Lost Ones Around King Mob
By way of an explanation...
Though written such a long time ago - or so it seems - parts of these leaflets and declamatory statements following this introduction still have a power to provocatively invigorate and open-up new directions of thought and action emanating from a subversive critique of culture. For our collective 'we' we saw them as the first tsunami against the old world which in our hearts we felt would be superceded fairly quickly by something more considered and more coherently worked out. It was only to be a matter of time and for the moment the sheer blast-off was sufficient! Alas so much for the genuine beatings of our hearts for sadly there's been nothing like them since. Little did we realise the critique of art would quickly meet a formidable impasse it's never remotely recovered from. By 1970 it was effectively dead in the water drowned under a vicious, though often subtle, counter-attack (e.g. feminism's acceptance of traditional artistic form etc) raising more general questions: Was ever the critique of religion met with such bewilderment and hostility? And why is it so much harder to leave the dog days of culture behind?
The following texts - some more than others - make an impassioned plea for life, seeing we exist; 'In this half-light some have called living' as death enters the living by the back door of the illusion of living - wanting more, much more, than this 'apology for life.' It could be said that the late 1960s was the last time people (or rather a large minority of people) the world over attempted to re-invent life and to do so passionately though were to catastrophically fail! Seeing today survival of the human race (plus an ever larger swathe of nature in general) is in dire jeopardy as ecocide looms, are such quality of life concerns beside the point? The two viewpoints are not however mutually exclusive. To assert our vibrant superiority - our need for a joyous life - over the dead time of commodity relations culminating in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production - providing it happens within the next 30 years or so - might just give us the space to turn the planet round from immolation.
It would be easy in these texts - though superficial - to dwell on their often disjointed frenzy or occasional jarring woodenness of misshapen language bordering at times on a certain illiteracy which at the time a fair number of protagonists couldn't care less about or wilfully cultivated perhaps somewhat on the lines of a typical Byron quip somewhere that he'd never have a relationship with a woman who could read and write implying that literacy itself was a form of oppression inhibiting spontaneity. The times moreover were too urgent for such niceties as 'literacy'. At the same time some of the texts are marred by simplistically seeing the path to the realisation of art through juvenile delinquency expressing itself in the growing myriad of youth sub-cultures that were then acquiring a profile. For that epoch when a certain pattern of tediously conforming quiet was the rule this was understandable and vandalism provided something of the shock value that had been lost to an endlessly repetitious modern art bringing forth not much more than yawns. Now we must be seriously aware of these limitations or rather nuanced to vandalisms' huge variations. We never sufficiently emphasised the need for a transformed hooliganism away from those manifestations which are so often the mirror image of the destructive urges capital utilises to re-invent accumulation and its power over us ' a tendency that has gotten far stronger as the decades have rolled by.
Having said this, surprisingly parts of these 'writings' are very well expressed though they hardly have the quality of say William Hazlitt's quarrelsomely beautifully crafted prose in the early decades of the 19th century even though in proclaiming, or rather continuing the dissolution of artistic form to the moment of complete and total fracture, there is a certain similarity. However the immediate impact of these writings wrought in the crucible of the late 1960s were to have far greater consequences than any Hazlitt in helping detonate a profound global uprising - and in some instances having a very stirring impact on particular localities.
One such place was Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It has been said or generally recognised in a superficial arbitrary way that the cultural experience of Liverpool from the Mersey poets through to the Beatles (and in the process dragging in tow many other artistic manifestations) were the liberatory essence of the 1960s in the UK. This though was merely the surface glitz modern capitalism requires for its reproduction. What happened in Newcastle was far more profound picking up on, elaborating, improving on and generally making relevant to modern conditions the almost forgotten or purposefully half-buried anti-art traditions emanating from the first decades of the 20th century as experienced in continental Europe though hardly in Britain. Over a few years from the mid 1960s onwards, these experiments were used and reassembled in an ever-greater subversive totality and pushed beyond their limits where they finally engaged with rebellious young workers in the north-east of England. This happened nowhere else in Britain.
In London sadly similar ideas met with impasse where no practical force was on hand to take them up. In Newcastle such subversion moving out from - and transcending - avante garde cultural experiment acquired such a threatening social potential for a brief period that the hands of the authorities from professors, to trade union bosses, to the police responded with outright repression. After that all knowledge of what took place was quickly and viciously surpressed and/or shrouded in outright calumny. It was a movement without name or figureheads. In a way the artistic ego was shunned if not quite overthrown - the process would have had to be successful for that to have happened - yet nonetheless filled with something like a growing but welcome anonymity as we began to eagerly enter through the doors of a profound unknown lying beyond the reaches of a cultural recuperation capitalism needs and thrives on. Something of this process is hinted at in some of these texts harking back to the old Dada and Russian Constructivist movements where now and again we suggested that their best moments are probably unknown emphasizing those who don't figure in the history books. In a way such comments were mirroring what was happening to us aware, as the late 1960s appeared and progressed, that we had to proclaim and live out our intentions in order to entirely disappear - into fulfillment! This critique was initiated by those who tended to be the most 'brilliantly' facile and adept at knocking out all the neo-Dadaist crap increasingly demanded by the age yet found it truly wanting. The formal evolution of this tendency also implied an encounter with the truth leading to the self-destruction and transcendence of art as what was left of art was nothing but an empty shell. And if you were honest such a momentous moment simply couldn't be ignored.
Two of Ron Hunt's texts published here are possibly the most succinct and intelligently written. 'The Arts in our Time' was handed out in the bustling Newcastle Haymarket two months prior to the May 1968 uprising in France. Although well on the right lines in giving greater priority to culture in capital's arsenal of enslavement any such leaflet today couldn't merely repeat what was said then, splendid though it was for those times. Consider the opening lines:
'The Arts in our time are nothing other but a distraction - encouraged in order to prevent us understanding the shape of our reality and lives. They survive as part of the 'media' whose aim is to distract from some essential facts - e.g. the polarisation of annihilative power; the permanent arms economy: the fact that peace is synonymous with the brink of war; that half can treat as waste (planned obsolescence) what could be nourishment for the other - starving - half'.
To be sure good stuff still though today a revamp would be necessary emphasising certainly the distraction (more appropriately the lie) at the heart of cultural appearances through noting its vast extension since to the selling of everything from arms, to devastation, to poverty, the vending of all the food we eat, to every aspect of a commoditised daily life to virtually the air we breathe etc. However even at that time, A French situationist comment like: 'Culture, ugh! The one commodity which sells all the other' was more accurate and is still the crux of the matter.
Ron's following text published here: 'The Great Communications Breakdown' is more complex though still very lucid and was handed for free as a small gestetnered pamphlet. (Remember this was in an age before photocopy or computer printouts). Obviously ranging much farther than a critique of art increasingly disapproving of those confining themselves to specialisms noting that: 'Lack of dialectic perpetuates the status quo' and the essential non-communication which marks our epoch. Only transgression can get anywhere whether in rebellion and/or the convulsive feel of love. Out of date? Hardly! Again, in the so-called 'information age' which we now forcibly have to inhabit, there is no information of consequence precisely because dialectics are banned substituted with the vagaries of quantum physics making do for totality. A couple of sentences in this text cryptically foretells the bleak future about to engulf us - that future of art's vacuity in an historical impasse unable to go back or forward (i.e. towards a rapidly unfolding total revolution).
'Unable to communicate the artist communicates with himself, whispers his defeat to his own ears. But he is still spectacularising something: earth, snow, a photograph, you name it he can remove it from its context, call it art, or whatever he wants. No one expects a stone to speak to us (or paint) - communication is denied. The media happily pushes this year's new thing - earth, lyric abstraction or whatever. It is neatly labelled, handily made compact for assimilation - this void. This is a new life style. Welcome to the void'.
Isn't this a summation of the moment when art leaves (kind of) the studio to become adjunct of a contemporary and empty consumer lifestyle which initially guided by the execrable yuppies everyone is increasingly more or less forced to aim for, submit to and declare (forcibly) they are happy with even when feeling near to complete desperation?
Along with a few other unknown contributions these are undoubtedly Ron Hunt's best bits of writing although his real contribution was his indefatigable courage at a moment leading up to potential insurrection. Nonetheless these efforts had untold consequences which are impossible to measure. Included in this compilation is Ron's introduction 'Transform the world! Poetry must be made by all' to an exhibition of early 20th century avant garde art hosted in 1969 by the Moderna Museet in Stockholm which in pr'cis is somehow acknowledged by Anselm Jappe in his book on Guy Debord published by MIT Press a few years ago. Here though was the crux of a dilemma! The real meat and their shadow in official presentation - self-recuperation as it were. Though watered down in relation to Ron Hunt's best efforts in comparison to the general dross of a void spewed out today from cultural venues virtually on every street corner, the introductory text to the exhibition is intelligence indeed.
'Culture and Revolution' was presented as a 'talk' though read out from a longish, typed-up, half finished text, which was quickly discarded and left to literally rot. Though in the Newcastle ambience it was delivered to an assembly of people loosely around John Lyle's surrealist group in Exeter together with local hippy dropouts and some dissident art students. John Lyle at the time had tried to breakthrough or breakaway from the overtly artistic orientation of British surrealism injecting some of the more revolutionary stances of French and Belgian surrealists. The 'talk' ' a not very subversive way of presenting such a theoretical drift from culture in the form of a one way monologue/diatribe - quickly turned into hours of discussion and prelude to an enjoyable scrumpy-driven party.
That it is a half-finished document clearly shows dealing with a far too great agenda in a short space of time. The tub-thumping tone meant nuancing was hardly on the agenda! And in retrospect, not withstanding the growing confrontational temper of the age, the gratuitous violence was probably rather pointless. Nonetheless among such a hotchpotch there are more than a few lines and semi-paragraphs that are still worthy of a more thoughtful, more detailed development particularly the comments on music in an epoch ' decades later - when the dead hand of musicology prevents any escape even among those who latterly have tried to integrate all the disparate tendencies of the 20th century from the blues, to atonality, to sound experiments.
Perhaps it is best to begin with a consideration of a few passages especially those on music because they are heartfelt. Noting that 'high art' music is in decline ' 'its past sublimity clearly over with' and still giving the lie to the present philistine search among scientists today for the Beethoven gene etc, much of the emphasis was funnelled through Dada and Futurist (both Italian and the more enlightened Russian) experiments with pure sound. Surely there had to be some profound point to their researches into sound if only as a path leading somewhere and we looked for it simply because music ' particularly jazz - had played a major part in our lives and amidst intensifying alienation giving us one reason to live.
'Like the rest of the dismantled high art traditions, music gradually dribbled into everyday life through Satie's furniture music, Weburn's silences and Gage's concept of Indeterminacy. Whilst all this may have provided the opening through which liberation could be spied in the distance, it's immediate outcome has been a long waylaying, even a new hip imprisoning of form. Despite Cage's well publicised rejection of concert etiquette, the performer/audience separation and structures of harmony, rhythm etc, he remains careful to maintain himself within the dominating paradigm of high art music. The previous musical laws have been replaced by their powerful shadow, a demanding set of non-rules in say, the dead-pan, straight faced presentation of nothing but common sounds but sounds chained to the privileges of a market recognising a musical hierarchy. For example, an LP of Kurt Schwitters sounds - the Ur Sonata - costs £15, c/o the Lords Gallery. Somebody said we'd never have to pay for the air we breathe but we now have to pay in over plus for the sounds we continually hear in daily life.
And saddest of all: Jazz is Dead. Beginning as a bowderalised expression of Negro oppression, jazz through a coming together of disparate musical traditions derived mainly from work song, blues and the polyglot dances in Congo square in New Orleans, quickly but ineluctably began to follow the trajectory of western classical music and as 'the reluctant art' gradually acquired bourgeois status. Charlie Parker was possibly its finest expression but this man, continually pushing at the boundaries of harmony, finally reminds us of the greatness of Mozart. On the brink of atonality he inevitably hastened the demise of jazz, a music which then dissolved into a fury of sound caught half-way between a recent irretrievable past and a something not realised: the something of a total revolution.'
After another paragraph critiquing pop music one sentence sticks out:
'Previously and in other circumstances, like in Russia after the revolution, music had a tendency to dissolve itself and get lost among a new more total feeling. Perhaps the factory sirens and hooter blowouts are such examples? Now their memory can only exist in a void ' merely a hopeful sign to the day when the new revolutionary concepts of non-compartmentalisation bring into being a celebration of work and play no longer experienced as opposites.'
On the first Icteric magazine cover a worn photo of the original Russian Concert of Factory Sirens and Steam Whistles was reproduced. This 'concert' obviously emphasised industrial sound, which all the sound experimenters of the avante garde had played around with. In industrial, ship building Newcastle ' well at least in 1966 ' we perhaps had an idea of creating something similar although it was all fairly vague and we could never have put into effect as we were all penniless and with no clout. In any case, if we had succeeded in doing something similar the historical context would have defeated us. In 1920 not only was the media in its infancy but the initial moments of that powerful illusion inherent in Bolshevism that it was the means of self-imancipation/abolition of wage slavery etc was at its height. By 1966 we would have merely been the first in line of those dire Jean Michel Jarre's type spectaculars of sound and light which were to follow. Nonetheless for a couple of years sound obsessed us though our orientation was more in line with an English nature tradition/orientation. Dziga Vertov in 1920s Russia wanted to massively turn up sound. We wanted something similar but also to hear insects' wings or the voice of wind in long grass. Though we never realised it at the time this disposition was more in line with a certain preoccupation of the later romantic poets like Keats, Byron and Shelley who in the process of dissolving time-honoured poetic form also desired to dissolve music into something far richer, strange and fulfilling. Perhaps Keats's "Heard melodies are sweet but those unheard are sweeter/ the spirit ditties of no tone' or that delicious state of feeling hinted at in Shelley's densely impenetrable sonnet 'Music' where he yearns to experience an exceptional natural sound beyond music that would transform him.
Hardly surprising then that these musical passages are probably more thought out than the rest though there is a sentence on film in a revolutionary epoch which still resonates.
'The amount of films produced in an actual revolutionary period would be greatly reduced as real life would offer far, far more than any big screen simulation. The only films that may be needed (as far as we can predict) are kind of documentary, educational films for a transformed TV quite unlike the passive drug-induced machine we now have at our finger tips.'
Perhaps the use of a loaded term like 'documentary' is unfortunate as documentary merely describes what exists and not what might be and our pitifully small band of individuals envisaged dialectical movement and not the stasis of seemingly grim determinants. What we did see in all of this was a need to transform, or more precisely transcend all artistic specialisms and to put their former essences (or something like) into a state of play which at times bordered on a desire to return to a kind of primitive lifestyle which again we perceived has slowly unfolded with the modern experiment in art.
'Free creativity will never exist until all concepts of art disappear ' intermittently intermingling within a mostly joyous life.'
'In a new society without fixed form and static institutions surely the notion of the game distinctly compartmentalised and separate from work and other aspects of leisure time will necessarily disappear? In some ways we will come again to resemble some primitive societies where leisure, work and the game were inseparable.'
We did '-even then - want something qualitatively different and without the taboos and ignorance of primitive societies. We were reducing all known forms of official creativity to zero and dust precisely because they stood in the way of a new, more total creativity made by all and not by artists. As mentioned previously and worth further emphasis, like many other texts and leaflets from the late 1960s there was a somewhat unfortunate emphasis on lowest common denominator hooligan behaviour as a means of liberation as the bridge to realizing Lautreamont's famous maxim of the poetry made by all.
Equally though we emphasised a tabula rasa - a silence. (No wonder for a few years we were fascinated by John Cage's Silence) In a sense this tabula rasa didn't fit with the time particularly at a moment when an ill-defined 'revolution is the festival of the oppressed' came easily to the lips which could mean as long as you placed existing culture on street level it was OK. In Newcastle we emphasised the 'descent into the street' though some of our concerns pointed more poignantly elsewhere and were perhaps more visionary. Surely any new revolutionary period in an epoch where consumer noise destroys so much of our lives and where the open-ended questions surrounding Satie's furniture music can be reduced to musak and ambient volume - will spontaneously embrace such desires. For sure sound systems placed outdoors will not be welcomed nor most likely will performance, installation, event or festival parade in general. Perhaps silence will come into its own at long last or rather we will find the space to passionately talk (about our loss?) to each other without mediation, enforced personal privatization and image making. Is such a future prospect quite unlike the 'creativity' of 1968?
