Blog

Pain now – kpunk election post #3

New post on the elections by Mark Fisher, (cross-posted from his blog, k-punk– TS 

A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,

11169170_1077848788896586_4728835735854993796_n

This was the front page of the Guardian on the day my son was born nearly five years ago. That year, my wife and I earned fifteen thousand pounds between us. I was working as an hourly paid lecturer in adult education and in a university, as well as doing some freelance writing and copy-editing. We were able to survive without living in penury because of the three hundred pounds a month in tax credits we received.

This was the way Brownism and Blairism worked: allowing low wages and precarity to proliferate with one hand, mitigating their effects with benefits on the other. By then, like most of the population, I loathed New Labour. Labour had become so capitalist realist that surely it couldn’t be much worse if the Tories got in? I shared the widespread view that elections don’t change much: all that’s on offer are minimally different versions of the same thing (neoliberalism).

It soon became very clear that this was not the case. Cameron and Osborne unleashed Capitalist Realism 2.0, the most audacious confidence trick in recent political history: make the poor and vulnerable pay for the bank crisis. Use the crisis as a pretext to destroy even more of the welfare state. Sigh their fake sighs, and tell us what “difficult choices” they had to make …

Today, if my wife and I earned what we did in 2010, we would receive only 50 pounds in tax credits a month.

Continue reading Pain now – kpunk election post #3

Communist Realism – kpunk election post #2

New post on the elections by Mark Fisher, (cross-posted from his blog, k-punk– TS 

Normal capitalist realist service was resumed on Thursday, on the BBC Question Time Leaders Special. With the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens absent, horizons contracted, expectations lowered, we were once again asphyxiating in the Oxbridge-Westminster bubble. This was most obviously signalled by a discursive exclusion: “austerity” was never mentioned, so we were back on the arid terrain of a debate the terms of which were set by England’s austerians in 2010. The question, once more, was: who would cut the deficit quickest?

Miliband further deflated the mood – I think deliberately – by explicitly ruling out a “deal” or a “coalition” with the SNP.Given the right wing press’s scaremongering, Miliband’s denying that a deal will happen might have been necessary in order to make the conditions for such a deal possible. Any equivocation would surely have been seized upon by the right wing media, and relentlessly used to stoke up the fears of voters less likely to vote for Labour because of the prospect of a coalition. The audience members imploring Cameron and Miliband to be honest about possible deals were as ingenuous as those who hailed the programme as a triumph of participatory democracy. Neither leader could “be honest” about how the vote is likely to go on Thursday because that very speculation could change what actually happens. Such is the state of our current “democracy”: everything is distorted by media projections, by politicians’ (second) guesses as to how voters may behave in response to those projections, a whole phantom science of feedback.

Baudrillard: “Polls manipulate the undecidable. Do they affect votes? True of false? Do they yield exact photographs of reality, or of mere tendencies, or a refraction of this reality in a hyperspace of simulation whose curvature we do not know? True or false? Undecidable.”

imgID24842213

For most of this campaign, Cameron has given every impression that he far rather be tucking into country supper than demeaning himself hustling on the hustings. Continue reading Communist Realism – kpunk election post #2

On Enemies Within – Rhian E. Jones on memories and myths of the Miners’ Strike

This piece was originally posted on Rhian E. Jones’ excellent blog, Velvet Coalmine. Reposted here, with thanks – TS

“We’re secure in the knowledge that we already lost a long time ago.”

– Richey James, 1992

I knew the death of Margaret Thatcher wasn’t likely to usher in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the Eighties, but it’s been good to see the thirtieth anniversary of the Miners’ Strike pass this year and last with due commemoration, and with little attempt to present what happened as a good thing.*

A few months ago I went to a screening of Still The Enemy Within.** This documentary does a fine job of detailing the strike’s background and bringing the experience of the strike to life. Generally I avoid (resist?) revisiting the strike in quite such unflinching detail, because – and apologies if this sounds hyperbolic; it isn’t – I find doing so almost debilitating, as though nothing else matters outside of emphasising how permanently shattering its results have been for a huge part of this country. The depth of feeling can be such that you want to back away from the edge. At this stage, at this distance, all one can do is bear witness.

