard to make the tough decisions that ruined thousands of people's lives on a material and psychological level. Problem was, I wasn’t happy enough. Through these six simple steps i boosted my happiness to the level where I could work 23 hours a day 365 days a year devastating the economies of developing countries through reckless speculation AND remorselessly bully , intimidate and undermine everyone below me on the corporate food chain through a ceaseless flow of contradictory, pedantic and wilfully incoherent emails. Finally I had understood what happiness was truly for.” Lyle R Gambas CEO, INVESTATECHMEDIACORP

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Interestingly, or at least interestingly to me......

A few days ago I posted on Facebook that I had a sudden strong desire to re-read “ The Book of Disquiet” by Fernando Pessoa. This urge came out of nowhere as I sat at my computer in work, and I reflected on my ex-colleague and gym buddy James Couling, how we were supposed to be reading the unexpurgated edition together at one point several years ago and how, in the gym he had the big shiny silver Penguin edition. Well this sudden surge of affect, desire, what have you was strong enough for me, uncharacteristically, to want to record it, record and display it, inscribe it  however minimally, however fleetingly, into the surface of things.

Then this morning, waiting for my coffee in The Waiting Room in Deptford and instinctively glancing along their rack of  book-exchange paperbacks, there it was. The Book of Disquiet, Penguin edition. I took it, now I have to take something in to replace it.

Three scenarios present themselves: the romantic/paranoid hypothesis. Someone I know on Facebook read my post, knows I infrequently pop into the Waiting Room on my way to work and left it there for me. Perhaps it was you, you’re secretly in love with me, perhaps a dangerous obsessive. I should be careful. Perhaps it was James himself, he left work a few years ago and appears to have cut off contact with his ex work mates, though he does still see a couple who live in Deptford and who frequent that cafe: perhaps it’s his, perhaps he’s reaching out in some way, trying to resume contact.....

Or, it’s just a coincidence.....

Or, more likely, I went in to the Waiting Room on the self-same day I posted the above, was tired, preoccupied (which I was last week, bouncing from long MA essay, to Lesson Observation and on into final (final) novel deadline, so I can’t even remember when I did last go in there) scanned the shelf of books, the rack of videos, the gig posters as I always do, saw the book but didn't see it consciously. After all the brain is constantly filtering and carving out manageable boxes of perception and packets of stimuli from what would otherwise be an overwhelming sensory assault, vast amounts of visual information is registered unconsciously and so on: you don’t know what you have seen, perhaps, if it’s not vital, or the perceptual systems under stress you only register it later, and so on. Now, if I hadn’t gone in today (or someone had already taken the book) I would have attributed this sudden Pessoa epiphany to some element within classical psychology, something looming up from the depths, the unconscious assaulting me with a sudden, seemingly causeless pang symbolizing some deeper anxiety (guilt, loss)  but really it was the outside trying to get in, and getting delayed, so the news when it arrives, seems to come from nowhere, therefore -within-. There’s also the fact that I have shit eyesight and this may be an additional factor in the delay, it took a certain length of time for my tired brain to tabulate the blurry, barely (consciously) legible visual information I did receive into the realisation that I’d seen the book. Perhaps it was only today, several days later that my brain had processed the information enough to guide me back into the cafe to go and claim the book I unconsciously always knew was there and whose presence struck me initially as mysterious and magical.  Maybe a lot of what’s attributed to the ID is just this, the slow working through of the unconsciously observed, a time-displaced set of recognitions and revelations that float in lost, decontextualized, and sit enigmatically around in your head for varying lengths of time.

Or...... it wasn’t there last week, or I never went in ( did I? so distracted all the time...memory, memory....) and it was a presentiment, a precognition, some other, grander filter flickering out and loosing power for an instant, the screens used to discreetly  arrange time into present, past, future and that grow more threadbare as you get older anyway.

I will now ask Ayako Nikawadori to open the book at random and  read out the first line she  sees:

It’s this.....