Also reproduced here is Art & Politics = Revolution, published in a Birmingham based Radical Arts magazine and written by John Barker before he became the theoretical protagonist behind The Angry Brigade followed by years in prison. Although John Barker hailed from Newcastle, the spreading insurgent ambience there probably had little impact, as he'd become a student in Cambridge University. This text though is interesting precisely because it is a confrontation with the powerfully entrenched Eng Lit tradition embodied in the citadel of Cambridge University which still has such a terrifying hold.
'Thus tradition becomes academic monumentality. But as the present is not living, then neither can the tradition be, for it is not going anywhere.'
Certainly such critique had been missing in the Newcastle crucible and though acknowledged in casual conversation, in practise we simply walked round it. It was a serious omission and John Barker's text was a welcome addition, which from such tentative beginnings was like everything else never followed up remaining for a beckoning future that still hasn't materialised. It is a head-on clash with TS Eliot, FR Leavis and DH Lawrence although leaving some nicer words for a more 'Marxist' semi-retard who had recently entered the English pantheon like Raymond Williams with his woeful ignorance of the rise and fall of cultural form. Barker also brought into play a critique of the avante garde, the passivity of pop concerts, happenings, cultural consumption and compensation and the simple lack of life in concepts like Julian Beck's Living Theatre and raising pertinent questions - which we in Newcastle were so familiar with like 'Why did the guy write this?'
Perhaps John's most pertinent and arresting comments and which all of us in the late 1960s found perhaps the best in the piece and still remain as such have to do with active artistic substitution.
'The most acute of 'liberatory' theatre is CAST going around from university to university ending their shows by smashing some property. This is complete substitution. The Who similarly with their guitars. The audience expects it, wants it to happen itself , but is frightened to do so. Whereas CAST have the artists prerogative to do it. This is the most acute case of the classic 'alienation' which art can afford. We contemplate other people destroying the environment we want to destroy'.
There is though an unfortunate weakness in the text. In proclaiming communality - the potential communality of the factory at a moment of potential insurrection etc there is also something of an insistence on communality in art - whatever that might mean. 'There is obviously great hope in the movement towards communally created art' etc and: 'Revolutionary art and entertainment will most clearly grow up in CONFLICT with their bourgeois counterparts' and the weakness of such a concept is then gloriously saved - just to say - by the following line: 'I mean a very direct attack on it, the breaking up of all the shows which are presented, especially the avante garde versions, which are the most pernicious in that they actually absorb rebellion'' one can only agree with that and still waiting all these years later for this simple realisation to take off once more'
'Balls' is just that: Bollocks and balls. This has been put in this compilation as a warning, as an example of conscious self-recuperation by two King Mob participants to raise money for future revolutionary publications through conning some trendy periodical of the day to pay top dollar for complete bullshit. The money was then diverted for publishing a further King Mob edition. We never let the magazine editors know we'd named the script 'Balls' and this was the weakness of such a gesture so the question still remains was this a sound idea or not? And the answer must be, probably NO, simply because left in the dark it merely adds to the reigning confusion especially when dealing with a revolutionary analysis watered down into radical sociology. OK we had a good laugh at the time but it's not an avenue to be recommended. Of course, elegantly conning these set-ups as a means of exposing their vacuity is more urgent than ever (the annual Turner Prize especially comes to mind) but it's only of value if the scam is clearly exposed on the night with revolutionary clarity.
Two texts from Fred Vermorel - one on the cineaste - The Rewards of Punishment. Extracts from a forthcoming autopsy - and On Whom Can the Workers Count? are included simply because they are pretty good. The latter ending up with the ringing declamation: "less magazines, more fires comrades"! Although many reading this may know of Vermorel's role in Punk Rock (in tandem with Malcolm Maclaren) and his subsequent subservient career as a lecturer and promo-writer for pop stars he started out with far greater potential and it is worth reminding ourselves of this.
Finally we end with the Irish based The Gurriers mainly written by Phil Meyler. It has been placed in this compilation of forgotten texts precisely because it has been probably purposefully forgotten having caused a furore. After bringing out Arson News - a crude but fiery diatribe - Phil took the kernel of the chaotic King Mob breakthrough and tried to transpose it on Ireland, particularly Dublin, city of his birth. He put together a couple of editions of The Gurriers (Dublin lingo for hooligans) which completely upset the two dominant ideologies in Irish life ' the Catholic church and an Irish nationalist culture orientation - launching a broad-sided, wild attack on both which didn't pull any punches. On the surface The Gurriers may appear to lack the finesse and the calmer more theoretical (intellectual?) approach of King Red in Dublin two or so years later, but is this really true? (It was a promise which sadly was never fulfilled and as a reminder of this a final postscript announcing the closure of King Red is included here - In Notice from the Survivors of the late King Red - written in that pontifical solemn style, arriving in the 1970s, full of self-important wordsmith aggrandizement, and which we quickly learnt to keep clear of). One remembers with delight on first reading The Gurriers just how down home, raw and splendidly nutty it was. After the obligatory attack on professional roles there is the great exhortation: 'You must destroy the lorry driver within yourself' and you wondered just how do you do that?
Though a rant from the heady year of 1968 The Gurriers is a far more coherent rant that one might care to admit if merely glanced at. It is avowedly anti-nationalist (including the IRA), anti-church and anti-art cobbling them together with erotic cartoons in a small pamphlet where a necessarily brief look into those pertinent aspects of Irish history which have played their part in suppressing autonomous social revolution. Lines from situationist texts are utterly plagiarised (nobody in Dublin at the time would have even known one way or another!) followed by entirely original critiques of present day Ireland compressed into a sentence here and there. On reflection, the section on culture (inevitably for the time called: The Death of Art) is still the part most pregnant with possibilities if somebody could still expand such a drift into something more rounded and detailed. Following a bald and unpolished though intelligent summation of the impasse encountered by James Joyce and how he could have broken out of it which was nonetheless well on the right lines, there follows a splendid one-liner condemning Flann O' Brien's anti-cultural, cultural pretensions. Would there had been more of them! 'When the characters in Flann O' Brien's novel unite to destroy the novelist and the novel within the novel they still face the real novelist Flann O' Brien. Their freedom is decided within the closed system of that novel. The task today is to unite to destroy our masters in the real world' - announcing two sentences later that: 'The coming work of art is the construction of a passionate life. The poetry of everyday life couldn't care less about poetry.' The specific critique of culture in Ireland still remains at a woeful level and amazingly still so. The demolition of the role of 'the Irish writer' - a real lynchpin of capital accumulation in Ireland - could be such a starter!
Remember though, when Phil initially launched his attack peppered with cartoon strips of nuns saying they wanted to be fucked, there were over 8,000 books banned in Ireland by the 1923 board of censorship dominated by a fundamentalist Catholic church. his intervention was accomplished in something of a vacuum in Ireland due to a basically intense sexual repression fostered by the church. Its effects spilled over necessarily involving all other aspects of thought and the nascent counter culture there was muted in comparison to America or some other western European countries at the time.
For his pains, Phil's broadsides alerted the unwelcome attention of the Irish Special Branch who seized what 'pornographic' Gurriers they could plus related documents when they raided his Mother's home in Dun Laighore putting this poor, god-fearing, semi-literate lovely woman through a horrible ordeal once she realised what blasphemous activities her son had become involved in. It was probably the biggest (and by far the most explicit) anti-cultural intervention that Ireland had seen since the hey day of its avante garde in the early 20th century and certainly superceding those well known examples like Synge's Playboy of the Western World in 1907 and, years later, Sean O Casey's The Plough and the Stars, an anti-war play, which was mistaken by the Abbey audience as being anti-nationalist. Both provoked riots having put the back up of a hellfire Catholicism.These efforts, though considerably better than their English counterparts, were well within the bounds of traditional artistic expression. The Gurriers was much more advanced - enraging the state rather than a somewhat backward audience - and still remains a lone signpost pointing to a much more fruitful becoming. In passing, it's probably worth mentioning some of the choicer examples of Phil's output at the time like the cynically accurate Tony Trend in Carnaby Capers plus some other cartoon strips also distributed in Ireland, aswell as elsewhere, which further angered the establishment.
THE ARTS IN OUR TIME
THE ARTS IN OUR TIME
THE ARTS IN OUR TIME
THE ARTS IN OUR TIME
A WORKING DEFINITION
The Arts in our time are nothing but a distraction - encouraged in order to prevent us understanding the shape of our reality and lives. They survive as part of the 'media' whose aim is to distract us from some essential facts - e.g. the polarisation of annihilative power; the permanent arms economy; the fact that peace is synonymous with the brink of war; that half can treat as waste (planned obsolescence) what could be nourishment for the other - starving - half. Also, that in the technologically advanced half we have become enslaved by a notion of rationality to the extent that we can no longer perceive the totally irrational framework within which this so-called rationality operates - (It is better that 500 men be killed in Vietnam rather than 1000. Today one can read in the papers of a French couple who committed suicide because they where unable to understand the complexities of taxation. Truly, our control over our lives becomes increasingly diminished.)
Within our society freedom exists only among styles - there is rarely a negative alternative offered. Now is the time to demand such alternatives - in negation lies our greatest possible hope. Abstract landscapes, objects, minimalism, 'theatre' of revolt, aleatorism, indeterminism etc. are merely styles -gimmicks to help the artist sell himself.
It is time now for the Great Refusal; to demand the end of repression exercised by the provision of the 'goods'; to reclaim life from the media; to insist on freedom as an absolute and negative ' 'Freedom from politics, freedom from economics, freedom from the mass persuaders' (H. Marcuse). Then perhaps art may re-enter life -as play, as celebration, as critique - but not this apology for life!
March 4 1968
THE GREAT COMMUNICATIONS BREAKDOWN
Possible prelude to the Incarnation of Ecstasy
Those who seem to communicate have nothing to say.
Those who are unable to communicate have the world to say, but lack as yet the means of appropriating it.
Those who seem to communicate have nothing to say, with the exception of those laying bare the falseness of this world, and they are marked men. The only time passion enters the lives of those who seem to communicate is in reacting against such truth, then their repression becomes manifest.
Those who are unable to communicate now, will appropriate the world with passion, a passion born of truth, their repression will have been broken.
The breakdown in communications arises from the fact that there is no commune, there is only isolation, separation; a separation power must continually reinforce if it is to maintain itself, i.e. maintain itself at the top, kicking our mouths shut. The problem is not new; it is built into any hierarchical society.
Where there is no communication there is no effective opposition to power. A genuine communication now arises in moments of opposition, from rebellion to revolution. In moments of transgression the present suddenly becomes real. (For individuals there may be the unuttered communications of love, not a love worn bare by repetition), it is communication, but it is not opposition, though the poetry of opposition is there: 'When a love relationship is at its height no room is left for any interest in the surrounding world' Freud.). In moments of opposition, of transgression, a single word can sing throughout our being, revealing its true meaning. Lautreamont's dictum - Poetry must be made by all - reveals another facet it is made by the total person. Between re-united persons there is genuine communication, and as such, the 'problem' disappears. As Marx said a revolutionary society draws its poetry from the future, there can be no revolutionary society that is not integrally poetic.
What passes as communication now is patently absurd, even the Dictionaries define communication as intercourse between persons. Can anyone still accept that communication exists in the work-place, in education, in the mass media, the underground press, i.e. in modes that are essentially one-way? When the modes extend as far as possible temporally and spatially there is no room or time left in which to reply; our numbness is the only response power wants. From our work, wherever, whatever that may be, we are expected to move to our allotted place in the leisure scene - an armchair before the TV, a seat in the stalls, a chair in the precincts of further education. We are administered unto ceaselessly, there is no time to query the nature of the operation, and surplus energy will be sapped by boredom. What is generally termed communication; we would rather call orders to remain passive.
In the realm of ideology, from religion to ecology, economics to high art -i.e. all partial critiques - communication must in principle fail, it will remain fragmentary. One has only to look at the situation among 'experts' e.g. among a group of electro-therapeutic freaked out psychiatrists, here, anywhere, as the specialization increases, the numbers who can exchange information even in a limited field decreases. The law moves inexorably to the one-man authority, isolated his thought reaches the brick wall of established values. Lack of dialectic perpetuates the status quo. Realisation of this kind of situation forced even the specialists themselves to seek an inter-disciplinary discipline - Cybernetics, Communication Theory - this appeared to be the answer. (No matter that it was another specialisation). Communication could be rendered abstract and thus handled. All that was needed was a framework: Sender - message - receiver - feedback - etc; diagrams with boxes and arrows. Never did the new specialists worry about what might be communicated. As long as a plan could be established the % of shit could be stepped up arbitrarily. (The idea seems to have died of course.)
Apart from certain moments - those in which we experience liberation - what we seem to communicate seems almost invariably to belong to the past or the future. What is required (by power) is that we ignore the present, a present whose general emptiness would appall us. In reality the emptiness is merely multiplied in the past and future. But it is clear that in any true society memory would be of no account, the future too becomes irrelevant - only the present can matter. Now it is the present of repression, the revolutionary possibility is defined by the present of liberation. 'Wewant everything and we want it now'.
Yet that there is communication now is undeniable. This is the communication of the real, shaped by our true existence. It is marked by anguish, bitterness and raw acerbity, also by the irreducible hope to have done once and for all with 'a world that scandalises us'. Its task is hardly easy, fighting an entrenched ideology, one that slanders it, refuses to acknowledge its existence, suppresses it or pathetically tries to reintegrate it. Soon however that dominant ideology will have no option but to recognise the forces trampling at its door - and then it will be too late. From its slanders, stupidity etc. (Could anyone believe Nixon's speech when he said the aims of American rebel youth were his own?) - a new polarization is emerging. The opposition is fragmented as yet, inevitably in any hierarchically defined society, where the introjections of false values is far from easily overcome by the individual remorselessly conditioned to accept the world as he finds it. In an acceptance culture nothing can be accepted.
If the demand is everything and now, who besides the revolutionaries demand it? Unconsciously anyone who is oppressed. There are also children, those free still from the domination of the reality principle, those whose lives are defined by the present. We can see them communicating effortlessly, inventing the present in their play. In adulthood, play is defined again and again by rules from the past. In fact the game is almost beaten out of us in adolescence, we are forced to submit to rules we have had no hand in forming, rules codified by law, habit and passivity, rules that require we leave our desires back in that golden age of childhood. (There is of course no question of minimising the brutality to which children are subjected, but one has to admit that desires could still rise to the surface and lead to action, and that such freedom had an other-worldly beauty, one that we recognise nostalgically.). But out of childhood we are more systematically subjugated - rendered other. In adolescence however that otherness - (be like others, your elders and betters) - is resisted. The language of adolescence tries to resist that of power - i.e. parental authority and all substitute parents. The situation promotes that all too familiar. 'You talk to her, I can't', that characterises the conflict of the forces of order and individual revolt. It is a revolt born of anguish, an incommunicable feeling, the other side of the coin of love it needs so urgently. Yet even when this is found, it is hemmed in by the repressive agencies of social mores. And what is the fate of love? It is a universe of truth we construct in an untrue world, it is a small model, that it too becomes untrue is accountable to the fact that it is battered .to death in the banality of an everyday life where falsehood is the norm.
Love of other things? Love of Rock, the great rallying force of youth culture? Alienation moves into new areas. Rock may seem to unite the individual with himself, but it does so by isolating him from the world, it becomes an escape. Early rock 'n' rollers appearances were greeted by riots! (some still are) - for the music creates an energy, demands participation, but it actually produces quasi-participation, expressed in the frustration of the riots. No one would deny that it is big business; a whole new teenage culture has been built around youth's aspirations, aspirations produced by the machine itself. Magazines from the 'underground' cater to the new interest; they are superseded as one grows out of 'that phase' by a new set: Rolling Stone or IT are replaced by Hi-Fi News or New Society. The plethora of administered culture is necessary, we might be bored by New Society or whatever, but there is always the carrot of next week's issue or tomorrow's viewing. Distanciation via the media is the rule; distanciation without the media is taboo.