(Every time I try to write about the Miners’ Strike and its aftermath, the exercise turns out to be merely a scraping at the surface, an unsuccessful attempt to uncover the heart of the matter. It’s a gradual stripping away of layers, on my part, of bravado and defensiveness and fatalism. This post won’t be definitive either. I want to do the thing justice, to give it adequate weight, and I know I can’t, so this will have to do. For the purposes of this piece, in any case, the strike is less of a conclusion and more of a jumping-off point.)

In its uncompromising commitment to telling a bleak and unrelenting story, Still The Enemy Within is a necessary supplement to something like Pride. The strike deserves to be remembered in the latter’s upbeat and uplifting terms of solidarity, sure, but equally what deserves remembering is that there were no happy endings, nothing of what we learned in the Nineties to call emotional closure. (Hoho, the only things that got closure in the Nineties were more of the pits.) There are wider questions here about what counts as history, and whether history must be necessarily cool-headed and objective, not relieved by colour or comedy or complicated by messy, judgement-clouding emotion. But the tangle of story and history surrounding the strike suggests that the event and what it stood for are not “just” history yet. Like Hillsborough in 1989, Brixton in 1985, Toxteth in 1981, the Miners’ Strike is a flashpoint that unforgivingly illuminates its era. That Eighties hot war of government against people still hasn’t cooled.

20150428_103944

You may imagine how exceptionally bored I was as a post-industrial Nineties teenager. (I mean, I couldn’t even join a brass band.) Growing up, before I ever knew I wanted to be a historian, I wanted to understand history – both its grand outlines and its bathetic, personal confines in which I knew my community to be stuck. How did we get here, and why? Growing up I felt stymied and stifled by history, and had the consequent compulsion to dig beneath the surface for the story. What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow, out of this stony rubbish? Continue reading On Enemies Within – Rhian E. Jones on memories and myths of the Miners’ Strike

Limbo is Over – kpunk election post #1

New post on the elections, capitalist realism and left populism, by Mark Fisher, (cross-posted from his blog, k-punk ) – TS 

LIMBO IS OVER

Tony Blair’s brief appearance in this election campaign, offering tepid support for a tepid Ed Miliband, ought to have been irrelevant. In many ways it was: who needs yesterday’s man, the hawker of an outmoded “modernisation”? Except, like so much of today’s culture, Blairism is obsolete but it has not yet been surpassed.

In Blair’s Castle Grey Skull, it is always 1997. Blair is like some inverted Miss Havisham, frozen not at the moment of his defeat and failure, but just before his moment of greatest success. Be cautious, don’t do anything to jeapordise the project. Blairism was this particular form of false promise, this deferral – if we are careful now, tomorrow we can do more … But tomorrow never arrives, the aim is always to be in government, the price is always the lack of any real power to change the inherited parameters of the possible. This is the formula: government without power, an increasingly unpopular populism.

The illusion of Blairism is that it was an overcoming of the defeats of the 1980s rather than their final consequence. It was a post-traumatic normalisation of catastrophe, not any sort of new dawn. Its legacy is organisational as much as ideological: a Labour Party that napalmed its grass roots (contempt for, and fear of the working class being a signature element of Blair’s rendition of populism) and which now beams down policy and PR from some rarefied Thick Of It Oxford PPE helicarrier circling miles above earth. The project remains getting into government, but without Blair’s showman-messiah charisma to cover over the vacuum beneath this aspiration. Miliband’s awkwardness stems as much from this lack of any vision as from any personal quirks. There is nothing animating the transparently choreographed moves: tack to the right on immigration, a little to the left on taxation etc. The ambition – to be the slightly lesser evil – is painfully clear to all, and can inspire no-one.

