Origins and Reflections on the Crap Surrounding an Aestheticised, Lowest Common Denominator, Mass-Marketed, Neo-Psychogeography
Over the last 20 years or so a neo-psychogeography has gradually emerged but one that has lost all meaning; a pseudo psychogeography more dependent on mysticism and aestheticisation than authentic desires; a ridiculous ley-lines, Ouija board 'psychogeography' minus the galvanic multiverses of a visionary like William Blake, (see the accompanying text, The New Commons of Urban & Industrial Dereliction). Once psychogeography encompassed real critique and in certain areas of the underdeveloped world - if indeed there are any left- there may still be possibilities all the while recognising that relatively relaxed ambient neighbourhoods have often given way to a desperate Planet of Slums outlined by Mike Davis though there's no denying that there's still a richness of experience here, indeed often jam-packed with vibrant street life. Elsewhere these places have become venues invaded with menace, which we outlined in the Lost Dreams of an Avant-Garde in Freewheeling Reflections on Latin America 2006 on the RAP web. Today a significant rider has to be added: some of these areas, particularly the occasional favela have recently become somewhat marginally gentrified and / or neutralised by a consciously artistic overlay intimately connected with a tourist trade the more capitalism has shifted towards the BRICs, one that includes calculated risks within its paid-up itinerary. Never forgetting that one of the original Parisian psychogeographers Jacques Villon in the Paris of the 1950s jokingly suggested - even perhaps with a niavely serious intent - an alternative travel agency for those poor areas he mapped.......
From an ill-conceived base of neo psychogeographical societies in London, Manchester and elsewhere, plus academicisation via university geography depts. (Newcastle University etc) other watered down tendencies evolved, the most prominent of which is deep topography, though these tags seem to alter weekly. This is a moment that is not anti-art rather pro art collecting the odds and ends of detritus for exhibition purposes enmeshing with the left wing of installation art (e.g. Deller, Grayson Perry and Keiller), a social-democratic reification of a moment of early situationist praxis, careerist, academic, journalistic; a dereliction ensconced within the dereliction of Eng Lit / Art / Architecture / Geography university courses etc. Contemporary exponents have become raiders of atmospheres and ambiences; bounty hunters hawking for rich bursaries, grants, professorships and putty medals, contributors to established liberal newspapers especially the Guardian as neo-psychogeography becomes aestheticed valorization and cash nexus, quite the opposite of subversive experiment and revolutionary praxis. They inherent from post-modernism a leveling formulaic whilst nodding vaguely in the direction of situationist theory; a leveling implying that somebody as null and ridiculous as Barbara Hepworth is of equal merit to the profound insights of an Annie Le Brun, an Edgeworth Bess or a Valerie Solonas. And the more they are cultivated by media high end the more they defend the quintessential archaisms of Olde England: Neo-psychogeography and taking a walk around the National Gallery discussing the aesthetic merits of Renaissance painters, neo-psychogeography and Virginia Wolff and the Bloomsbury Set, etc. It's a decadent approach denying the subversive becoming of pre-history, not forgetting on a brighter note that at least one of their practitioners, Nik Papadimitrou, burnt down his school and spent a few years in Ashford Youth Remand Centre. We applaud him for that....
In general though we are dealing here with an expanding art world – now more than ever the vehicle of acceptance by the world's super-rich. Moreover, without the valorised corpse of art the raison d'etre of the super-rich would collapse because latter day aestheticism is the central axis of their contemptible lifestyles, the super-nothingness at the heart of their existence. If it wasn't for this fundamental crutch they would be confronted with a crisis of meaning and identity they might well never recover from and one of our main aims in writing this is to help bring this crisis on full time......
Yet we are far from our goal. Amidst all this froth and razzmatazz real critique is marginalized more than ever. Interestingly in the late 1950s / early 1960s the developing situationist critique was occasionally mentioned –sometimes reasonably accurately though without any real depth – in the avant-garde architectural / cultural rags of the time, even believe it or not, in the UK. At the time there were good reasons for this as everywhere The International Style headed by Le Corbusier's baneful notion that "the house is a machine for living in" was coming under attack which implied The Independent Group in London had something in common with psychogeographical / Unitary Urbanism experiments in Paris, Amsterdam and other European cities. However, the rapport quickly disintegrated the more The Independents opted for consumerism American-style spearheaded by the pop art of Richard Hamilton whilst in Paris critique deepened into a total assault on modern capitalism. In response, The Independents began to reel in horror and post the enlightened explosion of 1968 they literally cried out for the suppression of anything situationist. By 1970 Peter Cook, one of the leading lights of the stupidly sci-fi, technocratic Archigram group published Experimantal Architecture without even mentioning the figure of Constant one of the early major theorists of Unitary Urbanism. The bell had tolled: no mention of anti art / anti architecture within an anti capitalist framework had ever to be sounded again. Well over 40 years later and the name Constant is everywhere in the UK but only because he has been placed fully within an arts perspective, the terrain neo-psychogeography operates on while in reality nothing has moved on. Today's equivalent critique of the totality – obviously existing on a more advanced level having learnt from previous mistakes – is still greeted with horror and total silence; omerta, omerta, always omerta, which really does prove how bad things are out there.
Portraits of Neo-Psychogeographers
Or: "I'm walking backwards for Christmas on high heels right into the Walsall Canal"
A denunciation of the cunts in and out of an anti Iain Sinclair rant among which are inserted lengthy parentheses on Stewart Home, Will Self, Laura Oldfield Ford, Patrick Keiller, and Owen Hatherley..... together with asides / digressions on Robert Mcfarlane, Paul Farley, Michael Roberts, China Mieville, Steven Graham etc.
We start with Sinclair because he is perhaps the most notable of the neo-psychgeographers, though the following almost exclusively concerns itself not with his previous ersatz novelistic shite but the recent so-called 'documentary' stuff – Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire and Ghost Milk - presumably to be capped shortly by his The Future Ruins of London, that prelude to the post 2012 carnival of Olympic Games destruction.
The book about London's Hackney contains nebulous references to almost everything and everybody and the tone and general drift of Ghost Milk is very similar; something you cannot really nail down, and though the latter is rather more hard-edged, the blatant contradictions are even more palpable. Both books seem to be anti the status quo but delve deeper and they cleverly aren't as Sinclair speaks with forked tongue. Hackney, that Rose-red Empire is littered with a diffuse plagiarism beginning with the heading of the first chapter, London Fields which could maybe be a reference to Martin Amis, a person whom Sinclair would obviously dislike but would he (?) for we are never to know whom Sinclair really likes or dislikes. The tone is all very elusive and in any case London Fields if it is about anybody is somewhat centered on Stewart Home, though more about him later...
There is nothing implacable and adamant here disguised through half-quotations and references made smartly anodyne, side-stepping what's really involved: "Lipstick Traces" and the "North West Passage" hint at Gruel Marcus (wittily renamed c/o Michel Prigent) and Debord retrieving the concept from De Quincey, "showing us fear in a handful of dusty files" (TS Eliot), "educated to the point of being unemployable" (Alex Trocchi), etc. etc.... And for good measure Rose-red Empire is in part a famous Shelley quote too. And doesn't Empire also suggest a contemporary bullshitter name of Toni Negri? Not there is anything wrong with plagiarism but where is Lautreamont's famous dictum "Ideas Improve" leading into "plagiarism is necessary"? For these borrowed references do not amount to improvement, as at best they merely play with the beginning of supercession, repetitiously over and over again, existing within virtual stasis.
Not that Sinclair has a proper career having commendably done a variety of jobs usually of the unskilled manual labour sort, painting signs in Clerkenwell, the Xmas post, a council gardener clearing things up in London parks and cemeteries a "ripper out of weeds" etc, etc. Yes, commendable but he has done such odd jobs for decades basically because he is only a part-time college tutor, admitting he is "a film lecturer" "jobbing on the academic circuit" "an itinerant culture preacher" and even once, a day a week art historian at London's Courtauld Institute, giving talks to "art honchos." But the money, paid irregularly, simply isn't enough, adding, "writers without tenure are public beggars". Sinclair further added to this melange by pitching in as a stallholder, buying and selling second hand books in the former prestigious, chic Camden Passage Market.
Nonetheless this restless survival to and fro allows Sinclair to say he is "a person operating at the outer limits of the system." No, a thousand times No! He even suggests, regarding precarious employment that he's not that much different from the Chinese cockle-pickers who died at the hands of ruthless gang masters in Morecambe Bay a number of years ago. "Like the underfunded academics, the highway devouring lecturers, Chinese economic migrants shuttled though a devil's triangle." We wouldn't even have the chutzpah to say that about ourselves and one thing's for certain, Sinclair has never arrived at our refusal or has been thrown down to the extent we have, as we have remained surfing and surviving on a kind of bumpy bottom of skilled building trades.
Not that the guy is rich; he could have made a lot more money and neither is he much of a consumer. Rightly Sinclair is down on that pivotal consumer must have, the car, at the same time as he gets a kick out of riding through the "northlands" of the M62 in Chris Petit's sleek merc borrowed as part of a promo deal he had undertaken for a car company. Putting it neatly approving of auto theft, Sinclair remarks, "The more cars taken the better our chance of surviving another day. Best practise: remove and destroy".
The most incisive part of Ghost Milk is Sinclair's account of working in Chobham Farm during the early 1970s in London's East End; the unregistered new container wharf deep within railway sidings that helped spark the dock strike (followed by the wildcat general strike) of 1972. Hardly surprising Sinclair doesn't go into this amazing moment of general rebellion as the reactionary novelist was already hard at work on something a bit more unsavoury than unloading containers. These pages however have the unmistakable imprint, even riveting authentic detail of "I was there" e.g. the account of the Chobham suits that "never risked contamination by talking to the labourers." How well we know that one! He poignantly describes the railway sidings of Cobham Farm rather in the vein of our account of Healey Mills Marshalling Yards in West Yorks. Which leads up to a familiar theme here throughout: we suspect Sinclair's read our stuff and seen our films yet we must never be mentioned by name! But is there a reference to us? Well, the imprint is overwhelming but executed so surreptitiously as though mentioning our names could risk raising Beelzebub and hell-fire! So indication becomes little more than "Hackney is the new Notting Hill" suggesting he as read Blob's Once Upon a Time there was a place called Nothing Hill Gate.
Sinclair's main concern over the last 20 years or so and expressed in a number of books has been an extended, roaming, somewhat in-depth records of places mainly focussed on London or the Thames estuary and on the surface not unlike the drift in our aforementioned, self-published, late 1980s A4 illustrated pamphlet - Once Upon a Time there was a place called Nothing Hill Gate – at a time when informal book shops dotted throughout the country gladly stocked such material. It could be said in a retard country like Britain we were the first and also the most forthright and critical though surely our pamphlet helped spawn a lot of the dilute, neo-geographical stuff that was to follow. This together with other texts also sporadically involved accounts of our lives especially on building sites, e.g. in Builders, Chancers and the Crack though there are many asides in other texts on the RAP and Dialectical Butterflies webs. These tracts, these rants, these considered reflections apart from elaborating general revolutionary theory, scientific fact and the like, are also about the 'ordinary / extra-ordinary' people we've come across who helped illuminate certain things. Although once we had been artists, it was a phase we quickly superceded KO'd by the obvious in the uprisings of the late 1960s: "Art is Dead: Do not consume its corpse" etc. Thus accounts of modern artists have only figured marginally in our texts and then usually to give something of an historical framework unlike say in Stewart Home's distant pastiche of Nothing Hill which is exclusively focussed on artistic Notting Hill and in that sense just like Sinclair's extrapolations. As for the latter's contact with black people, well it had to be through the mediation of a rap poet and not like ours, companions together, side by side, working for lengthy periods on building sites.
And there the real difference begins as Iain Sinclair oeuvre is little more than the extension of the changing face of tourism like some borderline travelogue writer not that different from marginally critical authors like Le Dantec etc. in pro-moing edgelands. It's taking place on the cusp of the break-up of typically packaged holiday tourism, that extension of the suburban, largely southeast horticultural abortion of a garden – a suburban dystopia involving a complete trashing of nature. However, encouraged by harsher economic times this neo-psychogeography could also become a local tourism of nettle patches at the moment a different eco-oriented tourism has simply become too expensive.
As a new paid-up, fully functioning member of Ed Miliband's "squeezed middle", Sinclair is always looking how to get on in a fairly low-key way. Happy to go on the BBC or TV, never thinking too much that this may be a dubious practice where you simply end up used and abused, he has, unlike us, never turned down such opportunities for publicity. And Sinclair is always doing interviews. He writes like former cop-out SI member, TJ Clark does for The London Review of Books even admitting that he allowed at least one of his articles to be edited by the Review board who had honed in on a sentence referring to why the cobbles near the Hertford Canal in London's East End survived because "we never developed a revolutionary class angry enough to tear them out, to smash the windows of council offices and police stations." The sentence was deleted. Although everybody gets edited who plays the media game, basically Sinclair says in our mass media consumer saturated era we no longer get banned though for a brief moment his book launch of Hackney, Rose-Red Empire was foolishly banned at Hackney's central library by stupid local authority jobsworths, a move which merely ended up with Sinclair making a big name for himself resulting in massively increased sales of the book. True the real powers that be don't ban because they've found a more successful technique: Suppression through silence, an ever increasing, relentless silence, an utter marginalising of real critique...... Yet this too has its hidden rewards, its hidden, more enduring victories, which Sinclair is acutely aware of: "Nothing is more seductive than the myth of abdication, silence. Nothing succeeds like well-managed failure." Yes, Sinclair is no fool and can be very acute; he merely makes an arse of himself.