Those singled out (isolated) for higher education are likely to find their course dead. But how else can it be in this society, do they think the University or College is independent? Arguments about investments in Rhodesia, or research for Dow are of small magnitude compared to the University or College function as a bastion of established values. No denial from any Vice-Chancellor can change that; such denial is again one-way communication, and as such has no truth value. Certainly the 'expansion of knowledge' must go on, research continue, no one denies that in some fields this is worthwhile. But the general nature of what is taught can only be along prescribed lines, those decreed by a dominant ideology in order to streamline and safeguard its position. What kind of dialogue can there be with someone whose survival depends on a static order of things 'Take your notes and regurgitate them, I will recognise them as mine (or rather whoever we take as authority), and you can receive your reward.' Those in Modern Philosophy, Fine Art, or Fuel Systems who might attempt a total critique of that discipline are not likely to remain unfingered, they are more likely to be shown the door; in Institutes of Higher Learning - dialectics is banned.
Even those who try to speak a non-dialectical truth as they see it, regarding the situation they are in, is generally impossible in terms of dialogue. At a student meeting people do so, but a similar meeting at which the Staff is present will effectively shut their mouths. Is there any clearer indication of the repressive nature of power. Yet to talk of 'power' is still to invite the naive response 'It's all in your head'.
Is the violence of the factory floor, or that inflicted on an office boy or ward orderly in their heads? To say nothing of the inhabitants of the, under-developed countries. But that violence should breed counter-violence should surprise nobody, not even those in power. Power in fact has its moments of difficulty - strikes, occupations etc. - and in all cases these crises of authority mark a breakdown in communications. 'Talks broke down today the strike continues' is definition and general pattern. The old words, the veils drawn over the truth, become threadbare; their absurdity becomes obvious as they are seen to reflect a decaying (diseased and also virulent) order. But most such moments can be saved, pulled back into the dominant 'order of things (it is not the order of persons that characterises this world). A key word is produced - coined might be a more apposite term - e.g. 'Participation'. But once this is sought in reality, its poverty as a word becomes obvious, for it is merely a word. Maybe the poverty of the situation is not immediately apparent, but this will surely become evident when it is understood in two different ways: 1) by power; 2) by those who bought it (they were bought). But in the interregnum, power will of course move to preserve itself, will try to perfect it's powers of reification, moving into new areas, establishing false communication about false needs, trying to remould our passivity. While the US youth movement revealed the limits of consumer culture, blocking one of the escape routes of power, revolution itself soon revealed that it could become another commodity, for how long one wonders?
At the back of the struggle in the factory or lecture room lurks the question of representation, foundation stone of our so-called democratic*system. (* Concise Oxford Dictionary: 'Government by the people, direct or representative' .What nice ambiguity, one reading for power, another for the masses, one realised, the other awaiting its day.) The system is built around the notion, it presupposes that someone else can express our wishes, can communicate for us. What shit. What Union Official already removed from the workers' everyday routine can know anything of the reality they face, let alone the desires they hold. Can my local M.P. act on my behalf? Even if I believed in Parliamentary democracy, what do I do if his beliefs belong on an opposite wing? (They always will be). The notion is clearly absurd, only the basic ambiguity, the lack of movement can maintain the edifice. The one-Party State is a world-wide phenomenon. There can be no feedback to the people, because there is no (free) input from the people; there is only the detached mouthpiece of the people of the people issuing instructions to the people, instructions devised by power.
On a cultural front we are asked to consider the universal truths of art, a message communicated from the artist to me. Has he not encoded a message for me to decipher? Without exaggeration we can say that 95% of the messages we might decode, are not worth the bother, they are essentially contemplative and elite-oriented. Their message reflects the dominant ideology, be it that of the Romanesque, that of Socialist-Realism with its picture of the monumental State, or the free form or nihilist reduction, served up in the liberal version of the State. The question is quite simple, what kind of art can one expect in a repressive State? When art can no longer preserve the 'promesse de bonheur', or function as critique, then it is no longer fit for human consumption and can be discarded (this should have happened years ago). The artist who accepts the world as he finds it (opting out does just that) seems to automatically forfeit his potentiality of imaging that promesse, he precludes the possibility of real communication. In opting out because he finds society unable to accept him, or finds society unacceptable - i.e. regards it as bankrupt, he ignores the fact that the cultural is likewise bankrupt, and to the same degree. That society has to be changed at its root values. Dada intuitively realised this, from the destruction of the language of art and language itself it hoped to move to the destruction of the old world. Aragon wrote the real demands of the age: 'No more artists, no more authors, musicians, sculptors, religions, republicans, royalists, imperialists, anarchists, socialists, bolsheviks, politicians, proletariat, democrats, bourgeois, aristocrats, army, police, nations. Of these follies we want nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.'
Into such a void could only be sucked a new form of life. The limitations of Dada could only create a void, into which they themselves were sucked, wearing full artistic regalia - with a few noteworthy exceptions, those who don't figure in the history books. Still one shouldn't minimise what they tried, nor the passion with which they tried. Their negation of a world of accepted values was quite different from the resigned nihilism of today's avant-garde with their meaningless gestures. That they are meaningless means they can happily be taken up by the media machinery, totally devoid of any message they can be pumped out with the rest of the messages that are basically false - false in that they conceal the real potentialities of this world. Unable to communicate the artist communicates with himself, whispers his defeat to his own ears. But he is still spectacularising something: earth, snow, a photograph, you name it he can remove it from its context call it art, or whatever he wants. No one expects a stone to speak to us (or paint) - communication is denied. The media happily pushes this year's new thing - earth, lyric abstraction or whatever. It is neatly labelled, handily made compact for instant assimilation - this void. 'This is a new life style. Welcome to the void. Tune in and drop out of the game of living, it isn't worth it. Accept death now, learn to live with it. We can produce it for you. You just have to listen to us. We can keep you on the cultural circuit, we'll keep you informed'. And they will, about fuck-all. One has just to look at our cultural history; there it lays, acres of frozen moments, layer upon layer in galleries, libraries and bookshops. (It is precisely the form that freezes it), the moment of the past frozen solid, and trying to freeze us with it. We are expected to accept this past, because now there is nothing. Freud was right in talking of the terrible price we pay for culture, wrong in thinking we had to pay it.
A note on lies
(our lies, not those of power): -
There are two basic kinds of lie: 1) that to cover up the poverty of our lives, 2) that which defies authority.
1) Goes under the name of exaggeration, romanticising, daydreaming. In itself it betrays the lie of the world as it is - as a construct of unfilled and thwarted possibilities. In this world lies of this kind are a natural response.
2) Is the simple lie that cheats power - e.g. No, I did not pinch daddy's wallet / screw the bosses wife / (arrive three hours late for work etc.. Neither form of lie will be necessary in any true society the first would be transformed into a practical critique; the second situation need no longer require that it be shielded in this way.
Power breeds despair; despair breeds an alternative power, this alternative power must unite our individual despairs, unless we are to accept an ultimate reification; one that puts not only the words of the existing order into our mouths, but will attempt to reify actual desires. Such reification is attempted now, but is also resisted now. However the reification of language - i.e. group-oriented or class-structured - naturally leads to a situation whereby allies do not recognise each other. Only a lack of dialectic on the part of 99% of left-wing groups can lead to there being 99 sects, only a lack of dialectic can lead to the continual introjection into their own, structure of the values and norms they supposedly oppose.
However there is no doubt our allies are everywhere, those rendered inarticulate, isolated but as yet not aware of WHY - these people are the potential force of revolution. Revolution is an act of transgression, transgression is the poetry of this world, it establishes communication of the individual with himself and en masse. Communication is the poetry of the individual reunited with himself, the poetry of lovers no longer isolated in their two-ness, the poetry of a world become sane and whole. It is hardly too much to ask. It is certainly enough to fight for.
Bash Street Kids.
Newcastle on Tyne (Late 1960s)
A Recuperative, though insightful comment from an
exhibition at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm
The title of this exhibition is taken from Lautreamont and Marx respectively; it indicates the basic themes and links radical art and revolutionary politics. With this union the traditional notion of art often seems to disappear, and the concept of politics take on an added dimension. The exhibition itself illustrates the theme visually, the catalogue texts supplement this. The message is sometimes obvious, sometimes subliminal.
One of the recorded slogans of the May Revolution in France last year read: "1936 - Derniere couche de peintuire". In seizing the means of communication as best as it could - and this it did most successfully, millions were aware of the wall slogans - the revolutionaries made it clear by the very nature of the slogans that this was a new type of revolutionary situation. Lenin's definition ''Revolution is the Festival of the Oppressed' was near to realization. Poetry had come to the streets again. The Commune reborn, not in the form but in the spirit of 1871 when similar creative force had appeared. In Russia, when the Revolution was young, poetry had manifested itself there - on the streets. When, following the suppression of the May events, one could read journalists of the bourgeois press lamenting the disappearance of 'a poetic quality of life'; then one can be doubly sure that poetry had passed from form to matter.
This exhibition is concerned with certain themes related to that slogan ' 1936. ..' For many 'primitive' societies painting, poetry etc. have no such life-span, as forms they had never in effect existed. The fantastic poetry of the Naven for example is part of a natural environment, everyone's environment. At the time when one might have witnessed the Naven ceremonies one might also have heard individuals in Russia declaring that art had outlived its usefulness -"the collective art of the future is collective life". In France Dada had attempted to assassinate culture. Surrealism following in the wake had proposed a new non-repressive reality principle, one accessible to all ''Surrealism is within the compass of every subconscious'. These things have a similar and essential core - the non-hierarchical - classless society. On the Iatmul people Gregory Bateson writes: 'In this community there are no steady and dignified chiefs 'indeed no formulated chieftainship at all -but instead there is a continuing emphasis on self-assertion'. ('L'anarchie c'est je' - slogan, Paris, May 1968). Such a factor is not one usually explored by art historians for a variety of reasons. It is however a guiding principle of this exhibition. But the difficulty of 'exhibiting' such a factor is obvious. It could be done better in book form. What has been attempted is to document the reactions of artists to such a revolutionary state. The variety of exhibits and their contradictions might point to the fact that it need not be the monolithic featureless block we might deduce it to be from self-styled 'Western' versions, or their projection by one-man's imagination - i.e. Utopian novels etc. So-called classless societies are obviously not that for a variety of reasons: their bureaucratic organization - higher functionaries must receive higher salaries than lower ones: 'Repressive men carry their repression into the new society' (Marcuse) i.e. the introjection of bourgeois values into the new state merely perpetuates some aspects of the bourgeois state. The break with such ideology - with the reality principle itself - can perhaps only be effected by imagination. Phantasy is that part of the consciousness which has retained its independence from the reality principle. Hence the new rationality of last May's rallying cry ' 'L'imagination au pouvoir'. The political and economic revolutions that have been accomplished are part-revolutions: they are reforms. Admirable reforms perhaps. Reforms one can still hope and work for in certain areas - the real exploited labour areas in the West - the Third World. But such reforms, in the West, leave untouched the problems of our everyday penury (lack of control over decisions which vitally affect us, increasing emphasis on non-participation from the work place to leisure time, the near-impossibility of being able even to opt out or a society that seems antagonistic to one).
One of the criticisms inherent in the exhibition is directed against the idea of imagination enslaved. Artistic imagination, I believe, needs to be set free from the confining notion of form - sculpture, painting, happening etc. - in order to intervene directly in our everyday lives. Freed of form it might be revealed as a common property to all men. Such freedom is vital to the process of revolution and to a post-revolutionary situation (new society).
The attack on art as such is long standing and has come from various quarters. A fairly crude, behaviourist position* characterized the writings of some of the Russian men of the 1860's - e.g. Pisarev. He asked himself the blunt, tactless but still relevant question: 'It (culture) is all very beautiful but can it possibly be true, that is, does it fit the condition of man?' ...It is, he said 'a parasitical plant which feeds continually on the sap of human toil'. The disappearance of culture in Pisarev's view, was to be succeeded by the emergence of a 'non-cultural' scientific culture, whose ideal was neither invented nor abstracted but found and left where it alone could be represented - in actual and living phenomena.**) This is not a far-call from the constructivist thesis of the 1920's. The idea was also central to early surrealism: 'Admit that literature and painting are the saddest paths leading anywhere' (Breton). Marcuse, under the guiding light of Freud but denying Freud's pessimism on the essential factor that the reality principle cannot be changed, has thrown another 1ight on the subject: 'The aesthetic quality of enjoyment, even entertainment, has been inseparable from the essence of art, no matter how tragic, how uncompromising the work of art is. Aristotle's proposition on the cathartic effect of art epitomizes the dual function of art: both to oppose and to reconcile: both to indict and acquit; both to recall the repressed and repress it again ' 'purified'. People can elevate themselves with the classics: they read and see and hear their own archetypes rebel, triumph, give up or perish. And since all this is aesthetically formed, they can enjoy it - and forget it'. ***)
Both surrealists and constructivists had only scorn for bourgeois capitalism and its achievements. The demand for change was seen, as now, to be of necessity - total. Art comes under attack as part of the system. Its avant-gardism is seen as mere packaging of an outworn commodity. It functions too readily as part of the media, part of the 'spectacle' that serves as a substitute for our own lives. It is a distraction encouraged, it often appears, to prevent us questioning the system; keeping up with the schisms of minimalism or whatever can be a fulltime occupation. If it is part of the system, then its dangers can be compared in effect, if not magnitude, to TV's effects in the last 2 decades which will certainly have played an enormous role in lowering the consciousness of the working class. A class whose importance to the revolution is fundamental. If Marcuse is right, as I believe he is, in his analysis of culture - he may justly be criticized for ignoring the working class and positing too much hope in the intelligentsia. What of course is needed is a fusion of the two, and this is the extraordinarily difficult task at this juncture. That the need was recognized by surrealists and constructivists and that they were unable to move from analysis to real action at least leaves us with some guide. In remaining faithful to an ideal the surrealist group aborted its real chances of moving into the area of actuality. The constructivists, after the Revolution, working unknowingly within a framework of falsehood could act; and thus make propaganda for a machine that clearly betrayed the ideals of 1917. However, what is clear is that Mayakovsky, Vertov or Tatlin could on occasion touch the pulse and soul of the Russian worker, they used a language that communicated ' Mayakovsky's agit-poems, Tatlin's Tower, Vertov's 'Kino-eye' films. They were literally able to function in the factory and the street, and not in producing anything remotely escapist. Yet, due to what in retrospect we may call a false-consciousness; they were often expressing a reactionary party-line, the line of the Five-Year Plans, the call to slave harder etc. Work became a fetish that was insufficiently challenged. Lissitzky though would anticipate surrealism when writing that 'communism will have to be left behind because suprematism -which embraces the totality of life's phenomena - will attract everyone away from the domination of work'.' Five years later the cover of 'La Revolution Surrealiste' called forth 'And War on Work'. 'Never Work' was one of the most frequently written slogans last May. The whole work ethic is one of the principal props of capitalism - whether it be in the Russian State or Western versions. It is only beyond the performance principle and its basis on work that a non-repressive reality principle can be envisaged. In fairness to constructivism it might be argued that in its early, heroic, Utopian phase, while undoubtedly extolling labour it also envisaged a technology that would have been advanced enough to lead to a considerable labour reduction. (The kind of technology people such as Buckminster Fuller predict will free us from the domination of work). While in its later phase - that of the factograph -a film such as 'Man with a Movie Camera' is also a hymn to leisure activities. One might too make the point that despite Gastev and the Americanisation fervour, despite the man = machine equation that Meyerhold seems to have celebrated, there was in the latter's work, and in the theatre of his pupil Eisenstein, a counter-force clearly anti-mechanolatric - that force came from the circus, it represented the play element. It was clearly evident in Meyerhold's early productions in collaboration with the constructivists - Popova and Stepanova, and more than evident in Eisenstein's work at Proletcult, including 'Strike'. The circus not only counteracted the spectre of mechanical man, it also related directly to the culture of the Russian masses Americanisation and clowning produced as lunatic a poetry as did the artist-engineer. The play instinct was far from being dominated by the work-instinct. Here, one might quote Buckminster Fuller:
Much the most exciting part about technology is not the technology or automation at all, but that man is going to come into entirely new relationships with his fellow men. He will retain much more in his everyday relations of what we term the naivete and idealism of the child'. It is an interesting fact that Fuller not only extends constructivism, but relates all to the surrealist quest: 'Surrealism relives in exaltation the best moments of childhood'. However, Fuller seems to avoid the question: his predicted state of affairs is hardly likely to come about under the present social structure which moves rather to the opposite pole -reduction of human potential to a new nadir. Even a move from alienated labour to alienated leisure (long predicted, still not in sight) is hardly a stupendous advance. I find it impossible to believe that there is going to be the slightest surrender of power and its instrumentation. Fuller seems unduly idealistic. In 1927 Naville would criticize the surrealists for their idealism; and consequently break with them. His criticism was just. So though was Breton's reply ' the economic and political revolution was revolution half-formed (Revolution by day, but not by night). Both sides were right, and no common ground seemed really evident.
