After the speculative realism conference on Friday and ahead of the hardcore continuum discussion at UEL tomorrow, check out my very Harmanised call for critical overreach, over at the Fact website.
My tribute to Ballard, written after reading one middlebrow hack appropriation too many, is now up at the ever-excellent Ballardian.
I found myself sharing Sukdehv Sandhu's bemusement: "It is hard ... not to raise an eyebrow at the column inches and airtime given over to Ballard's passing. Frankly, it seems hypocritical. His values were far removed from those of the cultural gatekeepers that have posthumously embraced him: he was a natural non-conformist whose work is anti-humanist, perverse, violent."
Far better, for Ballard still to be condemned as
evil than that he is smugly assimilated into Britlit.
A couple of fascinating responses to the container post (in addition to Owen's remarks, of course - speaking of whom, to complete the circuit described in this post: would you believe that I've actually been working on a post on Pakula's Parallax View) for the past week or so?)
First up on the containers, Frieze's Dan Fox(who also took the photos which illustrate this post):
Next up The Wire (magazine's) Derek Walmsley:
Douglas Murphy adds:
A belated response to the Insitute's remarks on the G20 protests. Firstly, the Institute is certainly right: the interview with David Harvey at Red Pepper is essential reading, but Harvey's argument about the "right to the city" - "in the last 30 years an immense amount of the capital surplus has been absorbed into urbanisation: urban restructuring, expansion and speculation. Every city I go to is a huge building site for capitalist surplus absorption" - make a case for something like a systematic campaign against the London 2012 Olympics rather than the inchoate petitions of last week. I maintain that sabotaging the 2012 PR/ development programme is eminently realistic, in part because any campaign could draw upon a sense of discontent that spreads far beyond the regular constintuencies of opposition to capital, yet this struggle inevitably engage issues of development, about who owns the city and what use it can be put to.
A word of clarification. I didn't privilege the factory occupations over the G20 because they involved labour, but because the occupation strategy has a potential to move beyond the logic of protest. Where protest by its very nature awaits recognition from a big Daddy Other that it, in an obvious Hegelian reversal, grants recognition to, the occupation can refuse recognition not only of the big Other, but also of the system of property that it represents. The occupation seizes space and forces power to act if it wants to reclaim it.
Naturally, I wholeheartedly endorse Savonarola's remarks on trade unions. It's difficult to see how even extremely limited reformist goals could be achieved via political parties, but unions have the required "transversality" to be effective. This would of course require a change in orientation, strategy and thinking, however since, even after thirty years of Post-Fordism, unions remain fixated on Fordist objectives and methodologies. My experience of union meetings though is that there is a vast reservoir of libido waiting to be tapped; at meetings, there was an animated disaffection with auditing and new bureaucracy which immediately dissipated when the 'official' agenda - pay and strikes - was dutifully returned to.
New forms of industrial action need to be instituted against managerialism. For instance, in the case of teachers and lecturers, the tactic of strikes (or even of marking bans) should be abandoned, because they only hurt students and members (at the college where I used to work, one-day strikes were pretty much welcomed by management because they saved on the wage bill whilst causing negligible disruption to the college). What is needed is the strategic withdrawal of forms of labour which will only be noticed by management: all of the machineries of self-surveillance that have no effect whatsoever on the delivery of education, but which managerialism could not exist without. Instead of the gestural, spectacular politics around (noble) causes like Palestine, it's time that teaching unions got far more immanent, and take the opportunity opened up the crisis - their crisis, our opportunity, as Harvey rightly characterises it - to begin to rid public services of business ontology. (When even businesses can't be run as businesses, why should public services?)
Containers and their drivers
Harvey's comments on containerisation, echoed and expanded by No Useless Leniency, have a special piquancy for me now that we live in such close proximity to one of the largest container ports in Europe. The fact that one of one of the "exposed nerve cables of global capital" (as Scanshifts put it) should be here, in the town that MR James used as the setting for "Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You My Lad", and next to the Zone-like Landguard common, with its abandoned fort and pillboxes, makes for a cybergothic incongruity. Seen from the town, the port's cranes tower above the Victorian resort like H G Wells' Martian Tripods. Approached from Trimley marshes, the cranes loom over the countryside like gleaming cybernetic dinosaurs erupting out of a Constable landscape. The immensity of the port's "unvisited vastness" is not capturable in any photograph.