Seemingly subtle, real negation however doesn't figure here. Regarding himself as an outsider in reality Sinclair is a semi-outsider implying he is also a semi-insider. Take Surrealism. He deliberately avoids its core commitment and searching radicalism in relation particularly to the critique of artistic form or indeed the movement's concomitant development from Communist party sympathies, to Trotskyism, ending up with a vague anarchism, proclaiming the relevance of anti-statist workers councils in the Hungarian revolution of 1956. (This particular text in English is included in Franklin Rosemont's excellent lengthy compilation of often undeservedly neglected, even profound Surrealist tracts). Instead Sinclair's predilection is for 'surrealist' fellow-traveller novelists like Ferdinand Celine, even ignoring Celine's fascist sympathies and in this respect, not unlike the American Beats. He even writes florid reviews in The Guardian (March 31st 2012) praising to the skies a minor English, so-called Surrealist poet, like David Gascoigne. But then traditional, E. Jarvis Thrib poetic scribble is sacrosanct cleverly side-stepping the redundancy of trad poetry by extolling elsewhere some of Ed Dorn's predilection for obsolescent, long gone things ranging from kerosene lamps that once lit up northern Wisconsin cabins to "obsolescent" poetry. The lamp probably did produce a beautiful ambience, the second is merely silly, ahistorical and beside the point in terms of the revolutionary creativity made by all and still one of the most urgent demands of our time. Sinclair even crappily says, "Poetry, I have discovered, is the orgasm that can't be faked. It happens or it doesn't" - and he means by that written poetry not the inspiring poetic, throwaway subversive act anybody can do.
Sinclair is regarded as a fine stylist of a writer when he basically knows the truth behind Artaud's exasperated, bald comment that "all writing is pigshit" or indeed the much earlier surrealist exhortation from the 1920s, "Admit that literature is the saddest path leading anywhere." It should go without saying that these two quotes refer to the aestheticisation of writing rather than writing as a means of clear explanation and communication. Sinclair however loves his prose, his free form metaphors, his cascades of words reinforcing the Eng Lit distinction between 'good' and 'bad' writing even though condractorily, he also realises that today writing is nothing more than a form of manufacturing. Basically the guy grasps that the writers' role is farcical but doesn't say so too loudly quietly burying the realisation in a tellingly accurate aside: "You have to recognise that most of the material on display in the windows of the book chains has been put through an assembly line more effective than Dagenham". In parenthesis, we note in passing this guy finally really does believe in the time-honoured writer / genius role. We don't! Apropos of this, Jorn a long time ago said something on these lines - and very neatly - in Against Cinema of 1964: "There are no "misunderstood geniuses" innovators poorly known naturally. There are only those who refuse to become known by being portrayed in striking discord with what they really are, those who don't want to let themselves be manipulated to appear in public in a misunderstood way, and by this alienated fact be reduced to the state of instruments hostile to their own cause [...] Guy Debord isn't really badly known he is known as being bad." (This before Debord betrayed himself becoming something of a good guy in the last 10 years of his life and somewhat après his relationship with Mr Money Bags Lebovici).
Straining for ever more dazzling effects, in Sinclair there's more than a touch of a latter day Dylan Thomas fulminating in word splurges if not taking to the bottle (that would be more interesting); a neo-Welsh bard now that poetry is dead amounting to little more than literary pyrotechnics; a fireworks display of words full of a seeming sound and fury signifying nothing much. In fact, Sinclair has more in common with the American Beats people like Ginsberg, more especially Jack Kerouac and like them employs a literary agent unlike either radical surrealists or with more point, situationists who knew exactly why literary agents are such bullshit. But there again didn't Ginsberg's Howl derive from Debord's Howls in Favour of De Sade and isn't, apropos of the latter, Derek Jarman's blank, blue fence static film of the Olympic fence in East London merely a repetition of the white screen in the De Sade film? Which in turn Stewart Home probably mimicked in his anodyne re-makes regurgitating the original anti-film provocation into a neo-artistic event and the exact opposite of the original impulse - a deliberate subversive insult directed against the audience, an attempt to break the morale of the passive, cultivated consumer who'll swallow any bullshit providing its called art. And beyond that lies a critique of the audience / performer relationship the basic fulcrum of alienation within spectacular capitalism. No wonder that a whole host of un PC words like 'cunts' and 'arseholes' were venomously used in such abundance as the best and crudest way to put across a big, important point at the original screenings of Howls in Favour of De Sade.
Sinclair kind of knows you must disappear, that it is necessary to shun the limelight, to refuse. But it is all acted out at one remove, in awe of those who really do do it not having the inner resolution to go down this path himself. Instead Sinclair proclaims that the self-disappeared become "half-legendary". "If you fancy building a mystique, bury your archive. Announce you have only six months to live" – ah yes there are good lines – "Media only recognises those who appear in the media".... (And Sinclair should know......) Disappearance, absence, or rather the threshold of an absence Sinclair daren't enter despite declaring "My rose-red Empire was built around absence". It isn't.
Certainly Sinclair searches for 'names' shrouded in obscurity, delving among all those past, lost and disappeared English speaking authors from a few decades ago; a search which could have had a pertinent edge if it had been put within a different perspective, that of the emerging perspectives of ambience and the classical pre psychogeographical experiments taking place in Paris around the same time. It's true in the 1950s there were these characters walking around all over England writing their thoughts down - often obsessively in diaries – recording the changes taking place in the immediate environment, possibly even leftovers, perhaps unexpected offshoot of the 1930s Mass Observation Movement beginning to get somewhere? Sinclair's favourite appears to be Roland Camberton especially his lost manuscript about East London. In a way these people were all counterparts to somebody with a rather less 'lost' profile like Ian Nairn, all perhaps possessed of musings that faltered on the brink of real critique disappearing down some railway sidings, among the cinders, birds foot trefoil and herb robert, well short of putting together the big picture despite taking important first steps. Indeed, Sinclair himself was once even confused "with the man Jonathan Meades described as the "the master topographer", Ian Nairn".
But then Sinclair doesn't hang out with 'the negs' - an abbreviation for 'the negatives' –as we've referred to them over the decades. The individuals whom he befriends and illuminates were / are never negatives, never mind revolutionaries in the contemporary sense of those who try to live a total critique of contemporary capitalism's myriad subtle but lethal totalitarianisms. These deep topographers, these neo psychogeographers are people who recognise separation feeling somewhat at home in their cultural specialisms, for after all, they live within the paradigms of recognised boundaries and their spare ventures outside accepted specialisms remain pallid to say the least.
Sinclair proves he's not much simply because a conservative outfit like Penguin Books (Hamish Hamililton) are prepared to publish him, though even the great topographer himself notes that Henry Miller's travel journal The Colossus of Maroussi "was the first Miller title that Penguin felt brave enough to place on their lists."
And, lo and behold, as if to prove the above point, in the year of palpable, total insurgent negation – 1968 – Sinclair and his closest mates fresh out of university, many of them having already graced minor public schools, were buying a house in London's East End in Hackney. A 'communal' house of course despite only mimicking real communality! Even so after embarking on the communal property / collective mortgage living experiment in 1968 within a year Sinclair and partner made things even more obvious taking an even bigger step back into their respective pasts, buying a house in Hackney as befits a proper couple. This is real conservative stuff! Consequently nowhere in Sinclair is there a critique of personal relationships especially the impasse of coupledom, which no matter what is still the central axis of this impossible society now reaching the degree zero of fulfilled contact pointing to a new ice age of strangled expression.
Moreover, the guy never was to make the break from the university milieu, never to really put himself out of gear and aren't we surprised, his parents owned six or seven properties in South Wales ...and they were professionals - doctors - which, along with the rest of his chums meant cash could be put down on a mortgage. Pity we had penniless parents! This inheritance, post 1968 was to kick start the first wave of post second world war inner city gentrification which ex Angry Brigadier, John Barker was to elaborate upon as far back as 2006 in an intelligent piece in Mute entitled, Reader Flattery – Iain Sinclair and the Colonisation of East London saying, "The first wave of gentrification happened at the very time when a bohemian lifestyle became more of a mass option and inner London was the place to be........This gave a jump-start to class-cleansing, smashing the base of labour militancy and releasing hundreds of acres of real estate onto the market......- the Europe-wide dynamic of artists looking for cheap rents, making an area attractive and then being pushed out by the consequent rent rises.... – their professionalization of the bohemian lifestyle." Perhaps Barker's sharp critique made an impact upon Sinclair as is it this text that is alluded to in the one liner from Ghost Milk? "Books, paintings, and property, were a burden, symptoms of the disease."
Many years later when these bohemian gentrifiers were to encounter the phenomenon of street fuckhead, instead of fighting this miserable phenomenon point blank, often opted instead to move on to more gentile, more properly suburban shit holes (like Sinclair's one time co-author, the artiste Rachel Lichstenstein who decamped downriver to Leigh-on-Sea). Indeed there is a close overlap between inner city gentrifiers and suburbia that Michel Prigent mocked at the time (1996) in his witty leaflet on that worshipful epoch of house price inflation. "On the Recuperation of the Situationist Revolt" with Academic workshops on the following topics": "Unitary Suburbanism" "Psychogeography and Buying Your Own Home" followed by "Detournement and Home Decorating".
Having said that however, no part of modern urbanism is quite as decadent, crazed and rancid as suburban subtopia, especially the sprawl that is now the main feature of the Home Counties.
More importantly, we would suggest these bohemian gentrifiers were incapable of opposing fuckhead precisely because they weren't street, didn't really live among those at the sharp end, and didn't know how to spontaneously collectively organise at a street level. Remember, that in the post-Millennium early noughties for three or four years the dreadful phenomenon of fuckhead, a nasty unpleasant form of anti social behaviour among youth, - a kind of wildcat street capitalisation - erupted in our towns and cities. It looked as though the final vestiges of living community, felt most in supportative neighbourly ties of general decency, had been stretched to breaking point becoming almost non-existent. Initially people responded in fear withdrawing into themselves, behind closed doors, hoping against hope fuckhead would simply disappear of its own accord. It didn't. Consequently spontaneous forms of resistance sprang up everywhere, as first individuals, and then groups of brave people said enough was enough. Men unfortunately in this struggle were much more passive and fatalistic and it was usually the working class women (of all races) who took up the cudgel often allying themselves with people belonging to the alternative culture (like ourselves) who also had had enough. Stranger still, more than a few One Nation Tories also joined in the fray ready to stand up and be counted. Surprisingly, it was the social democratic left who were largely absent from this melange perhaps encumbered by past ideologies mistakenly seeing this phenenomen as not much more than youth having a bit of a vandalistic fling and that those opposing what they regarded as little more than youthful exuberance were largely right wing people with racist or fascist attitudes. Of course the odd right wing nutter couldn't be discounted but the reality of this admittedly often bizarre coalition had to be recognised as a genuine rank 'n' file revolt. Amazingly, and a further sign of these dreadful times, something of a history in book form of this brave fight which did indeed bring back a modicum of community hasn't, surprise, surprise, been published. (There again who reads serious books today?). Truth again seeped in at the side and even the Trotskyist Socialist Worker had to note the presence of a few One Nation Tories and not as a put down though generally (and wrongly) regarding opposition to fuckhead as "vigilante". Yet as we know a bit of rough stuff in dealing with fuckhead worked wonders and those you knocked about a bit so often at a later date gladly shook hands, the stupid war forgotten, as a simpler haves and have-nots identity returned with the on-set of the economic maelstrom. Others among the gangs were however deadly and we must always remember this as some could become in the not too distant future, the paid up thugs of a new fascism.
In the great anti cultural revolt of 1968 – which was also the most powerful attack yet on the modern world's utter creative bankruptcy, its nothingness – Sinclair and co still saw themselves as cineastes and poets saying that for them, "direct action never got beyond the screenplay". Well, ours did and so did millions of others even though our attacks simply weren't lethal enough! And by 1970 paying out £50, Sinclair produced a small collection of poems together with prose fragments at a time when all of us who were still raving anti artists still virulently insisted on the supercession of poetry, occasionally and spontaneously still disrupting poetry readings!
Our lives a few years later possibly did cross in the Old Ship pub on Hackney's Mare St, with us lamenting the death of the late 1960s total revolution, while Sinclair and co were focussing most likely on future avant-garde cultural vistas. In any case they would have regarded us as the dregs......not worth talking to as we weren't going anywhere apart from this way down, the path of nobodies. Not that we knew Sinclair and co personally but we were aware of his coterie, which increasingly we were well aware we could never be a part of. The new polarisation was becoming clearer, a new 'us and them' as increasingly our band of rejects, of seemingly maimed brothers and sisters increasingly saw these new mini-careerists as arseholes. Moreover a fluffy bohemianism had indeed split asunder; on one side the bohemian gentrifiers, on the other, the poor but clued-in alternatives whose base-line was the squat scene, trying to work as little as possible and who were to be brutally turned over and worse the more neo-liberalism triumphed.
