Island Story Short-listed

Orwell shortlist

Remarkably, Island Story: Journeys Through Unfamiliar Britain has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for best political writing, 2017. There has obviously been some confusion or administrative error with my inclusion, but it is an honour to be in the company of some truly excellent titles. I am grateful for all the support of my friends, family, loved ones, and my publisher Repeater.

Dr Taylor

I am now a fully-fledged doctor, after I passed my PhD viva exam without corrections last week. I was examined by Étienne Balibar and Beth Lord who both put forward rigorous and stimulating questions.

The title of my PhD is ‘Freedom, Power and Collective Desire in Spinoza’. Its overarching claim is that freedom in Spinoza is a necessarily political endeavour, realised by individuals acting cooperatively, requiring the development of socio-political institutions that can administer the common good, in accordance with reason.

I will be working on getting parts of it published over the next few months. It goes without saying that some of the concepts I identify or create in that thesis like commonality and collective desire completely suffuse my political writings, past and present. There’s more about my academic work on my academia.edu page.

The work would not have been possible without the help and support of my friends, family and loved ones, to which I am infinitely grateful.

Orwell Prize Long-list

Island Story has been long-listed for the Orwell Prize for political writing.

It has sneakily gatecrashed into an impressive party. Many thanks to everyone who has enjoyed the book and supported it. Read more about the long-list here.

In tandem, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is being read aloud in its entirety at the Ministry of Truth on 6th June by actors, journalists, and other miscellaneous sorts like myself.

I’m also teaching these over the coming months:

  • For the IF Project’s ‘Thinking Without Borders’ course, I’m lecturing on ‘Power to the People? Populism, Freedom and Self-determination’ on 27th April. IF is a free university in East London, and the free evening course runs bi-weekly from April to July.
  • I’m also giving a 12-week course on ‘The Meanings of Life’ at the Mary Ward Centre, an adult education institute in Holborn, with a good social ethos and low concessions. This beginners’ philosophy class covers Aquinas, Montaigne, Spinoza, Kant, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Bataille, Kafka, Sartre, De Beauvoir, Arendt, and more if I can fit it in (yes!)

Brexit on a bicycle

ns-cover

My article on cycling around the North of England in the aftermath of Brexit has been published this week in the New Statesman.

Based on conversations during my book tour of Island Story, I set out to explain why many working class people voted Brexit. The horizons of political possibility have been hemmed in by economic hardship, I argue, and I look at the roles of work, welfare and insecure housing on how political choices are imagined.

The piece is a little late in its publication! I wrote separately about my journey and its findings for Fair Observer back in October, where I focused on the effects of poverty, debt, and the formation of a new kind of working class, unrepresented by any political party.

While Island Story certainly hasn’t transformed the zeitgeist of the nation, it has had a warm reception. It was reviewed by the Financial Times, the LSE Review of Books, and the Manchester Review of Books. There were interviews with Nottingham’s Left Lion and About Manchester, and it had favourable coverage in the Morning Star and the venerable Wakefield Express. Individually, Natalie Bradbury, John Hutnyk, and John Ledger generously responded to it. It was also book of the week at the London Review Bookshop.

Given its unwieldly length, I applaud anyone who’s read it cover to cover as a worthy companion in an epic adventure.

“A Brief History of Sacrifice” out now with Fold Press

fold press

Fold Press have published a long essay of mine, with a new accompanying essay by Steve Hanson.

“A brief history of sacrifice” fuses Bataille with Burial, austerity cuts with public executions, Mauss with Facebook, signing on with the politics of self-immolation. It brings together observations on mental health, debt, wage slavery and alcohol’s consolations into a sharp attack on contemporary culture. Think Walter Benjamin on a night bus in Croydon.

It’s an experimental and dark journey in thought, and given recent events, its publication now as a small book feels apt.

Steve’s accompanying essay is insightful and provocative, and at times mordantly funny. Consider this:

We have lost the old patterns of sacrifice, and tragedy is also a victim. The new tragedy is that when the young read Beckett they see only everyday observation. That, as Dan Latimer pointed out, when they stare into the Heart of Darkness, their hair does not turn grey overnight, they get on with trying to acquire a residence with a double garage. Failure to achieve this status is not tragedy either, but a flawed or less determined character. Tragedy is the return of eugenics in soap opera form. Apollo or Dionysus is no longer the point, when the spreadsheet and the writhing televised sex spectacles exist happily in the same domus. They are now joined at the hip.

This is the second in Fold Press’s Blazer series. The first, “Clocking Off” by Steve Hanson, uses a re-imagining of a post-Brexit utopia to critique the enforced positivity and ‘descriptive fatalism’ of the current moment.

He calls for a collective clocking off, a refusal to participate in an economy that robs our time and labour to service a depressed and unequal society. He imagines a freedom that is not individual but collective. Not a freedom ‘from’, but ‘within’ and ‘for’, defined by care for the environment and for each other, where all are equal in terms of their share of time.

Out of this seething chaos, by refusing ‘realism’ as a thin description of the status quo, we have revolutionised everything.

Visionary in places, caustic in others, it’s an extraordinary essay and one that deserves a wide readership.

You can order both “Clocking Off” and “A Brief History” together for £5 including postage. Otherwise “A Brief History” sells for £4.50 all in. Order information here.