All of this is exactly what we expected… But the entry of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens into the TV debates changed the atmosphere. Suddenly, the picture the reality managers have fed us for the last few years – the three ‘big’ parties each offering a slightly different version of capitalist realism, with Farage and UKIP offering capitalist realism with even more ultra-nationalism – was interrupted, and it was possible to imagine that Britain was “headed, in its nuanced way, leftward”. In their different ways, Sturgeon, Wood and Bennett have widened the bandwidth of a media-political scene previously monopolised by the Oxbridge boys’ club. In terms of policy, there isn’t much on offer beyond a reset to social democracy (Plan B as opposed to Austerity’s Plan A), but capitalist realism is so deeply embedded that it was hard not to feel a frission when, for instance, Wood defended trade unions and the welfare state. Cameron’s refusal to appear in the BBC debate – and his banning of Clegg from doing so – was meant as a display of magisterial confidence, the only credible Prime Ministerrising above the irrelevant squabbling of lowly pretenders – but it ended up further reinforcing the sense of ennui that has attended his performances this campaign. Cameron’s appeal has always depended on his ruling class ease-in-the-world, but, in his case especially, insouciance always risks shading into an appearance of diffidence and hauteur. As for the Lib Dems – as Craig Mcvegas observed, their absence was barely even acknowledged in the last debate.

BBC election debate

Continue reading Limbo is Over – kpunk election post #1

Exclusive extract from Tentacles Longer Than Night (vol. 3 of Eugene Thacker’s horror of philosophy series)

This is an extract from Eugene Thacker’s forthcoming Tentacles Longer Than Night: Horror of Philosophy, Vol. 3 (Zer0, April 2015). It is the second of two extracts, the first of which (from vol 2 in the series, Starry Speculative Corpse) was published here last week. The two books (Vols 2 & 3) will be published simultaneously on 24 April by Zer0. – TS

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 17.15.17The Vast and Seething Cosmos (Poe, Lovecraft). In 1843, Edgar Allan Poe published his short story “The Black Cat.” It opens with the following passage:

For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not – and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified – have tortured – have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror – to many they will seem less terrible than baroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place – some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

An opening that is, perhaps, unparalleled in horror literature. Poe prepares us to expect something incredible, but without giving us any particular clue as to what that will be. Regardless of what follows, we as readers are primed to experience something indefinite, something the narrator does not – or cannot – define in any concrete way. All that we know from this opening is that what the narrator has witnessed seems to defy all rational explanation. The narrator even questions himself – was it a dream, a drunken hallucination, insanity itself? This self-interrogation (before the narrative has even begun) raises the stakes of the story. Whatever abstract horror has happened, it cannot be explained by the narrator. And yet, it must be explained, there must be an explanation. The narrator is so committed to this notion that he is willing to question his own sanity so that the “Horror” can be explained. And, the narrator continues, if I can’t explain it then there must be someone else who can. In lieu of this, he can only hope that someone else (doubtless we, the “dear readers”) will come along and provide an explanation, some explanation, any explanation.tentacles

What cannot be accepted is that something happened for no reason. But this event is not just an everyday event. It has the character of being out-of-place, of not fitting into our everyday or even scientific modes of explaining the world. It threatens the order of things produced by we human beings, living human lives in a human world largely (we presume) of our own making. That something, that event, might threaten this order of things, and that it would happen for no reason – this is, for the narrator of “The Black Cat,” the real horror. It is a thought that cannot be accepted, without either abandoning reason and descending into the abyss of madness or making the leap of faith into religion and mysticism. It is as if, before Poe’s story has even begun, the horror tale itself is in a state of crisis, the narrator nearly having a break- down before us, only able to communicate himself in vague terms and uncertain utterances. Continue reading Exclusive extract from Tentacles Longer Than Night (vol. 3 of Eugene Thacker’s horror of philosophy series)

Exclusive extract of Eugene Thacker’s forthcoming Starry Speculative Corpse

This is an extract from the introduction of Starry Speculative Corpse: Horror of Philosophy Vol 2 by Eugene Thacker. It is the second part of a 3-book series, which began with In the Dust of This Planet (Zer0, 2011) and will continue with Tentacles Longer Than Night.