Sinclair knows all 'the names' in Hackney and seems to be friendly with most, e.g. in the street nodding to crap like sculptor Rachel Whiteread yet also seeing the relationship between Kingsland Waste junk market as, "A private view, open to all, a Royal Academy Summer Show of installation, photoworks, wrecked medicine cabinets" while at the same time, most likely making discreet visits to the real Royal Academy Summer Show. The familiar recuperative syndromes had slowly but surely become firmly embedded throughout the 1970s - that having your cake and eat it alternative - as ossified institutions made their peace with installation which ever since has now become the dominant force in 'culture'. Yet somehow Sinclair manages to make Whiteread into a 'controversial' figure actually referring to her as an "enfant terrible" of shock and breakthrough i.e. creating "a storm" with her Holocaust Memorial for the Judenplatz in Vienna when it's nothing more than part of the slew of neo-dadaist nonsense that is all-pervasive today.
Architecture plays a big role in Sinclair's life. Among his friends are those architects who in an almost obligatory way, play with becoming anti architects but without making the essential move, leaving the role of architect behind once and for all and loudly saying so, backed-up with a declamation, released through social media, or a leaflet perhaps proclaiming, the "communism of genius" and why they had to destroy their bullshit role. Of course this is the illusory brinkmanship Sinclair himself feels at home with – those who at the back of their minds know what they've got to do but who don't have the guts to follow on through with their inner beliefs. Instead, as pale substitute for critique he sites architects represented in Ballard's ersatz novels around faking it, those who "don't build anything" who "suffer the consequence of building". But it gets worse than that. Sinclair even calls architect (Sir) Terry Farrell's The Deep in Hull "an intervention". What an insult, yet as a description it fits in perfectly with the decadent spirit of the times when words have lost all veracity where real, purposeful direct action has withered on the vine, and intervention has morphed from the reality of subversion also becoming a performance tactic welcomed by neo-liberal capitalism. Aware of this contemporary inflection, Sinclair's assessment is then followed by a get out apology for scathing denunciation: "The Deep, a flashy Terry Farrell dockside fish-tank with as much cultural relevance as the M16 building, that Aztec jukebox on the south side of the Thames."
Farrell of course was an architectural student when we were cutting up untidy in Newcastle in the late 1960s, and with maybe this in mind, Sinclair then goes on to say, "The north's ruined industrial base has been prostituted by grand projects or regeneration (new forms of colonial patronage)". "Metropolitan architects, presumed to have a competence in producing new skin to cover the skull of dying industries, were parachuted into the northlands as aesthetic Gaulieters." (A Gauleiter was the local Nazi kapo in an occupied country).
However the big cheese Gauleiter here probably isn't Farrell but hip designer urbanist Will Alsop's along side his child, the SuperCity M62, a continual coast to coast city of social interaction; of updated American 1930s depression bars and speakeasies, essentially atmospheres where people from all shades of life can again speak to each other informally, graciously bestowed through the auspices of Alsop's god-like presence! The Supercity was one of those so-called 'visionary' schemes from around the Millenium, though in reality it's a dose of the horrendous, not least because Alsop wanted to eat up derelict industrial land for his artsy dystopia that merely displays, amongst other things, his contempt for these rich areas of biodiversity. Sinclair as per usual with his imprecise, impenetrable word flow seems critical though basically he applauds, even speaking of "the charm" of one of Alsop's buildings! (Later hip young urbanist Owen Hatherley was to do the same re the Supercity). Whatever, for it's all clever chicanery as Sinclair travels along the M62 with cineaste Chris Petit who, shooting a piece for the Audi Channel, is driving a borrowed £60,000 car, pulling into truck stops or making detours to places like Carnforth railway station, the venue for the 1940s Brief Encounter film, places "that required no intervention from planners or over-excited architects." So here we have it again, the familiar Sinclair get-out clause but what the fuck does it mean!
Ah, an empty, desolate, lonely Carnforth Station. How fond the memories from days on Gait Barrows and Arnside Knott on the borders of Cumbria and north Lancashire, watching the station rabbits with home brew in hand, waiting for the day trippers Bradford / Leeds train, later pissed, by-passing Ingleborough Mountain as the sun sets. And, all the while thinking of Daniel Defoe's comments on Ingleborough and its wild inhabitants which so unnerved him in his A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, a book that was to become something like the neo-psychogeographers bible as well as glamourised by more 'sensitive' TV performing tourist writers like Nicholas Crane.
So Sinclair goes to look at the failed Earth Centre at Conisborough near Doncaster just to have a peep at Alsop's toilet, a minor addition to an eco-tourist attraction built on the destruction of a Marbled White butterfly colony that we had tried to save, only for Sinclair to say, in shades of our angry jottings and film clips on the Yorkshire coalfields' amazing terrain subjugated by estate agents' horticulture, "Abandoned mine-workings, after a few years left to themselves, have a wild beauty which includes visible traces of a previous history." Elsewhere Sinclair when discussing the changing face of gentrification in relation to estate agent spiel is spot on: "Estate agents were the alchemists of progress. Once they tracked artists and squatters into the badlands; now the new technocracy (curators, website designers, TV comics)....followed them".
The one place unfortunately where Will Alsop's futuristically dire magic made some headway was in Bradford as his scheme for a "Tuscan hill town" for nearby coal town Barnsley thankfully got nowhere. However a half-crazed Bradford City Council did take up his blue skies project for a "Venice of the north" in the shape of the rebirth of the long buried Bradford Canal to be crowned with a huge tourist oriented headwater basin located in the very heart of a future beach city overlooked by a massive Westfield shopping mall. Big excavations got underway and then the worst world crisis in the history of capitalism struck and now the only thing left of former retail madness is "the big hole" surrounded with the obligatory blue fence behind which a buddleia wilderness flourishes. This catastrophe as well as spawning the sublime "BEST AMONG RUINS" graffiti along with a few other choice comments also provided the springboard of our on-going modest, still hidden interventions.
Final question: Why did Sinclair have "to do the north" via Will Alsop? Answer: Because he needs the prop of artistic celebrity before anything else.
Hitler to Urban Splash
And while mentioning Gauleiters, Sinclair says, echoing Chris Petit that Hitler left Oxford alone because "he planned to take up residence" there, yet Here & Now in Leeds in the 1990s said Hitler wanted his headquarters located within the then ultra modernist Quarry Hill flats near Leeds city centre. If both comments are true no doubt Hitler would have been engaged in long distance commuting, well before its time, between home and work everyday, a very modern solution and way before Alsop. Interestingly Sinclair attacks fascised architecture noting in passing Albert Speer's "theory of ruin value" yet no mention is made of Stalinoid equivalents, though he does hone in some fascinating details like in Auschwitz there was a travelling show called "Attack of the Clowns" inadvertently functioning as a deformed piece of Dadaist provocation.
Never forget too, Sinclair was also invited north to give lectures under the auspices of Manchester's Urbis that piece of signatory glass, brick and steel development under the auspices of the council on Deansgate marking the spot where the 1996 Arndale IRA bomb exploded. It was a building meant to crown Manchester's post-punk achievements, not least the Hacienda club, even sponsoring hip guided tours throughout the city. It failed economically as a venue – the entrance feet was exorbitant - but not before its imprint on modern marketing had really made big headway. Sinclair in lecturing to this outfit probably thought he was making Manchester Council work for him when in fact he was working for them. They were using Sinclair's 'radical' prestige for their own increasingly mercenary ends as Urbis transformed into the National Football Museum.
Where too would outfits like Urban Splash have been without Urbis? with its project of renovating old buildings mainly from the time of modernism like Fort Dunlop in Birmingham and the high-rise Parkhill Estate in Sheffield's city centre turning them over as must have hot property living spaces even deploying illuminated graffiti looking somewhat like the subversive 1968 real thing only instead of "you say you love me, oh say it with paving stones" becoming "will you marry me and buy this apartment", as they get rid of council tenants refurbishing their former spaces into ritzy private property condominiums hiking the price through facelifts. Cleverly Urban Splash face saves by allowing sufficient rent paying tenants to stay on condition they have their faces permanently rubbed in the dirt.
Following all the bilge on Alsop's updated Archigram-like uselessly futuristic schemes, Sinclair just to say rescues himself as he has a welcome taste for the crazy, folksy building, which for certain is well outside the architectural paradigms and despite everything, still fascinates all of us looking for the truly creative living space that still may provide some useful practical indications for a viable revolutionary future. His local emphasis inevitably is on the fascinating tunnels dug out by Hackney's Mole Man at the junction of Mortimer Row and Englefield Rd (which at the time we thought was done by Nik Holliman, Michel Prigent's and ours plumber mate who had resided at this junction for a number of years and whom we knew was delightfully crazy enough to have done such things.) Also, here and there, Sinclair mentions examples like Rodia's Watts Towers or Facteur Cheval's Fairy Palace which he carefully notes Ballard liked too which blends in with the charm of industrially derelict buildings everywhere; a charm that is then valorised and aestheticised according to Sinclair by Patrick Keiller's 'found' "surrealist architecture."
A Digression on Patrick Keiller
In comparison to Sinclair, Keiller is an even greater bulwark of the Establishment; darling of the Tate, making films sponsored by BBC films in association with the BFI (British Film Institute) the grovelling little turd deploying well known theatrical celebs like Paul Schofield and Vanessa Redgrave to do various voiceovers. For sure these films are learned, often very learned, coming up now and again with interesting facts but again to what point? They seem to be nothing more than a kind of hip, feeble totalising; an updated, left social democratic intellectualism able to combine knowledge of the seers of the disintegration of poetic form from Rimbaud to Appollinaire embedded with lots of prosaic facts about industry, housing and general social history minus any real passionate feeling for uprisings in the UK. There are even a few quotes from Vaneigem thrown in for good measure though it's nothing more than stylish decoration; of artefact within fact and finally, what again is being said here? Plus never forgetting that deliberate put-on in his films narrated in the manner of some dissident English aristocrat, rather like an English 'Censor' (re Sanguinetti) mediated through an eponymous cunt named Robinson.
Rather than go into massive detail regarding Patrick's Keiller's clever avoidance and / or manipulation of subversive praxis and a common fault with all the neo-psychgeographers, its best to make a few pertinent comments on his, The possibility of life's survival on the planet which reflects on a non-human, post human future (and could this title have been influenced by our reflections on the post human?) He says, "As a surrealist, Robinson believed that designers of artifacts seek to emulate the morphogenesis of life forms, and pursued this and similar questions, in encounters with flowers." Note he says "encounters." (On the opposite page there is a photo of a foxglove from his film Robinson in Ruins. Beautiful, perhaps, though to what point and Richard Mabey's photos of flowers, some obviously taken by himself, are much more telling in his Flora Britannica). Then on the following page there are two Barbara Hepworth's – Sun and Moon of 1969 and a sculpture called Tides from1946. Gob-smacked you think where the fuck is this guy at, Hepworth of all wretched people; one of the most vacuous and conservative exponents of 'subversive' modern art in its heyday! As for Tides it is nothing more than the valorisation of weathering and many a stone picked up at random on the beach is just as interesting, doubly so because there isn't a price tag of millions attached to it. A stone picked up at random can inspire inquiry into natural causation and its intrinsic value has yet to be eroded by money. Hence we can handle it with a disinterested, free enthusiasm. The only time we would get to handle a worthless Hepworth – in terms of real creativity - is if we had the money to own it - or stolen it to sell, or to melt it down and thus profit from the soaring cost of metals. A Hepworth, more so than ever today, should provoke absolutely vital questions on the political economy of art and the importance of the nothingness of art post Dadaism and Surrealism, especially to the overblown, bubble economics of contemporary capitalism for it is a perfect reflection of the inflationary emptiness at the heart of existence under contemporary capitalism. But this Keiller studiously avoids doing because his radicalism is merely a simulation of radicalism; an attitude that is the conservative essential of our age.
Again it is accompanied by an erudite comment about the size of the moon and the tidal oscillations it creates, inter tidal zones being conducive to life leaving the sea and colonizing the land, some genetic mutation enabling such an adaptation to take place. However Keiller says nothing about the price of a Hepworth or the Hepworth Museum in Wakefield and how it now is part of the tourist itinerary and a stop on the Free Metro bus route, It is the cultural compliment to the new retail park of Trinity Walk which was constructed against the economic odds primarily because Wakefield Council borrowed so heavily on the money markets to ensure its construction. This could just as easily have been part of Robinson's perambulations and an entry in the accompanying 'subversive' tour guide which the Tate Britain 2012 museum catalog is packed with - e.g. references to Captain Swing, resistance to enclosure, etc. One wonders too if the Hepworth's were chosen because she has been so much in the news as a result of the dedicated museum and which was also hailed as a victory for 'women in art.' (In the catalogue there is also a John Latham from 1961 called Full Stop. Latham had been interested in industrial placement - a sort of Imaginist Bauhaus industrial apprenticeship and kept hammering at it even after 1968; years after the idea had died the death, put out of its misery by major industrial class struggle complimenting a new imaginative revolutionary perspective accompanied by direct action which still aches for practical realization).
Keiller pronounces that Robinson "is inclined to biophilia, the love of life and living system." He does not say the term was coined by EO Wilson and that Wilson claims it is part of a our DNA while at the same time taking a strictly utilitarian, monetarist view of nature's pharmacopoeia, one that accords with the hidden hand of the market and that will provide the raw material for the next stage of capitalism. This inevitably leads to the patenting of nature (in particular the expropriating of indigenous peoples by preventing them harvesting the raw material that have long been the basis of their traditional medical practices and which pharmaceutical giants have now appropriated for their own rapacious ends). Wilson himself has been arraigned for promoting biopiracy and has long been under suspicion for profiting from 'biophilliac' imperialist seizure.
