“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.

Paper and razor

boks

I’ve two oddball pieces in two collected editions by Pavement Books. “On Paper” is a short story, included by Jack Boulton in Hand Picked: Stimulus Respond, and “We hate humans!” is an article on skinheads and the demonisation of working class violence in Return to the Street, edited by Sophie Fuggle and Tom Henri. There are far better pieces in both collections and I recommend a quick peek, and the other publications of this relatively new press.

Capitalism makes us anxious

Francis Bacon, 'Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne', 1966.

Francis Bacon, ‘Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne’, 1966.


Want to hear a joke in bad taste? Here goes:

Four people are on an airplane when its engines fail: an investment banker, an economist, a pensioner, and a student. The hull catches fire, and there are only three parachutes. The banker grabs one and says “this plane is my property, it’s my right!” and jumps. The economist grabs the second and says “without smart men like me, the world would collapse!” and jumps. With few moments to spare, the pensioner says “you take the last one, I’ve had a good life”. The student replies, “no, we’ll jump together”. Confused, the pensioner replies how. “Well, the smartest man in the world took my school bag”.

How does that relate to the stress felt in heart or head? Who knows. I tried with this recent popular article for Roar Magazine, and I did try hard, as we always, delusively, strive so well to do. Judge me there: http://roarmag.org/2014/03/neoliberal-capitalism-anxiety-depression-insecurity/

Good things x 2 to follow though….

Heckle me tomorrow as I talk with some way more interesting people at Parliament tomorrow on the poverty of ideas in politcs, tickets + info here: http://thepeoplesparliament.me.uk/themes/zero-books/

Newspapers

Cyril Power, The Tube Train (1934)

Cyril Power, The Tube Train (1934)

 

A man wakes up punctually at his usual early time. A newspaper is delivered to his home, as he has arranged for every weekday morning. He completes the same washing routine, exercises reluctantly, eats the same moderate and healthy breakfast, and after dressing in his usual combination of sensible shirt and trousers, works through the maths puzzles on the paper’s middle-pages. He does not marvel but merely observes that the proper basis of the world is order, best exemplified in the logic of mathematics, the most perfect form of order to which everything else in the world ought to be transformed into. On his way to work (following the same judiciously engineered route as previous days: shortest distance x stimulating panoramas = good jaunt), he drops his paper into a bin, but on this day the wind takes it and sweeps it down the road. Another man, sleepless and deprived of breakfast in another fit of self-imposed abstinence, curses the litter-bug. He picks up the paper and reads it on a bench, covered in graffiti and dirt, some foul smell nearby on this most bleak of all mornings. Only stories of global strife and suffering: a mob in one country have attacked another on religious grounds. Irreversible climate increases have damaged the wheat harvest and look likely to send food prices and shortages up. At home, a poll finds most national citizens are against immigration and welfare for those from other countries. He curses the world, its spite and lack of generosity, and despairs of that hope he once had for humanity towards progress. Rubbing his eyes, he clambers up and shambles off, towards the familiar warmth of his unwashed bedsheets. Another sees the newspaper roll down the street again, but cannot properly believe the truth of his senses, and so assumes the newspaper is another mirage to which there is no worth in paying heed to. Fortunately another quickly behind him picks it up and throws it in the bin. He marvels at the composition of the paper, the production process involved from a tree, cut down at a specific point in time, which is then changed in form into something one has at hand, with symbols, language, millennia of humans struggling and succeeding concept by concept, symbol by symbol, to advance collectively towards mutual understanding and collective social advancement through technology. He explains this to his friend, who wonders about who produces the newspaper, the labour conditions of the timber-yard, printers and press office, and the persons to whom the profit of that paper is yielded to. He is furious when he realises, after careful accountancy and analysis, that the surplus of each grafter has been ruthlessly expropriated by distant figures involved in diddling the digits. But the first man cannot get his mind beyond the sheer immensity of this productive process, until he gets confused, so confused, and decides to stick with what he knows, which is whether the symbols can be said to be true or not, whether one can know anything of the smallest one at all. He falls behind his friend, falls behind his words and his times, until he decides it best to speak not of what this thing is (which was once, alas, a newspaper), but only of what it is not, which is not not a thing. He sighs. Two women pass and one asks the other why men alone are given the time, and salaries, to talk about these questions. The other says it’s all without meaning. They’re almost knocked over by a man hurrying up the street in the clothes of another country, who sees not the paper nor the people but only the immanent, intense song of his panicky twitchy nerves, which he names after an old mythic being, singing through his nervous system like la la la la la.

Three talks, two weeks

bernays

I’m temporary leaving the companionship of Spinoza and band rehearsals to give three talks on contemporary politics. It’d be nice to see people at Housmans in particular on 11th Sept.

“Perverted by language: British political discourses of fairness, opportunity and security in the midst of financial crisis”, at the European Sociological Association 11th conference 2013, Turin, on 29th August. Unfortunately it has a few quotes in from Tony Blair, David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith – sorry. www.esa11thconference.eu

“For what use is a “fickle and inconstant” multitude? Striving, self-knowledge and collective desire in Spinoza’s political philosophy”, SEP-FEP 2013, CRMEP, Kingston University, 6th Sept. Spinozan pessimism, constitutional politics and the physics of unanimous collective power. http://fass.kingston.ac.uk/activities/item.php?updatenum=2459

“Six months on, what’s changed? Negative Capitalism, a discussion” with me and Mark Fisher at Housmans, London, at 7pm at 11th September. What’s changing, what ways forward, what next? £3 entry but redeemable against any purchase http://www.housmans.com/events.php

If you’re interested in any of these and want to see draft papers/notes, just email.