Vol 2 & 3 will both be published by Zer0 on 24th April 2015 – TS

Descartes’ Demon. Sometime around 1639, René Descartes sat down at his desk to write. At issue for him was a simple question concerning knowledge. Philosophy, theology, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, the arts, and the natural sciences all claim to know things. From them a cumulative understanding of the self, of others, of the world, and of the cosmos is made possible. But how do we know that what we know is actually true? What is the foundation on which these disparate fields of knowledge are based? Are there questions that cannot – or should not – be asked, lest they undermine the knowledge they are designed to produce? How much uncertainty is tolerated before knowledge becomes doubt, and when does doubt come to a stop, if ever?

An abyss opens up. For Descartes this was a personal as well as a philosophical problem. As he writes, “Some years ago I noticed how many false things I had accepted as true in my childhood, and how doubtful were the things that I subsequently built on them and therefore that, once in a lifetime, everything should be completely overturned and I should begin again from the most basic foundations…”

Being the astute thinker that he was, Descartes set out a method for addressing this problem. The task was, as he notes, ambitious, and Descartes writes that he had been waiting for a “mature age” at which to undertake this project. Whether the age of forty-three was the right age or not is hard to say. He felt he had been waiting long enough, even too long, and so, Descartes writes, “today I appropriately cleared my mind of all cares and arranged for myself some time free from interruption. I am alone and, at long last, I will devote myself seriously and freely to this general overturning of my beliefs.”

The result of these exercises in skepticism are well known to students of philosophy, and, when The Meditations on First Philosophy were published in Paris in 1641, they immediately attracted a whole range of responses, not least of all from the ongoing debates over the relationship between philosophy and theology, reason and faith.

Descartes’ most lasting application of his methodological doubt comes in the first of his meditations, where he considers how our senses deceive us. Dreams, hallucinations, painting, and other examples are discussed as instances in which we think we know something based on sensory evidence, and are in fact deceived. But at least in these instances we can learn, from experience, to distinguish dream from reality, and the image from the thing itself. Our senses are reliable, if used properly.

But Descartes pushes his doubt even further. What if our senses are, by definition, deceptive? What if deception is, as it were, hard-wired into our very modes of being? Descartes raises this question through a kind of thought experiment:

Therefore, I will suppose that, not God who is the source of truth but some evil mind, who is all powerful and cunning, has devoted all their energies to deceiving me. I will imagine that the sky, air, earth, colours, shapes, sounds and everything external to me are nothing more than the creatures of dream by means of which an evil spirit entraps my credulity. I shall imagine myself as if I had no hands, no eyes, no flesh, no blood, no senses at all, but as if my beliefs in all these things were false.3

Another abyss opens. Often dubbed the “evil demon” or “evil genius,” here we see Descartes pushing his doubt to an extreme point, a point at which no knowledge is possible because nothing is for certain. One thought is as good or as bad as another, every- thing relative, arbitrary, haphazard, pointless. Subject to continual deception, prey to the cunning of unknown entities, dismembered and insubstantial, Descartes has let himself to stand on the precipice of philosophy and peer over the edge. And what he finds there is a terrifying abyss, where there is neither certitude nor knowledge, nor even a single thought – just a tenebrous, impassive silence.