Keiller also cites the recently deceased Lyn Margulis and her major insights into symbiotic relationships, which had been inspired by her endorsement of 1920s Russian botanists - yet again an example of Keiller's considerable erudition and which is never pursued to the limits as if Keiller is afraid of what he might find there (he is only ever going to criticize capitalism within certain acceptable limits). The Russian botanists were doubtless influenced to some extent by the anarchist Kropotkin and may have unwittingly furthered Lysenko's rise to power based on a rejection of the 'bourgeois science' of genetics (the best account is to be found in Julian Huxley's 1949 book, Soviet Genetics and World Science: Lysenko and the Meaning of Heredity. However even Huxley is at fault here in failing to point out how the acceptance of genetics "in the west" even then had been freighted with "ancient superstitions" i.e. "bad blood" and an almost equally reprehensible uncritical endorsement of "free market", even 'planned' capitalism and varying degrees of Social Darwinism, some far less obvious than others and the more insidious for that).
Keiller is also sanguine about the possibility the human species may come to an unnatural end in the fairly near future, slain by its own hand. This point of view is becoming increasingly acceptable and yet does not nothing to undermine consumer mores and belief in the dull conformity of bourgeois society, or seriously ruffle the 'happiness' of those who accept it's a real possibility. In a manner of speaking they are already the living dead, a pre-figuration of the post human, their 'happiness' a semi-automated simulacra. Art also outlives this catastrophe of catastrophes, and it is surely significant, that, immediately above Keiller's most dire scenario – "irreversible heating [will] lead to the evaporation of the oceans, and the end of life on earth" there is a symbol of the everlasting, a Barbara Hepworth sculpture!
For sure we got a kick out of Barbara Hepworth's sculptural meltdown formerly stuck firmly on a plinth in a South London's relatively ritzy Dulwich Park. (LOL) How the intellectual chatterers moaned and grieved about this uplifting tragedy. Around the same time TJ Clark in the London Review of Books reporting on some nonsensical exhibition at the Tate under the title False Moderacy while praising Henry Moore to the skies had the following to say, "Hepworth is a great absence at the Tate" blah, blah, blah, blah. How could a once inspirational guy who declared the death of art sink so low? And of all people, a cretinous non-entity such as Babs Hepworth.
One of the saddest facts about Keiller's oeuvre is that this erudition goes nowhere, amounting pretty much to erudition for erudition's sake. Thus we learn little known facts about Rimbaud - for example that he had minted the term robinsoniser to describe a person who lives alone, apart from the world- in other words a deeply alienated person. However it does not do to use the word because of the term's revolutionary resonance going back to Hegel, alienation being the central dynamic of Hegel's system, its prime mover. Robinson in comparison is a passive bystander, a noter of fact not a doer, though he does from time to time get involved in fanciful scrapes, Keiller's fictional avatar going to open prison, getting arrested near Spadeadam and stealing a piece of equipment from a tornado jet destined for Saudi Arabia which then crashes in the North Sea. In real life Keiller would not get involved in anything that was remotely illegal, for the art world, and his sponsors, would not like it: real attempts to change life and the world do not sell, images do. Pressed for a preliminary description of Robinson in Ruins Keiller offered the following "in early 2008, a marginalized individual sets out to avert global catastrophe, hoping to trigger the end of neoliberalism by going for a walk." If he'd said "by going for a shit" it would have had more point by making a mockery of the pretension. However that wouldn't have got him an exhibition in Tate Britain.
There is no doubting Keiller's capacity to unearth facts. Not least we have a little known quotation from Marx's doctoral thesis The difference between the Democritean and Epicurean philosophy of nature in which he says pace the discussion of meteors by Epicurus, that he "ascribes to them all the anxiety and confusion of men." Again more could have been made of this, the quote from Marx introduced for no apparent reason in the same way a fatuous link is postulated between a meteor falling in Yorkshire in 1795 and an act to prevent the removal of poor persons from parishes forcing them to go to where the jobs were, a piece of legislation obviously favorable to a nascent industrial capitalism. Revealingly Marx's doctoral thesis is to do with the philosophy of nature and which gives an indication of just how important that subject was to the philosophers of German idealism (Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel) and whose powerful influence would find a final expression in that statist bible of dialectical materialism, Engels The Dialectics of Nature. Marx's comment on the how Epicurus viewed meteors could well have been written by Schelling and indeed in 1899, Schelling wrote a tract Heinz Widerporst's Epicurean Confession of Faith that, at least in parts, comes across as full-on materialism: "the only truth is matter, it alone our friend and shelter". Guided by a hypothesis in Kant's Critique of Judgment (the totality promised by the "intuitive understanding"), it is Schelling who founds "objective idealism". However, it was Fichte that took the first decisive steps when he had attempted to supercede Kant's antinomies in which a moral, 'active', consciousness stands opposed to a phenomenal world of mechanical causation.(Marx's first thesis on Feurbach on the "active side" of classical German philosophy has its origin in Fichte). Schelling, however, was unable to accept that matter is the creation of mind and though he took over Fichte's 'egoistic' triad of thesis, anti thesis and synthesis, to him this triad was an objective structure of matter "in which the producer is one and the same thing as the product." This necessarily brief quotation shows how fruitful this line of inquiry would become as it was passed on, and suitably altered, through Hegel into Marx and beyond, the proletariat as identical subject and object of history being the one and only heir to classical German philosophy, not the commentaries of academic philosophers. Initially however it was the link postulated between teleology and aesthetics in Kant's critique of judgment that would, thanks to Schelling, become the driving force of this dynamic, the "impulse" of life itself. The issue would be taken up by Schiller in an even more decisive way. Not only does he say we are alienated from nature by the growing division of labour, but, on our reading, that art is also a symptom of this separation and if we are ever to recover our natural selves, and health, we will only do so by throwing off the artifice of art. What could be more explicit than the following "nature makes man one with himself, art separates and brings discord to him etc." This essentially historical agenda coming well before the world historical mission of the proletariat was announced both in word and deed, requires we must also become childlike, able to regress sufficiently to become, once more, wholly absorbed in things which are 'unexceptional', not conventionally 'beautiful' yet also profoundly meaningful and universal for they hold out the promise of a fuller development of the human being than has hitherto been the case. Thus we become the engrossed doers of a second childhood not merely the detached onlookers of adulthood, the romantic passion for landscape really a symptom of passivity and unnaturalness. As with Kant, representations of nature, whether in words or pictures, left Schiller cold for they meant we were no longer nature ourselves. In fact it would have been more to the point if his famous 'letters' etc. had been titled Letters on the De-Aestheticising of Man, this time with a forward on a genuinely proletarian revolution and not one on the French revolution that preceded his initial funked attempt. Sadly however it is the Schiller of Der Kunstler (The Artist) that has been preserved for posterity, not Schiller the proto anti-artist.
Around the same time as he was writing his doctoral thesis, Marx was abandoning his ambition to be a poet, poetry, in his profound opinion, an inadequate vehicle through which to express the "struggle for movement." Instead a "remote beyond" [became] "my art", Marx concluding "the whole horizon of a longing which sees no frontiers assumed many firms and frustrated my effort to write with poetic conciseness." Unfortunately Marx would not go on to give his timely supercession of poetry a more precise historical footing, both him and Engels blind to a process that bit by bit was unfolding in front of their eyes. But the fact that Marx, if only for a brief period, would anticipate this development at the same times as struggling to deal with philosophies of nature, even so goes quite beyond the reach of Keiller in spirit. How much more arresting it would have been to have set the two observations side by side which, if grasped at all sympathetically, opens a window onto our time and which, at the very least, explodes the idea of an art exhibition, especially in that doyen of all galleries, Tate Britain.
And Back to Sinclair....
As for Sinclair, always name-dropping he is continually on the look out for 'characters' like put-on eccentric book dealers when not seeking out artists, writers and avant-garde filmmakers always, always with an eye for the main chance,. One of the new middle classes we quickly came to despise, he even called one of his kids "Farne" after the Northumbrian Farne Islands, a trend setting before down and out estate single mums occasionally followed suit eking out exotic name tags. The guy records his visit to a 'different' travel writer like Michael Moorcock in the USA, a guy, according to Sinclair who "never sold out the integrity of his vision." Jeez, did Moorcock even have a simple eye never mind a vision? When visiting Hull, Philip Larkin or John Prescott (the former deputy leader of the Labour party) are dwelt upon with never a mention of the remarkable incidences which took place in that city during the Winter of Discontent of 1979-80, when all the main roads were blockaded on the outskirts by striking wildcat manual workers. Seeing these deep topographers or deep geologists are always banging on about geography, it was a wildcat tactic, which was only possible because of the city's cut-off geographical situation at the mouth of the wide Humber estuary, though obviously a topic beyond the ken of Sinclair. In any case he would have had no interest in the matter preferring to eke out Prescott's favourite Full English Breakfast Joe's Eats.
However much you try, you cannot get away from it that Sinclair and co have contempt for 'common' people like wildcat strikers. Again John Barker in the previously sited Reader Flattery – Iain Sinclair and the Colonisation of East London brings this out time and time again. Rightly he says, "Sinclair does not come across as much of a pub man, the odd manic pint with manic book dealers or manic artists perhaps, and then be put off by all that cocktail froth, or an old dockers pub which gets the full disgust treatment with the lead weight irony of 'authentic'." In Dining on Stones, Sinclair has the following to say about a dockers pub: "The ham rolls were reassuringly authentic: crusted in over-tanned plaster of Paris, concealing a pink slick of reconstituted animal fat...the wallpaper had not been pasted to the wall: it had grown like a fungus. And was growing still." John then slips in a small paragraph which is a severe but accurate judgement on the neo-psychogeographers of East London: "Still, what strikes me about all those condescending documentaries about the poor East Enders, ignorant, ill and probably racist into the bargain, is exactly the reverse: how well the modern Cockneys do in circumstances which their 'betters' would find impossible....And yet how much more common decency, respect for humanity, honour and humour they possess than so many of the middle and upper classes who despite lip service to collective values in fact approach life in a spirit of naked self-interest." And a big YES to that!
Psychogeography was basically about the end and realisation of art. For Sinclair and all the others, it is now about claiming more and more of our streets and neighbourhoods as art, a potential total valorisation, sponsoring everything for an art for art's sake perspective. Nevertheless, there is a certain sensitivity embracing the ambiences of neighbourhoods. If nothing else Sinclair is all about growing enclosure especially in London and his discomfort with it, aware it is a terrible offence to us as human beings remarking, "The outwash of a grand project, as experienced in London, is confirmed by the closure of paths, security barriers across public highways, locked stations." The whole character and disposition of a district is vanquished and with it all connecting links to a still living past are liquidated. He does note that authentic people, those deservedly known from the past seem to leave an indelible mark on a place like William Blake's friend Edward Calvert did on Hackney. We cannot disagree with that.
A Digression on Stewart Home
Ineluctably all of the neo-psychogeographic entourage finally (or is there ever a finality with this lot?) - and 60 years too late - gave up on the redundant form of the novel replacing something set in aspic with typically a hybrid form, a "docu-fiction" or "docu-novel". Previously Stewart Home in the late 1980s had come out with the absurd banality of saying how could the novel be dead when millions of people were still reading them, mistaking intensifying cultural retrogression surviving with the aid of a life-support machine as the living thing. Low and behold, 20 years or so later in Memphis Underground embracing the form of docu-novel Home has now done an about turn. "Perhaps I should explain that Memphis Underground isn't really a novel. After Joyce, post Finnegan's Wake, there really isn't any point in writing novels – literature is dead."
Always playing double games which he's adept at, such contradictions simply don't matter as everything for Home is an adjunct to performance in an age when the performance principle underlies virtually everything colonising everyday life like never before, a realisation of Nietzsche's insights on this matter outlining what was to come. Home moves in all directions at once making everything he does meaningless; he does art whilst saying he's "denouncing art" even reiterating Black Mask mantras from 1966 "Art is Dead, burn the museum" while performing for Tate Modern in London, followed by gobbledygook statements like "It's more important for leftists to produce an art that is anti-artistic than anti spectacular."
Home now says there's no difference between psychogeography and walking. Well there is though rather than go into the subtleties of this here it probably makes more sense to read The New Commons of Urban & Industrial Dereliction, which accompanies this text. For sure we are really into walking and have been doing so for decades and we've always emphasized walking as an essential activity if it's at all possible though with no disrespect to paraplegics intended here. In fact walking is more essential than ever – and we've always proclaimed this simple bodily motion without glamour - simply because it is still the best way of finding out anything of real interest and all our ecological discoveries came about this way. Moreover in practicing walking the need to abolish the car is endlessly affirmed.
