Update (October 2018)

Just an update on my goings-on, which on a professional level haven’t changed much. Since September I’ve been back teaching at Goldsmiths and the Mary Ward. At Goldsmiths I’m teaching a couple of first year History modules; at Mary Ward I’m halfway through a course on Hannah Arendt as well as the introductory classes, with a new course on political philosophy in the new year. The teaching has been a joy; it always is.

Over the late spring I finished my third book on Spinoza. I’ve got some minor changes to make on that, and then I’ll be able to share more news.

With Laura Grace Ford, I’ve been running a Mark Fisher Acid Communism reading group at Somerset House. This has been a wonderful thing and may well continue next year, where it may change form again.

I’m speaking at a few events:

  • Baroque Sunbursts: k-punk remembered on Sat 17th November at Somerset House. I’ll be co-hosting the night with Laura, and it comes alongside the launch of Repeater’s edition of Mark’s collected work.
  • The Body Productive at Birkbeck on 8th
  • The PSA annual conference next April on the A13 and Brexit.

Over the summer I finished a couple of papers in some new areas – Bataille and Blanchot and death, and the early 20th century British socialist weekly The New Age. A load of Spinoza work is sitting in the pipeline at various stages of completion/publication.

I’m not sure yet what next year holds, it depends on some applications I’ve made. Where are we going, Island Story’s future-focused and more philosophical sequel, remains at an embryonic stage – structured, thought-out, but no more. And one day I’ll finish the London novel, when the time’s there and it feels right.

One day… When it’s all done… One more push, get that bit of work done and then life will be so much easier, then you can relax… Yeah we all know how that goes.

‘Neoliberalism’s victory, of course, depended upon a co-option of the concept of freedom’, wrote Mark in his late, unfinished Acid Communism. ‘Neoliberal freedom, evidently, is not a freedom from work, but freedom through work.’

To everyone working much less…!

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Updates

The last six months have been good, if defined by hard work. Teaching has been a joy, and it’s been great to work with such bright students. Fascinating essays and some inspired conversations. Not much is worthy of self-publicity (is anything?), but a couple of updates are due.

I’m back at Mary Ward Centre teaching three courses starting next week. It’s short notice, but all are welcome and course fees are fair.

  • The Philosophy for Beginners class I’ve been running turns to the philosophy of religion and belief, from Christian and Islamic philosophy to existentialism. It runs on Wednesdays from 2pm-4pm.
  • Intermediate Philosophy: Society, Language and Difference, which turns to post-war French philosophy. Expect Foucault, Fanon, Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, Irigaray, Cixous, Kristeva and Butler (and some Situationists). It runs on Mondays, between 1pm-3pm and 6pm-8pm.
  • Lastly, How to Think Straight in an Information Overload. Another new course for me, expect a mixture of critical thinking, rhetoric, critical theory and applied rationality. It runs on Tuesdays from 6pm-8pm.

My friend Rod Kitson painted these two familiar figures:

Two Brothers from Camberwell (2017)

I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Open Country programme, talking about Coventry edgelands and common land, about 19 mins in.

I had plans of writing a series of essays as a sequel to Island Story, focusing on a small number of places to draw out a common story about the futures facing the island. Still at the planning stage. Teaching has wiped out all free time. But I’ll begin in August. Thanks to people who’ve got in touch to help with the project, and I’m sorry it hasn’t got further yet. I will arrange walks and talks in the late summer, and I’ve picked up funding from the Society of Authors for it.

Between teaching preparation and marking, I’ve written a manuscript based on my PhD. It’s called Collective Desire: Spinoza and the Politics of Freedom. It’s taken a lot of time and work, though I finished earlier this week. It combines a mixture of close readings of Spinoza’s own politics, his views of servitude, political domination and fear and its relation to freedom and collective power, with some more speculative tangents linking Spinoza to more recent political and philosophical thought. There’s a lot there about desire, hope, commonality, and its possibilities in more difficult times.