If constructivism was also romantic and idealist in much of its oeuvre, it did to some degree succeed in changing the world. While the surrealists were asking 'What should one do with Notre Dame?' Answer: 'Replace the towers by a glass cruet, one bottle filled with blood, the other with sperm. The building will become a sexual school for virgins' someone in Russia, following in the wake of constructivism had changed his church into a tank. The Revolution in architecture, design and typography had however to succumb to a new totalitarianism. The fact that the constructivists built so little should not, I feel, cause us to neglect the idea of changing the physical environment (at an Architectural conference in Berlin about 2 years ago - students hung banners saying ''Stop Building' and 'All Buildings are beautiful'). The constructivist projects are more than paper dreams, simply looking at the dreariness and monotony of twentieth century towns then turning to Melnikov, Leonidev etc. shows that we have yet to learn some vital lessons. The idea that we take to the air in Tatlin's ornithopter becomes less and less a fantasy, more and more a necessity.
The fact is that following its Utopian phase constructivism returned to the here and now; the material to be used was the fact, the fact as photo, as reportage etc. However, 'art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it'. Hence, despite their denials of art they still shaped their reactions and records in a dynamic form. Futurism lived on, even in those forms Lef listed as being those in which it moved ' 'slogans, leaflets, montages, popular songs, signs, cinema hoardings....film documentaries, marches for processions, photographs. ..' Among the film documentaries are Vertov's 'Kino-eye' series and 'Man with a Movie Camera'. In this film Vertov seems to be saying 'This is everyday life in the new Socialist (Soviets plus electrification) State that is to come into being'. It is everyday life of the time, but transformed, energized by the Proun force which Lissitzky had left for others to harness. This is the perceptual dynamic of a Revolutionary Society. 'Man with a Movie Camera" is Utopian, but made with the elements of the present; as such it is also critique, critique of an actual monolithic State. The other side of the coin was then being developed in Paris. There, Breton, Aragon and others were aimlessly wandering the streets in search of 'objective chance' - those fabulous coincidences that appear to bring ones subconscious into harmony with the subconscious of a city. Breton's account of such events ''Nadja' - is a surrealist masterpiece, and much closer to that constructivist masterpiece 'Man with a Movie Camera.' than we are usually given to think. The streets and buildings in 'L' Age d'Or' are also subject o the will of a dynamic that we impose on them, in this case its source is
"LOVE. ..LOVE. ..LOVE...LOVE"
But this too is an avant garde film, one shown to 'special' audiences, rather than the oppressed whom it urged 'to satisfy their hunger for destruction' and 'abolish a society made up of different classes'.
Paradox! The artistic elements of last May's events were obvious: quotations from Breton were among the most frequently used wall-slogans. But the artistic revolution was seen as finished (1936 to be exact), the limitations of surrealism had been recognized: the monotony of the automatic text and the dream recital given as literature****, the recuperable quality of its art works, reduced so often to a new form of stocks and shares. Breton's idea of the object whose construction is outside all aesthetic consideration and hence within everyone's creative scope (it seems to me the best pieces were made by the poets or their wives) may remain true, but such objects are hardly likely to discredit the world of appearances, One might equally expect this from the plethora of worthless objects already in the stores; but these are part of the system, part of the 'creation of ever more parasitic and unproductive labour', part of the vicious consumer-consumed circle. Perhaps though the surrealist object may be related to such things as Rodchenko's mobiles? Very different formally and functionally, their similarity is one of heresy. Produced by Marxists and, to varying degrees, conceived within a socio-economic framework, they relate to productivity in a highly ambiguous way. And, since their authors would have denied that they were simply 'art' one might be justified in making comparisons and criticisms outside the scope of art. However, we treat them as works of art, to me some of the most interesting produced in this century. But for many they belong to the past, there is no path continuing from them, they are a half-way house; now the action is seen as outside.
The ideal remains - poetry must be practised. And indeed it was (though not by all), from the Barres Trial to the events of 'Nadja'; in Russia 8000 people took part in the re-enactment of the Storming of the Winter Palace; in 1927 there were 7000 Blue Blouse groups in the factories, clubs etc. I have already spoken of the poetry of the barricades. Revolution is Poetry. There is poetry in all those acts which break the system of organization. 'The way to possibility lies through the road marked no thoroughfare'. ('Trespassers will be liberated'). In the move property becomes damaged; the inhabitants of Paris find their walls daubed with slogans; the press becomes paranoiac - they forget the violence which calls forth this violence - the dead in Vietnam, Bolivia etc; the violence of the factory floor, the violence of poverty. But as Monnerot wrote 'there is nothing about which the indispensable, ignoble, sacramental question 'who does it belong to' cannot be asked'. This is a civilization which seems to indict itself. If I quote the Iatmul or the Senoi then this is because some aspects of their culture seem admirable. Not of course the brutality to which they are exposed by their environment. It is not necessarily a question of regression back from the affluent society (though freedom from certain commodities would be an enrichment). Liberation depends on progress, rational progress, not progress measured in terms of profit. Technology can be an instrument of liberation, but not a technology creating and satisfying false needs; a liberatory technology is one freed from present restrictions, under changed ownership - i.e. common ownership. Such will surely depend on a changed consciousness, our present consciousness having as built-in norms - competitiveness, acquisitiveness. That it can be otherwise does seem proven in the examples of some 'primitive' societies.
The problem of effecting the 'small' change of consciousness that could lead to a revolutionary proletariat (simple realization that they are being swindled) is difficult enough, so that to suggest that the goal is existence under a non-repressive reality principle may seem absurdly Utopian. But, the conditions for both changes do at least exist, and have on occasion been realized. The new proletariat is anyone who desires to change this world. Not only the exploited classes, but anyone who responds to the promptings of our consciousness by the artists, poets and doers who have broken the organization of appearances. Be it Malevich on his death-bed, triumphing over totalitarianism with a pure poetry; Breton lecturing in Haiti and causing a Revolution; those unknown Paris communards demolishing Thier's house in 1871, or painting the magnificent slogan in the Sorbonne in 1968: 'I take my desires for reality, for I believe in the reality of my desires' etc. etc. - there is no hierarchy. Our instincts may be triggered, we must then act. How to act is one's own problem. This exhibition has documented some of the ways, ways taken by a very specific group of people. That one can only document the history of an elite, history being mainly the history of an elite, is no doubt regrettable. But in the present context ('art outside the frame' within a museum) to document that other history would probably be a more tabooed undertaking than this, where the risks of disarmament and containment are certainly present.
*) Nevertheless one incorporated in the wider critiques of Breton and Marcuse.
**) Eugene Lampert: Sons against fathers: Studies in Russian Radicalism and Revolution: Oxford 1965.
***) H. Marcuse: Eros and Civilization Boston 1955.
****) In this respect the Senoi in Malaya were the real surrealists, There, dream interpretation was practised daily, in families and groups. Once such interpretation action was based they had known no violence for a very long time.
Culture and Revolution
(What has been put down here must not become an inspiration for a new cult of written hate which will serve as a final excuse not to act)
Nobody today can claim any longer that this is the golden age of art unless they are exceedingly short-sighted and their minds have capsised. The art critic, Nigel Gosling, in a recent newspaper review on painting and sculpture headed: 'Among The Doldrums' says; 'No committed art lover could survey the present London art scene without disquiet. Over the past year the atmosphere has changed dramatically for the worse. Some of the most adventurous galleries are either defunct or declining (Signals, Fraser, Indica, Hamilton)'. According to Gosling, there are many reasons for this - economic ones among them - and, hopefully concludes, that this decline will only be short-lived. We hope in the following talk to show that such a decline among the arts is inevitable and any hope or belief in the resurrection of the arts is not only stupid but naive. In particular, we will be concentrating on intermingling and necessarily over-simplifying four movements: Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism and Constructivism, all of which attempted a definitive break with conventional methods of expression.
These movements are in the process of a fresh reinvestigation but this reinvestigation has been carried out badly. By now everybody must be aware of the increasing number of publications devoted to Dada, Surrealism, Futurism and Constructivism. Inevitably, the centre has been taken by academics who completely miss the point. Some like Christopher Middleton, with his researches on Dada, has done some good work but because it is only scholastic, no attempt is made to relate it to the present situation. This approach merely subverts the essence of Dada but in a bad way. It thus becomes a bookish term for an academic who survives through subsisting on art scholarships ' which any Dadaist worth his salt would have laughed at.
However, the concentration on one past period within the 20th century, has produced another, stranger contemporary type of academic. Unlike the Middleton's and their ilk, this type of person is able to emotionally comprehend the active, involved nature of Dada and Surrealism etc but because of a narrowed down perspective, is unable to escape from his own niche. This type of person is better for having managed to sweep away much of the garbage which has accrued around these movements.
Two can serve as examples and both are American. In Chicago, Franklin Rosemont of Rebel Worker has, more or less, grasped the original essence of Surrealism. His was trhe first of the radical groupings now springing up in America and the first to connect Surrealism with an insurrectionary act (vandalism/destruction etc) against this society. This could mean ( as the New York group Black Mask would accept) that Black Power = Surrealism. Recently, Rebel Worker pamphleted the opening of a Picasso exhibition in Chicago. The flyer rightly attacked Picasso for his failure to even understand Cubism; his recent friendship with passe poets and painters ( the senile Eluard) and even worse, his friendship with General Franco, the fascist caudillo. The conclusion of Rebel Worker on Picasso's work was 'Burn Baby Burn'. Now this sounds fine but its also worth pointing out that Rosemont has so steeped himself in Surrealism that he sounds like an aping, latter-day Andre Breton. The Picasso flyer is couched in the same language as; Have You Ever Slapped A Corpse, the vitriolic manifesto published by the Surrealists on the death of Anatole France. Furthermore, Rosemont's Rebel Worker cannot break away from the fiery polemical Surrealist style, nor from decorating the paper with the occasional Surrealist artefact. This inevitably comes across as hollow in a situation which is now different and demands a new approach with a new language.
In New York, Henry Flynt, a Communist Party member, has really attempted a breakthrough and grasped what Constructivism really stood for in Russia after 1917and in contrast to the general conclusion now pushed, that sculptors like Gabo and Pevsner are Constructivists. Flynt recognises that as vital mediums; film, street popular music and applied design have made 'high' art ' painting, sculpture, poetry, theatre, classical music etc, reactionary activities, doing more harm than good. However, because Flynt's limits his analysis to a discussion of mediums and projects and no matter how perceptive, lacks real vitality. There is no discussion of the revolutionary life which some Surrealists and Dadaists tried to live - a life lived so directly that it necessarily tends towards precluding any type of representation. Perhaps the best of it we really don't know anything about.
Now, with new revolutionary rumblings throughout the world, the need to propose a new radical critique affecting the very foundations of our lives has become essential. We must recognise that a revolutionary experimental reality outstrips the most radical proposals. The key to this is in the past 50 years and lies as much in the failure of Bolshevism as Dada.
But first of all, why is it that commentators/writers etc split these movements up and never attempt to understand them in some kind of togetherness? After all, weren't these movements different manifestations of the same continually developing spirit? Now a new man is coming into being; a man who is not compartmentalised; a man for a new age of revolution when much more than specialisation is required. A total comprehension, encompassing inadequacies as well as excellence must become all. Marinetti thus becomes equally as much a revolutionary as Andre Breton. We need to put all together and not to discuss them separately. We will treat them with the respect, or disrespect, they deserve. We also take upon ourselves the right to abuse the term revolutionary. For us, anyone who acts in order to sabotage this society is a potential revolutionary. In Legitimate Defense, (1926) Andre Breton wrote: 'I say the revolutionary flame burns wherever it chooses and that it is not up to a small group of men in the period of waiting we are now living through, to decree that it can only burn here or there.' Dada is against the expensive life.
Dada corporation for the exploitation of ideas.
Dada has 391 postures according to the sex of the president.
It transforms itself - affirms-says at the same time the opposite
- without importance-shouts fly casts.
Dada is the chameleon of swift and interested change.
Dada is against the future. Dada is dead. Dada is idiotic.
Long Live Dada. Dada is not a literary school
- trend, howls.
(Tristan Tzara 1920 )
In its iconoclasm, Dada like Russian Futurism, developed from small beginnings into one of the most aggressive and marvelous attempts to free life which the 20th century has come up with. It became radical in the true sense of the term. Dada began life as a club for entertainment where poets recited and painters displayed their latest avante garde works. Many still believed in art but with the pace quickly hotting up - even in Zurich - art was occasionally transcended. As Tzara said at the time: 'The new artist does not paint or write, he creates directly', suggesting that desire could no longer be channeled into art forms because in a renewed life, art will not exist because beauty will no longer be contemplated but possessed directly. This means, beauty will no longer be a contemplative mode rendered passive through painting, music, theatre and cinema. It will be lived. It will be possessed.
Let's take a further look at these categories:
ART + POLITICS =
(The bulk of this article - from the place marked *** onwards - was written as a series of footnotes to "A Critique of the Study of English Literature" - published in full in Red Texts No 2 (price 3/6d from RSSF, 2 Canonbury Mansions, Canonbury Place, Islington) the first section is a condensing to about third of this article to the points and concepts used in the main discussion following ***).
Tradition. Tracing a tradition. An obsessive need to order our experiences, a process which drains our experience. The assumption that there is a living tradition in English really started in the 20s with the effective destroyer of English poetry in this century -T. S. Eliot whose influence on criticism has also been enormous. His attempt to relate literature to any actuality was conceived of in terms of the corniest of corny conservative fantasies - the re-establishment of an elite. Though he was at great pains to point out how 'living' this tradition was, he used it in his own poetry (and all critics lick his arse because he was a 'practitioner, thus displaying their own poverty) as a huge monumental entity which he placed opposite another entity - the present whose vulgarity and poverty he revelled in. He uses a whole mass of anthropological and literary monumentality and crushed his patronising and very 'personal' view of the present. Tradition used this way narrows literature down to mere history. Worse it is one based on the implicit assumption that the present is a vacuum or a drained intellectual concept. Thus inevitably tradition becomes academic monumentality. But as the present is not living for academics, then neither can the tradition be, for it is not going anywhere. It can be treated as an entity ' it's safer that way.
The future of literature. Literature of our time is being written off, but for the wrong reasons, academic reasons. Leavis, for example, says it is due to the poverty of language. To say this involves a huge failure of connection. Language does not exist in a vacuum. Leavis makes a token academic gesture at making it social by saying that the strength of English is essentially rural. From him it is pretty rare nostalgia. It is also untrue. The writing coming from American cities is making its own language the slang of our own cities is not always corny. The poverty of language must be related to the poverty of experience. And of experienced reality. This is especially true for the student, if he is taught to denigrate sensual experience how on earth can he use sensual language? If he is led to see theoretical abstraction as being of prime importance, then his language will be abstractly theoretical. What is especially marked in modern English writing is the lack of any content and its poverty. There is no reality to write of except a non-existent upper class, the criminal that we all long to be, or a 'terrifying personal vision.' The sterility of which is revealed by its inevitable tone of corny pessimism. The 'personal vision' indicates the atomisation of society. The 'terrifying' is a playing out of our alienation to each other in an alienated way. Nothing is creative, only expressive, expressive of your own alienation.
Doing it, or writing it, because you have to is the only justification. It is the urgency that matters; whenever it is in somebody, it comes over clearly and is exciting. Only by combating the timeless poverty of life under contemporary capitalism can anything worthwhile emerge. After studying English nothing is seen as urgent. The past and its eternal values act as lullabies for them and as sleeping pills for you.