Walking however for the neo-psychogeographers is very different. As we stated in the general introduction, Home, Sinclair and others do sub Chtcheglov drifts (a brilliantly original psychogeographer in Paris in the mid to late 1950s) on bursaries and subsidies from cultural bodies, even occasionally paid to do so by establishment architectural mags! They cannot see the obvious about their own faking. No wonder Sinclair comments, "Situationism would be back, customised by Stewart Home" which unbeknown to himself, is an accurate comment, something nicely cleaned up, sleek, stylish and marketable. Indeed Stewart Home after initially working for a brief period in factories and stretches on the dole – when dole culture was vibrant and still tolerated by the state – opted for the culture scene proper with regular furloughs as artist / writer in residence with stints at John Moore's University in Liverpool to Strathclyde University, followed by yet another in Melbourne University, Australia. All this was accompanied by stylish, passé neo-Dadaist antics like his book shredding performance for his "anti-Library" exhibition in November 2011and all to be somewhat repeated, part and parcel of retrospective exhibitions in London, New York, Moscow even Lithuania etc. It's worth remembering, because still significant, that in the late 1980s Home had an exhibition of his work smashed up in a London gallery by latter day situationists, a radical intervention which Nick Brandt took the blame having the cops called on him. (The cops never turned up and probably the call to the police was nothing but a hoax act of revenge.)
Below: The leaflet, which encouraged – and explained - this trashing. The trouble is the intervention was too studenty and some of the blurb reveals this despite wittily parodying Home's SMILE mag of the time plus his pseudonym, Karen Eliot. Nevertheless, praise where praise is due.......
And the blurb reads as follows.........
THE SLOGANS OF REVERSAL
INTERMINABLE DRIVEL FROM MULTIPLE ORIFICES
In 1987 a small but highly intellectual group involved in Daily Mail ART (an essentially neo-post- surrealist vision of apocalyptic devastation in a world without a credible aesthetic quasi-theory. Some people said it was just shit cartoons in a Tory paper. (Plebs) Come up with a brand new. One careful owner concept in self-delusion and promptly put it into praxis - oops, practice (I never could spell that word). They put out a series of Manifestoes in such hotbeds of activity and power as the Tate and the National Gallery.
GIMME GIMME GIMMICK
After such previously world shaking events as the ART strikes (at least four ARTists went on strike for three weeks but nobody noticed) they had the new idea, probably best expressed in their 48th Manifesto:
"We must work together between us we might have enough initiative to pretend to be one person!"
Thus was born Ellen Karryout. Basically the plan was that lots of people could call themselves Ellen Karryout, thus enabling them to claim credit for large amounts of artistic dross in fact perpetrated by others. Of course you too can call yourself Ellen Karryout, but please make it plain which Ellen
Karryout you are (this will be done in a future issue of Vague anyway, thus negating any point in multiple person experiments).
Johnny and Cordelia had attended ART College for several terms now and had got the jargon, the look and the sneer just right. Luckily they had fallen in with some revolutionaries and had joined in this latest game with glee. They could now look down on ARTists with no radical politics and on politicos with no ART. Nevertheless, with an arrogance) such as theirs it was getting boring. Life was always so boring. Then Johnny had an idea.
"I say, Cor, I've just had a wicked idea!"
"Oh Johnny, if its about calling your latest picture The Temptation of Reified Spectacular AntiART Pt 7 you can't because Julian already bagged that to call his cat."
"No no. We can really transcend and supercede the credibility of all our friends in College."
"Oh super rad! What's your scheme?"
"Well, we publish a super rad magazine that drops a lot of names and -isms, puts down everyone for trying to do something and for not having read all the right books."
"Oh brill! We can get everyone really into cynicism, petty bitching and inter-critiquing. We can use buzz words like proletariat, communism, spectacle and such like, refusing to explain them because-" , '"Because they wont mean anything in the context or our magazine. It'll appear very cred and AVANT GARDE and rad and-"
"And in fact be a pretentious pile of shit! Our cred will shoot up, any attempt at revolutionary activity or communication will be less successful.
"Daddy will pay for the printing"
"And I've got a great scheme to get everyone to vegetate for three years, so lessening the chance of positive interaction and a collective transformation of the world."
"But only people concerned with appearing AVANT GARDE and always having the latest theory -; revolution as fashion - will take any notice."
"Yes, but there's a lot more of that about than you think. Pass the Coke."
DADA (& MAMA PAY THE BILLS)
In an effort to increase our already huge importance in the world today we have called a Credibility Strike for 1990-1993. During this period anyone with any AVANT GARDE credibility will cease to create anything. We've already had numerous letters gratefully supporting this call including
cryptic references to "Kaolin and Morphine as a more immediate solution to your 'creativity' problem." We don't understand this but disapprove of drugs anyway. Radical Inactivity as a revolutionary tactic involves a refusal to do anything except lie in bed and play with our egos. Some have suggested that really radical inactivity would involve starving to death in complete isolation, having previously buried ourselves secretly to minimize the effect on anyone else. But then we wouldn't be able to go down the Wine Bar and sneer at everyone so what would be the point?
PAINT THE TOWN RED (WITH A CONTRASTING GREEN SURROUND)
Some have maintained that all around us people create, or don't, according to whim and that only those wishing to appear AVANT GARDE would bother to critique ART. ART is dead, they claim, and only poseurs would dig up the corpse to take photos of themselves kicking it. But these people are ignorant and probably never even went to ART school. ART is important. The whole multi-hued Spectacle of capitalism is built upon ART. If we can present a coherent aesthetic critique of the decadence of post-modernist-anti-structural-pointillism then the proletariat will rise in devastating and well choreographed revolution. After all, Constable was an ARTist and everyone agrees that .capitalism couldn't function without the activity of Constables. Anyway, if ART isn't important why are we so concerned about it?
DEATH TO THE AVANT GARDE VANGUARD - DESTROY REVOLUTION AS FASHION - CREDIBILITY COMPETITORS FUCK OFF - NO SMIRKING -- SMUG ELITE YOU ARE AS SHITTY AS THE CITY YUPPIES BUT LESS HONEST -- YOU HAVE MOUTHED YOUR LAST EMPTY CLICHE -- WE ARE REAL -- REVOLUTION IS ANGRY JOY BUT IT IS NO GAME – CAPT SWING
THE REVERSAL OF SLOGANS
Sinclair notes how recuperation starting from rebellious negativity can be the first tentative steps in a sharp-sided careerism. Thus Mary Herron first film venture, I Shot Andy Warhol tackling the tragic, though authentic life of Valerie Solanos was the taster, the necessary outré toehold for Ms Herron deftly making it centre stage in Hollywood. The big money guys are always fascinated with the easily manipulated rebel, yet without a real judgement, merely outlining the facts; it makes it seem as if Sinclair approves of this process coming up with nothing beyond maybe a mild objection. In a similar vein elsewhere Sinclair refers to Warhol's entourage as "a subversive crew" though this time he means a creep like Gerard Malaga rather than Valerie who turned against the false bonhomie of this self-same crew!
On the same tack, blagging away things overlap with amazing (what else) artistic goings on in contemporary Hackney. Recently a well-connected guy called Conrad Shawcross constructed (it seems) "fantastic" craft to launch on the local River Lea, only to get on the Richard and Judy TV celebrity show which then provided an opening for an objet d'art in Charles Saatchi's collection.
In no time marginality can easily become celebrity as the system needs pliable marginality, in fact finds it essential ensuring its blood-sucking, endless reproduction. Cleverly Sinclair finds some penetratingly accurate bon mots regarding ubiquitous celebrity – "the psychosis of celebrity of (simulated) Dionysiac madness", "the coming age of robot celebrity" even mocking in a kindly way celebrity crap house artists like Tracey Emin to Gilbert & George saying, "He or she is a celebrity diabetic waiting for the insulin hit."
And yet celebrity is right up Sinclair's street. He worships and nobody perhaps as much as the avant-garde cineaste, Jean Luc Godard. Neglecting, on purpose the trenchant criticism of Godard penned by the situationists, Sinclair doesn't even have a tilt at the ridiculous Maoism of Godard in his prime, which no doubt even Godard abandoned some years later. It seems all of Hackney's hackneyed 'new' middle classes, including Sheila Rowbotham were and still are in awe of Godard still banging on about that hard to find film, British Sounds. For Sinclair, evidently Godard's films are about "the impossibility of film" as the guy "was in the process of denying his role as an artist." Oh really for he's certainly taken a long time, decades in fact, to get through this 'denying' phase and still doesn't seem to have gone too far in that direction of travel ( a favourite phrase of Sinclair's related to his time unloading containers). And by the way, interestingly too Sinclair (or Keiller for that matter) makes no pertinent comment on International Lettrist anti films.....Yet Sinclair does add incisive comment on the one important cineaste experience of today – that never-ending CCTV surveillance: "I see the pole with its camera-eye turning Hackney into a real-time movie. Bleeding the excitement of crises" plus further adjuncts to the real new age of total totalitarianism: "If you carry a phone, you are electronically tagged." You damned right you are!
In a special section on Astrid Proll, an erstwhile Hackney resident in Rose-Red Empire, and certainly somebody more authentic than Sinclair, Astrid says she regards "film as the enemy" recalling how the RAF participants also hated novels -"we had no use for novels" though making certain exceptions like Moby Dick - in the days when she was a member of the German Baader / Meinhof terrorist gang in the early 1970s. (The saga of a Homeric Moby Dick or Tristram Shandy or Wuthering Heights for that matter are hardly novels which is why they still grab us so intensely) Interestingly this was always a dilemma within these avant-garde terrorist groups of that time as they also took on board some of the fallout from situationist critique regarding the end of art. (Indeed, even some members of more traditional organisations like the IRA declaimed against the novel perhaps subconsciously picking up on James Joyce's reflection that an obliterated Dublin could be rebuilt with his words?) But why were they that way inclined? Simple: we all felt we had reached the moment where a remake of the world on every level was within our grasp and therefore no longer had need of the sublimation involved in the production of artefact. Nowadays there is an overwhelming feeling the world cannot be changed hence the mass reproduction of artefacts on a gigantic scale, even though these artefacts increasingly produce no satisfaction at all as we face bankruptcy not just on an economic level but every other level especially the emotional.
As for today, does Sinclair praise artefacts like Doris Salcedo's stupid kango'd art floor of the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern? You know, the one with the wide deep crack in it, evidently to symbolise the gulf in society between the haves and the have-nots. But we'll very carefully never know, for again Sinclair is not forthright and he's not likely to condemn all the neo-dadaist junk polluting the world guaranteed as genius because of the high price tag attached.
Sinclair didn't like the moment the Momart storage facility on Hackney Marshes - full of this neo-dadaist junk - went up in flames. Our real mates loved it. But then as always Sinclair a little later does one of his typical about turns. (Maybe he inserts these time lags on purpose hoping no one will pick up on the contradictions). Our neo-poet notices a "fountain" at the junction of the Hertford Canal and Lea Navigation, "an Olympic art manifestation which stopped me in its tracks. Here at last was a conceptual piece that took the breath away." Obviously, the emphasis here is on "took the breath away" because it wasn't an objet d'art but a punctured Victorian era pipe where the "water folded, curved and shimmered: a dwarf Niagara coming out of nowhere". These places continually morph losing their original use value, full of constantly evolving readymades (as we've often said) a process involving de-commodification which makes them so attractive stimulating our escape from the world of ultra-capitalisation. Why does industrial dereliction today have the power to grab all comers like this no matter what, even affecting those who inhabit the dreary world of aesthetic valorisation? For Peter Ackroyd, the neo-psychogeographical historian it is "an escape from the world" and for Sinclair "the walker vanishes into the walk" despite the fact they do not see these places as arenas for intervention merely of passive recording. Memorably we showed a similar pit fountain in our video on Woolley Colliery, Barnsley instantly pointing out Gormless Gormley would be incapable of making anything so good. Sinclair would never have dared be so direct.
However, Sinclair knows what he's doing because finally he cannot really lie to himself: "If you are paid to oppose, you are paid. Period. You are part of the machinery of neutralised dissent, hired to perform as a sanctioned critic. You are recorded, revised. In the brochure. On tape. In cyberspace. Subject to editorial control." Exactly. Then Sinclair takes the bribe! And basically he calls such compromise honesty because at least he's fessed up!
Also you can promo your abject surrender to the status quo with something like a pastiche of Maoist self-criticism with perhaps an added dash of Baudelaire. Sinclair says of himself "And, worst of all, weasel subversives, such as myself, enjoying their status as sanctioned critics corrupt enough to accept a fee for preaching disaster." Sinclair's confessions, a sudden disarming clause, his 'honesty' is like a post modernist version of De Quincey minus authenticity. And yet a De Quincey, "cultivating digression" had such an impact on us, - how else would this haphazard piece have been constructed ? - which for Sinclair too was also "the unstable model for everything I attempted to write" neglecting to add, and how you can bend the past to suit your own despicable ends.
Sinclair, Papadimitrou, Self, are all literary pals together and the common denominator under-pinning them all is novelist JG Ballard. The more Ballard was aware of his growing influence, the more he played with a literary bravura-like pastiche terrorism asking of Sinclair "I want you to blow up the Bentall Centre and Blue-water. Your assignment is to destroy the M25." Yet Sinclair perceptively also notes "Spurning critical theory, Ballard joined his near-namesake Baudrillard as the hot topic of air miles academics". Too true. All an illusion, the permanent fake of the surface. The deception and nothing more. No transcendence, no exit in sight. But for Sinclair, Richard Mabey's Unofficial Countryside and Ballard's Crash are "the great edgelands testimonials of the 1970s" elsewhere saying they are "the elective godfathers of a new generation of questing dissidence." My arse though, at least Unofficial Countryside may have a future if edgelands acquire revolutionary perspectives; the ones we are pointing to in our recent Bradford interventions which aren't simply about recordings and ambient empathy plus aesthetic / monetarised valorisation but also continually provokes authority.
