Back to school

This week has had that short-breathed, edgy feeling, as all my teaching gigs fall into place. So many new faces and names, so many different things to try and remember. Each year my teaching load expands. I’m learning how to spin more plates simultaneously, and find myself learning more widely as I go. It’s thrilling; it’s tiring too.

At Goldsmiths’ History Department this year, I’m convening London’s History Through Literature, as well as the first year introductory behemoth Concepts and Methods in History. I’m also supervising some fascinating MA/MRes work on Georgian pugilism and the early Quakers and Islam.

At Mary Ward, I’m teaching two classes on the Anthropocene (as per last post – still some places left on the second 4pm class). In the spring I’ll teach a 12-week intermediate course on Martha Nussbaum, which I think is the first time her thought has been taught at such length and depth.

I also work at Lawrence University’s London Centre now. I’ve been designing and teaching a ten-week, twenty-class course on the impact of the British Empire. It’s been eye-opening, even for someone already on the Left. In Spring I’m back to teach the history of the Stuarts, and life and politics in 17th century England.

I’m also teaching on the annual IF Project’s class series in East London. Last week I lectured on Hannah Arendt on truth and politics, a topical one for sure, and will be doing seminars with them on left populism and political theory the next few weeks.

Some good news too with writing. I worked over the summer on a new Spinoza manuscript, completely reworking my old PhD into an accessible book. The result, Spinoza and the Politics of Freedom, will be forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press’s Spinoza Studies series (at some point).

I also got some journal articles published:

  • Bataille and Blanchot on death and friendship in Angelaki (forthcoming next year)
  • A piece on Spinoza’s Political Treatise in History of European Ideas
  • The ‘affects of resistance’ – indignation, emulation and fellowship in Pli.

I hope to have some news about other articles and chapters in due course.

Lastly, I spent a few days in Gateshead over the late summer working out my next book. I want to say much more about that project, and hope to get the chance to do so (and start real work on it) next year.

Sending love and thanks to my family and friends for their support over these busy and sometimes hard few months.

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.
  • “Mandatory Individualism and Post-Capitalist Desire”, for a series of talks on Capitalism and Mental Health by The Culture Capital Exchange, Ravensbourne University, 6th December
  • “Do we still not know what a body can do? Beaking down the productive body”, for The Body Productive , Birkbeck on 8th December – looks ace.
  • “Are some more equal than others? Hannah Arendt on human rights” – SLT Philosophy Forum, March next year…
  • 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…!

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.

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.

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 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.

A million different yous

research questions

I’ve recently begun asking friends and family variants of these questions, as part of a new project. Everything in conversation, face to face, to avoid the problems of ego-projection or self-restraint that can sometimes debilitate written correspondence. The answers have so far varied from the inspirational to the disappointed.

I begun asking myself these questions a little while ago. I wondered what a life that prioritised love and generosity above all other things would amount to. A more intense form of commitment, one that is general and at best indiscriminate. One that involves an assertive line of questioning, and a sensitive ear, in seeking to determine what makes a life resilient, capable of change. One that would necessitate difficult decisions, gambling everything for something uncertain and, to some, a non-existent dreamland.

Some seismic things have also shifted in my life recently, necessitating going through old papers and books to get rid of as much as I can. Among old essays and scrapbooks, I found a curious piece of writing which seems to answer some of my questions. It was written on a sheet of A4 in October 2007 when I was 20, and I have no memory of ever thinking (let alone writing) its contents. Its discovery suggests something else of its title. It reminds me of a line from the Isa Upanishad that has been a heartening discovery. ‘Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.’

Notes toward “A million different yous” (06.10.07)

Looking into the mirror – the image, Narcissus, my image. Sometimes you can look at the image and the reflection is not the same as that character called ‘me myself’ with his/her (most properly androgynous) interior dialogues streaming inside our heads. This is getting ‘lost inside our heads’, perhaps the most accurate description for what we usually call our migraines, depressions, blanks, fugues…

A million different yous. There is, it’s true. A million different persons we could’ve been, and could be. It’s an observation that’s probably been made before, with the revolutionary potential of such a bold – and constant, as constant as living and breathing can be – project of personal self-fashioning, or continual becoming. ‘Man is condemned to be free’, Sartre says, and elsewhere, ‘Man simply is’. But these bloodily-earnt facts are not convincing enough to us, those of us who live their lives and their thoughts in complete non-rationality, spontaneity and impulse, or habit and repetition – both the same. We can’t finish, let alone begin, the project of creating happy brand new lives. One is never free to make a choice if one is unaware of its possibility, or conditioned not to ask.