“Day after day in my ignoble and profound soul I registered impressions that form the external substance of my self awareness. “ (p341)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Right, we are Wetherspooning.
Here from 5
then I guess
The Rockingham arms at approx 7:30
then Hipster fun in New Cross at 9:30 ish
and a late nightcap in the Greenwich Wetherspoons from 11-ish
this won't work out of  course. I don't have  a smartphone, Phil doen't even have a mobile so hopefully we will meet up at some point. Bring anyone  you like and remember we like meeting new people and have highly developed social skills.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Phil and I are going to have a promotional pub crawl for Strangled and No More Heroes on the 27th of March. Quite what it will constitute remains to be seen. I intend to flog my author copies of No More Heroes out of my gym bag and  give the funds raised to Defend The Right to Protest. We will start in Central London around 5 then head south. London Bridge/ Elephant then New Cross/Deptford. We will figure out the exact pubs later. Essentially doing this solves one fundamental problem: the fact that I still like and get on with people who have now fallen out with each other. We will come to you, or somewhere near you, and you don’t have to not come for a quick pint through the fear that you’ll  bump into that ex-comrade who has turned out to be a psycho/ reactionary/ closet Tory/ leering Troll / treacherous Careerist, etc. If you ever contributed to the Decade’s blogs it would be great to see you, but it would be great to see you anyway. This is an open invitation. I'll update the pub location nearer the date, after full consultation with Phil. He's dead fussy.

Facebook page here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rather touching and illuminating Dutch documentary on Ken Livingstone and London's housing crisis. Key moment would seem to be when Ken asks why Tower Hamlets gets more than its allotted share of 25% affordable housing from the Canary Wharf Corp, and the answer is, in short, because the local council insists on 40%.


Thursday, January 22, 2015


Delighted to say I have just signed a contract  for Resolution Way with Repeater (and equally delighted that Alex Niven is undertaking the possibly arduous editing).

Speaking from a writer's perspective, to me it looks immediately like Repeater is going to be a much more honed, streamlined, author-friendly and focused set up and I have complete confidence in those in charge.

Hence, I would urge  anyone who is thinking of  jumping in and  pitching to them to do so. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Field of Dreams

Contains nothing but spoilers!

There’s lots of impressive things about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and to a degree it made me want to go back and re-watch some of his earlier films and think more about his recurring obsession with time (plus the frozen planet is highly reminiscent of his second movie Insomnia, which I hardly remember at all.) It’s certainly all very clever, as you would expect, and technically accomplished but as per usual with Nolan you’re left wondering why the political vision of the film is in comparison so abysmally lacking. 

The earth is running out of food due to The Blight, but despite this armies have been abolished. Oh aye? That seems unlikely. No ongoing resource wars then? No rich people stockpiling grub, no warlords sitting on top of dwindling fresh water supplies? Nope. But there is a benign secret NASA project to get man off the earth, this is despite the seeming loss of the questing American frontier spirit, as embodied by Cooper a last Man among Last Men, and his feisty daughter Murph, who gets into a fistfight over liberal revisionist histories that portray the moon landings as a hoax to sucker the Ruskies into a ruinous space race. Green liberals, here schoolteachers, would have us wallow in the dirt as farmers rather than head for the heavens, worrying all the time about squandering the world’s last precious resources when the earth should really just be viewed as something we use up in order to get out into space, fulfilling our godlike destiny among the stars. So essentially, in this film the world’s environmental problems are just absolutely insoluble but travelling through a wormhole into different dimensions then ultimately transporting the rest of humanity there, perfectly do-able. 

Brand, the head of the NASA project has told a “noble lie” there is no plan to ship earthlings out, but to repopulate the new planet from scratch with some frozen embryos. Brand couldn't tell the humans this, they would never agree to go if it didn't mean rescuing their own loved ones and so have had to be tricked into it, sheeple that they are, though from a genuinely, scientifically disinterested perspective, why is the continued existence of humanity as a species of any importance whatsoever, unless, as the Nolans obviously do, you regard humanity as having some kind of transcendent value, to, in effect, be the meaning of the cosmos itself? Not merely the human as the apex of all existence, but specifically the ruggedly individualistic, American male, cornerstone of the divinely ordained American family with his love for his daughter and his powerful will, embodied in his unbreakable “promise”,  a force powerful enough to shape and bend all of time and space to his ends. Better this than sitting quietly alone, waiting for the end, eh? Ah, man and his pathological sense of dignity! 