Nonetheless both on the Dialectical Butterflies and the RAP web we have criticised Mabey essentially noting that he found contemporary revolutionary critique emanating from the 1960s an anathema deliberately closing his mind to the totality of contemporary alienations. In a similar vein, the title of his early books Unofficial Countryside implies a crossover with the fecund mass of unofficial strikes in the UK that were one of the glories of the 1970s yet Mabey refuses to note such a concrete connection. Furthermore in his slightly later Food for Free – the title suggests a moneyless society - no connection is made with the mass insurrectionary abolition of the wages system which, pace Rosa Luxembourg, was an essential ingredient, the final outcome of unofficial strikes getting relentlessly out of control throughout turbulent months. Unbeknown to himself this is exactly what Mabey's core passions logically point to and even Sinclair hints at this: "Mabey logs the tough fecundity of the margin where wild nature spurns the advertised reservation and obliterates the laminated notice board of sanctioned history" also acknowledging indebtedness to the early 19th century peasant poet John Clare "as the early solitary prophet of a new ecology." (The Guardian 29/05/2010). Later the journalist Simon Jenkins commenting on Mabey's Weeds in the same newspaper (18/11/2011) says perceptively, "wild flowers are nature's anarchists" without then bringing in some more historically grounded insurrectionary anti-state perspective perhaps by general refusal of official nature reserves simply practising 'wilding' where ever one pleases. The point is none of these commentators can feel their way towards a renewed total revolutionary critique. They always miss out on the essentials. In our series of films on The Dingy Skipper at least we have tried to connect nature with the legacy of insurrectionary miners and / or wider aspects of revolutionary theory especially in relation to the death of art.
One thing that is clear in neo-psychogeography is that the presence of people, those without profile, those with little or no roles are largely missing from their scenarios. Classical psychogeography inhabited crowded spaces. True the arena is different as this present day phenomenon is about the badlands, those empty spaces which few traverse. This particular deficiency is acknowledged in Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wildernesses by Paul Farley and Michael Roberts but the familiar aestheticisation is again full on as these two guys are stuck in the aspic of Eng Lit especially poetry, thus believing in this decrepit museum where they glean plenty of dosh, rewarded for not straying too far, making of edgelands a modish, rarefied commodity, so much so that in the summer of 2011 a short film festival via their efforts was dedicated to "liminal Britain". Like a pastiche of Wordsworth they praise the honest, peasant-like tongues of the edgelands people behind which lurks their real purpose of an almost total aestheticization where places like "container yards are places of beauty and mystery" without noting they are also places of crushed fingers and low wages. In short an ecologically biased Mass Observation movement without revolutionary transcendence by the mass of sentient human beings in sight.
And next to nothing on Will (for Him) Self.....
Here we must also include in passing a special word on Prof' Will Self as surely he must be the biggest creep of all the neo-psychogeographers, the most craven; the man who will gladly attend corporate sponsorship parties hosted by architectural rackets like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill boasting about them afterwards honing in on the money spent on the food he no doubt relished. What can you say about this operator? Certainly Sinclair is friendly with this arsehole that now sends his children to an expensive fee-paying school in South London. But that's the least of it...... And what follows is more of ours De Quincey-like digression! Most likely we knew Self as he was for a short period a labourer / lorry driver for a builder's merchant in Stoke Newington in North London. It was probably the only decent and honestly dishonest thing he's ever done in his life. Indeed it's possible we probably helped Self unload a lorry load of materials to a local site we were working on as during the 1970s as we were hardly out of Stokey and adjacent areas often working for the very people Sinclair so extols in his books. A little later Will Self went on walking / cycling excursions with Antony Gormley down those beautiful old tracks that snake through the lower Thames hacking back possibly to the Neolithic age marshes, saying of Gormless Gormley, "There are no barriers for him between inside and out" as this similar super-creep comparable to Him-Self eyeing up the beauties of desolation and industrial dereliction must compulsively impose his own shit everywhere thus destroying the evocative ambience accrued through centuries.
Most of Sinclair's friends and acquaintances are low profile careerists who often had had a background in some statist 'revolutionary' party usually the International Socialists precursors of the Socialist Workers party. They hated Thatcherism but were finally gutted and marginalized by New Labour whom Sinclair with some flair describes as "neurotics in black shirts". These people certainly had little idea about anything related to the ultra left from anarchism, the German and Italian ultra left, Socialism or Barbarism or indeed the Situationists though they had a take on the latter seeing them largely as variations on Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and not to be taken too seriously, deploying little more than rag stunt tactics masking what little knowledge they had of the SI's profound revolutionary content and intent. Interestingly Sinclair in listing books on London's East End makes little of the American Wobbly sympathiser Jack London's, Children of the Abyss (he had mentioned him in some of his earlier stuff) or ex-Solidarity's Joe Jacobs Out of the Ghetto or indeed another Solidarity guy from West Ham name of Ken Weller who wrote a fascinating book on the workers' and soldiers' movement in the East End during the First World War. Moreover, Sinclair deploys too many loose terms coming out with statements like "after the collapse of communism" relating to the collapse of the Berlin Wall when such garbled introjections of media stereotyping do not point out the simple fact that these regimes within the soviet bloc were nothing more than a form of crude totalitarian state capitalism. The obvious remains buried. Still, to give the guy some due Sinclair says he has never voted in a parliamentary election and that is something in his favour.
The 2012 Olympics.... Any old iron, any old iron, any any any old iron......
But when all is said and done Iain Sinclair has achieved his recent fame, his publicity through opposing the London Olympic Park development of 2012 going into some depth regarding historical precedents. He rightly regards the Olympic project as merely the latest (and worst) of those huge urban schemes initially dreamt up in 1945 by Patrick Abercrombie, "the conceptualist of the post-war city of orbital motorways" for his Greater London Plan which gradually emerged in the late 1950s stimulating, among others, the wrath of Ralph Rumney, the early Halifax situationist. Sinclair intelligently develops the connection between Abercrombie's proposed dystopian nightmare and the 2012 Olympics, what he neatly describes as "the long march towards a theme park without a theme" by way of the rough and ready 1948 London Olympics, the Festival of Britain in 1951 up to the Millennium Dome correctly daring to say that things got really dire during the decade of the Noughties which has the singular distinction of having built the most hideous architecture ever witnessed: "The 20-zeros greeted with the worst architecture since the retreat of the glaciers achieved new and improved levels of double-speak."
On to the 1912 Olympics and Sinclair seems to be dead against one of its sculptural monuments besmirching the skyline, Anish Kapoor's AncelorMittal Orbit slipping in the description "meccano" regarding the Orbit hinting at our piece Meccano on Crack on the RAP web which is a much more hard-edged attack. On a more general level, as with Gormley, neither is Sinclair straight about Kapoor and again hedging his bets, is careful only to comment that space has now been "vandalised as public art" without making specific attacks which, you suspect, he regards as too crude and impolite. Following on from Sinclair, equally China Mieville (another neo) has been careful not to openly condemn Kapooor's Any Old Iron content to merely make sly digs suggesting that in one of Sinclair's sponsored walks around the site; participants were more interested in the stacks of abandoned tyres than The Orbit. Finally no one dares suggest the relevance of Courbet's response to the Vendome Column during the Paris Commune of 1871.
A little later and Sinclair usefully puts the AncelorMittal Orbit monstrosity into historical perspective seeing an anticipation in Joan Littlewood's leftist populist oriented Fun Palace on Stratford high street in the 1960s mentioning that the real volition of the Fun Palace was to go on to the West End stage, co-incidentally providing the co-author, the architect Cedric Price along with Reyner Banham with career entrées. Banham was the first hip, on the make arsehole of a recuperator to mention the situationists in his City as Scrambled Egg only to carefully edit them out in his later lamentable trash, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age. All true but again Sinclair puts everything else so blandly as if in the natural order of things! However the original shadow lingered on and on and the Fun Palace is then taken up by New Labour in the shape of the O2 Arena, "a circus that was all sideshow, freak show, bringing the dead back as hologram, making the whole idea of fun terminally depressing" a place of "compulsory celebration" hinting that today enforced leisure is as tiring and as alienating as enforced wage labour, though Sinclair would never come out with such a bald subversive statement.
Sinclair poses a question: "Why did the Festival of Britain in 1951, feel so much better than the launch of the Millenium Dome and especially the construction of the Olympic Park?" Accurate yes though there's no real take of why this is the case. We would suggest it had everything to do with the seeming promising maturation of modernism and its equally seeming crown of glory, post Second World War reconstruction. However, it was all surface, a crown that very quickly palled leading up to the great revolt of the late 1960s, which in turn was quickly knocked sideways only for the original post 1945 "slash and burn" to be reborn in over plus, though now insidiously disguising itself with a castrated sixties revolt morphing into slick packaging; a packaging now climaxing in permanent nightmare, more brutal than ever. Sinclair notes that Kent police at the Kingsnorth Climate Camp in 2008 were searching everybody under the rubric, "National security. War footing. Afganistan. The 2012 Olympics" which recently has been superceeded by the concept of "total policing", the shape if you like of the total war and death to come if the system finally gets its way.
In passing Sinclair makes mention of the "Eton Manor philanthropists" those Oxford Movement missionaries in the late 19th / early 20th century who commissioned East End playing fields, rowing clubs, allotments – all done in the spirit of noblesse oblige / do-goody benevolence. Now none of this is of any consequence – only the increasingly totalitarian grande projet matters and all those relics of "good works" have been slashed and burnt to make way for the Olympics. The Olympic Park is part of the project of the generalised tourist consumer OHAC's & travelling, (Own House And Car) the constant need to climb onto a fantasy island more real than 'reality' itself, the final realisation of appearances and alienated consumer leisure set within a virtual hologram paradise of make believe.
"In the age of the spinner, content means nothing; the apparatus of explanation, the word-weaving, tells us what we are looking at and how we should react." "...the virtual world has been carved up between accountants and curators, both of whom recognised right away that content is finished and contempt is the tool of the times. Contempt for truth. Contempt for place. Contempt for the human animal." "If it is broadcast, it must be true." What's increased enormously in relation to the above syndrome, indeed as a consequence of it, is that maimed "generalised autism" (Debord) making people insensitive to those next to them, unable to cathect on the simplest of human levels, people dumbed and brain / nerve dead who can only genuflect to the massive presence of audio-visual command. Gateway to the post-human. Gateway to the massacre of four billion hoping the remaining few million recently genetically modified humans will be free from survivor guilt and malfunction....... Sinclair doesn't suggest any of this....
A sophisticated Sinclair takes account of Olympic recuperation again hedging bets. "Certified walk-leaders will be able to point out the sanctioned wilderness, a substitute for edge-lands lost to Olympic bulldozers" or elsewhere, "designated wilderness zones that quote wild nature." After all Sinclair is part of the same integration, even having given a talk to assembled dignitaries at Hackney Town Hall, with mayor, lady mayoress et al in attendance! So he cannot then say much about the "guerrilla muralist" Sweet Toof decorating the "blue fence" surrounding the Olympic Park with crocodiles and the like. Whilst not asking authority for such permission such intervention has long ago lost the aura of subversion, indeed the Olympic committee was even able to turn such gestures into the iridescence of its own publicity machine and in no time Sweet Toof's decorations were placed within the morphing world of the art gallery where everything changes in order to remain the same. Slyly and cleverly, Sinclair says he didn't go to the exhibition, "Guerrilla artists, whatever their motives collaborate with the architecture of ruins." "I didn't check out the show. There's altogether too much art noise" suggesting instead there was something in Albert Meltzer's Art Strike proposition, possibly culled from Stewart Home who in the late 1980s banged on about it. Sorry, the Art Strike is a bankrupt notion avoiding the supercession and realisation of art because after a few weeks or months on art strike we again resume the role of artist (as Meltzer did) or as Sinclair might be indicating in the use of his bon mots "the discontinued artist" which though a neat description is pointless word play. "We have waved this disaster through, we have colluded: dozens of artists roam the perimeter fence soliciting Arts Council funding to underwrite their protests" ....... "The social message is: Look at me. Admire me. Give me a show in Brick Lane" .....None of this has been as committed or as intransigent as our Dingy Skipper holocaust films or any other genuine anti capitalist intervention we've engaged in! We haven't played a double game.
Yet Sinclair contradictorily approves of the Olympic artist collaborators; the more outré the better to be accepted in the Cultural Olympiad masterminded by Trainspotting / Slumdog Millionaire's Danny Boyle, with enough cineaste past cred; a cred which now seems essential for the full-blown realisation of a militarised grande projet with more than a touch of "situationism"in the original derogatory meaning of the term. (Remember the final fast sequence of Trainspotting with its pastiche of Chtcheglov?) Perhaps with a bit of a nudge from such an advisory impresario like Doyle, Steve Dilworth, the sculptor from the Hebrides, was short-listed by Westfields to make a piece of public art for the "monster mall". This eco-scavenger cum sculptorial bullshitter, came to Westfield's attention because first of all he had previously been suitably quarantined in sculpture parks and horticulturised gardens. The outsider as insider...Not the great refuser..... even as Sinclair notes that "the Westfield Group, which is controlled by Frank Low, the second-richest man in Australia are the fourth-biggest shopping-centre developers in the world" yet doesn't add the obvious, selling its wares by promoting a seamless coming together of big private capital and the empty residues of avant-garde art.