I don’t know what will happen yet with the manuscript, but wherever it is eventually published, it’s dedicated to Mark Fisher. As I was writing the MS I delved back into his work, re-reading Capitalist Realism and his blog, sifting out his account of Spinoza, which the book engages with throughout. I’m going to share some the dedication that appears there:

‘I had the great fortune of being taught philosophy by Mark at a further education college in South London. His enthusiasm for difficult thinking in difficult times was infectious, and he had that rare Socratic gift among teachers of giving his students the confidence to think and express their own ideas as if they had arrived at them independently. He made our thoughts ours. He encouraged me and others to go to university when we were unsure if we were good enough, or if difficult thinking was worth the uncertainty. His prolific output on the k-punk blog brought many more of us into contact with new cultural and philosophical worlds, including that of Spinoza, while his Capitalist Realism gave a blueprint for radical change that galvanised many like me into the British student protest movements that raged in the years after. Above all, Mark was a Spinozist avant la lettre. Not only his political thought, but his warm, self-effacing yet electrifying manner all bore the manner for whom philosophy was a ‘meditation on life’, and on the very best of human life, in the vistas and vicissitudes of human freedom. Yet as Mark also put in an early, perceptive writing on the ‘inhuman’, anegoic aspects of Spinozan reason, ‘being a Spinozist is both the easiest and hardest thing in the world’. Mark’s final, incomplete thought was turning to a politics of ‘postcapitalist desire’ and ‘collective joy’, and while the remainder is reliqua desiderantur, this work is a very modest tribute to the collective joys and desires his conversation brought to life.’

 

Four Conversations

I’m speaking this Sunday afternoon in London at Conway Hall, ‘Four Conversations: A United Kingdom?’, at the Bloomsbury Festival. The theme is nationalism and identity, explored from four different perspectives within the UK. I’ll be joined by Ewen Cameron, Jennifer Thomson, Daryl Leeworthy, and the audience. It’s free, and has been brought together with the intention of avoiding cliche and generating reflective, critical and open-hearted discussion. Read more here.

Conversation is an interesting thing to note in passing. For most of my adult life I’ve lived in words, picked from the printed page and chewed over. Then, for about a year, that changed, and I threw myself out into the world, and hardly wrote or read. But towards the end of the summer, while recovering from a broken collarbone, I decided to step back from that.

I came across something by Simone Weil recently that verbalised something I’d had in mind: ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’. I’d stopped being able to focus without distraction. I wanted to step back, disappear underground, start to tune into and observe what was around me, without worrying about my own place within that. Switching off social media, the news, alcohol, no longer being constantly connected, and inhabiting myself, has brought about peace. But it seems against my collectivist ideals, and I wonder what to do about that.

In its space, another kind of wonder creeps in. I am lecturing around twelve-fifteen hours a week, most of it on courses I am designing (at lightning speed), and more work than I can remember. But it’s good work, the sort that doesn’t feel like work at all, a dangerously pleasurable work. In a week of constant conversation and communication, the spaces between classes and lectures and emails are pleasant. I find myself often wondering about the different worlds and futures of all these bright people I meet, who I have the pleasure of talking about ideas or events with, and of watching the sophistication of their thinking develop and grow over a short period of time. It’s hard to put it concisely, but I often wonder and daydream about the futures of people I meet. What will life do to them, or what will they do with life? It inspires much more than it saddens.

The book I hope to write, which hasn’t been written for a while – there has not been enough time, there is never enough time – will explore some side of this, politically, I suppose. But writing and classifying an idea is also a way of processing it to expurge it, get it out of your system. And I’ve enjoyed not writing, not finishing. And, instead, imagining and reflecting on the many mental worlds actually around me. I’ve come to think that finished words or polished concepts are not the final story of our minds, but a continual flux of emotions, memories and half-worked ideas. Maybe that is what makes conversation most illuminating of human thinking, concerned not with full stops but ellipses…, with stumbles, mumbles, disagreements and misunderstandings, where words might be shared but rarely do we have precisely the same things in mind.