 And here lies the heart of Interstellar’s deep conservatism, remorseless natalism and nostalgia. Possibly the reason Cooper is so desperate to get those surviving on earth off planet is so that they can continue the great American project, maintain the sacred order of property, family, and tradition. The first thing Cooper sees on awakening in the space station at journey's end is some kids playing baseball outside his window in a dustless facsimile of 1950's USA. Paradise restored! Who knows, a whole load of awoken embryos might have decided to do it all differently? 

But then again of course, being human, they couldn't. We might plunge through the event horizon and wind up in a five dimensional Tesseract, but that other horizon, a life beyond home and family, beyond the inevitabilities of reproduction, property, the grand kids at your deathbed,  the couple, and that couple best expressed as love between a straight man and woman ( though in this the woman’s love, rather girlish and not to be trusted, leads them almost into doom, whereas Cooper’s love for his daughter is the force that ultimately saves us all), that horizon, internal, genetic, hard wired is impassable, breaching that, unthinkable.

 In this respect Interstellar is just another conservative vision of American Renewal, a highly unlikely prospect that requires all kinds of increasingly epic torsions of time-space to seem faintly credible. One day, on distant stars, we will sit swilling beer on the porch with our robots, secure in the knowledge that there was only ever one way to live, one form of life we were just bound biologically into, which reached its apotheosis and then presumably went out into the Universe like a great cancer, strip mining and devastating everything it found, humanity metastasising identikit McMansions into the cosmos’s deepest folds.

This is almost certainly Elon Musk's favourite film eva.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Radical change is possible and necessary but only if alternative thinking has the courage to move out of the margins. Repeater is committed to bringing the periphery to the centre, taking the underground overground, and publishing books that will bring new ideas to a new public. We know that any encounter with the mainstream risks corrupting the tidiness of untested ideals, but we believe that it is better to get our hands dirty than worry about keeping our souls pure.


Looks like this has a publication date of 27th of March. It's "Holding out for a hero" retitled. Phil and I will attempt a promotional pub session for this and "Strangled" around the time. You are all invited.

Massive thanks to Owen Hatherley for converting it from a blog to manuscript form.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

English Fields.

In Kill List the country is divided between the killers, trapped in awful marriages, up to their eyeballs in debt, desperate to hang on to their suburban new builds, their victims: the marginal, denizens of a grey, wintry edgeland of damp basement flats, lock ups, factories and industrial estates, and the cultic higher orders, whose arcane practices and rituals are as ancient as their hold on power.

Marriage is a battlefield, kids are collateral damage. Friendships may erupt into violence at any moment. Work is a series of bloody tasks carried out under the auspices of  vastly powerful forces with whom one wittingly or otherwise has signed a blood oath, the exact nature of which is deeply uncertain.  Everyone, even your own partner, regards death as a merciful release.Your complicity in your own destruction is the only thing that is guaranteed.

In this sense Kill List is the first great film of Austerity Britain.

The damaged veteran finding ways to readjust to and deploy his skills on Civvy street is a common recent theme in British film, but there’s nothing noble or sympathetic about Jay and Gal. Nor do they have that surplus of confidence, the familiarity with violence and the  rugged self determination that often makes the demobbed squaddie a hero figure. In fact they lack agency and soon become fearful of what they have got themselves into. In Nick Love’s Outlaw, the returned soldier raises a vigilante gang to combat The Establishment, but in Kill List they continue to be its pawns.

There have been all kinds of heated theorizations about how and if Kill List’s elliptical and allusive narrative ties up.  But Kill List is less interesting for what it means than what it does, enacting a violent rupture with and within its genre conventions, bringing the British Gangster movie under pressure from two directions, Loachian realism and Gothic horror. Only hammering these two seemingly irreconcilable forms together can adequately get at the texture of the moment: cold dread, incomprehension, the sense that things are out of your control, your life is not your own.

We are a long way here, from cheeky London-centric capers like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking barrels. This an England which, during the pomp of the post-historic and classless 90s and Noughties had been banished, never to return.

Food Bank Britain, ATOS Britain, UKIP Britain, with its endlessly declining pay, rising rents, spiralling debts. Home to the nine poorest areas of northern Europe as well as its single richest. A country riven by a series of fantastical, overlapping revelations, phone hacking, financial manipulation, VIP paedophiles, police corruption. A nexus of vested interests intent on occulting and exculpating it all.