Rightly Sinclair notes the ominous moment the London Olympics were born. "The hysterical celebrations of the great Olympic deal and the response of disenfranchised fundamentalism". London was awarded the Olympic deal the day before the dreadfully misguided fundamentalist, fascised, duped 7/7 bombers struck in July 2005 and the two have been inextricably interwoven ever since as part of the modern strategy of tension born in Italy in the 1970s; that bogus, grotesquely manipulated terrorism designed to inspire fear in all of us as the drones circle over Stratford, aircraft carriers languish in the Thames estuary and the surface to air missiles are primed whilst the Cultural Olympiad fronts this integrated, total masterwork of a death oriented capitalism as the authentic desires of the masses, lost to themselves, are further subjugated everywhere. As well as the raison d'etre of bubble capitalism, never have the terminal sickly leftovers of art and the military been so closely intertwined and never has "the theatre of war" had such unsuspected monstrous connotations. Indeed the Olympics imply a full on, dutiful patriotic act of obedience, which it is treasonable to question. Instead Sinclair comes up with a half statement missing out on the gruesome totality, "By 2012 there will be no perceptible difference in techniques of control employed in war zones and in homeland development zones: making the world a safer place for shopping" without even acknowledging shopping for art pivotal within this nexus.
In the midst of total policing any direct action at Stratford will be nipped in the bud, amounting to instant arrest and needless jail sentences. Yet nobody will do the obvious and hit the ubiquitous soft underbelly disrupting all the cultural junk on offer everywhere throughout Britain, and surely the best way to dent the obnoxious image of the Olympics. Such action could really make an indelible lasting impact because so unexpected. One proviso: critique must be is pitched at the highest level and aimed with devastating accuracy. Hopefully these few words may help........
Cynically we noted to celebrate the Olympics some people in Scotland are organising a Big Noise event, which is to take place simultaneously as school kids shout their heads off for a few minutes. Surely this is based on Newcastle Icteric's Big Roar of 1966? Nearly fifty years ago in these retarded islands there was just to say a point in repeating this suggestion of Tristan Tzara's. Today it is meaningless and couldn't a few people disrupt such an event (perhaps through the mediation of some silent fisticuffs) as a subversive, anti capitalist leaflet is handed out explaining clearly the whys and wherefores of such silent action?
We must never forget that capital cities worldwide are now remote, free-floating enterprises; adrift from the nation states they once represented en route to becoming an elite planetary association. London was always a pioneer in this respect with a financial centre – the golden mile – long ago described as an "offshore island" its obnoxious aura having since spread throughout a vast conglomeration of formerly linked-up neighbourhoods ruining what distinctive qualities they once possessed. In reality the 2012 Olympics is merely a statement of the international super-rich, global corporations, homeland securities industries and an international military partially staffed by the American FBI. And the most intensive security operation in British history is fronted as an avant-garde tourist spectacle forcing an end to what's left of London's commons; a preparation for mass social cleansing on a scale never previously contemplated.
Does it therefore matter that the monumental expense involved also may involve ruining what's left standing of a viable UK plc as long as this single, unspoken aim is achieved? And what will happen afterward? It seems a quango with the title of the London Legacy Development Corporation is to run the aftermath of the Olympic Park mostly through a largely ornamental private building programme obviously centered on luxury homes for the international elite partially funded by Qatari Diar, the investment arm of the oil rich Gulf state. The promo however will be centered on "affordable homes" but seeing the near certainty of complete economic disaster is in the offing is this now possible? In which case if this doesn't materialise will the Olympic site become a welcome wilderness? A ruin with possibilities, an arena for communal eco-intervention in the same way we have clandestinely intervened in a huge swathe of derelict land in central Bradford in and among housing estates occupied by the poor plus marginal alternatives from all over the world? A return to the lost promise of The Wastes, The Commons and a real possible on-going and lasting intervention in the capital city? Or is this merely wishful thinking, merely a means of staving off the day of communal suicide?
A Digression on a Halifax Lass....... (Who's to know?)
Your cry what about Laura Oldfield Ford escapes us not, especially her Savage Messiah zines now compiled as a trendy Verso book, an outfit which has become a deadly embrace, a kind of death knell of half way radicalism. True she is a lot more proletarianised than Sinclair or, at least was when she put these zines together, proletarianised (for want of a better description) in a full time 24/7 sense; most likely a real drop out inhabiting endless squat scenes around a mainly London rave scene. This isn't home ownership lifestyle but the experiences of a young radical, raw, often fuelled with drugs and drink perhaps just to say keeping clear of addiction drifting across the liminal zones of London underlined by that northern class thing we know so well and runs so deep, deep, deep within you. And it seems she doesn't possess that useless lump of tin, a car, migrating between north and south via Woolley Edge service station on National Express buses. True some of these zine real life stories are pretty fascinating in detail having that unmistakeable mark of marginal, sharp end un-PC lingo with plenty of cunts and fucks flying around: "The Old Bill come over. What do these cunts want?"
If there's work it's forced upon you by the dole and is casual, assembly line, basic stuff – and fascinating – especially working in the United Biscuits factory and for sheer devilment, fucking up the speed of an assembly line resulting in "chocolate slop skidding all over the place." True, it comes across as authentic alright because it's also a scene we knew pretty well and it takes a raj woman, "a chick with balls" - as we used to say - to tell it straight without gobshite; a squat scene, now alas, largely wiped out by creeping gentrification and general designer, well–heeled reaction now advancing towards the killing fields "always yearning for the time that just eluded us" most likely the 1970s and the insurgency of 1981, of the "euphoria of riots and the thrill of wildcat strikes" Is it influenced by us? You bet it is, as she also notes, "Growth areas, the art and culture industry."
There also seems to be a concrete overlap derived from a past Leeds oriented alternative, somewhat revolutionary scene especially around the Here & Now collective plus the better type of retro Dadaism practiced by the Pink Fairies and the more clued-in feminism of the late 1990s anti-globalisation movement in the UK, though one falling well short of a critique of performance. Here & Now produced a postcard series called The New Ruins a collection of drawings of collapsed modern buildings with one especially fronted by punting couples on the Leeds /Liverpool canal which H &N adherents critically but light heartedly regarded as "looking like a bomb has hit Leeds." But it was a series which developed its own interesting drift possibly framing, though at a later date, the brilliant comments on the fencing surrounding the big hole in the centre of Bradford especially Best among Ruins. Around the same time in the early to mid 1990s, Here and Now spearheaded and galvanized by Steve Bushell provisionally worked out a scheme to disrupt buildings crucial to the functioning of central Leeds (like the local police station) deploying a then hi-tech jamming system which would be switched on by protagonists crawling through the labyrinth of the city's wide drains like in a real life HP Lovecraft novel. These same protagonists had already directed radio broadcasts to prisoners in the local Armley jail (in the era of illegal free radio stations operating out of vans) on the Luddite rebellion among other topics. More inspiringly Steve, a male nurse, had been involved in wildcat strikes in the NHS (see Long Lost Wildcat Strikes in the UK on the RAP web).
True, Laura Oldfield Ford hates and the targets are well chosen: Hatred of Cool Britannia in the mid to late 1990s, falling back on the leftovers of the rave scene; Hatred of work, pertinently commenting, "People work so hard, striving in the pursuit of happiness. What's the fucking point?" Hatred of conventional personal relationships commenting, "never give up your independence, that's what I think, men and women should never live together". Well maybe, but certainly true enough in the context of today's intensified alienation where potential loving communication is no more than Kafka's description of a dark night, a lighted window and the silhouette of an unknown woman waving her hand. ..... and nothing more.
True, Laura Ford is a lot hipper than Iain Sinclair, more spontaneous, more clued-in as she rambles on about real people, avoiding artists and celebrities, hating the "SWP hacks" that Sinclair feels reasonably at home with, her body desiring "a Bakuninist wrecking spree" hanging out with Class War anarchos. Moreover, her quotes are more on the ball from Vaneigem, Debord, Chtcheglov, Mallarme, Huysmans, Marx, Baudelaire through to King Mob...but then there's a slackening: Deleuze and Guattari, Giorgio Agemben and then (of all people) Jimmy Ballard! Finally it goes rock bottom quoting TS Eliot's Four Quartets when seemingly messing about recently in the English Midland's town of Walsall.
But this is where the 'radical' edifice begins to fall down as if the aura of Stewart Home and the neo-psychogeographers cannot be thrown off with Savage Messiah becoming something like an extension of that halfway house; the "docu-novel." Thoughts then crossed the mind. How far were these telling stories strictly accurate? Why deploy the first person singular when there's a fair chance it's happened to someone else? Surely facts and figures in an imaginative, subversive context are far more significant than fictional add-ons? Laura Oldfield Ford was born in 1973 yet it seems she was somewhat involved in the Leeds riots of 1981 before journeying to London!!! But this is the woof and warf of "docu-fiction" an insidious invention that has nothing to do with real concrete creativity. In fact it can be worse than insidious because you simply don't know where you are.
This maybe something of Oldfield Ford's authentic background experiences but what then? Unfortunately reading and re-reading Savage Messiah the truth sinks in: it is jam-packed with artefact especially built around a lot of pointless collages cum montages invariably based around London's urban geography where the poor reside, cut-up and pasted together in a purposelessly disjointed way interspersed with 'art' doodles and drawings, drawings more often than not of faces this latter day artist has probably met. Or rather it passes for art or in an age when art in a true imaginative and liberatory sense no longer exists. No wonder it is therefore easy to elide from zine format to the art gallery and ever onward including the truly obnoxious yearly London Frieze Art Fair as vacuous sub-aesthetic product escalates in price and an even more vacuous super-rich begin to espy a new, must have name entering their territory. Indeed, even the SWP are down on Frieze substituting it with their "Affordable Art Fair" and as per usual regarding a sub Leninist party, as far removed as ever from a relevant critique of the death of art. As for London Frieze Art Fair whether you like it or not that is the super rich trajectory of these montages, fully packaged ready for commercial input via the obligatory art gallery /college circuit; thus real life is neutered as Oldfield Ford is now really going places whilst not going anywhere. Is she on the make? You bet, ever ready perhaps to nail down a post at Will Self University taking a drift down his boulevard to see his giant sprouts which will then be photographed, cut up and drawn all over, body parts on sale at Frieze quite dwarfing Valerie Solonas's original cut ups.
Yet among these montages there are some simple, perceptive photographs, photographs conceived with a good eye. But then there's a narcissistic obsession to deal with, as Laura Oldfield's Ford's beauty is captured on page after page delighting in looking at herself in the mirror. True, the woman has probably had real guts but the fatal attraction of the leftovers of art has become her Achilles Heel. Making montages can still be useful but only as a clear form of pertinent comment placed within real space or on social media as a means say of 'advertising' some crisp agitation, a montaging however that resolutely tries to refuse artistic commodification.
Moreover, an account of London, east, west, south and north as seen through the eyes of a marginalized radical is fine but only when combined with the realisation that feeling and observing a rich ambience is also not enough because the inevitable question then poses itself: where do we go from here? True there are probings backed up by an apposite line from Mallarme, "A landscape haunts, intense as opium" and further on we are reminded of an especially good comment by Chtcheglov on Le Corbusier, "His cretinising influence is immense. A Le Corbusier model is the only image that arouses in me the idea of immediate suicide. He is destroying the last remnants of joy. And of love, passion, freedom" followed by her own perception "urban regeneration was a crude attempt to design out dissent" as the great and wild pubs are closed down relentlessly everywhere where, "Soon everyone will be drinking at home in front of a flat screen TV." And inseparable from the nightmare to come: "London 2012, who wants it except middle England pricks in their executive homes, WPC's with names like Sally and Gaynor and a raft of deluded idiots who don't realise local opportunities means shit jobs in the service industry. The Golden Arches loom larger over this grotesque scheme, another gateway, another fucking Gulag."
And elsewhere: "Today's Gated Communities, Tomorrow's Gulag."
Then again a distressing realisation: In the meantime Oldfield Ford has gained a Fine Art painting MA at the Royal College of Art in 2007 which she well covers up in a fair dose of pretend – as well as real - street cred as put across in Savage Messiah. At least she could have explained that she was also preparing one solo art gallery exhibition after another in England and Scotland since 2006 wherein her zines morph into one special ink drawing after another and therefore, perfect gallery commodities, her drawings referred to as "anarcho-punk para art" with graphics based on punk band Crass LP covers, etc. (The very description "para art" is a get out and again as with so much of neo-psychogeography what does it mean?) After her promotional risqué displays on the Olympiad blue fence no doubt tagged up without permission, she now sticks up posters around Bristol in specially contained spots commissioned (and constrained) by the local Arnolfino Gallery. Then moving on towards a put-on form of architecture she enigmatically refers to as "orbitecture" (adding to a cultivated mysterious image) in 2011 she collaborated with hip urbanist's Owen Hatherley's bland, softly critical take on things all the while again assisted by a Verso publishing outfit that prefers shadow to substance buttressed by an extra launch event in New York. Currently it seems she is doing "research on the 1981 riots in the UK" which of course, won't have anything to do with Like a Summer with a Thousand Julys which also deploys on the inside page an apocalyptic painting by John Martin as at present she is doing talks on mid 19th century Newcastle's John Martin's canvases at London's Tate, not forgetting that Constant also had a soft spot for John Martin.