Very rarely is the question asked ''Why did the guy write this?" It is not considered an academic question precisely because it would take the subject some way out of the vacuum. Instead we get studies of patronage, and, increasingly, the idea that the guy was writing for money. What is confirmed in this is the very bourgeois idea that art is something different, cut off from life, the sponging artist being a classification in the bourgeois system and one to be tolerated. Also it contains another bourgeois idea that art is just entertainment (more sophisticatedly, for the benefit of the educated, being entertained by a product which is 'thought-provoking' i.e. being titillated by someone else's precious and private insights and perceptions). The academics though maintain a double standard towards this. Shakespeare was entertaining for the Elizabethans, but now it's a very serious matter'
Another symptom of the sophisticated academic drainage-system is the row of critics and academics bending over backwards saying 'this is great because it is not didactic'. Didacticism being synonymous with an over-earnest sense of purpose. Thus the excrement poured on Lawrence who has something important and genuine to say - the obscenity of the body's total subjugation to the mind and the ego - the usual accusation being that he is humourless. By this is meant a very narcissistic humour, the modern cult of self-parody. It's uncool to say anything revolutionary and serious because that is a threat and you are attacked for it, thus the huge defensive mechanismof self-parody, is the escape route of every modern writer'.
The point is that having a sense of purpose is attacked, because in an age of banality, anything purposeful is dangerous. Every 20th century writer is described as a scintillating critic of modern life, but has anything changed? The bourgeoisie even absorb scintillating attacks on its morality. The emphasis being on the scintillation. It can stay in the vacuum. This is even more horribly true of modern pop music and its repeated attacks on bourgeois culture, Vietnam War etc. Rolling Stones perform Street Fighting Man in Hyde Park and all but 30 of the 500, 000 listen to it in total passivity. At least 10 years ago, Jailhouse Rock got the kids ripping up the cinema. ...
After doing an English course and by some miracle we became writers, we too would never admit to a sense of purpose. That would be very uncool. A sense of purpose would be revolutionary. The modern rationalisations being 'I'm doing it because Ienjoy doing it, why shouldn't I?' (no urgency there! ) Or, 'Of course I don't know how it will affect the audience, that wouldn't be artistic'. 'The work should stand foritself. People take what they can from it' etc. The sense of futility is encouraged at every step. If, 'doing it because you want to do it' is to be anything more than a futile gesture, then a hell of a lot more people should be doing, everybody. At the moment it's just a rationalisation for a huge ego trip and mass passivity.
The monumentality of past art is the most crushing of all. And its not just buildings propped up when they no longer have any function. If they don't have a function then they can be an entity of pure beauty, meaningless and therefore safe. With literature the whole thing is more insidious. There are eternal values etc. Also the symptom of a total lack of faith in the future (modern architects living in restored 16th Century houses) and of in what the artist himself is doing, is yet more revealing of total poverty.
Nobody has asked the question of whether all art in the future will be nothing but a compensation. When the worker comes home from the production line, he is so physically exhausted that the television is about all he can take. The academics and critics are, needless to say, very patronising about television. But aren't all the products of art now just rather more sophisticated, compensations. The Marx Bros are rightly being heralded as geniuses but isn't their work a compensation for the anarchy in ourselves that we are not permitted? The artist of course being expected to be a bohemian, his eccentricity tolerated and encouraged and marketed, all our own suppressed creativity being lived for us by him.
The real artist doesn't give answers but asks the right questions; Chekhov said it, They're all saying it. Nobody is asking for a blueprint but only the illusion that people are, allows the academic to assert the virtue of his purposelessness. A whole series of irrelevant questions (none of which have an answer of course, visions of futility) is always at hand to prevent the student from acting. And the vision of futility they present us with makes us feel everything is, futile, all equally futile.
The most insidious way in which they drain all excitement and exuberance from us, is by making us excited over some rarefied question, and restricting us to this. This is done especially by means of antitheses which no longer matter and which make us believe that we can do nothing in the future. The artistic and the didactic, they force divisions which do not exist and atomise our minds a little more. It also brings in thewhole bag of sacrifice, you can have one or the other. I want everything.
In a society in which we are constantly being fobbed off with (cheapness, with the imitation and the inauthentic (through which the working class can see as well. The fear that we soften the proletariat if we allow the possibility of them having an acute aesthetic sensitivity is based on a whole lot of rarefied illusions, and is very patronising. Why do kids smash up their lousy council houses and youth clubs which only have ping pong?) the way in which a study of writing can help us distinguish between what is authentic and what isn't, suggests the revolutionary function it can have.
Authenticity of thought and authenticity of experience: unearned wisdom, thought which has never been thought out for oneself and is based on no experience but juggles with abstractions, is totally inauthentic. We must learn to see the relationship between the experience and the language: it is direct in good writers. If we can become sensitive to the genuiness of the writing and the lived experience behind it, we can also be sensitive to our own experiences. We can only make this connection if we can smash the academic vacuum: in practical terms - within the present system of education - if work becomes communal. 1f the apparently exclusive packets of ideas are rejected. In a communal atmosphere the ease of relating what we read - or receive from any art form - to our own experience will be far greater. It is no use complaining of the isolation of the subject if you as students remain isolated. Its rejection of vulgarity and cheapness will also only be of value if the discovery of this is related directly to everyone's experience, otherwise it really will be only snobbery. It will also be this if we don't realise the connection of this poverty to the capitalist mode of production, to its destructive effect on people, and if there is a shared belief that people don't want cheapness, that they can see through it.
The revolutionary dynamic provided by literature itself can exist only if our reading is not passive (myopic criticism is very soporific). This dynamic (which is the contrast which should become a tension between the possible and the actual) is of any richness of experience which may come over from literature and the poverty and banality of our own lives. If works which do this are read passively then their richness will only be a compensation, if not then they can be DYNAMITE. Similarly with pop music or even the Marx Bros or 'Zazie Dans Le Metro' if our attitude is non-passive then the anarchy and aggression in these ceases to be a compensation for the aggression in us we are scared to release, ceases to be the voyeurism when the action looked at is us, and forces this tension between the possible and the actual, and is dynamite.
I suggested that the value of art depends almost entirely on the attitude/response of the audience, essentially whether it is one of passivity or not. This is I think, rather simplistic, though I have experienced this really strong duality, watching Marx Bros films, usually suggesting the anarchism in myself, which usually creates that dynamic tension when I realise how dull it makes my own life appear, suggesting almost forcing a new play lifestyle. But just occasionally I feel it is absorbing all that playful. anarchic potential within myself, that it is the alienation of me contemplating my POTENTIAL free self, of laughing, applauding, so I don't have to do it myself, and a feeling of annoyance that this has all been done in a studio; that its all as safe and constructed as a moped. ...and then I remember how reactionary Groucho is.
So far all attempts to get away from the art that really makes the 'audience' just a receiver, a consumer, have been fearfully superficial. The big thing in the theatre at any rate has been 'audience PARTICIPATION'; it didn't take. De Gaulle's obviously expedient use of 'participation' (changing it from meaning 'taking an active creative part in the decisions which affect your life' to 'taking the load of running things as they are and we decree now, off our shoulders for us:' run your own alienation! ) to put a lot of young French guys off it; they had already seen that its application in theatre and the very consumable 'happenings' was phoney. The blandness with which avant-garde theatre people use the phrase now is all the more horrific, because they have seen no connection between their own ridicule of the word when used by De Gaulle and their own use of it. It is not just the hack politicos who are stuck in the false politics-art division; it is the theatre avant-garde as well. When the Living Theatre allow audience .participation (into what? Acting?) it is something that must take place within a hall, it never gets outside the narcissistic mood of being in a theatre. Also its capacity for retaking control of the whole show within an insistence that the show must go on, reveals an emptiness in ones own response, one I feel has been manipulated.
In a sense all art is manipulative, and so far we have only got to a crude distinction between what manipulates you into passivity, the Free Pop Concerts (the DJs beaming as to how much we are all enjoying ourselves, when they're really saying how we shall enjoy ourselves) and that which manipulates you to be responsive. Further we may be pursuing an absurd and futile position to think that everything that manipulates you is necessarily bad. If we see ourselves as a pure entity - as in fact the society which is alienated from us sees us and we see it, i.e. as an entity - then of course things which affect us may seem to be 'manipulative', but so in fact would all human relationships, which cause changes within ourselves. It's a question perhaps of whether after having been 'manipulated' a person has had more choices opened up to him land stimulated within him, or has had some removed from his sight or made impossible for him?
Most of us don't get too hung up over this quality of human relationships IN GENERAL - we do usually with institutionalised things. Things which have a formal and immobile relationship between themselves and the people who relate to them. This is true of Art and Politics where we are very conscious of being manipulated, essentially because the relationship is one-sided and because of the distance between it and us. That is to say, when we feel we are being consciously manipulated. If none of the audience laughed during a theatre comedy, the actors would probably start forgetting their lines, stuttering into silence. There is in fact a two-way relationship but it is a sick one. The actors depend on the audience responding, but responding in a predictable way. This problem cannot be overcome simply by making the actor less of a tool i.e. by having plays created by the actors themselves, or by having them improvised plays. Or at least so far this has appeared WITHIN THE TERMS OF THE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE ITSELF, something of a gesture.
The authority that the actor has in his role as actor, and the sustaining of the unreality which the role is: the only hopeful thing here is the creation of immediate relation ships within the audience itself. But even here the role of the 'actors' is ambiguous, if they are catalysts the process is still rather one way: do the "actors' themselves have the capacity for change? The most acute example of 'liberating' theatre is C. A. S. T. going around from university to university ending their shows by smashing some property. That is complete substitution. The Who similarly with their guitars. The audience expects it, wants it to happen itself, but is frightened to do it. Whereas C. A. S. T. have the artists prerogative to do it. This is the most acute case of the classic 'alienation' which art can afford. We contemplate other people destroying the environment we want to destroy. We have to import them to do it for us. 'Wow, that was a really good talk you gave the other day man, about everyone starting to do it for themselves. ..er, you wouldn't like to come and give us a talk at our college too?
The expectation that works both ways is bad essentially because of its rigidity, the audience expecting and expected to respond in a certain way, and expecting the actors to respond to that response in a certain way. ..By the Living Theatre, it is presumably a response of self-liberation but it is still expected, needed. And on the other hand, there is the audience on the West End level expecting to be entertained ' 'I paid for it' - or have their thoughts provoked, and on the avant-garde scene expecting theirproperty to be smashed or their bourgeoiseness to be assaulted. There is also something wrong with the perverted altruism of these actors who go around liberating people, there is no expectation of getting anything out of an audience.
Expectation can be a positive if it is more a question of confirming some experience the audience has had. This suggests essentially working on a local level where the relationship between actor and audience extends beyond the fact of performance, is close, and where the roles are interchangeable. This was relatively easy in a university, it should also be relatively easy on the scale of local areas, in Notting Hill (for example with the more or less collective experience of police repression, housing shortage etc).
This raises the problem of what exactly any art form can do. The confirmation of experience sounds perhaps banal. In some cases it really means to make people aware of what exactly is happening. But in many cases this is done in places where people know what's going on, and the ordering of this awareness is not only of no use to them it is also frustrating if no answers at all are suggested (e.g. the proposed street theatre piece in Cambridge about how the university controls the town we didn't do it ultimately because there was nothing very definite that we could suggest for ways for the people of Cambridge themselves to remedy the situation) But the confirmation of experience seems worthwhile if it is done in a way that reveals the contradictions and undermines the oppressive structures and the internalised repressive structures.
This clearly relates to very specifically didactic art forms, but then as I argued earlier it seems almost absurd to say that art isn't didactic. Even the anti-art and the art of arbitrary destruction, the glorifying of the pure present in all its absurdities and contradictions of the Surrealists and Dadaists was didactic and purposive by not doing the expected, by doing meaningless things they expected people's unthought attitudes and habitual ways of seeing things to be shaken without them having any resort to 'understanding' which could order this new experience. In a sense this is all that art is about though there is an equally strong conscious or unconscious purpose of unifying the contradictions, of ordering the experience, of 'manipulation' moving beyond the habitual, but in terms of some new individual unification. Also in general the equal absorption of new experience into forms, even if they are becoming increasingly individualistic forms, tend to be absorptions into generally defined social norms. The assumption of common social value in relation to a wide audience is totally absurd today and is something very different from the confirmation of experience. The huge critical acclaim by nearly everyone when 'Little Malcolm' first appeared, including the usual assortment of the left, is amazing. Though ostensibly it was anti-Fascist, it did in fact undermine the whole revolutionary position with the banality of the idea that revolutionaries were revolutionaries because they are really impotent, and ending with a totally banal - and yes, self-parodying - re-affirmation of every social norm. Witness the monotonous return to status-quo social values by the angry young men of the thirties and fifties, which means being militantly conservative in some case or smug in others. This was latent in all their work with its inward narcissistic aggression all contained within the stage. The total voyeurism of watching Jimmy Porter working out all our aggressions with the illusion that he is working out the problems of living with someone. Being seduced by this, so that we didn't even notice that Porter was weak, that Osborne had undermined the character from the start, and that the aggression was contained within the stage (one angry young man, championed by the media who love to find a 'personality' and strip him of context and influence but no anger aroused among the many) - an expression of this weakness, allows the ultimate restatement of accepted values masquerading as eternal values to be applied in any social situation.
But the problems for the 'revolutionary' artist are far greater, because of his own awareness (assuming his revolutionary position to have been worked out by himself) of the social situation coming into conflict with his dedication and desire for artistic expression. Not only is 2Oth century art, its genuine art, revealing of the complete breakdown of any common social reality, with its stress on idiosyncrasy, its personal visions all predictably concluding with a statement of conventional-wisdom pessimism (but without these artists being themselves conscious of this inevitability resulting from their self-imposed isolation and nomadic lives) but also in the morbid interest of critics in the failures, resulting in the criterion: that only the failures are great, because they were the ones who tried. In fact this glorification of the interestingfailure is paramount, so that we never get around to questioning why they must inevitably be failures. (Raymond Williams on Lawrence in Modern Tragedy is one of the few efforts).
The reasons for it only become obvious to the artist who is aware of what he is trying to do, and aware of the social situation that condemns his art that makes it into a consumer product trapped in the present social situation simply because that is the only reality available to him. Unable to transcend it, unless he takes the suicidal course of mysticism i.e. allowing the social reality to be still more drained - and draining his own reality - i.e. a social reality.
There is obviously great hope in the movement towards communally created art. This again lends itself very much to the theatre. And to the cinema, where already co- operation is necessary for the making of film, it is of the essence of film-making. The advantage of this is clearly that the experience of making is not privatised; that this in itself is communal and social, this especially relevant when a lot of art is about the role of the artist himself. In cinema it is obviously not so easy; the required communality has many features which make it similar to any other kind of production which requires a perverted communality. As Cardan points out, a, factory is potentially a communal place, but one which has been perverted not because it is necessary to the production itself but because it is necessary to alienated production to which authentic communality is a great threat. This is also true of the cinema. This is especially true at a time when the director is becoming increasingly the dictator. A film is judged now as a totality; which is an advance, but is very much the totality of one man's vision, the actors are judged on the criterion of how well they have played the roles strictly delineated by the director in the totality of his vision, the firmness of the totality depending largely on how direct the relation between director and-the camera crew is, though again the camera work is largely dictated by the director, whatever his personal involvement in it. Most film actors don't have to act being alienated, say in an Antonioni film, they are anyway'.. this clearly relates to a more fundamental feature, the one so obviously shared with factory production. The division of labour. This is so much more easily rationalisable in the cinema with its greater technical demands. To be a cameraman requires technical skill and knowledge. This factor common to all other forms of production is clearly critical. Nearly all art forms require technical skill and talent which not everybody has. At least they don't have it in the established art forms. This is very noticeable in the tenseness of the narcissistic university situation. There is the almost hysterical need to create, to be creative, and to be seen to be creative. But the need is usually imposed from outside. This is why so many people get fucked-up over the creative thing. I knew a guy who set himself a schedule of writing a poem a day, during his first year at university in order to feel that he was being creative. The hip cretins in university drama set out to intimidate the freshmen with their creativeness. It's a very competitive world.
Faced then with the poverty of university life (I am not setting this out to be more so than any other kind of a life) the need to create becomes more and more hysterical - the only alternative to all-out consumption is frenzied creativity in petrified forms. Creativity itself becomes something consumable. Maybe it's just a student malaise but there's a lot of people saying to themselves 'I'd better do something, I'm alive after all', and off they go to the latest audition.
This is all the more shameful because art - doing things, even in established forms, - can be therapeutic, therapeutic rather than sleep-inducing. There are many times when I have to play the saxophone and flute, when I have to dance, and I feel better for doing it. I have to do these things but not because I have to be creative. It is all the more shameful because some hip revolutionaries wave the word 'talent' around as a threat, but it remains as a totally purposeless talent. Theatre groups, or to move ahead a little, street theatre groups, do their thing out of some sense of obligation to someone without even knowing why they are doing it, without knowing what they expect it to do or who they are doing it for.