There's an eerie sense of silence about the port that has nothing to do with actual noise levels. What's missing are the traces of any human activity. Watching the container lorries and the ships do their work, or surveying the containers themselves, the metal boxes racked up like a materialised version of the bar charts in Gibson's cyberspace, their names ringing with a certain transnational, blank, Ballardian poetry - Maersk Sealand, Hanjin, K-line - one never has any sense of human presence. I'm reminded instead of the mute alien efficiency of the pod distribution site in Philip Kaufman's 1978 version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. The contrast between the container port, in which humans are invisible connectors between automated systems, and the spectacular clamour of the London protests (and indeed of the old London docks which the port of Felixstowe effectively replaced) tells us a great deal about the shifts of capital and labour in the last forty years.
The spectral cranes of Felixstowe port, as seen from Trimley Marshes
As Ben mentions, containerisation famously features in the second season of The Wire (which, I confess, I still haven't seen), but containers are also central to one of the most eerie scenes in I, Robot. The herding of decommissioned robots into containers is a poigant image of the obsolescence of labour, taking place in one of the very sites - a container park - which has made that obsolescence possible.
1. 23rd April - Zer0 book launch
2. APRIL 28TH 2009
ON/OFF: MARK STEWART
POP GROUP TO MAFFIA
Dir. Toni Schifer 2009
Genesis Cinema, 93-95 Mile End road, E1 4UJ, LONDON
Party feat. DJs Adrian Sherwood,The Bug, Toni Schifer & Russell Haswell:
The Rhythm Factory at 16-18, Whitechapel Road, E1 1EW, LONDON
The East End Film Festival is proud to announce the premiere of "ON/OFF: Mark Stewart - Pop Group to Maffia" Directed by Toni Schifer, (Crippled Dick Hot Wax, Monitor Pop), this documentary gives us a unique insight into one of the most innovative and inspirational artists of the last thirty years. Exclusive interviews and footage of Mark travelling and performing as well as interviews with those who have worked with him, (inc. Gareth Sager, Adrian Sherwood, Keith Leblanc,Doug Wimbish, Skip McDonald, Daniel Miller etc.), and those who have been inspired by him, (inc. Nick Cave, Massive Attack). This means we finally get a chance to learn about this true outsider from the regular music industry.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Mark Stewart and Toni Schifer conducted by Mark Fisher, (K-Punk, The Wire). Afterwards Adrian Sherwood, The Bug, Russell Haswell and Toni Schifer will DJ as well as some other musical treats to be confirmed.
Tickets cost £10, but you can buy a joint tickt for both events for
£15. People who have attended the screning, or have these tickets, are given
priority to go to the party.
George Monbiot on the bizarre PFI scheme to widen the M25:
Weird enough for you yet? Well, one of the banks reported to be backing the scheme is RBS. The taxpayer now owns 58% of it. This is likely to rise soon to 95%. If the government underwrites the M25 expansion, it will in effect be bailing out RBS twice, then charging itself for the privilege - and for the bankers' fees, including salaries and bonuses. RBS - in other words, you and me - already has £10bn invested in PFI schemes in this country, for which we are paying extravagant rates. If you have come across a state-spending scheme madder than this, please let me know.
Why does this happen? Capitalist realism of course.
This is something quite different: a toxic combination of ideology and terror. No lesson, however brutal, can divert the government from its central project of propitiating its old adversaries: industrialists and the rightwing press. Gordon Brown will keep feeding the beast, however much this costs. True disciple, he worships still at the altar of market fundamentalism, even when the market no longer exists.
From Disney Pixar's viral marketing for Wall-E ("talk about realism! Surf over to the News section and you'll find that the manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to India! Oh, and the corporation is petitioning for its own Enron Loophole.")
Gordon Brown"our task today is to bring financial markets into proper alignment with the values held by families and business people across the country."