Nonetheless amongst all this confusion she manages to see some of the essential: "build your own social housing. Destroy the masterplan". Yes, yes, yes, only then to fall into the old absurd vistas of a libertarian urbanism designed by 'enlightened' architects and planners, no doubt in conjunction with a democratic consultation process of future tenants and the like (the plebs). More importantly, a project that has failed historically; and no more so than via Constant Niewenhuys (seeing we have mentioned him above) whom she quotes approvingly failing to go into what happened to Constant afterwards as this talented guy walked into a wall, ludicrously aspiring to be a "professional situationist" falling into an "ideology of urbanism" ending up locked into repetitious irrelevant schemes even reclaiming easel painting. Consequently it's therefore hardly surprising that Oldfield Ford has joined forces with contemporary critical urban theorists like Own Hatherley, illustrating his latest book The New Bleak with further fatuous montages regaled with scribbles. Hatherley has of course a big stake in creating the 'sensitive' future environment of which he sees this mass-marketed neo-psychogeography playing a big part. Alas all to no avail.
A Digression on Owen Hatherley
But who is Owen Hatherley? Well he's also on the make, writing for such subversive periodicals like Building Design, Frieze, New Statesman, The Guardian, as well as Socialist Worker and Socialist Review befitting his former radical role as a researcher in political aesthetics at Birkbeck College. Initially he made his name through Militant Modernism a book the great revolutionary Will Self somewhat critically acclaimed though doubting somewhat Hatherley's sentimentalising of the 1945-51 Labour government especially their housing programme though rightly not the formation of the NHS. Hatherley sees this latter phase of modernism, more particularly its Brutalist phase, which incidentally triumphed under the later social democratic nuanced One Nation Toryism of Eden and Home as basically reasonably OK because it showed respect for a working class which through a strong trade unionism had forced such respect on the agenda. Translated into everyday language this meant bigger and better spaces, better light and better insulation for new, high-rise working class housing. Well that was the thrust of the ideology thrown at those at the sharp end.
What neither Him-Self nor Hatherley deal with – the essential question – is the capitalist dynamic at work here: the total destruction of the urban terrain followed by total re-build, that dynamic necessary for capital re-accumulation. On all other levels, especially the emotional and human the old housing stock fronting streets at ground level were more than good enough. This stock though required pressing improvements and the problem of sanitation and especially damp responsible for so many fatal illnesses could now be dealt with, as it had recently become possible to make an admittedly chemicalised render and mortar mix that got rid of rising damp once and for all. These were also streets where a strong sense of community was much more important than money, which is why there was such resistance to eviction, a resistance blanked by the media. It was as if people sensed that the new urbanism meant money would became a truly, horrible obsession. The building of mass human housing with some kind of quality came to an end circa 1920 and everything since has been nonsensical, unliveable in junk; boxes of walls through which intensifying neuroses permeate. Moreover before 1920, Ibsen in The Master Builder had even gone much farther ending on the inspired note that people cannot any longer live in houses.
All one can say is that the Brutalist 1950s nightmare was better than what was to follow though Hatherley sees this moment as a veritable beacon in comparison to later PFI schemes and the mass owner occupation that have superceded it. After heaping praises on Le Corbusier, he even defends the Smithson's plus "sensitive, sophisticated schemes like the Byker Wall in Newcastle" a project which we took to pieces as early as 1975 and is on the RAP web inserted in Memories of the Portuguese Revolution in the mid 1970s. Delving farther back Hatherley extols Russian Constructivism with little critical take without mentioning that this style has been taken up big time by the Russian oligarchs in the shape and design of their condominiums in Moscow, St Petersburg and elsewhere. But then in the last couple of years or so Hatherley has begun to change recognising the utopians that included environmental ambience in their projects from Charles Fourier to the aforementioned Constant. This change it seems hasn't been for Hatherley a happy one to take on board as increasingly it has been accompanied by a growing sense of emptiness which is deepening, desperately clinging on to the illusion that there are one or two good architects around (Nope!) accompanied also with a feeling that neither is there much in today's art and music but thinks film and TV "seem to be in a less parlous state" (Nope!) never having himself "any inclination towards proper creativity" presumably like novel writing, painting or sculpture (Oh dear!) Lately in a Guardian review article on Banksy, Hatherley is quite unable to note the obvious: that the guy pirated the subversion inherent in often inspirational, anonymous, communal graffiti, cleverly, stage-managed for private gain through art gallery outlets. Yep, Owen has got miles to go and will he pack in with the role of architectural, town and country planning critic? Has he the guts to do this? Answer: very unlikely.
Like Pinetop Smith in I'm Sober Now just to show we can boogie too....
The above drawings were in return for a favour to a 45-year-old tough nut building worker, ex skinhead mate from Hackney Wick who instructed us in digital film making. He wanted something on nature to hang on his council house walls to calm him down, so we obliged. Both drawings are based on the glaciated lake of Semer Water, near Wensleydale in North Yorkshire. The one on the right is of teeming natural selection gone diabolically awry product of the capitalist mode of destruction encountering a neo Cambrian Sea engulfed perhaps with a bout of Venter-like uncontrolled bio-engineering and DNA manipulation. Dismayed but laughing our skinhead mate hung it in his bog where he didn't have to look at it! Despite the fact that drawings as art can only be shite these days, pace Laura Oldfield Ford we are offering them for the princely price of £1 million each. We can't say fairer than that......
The End is also the Beginning.......
"THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY IDEA concerning city planning derives neither from urbanism, nor from technology, nor from aesthetics. I refer to the decision to reconstruct the entire environment in accordance with the needs of the power of the established workers' councils – the needs in other words, of the anti-State dictatorship of the proletariat, the needs of dialogue invested with executive power. The power of workers' councils can be effective only if it transforms the totality of existing conditions, and it cannot assign itself any lesser a task it aspires to be recognised – and to recognise itself – in a world of its own design." (Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle)
Yet no matter how superbly put, this reality hasn't remotely come about presenting us with a hell of a dilemma seeing precious little headway in this direction has been made for decades. The pressing need to destroy and rebuild the totality of the environment inseparable from insurrectionary workers' councils, the likes of which never known before in history simple hasn't happened. All there's been are glorious telling moments, tentative mass movements from someway back as diverse within the European context as Take over the City in Italy in the 1970s, to the beginnings say in the UK of the interlinked wildcat strikes of The Winter of Discontent through to the wildcat urban riots of 1981, alas only to remain just that, nothing more than beginnings, tabula rasa's unfortunately quickly lost though (always hoping) awaiting a return of the repressed with knobs on. Even way back the answers were not coming up easy, nevertheless in desperation we cannot resuscitate the false solutions which people like Hatherley, Stephen Graham and a mass-marketed neo-psychogeography bang on about.
Since the time The Society of the Spectacle was written an impasse of subject has also been reached because we cannot any longer talk about 'workers' like that, as equally we cannot talk about other classes or sub-divisions of other classes like say, the professionals, or inter-disciplinary specialists ushering in total social revolution. We can however hopefully still talk about insurrectionary peoples' councils aware also that this is an inadequate description for what is required in this direst of times. Elsewhere something has been half-released lacking both in momentum and clarity further adding to impasse and no more so than the massive influence of the inter-active, half-supercession of art lost to itself, neither one thing nor another; neither quite art gallery nor quite street intervention but nonetheless valorised as art firmly entrenched with the realms of political economy. For what we have here is now much more than the relatively simple audience / performer relationship of yesterday because mass participatory interaction has meant the blurring of distinctions meaning everybody (especially in the highly advanced world) have become performers as such. As Nietzsche more or less predicted the worker has become an actor too making calls for all power to the workers councils something of a misnomer as it's also the moment workers have become performers in and amongst intensified role play everywhere, augmented by the avatars of cyberspace.
It's this essential fulcrum that now has to be broken asunder, involving the abolition of both the worker and the worker qua actor in the overthrow of the social relations of capitalism which, today is why we yearn more than ever for uncultivated authenticity, the genuinely spontaneous and not the put-on spontaneity required by both traditional TV and an omnipresent Internet media. Moreover never forgetting that with increased structural unemployment – product of advancing automation – people who wish to be workers can no longer become so but are nonetheless forced into a permanent 24/7 performance every bit as alienating – even more so - than poverty stricken production line drudgery.
Today we have little choice but to become socially inept on a massive scale and on every level of acceptable communication putting an end to all the subtle collaboration especially the artistic / performance nexus. More than ever we need lines of clear demarcation what Debord tentatively hinted at in a letter to Yves Le Manach (23rd December 1972) regarding combating a more total, insidious "decadent" recuperation, that fanfare of devious corporatism that is clearly evident in movements like neo-psychogeography. "But why must modern society recuperate anew so many revolutionary questions? Is it from gaiety of heart? It was certainly easier to recuperate us in the 1950s. As a result of recuperation, is not the ruling order becoming more and more sick?" But what does this sickness entail?
Moreover, we well sympathize with those saying "easier said than done" recognizing clearly how difficult it is today survival-wise and why individuals who know better hang on to their shit positions in the hierarchy, because bowing out is fearful and ensuing everyday life harassment will be horribly intense, something like a life sentence. No matter, we cannot take what's on offer. We cannot take up the bursaries, the rich grants and sponsorships, product of an effulgent neo-liberalism providing we make the right noises subtly altering our razor sharp arguments for benefactors' perusal. Yes by all means pull fast ones with these creeps and their money only to denounce them later, to write something so bad, ire is aroused everywhere and to do it on such a grandiose scale that it stands a fair chance of creating remarkable, unstoppable mass subversive aftershocks.
These and others are startling options. They must be taken. If not, for the future we are certainly faced with a landscape of increasing decomposition and disintegration like never before experienced, a place where every thing falls to pieces, a city which Rimbaud hinted at post the bloody massacre marking the end of the Paris Commune, where's there's a terrible, on-going war taking place with no one knowing what's it about. Moreover, a war with no inspiring legends compensating for the destruction, no Troy or Carthage-like myths, just a horrifying mundane exit, urban spaces reduced to body parts, of discombobulated body parts covered by visors, the terrain carbonized and on fire regaled by big, staring eyes with voices reduced to onomatopoeia; spaces where everything is bankrupt and not just the economy, spaces where there is nothing to hear, nothing to look at, nothing to experience...... the reign of terror-in-nothingness for evermore.
Today there's a masked war erupting everywhere but it must become the right war, the last war, the just war of the oppressed against an ultra repressive system. That the future spells out conflagration especially in our cities cannot be doubted though we must increasingly know what we're doing, what we're aiming for. Though the inner city riots of 2011 in England were welcome and while we cannot doubt the exemplary awareness of many insurgents, all too often the object became a burnin 'n' lootin which didn't transcend the perspective of cut price commodity production as so much of this commendable action was siphoned off at rock bottom priced, impromptu car boot auctions; a means of making a little bit of dosh on the side. Moreover the dismal inter-racial killings between Asians and blacks around the Lozell's Rd area of Birmingham destroyed all liberatory perspectives quickly dousing the flames of hope. Among this potlatch was however the amazing exception of the Salford estates where hi-tech outlets among others were simply trashed with gee-whizz gadgetry consciously smashed to smithereens en masse – not stolen to be kept or sold-on. On these estates a gateway beyond the society of enforced consumption was prized open. One cannot stress too much that a conscious personal / collective refusal of spectacular consumption and the society of 24/7 passive entertainment must become a much stronger element in future city riots if they are to get somewhere opening up possible new vistas, new connections.
Overcoming the pseudo participatory façade of our decadent epoch requires a new and clear demarcation lines. Who are our trusted friends? We don't have any among professionals, neither artists, writers, academics nor specialists not even the purported revolutionary element among them. We cannot deny we are more isolated than ever, only to be mentioned in anxious, puzzled whispers when not regarded as monstrous. Clearly a sentence from Dedbord to Annie Le Brun just before his suicide still stands, "This isolationism derives more directly from the fact that the people who understand the majority of the things I consider to be essential have apparently disappeared from the world". Nonetheless there is just to say a viable space for us though this space could be taken out at any moment. Words are easy, living life at the sharp end is the real thing situated among people with whom you feel comfortable and can angrily relax with, warts and all; people whom you can implicitly rely on, who don't play double games, who are without side, who aren't triksta's, who don't dupe or mislead. Beyond that huge differences remain. Unfortunately, we still remain an avant-garde in the only true sense an avant-garde can exist today, an example beyond recuperation either through art, science or politics. Invariably the people around us are simple people - simple but profound - surviving at the sharp end and on the right side, whose lives open onto another world, whose sudden insights can be inspirational, who walk the walk and talk the talk and who, above all, aren't stupid. Amongst this general base are also an infinitesimal few who do think and acquaint themselves with the most clued-in thoughts but who couldn't reside elsewhere other than among this Commons of the ordinary / extraordinary and find no contradiction in this as above all, they despise the chattering classes, meaning when theory is elaborated it stems from these basic, constant facts; from the close togetherness of the space you mutually exist in. This is our social base; without it we'd also teeter into nothingness.
The Monstrous Bastards: Summer 2012