We’re stuck at home, happily; we go around, and complain about our shit jobs or how shit life is when you’re skint on the dole, contentedly; we come to our confidantes for advice about the latest heartache caused by a negligent boyfriend or an insensitive girlfriend, and – of course – we disregard their warnings with satisfaction. We even have late night conversations with old friends, in candlelit intimacy, hands running through greasy hair, whispering our secret woes, drug dependencies, thoughts of self-murder, lovelorn desire, unloveableness. Then, with their hands and their consolations, live lives of brief normalcy before falling into a reassuringly familiar despair that gives up all possibilities and calls it age. In its obliteration, the self is brought to the fore.

But these are just notes of a number of things. I like the way that when we’re young, our dissatisfaction takes its peak, boils over, and we fly the nest not to return, except when we’re accepted as mothers and fathers, with bouncing grandchildren. We fly the nest precisely because happiness is where home no longer is: we want to go out, make exciting friends, get laid, find lovers, adorn ourselves in ways individual and shocking but retrospectively are not. Later we find our friendships to not be the permanent loves our ciderdrunk 16 y old selves declared, in those staring at clouds conversations, but transitory, sometimes forgotten, sometimes betrayed, rarely reaching a comfortable and open proximity. And then we see how the persons that always did truly know us, and our million selves cascading from out us like sparks from a catherine wheel, were the folks at home – mum, dad, brothers, sisters. Or even a neglected spouse who, though maybe resented or even disliked, might remain the sole person one could emotionally and sexually connect with, in a total way. At least I think so – no I don’t. A large amount of marriages might lack that sexual co-awareness. The clitoris and multiple orgasms are still apparently only recent discoveries for heterosexual masculinity.

But is this even true? No – it may be true – but do I actually believe that shit? A million ones? The flipside of a collective agape is an attention seeking or denying despair that bla bla bla sod it…!

Have I even lived? Or just thought ? ‘Don’t be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life’ writes Brecht. Maybe I did a deal with the devil: school success, done without any thought or desire about why. Not a life itself, just a stringalong in order for old family to keep the love and reassurance coming (so the feeling goes). Where’s been the independence? I am not interested at all by history – I write, maybe that is what I am good at. I don’t want to be a historian or academic, and to be fair there’s not much chance I’d be good enough for it.

An ending: ‘A million different yous. He slugged the can back.’

No, another: ‘Enforced silence. He sat quiet while they babbled away. The company was too intelligent for him. He stared at the floor, glancing occasionally upwards when someone walked past him.’

One more try: ‘Scene at Greenwich Park. Place where things might happen, but never do. Her: “It never goes away.” Him: looking down at a text message. “What?” Her: “Nothing.”’

Island Story

Island Story - cover (2)

The write-up of my epic ride around the country will soon be available in print. Island Story: Journeying through Unfamiliar Britain will be published with Repeater Books in June 2016.

Pre-order your copy here.

To celebrate the launch of the book, I am raising as much money as I can for Headway East London. Please visit my profile and find out more about this ace organisation:

There will be a joint book launch at Housmans on 22nd June 7pm with Jeremy Seabrook, whose Cut Out is a brilliant parallel exploration of some of Island Story’s themes – the event will involve talks, a conversation between us and questions.

If you’d like a review copy of the book, email If you’d like me to come to your community centre, working men’s club etc. and talk about my cyclo-philosophical findings around Britain, please message me. I’m interested in visiting the Midlands and North of England around mid-August.

Thanks again to everyone who helped me on this trip, a very large number of you. Don’t worry, I have given you a very flattering description in the book. If some think that we islanders are not as courageous, generous or wise as I have described in Searching for Albion and Island Story, then I encourage them to go out there and find out for themselves. I’m also planning a similar trip around Ireland in mid-2017. I’ll post about that when the time comes.

Lastly, let me treat you to a map of that insane journey, which I have had the leisure of finally working out since finishing my PhD last week…

the wrong map