Even for the sincere, the situation is tragic, for the avant-garde and the political artistic avant-garde pathetic. They still insist on maintaining their identity dependent on the sterile art forms which they emerge from. They grope around (the group grope being halfway to personal liberation) looking for the talented, the creative, scorning the party elite of the hack left, they invent a new hack vanguard, sprinting around the globe, letting off sparks of personal liberation like a neurotic catherine wheel. Content with the smoky little fires they create, marking up new communes and new groups, setting up fantastic communication networks between them merely in order, to give some illusion of totality. Going as far as to latch onto some harmless paragraph in an existentialist work, one that is been pencilled with approval by some humanist or other, chewing up these few dog-eared pages and emerging with ontological proof that the individual doing something liberating is making the revolution. - IT IS - but not when it's in a studio or in the Californian outback. Not when they immediately sterilise what they're doing, refine it, and stick it in an updated petrified form.
What is most pathetic is that these roving predators, or parasites, if your Charitable ness stops at 'Shelter', have none of the qualities of either an elite or a vanguard. They respond too much. Their essentially reformist nature, their total insecurity, resulting from their future to do anything, makes them grab hold of any scene however pathetic (they go down as far as soirees though there is the redeeming possibility of their motive being the food and drink) They do not have the self-confidence to wait until something important happens, they are always too afraid that they might miss the most spectacular and successful scene going. They don't have the self-confidence to make their own scene .They are only recognisable by the question they ask 50 times a day ''Where's that guy at? - there's always the possibility, the certainty, that the guy is at somewhere rather better than where they are. Self-confidence, belief in what you're doing, only results if you are in fact doing something. Not doing it just for its own sake, i.e. proving that you are in fact alive. The trouble with the futuristic artist is that he immediately sucks doing into his own particular brand of mediation, thus doing, creating, has become defined on the left as writing articles, and if the left is confident enough to be patronising, which it rarely manages, distributing articles. In the creative left, it is reduced to political theatre or film. Identifying themselves as specialists in one form of communication only, they lose sight of what that form can and cannot do, and respond automaton-like to every stimulus and situation with their trademarked skill. In the days of CND it used to be 'call a mass demonstration' and organise a march, now it's distribute a leaflet that is the reflex response. No wonder no-one's interested when you're so predictable.
This categorising of creating is a reflection of what is happening in bourgeois culture, in which one is either commercial or genuinely creative. It has 'high' and 'low' culture. There is something distinctly obscene about this division, the result of a self- fulfilling arbitrary categorising by bourgeois sociology. The market research ends up determining the market, and obscenely creates a 'class culture'. Obscene because it is externally created. Arrogantly imposing an identification with vulgarity. Worse still are those on the left who identify with this myth. The assumption made by bourgeois sociologists and bourgeois radicals alike is that the working class hasn't the sensitivity to see through all this cheapness that is thrust at them. But, one of the few things that suggests that revolution is possible is the consistent rejection of the cheap and vulgar, by many young workers, often by sabotage, when the communal lie imposed by the market researchers of cheapness being what the working class wants (i.e. a totally perverted 'class consciousness' which in fact prevents class consciousness) implies 'take this inferiority and shoddiness - it is your right, be proud of it'. It is just a rather more sophisticated lie than that of 'there is no class war anymore'. Instead of which the market research boys try and substitute class differentiation. The 1ousy council estates are smashed up by the genuine aesthetes, the guys who live in them. Unfortunately, it is only the more obviously patronising cheapness which is almost exclusively attacked. The market researchers are always one step ahead of their sidekicks, the social workers and the welfare. But the signs are there. Especially in the Glasgow gangs who'll smash ping pong culture as soon as look at it. So the ad men, the sociologists and the whole second line army of the monopoly capitalists, is sweating its guts out to renew the lie of cheapness is what they want. The argument that this is true because Centre 42 failed is laughable, precisely because Centre 42 was cheap, combining the cheapness of the social workers and the entertainment industry, taking Shakespeare to the masses, which meant reading out all the bits, usually from Henry IV which had the words 'piss' or 'whore', again being nauseatingly patronising, predicting a response, playing for it. The guy who dreamt up this monstrosity has now dragged his perversions to the trendy middle-class: Kustow's, ICA has the same sociology behind it, but is now applied to the other class. The so-called avant-garde has taken art back into the museums. Physically destroying the ICA is a work of art to be born in mind.
The other perversions are easily recognizable, they are all rehashes of T. S. Eliot, - one of the greatest perverters of all time - (how many radicals have still got Four Quartets on their shelves?) That it is: they complain about the vulgarity of their present, which some minds manage to connect to Capitalism, to see that it may have something to do with it, and yet at the same time revel in the vulgarity - they give it its own phoney aesthetics ('how sweetly sordid! Give me my ghetto suit, James') and thus preserve it, give it some rationale. These triple-faced vultures have in some other department of their minds a picture of a theoretical, completely ahistorical non- vulgarity. Those most to be most sympathised with are those who may have read slightly Eliotish, very moral and weak books like Henry Miller's 'Air-Conditioned Nightmare'. Modern life is mechanical, vulgar, mass-produced, pity me. Period.
They then progress a little and completely reproduce the false antithesis of the bourgeois, by making life totally, unpalatable. There are those who turn ascetic and, turn on to roots and berries, those who make their art as un-alluring as a berry and root diet, in order to be un-commercial. The fact that this also means nobody looks at their shining example remains oblivious, to them, again believing that their taking a stand on their individual conscience will change this mass vulgarity. There is a strain of mind that is so simplistic and lazy that it says 'revolutionary society will be diametrically opposed to this one, so you can't play any games because there is competition in games, all of them'. Their conception of a cooperative society is as unappetising as plastic angel-and-harp heavens. Again they are being ahistorical. How can anything change this society but changes in this society? We are living in it, it isn't a theoretical abstraction'' none of these people have got past the phoney sociology of the bourgeois.
I am suggesting then the very severe limitations on any attempt at personal liberation now. How can there be liberation in an unliberated world? The hippies desert the world, the creators and artists become totally cynical about political struggle, and in doing so allow the evil and unimaginative to exercise more and more power. In deserting the world of social reality, they impoverish the world and themselves.
But this is not an admission of despair or of the impotence of the individual. To be aware of one's situation in the world and to act, to live according to that awareness is a personal necessity. To become physically liberated, to be unafraid of our physicality is a personal necessity, 1 mean its necessary for our psychic health. Art must, in some degree, be therapeutic in this way. But in a world in which most are afraid of their physicality, this therapy is difficult if not impossible, when there exist no social and common means of this liberation. It can indeed be frightening after the perversion and repression on every level. We ourselves at this moment in history cannot be predictive, can provide no prototype for the post-revolutionary society, we cannot know how it'll be, though we can fight against what is evidently harmful now, the repression and subsequent perversion of our sexuality to for example. What we can do is to break down the barriers between those non-authoritarian revolutionaries in whose hands the future of the world lies. In removing the fear and defences among us, we become stronger in actual society for at the moment we are inevitably vulnerable - our sensitivity (which we shouldn't be bashful about) makes life difficult. And if we have no dignity, no confidence among ourselves, then our relation to the world will inevitably be defensive, and our appearance absurd and pathetic.
I am conscious of falling into that masochistic over self-critical tone that is unique to the left. All that must be said is that the creators must know what they are doing and why they are doing it and what they expect it to do, if they wish it to be revolutionary. Also there will be far less frustration and waste when they realise the simple impossibility of living the life of post-revolution, though I stress again that if our politics is not lived then it is useless. It is essentially this very frustration which causes the masochism you are aware of after another mass demonstration.
What clearly is more important is a comprehensive attack on bourgeois culture. Revolutionary art and entertainment will most clearly grow up in CONFLICT with their bourgeois counterparts. I mean a very direct attack on it, the breaking up of all the shows which are presented, especially the avant-garde versions, which are the more pernicious in that they actually absorb rebellion. The function of much non-avant-garde stuff is to be laughed at, and then we can all believe progress has been made: maybe it has but it is a totally irrelevant progression.
There is as I've said before the pathos of all those students, social workers, clergymen, moralists, hippies who are in a state of permanent indignation about bingo culture, while being comfortably aware of their own cultural interests. But who are they? Who in fact is being duped? In fact the more incomprehensible a film or book is, the more they like it. There is some very curious perversion here, but one which I am tempted to say is symbolic. By yet another wonder of imaginative rationalisation, AN ARTISTIC MERIT IS MADE OUT OF OUR STATE OF BEING MYSTIFIED. It is even more subtle than the more direct return to mysticism that the market research boys tentatively got going.
There has always been a strong sense of masochism in the consumption of high art, getting exhausted and bored in art galleries, fidgety in the Covent Gallery during The Ring but being totally unable to move or stretch, not even understanding what the story is about. In the consciously elitist cinemas, foreign films only, gloomy, incomprehensible in Swedish.
The pleasure in mystification put in art form, expressing in a grandiose way the banal mystification that we suffer every day is something quite different.
It is probably worth pointing out that the culture program is probably going to be successful. Education after an initial bout of technology for under-exploited countries likely to become the greatest consumer good of all, unless it is smashed. And of course the bookshops will be in on the racket as well. Penguins know what they're about. There will be more and more Classics, modern ones, as we return to a state of savagery, duped by trinkets with an aura of magic. The magic names of Eliot. Kafka. Dostoevsky are already irresistible. Their appeal resting so1ely on the illusion that you can find truth, some moralist's 'eternal truth' in isolation, via somebody else's suffering. The suffering of a Dostoevsky or a Kafka is the spectacular suffering, a suffering that is posthumously given a sense of purpose by the art they produced; again the unromantic suffering of our everyday lives, the constant sacrificing for some illusory future, is absorbed and uplifted in a completely phoney way by these modern classics.
These are the illusions then that must be destroyed. We must get out of situations which admit arguments within terms of art criticism only and ask why these things are being written painted etc. It is difficult with the dead of course. With the living the tactic of direct personal confrontation could well be employed. The artist's anonymity is simply defensive, the flash journal interviews invariably sycophantic. The mystification about his purpose as being a prerogative of artists would be a flimsy defence in a situation of public conflict: an interruption perhaps of some pointless play leading onto a confrontation with the author and actors. To tread on the toes of bourgeois art you just have to be articulate, nothing more. How can the artist's self-mystification stand up to that?
This totally estranged high art has its complementary in consciously low art. Another good selling line is the consciously vulgar, artistically vulgar, what is, or was called 'camp' - it is not a solution only an alternative range of consumer goods. Laurel & Hardy, bad gangster films etc.
Everything then gets perverted. Almost all art forms mirror a capitalism that hardly believes in itself anymore. Each change of trend indicates the poverty of the last trend and thus of the next one and now they change faster than the rows on a fruit machine. Art becomes increasingly complex under the rationalisation of its being necessary in a complex world, but this doesn't hide the real cause of there being nothing to say. It becomes more complex because it is so unselective, no one thing being any more important than any other. The new equality of total poverty. Streams of consciousness because we no longer have any control over our consciousness, being assaulted all the time by the trivial unnecessary and irrelevant.
The, emergence of 'camp' is symptomatic of many of the essential features of modern capitalism. The whole thing is immediately visible in Notting Hill. It is the first thing that strikes. There is squalor and there is beauty that of the people there themselves. But the squalor is the more fundamental reality. In the same streets there are thousands of antique and curio shops. Selling stuff that is on the whole junk. (See King Mob on the tendency of capitalism to ultimately produce pure junk) In Notting Hill what they are doing is to make the seediness of the place a saleable commodity just as under the permissive morality created because it is necessary to the greater and greater, demands of producers with their need of consumers, perversion and degeneracy became consumable commodities. Notting Hill is the Dickensian London of our time. So Portobello Rd. market becomes a commercial centre for the sale of junk, This actually is indicative of a weakness in modern capitalism. The strain in becoming more way-out gets stronger and stronger. And the escape from uniformity more and more difficult. However much the sociologists and market research boys try to hide the truth of uniform poverty of experience with cries of 'change your environment', the uniformity of trendy houses being filled with junk becomes obvious even to the people who live in them. Trying to make our homes unconventional instead of our lives by suggesting that if the fabric of the place we live in is unconventional, some breakaway from mass-production then our lives are. And at the same time they make material seediness into a beauty because they are more sophisticated than the 'socially-minded' builders of council houses making the seediness of our lives into something aesthetic.
Of course this second perhaps more grand motive of modern capitalism will fail as wi1l its primary effort to increase consumption infinitely. Ultimately this uniformity of the poverty of our lives will become apparent. Again I am arguing that the individual desire to be different, to escape this 'mass-producedness' is futile, when the social reality of uniformity and of poverty is overwhelmingly actual, unless it is a social confrontation with the social structures that produce uniformity. The 'individuality that results from the 'personal liberation' trail is in fact only the sum of them social alienations voluntarily undergone, you only find your true individuality in social relationships, and in struggle.
THE REWARDS OF PUNISHMENT. EXTRACTS FROM
A FORTHCOMING AUTOPSY.
As for the cineaste, soft spoken emigre of the human race, nourishing his credentials with the latest Godard, he speaks for himself. Look around you. This much credulity lacks credibility. His behaviour is that of abstraction, it is behaviour par excellence: an hierarchical gauntness: a muscular armour, programming his gestures and facial expression; eyes fierce from those hours of twilight staring. The portrait of an intellectual, exacerbated to grotesqueness by those patient cinematic hours of physical and mental absence. His rhetoric of defence defies, and tries to deny, analysis, it depends on such dubious concepts as 'the image', and is dissimulated under a haze of memorably articulate fragments, which neither form a 'whole', nor derive from any coherent attitude; and whose totality and delivery are informed only by the fear of being found out. Beneath the accents of fluency there is nothing , a man who is not conscious of the situation he is in, an unconscious man.
The cineaste can't read, he is a master of the illustrated synopsis, and has missed out on the resistance of words and thinking. He buys books. Similarly he believes he can absorb 'culture' through a kind of spiritual osmosis: by being 'their' at the beginning of a 'great-film'. Thus he accumulates his scholarship, from film to film. The bizarre courage with which he endures the sheer boredom of films, he draws from his conviction that its all part of the process. He is the victim of the superstition which sells cars: the personal assimilation of 'quality' through formal association.
Insofar as there are any physical PLEASURES IN COMPULSIVE FILM going, they are those of the circular, immolatory behaviour of the neurotic who tears his hair, peels his skin, and forgets the world in his own fascination.
Equal to the film in its power of conditioning its spectator, is the pop song. It also depends on the factors of captivity and total submission for its efficacy. Pop music induces an abstract orgasm by reducing the listener to itself, the 'fan' becomes the music, its strength and movement become his illusion often suddenly he is in control, the prime mover of his mechanised and impersonal environment, he occupies his environment, a riot is occurring. But all this is the shadow of genuine sense, it is a true occupation of the environment. Pop music capitalises on a growing but unformulated awareness among young people, that a riot is the only possible beginning for any personal-social-political movement, the only way to reduce the insanity and violence of the environment, which more and more is simply an apparatus of control, to ashes. The riot generates the anti-body of the state: social form. Pop music takes this intuition, exploits it, and defuses it.
If you don't fuck each other THEY will fuck you.
'When our relationship to words is corrupted, so is our relationship to things' (Heidigger).
Look at these people: the shiny seed of the monster, the parent and taxpayer; the MARKET for Cahiers du Cinema, John Lennon's affairs, Sunday Times 'enquiries', New Society, John Osborne's farts, The Satre/ Camus controversy, International Times, the David Frost show, film festivals, the top ten, a whole social reality, a 'world', the cover girl for the corpses of Vietnam and Mexico, which is where these people really are, CUSTOMERS of the N.F.T., the arts lab, the jazzed-up bureaucracy of the underground, a community of thighs, suckers for the for the CULTURAL MFI. Visconti, the Beatles, Jim Haynes, Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, The Royal Academy, the I.C.A.
Yoko Ono- ..FALL GUYS for the professors - of the 'Histories' of art, literature or cinema, con-tricks of recent invention, whose purpose is the full employment of their progenitors.
, Eliminate the big shots and learn to manage our affairs.
ON WHOM CAN THE
Certainly not the students who have neither the intelligence nor the stamina to cope with real life situations.