To be plunged into such a world, such a crisis, to have a set of prior assumptions whisked away,  is disorienting, disturbing, nerve-jangling, the pieces can't yet be fitted fully together, something terrible is happening, has perhaps always been happening, History has returned in all its devastating, vertiginous enormity, not, or not yet at least as the continuation of a progressive project but as a nightmare.

The film was shot in Sheffield, the setting for one of Ben Wheatley’s favourite non-horror horror films, the harrowing nuclear attack docu-drama, Threads.

In an interview for a A Field in England Ben Wheatley suggests that it should be thought of as a prequel to Kill List. Loath as I am to disagree with the director’s assessment of his own work, I am going to suggest that the reverse is true. That  Kill List, a film about the present, can’t help but be about the  past.  A Field in England, though it’s set during the civil war is really a film about the future.

If there is an initially terrible, traumatic return of history in Kill List, history as the piling up of disasters, trauma on trauma, the evil plan of the establishment, the Illuminati, the dark ones unfolding. In A Field in England a countervailing set of societies, movements, and organizations is evoked, the history of the long struggle for liberation. There is some corner of an English field, that is forever foreign, committed to experiment, to rejection, to turning the world upside down,  pushing toward the new, and the film itself, with its baroque stylization and breathtaking formal boldness, maintains fidelity to this tradition as it invokes it.

Again the film deals with soldiers, conscripts, rather than professionals who exit the civil war, enter a different field and decide to strike out together to look for an alehouse. This though is  a ruse and they are dragooned instead into a treasure hunt. After a few brief moments as masterless men they are again set to work. “I am my own man, I am my own man” Jacob repeats angrily as he digs for treasure at gunpoint.

Whitehead’s story could be the drab, reactionary tale of a cowardly intellectual who through learning to kill becomes more-than-human, somewhat like Dustin Hoffman’s character by the end of Straw Dogs. But in seeking to return to his master and fullfil his task in a repeat of the films opening point of view shot as he plunges through the hedgerow, he is instead returned to the field and finds Friend and Jacob reborn and silently waiting. The final shot is a tableau of the three men, memorialised, charged with an eerie significance.

The inability to escape from a particular location, with all the narrow, winding roads  leading you eventually back to doom, is a  trope of rural horror, a spacialization of circadian, rural rhythms, the modern progressive man, rider of times arrow fallen into the vortex, we might say, given that Peter Strickland’s superb Berberian Sound Studio deals with similar themes the Equestrian Vortex, of deep time. But here it is used to different, more optimistic ends.

From the flux and chaos of the battle, from their repeated deaths and rebirths, from their having travelled as far into and out of themselves as its possible to go the men have been transformed. Whitehead is now caught up in a particular social field, a particular set of relations. Toward the  end of the film Jacob tells him that all along the true treasure was here between them. They have become masterless, finally, not through some abstract notion of freedom, nor by slipping away through the hedgerow, but precisely by staying within the field, altering their relation to it,  their relation to each other. Here it is a field, but it could a square, a street, an estate, a nation, a world. This is a process, an alchemical process, which we might call comradeization, in which they no longer are “their own men”, but of and for each other.

In this way the film is not just of a piece with the neglected films of the  60’s and 70s regularly tagged as influences, from Witchfinder General to Culloden, from Winstanley to Blood on Satan’s Claw but also with more trenchant, overtly politicized  treatments of the theme,  Peter Hall’s Akenfield and Bill Douglas’ Comrades.

In returning to the past, to the Civil War and its role in accelerating enclosure A Field in England returns us to the problem of ownership, the commons and land rights, something previously considered to be an issue mainly for indigenous peoples in the developing world. The term re-peasantization is used now to talk about the movement of the young unemployed in Spain, or Greece out of urban centres.

When the city can offer us nothing but precarious employment as servants of the rich, it’s not rural but urban life that begins to look like the idiocy.  A Field in England reminds us that the countryside is no idyll, is as much an arena of power and conflict as anywhere. Who knows but that groups of radicals returning to the land, as they have periodically, will find themselves in solidarity with rural workers, against the ancient estates and the group approvingly identified by the Telegraph back in 2004 as the new squirearchy of our neo-feudal times.