“But this is a tiring project and a kind of laziness brings me back to what is more habitual in my life.” Can we blame Descartes for stepping back from the precipice? Thinking is hard work, yes, but the negation of all thought is, perhaps, harder. What Descartes inadvertently discovers is at once the ground and the greatest threat to philosophy, the question that cannot be asked without undermining the idea of philosophy itself. Continue reading Exclusive extract of Eugene Thacker’s forthcoming Starry Speculative Corpse

Dark, the Dim Hear – Daniela Cascella

This is an edited extract from the forthcoming F.M.R.L: Footnotes, Mirages, Refrains + Leftovers of Writing Sound, by Daniela Cascella (author of the blog/book En Abime) – TS 
“Ephemeral. F.M.R.L. (frenzy-madness-reverie-love), a fame really, ever merrily, Effie marry Lee: there are words that are mirrors, optical lakes toward which hands stretch out in vain. Prophetic syllables.” – Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant (1926)

Dark, the Dim Hear

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 13 February 2014
Magic and trial by ordeal. A hand. Cast brass amulet, against the evil eye. From Naples.pittrivers

The dim here always struck me. It’s dark, the dim hear as I tentatively tune in voices and whispers from the past. The dim light in the museum, the amulets against the evil eye, the empty drawers under the glass cabinets prompt me to linger in the voids and in the gaps, to imagine and recollect gestures and rituals around them: they set up a scenario and make me step into a past, in the Seventies in Southern Italy, when in dimness of memory I hear, out of the hazy layers of my recollections I hear a grainy persistent breath, a fatigued whistlebreath emitted not as a sign of life, but as the last aural sign of a life about to expire, it is my great-grandmother in her bed, not because she is ill but because she is very old, slow, at the border of life yet clings to life, poisonous and persistent like ivy my grandmother would say, lying, breathing in a dark grey room at the end of a long Sunday afternoon, when dusk comes in, in my recollections I hear the dim, recall a persistent broken sigh in the shape of a breath and then a stop, a convulsive breath and a stop, as if a rusty hook had caught that breath to prevent it from expiring, and she lies in a tall bed, maybe tall because I was little, although I later learned that beds at the time were in fact taller, I hear that convulsive breath as coming from an underworld of hidden whispering galleries, it is my great-grandmother’s but to my hearing it sounds as if it is the whole room breathing, and I’m left there, I can barely see her but I hear my larvae-great-grandmother disappear into her broken sigh, sighing herself into the room.

Continue reading Dark, the Dim Hear – Daniela Cascella

Materialistic arseholes and suburban dreamers: Bowie and the 1960s—Chris O’Leary

As a big fan of both Bowie and Chris O’Leary, it was as hard to select an extract from Rebel Rebel as it is to choose a favourite Bowie song; each song is covered in a self-contained entry, and they’re all fascinating. 
In the end I chose a series of 3 posts which make chronological/conceptual sense, and shed entertaining light on Bowie’s complicated relationship with late ‘60s hippy culture. Also contains The Prettiest Star, which is far from his best track but which, for sentimental reasons, remains one of my all-time favourites. 
Rebel Rebel (Zer0, 2015) is out on March 27th, there’s a list of stockists here  – TS 

 

Cygnet Committee

Recorded: (demo, “Lover to the Dawn,” unreleased) ca. mid-April 1969, 24 Foxgrove Road. Bowie: 12-string acoustic guitar, harmony vocal; Hutchinson: lead vocal, acoustic guitar; (album) ca. late August-early September 1969, Trident. Bowie: lead vocal; Christmas: 12-string acoustic guitar; Wayne: lead guitar; Renwick: rhythm guitar; Wakeman: electric harpsichord; Lodge: bass; Cambridge: drums. Produced: Visconti; engineered: Sheffield, Scott or Toft.

First release: 14 November 1969, Space Oddity. Broadcast: 5 February 1970, The Sunday Show. Live: 1969-70.