Check out the Nowt Press Anthology

Nowt1cover

‘Mephisto is the true herald of modernity’, so I argue in an essay in Beginning Again in the Middle: Nowt Press Anthology 1

The collection offers more incisive and nutritious fare aside from my manic ‘thirteen assertions’ on digitised economies (it’s hard to hold a straight face in a tongue like mine when you’re talking of theses). I urge any bored and restless reader to get a copy of the collection for the excellent pieces by Steve Hanson, Robert Galeta, Lee Hassall, Robert Upton and Simon Ford. And for only 77 pence via Amazon Kindle (click here), this is probably the cheapest publication I’ve been involved in since the heyday of J’en ai Marre issue one…

Keep following the work of Nowt Press at nowtpress.wordpress.com.

Spinoza in Hamsterdam

I presented two papers last week on Spinoza, one in relation to pessimism, the other in relation to the war on drugs. Certainly not the common associations made, but both went down well. The abstracts are below, and I plan to put them back on the heat and extend them into something else at a later point. If you want to know more, email me.

Spinoza

1. The problem of mass desire and the multitude: a re-reading of Spinozan pessimism

London Conference in Critical Thought, RHUL, 6th June

Spinoza’s democratic political thought uniquely determined not how a state might rule its people, but rather how the rule – or will – of the people might be best served in a state. Yet although his endorsement of the multitude’s collective power remains consistent over his political writings, its overall objective shifts, as this paper analyses. In the Ethics, the democratic state must serve freedom, based on the common agreement of reasonable men (E4P18S); by the TTP, men’s natural right is desire alone, a more unpredictable force swayed by hope and fear, best served by a collective surrender of sovereignty to the democratic state (TTPxvi; also Letter 50). By the unfinished TP, the objective of the civic state is no longer the common advantage of free men, but civic security and stability. The will of the people becomes both the fundamental basis and gravest threat to a stable commonwealth.

Contemporary political theorists of power, particularly those within Post-Marxism, have increasingly turned to Spinoza to expound new, optimistic and revolutionary theorisations of constituent power and desire as defining political subjectivities (Negri, Balibar, Deleuze, and less explicitly Badiou). The post-Althusserian ‘Spinozan Turn’ reflects a crisis of Marxism and Anarchism to provide a new materialist democratic horizon for socialism, yet such a turn falters into ‘indignation’ and ‘discord’ if it cannot first theorise the role of the democratic state in constituting and managing mass desire, rather than its inverse. This paper uses Spinoza’s conception of the state to introduce an aporia for critical theory: the problem of shaping mass desire, and its relation to the state, either as counter-power or constituent power. This is pertinent in an era of destabilising politico-economic systems, ecological collapse, rising religious fundamentalisms, and a deterritorialised global political dissent which has yet to mount a sustained challenge to neoliberalism.

This inspired a number of questions about the danger of claiming Spinoza as a ‘utilitarian’ or pessimist, to which I stressed that there is no “correct” reading of Spinoza or any philosopher, but a usage that conforms to political and institutional norms and imperatives. And, as Balibar puts it, Spinoza is a ‘complex of contradictions’, whose unity fragments through close reading.

*

The paper bag compromise: applying Spinoza’s concept of the ‘state of nature’ to US drug legalisation in The Wire‘s Hamsterdam

Making a Difference: Graduate School Conference, University of Roehampton 7th June.

In season 3 of acclaimed TV crime drama The Wire, Major ‘Bunny’ Colvin experiments with a desperate solution to Baltimore’s irrepressible drug-related crime: total legalisation in an abandoned neighbourhood. Dealers and users are transported by police into the free zone of ‘Hamsterdam’, named after the Dutch city known for its liberal drug laws: as a result, major crimes decline whilst drugs users and sex-workers are able to access medical support. Drugs are consumed freely, so long as users adhere to Colvin’s social contract: no violence. Yet what also occurs is a grim vision of brutality and lawlessness, as children become ensnared in the disorder and misery of the ‘free zone’, which is ultimately shut down after violence and political scandal.

Amsterdam is also birth-place of Spinoza, 17th century philosopher and political theorist. Spinoza believed that what preceded civil society was a universal ‘state of nature’, without any moral laws, justice or rights. Like Spinoza, Colvin assumes that drug-users, like all living beings, are dominated by their addictive ‘passions’ to inevitably seek their own gain. Rather than vainly attempt to prevent this, the lesser of two evils is chosen, concealing their usage within the street-drinker’s geographical ‘paper bag’. Whilst The Wire depicts the failure of America’s ‘War on Drugs’, total legalisation without attending to its social causes also results in disaster. As Spinoza would explain, the ‘social contract’ can only manage, without improving, the collective lot of humanity. Only through understanding the social causes of our actions, and attempting to re-direct them by education, toleration and building peaceful communities, can societies move beyond hiding problems to overcoming them. Like Colvin’s Hamsterdam, this first requires facing our problems in the first place, however politically unpalatable.

I’ve been helping organising this conference for a while with a lovely hard-working group, and I hadn’t planned this paper, but seized the moment after a speaker dropped out in the morning. The paper and slides were produced in a couple of hours and it was a bit experimental, but the questions after on drugs legalisation and moral choice were great.