But A Field in England is also cut from more millenarian cloth, imbued with other, longer range fantasies and fears. Finally, when all social relations breakdown, when the end comes, when the credit dries up and the oil runs out, when the waters rise or exotic diseases decimate the globe and Malthus has the last laugh, we will be obliged to return to the land and the great cycle will be complete.

In Threads, Ben Wheatley’s favourite non-horror horror film, after the bitter decade-long night of the nuclear Winter has passed, rudimentary communities spring up again to till the soil that, momentarily at least, has been returned to them.

It has taken a war to get them there.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

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Alex kindly invited me to read something at the launch for his poetry collection The Last Tape, so I accepted.

I'll be saying something about two Ben Wheatley/Amy Jump films " Kill List" and "A Field in England", which will contain major spoilers. Do come along!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

When K-Punk's Capitalist Realism came out X number of  years ago, I found it disappointing, deflating, as I think quite a few people did. Firstly, partly because I was already familiar with a lot of  Mark's observations  and formulations  from his blogging, secondly because, such was my faith in his  powers, I really thought he was going to come  up with an answer to the  question posed in the  sub-title "is there really no alternative?". Which he didn't.

It seems though that Mark essentially then set about trying to answer that question himself, along with collaborator and frequent interlocutor Jeremy Gilbert. What I think is particularly striking about this paper (fingers crossed it's as widely read as Capitalist Realism, to which, really, it is the response) is that aside from a few references to Dr Who and the shiteness of contemporary music culture it isn't at all what you might have expected Mark to come up with/out with several years ago i.e. it's  not very Gothic, nor does it seem to care much about theory. Can it be that Mark is just as interested in the work of Eric Olen Wright or Gar Alperovitz as he is Lacan or the  films of Kubrick?  It seems so.

I find this heartening and politically instructive,  heartening on a human level because I like Mark (I have met him about three times, we have very different personal styles, we exchange a comment on Facebook about once every three years on average just in case you think we are part of some mutually supportive, backslapping, entryist Cabal) and will always be grateful to him for having created the kind of electrifying intellectual excitement that no-one now particularly wants to admit was absolutely vital to their own intellectual development and re/awakening ( not to mention his support being integral, via Zero / the Wire in adding impetus to a few careers) and also heartening and instructive because it demonstrates the necessity of thinking the moment, uncluttered by prior aesthetic and theoretical commitments.

Actually this format also seems to have liberated and helped to coalesce the argument in Jeremy Gilbert's Common Ground too. Liberated, I mean, from the need to painstakingly justify every point with reference to the entire tradition of human thought to which academics are professionally subjected. As usual Gilbert's snappy CiF piece is littered with commonsensical sneering below the line of the Oh really and What about and The author clearly doesn't even seem to know ilk, whereas, you can trust me, I have read his book, he honestly, really has thought of all that stuff and maybe, y'know, even a little bit more.*

Beyond Markets, Beyond Machines. Actually the second of those two beyonds doesn't really get unpacked here, but I hope it will!

PDF here.

* my favourite ever example of this was when Peter Hallward did a bit for CIF after the earthquake in Haiti and someone in the comments box suggested (after a quick read of wikipedia, I assume) that Hallward didn't even seem to know that Aristide had been president twice. I have a strict policy of never leaving comments on anything but even I was tempted to get in there and say, have you read Damming the Flood? Jesus Christ it's the most laboriously researched and minutely detailed 800 page doorstop imaginable.  Naturally I restrained myself, for as we know, that way madness lies. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Two absolutely brilliant mixes by Matt Woebot. Interesting especially in that they bear all the hallmarks of his own work, a gentle, genteel absurdism, a slightly melancholy, whimsical, askew Englishness, cheeky humour, an ear for subtle nonsense and understated beauty. All the more remarkable then that they are reggae mixes. There's a crazy back story to how the mixes came about but no doubt Matt will reveal all himself one day.