Badiou, The Century: “It’s very striking to notice that … the family has once more become a consensual and practically unassailable value. The young love the family, in which, moreover, they now dwell until later and later. … The new man primarily stood – if one was progressive – for the escape from family, property and state despotism. Today, it seems that ‘modernization’, as our masters like to call it, amounts to being a good little dad, a good little son, to becoming an efficient employee, enriching oneself as much as possible, and playing at the responsible citizen.”
An excellent piece on Job Seekers Allowance by Kevin Maguire in the Mirror today. As Owen has been arguing, there is a real opportunity at the moment to undermine the neoliberal mythography of the scrounger (which, as Maguire points out, has been crucial to the attacks both on the unemployed and on immigrants). The alarming decline of JSA in real terms under Blair and Brown also underlines the way in which attacks on welfare that would not have been possible at the height of Thatcherism go unremarked under New Labour:
TUC chief Brendan Barber speaks of how sacked pin-striped bankers are horrified at how little money they get on the dole.
Once they smugly thought scroungers signed on but now they realise it's no bed of roses on state support, observed Barber when I bumped into him.
The Government trumpeted an inflation-beating 5.2% rise tomorrow in the Jobseeker's Allowance. Unfortunately 5.2% of very little is only £3.80.
JSA will still be a measly £64.30 per week if you're over 25, £50.95 if younger.
.... Britain's another country to the mythical welfare paradise of deluded right-wingers who play for cheap votes by bashing claimants.
We're near the bottom of European unemployment benefit rates.
If JSA had kept pace with earnings over the past 30 years, it would be £110 per week.
Liberal Democrat frontbencher Steve Webb calculates the dole equalled 17% of average earnings in the Thatcher recession of the 80s.
During the John Major Tory recession of the 90s, it had fallen to 14%.
And in the global financial recession of Gordon Brown's Premiership, it has slumped to 11%.
I certainly hope that Owen is right and that the elements at yesterday's anti-G20 protests can combine into a combustible new left. But it's significant, that for me the only potentially political strategy - the factory occupation in Enfield - is happening far away from the spectacle of politics that went on in the City. Surely Lenin's scepticism is justfied:
At the moment, it is the exorbitant nature of the demands and the fact that they are still directed at a Bad Father who cannot grant them that is a large part of the problem. There has to be a determinate goal, a set of demands that could in principle be met. But there also has to be a political subjectivity which has what Peter Hallward calls practical sufficiency in itself, which did not require some Master to act on its demands for it. Stop The War has concrete demands, but if there is any movement which has demonstrated the tragic impotence of mass protest of this type this decade, it is the anti-Iraq war struggle. Millions of people march in London to no effect whatsoever. The war is a total failure, yet still the anti-war effort is not capable of stopping it. Partly it is its inability to act on its own demands, to seize ground without the permisison of the Masters, that has meant that the Stop The War movement has not managed to convert discontent into an effective political subjectivity. The climate change protest, meanwhile, is largely meaningless, since it is a protest that everyone can agree with, and therefore has no potential to generate political antagonism - who is in favour of climate change? The factory occupation, by contrast, at least has the potential to move beyond the model of protest towards some sort of direct action by workers which can create an effective antagonism over issues of ownership, control and property.
Time to withdraw from the feelgood simulation of politics. Time to give up the gratification of displaying wounds inflicted by the police as signs of grace, evidence that we are on the side of the Good. Time to relinquish the easy jouissance of impotent acting-out. Time to face the fact that organising marches isn't the same as political organisation. Neoliberalism didn't protest to achieve its hegemony; it organised and co-ordinated. This is a moment of massive oppurtunity. Neoliberalism is finished, but it survives in an undead form because its assumptions and defaults still condition the political-economic landscape. Capitalist realism is far from dead, however - and it's surely clearly that it certainly won't be destroyed by an 'anti-capitalist' spectacular hysteria (indeed this form of anti-capitalism could be seen as an integral part of the capitalist realist system). It's time to think, not in order to finesse some grand philosophical system, but with the goal of identifying what new forms of organisation can succeed in these conditions. Time to give up on the romance of a politics of failure and plan to win.