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.

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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.

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: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DanTaylor13

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 jdt@riseup.net. 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

Paradoxes of a Spinozist

whurl

The more one lives by reason, the less one prioritises reason in others.

A mind is only as active as its body. A body is only as active as its mind. Both are one, yet irreducible to the other.

God? Nature. Nature? God. Infinity? Now. Now? Infinity.

The more selfless one becomes, the more forgiving one is of other people’s selfishness and one’s own.

Everything could be any other way. There is no other way things could be.

Every difficulty presents an opportunity for self-mastery.

Never relying on a true friend.

Freedom: living by desire, without free will. Living by reason, without any moral imperative to do so. Living as if infinite, without regard for tomorrow.

Before opening one’s mouth to mock, curse or moan, check: why.

As dangerous as empty fear: empty hope.

The problem of evil is that evil is not a problem.

Love’s reward is loving, its outward animation. Lovers harbour secrets, but there are no secrets to love.

Love is blind, and cautious like the blind.

Reality is perfection, and our perfection in this realisation.

A pebble tumbling from a roof; a drunk issuing home truths; a philosopher who reads the world as lines, planes and bodies: the first two know free will, though the latter alone is free.

Power is never over, only with. Power against is no power at all.

Express one’s contempt for misers, moralisers and killjoys by laughing with them gently and shaking their hands.

To recognise the impossibility of ever reaching the ideal one strives toward, and be reaffirmed by this difficulty.

Interrogate all superfluous punctuation.

Kauai

Kauai waterfall

In J.G. Ballard’s final writing — a typewritten synopsis of an unfinished project of Conversations with his physician, Jonathan Waxman — he rounds up with these moving lines:

‘nature has invented this remarkable instrument of rejuvenation, that touches almost every level of our existence.’

What might this instrument be? A vague and semi-religious sense of hope, or the comfort of family? A technological or economic faith in human progress, or the pleasures of a midday scotch and soda? The completion of the next work project, or a mobile phone upgrade?

‘It is sex to which we turn after bereavement. It is a door that is always open…..’

Etienne Balibar once wrote of Spinoza that, in his final words, a dismissal of women’s right to participate in a model democracy, seemingly at odds with his belief in human capability, he seemed to die right before us on the page. With Ballard, he fizzes out majestically, revealing the key to his generous belief in life and its joyous potential. His words also indicate what I’ve felt yet frustratingly inarticulated. It indicates the most available mystical experience for the largely secular and cynical generation I’ve grown up in.

Love in all forms can be pursued by anyone. A life dedicated to loving others cannot be wasted. It is a striving that is never completed, a joy experienced in its expression.

There is no lack or pent-up drives, forget those Freudian abstractions and plumbing metaphors. It is far stranger than ‘pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause’ (Spinoza) and far more earthly than the highest stage of being given by the primitive gods (Ricardo Reis). Where felt, it is revelatory; where shared, it is redemptive.

In providing objects outside oneself upon which to transfer one’s hopes, happiness and curiosity, it reveals that happiness cannot be a solipsistic affair. Reason is most lonely. Yet it must never be confused with the object itself, that bitter lesson of heartache. Sadness and confusion come alongside the relaxed bliss, generosity, and emotionally-charged excitement that imbues one’s life with a drama beyond anything in Ibsen or Eastenders. It is a door that is always open, provided one is willing to suspend disbelief and risk it. The heart, that most disabused compass, indicates the way. How long it takes some to risk it… It is never final or finished, and never quite clear.

Nature has made us far less sophisticated and interesting than popular culture might suppose. At times I see each of us as bundles of energy, expressing light and rhythm, rapidly expiring but, at our best — and this is what I’m now most interested in — momentarily alive in our joys. Even speaking of atoms swerving in the cosmos is another abstraction foisted on the simplicity of our natural experiences.

I am also doubting the certainty of the above words, and expect to lose, and rediscover, to infinity, the feeling and taste of these words.

On March 23rd this year, on our ten year anniversary, me and my partner Sarah were married in Kauai. It was an extraordinary and wonderful experience. I thank her for teaching me what love is, and what it can be.

The gambler

the gambler

Found this from an old bit of writing that felt worth sharing. I’m sure Pascal precedes Locke, Hume and Dostoevsky with the use of gaming and gambling for philosophy and the imagination.

‘Man is so unhappy that he would be bored even if he had no cause for boredom, by the very nature of his temperament, and he is so vain that, though he has a thousand and one basic reasons for being bored, the slightest thing, like pushing a ball with a billiard cue, will be enough to divert him.

‘But,’ you will say, ‘what is his object in all this?’ Just so that he can boast tomorrow to his friends that he played better than someone else. Likewise others sweat away in their studies to prove to scholars that they have solved some hitherto insoluble problem in algebra. Many others again, just as foolishly in my view, risk the greatest dangers so that they can boast afterwards of having captured some stronghold. Then there are others who exhaust themselves observing all these things, not in order to become wiser, but just to show they know them, and these are the biggest fools of the lot, because they know what they are doing, while it is conceivable that the rest would stop being foolish if they knew too.’

A given man lives a life free from boredom by gambling a small sum every day. Give him every morning the money he might win that day, but on condition that he does not gamble, and you will make him unhappy. It might be argued that what he wants is the entertainment of gaming and not the winnings. Make him play then for nothing; his interest will not be fired and he will become bored, so it is not just entertainment he wants. A half-hearted entertainment without excitement will bore him. He must have excitement, he must delude himself into imagining that he would be happy to win what he would not want as a gift if it meant giving up gambling. He must create some target for his passions and then arouse his desire, anger, fear, for this object he has created, just like children taking fright at a face they have daubed themselves.’

— Pascal, Pensée 136, in Pensées, trans. A.J. Krailsheimer (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966), p. 70.