Nor the Communist Party which in England is as about as powerful as the Boy Scouts movement.
Nor the Tariq Ali league or any of the other proprietors of revolutionary promises. They are more interested in being revolutionaries than in making the revolution.
The workers can count only on themselves.
Trotskyists, Maoists and other ideologists have failed entirely to come to grips with the contemporary reality of working class existence. This is hardly surprising as the distance they maintained from the working classes is greater than that of the middle class. Industrial work is still the fundamental experience of the working classes and as such is still the basis of revolutionary organisation. But the nature of work has changed radically over the past 30 years, and at the same time the areas of exploitation outside the factory have come to dominate life, just as much as those inside the factory.
It is left to the working classes to develop new forms of combat, such as football hooliganism, appropriate to modern conditions, while the ideologists lead the lives of Victorian liberal professors, and bicker over the words of dead men. Just as in the security of a family fantasy the members of the family will attack each other with vituperative and impotent ecstasy, the ideologists play games which are real only in the context of one single ideology: the impossibility of revolution.
Less magazines, comrades, more fires!
The Friends of Durutti.
The following notes are the result of nearly six months study of the build-up of tension in one particular area of London - Notting Hill - and suggests that this build-up could well result in a ghetto explosion unprecedented in England, but which could well be compared to recent outbreaks of mass violence throughout Western Europe and America - Berlin, Paris, Washington, etc.
The material on which this study is based could only have been obtained by people in the privileged position we found ourselves in: a small group of ex-university sociologist who, because we happened to live in the area, sharing the everyday life of the people there, because partly involved in the following events - events we can understand from the inside.
This allows us a unique balance between direct, eyewitness reporting and in-depth ana1ysis. Our source material has never been available to investigators from the mass-media. Beyond eyewitness reports, interviews and conversations, in taped or note form, we have: a collection of articles from the local press; colour and black-and-white photos; 16mm footage of near-riot situations; ephemeral magazines; a collection of posters, leaflets, street-comics and other literature which has never been reproduced anywhere, and is probably unique.
We have tried to be as direct and objective as possible. We have tried to avoid any judgements of our own, though we must admit that we cannot escape from a certain mixture of sympathy, understanding and fear at the whirlwind we have seen sown over the last six months.
NOTTING HILL: ENGLAND'S FIRST GHETTO ERUPTION?
1. The general context of recent unrest in the United States and Western Europe -more especially the youth and student revolt from the early Amsterdam Provo days to the wide-scale flare-ups in Berlin, Paris, Turin, Barcelona, Washington and Columbia over the last few months.
France has just been on the verge of complete anarchy. Why? Is it possible that the relaxed, 'liberal' tradition of English politics has been undermined by equally explosive forces?
There are two very prominent features of all recent revolt:
a) The initial spark was struck by disaffected youth.
b) Their basic tactic was the takeover of a small, relatively autonomous unit (university, Latin Quarter, ghetto).
It is our thesis that Notting Hill Gate has come to unite these conditions.
2. The twentieth century background to Notting Hill and the sudden growth of tension which has become apparent in the area over, roughly, the past six months. The atmosphere there cannot be reduced to any previous set of social problems. The influx of both Blacks and Hippies has produced a. essentially new phenomenon. English society: Notting Hill is no longer a slum, it is a ghetto.
Concrete examples of this process of ghettoisation: the Hippies and the drug scene - the Blacks and the Black Power scene - the children and their street gangs. The refusa1 to conform, the refusal to work, rising crime rate. The inabi1ity to adjust: rising rate of suicide. Interviews, descriptions, case-histories
3. The emergence of new forces can perhaps best be seen in one particular event: the recent 'seizure' of a. unused, over-grown, fenced-off garden in the middle of Powis Square, which, misrepresented, even broke through into the national headlines. On Saturday, June I5th, out of the blue, a 100-odd strong commando of 'Hippies', far left militants and street kids (mostly under ten) stormed the stout wire fence round the garden trampled it down, tore it to pieces, then broke, with their bare hands, the reinforced concrete posts that had supported it and, roaring with laughter, poured, jubilantly into the garden. A large number of police stood there not knowing what to do.The crowd, which rapidly swelled to several hundred, held, despite the intermittent appearance and disappearance of green riot buses, a spontaneous party which lasted until dark. The garden remains open.
The 'demonstrations' outside Powis Square, sparked-off a few weeks previously by a splinter group from a number of normal left-wing organisations, were from the very first characterised by a certain crackpot merriment and poetry. At the first one a gorilla suddenly burst out of the gent's lavatory at Henekey's pub on the Portobello, and stumbled, snarling and growling, through the bar to lead an impromptu march and assault on the Square. An hour later, 11 people, including the gorilla and a pantomime horse, were in the local jail. There was a spate of night-time clipping of holes in the fences. Finally the police had to have men posted on the square twenty-four hours a day. The next demonstration saw Negro seven-year-olds wielding placards with quotes from Jacob Boehme, the Marquis de Sade and the Surrealiets. The point of the these, or so it was rumoured, was both to protest against the idea that 'play-space', was a need felt only by children, and to demand that the garden be turned into a 24-hour rendezvous, 'happening' and forum for discussion of local direct action - for 'The Devil's Party' - as one placard put it.
4. This sort of thing just doesn't fit into any particular political bag. Who were the people responsible? A sort of loose-knit coalition of forces - a melting-pot - a conviction shared by a number of people that no legitimate activity in contemporary society offered them any real sense of self-expression gaiety and communication.
This whole Notting Hill 'scene' has been fed by a number of sources. Little remains or the much celebrated Flower Power movement of only a year ago. It has been discredited by its own commercialisation. The movement's main organ - International Times - is, in the words of one erstwhile Flower Child, 'read just for the laughs. The Bhagavad Gita and the What's On of the faithful, rolled into one'. But pot evangelicism has only run to seed at the expense of a truly mass consumption of drugs. Interview with Release: the proportions of drug-taking in the district. 'Hash is the opium of the people' deadpans a twenty-foot vermillion graffiti, one of the first, so far as we know, to appear in the area.
Who, or what, is slowly and painfully dragging itself out of the psychedelic debris remains to be seen.
At one end of the spectrum are the Diggers: a freewheeling federation of several hundred individuals living in the Gate, loosely-knit round a common rejection of the city, the family and private property in general. A sort of spontaneous, fumbling primitive Christianity. Some of their theory - their free duplicated magazine Hapt - is exceptionally articulate, but their actual attempts to set up 'tribes' living in 'communes' in the country have not been conspicuously successful. One wing of the movement is tending to turn into what has been described as 'a sort of hip Salvation Army' while its other wing, practically its lunatic fringe, is a group of individuals completely denying 'the primacy of reason in Western Man' and playing round with a theory of life-style they call that of 'The Holy Madman' This later group comes close to:
The Brickers: the devil may-care-aristocracy of the 'speed' (methedrine) scene. Living solely for the surge of energy and direct physical pleasure - orgasm all over the body - as one addict described it -produced by the drug, the Brickers are devoted to the audacious and imaginative acte gratuit: baroque crime. They dismantle and filch electrical installations, church fittings and un-patrolled rose-gardens with the same deadpan Keaton-esque aplomb. (This frequently isn't even motivated by a desire for money: many of the Brickers are reputed to be wealthy drop-outs). Speed really does kill, but better, at least according to the Brickers, a short life and a merry one. Interviews and expand actual material on the effects of the drug.
The other main (semi-organised) group in the area can only be covered by the blanket term ' New Left ' Many of them university drop-outs, they see themselves as being, or as soon going to be, sort of anarchistically orientated commando groups. The break-up of their own post-Committee of 100 pacificism has been intimately associated with the collapse of Flower Power: lnternational Times was never too much more than a psychedelic Peace News. March the I7th swept aside their remaining inhibitions: the 'sub-violence' and, even more, the fundamentally festive atmosphere of their half-riot forced their shifting Third Worldism to click sharply into a Western focus: A theory of 'urban guerrilla' and a sense of humour breaking the barriers of traditional politics. (The original gorilla at Powis Square was clearly a pun). Recent street meetings in Talbot Road with loudhailers, literature, etc. Yet, for all their audacity in public, these groups remain completely disorganised and disoriented: New Left meetings are generally pure bedlam.
5. These groups are merely the most prominent features of a whole mass which is beginning to appear. Behind them stretches a hinterland of drop-out, National Assistance supported, petty criminal 'rebels still without a cause' . The truth of their society seems - fundamentally - to be that of a crowd as lonely as any to be found in Piccadilly or Leicester Square: disaffiliates kicking their heels in a jerky, speeded-up Bob Dylan landscape. A. lot of them really are going through Hell. At the same their aversion for society, for the whole of society, for everything it demands and for everything it offers in return, is steadily becoming more pointed and more articulate. And, more ominously, as their ranks swell, more violent and more destructive.
The final values on which these 'post-Hippies' have turned - as, presumably, something whose destruction still means something to them - are those of culture, of art and philosophy. In 'happenings', galleries, poetry readings and concerts have been systematically heckled and broken up. An Arrabal play staged a few weeks ago at the famous Mercury Theatre was disrupted by a group of youths chanting 'Art is Dead' and 'Riot' in unison: they swung on scenery ropes in an arc shaving the heads of the audience, shouted obscenities about 'passive spectators' and could only be removed from the theatre at the expense of a punch-up in the gutters outside. Duplicated pink and blue leaflets were handed out by another group of a dozen wearing black hoods: they praised the attempt to murder Andy Warhol, the most celebrated New York Pop artist, as an eminently artistic act. One street-poster - presented in the form of a comic-strip - incited young people to shoplift, dismiss culture and make love indiscriminately. Another - apparently a product of the recent street-fighting in Paris - showed a maniacal, glaring C.R.S. trooper, truncheon raised, S.S. emblazoned on his chest...
All in all, the most succinct credo of the whole of this milieu would seem to be expressed by the now almost legendary Notting Hill spray-can graffiti. Their mingling of Romantic poetry, public lavatory wall gags and incitations to arson and looting doesn't seem to us particularly characteristic of the Black Power groups, to whom they have been generally ascribed. Black Power promoting Dada? A heady mixture..
6. All this is brewing up in a slum whose atmosphere was already pretty highly charged. All the traditional social problems of N. Hill - unemployment, overcrowding, apathy, crime, friction between ethnic groups and violence - have been fed with a new highly inflammable material: their combustion could be purely nihilistic.
Appraisal of the traditional, essentially liberal people's bodies set up by local people as an attempt to combat the traditional problems of Notting Hill, and appraisal of their failure to deal with these new forces. The repeated disruption of the People's Association by young 'militants'.
Appraisal of the attitude taken by the police in this situation. To what do they owe their growing unpopularity (results of the questionnaire about police violence recently circulated in the area by the B.B.C.) Are the police being, as the Sunday Times has already suggested, somewhat violent and hasty? Or, on the contrary, are a number of young people just being deliberately provocative?
7. To date the whole of the milieu we have been describing has been weakened by its complete separation from what are perhaps the two most aggressively militant groups in the area:
a) Black Power. A Movement already snowballing long before Enoch Powell's rhetoric gave it added impetus. The present mutual mistrust between black and white could well be stampeded into a really pathological political conflict. Rundown on Black Power in the U.S.A. and effects of its importation here:
Difference between the American Negro and the West Indian immigrants here.
Role of Michael X. Local, largely black, paper here, The Hustler and the possibilities it raises of black and white really coalescing.
b) The street-gangs formed by the children of every street and square in the heart of the ghetto - formed almost as a necessary condition of survival. The fact that delinquency and drug-taking are being produced by younger and younger children. The violence of their street games. The recent outbreaks of violence at the Isaac Newton school in Lancaster Road: and real violence - knives, bicycle chains and meta1 bars, used by young children - cases of assault and attempted rape of the staff. Their future? The role they played, for example, in the taking of Powis Square.
8. Unless we are to remain, like ostriches, with our heads stuck in the sand -, 'it couldn't happen here' - then such developments can only he discussed in terms of the unrest sweeping all the highly industrialised countries. Thus in Notting Hill - always an area or social breakdown - the nervous system has shown its pulse perhaps before the rest of England. If ever the various minorities we have discussed should become 'politicised', become fused in street action (a possibility that cannot now just be ruled out) then the ensuing conflagration would almost certainly make the Notting Hill riots of 1958 look like a. vicar's tea party in comparison.
One cannot predict the future but certain parallels suggest themselves. Notting Hill is a ghetto and it finds its closest counterpart in the ghettoes of the United States. Not in the ghettoes of Los Angeles and Detroit but in the sub-ghettoes of San Francisco (Haight-Ashbury) and of New York (the Lower East Side). Recent developments there are far from reassuring. Hippies have attacked art galleries, briefly taken over Grand Central station and rioted (Flower Children !!!) in their own areas. Isolated elements - Puerto Ricans, Hippies and Blacks - have joined each other on the streets. During the riots following the assassination of Luther King, Hippies and poor whites felt the same emotiona1 fury as the Blacks and joined them in wrecking and looting Times Square. Characteristically, there is interplay between Notting Hill and the American ghettoes. Friends from S.N.C.C. come and go. Leaflets and posters handed out in the Lower East Side appear a week later in the basement crash-pads and streets of Notting Hill.
Is Notting Hill beginning to show the symptoms of the same disease already far advanced in America? What happens there may well determine what is going to happen here. While the specific characteristics that shaped a Washington or a Watts or even a Quartier Latin may be discounted, an explanation of some sort cannot. Alternatively are these events in Notting Hill restricted to an absolute minority: no more than just another fashion, a self-indulgent game for dead-end kids, a last flicker of life from those who are about to surrender unconditionally to apathy and despair.
..... In Ireland the walls of repression are high and splattered with the blood of thousands of Irishmen and women. But they are old,and the wear and tear of the plaster is is to be seen everywhere. The cracks which for centuries have been covered over by the ivy of statesmen and religious leaders are beginning to appear. People who have been denied imagination are beginning to tire of all that destoys imagination. In some places the wall has already been rent; the foundation stone bears the scratch. It is our task to make this wall crumble and scatter in a thousand pieces as a thousand individual wills are grasped in a union with regenerated society. Our thunder must only contain the poetry of an orgy of self-release......
'The truly free man is king and lord of creatures. All things belong to him. All things which God created are common; whatever the eye sees and covets, let the hand grasp'.
(POPE PAUL V1)
The Beginning of the End
Irish society is founded on all the failed revolutions of the past. From the first murmurings against the plantations right up to the present the might of tyranny has succeeded against the will of the people; or where the masters were ousted, tyranny merely changed hands. The revolutions of 1798, 1803, 1867, 1916, never succeeded in ridding themselves of the ideologies of nationalism and religion. The critique was always partial, and where this critique dominated the struggle, the struggle itself was falsified. It was never that people taking up arms and attempting to rid themselves of their masters was false; but that the motivations and ideologies which their masters imposed on them falsified the end-product.
Slave mentality continues in Ireland; only today this slavery is being carried out in the name of freedom, progress and the Republic. Capitalist economy manages to change illusions at an accelerating pace, a pace so fast and so il1usory that it manages to dissolve the very illusion of change. We find ourselves coming out from it, alone, unchanged, frozen behind the waterfall of gadgets, family cars and paperbacks and behind the high wall of Masses and Rosaries offered up for our suffering.
Everyday pre-industrial society is meeting consumer society and at the appointed meeting place one monotony is exchanged for another.
People who used to die of poverty will begin to die of boredom; Keogh Square will be exchanged for the Ballymun Housing Estate. Today the unity between those still dying of poverty and those dying of boredom is the spectre which must destroy the immediate construction of reality.
THE DEATH OF RELIGION
Release man from the chains of myth. Religion was able to conceal man from himself; its Heaven welled him up in a pyramidal world with God at the Summit and the kings, princes, lords and bosses just below. The Jesuit father Charles grasped the real power of Christianity. 'Since Christ's Coming we are delivered, not from the pain of suffering, but from the pain of suffering uselessly'. The problem of hierarchical power has always been, not to suppress itself, but to give itself reasons so that it did not oppress uselessly! By marrying man to suffering, whether on the basis of Divine Grace or Natural Law, Christianity, that unhealthy therapy, pulled off its masterstroke. From Prince to manager, from Priest to university specialist, from father confessor to social worker, it is always the principle of useful suffering and willing sacrifice that forms the most solid base for hierarchical power. Everywhere today, in the official speeches, the Evening Press, the television, the disgusting image of that crucified man, the stupid halo of the suffering martyr, is grasped and used to justify that power. The crucified man on the cross, that sacrifice of all sacrifices, is the prototype of all the sacrifices that are made daily; the sacrifice of the worker to his boss, the sacrifice of the sexual desire to a repressive morality, the sacrifice of 'the difficult road of life' to a mythical future in Heaven.