“Cygnet Committee” was, consecutively, a break-up letter to a communal arts center Bowie co-founded, a scattershot attack on the counterculture and a desperate self-affirmation. Deep in this gnomic, nearly ten-minute screed was a struggle to find a workable design for the years ahead, Bowie pledging himself to a life of creative destruction while keeping clear of professional revolutionaries. It was the sound of Bowie willing himself to become a stronger artist, hollowing himself out to let a greater creative force, for good or ill, take hold in him. The possession took. In fleeting moments, you can hear the apocalyptic, utopian voice of “Five Years” and “Sweet Thing,” of “Station to Station” and “‘Heroes.’” The man who was able to write those songs had to go through the crucible of “Cygnet Committee” first. Continue reading Materialistic arseholes and suburban dreamers: Bowie and the 1960s—Chris O’Leary

Monsters, Tricksters, Stranglers: an extract from Phil Knight’s Strangled

Extract from Phil Knight’s brilliant new book, Strangled: Identity, Status, Structure and The Stranglers, out now, investigating “the greatest punk band”, their overlooked mysticism, and their erasure from punk’s history. – TS

***

Picture for a moment a world in which the most significant practitioners of every particular musical style were written out of the history of that movement. For example, imagine The Beatles being excluded from the story of the Sixties beat boom; or Charlie Parker being mysteriously passed over in retrospectives of bebop; or King Tubby being omitted from narratives on the evolution of dub reggae. Such acts of neglect might seem unthinkable, and yet there is one genre whose self-appointed custodians do ensure the marginalisation of its greatest exponents, and that genre is punk.

For The Stranglers were the greatest punk band, not just in terms of commercial success, but also artistically. Though their peers often affected to shun them, it is remarkable how the group’s bass-heavy sound and gnostic, alienated worldview percolated throughout the genre, until, a couple of years after the initial punk explosion, almost every other band had come to sound like them. The Stranglers were the eye of the hurricane, the black hole at the centre of the punk universe, a present absence without whom much of the history of punk seems inexplicable, yet is chronicled anyway. Continue reading Monsters, Tricksters, Stranglers: an extract from Phil Knight’s Strangled

Camden: Last Survivor of a Dead Epoch by Tariq Goddard

This is an extract from Uncommon London, a new title in the excellent Uncommon Guide Books series, which will be published in June 2015 – TS

Camden: Last Survivor of a Dead Epoch Tariq Goddard

I wanted to be a writer at a time when my peer group wanted to rock. Even those who did not wish to be on the cover of the NME wanted to look like whoever was, and would show up in Camden with vague expectations of necking the same swill as Liam or Noel, their numbers increasing as the unlikelihood of it grew; the Gallagher brothers having long gone up to Primrose Hill to quaff the more salubrious stuff.Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 09.46.58

For those who remained faithful to the dream that was Camden, there was always the early nineties zeitgeist to look back on. A time when grebos, junk shop clothes horses, Adidas cretins and shoegazers colonised The Good Mixer and other ‘drinkers’ pubs, and where elderly Irish bookies sat next to gauche young show-offs out to make the era and boozer their own.

In these days before the great gentrification of London and unaffordable house prices, when the city’s declining population was only just being reversed, it was still possible to take the entertainment industry by surprise. Camden, beyond the market, was not lying in wait for its Dick Whittingtons in the form of walking tours and organic coffee: it had to be taken as it was; a working class area that a pub-based music scene had emerged from, largely by default (and through proximity to the Polytechnic of North London in Kentish Town). For those who disliked their music in poorly ventilated back rooms with carpeted walls there was always this plus; their world was theirs and no one else’s, relying on word of mouth and supported in public only by the then vibrant weekly music press. This ensured relative exclusivity and some halo of cool to an otherwise cut-price and basic state of affairs.

You were either one of the initiated or not, and as most people even in Camden didn’t care one way or other, the initiates had a free hand. With it they were able to pursue a programme of (modest) musical experimentation and to remain one step ahead of the commodification that would eventually kill their way of life.

Continue reading Camden: Last Survivor of a Dead Epoch by Tariq Goddard