Island Story tour

 

island

 

The United Kingdom appears less politically or socially stable than at any point in living memory. The confusion caused by a seemingly impossible Brexit vote has left the island with no obvious political direction or gravity. Incoherence is the watchword of the moment. The feeling of defeat that was so palpable in people’s conversations and gestures two years ago during the journey of Island Story repeats itself: failed promises, broken infrastructure, the universality of public dishonesty, and the retreat of many back into familiar pessimism and frustrated anger.

High time to hit the road then. Over ten days I’ll be cycling through and giving talks in Nottingham, Wakefield, Sheffield, Manchester, and Liverpool. Findings from Island Story will be contrasted with talk of today’s politics of island identity. These will be lively, open discussions, and I hope for open-minded participation. All events are free.

Nottingham: Thurs 11th August, Nottingham Contemporary at 6.30. “This is Nottz”.
http://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/event/nottz

Wakefield: Sat 13th August, Redshed Working Men’s Club, 1pm on. As part of the “Fighting for Crumbs: Art in the Shadow of Neoliberal Britain” week of events.
Fighting For Crumbs (Art in The Shadow of Neoliberal Britain)
https://www.facebook.com/events/1766943633588740/

Sheffield: Sun 14th August, Site Gallery, with Glen Stoker and Anna Chrystal Stephens, 2pm-5pm. “Survey” – a landscape exploration.
http://www.sitegallery.org/archives/10092
https://www.facebook.com/events/530014483854301/

Manchester: Mon 15th August, Friends’ Meeting House, Mount Street, 6pm. “The Island”. Hosted by Manchester Left Writers and Social Sciences Centre Manchester.
https://www.facebook.com/events/1862152284071701/
Reserve tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-island-tickets-26586942260

Liverpool: Weds 17th August, News from Nowhere Bookshop, 6.30pm.
https://www.facebook.com/events/1113607842046631/
http://www.newsfromnowhere.org.uk/noticeboard/bookshopevents/index.php

Come down! Special thanks to David, Sophie, Allie, John, Nick, Steve, Sandra, Maria and Brian.

Hope

come hither astronomers, have ye no disdayne

There’s something very worrying happening here. It’s in the language, in the kinds of terminology that is getting deployed to describe people. Under the carapace of a resurgent right-wing populism is a disaffection. An anger which is against the political establishment, against politics of all kinds, but with something more to it, too.

It is something I found when I began doing something, not unlike you, forty years ago. Interviewing people – using tape, which I never used again! – I found there was a disorientation in many working class communities. You see in the old division of labour there was something comprehensive. Everyone knew their place, every town made something… and people were not afraid to think and believe in themselves. That collective was more easily imagined and brought to mind…. me and my class. Our future. But I found, even, what is it… forty years ago! That the certainties of that structure were disappearing. And I was accused of romanticism, of nostalgia… but Labour, the Left, never recovered, they lost that demographic. In some ways they’ve lived on borrowed time. Many communities have lost something, a certainty, a way of life, yes, that they never recovered. And in moments like this there are dark energies, globally even, allowing this uncertainty to be vented out with the most hideous of consequences, absolutely hideous.

You must remember that there’s been a kind of double expropriation of politics. There is one of language, wherein terms have been taken and shaken and divested of their original meanings. Democracy, community, even what is happening with the EU… all these problems of sovereignty relate to TTIP, to the banks, but words and causes have become loosened and unlinked, and it has become popular to blame something entirely different. The EU is not responsible for their grievances. These are issues of tax avoidance by Google or British American Tobacco, of the UK being a kind of pirate state, a land of stolen loot, where nothing’s been made for a long time… But there has also been a gentrification of political language, particularly radical politics. A professionalisation, where one needs a Masters or PhD to participate and speak of class politics. I’m the son of [working class English industrial family], but I sound different don’t I? And you too, like you say… So when there is this reaction against all politics, against liberals, there’s something that should make people on the Left uncomfortable. It is a reaction against a loss of coherency. A disorientation in the old working class, who cannot think nor speak, in a certain way…

Sceptical? Yes… that’s my outlook, too. I’ve never been a party member. Well, I joined Labour again for Corbyn… and we have to believe he could succeed, because in that belief or lack thereof is a politics, one which the right-wing media is utilising very well. But as I’ve got older I’ve dreaded the antagonism that comes with having a fixed position. I can’t bear people who ask questions already knowing the answer. One loses that confidence, that sense of… animation? Maybe, that… ability to reach to generalisations, assert arguments with a sense of entitlement to being right. One loses that with age. How old are you? Well… I avoid the Internet now. So many just feel they can say the most horrible and unpleasant things to someone they feel no connection with. No. Perhaps it is time for me to stop. I don’t have the energy to rough through that any more. One’s world becomes more full of doubts. One sees that the world is no longer yours, no longer for you, and that maybe it’s time to pass the baton on.

But one must always bring energy. I do not believe in facetious hope, always calling on others to have faith. That doesn’t help, that can make the intolerable bearable. But I believe that one can have sincere doubts and still attempt to release energy. Do not ask me for my viewpoint. When you say you want to know what the answer is, I say it is in all of us, the community, getting together and deciding collectively. And that is possible.