At the bottom level the slave can identify himself with his master, the worker with his boss, to whom he delivers his life force. But who is the master to identify with? Since the master qua myth, sacrifices himself on the spiritual level, he must seek in the coherence of his myth something to which he can submit. This is why the class of masters have created a God before which he kneels down spiritually in order to identify with it. God, the greatest myth, authenticates the mythical sacrifice of the slave to the private power of the Mass. (The workers who are released from work on holy days by the masters in order to attend Mass is the system whereby the battery of sacrifice is recharged and the power of the masters affirmed). The master is seen to sacrifice his authority and his power as a servant to the excluded; he is ready to pay for the common good of the people. The master, if he is to remain a master must appear as a kind master.
The Reformation in Europe shifted the relationship to God by seeing it through the relationship to the devil. The psychological premise of Protestantism, as Norman 0. Brown justly remarked, is the conviction of sin. Now not only suffering must be accepted, but guilt must be the result if one does not suffer. This superb con effected the whole rise of the spirit of Capitalism; to welcome one's suffering as a punishment for the omnipresent and uncontrollable evil in the world, is to give up everything to one's master.
PROTESTANTISM VERSUS CATHOLICISM in Ireland was never anything more than the power amassed by a rising bourgeoisie against the Irish people. In 1652, Henry Jones, bishop of Clogher, supported Cromwell's slaughter of the Irish peasantry by calling it a religious war. While the henchmen of Cromwell drove the people from their lands and took their possessions, he dryly remarked 'the catholic murderers had to punished for their sins' meaning that their sacrifices had not been enough to allay God's anger or drive away the Devil.
A spirit of revolt has always existed within Christianity, though this spirit never reached into Ireland. What more could we say today than the 'Brethren of the Free Spirit' said in the 13th century; 'One can be so united with God that whatever one may do, one cannot sin' they said as they stripped off their clothes and danced to the death of their repressions, living unlawfully and justifying theft. From the Amaurians, the Taborites and the Anabaptists we can find a tradition within christianity for our present project. When the anarchist Pauvels planted a bomb in the Madelaine Church on the I5th March 1894 it was this great heretical tradition, which he, poorly though worthily, followed.
But there are no heretics now. The theological language which so many commendable uprisings expressed themselves was a mark of an epoch, the only language of the time. Henceforward one must translate; and the translator is self evident.
To our Maynooth comrades, to our Sunday morning Mass going revolutionaries, to our comrades in the priesthood all over Ireland we can only say that if we are to make a revolution worthy of the power of our imaginations then it must go further than the slow bicycle peddling to Belfield, the weekly recharge of sanctifying Grace and willing sacrifice, the banal ritual of a dead myth. Give sex a try this year and who knows some of the rust may have cleared away in time to enjoy it. Holy Communion, like junk, is difficult to break once one gets the habit.
THE 1916 REVELATION
'..contained some of the poetry of a people who had been beaten down by the heel of exploitation and who felt the passion and intensity of their newly promised freedom. Only to have it wrested from them as their new masters came into being, reinventing in the name of the revolution, all the old poverty and exploitation. They believed they were dying for their country; but they were dying for capital and their new masters. Irish history, and the people who made it, have always faltered on this tradition; one isolation, one monotony, one lie was being changed for another. The illusion of Gratten's parliament in 1793 was that it allowed the Catholics the freedom to vote for their protestant masters. The politics of Unionism was no more than the illusory bond between master and slave.
CONNELLY'S GREATEST MISTAKE was to side with the enemy and hope that the conscience of the masters would be such that freedom would be given away. Today this freedom is being sold in the supermarkets, the shops, on the television; the 'kindness' of the masters has proved to be total. And today, the totality of living being brutally denied can only create the totality of freedom being brutally affirmed.
Connelly, as Larkin, never understood the importance of everyday life and like Lenin, was blind to the total decomposition of forms that Nihilism had announced. When the workers in Cleeve's factory in Limerick in May 1920 declared a soviet, when the miners in Arigna, Leitrim, followed suite, when the workers in Bruree, Limerick took control of the mills, they had grasped a critique of their own everyday lives that was well in advance of their 'Leaders' or their Unions. The result showed their leaders once and for all to be on the side of power.
The history of Nationalism came to an end in 1916 when it became apparent that fighting for one's country was an abstract struggle in which the leaders of the struggle were the only one's to benefit. The IRA in the meantime, still felt the alienation and continued the struggle. But their critique lived in the nightmare of a destroyed myth; it failed to see the totality. When the government recently revealed that they had not ruled out force against the North last August, had the 'interests of the people' necessitated it, they had moved into the position of potential matricide. But it could not have killed the hand that fed it. The IRA, not serving the same interests as the government, could have only rooted out the oppressor had its critique gone further. We have moved out of the old days of colonialism.
Today no-one fights for their country. For what could be the possible use of fighting for a sham when that sham will be left to exploit you at the end of the struggle. What more can we do than echo, in the words of De Sade, Republicans, one more effort in order to be revolutionaries; whilst at the same time learning much from the tactics of our rebellious brothers-in-arms.
Everywhere to day, the Spectacle, the illusion of living, oppresses the attempt to break forth from the chains of myth. Everywhere, life and its thumping pulse is slowed down to a deadly pace. Death enters the living by the back-door of the illusion of living. From the Father Murphys on Vinegar Hill to the father Caseys on Charity Hill, from the Wolfe Tones to the decaying body of De Valera, from the pubs to the television sets, there is only to be found the pale representation of living.
And this representation has all the dynamism of an illusion. Save the Grand Canal. Save Hume Street. Save Sandymount Strand is the fragmentary belief in the good in our society and is at the same time, the last desperate effort to save fragmentary power. There is the flirtation with non-conformism, the protests, which are integral parts of prevailing power. Politicians reach out to artists just as much as artists reach out to politicians and in that unity the pulse of our society is seen to be restored.
The farce of the three day Seminar last year is the spectacle which allows the oppressed to redirect their own alienation. Ireland must not seem to lag behind and so the authorities direct a little gasp of student power.
IN THE HALF LIGHT THAT SOME HAVE CALLED LIVING
''.amidst the the total repression by religion, the illusion of freedom. consumer goods, poverty and boredom, everyone wants to breathe again and no-one can breathe. And most do not die because they are dead already. Today the only choice that exists is Suicide or Revolution. It is now or never.
IN A DUBLIN BAR Where everyone is bored a drunken man breaks his glass and smashes his bottle against the wall. Nobody gets excited. The disappointed young man lets himself be thrown out. But everyone there could have done the same thing; he alone made the thought concrete, crossing the first radioactive belt of isolation. He remains alone however, like the hooligan who burns a church or kills a policeman; at one with himself but condemned to exile.
For the nihilist, as for the young man, the distinction between living and surviving is taken seriously. If living is impossible, why survive? And in that void everything breaks up. The Nihilist, however cannot go on living as he is; he has been thrown out of too many bars. He must either throw a coin and decide on a good cause and become its devoted slave; like the dispassionate civil servant (poor Flann O Brien), like the dumb slave. For Art's sake, for the sake of the country, for God, for bread, or perhaps for the 'best of all possible causes' the proletariat. Individualism, Alcoholism, Republicanism , Trotskyism, Communism, Connellyism, Hinduism. Christianity, Catholicism, Voyeurism, Maoism, the whole variety of ideologies which offer a hundred ways of being on the side of power. He must always remain the social worker, tidying up the loose ends, but never for a moment suspecting the source of the discontent.
The active nihilist on the other hand is not content simply to watch things fall apart. He intends to speed up the process. Active nihilism is pre-revolutionary; passive nihilism is counter revolutionary. Most people oscillate between the two. But circumstances inevitably end by drawing a line and people suddenly find themselves once and for all on one side or other of the barricades.
The most potentially revolutionary phenomena in recent years has been the most savage outbreaks of juvenile delinquency. From the days of the 'ANIMALS' , the gang of thugs who terrorised and killed bookmakers in the 1940s to the teddy boys of the 50s right up to the present wave of hooliganism in our schools, a critique of alienation and decay is grasped and acted upon. In this waste land, co-habited by the suicide and solitary killer, there is a transition, a shifting ill-defined sphere, a period of wavering between extremes; one leading to subservience and submission, the other leading to permanent revolt.
The Lugs Brannigans, the police, the moralists, the psychiatrists, the sociologists, represent the absolute rejection by society of the individual and this can only correspond to the individuals absolute rejection of society. And the natural reaction to the chaos ruling the world is sabotage.
Sabotage is merely the crisis which is always impending manifesting itself in the open. There is definitely a crisis today. When the Pope blesses the United Nations and attacks the sociologists, when there is a flying apart of all values, the eunuchs of fragmentary power the psychologists, the moralists, the sociologists, the literary critics, the trade union bureaucrats, the politicians, attempt to grapple with the question of living only to push it still further out into a representation. The essential meaning is pushed aside and the totality of living is lost to the heirs of fragmentation.The anaemic Gods will be called in; The Popes, the Telhard De Chardins, the work-study officers, the leaders of the trade unions: the Conner Cruise O Briens, the Dail representatives, all the way down to the archbishops and the Denis Donaghues of UCD. The Body will be divided into forty pieces and lots shall be cast from the parts. Poverty and boredom shall be analysed and re-analysed and still nothing will reallychange. The workers will return from yet another strike, victoriously, and face a rising cost of living and a wider range of consumer goods. The sociologists will publish his article and wash his hands of the whole nasty business thinking that it had nothing to do with his own everyday life anyway.
Only the rusty pieces of silver shall be exchanged in the half light.
THE DEATH OF ART
For the last century and a half, the most striking contribution to art and life has been the fruit of free experiment with the possibilities of a bankrupt civilisation. The erotic reason of De Sade; Kierkegaard's sarcasm; Nietzsche's lashing irony; Mallarme's deadpan; Carroll's fantasy; Wilde's wit; Joyce's dream world. Dada's negativism -these are the forces that have reached out to confront people with some of the dankness of decaying values. And with it the desire for a reversal of perspective, a need to discover the alternative forms of life.
Consciousness of decay reached its most explosive expression in Dada. Dada did really contain the seeds by which nihilism could have been surpassed. But it was just left it there to rot, along with the rest. The Dadaists savage programme of total subversion exploded in a world of decay. Certain features of Romanticism had already proved, without waking the slightest interest on the part of Marx or Engels that art - the pulse of society and culture - is the first index of decay and disintegration of values. A century later while Lenin thought the whole issue beside the point, the Dadaist could see through the artistic abscess as a symptom of a cancer whose poison was spread throughout society as a whole.
('ARTS FINAL MASTERPIECE WILL BE ITS OWN DESTRUCTION' - Soffici.)
('The New Artist does not paint or write but creates directly, the New Artist protests' -Tzara.)
The Dadaists, working to cure themselves and their civilisation of its discontent 'working in the last analysis far more coherently than Freud himself built the first laboratory to revitalise everyday life. The Dada group was a funnel sucking in all the trivia and pure rubbish cluttering up the world. Reappearing at the other end everything was transformed.
One day that period from 1910 to 1920 will reveal its incomparable richness. For the first time a bridge between life and art was projected. There is very little of any importance, apart from the adventure of Surrealism, between that avante garde and the present project
'It is ridiculous and a sign of idiocy exceeding the legal limit to say that Dada (whose actual achievements and immense success cannot be denied) is only 'of negative value'. Today you can hardly fool first graders with the old saw about positive and negative. The gentlemen who demand the constructive are the most suspicious types of a caste that has long been bankrupt. It has become sufficiently apparent in time that law order and the constructive understanding for an organic development are only symbols. curtains and pretexts for fat behinds and treachery. If the Dadaist movement is nihilism, then nihilism is a part of life'' Richard Huelsenbeck 'En Avant Dada' I920
In its history Ireland has produced an incomparable number of exiles. Oscar Wilde whose 'Soul of man under Socialism' went way ahead of anything else in its time in its treatment of the creativity that lies in every man looking for a way of releasing it, gave only a partial critique. He remained committed to the spectator's art without realising, in his own words, that this remedy was part of the disease. He remained aloof over the spectator. Like Yeats, whose heart, sick with desire, awaited the Second Coming, when 'things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/mere anarchy is loosed upon the world'. Yet both did little to achieve that poetry in the world of everyday living.
Joyce, we are told never remarked on a public event. After that bible of individual creativity (Ulysses) all that could happen was that the Leopold Blooms of this world united to get rid of their poor survival and to introduce into the lived reality the richness and variety of their interior monologues. Joyce never joined with the Viennese workers nor with the Austrians. His total subjectivity amounted to total abandonment.
When the characters in Flann O Brien's novel unite to destroy the novelist and the novel within the novel they still face the real novelist: Flann O Brien! Their freedom is decided within the closed system of that novel. The task today is to unite to destroy our masters in the real world. There are no more artists because today everybody's an artist. The coming work of art is the construction of the passionate life, The poetry of everyday life couldn't care less about poetry. Mallarme's desire to abolish the poem can only take place when the poem is realised. The creation itself matters less than the process that engenders the work, the act of creating. It is the state of creativity, not the gallery, which makes the artist.
Indeed today the gallery, like all works of art has given way to the might of consumer society. The price tags, the museums, the attributes of a dead culture, only go to make our task the more vital. Today, in the universities, in schools, in the art collages, students are introduced into the arts of the dead generations and everywhere the poetry which flourishes in their hearts is denied them. They peek at the corpse of art and literature, which is laid out and cleaned up for them by the informing critics who slip backwards and forwards between text and audience stealing the decaying organs and exhibiting them.
When the art students raided the museums last year their critique of museum culture as well as a tactic for getting attention was correct. Bakunin before them, in 1848, when the barricades looked weak rushed into the museum and propped a few old masters against the failing structure. Its strength was increased a thousand fold.
Today to transcend Dada we must take up arms. Brutally repressed, the poetry of everyday life can consecrate riots, espouse revolts. As for the other poetry, the shit of Kennelly or Kinsella, the garbage of Murphy or Montague, we can only pass over to the garbage cans. Their Bohemianism is pathetic; they still cling desperately to their degraded versions of individual revolt. You must destroy the Poet, the Literary Critic, the Sociologist, the Painter, the lorry driver within you in order that you can make poetry. Real poetry is in the event or situation which one creates.
Notice from the survivors of the late
King Red. Ireland: 4th April 1972
In view of the basically ideological character of the group which had congealed around the name 'King Red', ideology which was in noway connected with the situationist critique, and which ranged from primitivist anarchism to badly digested existentialism, and in view also of the semi-spectacular mystique being attached to King Red by the confused super-radicals of university college Dublin it was decided to call a halt to the existence of this group.
Binding itself together on an illusion of coherence and submitting itself to inertia that in the generalised inattentiveness to false consciousness could be presented as a form of pro-action activity, this group could have served only the obvious function (obvious at least to the critical observer) of a front for intellectual, middle class, student and other weird hang-ups.
Whatever about the promise of the past, the promise of the present begins with the continued suffocation of this deformity.
As for the re-groupement which has already taken place, its adherence to the situationist tendencies cannot remain limited to mere reprints of translations of French texts and bemused consumption of the splits and counter-splits of other situationist alliances. At all times, our own theses etc, and their presentation will receive priority over reprints. On Northern Ireland ( the new group in no way supports either IRA) one, or at the most two major texts will be issued, superceding the position outlined in 'Class Struggles in Ireland' (Bulletin 3). A poster campaign directed at factories, and beginning with division of the working classes by republicanism, is already in process. Shortly a text on urbanism will be issued, with specific reference to Dublin.
Pending a discovery of certain forces whose theory we now disseminate, any outline of possible planned public action could only be pretentious.
Our relationship with other situationist groups (and this can only mean the very individuals who compose these groups) at the present moment must remain strictly on the level of tactical alliances, collaboration on precisely formulated projects. In no other way does our entrance into the international movement of ideas obligate us personally or collectively.
Heasley & O'Higgins
For other articles on King Mob see the following: