October 27, 2009

MJ hype


Trust me, you don't have to like MJ to enjoy this book ....if you want serious but highly readable reflections on pop, politics and celebrity (and their interactions) .... if you long for the kind of engaged and expansive criticism that you used to find in the music press of the 70s and the 80s ... if you like the music writing that's emerged from this zone of the blogosphere... then there's plenty for you here... all this, and a great cover image from Laura Oldfield Ford, too...

The Amazon price is a steal: believe me, it's worth paying out that for Ian's essay alone....

Capitalist Realism is also available for pre-order on Amazon...


For readers in Argentina:


(Why does one's writing always look better when it's translated?)

Deleuze y la brujera is reviewed here

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October 25, 2009

'A symbiosis posing as an antagonism'

Proving the point:


... only two examples from this excellent post, which everyone should read...

Diane Abbott is also very good on the QT thing...

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October 24, 2009

False discussion in this institution

    Callam Opacic, 19, whose grandfather came to Britain as a Polish refugee, said: "All of them apart from Nick Griffin were hypocrites. They didn't let him say a word on so many political issues."

The issue is why this judgement, quoted in The Guardian's report on responses to Griffin's appearance on Question Time in Burnley, can appear to make sense. From the point of view of liberal commonsense, which has been congratulating itself about its "defeat" of Griffin on Thursday, it was the BNP leader who was caught up in lies and evasions and exposed as a hypocrite. Yet Griffin embodies - or rather speaks for - the logic that the neoliberal consensus in Britain replies upon, but cannot own. It's now clear that racism is the necessary excrescence of neoliberalism, the obscene supplement that asserts itself in the space from which politics has been evacuated. At the risk of repeating familiar arguments, the idea that race - or broader, "identity" - is the Real of social antagonism has suited neoliberalism well: because it naturalises social differences, because it blocks off any possibility of universality, because it shatters class solidarity. What is evaded here is the way that racism is not some naturally-occurring tendency but, necessarily, a displacement of the class antagonisms which the neoliberal consensus - hello everyone on the QT panel apart from Griffin - has a vested interest in covering up.

What's interesting, though, is that, in making the logic of racialisation explicit, Griffin stirs the spectre of class. The neoliberal tactic has been to ignore resentment and aggrievement altogether - to maintain that such feelings are a moral, educational or pyschiatric failure of those who have not accepted metropolitan, "modernising" values ("diversity" on the one hand, neoliberal "solutions" on the other). Much of the BNP's appeal derives from its granting of legitimacy to those feelings of resentment and aggrievement - yes, it says, you're right to feel angry and betrayed, you're right to feel that your anxieties are being ignored, you're right to feel that there is something fundamentally wrong. Here, class emerges - because who has done the betraying and the ignoring if not the metropolitan "elite" which Griffin attacked on Thursday? But this brief flash of class antagonism is immediately subsumed by race-logic: the problem is not the class structure itself, the BNP wants us to believe, but the elite's "pandering to minorities". Needless to say, this has it the wrong way round - the real problems, to name only a few of the most glaring, are the precariousness and poorly paid nature of post-Fordist work, the running down of public services, the pathetically low rate of council house building. Yet the right wing media, not just the BNP (the BNP merely feeds off the conditions that the press and their stooges in parliament have created) relentlessly sends the same message: it isn't the poor provision of services and resources that is the issue, but the monopolisation of these services and resources by whatever racial Other is being demonised that week. Given this incessant media bombardment, given this one narrative, it isn't surprising that some working class people "experience" the social in this racialised way.

So it's clear that it isn't at the level of 'argument' - still less, 'debate' - that the BNP can be tackled. It's at the level of narrative - the frame through which the social is experienced and explained - that the battle for the hearts and minds must be fought. The Question Time thing showed that, at the moment, the political landscape is a symbiosis posing as an antagonism: a discredited neoliberal consensus set against its excremental product, a far right Master narrative. Only when working class grievances and resentments can be re-narrativised by a new politial agent can this frame be broken.

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Adolf Brent

Lenin's refusal to join in the celebrations about Nick Griffin's shambolic performance on Question Time last night is well founded. Griffin may have come across as what Peter Serafinowicz called "Adolf Brent" but bumbling incompetence didn't stop George W Bush being elected twice (or Jack Straw from serving in government for over a decade, for that matter).

Lenin is right. What you have to think about is how last night looked to those with sympathies towards the BNP: an unctuous liberal smug-in which cast Griffin in the preferred role of the racist, victim. Griffin's claim that "we are the aboriginals", his talk of whites as the "real victims of racism" makes plain the racists' envy of those they hate, based on the conviction that "they" enjoy more than "we" do. The fact that Griffin's 'arguments' don't stand up to rational scrutiny means nothing. Since when has racism relied on rational argument? For all his squirming and dissimulation, Griffin at least looked as if he had a libidinal honesty - the fact that there was an evident obscene underside to his discourse last night will only confirm in his sympathisers' mind the impression that he was prevented from telling the 'truth'. Meanwhile, Straw's window-dressing evocation of multicultural values looked disingenuous because it entailed no political cost: when it comes to immigration policy, Straw will do what he always does, and dance to the tune called by the right wing press. The same press that has successfully propagated the doublethink whereby immigration control "cannot be discussed" while it endlessly discusses it, concealing the reality that what cannot be countenanced in mainstream political discourse is any positive narrative about immigration, and the fact that the whole focus on immigration is a massive smokescreen, a displacement from the real issues of resource distribution and class - a displacement that New Labour has been more than happy to go along with. So we have yet another odious "debate" on immigration in which all of the parliamentarians compete to demonstrate how "tough" they are on it...

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October 23, 2009


Modernism After Postmodernism: Is there a future beyond capitalist realism?

November 11th 2009

2:00pm - 5:00pm
UEL Docklands Campus

Room EB.3.19

(third floor, main building, turn left upon entering the main square after leaving Cyprus DLR. Cyprus DLR is literally situated at the campus)

Free, All welcome

Has the idea of ‘postmodernism’ left any legacy but that of a generalised capitulation to the demands of liberal capitalism? What can contemporary urbanism learn from the era of unabashed ‘militant modernism’? Is the most controversial living philosopher, Alain Badiou, with his radical re-conceptualisation of Truth, Event and Subject, to be understood as advocating a neo-modernist programme, or something quite different? Can there be any progressive radicalism that does not ultimately embrace the revolutionising logic of modernism?


Mark Fisher
Capitalist Realism, or the Political-Economic Logic Of Postmodernism
Mark Fisher teaches at UEL, the City Lit and Goldsmiths and is the author of Capitalist Realism (Zer0, 2009)

Nina Power
Is Badiou a Modernist?
Nina Power is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Roehampton University and the author of One-Dimensional Woman (Zer0), 2009)

Owen Hatherley
They Are Rebuilding The City, Always: Regeneration now and its post-war predecessors
Owen Hatherley is a freelance writer, a researcher at Birkbeck and author of Militant Modernism (Zer0 2009)

Jeremy Gilbert
New Times Again: Legacies of Left Postmodernism
Jeremy Gilbert teaches at UEL and is the author of Anticapitalism and Culture (Berg 2008)

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October 09, 2009

Towards a new orthodoxy


Reading Jodi Dean's excellent book on democracy and communicative capitalism, I was put in mind of Momus's recent remarks about blogging (as cited by Simon here). "Sure," Momus wrote, "Click Opera has been a sort of karate course, and its comment facility has taught me to be more dialectical and -- above all -- the skill set of prolepsis, of anticipating reader objections. But is a more moderate, accessible and dialectical me really what the world needs? Doesn't the world need an immoderate, outrageous and concentrated me, just laying out things that only I could think, no matter how wrong they may be?" For me, the answer is clear - I certainly don't want writers who "respond to criticisms", who patiently deal with "feedback", no matter how hostile and uncomprehending. I want writers who have the courage to pursue their own lines. What's interesting, I suppose, is the libidinal impulses at work in those who don't want that - who would rather have a writer spending their time on discussion boards and in comments boxes defending themselves, nuancing their position into innocuous irrelevance, or effectively abandoning it altogether in the name of some vacuous commitment to "debate".

Nothing illustrates the debilitating fit between "democracy" and "communicative capitalism" that Jodi analyses so well than this demand. Jodi's claim is that there is a necessary, not merely contingent, connection between the communicative landscape of Web 2.0 and the neocon and neoliberal right. (Note how grey vampires and trolls willl automatically appeal to the democtratic "right to be heard" the moment they feel that attention will be snatched away from; note how they will always describe those who are no longer paying them attention as totalitarians.) Jodi identifies an assymetry in the right and left approaches to democracy in the era of web 2.0: the right uses democratic openness to advance clear, divisive positions; the left appeals to the openness first, so that it becomes identified with openness as such rather than a set of determinate policies. Incidentally, what I liked about Nick's presentation at Militant Dysphoria, which met with a certain amount of British can't-do-ism, a good introduction to the UK for Nick I guess, was the crispness and clarity of its tactical suggestions - there's a punkish demystification at work here, as well as the echoes of management consultancy that Dominic heard: here's how things have changed, now let's change things ourselves.

Instead of skulking in the margins, celebrating "disruption", "diversity" and the instability of meaning (poststructuralist habits that the left finds it hard to kick), what the left needs now is the confidence and courage to plan, to impose a new orthodoxy in the way that the right did. I'm sympathetic to the argument that one can't completely transpose the methods that capital and neoliberalism used onto leftist struggle, because capital had resources and vested interests on its side which are not at the disposal of the left now. But one can overstate this: ultimately, Nick Land's view that capital is an "artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources" is closer to the mark than the view that capital had everything stacked in its favour from the start. Capitalism's agents were a revolutionary class which had to dismantle feudalism, undermine the authority of the Church, and challenge pratically every vested interest before they could succeed. Two important things that come out of reading Andy Beckett's book on the 70s are (1) how much was against neoliberalism then and (2) how hard the neoliberals had to plan and work in order to get their vision realised (with the Grunwick strikebreaking campaign a foretaste of everything that would be thrown at the miners). The left should leave behind "spontaneity" along with all the other relics of 68, which weigh so heavily on the brains of would-be militants. The alternative is not Stalinism, even if it might involve elements of conspiratorialism (how could any effective political strategy not involve some element of this?); and it will certainly entail a disciplined withdrawal from particular communicative circuits. What is certain is that it is imperative to escape the binaries that "democratic" communicative capitalism has imposed on our thinking.

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October 08, 2009

"An abyss that laughs at creation"


A belated thanks to everyone who attended last week's Militant Dysphoria event at Goldsmiths. And special thanks to Dominic, Nathan, Nina, Nick, James and Alex whose thoughtful presentations did so much to stimulate the very lively discussion and to demonstrate the dark fecundity of the ideas in Cold World

There's an special urgency and poignancy about the concept of militant dysphoria just now, when dejection is so widespread amongst the young. The regime of anti-depressants, CBT and relentlessly upbeat pop culture enforce a compulsory positivity which treats the negative only as failure and pathology. Dejection is not an extreme state so much as a generational condition, as invisible as it is ubiquitous, sometimes treated as a medicalised disorder, sometimes condemned as a depoliticised apathy, often not acknowledged at all, but normalised as an existential horizon of lowered expectations and minimal hope. If, from the perspective of a vitalist commonsense, militancy and dysphoria is an impossible collocation, then the dejected young (and among them, all those who aestheticise their dysphoria, such as Goths and the devotees of Black Metal), must simply be abandoned as depoliticised, unpolitical or - at best - pre-political. But as Dominic put it in his own comments box recently, "Dysphoria is 'militant' when it refuses to be framed as a personal mishap, and instead poses itself as a question and a challenge to the society in which it occurs." And an important question Dominic's book poses is how to make politics answerable to the Cold World - how might the emotional hyper-literacy of communicative capitalism be subordinated to the affective dyslexia of the radical dejected? What can politics learn from the perspective of the "abyss that laughs at creation"?

That quote from Joy Division's "Heart And Soul" - with Curtis sounding his most Black Metal-like - touches on one of the running discussions at the event: Morrissey versus Ian Curtis. It seems to me clear that Curtis was a denizen of the Cold World in the way that Morrisey is not, and I think it is worth thinking through why this is the case. The Cold World involves terror, and Joy Division are terrifying - which is not a word one would ever associate with Morrissey, no matter how glum the song. It isn't only Morrissey's campness which disqualifies him, though I don't think the notion of camp dysphoria makes much sense - there can be a pathos to camp, to be sure, but it never approaches the frozen certainty of depression. Camp centres on play-acting and distanciation (that is why it is the form of postmodern subjectivity par excellence: I don't believe but nevertheless I play along). Dysphoria, meanwhile, involves both a disdain for play-acting and an inability to achieve any distance, particularly in relation to oneself. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the distance between the dejected subject and the rituals of the symbolic order is so total that it is no longer liveable. The depressive experiences himself as walled off from the lifeworld, so that his own frozen inner life - or inner death - overwhelms everything; at the same time, he experiences himself as evacuated, totally denuded, a shell: there is nothing except the inside, but the inside is empty. For the depressive, the habits of the former lifeworld now seem to be, precisely, a mode of play-acting, a series of pantomime gestures ("a circus complete with all fools"), which they are both no longer capable of performing and which they no longer wish to perform - there's no point, everything is a sham.