But my word, I miss reading all the blogs and short essays of friends who no longer write! So many indeed, I wonder if it is over-work or fatigue or just having interesting lives or something else entirely which has taken the words away, like it has mine, or made us escape their confinement.

Spinoza in London

spinoza

From next Monday I’m teaching a 12-week course on the philosophy of Spinoza that’s open to the public. It will explore Spinoza’s Ethics in depth, as well as the Theological-Political Treatise and its contributions to the Enlightenment and modern political ideas. We’ll be thinking with Spinoza about nature, knowledge, freedom, contentment, and democracy. While some basic familiarity with philosophy or history with help, all are welcome. Classes take place at the Mary Ward Centre, Holborn, on Monday afternoons, with more details here.

I’m also teaching another year of my Introduction to Philosophy course at Mary Ward on Wednesday afternoons – all are welcome. Lots of rich, ranging discussions on life, death, responsibility, and the many meanings of life. And also two courses on London’s literature and London’s social history at Goldsmiths that I’ve put together, plus seminar teaching there too.

But, Spinoza!

K Blundell Award

Some wonderful news: I have received one of the K Blundell Trust’s awards to help complete my next book.

The Trust gives grants to British authors aged below 40 whose works aim to increase social awareness, and are awarded twice a year. Crucially, these are awards for works in progress. If one has neither a large publisher’s advance or steady tsunamis of royalty payments, grants like this one are crucial for making it possible to pay for time to write, travel and think.

I recommend fellow writers look into this scheme and other similar grants by the Society of Authors here. (My thanks to Bob, a student in my Hegel class, for lending me a copy of the LRB which contained an advert for the scheme).

So what is the award for? Titled Where Are We Going?, the next book takes the form of eleven narratives about a specific place and the people I meet, through which I document the effects of forces shaping British politics, from health and social care to deindustrialisation, the ‘gig economy’, farming and rural poverty, to immigration, class, identity and housing. I’ve begun preparing the book this year, and with the grant I’ll be able to reduce my work hours and finish the main research (by which I mean cycle, visit, question, listen and observe) in early 2018.

Displace

‘How do we even begin to have a conversation about the gargantuan problems of finite resources, personal ethics and social change in a framework that renders an individual life seemingly powerless?’

Laura Sillars raises this question in her foreword to A Sick Logic, a collection of writings, photos and field guides that raise questions and possibilities about self-sufficiency in modern life.

The book has been brought together by Anna Chrystal Stephens and Glen Stoker to accompany their exhibition of the same name in Sheffield last summer. I had the pleasure of collaborating in a site tour with them, and have written an essay for the collection called Displace. You can read that here if you like, but there’s much more of interest in the book itself, a thoughtful and inspiring gathering of thoughts about place, escape and immersion.

Thinking is most often a conversation along a journey, often without the certainty of reaching a judgement or change in ideas. Often a journey ends here, where you are now, and might be picked up again another time. Recently I’ve gone back to these questions of how the social and ecological overlap. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how the collective and communal can also be understood within one’s own inner space, and how creating and cultivating an inner mental space, an unseeable side of internal wonder, experimentation and reflection, might be of some good in resisting the boredom and anxiety of a continuously connected, distracted life.

Displace touches on some of that, but still wears an air of certainty too easily, which is not the mark of a traveller, who listens, observes, never judges, and may be somewhere else entirely.

Audio essay

royaume-uni

“A tale of two countries” is the title of an audio essay I’ve put together for an exhibition opening today Up North in an abandoned boozer. It’s a rough attempt to try to put across some feelings and ideas about the political and social mood at the moment.

The exhibition, “Will the last person to leave the 20th century please turn out the lights?”, is a journey into the West Yorkshire eerie, bringing together drawings, installations and audio. If you happen to be bowling by Baildon, between Bradford and Otley, it opens today. More info here.

If not, have a listen here.

Thanks goes to John Ledger for inviting me to produce something and for bringing it together.