Actually this is probably, subliminally, where Matt's love of the Canterbury scene and Reggae meet. Big Pussy Sally no doubt a Jamaican cousin to Caravan's Waterloo Lily.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Self promotion is always horrible. It’s always seemed to me, anyway, antithetical to Leftist political positions. I suppose if you have Leftist or “radical” product to promote you can always tell yourself that you’re engaging in such things in order to get that important message out there, to shift discourse, that you are, perhaps even nobly, prepared to get your hands dirty by fighting on their territory, or there’s the appeal to pure pragmatism, hey I’ve got to eat!

The no-doubt foolhardy false opposition, would you rather be stacking shelves in Socialism or occupying the position of Acclaimed Leftist Writer in Capitalism keeps crossing my mind.  I’d be happier with the former. Partly because there are few things as tiring as being among people who sit around talking cleverly about culture all day.

Friday, August 15, 2014

More Mazzucato (and others)

Really interesting radio show here with Mazzucato,  Arun Majumdar  and Mark Littlewood the head of the CBI.
What’s especially interesting is both how periperal Littlewood seems to the conversation and  how panic has stripped down the discourse of  a certain type of bluff Business bullshitter. This is the rhetoric distilled and then just repeated ad nauseum, a panicked grasping at the  talismanic. You can’t see Littlewood but you can imagine him quite clearly, a species of Farage,  the blokey pomposity, the lack of preparation, the  entitled assumption that as he is only talking to a couple of academics, not people who have  run an  actual business, he will be able to  just wave it all away,  the deliberate use of sloppy almost childish terminology and phrasing in the repeated use of “stuff”.

This latter feature is reminiscent of the recent attempted controversy over  Piketty’s Capital in which his detractors repeatedly used the  word “sums” to describe the highly complex  collating and  crunching required to elaborate his thesis ( he’s got his  sums wrong). This patronising of other people’s ideas  and  arguments is the default setting in which non neo-liberal worldviews or the efforts  of Governments and  theorists attempting to extend the argument is  automatically characterized as childlike, silly, the  adults not only talking  down to the wilful kids in the naughty corner, but also addressing the dim mass of sheeple, who really don’t and  never will “get it” in all its complexity.  It's a strategy that has proven highly effective  in subordinating dissenting thought  throughout the neo-liberal project,  but here, especially, this discourse seems impotent, drained of affective force, a windy, blustering cycling around that struggles to reclaim its incantatory elan, cut off from any kind of  wellspring of belief, the sound in fact of a discursive  practice being drained of hegemonic power.  Mazucatto is undeniably a smooth operator,  who having made significant inroads into mainstream discourse is starting to gently turn up the pressure, here questioning the use of the term bureaucrat.

Her fellow heterodox economist Ha Joon Chang also seems to be growing bolder. Chang is always worth listening to, but in this lecture, more explicitly than usual, perhaps also a growing sign of the  centre of gravity shifting leftward,  he offers  up a condensed  critique of both neo liberalism  and what he calls the humanist school of developmental theory. The  arguments of  both Mazucatto and  Chang are part of a wider questioning of  neoclassical economics and the elision of production as a site of enquiry, the cognitive  dissonance  that this elision provokes and the discursive dream work that attempts to stitch the  gap closed.


Also rather remarkable to see the immensely canny Richard Wolff on the broadly intolerable Bill Maher’s show. Back when Wolff  started out (well started out in the sens etahthe had just retired and  decided to see how far he  could push his theorising into the public realm) he was cagey  about using the M word (Marxism) or the C word ( Communism, he still prefers the term Economic Democracy) so it is interesting to see him here openly “admitting” to being a Marxist.  And talking of elisions,  as Wollf often points out, he  studied  Economics at  Harvard, Princeton and  Yale without  once being required to read Marx.
No doubt these guys are too liberal or post modern for some, no doubt they are too mainstream or carrerist, but in terms of overall shifts in sentiment, in terms of what’s thinkable, in relations to a widening set of possibilities in which experimentation and change might take hold at a broader grassroots' level they are reasonable barometers of emergent possibilities. Ten years  ago, this stuff was beyond marginal, almost unthinkable, you would have been at best ignored, largely laughed out of town, even five years ago it was eccentric but intriguing as people groped to understand the crisis, now it looks like it’s gathering serious momentum.