Where Morrissey still appeals to an Other who could make things right, who could restore the half a person to wholeness ("Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"), Curtis is convinced that things could never be improved. When I wrote about Joy Division before, I opposed Curtis's "neurosis" to Mark E Smith's "psychosis" - but now it strikes me that it is better to think of Curtis as a melancholic who can be contrasted to Morrissey's neurotic. For Darian Leader, the difference between the melancholic and the neurotic is that the melancholic is certain that they are worthless, whereas the neurotic is unsure, always seeking to resolve their status. "Neurotic symtoms are always a way of asking a question ... In melancholia, one the contrary, the self-reproaches are less a way of asking a question than a kind of solution. The subject is guilty. They have been condemned." Morrissey may sometimes appear to be sure that he is "the most inept that ever stepped" but, for all their ostensibly categorical quality, such declarations still seem to be questions rather than definitive statements: am I the most inept? am I unloveable? However resigned to hopelessness Morrissey tries to be, he is aways tormented and tantalised by the prospect that there could be some One who can save him.

What is remarkable about Joy Division is the way they are bereft of two of the mainstays of most other rock and pop: longing and supplication. On the occasions that the 'you', usually so ubiquitous in pop music, features in Curtis's songs it is neither as as an Other held responsible for his condition nor deemed capable of ameliorating it. No amelioration is possible, that's the point - and that's why depression is not mere sadness, not a "mood" that will lift, but an ontological conviction. (Perhaps it is only on "Disorder" - "I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand" - that there is any hint of a redeeming Other, but even here the hope, such as it is, seems faint, or perhaps already abandoned: Like a fool, I've been waiting.... but the redeemer will never come. Depression is a "world", not only because it colours all experience - or rather removes all colour, reducing everything to the stark black and white of the Unknown Pleasures cover (black and white thinking is a hallmark of the depressive condition) - but also because it lacks any limits. Depression is experienced not as depression, as some "illness" susceptible to treatment, but as the Truth. Given this, no-one else could help the depressive; or at least, that is how it looks from the Cold World. Others are impotent, puppets of a pitiless fatality that makes agency an illusion (an illusion to to which they, insofar as they are not themselves depressed, are victims): they are either unreachable ("Candidate"), betrayers ("Means To An End"), or else themselves betrayed ("Shadowplay").

What makes Joy Division so Schopenhauerian is the disjunction between Curtis's detachment and the urgency of the music, its implacable drive standing in for the dumb insatiability of the life-Will, the Beckettian "I must go on" not experienced by the depressive as some redemptive positivity, but as the ultimate horror, the life-Will paradoxically assuming all the loathsome properties of the undead (whatever you do, you can't extinguish it, it keeps coming back). Perhaps it is this disjunction which goes to explain the strong correlation between depression and aesthetics. Identified with the dead yet still amongst the living, the melancholic cannot live, but equally cannot achieve either quiescence or quiet: they must speak about their predicament. As Leader points out, "A melancholic subject is in two places at once, two different spaces that cannot be superimposed. But how can this agony be communicated? One of the features of melancholia over the ages has been its association with artistic creation and writing. Indeed, in some periods, discussions of melancholia have emphasized the creative aspect far more than its depressive elements."

One final difference between Morrissey and Joy Division. Curtis is strangely lacking in the self-pity which is Morrissey's stock in trade. That's because Curtis's despair is so total, his fatalism is so complete, that he sees his own dejection as only one aspect of a cosmic condition. In Cold World, Dominic invokes the Black Metal distinction between "pure misanthropy" and "self-pity": "in order to be pure, misanthropy must be purified of any attachment to the human self that would fall within its remit." Curtis wasn't misanthropic - he seemed to see humans as forlorn Burroughs marionettes to be "observed with a pitiful eye": for him, as for Schopenhauer, the problem was existence itself, but his despair had the impersonality characteristic of BM's anti-humanism.

So much for dysphoria, but what of militancy? Here, perhaps, I can introduce a personal note. I've passed through the Cold World a few times, and I can say - I hope without melodrama - that I'm lucky to have survived it. Yet emergence from the "deserts and wastelands" has never meant a happy reinsertion back into the cheer and security of the lifeworld. A spell in the Cold World necessariy involves a subjective destitution, and what then matters is how things are reconstructed once the permafrost recedes. Both Nick and Nathan highlighted the way in which an interruption of habit and the habituated was a precondition for militancy; this was certainly how things worked in my case, in which serious depression was replaced by political anger. Yet the Cold World is not just some preparation for militancy: it is important to retain a certain fidelity with the glacial insights that the hard soil of the Cold World yields. When Dominic spoke last week, his account of dysphoria - that is prompted by a loss that projects the sufferer out of their set of symbolic attachments - sounded like Freud's discussion of melancholia; but it also reminded me of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Perhaps - and here again the notion of "militant dysphoria" seems especially urgent just now - militant dysphoria could provide a leftist alternative to the shock doctrine, which violently deprives populations of their symbolic co-ordinates as a preparation for imposing a neoliberal narrative on their shattered nervous systems. At a time when capitalism itself has been denuded of its symbolic embedding - when it has itself been plunged into a dysphoric condition - the time is right for new narratives to be developed and propagated.

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