Friday, July 18, 2014

This is an excellent interview. I need to think a bit more about both Alex and Rhian's thinking of late but I do have the (rather exciting) sense of something new cohering.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rhian getting it right, as usual.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Daniel with an excellent new post.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Breaking Bad


There's a loose connection between three films I have enjoyed recently, Peter Mullan's deeply perplexing NEDS, Clio Barnard's superb The Arbor, and Steve McQueen's extremely chilly Shame. Essentially they are, all three, films about the overwhelming grip of social and familial forces on individual lives.

In some sense this idea is no news to anyone, in another way though all three go against the grain of most contemporary film making in a way that is quite jolting: the central characters don't really have any choice about what they are doing, or understand why they are doing it. Shame and NEDS may have endings ambiguous enough to be read as vaguely feelgood, a final thaw and breakthrough of repressed emotion in Shame, a moment of atonement and a shift into a different set of social relations in NEDS but in The Arbor, a meta-documentary recast with professional actors, the Rita, Sue and Bob Too playwright Andrea Arnold's' life is overwhelmingly determined by her background, just as the lives of her daughters are. Here there's nothing left at the film's end except the question “what can be done about this”?

The cycle of deprivation, the cycle of abuse aren't terms you hear that much any more. Certainly when I was a kid and then when I was studying Sociology, even at O Level, they were commonly understood, broadly accepted. People came from difficult homes, and whether or not that was any excuse wasn't hugely debated, to claim that it wasn't set you on the side of the moralists and the reactionaries.

Back in the 70s, notions of  "cycles", their cast iron grip on lives and the stories of those who had miraculously escaped were common. Folk heroes of a sort  were made out of seemingly unreformable criminals whose humane treatment or exposure to culture had allowed them to set their lives on a different course, report back on and proselytize for the necessary forms of concerted social intervention required to break the cycle. Jimmy Boyle, one of the most notorious, has his story superbly dramatized in A Sense of Freedom, John McVicar less so in the passable McVicar.

Post the 1980s, post the decline in Sociology and certain types of sociological thinking there has been a broad erosion of the generous “common sense” that one's own life is largely determined by continuums of external forces that need to be patiently analyzed and addressed, usurped by Business studies and the obsessive, endless reiteration of life as series of freely determined consumption choices (and the concomitant thrill of self-righteousness and sense of superiority over those who have “chosen” badly.) 

That's right, I blame neoliberalism.

In interviews Mullan likes to point out that knife crime in Scotland is no aspect of modern decline, loss of values and so forth, but has been going on for hundreds of years, is part of the long, terrifyingly impersonal reach of the pre-modern, and in the film, the central character John's swerve toward violence, precipitated by his expulsion from and rejection by the genteel middle class he seems to identify with and assumes he is due to join, is set against the backdrop of an abusive,alcoholic father, a wayward brother, sets of assumptions about “his sort” from the established authorities, and the broader culture of territorialism, machismo and gang warfare. 


Shame's rather different take, in class terms at least, focuses on the functional, even broadly culturally sanctioned sexual obsessiveness of a man who refuses to look at his own history of abuse despite his more emotionally voluble and vulnerable sisters attempts to get him to face up to what has happened to them. “We are not bad people,” she tells him in one of her numerous answer phone messages “we just come from a bad place”.

In The Arbor the appalling, tragic trajectory of Andrea Dunbar's daughter's life is leavened both by her insight and the extraordinary, unconditional loyalty of some members of her extended family, something predicated on the idea that really, it's all quite understandable: that this is what happens when you are neglected, unwanted by either of your parents, have an alcoholic mother heading for an early grave, are racially abused, sexually assaulted, live in poverty around other desperate people using drugs and booze to fill the days. If anything her aunt and uncle are ashamed that they haven't helped out enough.  

The Arbor, then, is the antithesis of something like Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, which seeks to lull us with the fantasy that the special ones, in this case an entreprenuer-of-the-self, feisty dancer will always find a way out and up, floating like an irrepressible, heart-shaped helium balloon above the estate. No one gets out in The Arbor, partly because of the sense that even if they did, what about everyone else, but almost wholly because, as the successful writer "from the slums" (Daily Mail) Dunbar's troubled life, or  the fictional high flier in Shame and promising young swot in NEDS suggest, it's not so much where you're at, as where you're from.